The Packers will easily cover and beat San Francisco.

Week 1 is finally here. I’ve been examining these games for nearly two months now, so I felt the need to make these write-ups longer than I normally would make them. Eventually carpal tunnel syndrome and sheer laziness will set in and they’ll get a whole lot shorter, so enjoy them while they last.

Colts @ Bears: Prior to the preseason I probably would have predicted that the Bears would win this game handily, but a lot has changed since then. Andrew Luck is the real deal. I rarely make assertions like this after only seeing a player play in the preseason but I’m making an exception for Luck.  The former Stanford quarterback looked calm and collected in the pocket, leading me to believe that Indianapolis will be much more competitive than people think this season.  Luck catches a break in his first regular season game as Brian Urlacher will be nowhere near 100% for the Bears.  Unfortunately, he’ll still have to deal with the rest of Chicago’s front seven, led by Julius Peppers and Lance Briggs.  Luck will keep Indianapolis in the game, but in the end, the Colts don’t have the defense to hold up against the Bears’ offensive weapons.  The addition of cornerback Vontae Davis will ensure that Jay Cutler doesn’t unleash an aerial assault on the Colts, but Indy’s front seven remain as inept at stopping the run as ever.  Bears 23, Colts 17

Eagles @ Browns:  The Eagles ended last season with four straight wins, and look very impressive in doing so.  I expect their strong play to carry over into their Week 1 matchup with the lowly Browns.  Cleveland is talent deficient at almost every position and will be starting a rookie quarterback against one of the most ferocious defensive lines in the NFL.  A solid running game would have helped Brandon Weeden through his first NFL start, but with Trent Richardson banged up, and Montario Hardesty and Brandon Jackson looking like two steaming piles of crap, Weeden will be facing many third-and-long situations.  If you think Weeden’s 59.7 quarterback rating in preseason was bad, you haven’t seen anything yet.  On the other side of the ball, Philadelphia should be able to keep the chains moving with ease.  With nose tackle Phil Taylor on the PUP list to start the season and cornerback Joe Haden missing the game due to suspension, Cleveland’s defense will be without their best run stopper and their best pass defender.  Barring an injury to Michael Vick, Philadelphia shouldn’t have any issues here.  Cleveland is a miserable 2-8-2 ATS in their last 12 home games.  Eagles 27, Browns 13

Bills @ Jets:  Prior to the start of NFL preseason, the Bills were a 6.5-point underdog in Week 1 against the Jets.  A lot has changed since then.  The Jets offense looked pathetic in the preseason, and subsequently, the Jets have dropped to 3-point favorites.  New York’s offense won’t be as terrible as they looked in exhibition contests, but they’ll still be in the lower half of the league in points scored because they simply don’t have any playmakers on the offensive side of the ball.  Buffalo boasts an improved defense with one of the best defensive lines in all of football.  They have an edge in the trenches on both sides of the ball.  While the Jets defense is still a solid unit, they’re not the unit that they once were when Rex Ryan took over as head coach.  Mark Sanchez will either make a lot of mistakes trying to do too much, or he’ll be overly cautious and not do enough.  I’m not sure which one it’ll be, but I’m pretty confident that Buffalo will pull out the road victory, especially considering there’s a good chance the home crowd turns on the home team. Bills 21, Jets 16

Redskins @ Saints:  While Andrew Luck is making his debut against a ferocious Bears’ defense, Robert Griffin III travels to the Superdome to take on the Saints.  New Orleans’ defense will look a little different on Sunday without Jonathan Vilma manning the middle linebacker position, but truth be told, Vilma’s suspension may have been a blessing in disguise.  While the suspension has been overturned (Vilma will remain out of action due to a knee injury), New Orleans prepared for life without him, revamping their linebacking core by adding Curtis Lofton, Barrett Ruud, and David Hawthorne. This is a huge improvement over anything they’ve had in the last few years.  There are sure to be some growing pains with three new linebackers under a brand new defensive coordinator, but New Orleans surely has some playmakers on defense.  Robert Griffin III will probably end up being a solid NFL quarterback, but I don’t like his chances this week, especially considering the crowd noise at the Superdome.  For the Saints, their offense has been unstoppable at home in recent years, and that won’t change as long as Drew Brees is at the helm.  New Orleans is 12-1 ATS in their last 13 home games, and while there’s the potential for a Redskins’ back door cover, I think it’s more likely we’ll see a comfortable Saints’ win.  Saints 34, Redskins 20

