2016 NFL Kickoff: Carolina Panthers (-3) at Denver Broncos
Panthers coach Ron Rivera has already gone on record saying he is not a fan of this game. Well Ron, after this game, you basically have 10 days off as you get the 49ers at home in week 2. You’ll be OK. The Broncos are starting a 7th round pick in Trevor Siemian and have a very questionable offensive line. The Panthers should have no trouble containing running backs CJ Anderson and Devontae Booker, so unfortunately for the Broncos, Siemian will have to throw a lot. We have yet to see Demaryius Thomas cure his issue with drops, but he doesn’t have to deal with Josh Norman in this game. The Broncos will have a lot of trouble scoring on offense, but is that any different than last season when they started Peyton Manning’s corpse?
The Broncos defense took some hits in losing Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan, but they still have Von Miller and their excellent secondary. The Panthers didn’t feel a need to upgrade their terrible left and right tackles, so I see some déjà vu from the Super Bowl, where Cam Newton had pressure in his face on almost every play. Sure, Kelvin Benjamin is back, but as stated earlier, the Broncos have an excellent secondary if Newton ever gets some time in the pocket. The Broncos also had the best run defense in the NFL last year, and even if they do a little worse in that area this year, they should still be able to hold the Panthers to less than 4 yards per carry on the ground.
Currently, 80% of the bets are on the Panthers to cover, like it’s easy money or something. Will the Broncos get a few shady calls? Even if they don’t, I think the Broncos play a little angry (they get their rings as home underdogs?) and hold the Panthers to 13 or 16 points.
Pick: Panthers 16 Broncos 17
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons (-3)
If you listen to Cris Collinsworth, he will tell you that the Falcons have struggled in the red area for a long time. That makes sense, as Matt Ryan threw for only 21 touchdowns last year. Sure, Devonta Freeman ran for 11 touchdowns, but in his last seven games last year, he averaged 3.4 yards per carry or less in six of them. The Falcons added center Alex Mack in free agency, but that may not help much, as guards Andy Levitre and Chris Chester are mediocre and will have to deal with Tampa Bay defensive tackle Gerald McCoy in this game. The Falcons didn’t get much help for Julio Jones either. They signed Mohamed Sanu, but he will be a disappointment. Their starting tight end is currently Jacob Tamme. The Falcons will continue to struggle to score touchdowns this season. Julio will torch the Tampa Bay secondary, but I don’t think he can win this game by himself.
Meanwhile, on defense, the Falcons only collected 19 sacks last year, easily last in the league. 2015 1st round pick Vic Beasley should be better this year, but the Falcons don’t have anyone else who can consistently get pressure on the quarterback. With a clean pocket, Jameis Winston will be able to have his way with an Atlanta secondary that has only one good corner in Desmond Trufant. If Doug Martin isn’t lethargic after his big contract, he should also be able to have a good game running the ball on an average Atlanta run defense. I think this is an easy win for the Bucs.
Pick: Bucs 31 Falcons 20
Minnesota Vikings (-2) at Tennessee Titans
The Vikings gave up a first round pick for Sam Bradford, but he’s currently the backup to Shaun Hill. Honestly, if it were up to me, I’d sit Bradford for as long as possible, as the Vikings have maybe the best defense in the NFL and have a chance at making the playoffs with Shaun Hill starting. Besides, the Titans aren’t exactly world beaters on defense. The one thing the Titans do well is rush the passer, but luckily for the Vikings, they have Adrian Peterson. Adrian shouldn’t have much trouble finding running room, which means the play action will be Hill’s best friend in this game.
The Vikings won’t need to score much anyway, as their defense has no real weaknesses. The Titans brought in DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry to run a smashmouth running scheme, but the Vikings have two excellent defensive tackles in Linval Joseph and Sharrif Floyd. I’m not sure how well the young Titans offensive line will be able to handle them. Marcus Mariota may not have much time in the pocket either, and the Titans don’t have the receivers to take advantage of Minnesota’s secondary.
