Saturday, September 12, 2015

2015 NFL Week 1 Picks

Football is back, and I'm excited for all aspects. My first pick of the season ended up as a push after the Steelers nabbed a ridiculous backdoor cover with an impressive garbage time touchdown from Antonio Brown with 2 seconds left, but this should be a fun opening week with a lot of interesting lines.

Packers -7 at Bears

The shootout potential of this one has diminished with the tragic non-contact ACL tear of Jordy Nelson and all three of the Bears' wide receivers nursing injuries, so I don't think this game approaches the over/under that was already lowered to 49. This pick isn't too difficult for me since Green Bay has one of the highest Vegas win totals at 11, and I think they are right up there with the defending champs as the best team in the league. Chicago's new coaching staff is good, but I think it'll take a year for the pieces to come together, especially in the transition to a 3-4 defense, making the under on their 6.5 win total a safe pick.
With the reigning MVP, a Super Bowl is still in sight.

Chiefs +1 at Texans

I'm surprised that a quality team like the Chiefs are underdogs against a Texans team missing its best offensive player, Arian Foster. My only concern is Kansas City's questionable offensive line against Houston's elite front seven, but Jeremy Maclin reuniting with Andy Reid in free agency gives them an extra element on offense to go with Travis Kelce, who is ready to be unleashed as a full time player this year. I do like the additions Cecil Shorts and Jaelen Strong additions to support DeAndre Hopkins, who should be fed early and often by Brian Hoyer, but I don't think they'll move the ball consistently despite being a fan of Alfred Blue back going back to his LSU days.

Jets -3.5 versus Browns

New head coach Todd Bowles is a master of generating pressure despite a lack of great individual rushers, so I am firing them up across my DFS lineups at home against a limited offensive squad. Cleveland has a strong offensive line but virtually no skill position players to speak of aside from their young running backs, Duke Johnson and Isaiah Crowell. They have some talent on defense to keep them in the game, but I'm a believer in Chan Gailey's offensive system and Ryan Fitzpatrick's ability to run it with a supporting cast of Chris Ivory, Brandon Marshall, and Eric Decker. I think New York can hit the over on their 7.5 Vegas win total while Cleveland might be a contender for the worst record in the league and fall under 6.5 wins.

Colts -3.5 at Bills

This almost feels like a trap game on the road against a great defense and, but Indianapolis has too of good of a team to pass up against a quarterback making his first start in Tyrod Taylor. I was never a fan of him back at VaTech, and I think the lack of a quality QB is going to hold back an otherwise strong group of offensive players. I wasn't really a fan of the Colts taking Phillip Dorsett in the first round, but he is another weapon for Andrew Luck to go along with T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Colby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, and sneaky addition Andre Johnson, who should be rejuvenated with by far the best passer of his career. Their offensive line and overall defense still have some question marks, but there is enough potential there to make over 10.5 wins a quality bet with the best young signal caller in football.

Dolphins -3.5 at Redskins

Washington is a continual mess of an organization, negating some of the bright spots on the team, while I've viewed Miami as a team on the upswing the last couple of years. Kirk Cousins might be able to connect on some big plays with DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, but Miami's elite defensive line should raise their defense's overall level of play en route to double digit wins this season. With Branden Albert making a surprisingly fast return from a torn ACL to protect him, Ryan Tannehill shouldn't have a problem picking apart Washington's defense with his revamped receiving core of DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, and Greg Jennings on the outside and Jordan Cameron joining Jarvis Landry as a threat over the middle, an area that will be peppered with targets.

Jaguars +3 versus Panthers

Here's my upset of the week, with Jacksonville's underrated defense taking advantage of a shaky offense at home. I'm amazed that a good general manager like Dave Gettleman still hasn't improved Carolina's offensive line to protect Cam Newton or given him more weapons to throw to, and I think it'll result in a losing season despite their stout front seven and a couple good, young corners. The loss of #3 overall pick Dante Fowler in the spring is unfortunate, but I love the potential of all the young players the Jaguars have added in recent years, making 6 wins a real possibility. Allen Robinson can become the next great physically dominant receiver if their improved offensive line lets Blake Bortles settle in, and T.J. Yeldon was a great second round pick as an every down 'back.

Seahawks -4 at Rams

The line has gone up a little bit, but I was shocked when last year's runner-ups opened at just -3 against a team that should fall short of their 7.5 over/under win total. You can count on Pete Carroll having his team ready after one of the most heartbreaking Super Bowl endings, especially since they had a tough loss in St. Louis last year, and their front seven should dominate a young Rams offensive line. However, I think they have real concerns at defensive back aside from Richard Sherman: with Earl Thomas' shoulder issue, Kam Chancellor holding out out, Jeremy Lane on PUP with two major injuries, Marcus Burley unproven at nickel back, and both Cary Williams and Tharold Simon being quite burnable despite having the size Seattle likes. Their offensive line is still talent deficient, as well, but Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch can work with it, unlike Nick Foles and Benny Cunningham, who is likely to start due to Tre Mason's balky hamstring after Todd Gurley was already being brought along slowly from his torn ACL.