Patriots @ Titans:  This game reeks of a trap.  The Patriots opened up as 6.5-point favorites, and despite 86% of the public currently backing New England, the line has dropped to 5 points.  With line movement like that, there is no way in hell I’d take New England this weekend.  While the Patriots’ offense may have a ton of weapons, it can’t be ignored that their first team offense did absolutely nothing in the preseason.  New England’s offensive line looked awful, and when they did provide Tom Brady with time in the pocket, it seemed as though Brady missed a lot of easy throws.  Regardless of their play in the preseason, I’d say you’re much more likely to see the Brady of old in Week 1, especially with Wes Welker back in the lineup.  The real pressing issue for New England is their defense.  While their front seven might be solid, their secondary is still an abomination.  The absence of Titans’ wideout Kenny Britt isn’t as big a deal as people are making it out to be, as both Kendall Wright and Nate Washington are completely capable replacements.  In all honesty, I’m not sure what to do with this game.  In one scenario, I can see New England beating Tennessee by four touchdowns or more.  On the other hand, I can see Brady struggling to find his rhythm early on and allowing the Titans to get in front and make this a game.  After all, the last 18 Super Bowl losers are 3-15 ATS in their first game the following season.  Patriots 24, Titans 21

Jaguars @ Vikings:  Whichever team wins this game is probably doing themselves a disservice in the long run by costing themselves a chance at the #1 overall pick next season.  I’m going to get to the point quickly here—the Vikings may be bad, but the Jaguars are terrible.  Blaine Gabbert is probably the worst starting quarterback in the NFL, and I don’t think it’s even close.  He looked like a frightened turtle in the pocket all of last season, and resorted to making short, quick passes for the entire preseason.  While the short, quick passes are better than the constant interceptions he was throwing last season, they still won’t move the chains regularly.  The Jags are going to get nothing out of Maurice Jones-Drew in Week 1 since he missed all of training camp and the preseason.  Rookie wide receiver Justin Blackmon is their only real weapon on offense, but he’s got a dud throwing to him, so his presence on the field will barely be felt.  I could go on and on here, and I haven’t even gotten to Jacksonville’s defense yet.  Minnesota is currently a 3.5-point favorite in this spot.  Subtracting three points for home field advantage tells us that Vegas believes the Vikings are a half point better than the Jags on a neutral field.  I strongly disagree with that.  Minnesota has a semi-capable quarterback in Christian Ponder, and plenty of weapons on offense, including one of the more dynamic players in the league in Percy Harvin.  This will be one terrible game to watch.  Vikings 23, Jaguars 10

Dolphins @ Texans:  See Jaguars @ Vikings write-up.  Everything I said about the Jaguars applies to the Dolphins except for the fact that they don’t even have the luxury of having a #1 receiver.  Miami’s defense is decent, but their unit will be transitioning to a 4-3 defense this season, and there will definitely be some growing pains there.  It also doesn’t help that the Dolphins just traded stud cornerback Vontae Davis to the Colts and are left with Sean Smith and Richard Marshall as their starters.  I’m pretty sure Sean Smith wouldn’t be a starting corner on my recreational touch football team.  That’s not an exaggeration.  OK, maybe it is, but you get the point.  Do I have to write anything more about this game?  I’m going to give the Dolphins nine points because I like Dan Carpenter.   Texans 27, Dolphins 9

Rams @ Lions:  Trap alert.  The Lions opened up as 9-point favorites in this spot but have dropped down to 7.5-point favorites despite taking in four fifths of the action.  Detroit has a bunch of significant injuries going into this game, and since the average fan doesn’t care about any Lions’ player other than Matt Stafford or Calvin Johnson, they probably aren’t aware of the state of Detroit’s secondary.  Starting cornerback Chris Houston and starting safety Louis Delmas both missed practices this week and are expected to miss the season opener.  These are key injuries to a secondary that already wasn’t any good in the first place.  The Rams’ wide receivers may be mediocre, but both Brian Quick and Steve Smith are capable of stretching the field.  If Sam Bradford can return to some semblance of a quarterback, the Rams are capable of pulling off the upset here.  St. Louis’ defense is much improved this season, especially with the addition of cornerbacks Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins, the latter coming in the NFL Draft.  Ultimately though, it’s hard to keep the Lions’ high octane offense in check for 60 minutes.  Jeff Fisher will be content with his team’s performance in Week 1, but the Lions squeak it out.  Lions 26, Rams 24

