Welcome back, football fans. This is now the third consecutive year in which I have committed myself to picking every single NFL regular season game. I pick the winners straight-up, without taking the spread into account (although I do offer my best guess as to what the margin of victory will be). My goal, as always, is to beat these losers.
It's always more fun when my readership gets involved, so don't be shy about offering your own predictions in the comments section. At the end of each week, I'll total up everyone's W-L record (including the pudgy, middle-aged guys at ESPN), and post the results in the comments for comparison.
[If you're looking for NFL picks that factor in the spread, you'll definitely want to check out David Mazzotta's weekly column, which should begin about midway through the season.]
With that said, it's time for my picks for the NFL's Week One. (last season's record is in parentheses)
Thursday, September 6th
New Orleans (10-6) at Indianapolis (12-4) – 8:30 PM
Last season, the New Orleans Saints won the NFC South, snagged a playoff bye week, and made it all the way to the NFC Championship Game, where they lost to the Chicago Bears. Not bad for a team that had gone 3-13 and had its stadium destroyed in a hurricane the year before. They should have a strong offense again this season (Drew Brees at QB, Reggie Bush and Deuce McAllister at RB), but their defense is more questionable.
Tony Dungy and the Indianapolis Colts finally got past the New England Patriots and made it to the Super Bowl last season, where they were victorious over the Chicago Bears. The offense should be outstanding as usual (Peyton Manning at QB, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne at WR, Joseph Addai at RB), but it is likely that their defense will be hit-or-miss.
PICK: The Colts were undefeated at home last season. I wouldn't bet against it happening again this year. COLTS BY 9.
Sunday, September 9th
Philadelphia (10-6) at Green Bay (8-8) – 1:00 PM
The Eagles won the NFC East last year by winning their last five regular season games, and made it to the Divisional Round of the playoffs before losing to the Saints. Injuries have taken their toll on QB Donovan McNabb, who is probably past his prime anyway. They'll be relying on their defense a lot this season.
The Packers very nearly made the playoffs last season, winning their last four games and only getting edged out for a Wild Card spot by the New York Giants based on the infamous "tiebreakers." Brett Favre will be back in the saddle at QB for this, his 57th season. Vernand Morency is unproven as a starting RB, and the second- and third-team guys at RB are all rookies (as is starting FB Korey Hall). The defense was very mediocre last year.
PICK: The Eagles probably won't be all that good this season, but I believe the Packers will be truly embarrassing. EAGLES BY 15.
Kansas City (9-7) at Houston (6-10) – 1:00 PM
Kansas City squeaked into the playoffs last season as the sixth-seed. They then got crushed by the Colts in the Wild Card Round, as just about everyone expected. QB Damon Huard looked very good in eight starts last year, but I suspect that was a fluke. Tony Gonzalez is still a star at TE. And it goes without saying that Larry Johnson will be solid at RB, although he's unlikely to be superhuman like the last two seasons.
The starting quarterback for the Houston Texans this season will be Matt Schaub, who has only started two games in his entire NFL career. His backup is Sage Rosenfels, who has also started in a grand total of two games in his entire career. And the OL remains one of the worst in the league. That's unfortunate, because RB Ahman Green and WR Andre Johnson could thrive if they had a real offense around them. Oh, and Mario Williams is a solid defense end, but he still wasn't worth a #1 draft pick.
PICK: I expect a mistake-filled opening game from both these teams, which makes this a difficult pick. But I'll have to go with the team that's least-bad. KANSAS CITY BY 3.
Denver (9-7) at Buffalo (7-9) – 1:00 PM
The Denver Broncos started the 2006 season 7-2, yet missed the playoffs due to a late-season collapse. Then things got even worse. Star CB Darrent Williams was murdered on New Year's Day in a drive-by shooting, and promising young RB Damien Nash died of an apparent heart attack after a celebrity basketball game in February. QB Jake Plummer was traded to Tampa Bay for a draft pick (then promptly retired), so now Jay Cutler is the undisputed starting quarterback. The defense remains better-than-average, and head coach Mike Shanahan will manufacture a strong running game as always.
The Buffalo Bills missed the playoffs last year, and look likely to repeat that feat this season. J.P. Losman is a good QB, but he doesn't have much to work with. Rookie Marshawn Lynch will start at RB, and could either be a pleasant surprise or a bust due to injury.
PICK: Buffalo's reputed home field advantage doesn't really kick in until November, and even then only against warm-weather teams. BRONCOS BY 6
Pittsburgh (8-8) at Cleveland (4-12) – 1:00 PM
The Steelers had a disappointing 2006 season, missing the playoffs after having won the Super Bowl the year before, and having gone 15-1 the year before that. Mike Tomlin is taking over head coaching duties from the legendary Bill Cowher, who resigned in January. The offense remains formidable (QB Ben Roethlisberger, WR Hines Ward, and RB Willie Parker). And it is difficult to imagine a Steelers team that doesn't have a decent defensive unit. Whether this team succeeds or fails will depend largely on the ability of the new coaching staff.