Cardinals -2.5 versus Saints

I think Arizona is going to take a big step back and finish under their 8.5 Vegas win total, but this should be one of them in a shootout at home. They have a good secondary, but their front seven has been downgraded and lost defensive coordinator Todd Bowles' blitz packages. New Orleans also lacks some pass rush juice and will be without Keenan Lewis and Jairus Byrd, their two best defensive backs, so Carson Palmer should be able to feed John Brown, Larry Fitzgerald, and Michael Floyd despite a shaky offensive line to start the season. The Saints' revamped offensive line should allow Drew Brees and Mark Ingram to move the ball pretty consistently, but they're really relying on Brandin Cooks to be a steady target after trading away Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills. Brandon Coleman might be able to draw some coverage away from him on the other side, but I think Arizona slows them down enough to escape with a home W.

Lions +3 at Chargers

This was one of my toughest picks as I like both team to hit over their 8.5 Vegas win total, but I'm giving Detroit the slightest of edges with their pass rush. Being without star linebacker DeAndre Levy for this one hurts both the run and pass defense, but San Diego's massive new offensive line might need some games playing together to gel, especially with D.J. Fluker making the transition to guard. Both Keenan Allen and smart new addition Stevie Johnson should find mismatches in various positions for the Chargers, but Calvin Johnson remains the biggest difference maker in this one. In a game featuring two of the top rookie running backs, I think Ameer Abdullah will make more of an impact than Melvin Gordon with his far superior receiving skills.

Titans +3 at Buccaneers

My other tough call, but for much different reasons as I expect the two worst teams from last year to remain under 6 wins each. Although Tampa Bay couldn't go wrong with either guy, I thought Marcus Mariota should've been their pick, and I'm taking the points with him despite a feeling that the home team might squeeze by. This game could be a mess with a Tennessee defense that is already easy to run against having its top corners banged up going against one of the worst offensive lines in the league while Tampa's stout run defense might make the Titans one dimensional. Mariota could have decent pass protection to remain effective, but Jameis Winston will have to recognize blitzes and put his skill players in position to succeed.

Bengals -3 at Raiders

Oakland could be a team on the rise with an interesting 6 win over/under, but Cincinnati has one of most talented rosters in the league and should exceed 8.5 wins. Their secondary can hold up on the back end against stud rookie Amari Cooper and low-risk signee Michael Crabtree, allowing their strong defensive line to get to Derek Carr and defend the run straight up against the electric Latavius Murray. Carr has everything you look for in a young QB, but he tends to settle for his check downs too soon instead of unleashing his strong arm since his line is more potential than production for now, possibly since his brother David was ruined by sacks in Houston. I'm not sure why the new coaching staff gave up on a versatile linebacker like Sio Moore while also appearing to be limit Khalil Mack strictly to defensive end, but the front seven could be a force this season. New addition Aldon Smith is another low-risk signing, but I thought Jacksonville would've been the perfect fit for him and really wish a troubled talent like him would have gotten away from the Bay Area and any possible enablers. They'll need that strong pass rush since their secondary appears to be a big hole, and besides the obvious choice of A.J. Green for Cincy, I think Tyler Eifert has a big game and now healthy, will be this year's breakout tight end with Jermaine Gresham gone.

Broncos -4.5 versus Ravens

Besides the Seattle spread, this game's initial 53 point over/under was my biggest surprise of Week 1, and it has wisely been bet down all the way down to 48. I still think that's too high as both teams have stacked defenses that should lead them to top their respective Vegas win totals of 9.5 and 10.5. Denver has the higher total and should get a solid win at home in Gary Kubiak's debut as head coach there after serving as offensive coordinator in Baltimore last year. Joe Flacco looked good under him and should continue that under Marc Trestman with a great offensive line, although he lacks any reliable targets beyond veteran Steve Smith until rookies Breshad Perriman and Maxx Williams step up after nagging injuries. The Broncos should be able to hold him and running back Justin Forsett in check enough, and on the other side of the ball, Peyton Manning is still Peyton Manning despite a curious fit in Kubiak's system. Demaryius Thomas will still get his, Emmanuel Sanders remains a great complimentary receiver, and C.J. Anderson is ready to continue to take the league by storm on the ground. There are questions along an offensive line that might struggle at times in this one, but they can get it done under Manning's direction.