Pick: Vikings 24 Titans 14
Cleveland Browns at Philadelphia Eagles (-4)
In a bit of a shocker, the Eagles traded away Sam Bradford and announced that Carson Wentz would start despite a rib injury. But as far as first starts go, this is about as good as it gets for Wentz. The Browns defense is very young and will have its own growing pains to deal with. The Eagles don’t have a very good offensive line, but they shouldn’t have too much trouble keeping the pocket clean for Wentz.
As for the Cleveland offense, I’m not too sure what to expect. RG3 showed some potential in the preseason, but that was against some very bland defensive schemes. Will he be able to adjust and figure out what defenses are trying to do to stop him when it counts? He won’t have much of a running game to rely on, and his offensive line is a major liability outside of Joe Thomas. With Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham on the other side, this will be a big mismatch. Unless they’re getting like 14 points, I don’t think I’m picking the Browns all year.
Pick: Browns 13 Eagles 21
Cincinnati Bengals (-2.5) at New York Jets
The Jets lost their excellent nose tackle, Damon Harrison, to the Giants, and have defensive end Sheldon Richardson suspended. They still have Leonard Williams and Muhammad Wilkerson, but I think the Bengals will actually have some success on the ground in this game with their strong offensive line. Andy Dalton won’t have Tyler Eifert around, but with Darrelle Revis on the decline, Dalton can just throw to AJ Green.
As for the Jets, Ryan Fitzpatrick is back after a long holdout, but I don’t think it’s going to make much of a difference in this game. The Bengals have a very good defense, and while the Jets have Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, Fitzpatrick still has limited arm strength and a running game led by the declining Matt Forte, A rough season for the Jets starts here.
Pick: Bengals 24 Jets 14
Oakland Raiders at New Orleans Saints (-1)
As a Raiders fan, I think this is a must win if the Raiders are to make the playoffs. Sure, it’s a 1 PM ET start for a west coast team, but the Saints aren’t doing too well right now. They have an injured left tackle (who isn’t on the injury report) and a weak offensive line otherwise. They have some weapons on offense, but the Raiders spent big on Sean Smith, Reggie Nelson, and Bruce Irvin. They should not have much success moving the ball.
Meanwhile, the Saints are very thin on defense. They lost first round pick Sheldon Rankins for the year. They are starting Paul Kruger, who wasn’t good enough for the Browns. They cut Keenan Lewis, a half decent corner. If Derek Carr is accurate for the day, he should have no trouble finding open receivers. That being said, I can see some missed throws from Carr early. I can see Drew Brees, who has destroyed the Raiders in their past 2 meetings, putting the Raiders in an early hole. Jack Del Rio is going to get outcoached. The Raiders have an opportunity to make a statement this game, but with such high expectations from many, I think this game stays far too close for comfort.
Pick: Raiders 24 Saints 27
San Diego Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs (-7)
Wow. The Chiefs win a playoff game and all of a sudden they’re favored by 7 in a divisional game. They beat the Chargers 10-3 their last game, and that was when the Chargers were trotting out practice squad players. This game will be different. Justin Houston, the Chiefs best defensive player, is out. Tamba Hali and Eric Berry are also recovering from injuries. The Chiefs lost a good corner in Sean Smith to the Raiders. All this means that Philip Rivers will have more time in the pocket to find Keenan Allen, who will be able to get open against the overrated Marcus Peters. It remains to be seen if the Chargers will be able to run the ball effectively. Melvin Gordon and the offensive line both need to step up and have better seasons.
The Chiefs will also be missing Jamaal Charles, but they have some fine backups in Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West. The Chargers figure to be an improved team as far as run defense goes, so they should be able to focus on the short throws Alex Smith has become known for. I’m tempted to pick the Chargers to win outright, but this game is in Arrowhead, so I think the Chiefs win a close game. No way they cover that spread though.