The Cleveland Browns were bad last year. The only AFC team with a worse record was the Oakland Raiders, and the Raiders were in a league of their own, awful-wise. The Browns scored the third-fewest points of any team in the NFL, while giving up the fourth-most in the AFC. Again, they were bad. But the important question is: Are they going to be any better this year? And the short answer is: No. Charlie Frye is still their starting QB (although I suspect rookie Brady Quinn will take over that job sometime around mid-season). They used their other first round draft pick (third overall) on OL Joe Thomas, which I find questionable. They'd be lucky to go 7-9 and not finish in last place in the AFC North.
PICK: I think this game will be surprisingly close because of the intense division rivalry. STEELERS BY 2.
Carolina (8-8) at St. Louis (8-8) – 1:00 PM
The Carolina Panthers narrowly missed the playoffs last year, even though they were only a .500 team (but such is the NFC). Despite having a superb offensive weapon in Steve Smith at WR, the offense was anemic, scoring the second-fewest points in the NFC. The running game, led by RB DeShaun Foster, leaves much to be desired, and QB Jake Delhomme does not particularly impress. Expect David Carr to take over signal-calling duties before mid-season if the Panthers are struggling.
The Rams also went 8-8 last season, winning their final three games to achieve some measure of respectability. The defense was ba-a-a-ad last year, and probably has not improved much. The offense, however, remains potent (Marc Bulger at QB, Torry Holt and the ageless "Isaac the Bruce" at WR, Steven Jackson at RB).
PICK: Defense wins championships, but offense wins games. RAMS BY 5.
Atlanta (7-9) at Minnesota (6-10) – 1:00 PM
The Falcons missed the playoffs last year by losing their final three games. And now they've lost noted animal-lover and PETA spokesman Michael Vick for 12 to 60 months due to a self-inflicted injury. Vick will be replaced at QB by the lovable Joey Harrington, who won't throw for many touchdowns, but he won't be flipping off the home crowd/spreading herpes/killing dogs with his bare hands, either. The Falcons are going to need their defense to overachieve and RB Warrick Dunn to rush for 1,500+ yards just to avoid losing double-digit games this season.
The Minnesota Vikings started out 4-2 last season, only to lose eight of their last ten games and (obviously) miss the playoffs. QB Brad Johnson was released in the off-season, so the unproven Tarvaris Jackson will be starting under center. The Vikes will need a strong season out of RB Chester Taylor in order to put many points on the board. The defense should be better-than-average.
PICK: I predict an ugly, low-scoring game. Overtime is a possibility, with an interception/fumble return for a TD providing the final score. (Sylvia Browne ain't got nothin' on me.) VIKINGS BY 6.
New England (12-4) at New York Jets (10-6) – 1:00 PM
Last season, the New England Patriots won the AFC East and made it all the way to the AFC Championship Game before losing a wild, high-scoring contest to eventual Super Bowl champion Indianapolis. They are a lock to return to the playoffs this season, and will almost certainly win their division for the fifth consecutive year. This is a team that was elite both offensively and defensively last season, but still managed to get even better. (So much for "parity"…) They added Randy Moss, Wes Welker, and Donté Stallworth at WR, Adalius Thomas at LB, and Tory James at CB. Admittedly, the addition of Randy Moss is just as likely to be very bad for the team as it is to be very good, but the other off-season moves are clearly positive. QB Tom Brady definitely has a talented receiver corps to throw to. The weak spot for the Pats, if there is one, might be the running game.
The Jets made the post-season last year by winning their final three regular season games. Then they were predictably bounced from the playoffs in the Wild Card Round by the Patriots. QB Chad Pennington has a couple of good receivers to throw to in Jerricho Cotchery and Laveranues Coles, and both Thomas Jones and Leon Washington are capable running backs. If the defense performs as well as it did last season, the Jets could make the playoffs again this year.
PICK: Expect the "Will the Patriots go undefeated?" nonsense to begin around Week Six. NEW ENGLAND BY 8.
Miami (6-10) at Washington (5-11) – 1:00 PM
The Dolphins missed the playoffs last year because they had Daunte Culpepper and Joey Harrington playing quarterback. This year they've got Trent Green at QB, which is a moderate improvement (even though he's getting pretty old). Unfortunately, he will have to play with a sub-par receiver corps, unless rookie WR Ted Ginn Jr. matures into a superstar overnight. The defense remains solid.
The Redskins finished at the bottom of the NFC East last season. The defense was pretty bad in 2006, but it should be improved this year with the additions of London Fletcher-Baker and rookie Dallas Sartz at LB, and rookie LaRon Landry at safety. The ground attack should be strong, with Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts at RB, but the passing game is a big question mark.