Giants +6 at Cowboys

Now this over/under I can get on board with at 51.5 as I don't believe in either defense on teams that I expect to fall under their 8 and 9.5 Vegas win totals. Dallas has the higher total, is the more talented team, and is at home, but I can't lay this many points with a defense that only succeeded last year thanks to being "hidden" by a ball-control offense. With Orlando Scandrick out for the year, they don't appear to have a corner that has a chance shutting down Rueben Randle, let alone Odell Beckham, Jr. Conversely, New York's solid corner duo won't be getting any help from a pass rush or safeties, where they've been ravaged by injuries. They'll need 2nd rounder Landon Collins to make an immediate impact, and even if he does, it likely won't be enough to prevent Dez Bryant from stealing a win in the end. Jon Beason's injury concerns also hurt their chances at stopping the run, no matter which running back is behind that offensive line. I'm not a fan of Joseph Randle, so while Darren McFadden might finally have some holes to show off his speed, I don't think their combined contributions won't add up to what DeMarco Murray did for them, although smooth addition Christine Michael might change that down the road.

Eagles -3 at Falcons

This line moving up from -1 to -3 makes sense as I like Philadelphia for over 9.5 wins while Atlanta's 8.5 over/under seems pretty optimistic. I do like their offensive potential with a rebuilt line in Kyle Shanahan's system, although some of their changes might be too fresh to open up creases for rookie Tevin Coleman, a homerun hitter I'm pretty high on. Their defense still leaves a lot to be desired, however, leading to a lot of shootouts for Matt Ryan, who will target Julio Jones early and often in a scheme built for X receivers. With his talent, I'm going to make the prediction that Jones achieves the receiving triple crown of leading the league in receptions, yards, and touchdowns, a feat that hasn't been accomplished in since Steve Smith did it in 2005. However, a man on the other side could be a dark horse to lead the league in one of those categories as Jordan Matthews is primed to have a monster season as the #1 receiver in Chip Kelly's offense. I'm a believer in both the system and that Sam Bradford definitely has the ability to execute it better than any of the past Eagles' QBs. He's reunited with his Oklahoma teammate DeMarco Murray and will also have Ryan Mathews to help carry the load, while Nelson Agholor fills in for Jeremy Maclin to keep the shelf stocked with weapons. I have some questions about how the defense will come together, but the potential is there after the free agent additions of Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond from Seattle to open up options.

49ers +2.5 versus Vikings

I understand all the negative narratives around the Niners right now, but for the shift 6 points from the open against them at home is ridiculous. I do like Minnesota to be a sleeper playoff team and have over 7.5 wins with their great coaching staff and tremendous skill players on both sides, but I do have concerns about how well they can control the line of scrimmage, especially after the recent injuries to their offensive line. This can be overcome to a certain extent by a smart signal caller like Teddy Bridgewater, whom I can go on and on about with how stupid it was that he fell to the of the first round, and it will be interesting to see how much room Adrian Peterson will have to run in his first game back after last year's controversy. The worst game of his career was when he came to San Francisco as a rookie, and I was in attendance to see him manager just 3 yards on 14 carries. Despite all of the turnover, the Niners could still field a top defense as they are strong up the middle with Pro Bowl safeties Eric Reid and Antoine Bethea, superstar linebacker Navarro Bowman back healthy, and a deep, run-stuffing defensive line. What they need is a young edge rusher to step up after the dismissal of Aldon Smith, whether it be presumed starter Aaron Lynch, who flashed his tremendous potential as a rookie last year, or backups Eli Harold or Corey Lemonier, both of whom were third round selections. Their corners are more of diamonds in the rough with late 2014 draft picks Kenneth Acker, Keith Reaser, and Dontae Johnson all showing well, garnering a lot of faith in the organization, and likely producing a quality starter next to Tramaine Brock, who is a former undrafted player himself and has shutdown potential whenever healthy. On the other side, Torrey Smith was exactly what they needed to add as a true deep threat to stretch defenses for Colin Kaepernick, but the biggest issue will be whether he has time to get the ball out behind an offensive line that only has two starters that have proven the ability to play at a high level. Maybe the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts, at least in the running game with Carlos Hyde, who proved as a rookie that he can play all three downs after they traded back up in the 2nd round to get him, always a sign that a team thinks highly of a player. Reggie Bush was still a good, under the radar signing as one of the best receiving 'backs in the league since new offensive coordinator Geep Chryst liked to distribute the ball to backs and tight ends in addition to his top two receivers in a Trestman type system back in the day as OC of the Chargers in the late '90s when his QB was...Jim Harbaugh. That should also bode well for Vernon Davis after his pretty much lost season after an ill-advised holdout, and it is focusing on pieces like him that are still on the team instead of those who no longer are that causes me to be reasonably optimistic that the 6.5 over/under was too much of an overreaction and could be overcome.

2015 Season Total: 0-0-1

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