Pick: Chargers 21 Chiefs 23
Buffalo Bills at Baltimore Ravens (-3)
By my count, the Ravens already have 13 players on IR. Not a good start to this season. Granted, some of those players aren’t very important. The Bills are dealing with injuries and suspensions of their own, namely to Marcell Dareus, Shaq Lawson, and Reggie Ragland. The Ravens have a decent offensive line so these injuries should give Flacco more time and also establish some sort of running game. The Bills have a strong secondary, but the Ravens can just use their tight ends and running backs to take advantage of the Bills injured front seven.
The Bills better pray the injury bug doesn’t keep biting. Tyrod Taylor and Sammy Watkins both have injury histories, and if either goes down, the Bills will be in a lot of trouble. This week, they are both healthy, so they should be able to take advantage of a suspect Ravens secondary. Eric Weddle will need to help out his corners with Watkins. Cordy Glenn, the Bills left tackle, is dealing with an injury himself. If he doesn’t suit up, a front seven that returns Terrell Suggs will make life very difficult for Taylor and LeSean McCoy. This is a tough game to pick, as the spread is right where it should be. I’m taking the Bills to cover in a very close game.
Pick: Bills 23 Ravens 24
Chicago Bears at Houston Texans (-6.5)
The Bears are a much improved team, especially on the defensive side of the ball. However, this spread has risen by about 3 points since the opening line. There are 2 reasons. The first is that everyone hates Jay Cutler. His demeanor and attitude have been terrible for years, but there may have been a slight change last year, as he actually seemed to try. The second is that JJ Watt is going to play. He may not be 100%, but we all know through his Twitter posts and such that JJ Watt is the hardest working human being on the planet as well as indestructible. The Bears, with the signing of Josh Sitton, actually might be able to contain JJ Watt some, though I expect Jadeveon Clowney to step up this year. I don’t expect Jeremy Langford to find much running room however, so Cutler will have to air it out to Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White.
The Texans are dealing with some injuries to their left tackle and center. As mentioned earlier, the Bears will be much better on defense this year. I expect their new linebackers to put the clamps on Lamar Miller, leaving Brock Osweiler to show everyone why he deserved such a big contract. Having DeAndre Hopkins will help, while rookie Will Fuller will also make his presence felt. The Bears still have weaknesses in their secondary. With that being said, I don’t think the Texans will be able to cover this large spread. The Bears should be able to score and force Osweiler into making some mistakes.
Pick: Bears 20 Texans 24
Green Bay Packers (-4.5) at Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars are another team with high expectations, but those may have to wait another week as the Packers are one of the best teams in the NFL. The Jaguars made many improvements on the defensive side of the ball, adding Malik Jackson while drafting Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack. They had a very good run defense last year, and I think not so fat Ed Lacy will have a hard time running the ball this game. Even with that, I don’t think the Jacksonville secondary is quite ready to shut down Aaron Rodgers and his full arsenal of weapons. The Packers have a decent line and should be able to keep Rodgers clean.
The main weakness for the Jaguars is their offensive line. The Packers have a very strong pass rush (43 sacks last year) that will get stronger with Clay Matthews moving back to outside linebacker. I think the Jaguars can negate that some, as the Packers gave up 4.5 yards per rush on the ground last year. They spent a lot of money on Chris Ivory to wear down defenses. As long as Bortles has some time in the pocket, he should be able to find Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, and a supposedly motivated Julius Thomas.
Right now, 87% of the money is on the Packers. They are definitely the better team, but this seems like a classic back door cover game. Hell, the Jaguars may straight up keep it close all game. I’ll go out on a limb and say the Jaguars cover.
Pick: Packers 30 Jaguars 27
Seattle Seahawks (-10.5) at Miami Dolphins
This line means that the Seahawks are really good and the Dolphins are really bad. Well, the Dolphins are this bad. The Seahawks have maybe the worst offensive line in the NFL. The Dolphins will be able to take advantage of this, as they have a pretty fearsome defensive line that includes Cameron Wake, Ndamukong Suh, and Mario Williams. They should be able to put pressure on Russell Wilson and put the clamps on a Seahawk running game that is starting Christine Michael. Wilson will is elusive enough to find time in the pocket, so he’ll connect on some deep passes with Doug Baldwin and Jimmy Graham against some suspect Dolphins corners and linebackers.