PICK: The Dolphins defense should be able to contain the Redskins running game just enough to win. MIAMI BY 1.
Tennessee (8-8) at Jacksonville (8-8) – 1:00 PM
The Titans started off the 2006 season by losing their first five games. With seven games left in the season, they were 2-7. Then, out of nowhere, they won six games in a row (three of those games against teams that eventually made the playoffs, including the Super Bowl-winning Colts). On the cusp of one of the most incredible mid-season turnarounds in NFL history, finishing with a winning record, and possibly even earning Wild Card playoff spot, they… got whipped by the Patriots in Week 17. Oh well. But it was a fun ride while it lasted. QB Vince Young won the Rookie of the Year award for his efforts last season, and it was much-deserved. Unfortunately for him, he also won the cover of Madden NFL, so expect a serious, season-ending injury by Week Three. And without Young, this team all-around stinks.
The Jacksonville Jaguars also finished at .500 last season. Of course, they scored almost 50 more points and gave up 126 fewer points than the Titans, but they still ended up with the same record. They were not helped by a three-game losing streak at the end of the season. The defense was outstanding in 2006, and there is no reason to believe that it won't be again this year. The running game should be superior, although there is always the possibility of Fred Taylor suffering a serious injury (and that's just while he's dressing for practice). The air attack is definitely this team's weak spot. Overall, I would be surprised if they don't make a serious playoff run in 2007.
PICK: A team with almost nothing going for it except a (cursed, and therefore doomed) quarterback, versus a team with just about everything except a decent quarterback. Ironic, dontcha think? JAGUARS BY 12.
Chicago (13-3) at San Diego (14-2) – 4:15 PM
The Chicago Bears had the best defense in the NFC last season, by a mile. And that defense took them all the way to Super Bowl XLI, where they met their Kryptonite: A team that wasn't in the NFC. Think that's too simplistic? Just take a look at the stats. The Bears were 13-3 during the regular season. That breaks down to 2-2 vs. the AFC, and 11-1 vs. the NFC (and that single loss was in a meaningless game in Week 17 after they had already clinched home field advantage). If you include the playoffs, the Bears were 13-1 vs. the NFC and 2-3 vs. the AFC. In other words, the Miami Dolphins could have disguised themselves as the Indianapolis Colts and the Bears still would have struggled in the Super Bowl. (In fact, the Dolphins actually beat the Bears during the regular season.) My point is this: The Bears were far-and-away the best team in the NFC last season, and they probably are again this season. But any superiority they enjoy while playing in the NFC will be moot come February (if they even make it that far again, which is questionable considering Rex Grossman is still their starting QB).
The San Diego Chargers had the best record in the NFL last season, the highest-scoring offense, a well-above-average defense, and went undefeated at home. Naturally, they didn't win a single playoff game. The Chargers organization responded by firing head coach Marty Schottenheimer (who hadn't won a playoff game since 1993) and replacing him with Norv Turner (who doesn't have much of a track record of playoff disappointment because his teams almost never get that far). Their offense is still potent (RB LaDainian Tomlinson, QB Philip Rivers, rookie WR Buster Davis) as is their defense (Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips at LB, Quentin Jammer at CB, Luis Castillo at DE). Still, I predict a drop-off from last year, although they should make the playoffs again.
PICK: A good AFC team at home should be able to handle the Bears. SAN DIEGO BY 4.
Tampa Bay (4-12) at Seattle (9-7) – 4:15 PM
The Buccaneers scored the fewest points of any NFC team in 2006, and their defense was sub-par. Things will be better this season. First off, Jeff Garcia will be the starting QB this year, not Chris Simms or Bruce Gradkowski. Joey Galloway should continue to contribute if he stays healthy (he's getting kind of old for a WR). The running game is still poor, but it can't be any worse than last season. The defensive unit isn't great, but at least they are healthy. Also working in Tampa Bay's favor is the fact that they play in a weak division. A .500 season isn't out of the question.
The Seattle Seahawks were the only team last year to win their division without winning double-digit games. They gave up more points than they scored, went 2-4 down the stretch, and lost to the Chicago Bears in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. The offense has some weapons (a healthy Shaun Alexander at RB and Deion Branch at WR), but they're not exactly an offensive juggernaut with Matt Hasselbeck as their starting QB. The defense is pretty good (Julian Peterson and Lofa Tatupu at LB, Darryl Tapp at DE), but not great. This team will struggle to return to the playoffs, unless they win the NFC West essentially by default for the second year in a row.
PICK: This is a tough call. I'll have to side with the home team. SEATTLE BY 2.