On offense, the Dolphins have to start Arian Foster at running back, who may or may not get hurt on his first carry of the game. The Dolphins have pretty good offensive tackles, but if Mike Pouncey is out for the game, their interior line will be pretty weak. This will make it hard for the Dolphins to establish a running game. Ryan Tannehill has some talented receivers to work with, but the Seahawks still have an excellent secondary and front seven that should be able to defend any sort of pass the Dolphins draw up.
I don’t see either team scoring very much in this game, which is why I think the spread is way too high. Even if the Seahawks establish a big lead, it will be very easy for the Dolphins to land a back door cover.
Pick: Seahawks 16 Dolphins 13
New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys (pick)
The Cowboys may have hit the jackpot with their fourth round selection in Dak Prescott, who slid that far because of an offseason DUI. Who knows if he’ll stay on his best behavior, but for now, he holds the hopes of all Cowboys fans. This isn’t the easiest test for Prescott, as the Giants added a corner in Janoris Jenkins, and two defensive linemen in Olivier Vernon and Damon Harrison. Harrison should help keep Ezekiel Elliott and the running game in check, and if that happens, the Giants will have an easier time getting after Prescott against the elite Cowboys offensive line. Dez Bryant will be a problem for the Giants regardless.
Contrary to the Cowboys, the Giants have a terrible offensive line. New York had a very difficult time moving the ball during the preseason. Lucky for them, the Cowboys will be missing Rolando McClain, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Randy Gregory in their front seven, so maybe the line will have some success establishing a running game and protecting Eli Manning. The Cowboys secondary is actually pretty good, so aside from Odell Beckham, Manning might have a hard time finding open receivers. He may have to rely on Shane Vereen to catch passes out of the backfield.
This is a tough game to pick, as both teams have issues. I pick the Giants only because of their experience at quarterback. I don’t see the Cowboys running away with this game and I think Eli will have the upper hand in the 4th quarter.
Pick: Giants 24 Cowboys 20
Detroit Lions at Indianapolis Colts (-3.5)
Andrew Luck is back, and aside from Khalil and Amari Cooper, he’s my favorite NFL player. The Lions have a pretty nasty defense, so the much maligned Colts offensive line will have its hands full. I expect Andrew to have a lot of pressure in his face the whole game with Ezekiel Ansah on the other side. The Colts also will have trouble running the ball with old man Frank Gore. Receivers Donte Moncrief and Philip Dorsett will need to step up because TY Hilton will have a hard time getting open against Lions corner Darius Slay.
I don’t think the Lions will miss Calvin Johnson as much as people think, as he didn’t seem to have his heart in the game last year anyway. The Lions have their own issues on the offensive front, so the Colts should have some success in stopping the run and generating pressure. Unfortunately, the Colts are without their top corner, Vontae Davis. The Lions still have some weapons in Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, and Ameer Abdullah. Maybe Eric Ebron feels like contributing this year as well. As long as Stafford stays upright for the most part, I think the Lions force Andrew Luck into some turnovers and come out on top. Besides, the Lions were really clicking at the end of last year and would have won seven out of their last 8 if it weren’t for an Aaron Rodgers Hail Mary.
Pick: Lions 27 Colts 24
New England Patriots at Arizona Cardinals (-6)
It’s hard to judge Jimmy Garoppolo, as he didn’t have Rob Gronkowski in any of his preseason games. Garoppolo struggled some, but those should be alleviated with Gronkowski around. In this matchup, it may not matter much. The Cardinals have one of the best defenses in the NFL and are returning Tyrann Mathieu. Chandler Jones will want to make his old team look silly for trading him as well. The Patriots have issues on their offensive line. Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer is injured, and they will be starting two rookies inside at guard. Jones, Calais Campbell, and the rest of the Cardinals defensive line have to be licking their chops.
The Patriots have a pretty good defense of their own. Carson Palmer may start to decline this season. If that’s the case, the Patriots will be able to force some turnovers with their talented linebackers and secondary. Cardinals running back David Johnson will need to run well to control the clock, tire out the defense, and limit the number of passes Palmer throws.
I’m sure I’ll regret this, but I’ve been picking too many road teams this week and I just can’t justify picking another one here. Bill Belichick has had a long time to prepare for this game without Tom Brady, but I think the Cardinals defense (like many others) will be too much for Garoppolo to handle. Plus, unless Palmer serves up a stinker for ages, the Cardinals will have their share of explosive plays. That being said, I would not be surprised at all if the Patriots keep this one close and pull out the win.
Pick: Cardinals 27 Patriots 20
Monday Night Doubleheader
Pittsburgh Steelers Fighting Irish (-3) at Washington Redskins
I have to keep my Pittsburgh trash talk to a minimum this year, because I could certainly eat my words come January or February. That being said, they didn’t have the best offseason. Le’Veon Bell is suspended for 3 games, while receiver Martavis Bryant is suspended for the whole season. Sammie Coates was supposed to step up, but that ain’t happening. The Redskins should have a much better defense this year with the addition of Josh Norman, Kendall Reyes, David Bruton, and Greg Toler. Sure, those last 3 names aren’t too sexy, but they should at the very least provide some depth. In the words of one contributor of this website: “Josh Norman is not worth his contract”, and “Antonio Brown is one of the 10 best receivers of all time.” Those may be true, but the Redskins should be able to slow Antonio down some. 33 year old DeAngelo Williams is on his last legs, so Ben Roethlisberger really needs some production out of Markus Wheaton or slot receiver Eli Rogers.
The Redskins have everyone healthy on offense. This means a healthy dose of Jordan Reed and a motivated DeSean Jackson (who is in his contract year). If Kirk Cousins picks up where he left off last year, the Redskins should have no trouble scoring points. With Bud Dupree injured, the Steelers pass rush won’t be as strong. I do see the Redskins struggling to run the ball some with either an injured Matt Jones or his backup, Robert Kelley.
If you haven’t guessed, I think the Redskins win here. Pittsburgh has a home date with Cincinnati in week 2 that you know is circled on their schedule. A few of the contributors on defense have some (minor) injuries that may slow them down, and on top of that, the Redskins just match up reasonable well.
Pick: Pittsburgh 24 Redskins 31
LA Rams (-2.5) at San Francisco 49ers
The poor Rams traded up for the #1 overall pick to draft a third string quarterback. You know what other #1 overall pick QB started his rookie year as the third stringer? Jamarcus Russell. So, Case Keenum will start at quarterback, and despite his limited skill set, he seems to at least have good command of the offense, so he will be an effective game manager. This is going to be the Todd Gurley show anyway. The 49ers will hope that DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead were worthy draft picks, and maybe NaVorro Bowman will have a bounce back year, but other than that, their secondary and pass rush aren’t very good. Still, it’s not like the Rams are stacked at receiver or on the offensive line, so the 49ers do have some hope of defense.
The San Francisco offense on the other hand, is in shambles. They will be starting Blaine Gabbert, and have only two good offensive linemen in Joe Staley and Anthony Davis. The Rams have an excellent defensive line led by Aaron Donald and Robert Quinn. I expect them to live in the 49er backfield. Running back Carlos Hyde won’t have much room to run, so unless Blaine Gabbert has really mastered Chip Kelly’s system, I see the 49ers struggling to score even a single touchdown in this game.
I think this will be a low scoring game, and I was tempted to take the 49ers, but there is just very little to like about their roster. A Todd Gurley touchdown may be all the Rams need to put this game away.
Pick: Rams 13 49ers 6