Detroit (3-13) at Oakland (2-14) – 4:15 PM
The Lions finished last in the NFC
North last season because…well, because they are the Lions, a team that exemplifies epic failure year-in and year-out. Their defense gave up the third-most points in the NFL last year, and they were well within striking distance of "winning" that category. I believe the Lions have improved a bit in 2007, but probably not enough to be a serious playoff contender. QB John Kitna has many targets to choose from; Mike Furrey, Roy Williams, and rookie Calvin Johnson comprise perhaps the best three-receiver set in the league. The running game is still anemic, but it should be better than last year (as long as Tatum Bell remains healthy). The defensive line is decent, but the rest of the defensive unit is atrocious.
The Oakland Raiders had the worst record in the NFL in 2006. They scored the fewest points of any team, by far. They finished the season on a nine-game losing streak. This year, they've brought in Daunte Culpepper at QB, which is an upgrade. Then again, replacing last year's killer combo of Aaron Brooks/Andrew Walter with a six-foot tall glob of lutefisk probably would have been considered an upgrade. The Raiders defense is respectable (Warren Sapp at DT, Derrick Burgess at DE, Kirk Morrison at LB, Nnamdi Asomugha at CB). They'll manage more than two wins this year.
PICK: This is the battle of the two worst teams from last season. Why didn't they put it on Monday Night? DETROIT BY 3.
New York Giants (8-8) at Dallas (9-7) – 8:15 PM
The New York Giants made the playoffs last season despite going 8-8. They lost to division rival Philadelphia in the Wild Card Round. Eli Manning needs to have improved in the off-season or else this team isn't going anywhere. The receiver corps is banged up already, and the running game doesn't look terribly promising. They have some talented defensive players (LB Antonio Pierce, safety Gibril Wilson, DT Fred Robbins), but they need to starting playing together as a unit in order to be successful.
The Dallas Cowboys made the postseason last season as a Wild Card. They would have won their division, but they lost three of their last four contests, including games against eventual NFC East champ Philadelphia in Week 16, and a Detroit Lions team in Week 17 that was probably trying to lose. Dallas then proceeded to lose to Seattle in the Wild Card Round when QB Tony Romo botched the hold on a sure-thing field goal attempt that would have won the game. Head coach Bill Parcells retired, probably in disgust. He was replaced by Wade Phillips, who has been defensive coordinator for six different teams. Needless to say, the Cowboys will focus on improving their defense this season. The offense should be quite good (Terry Glenn and the mercurial Terrell Owens at WR, Julius Jones and Marion Barber sharing duties at RB). Dallas has a good shot of making the playoffs in 2007.
PICK: Eli Manning and Tony Romo will both get off to a slow start, so the Cowboys running game should be the difference. DALLAS BY 4.
Monday, September 10th
Baltimore (13-3) at Cincinnati (8-8) – 7:00 PM
The Ravens won the AFC North and a playoff bye week last season. They went on to lose to the Colts in the divisional round, in a rare touchdown-less playoff game. Baltimore's bread-and-butter is their solid defense (they gave up the fewest points in the NFL last year). Mark Clayton should really shine at WR if he can stay healthy. If (more like, "when") Steve McNair struggles at QB and/or suffers an injury, expect Kyle Boller to do a fine job as his replacement. (Troy Smith will sit and watch this season.)
The Bengals finished the 2006 regular season on a three-game skid, and thus missed the playoffs. They have a very good offense (QB Carson Palmer, RB Rudi Johnson, Chad Johnson and T. J. Houshmandzadeh at WR). Their defense is a concern, however, especially with standout DE Robert Geathers injured. This team could be anywhere from average to very good.
PICK: Another difficult one. When in doubt, go with the home team. BENGALS BY 1.
Arizona (5-11) at San Francisco (7-9) – 10:15 PM
The Arizona Cardinals finished the 2006 regular season relatively strong, winning four of their final seven games. They have three outstanding wide receivers (Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, and Bryant Johnson), a solid veteran RB in Edgerrin James, and a QB named Matt Leinart who is only going to get better. However, the defensive unit is pretty bad, with the possible exception of the secondary. They should win more games this year than last (especially since they play in the weak NFC West), but the playoffs are still a long-shot.
The 49ers were a bit of an enigma last season. They possessed a talented offense, but scored relatively few points. They allowed the most points in the league, yet nearly finished with a .500 record. They addressed some of their defensive issues during the off-season, by adding Nate Clements at CB, Michael Lewis at safety, and Tully Banta-Cain and rookie Patrick Willis at LB. The offense should be quite successful, as long as QB Alex Smith can cut down on the interceptions. Frank Gore could very well win the rushing title if he doesn't blow-out a knee.
PICK: This should be a high-scoring affair. SAN FRANCISCO BY 6.
Well, that concludes this (very long) edition of RJ's NFL Picks. Remember, everyone is welcome to post their own picks in the comments section below.Powered by Sidelines