Falcons @ Chiefs:  I’m high on both of these teams heading into the season, which makes this game all the more difficult to handicap.  When the Week 1 spreads came out a couple of months ago, I had Kansas City circled as my favorite play, but a lot has changed since then.  The suspension of Chiefs’ outside linebacker Tamba Hali is a HUGE blow to Kansas City’s pass rush.  On top of that, there are injury concerns with cornerback Brandon Flowers and inside linebacker Derrick Johnson, who just so happen to be the other two top playmakers on the Chiefs’ defense.  Both are expected to play this week, but they’ll definitely be short of 100%.  All of this would be a huge concern if the Falcons’ offense was any good outdoors… but they aren’t.  Atlanta has struggled moving the chains in outdoor environments under Matt Ryan, and while they may put up some points, they’ll be nowhere near as dynamic as they are at home.  Defensively, the Falcons are pretty strong, but the loss of middle linebacker Curtis Lofton in the offseason is going to significantly affect their run defense.  Atlanta isn’t equipped up front to deal with the two-headed monster of Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis.  Ultimately, I think that Kansas City can turn this into a “grind it out” type of game and keep Atlanta’s offense off the field for extended periods of time.  Chiefs 23, Falcons 20

49ers @ Packers:  This betting line has me extremely confused.  The Packers are currently listed as 5-point favorites in this matchup, and in all honesty, I thought this number would be at least a touchdown.  If the Packers and 49ers were playing in the Super Bowl on a neutral field (which I realize is impossible), I’d expect Green Bay to be a 5-point favorite. But this game is at Lambeau!  You’ll probably see most people predicting a tight Packers’ win here, but I think this game has blowout written all over it.  San Francisco’s defense is solid, and they’re especially solid against the run, but their weakest point is pass defense.  Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in football and I don’t see him having trouble moving the chains against the 49ers’ defense.  If San Francisco stands a chance in this game, they’re going to need to score at least three touchdowns, and probably more.  That’s not going to happen with Alex Smith under centre.  San Francisco’s running game isn’t what it used to be with Frank Gore aging rapidly and Kendall Hunter getting nowhere near the number of carries that he should be getting.  This means that Smith will be called upon to convert a lot of third downs, and I don’t like his chances against the ball-hawking Green Bay secondary.  This one is going to get out of hand in a hurry.  I can’t wait for the Randy Moss post game interview.  Packers 35, 49ers 13

Panthers @ Buccaneers:  I’ve gone back and forth on this game at least a handful of times this week.  I want to stay away from the Carolina hype train to start the season because historically I’ve found that teams with a lot of preseason hype tend to shit the bed early in the year (see 2011 Eagles).  I’m going to go with the Panthers and probably regret my decision. Cam Newton will suffer through a sophomore slump at some point this season, but I’m not sure it starts in this game as Newton accounted for 4 total touchdowns in each meeting with the Bucs last season.  His counterpart in this matchup, Josh Freeman, is clueless. After a terrible sophomore campaign last year I was expecting him to have a rebound season, but if the preseason is any indication, he may have regressed even further.  Fortunately for Freeman, he has a group of solid weapons on offense this season.  The additions of Vincent Jackson and Doug Martin will especially be of value against the group of “defenders” that the Panthers throw out on the field this week.  Carolina’s defense reeks.  They have a bunch of solid linebackers and are abysmal at every other position.  If Freeman can’t move the ball this week then all hope is lost.  On the other side of things, Bucs’ defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan really has his work cut out for him this season because his personnel is as terrible as the latest single by The Offspring.  Really, I have no clue what’s going to happen here.  Panthers 27, Bucs 19

Seahawks @ Cardinals:  I’m still trying to figure out why Seattle is favored in this game.  Sure, Russell Wilson looked like Cam Newton in the preseason, but 63 passing attempts is a small sample size.  The Seahawks have won a whopping total of 6 games away from home in the last three seasons, and that includes the 2010 season where they went to the playoffs.  Arizona has solidified itself as a solid home team, going 6-2 at home last season with their only losses coming against the Giants and the Steelers.  Aside from home and away records, I’m not sure people realize that the Cardinals are actually a decent football team.  Arizona went 7-2 after John Skelton took over the starting quarterback position, with wins over the 49ers, Cowboys, and Eagles in that span.  Skelton is far from a good quarterback, but he does a good job of getting the ball to the team’s best playmaker, Larry Fitzgerald.  Fitzgerald will see a lot of Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman this week; both of whom are tall, neither of which are very good.  Defensively, the Cardinals boast a pair of outstanding defensive ends in Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell.  With Marshawn Lynch banged up, the Seahawks will rely heavily on Robert Turbin and Leon Washington to move the chains.  Neither will have much success against Arizona’s defensive unit.  Arizona’s the better football team here and will continue their great finish from last season.  Cardinals 23, Seahawks 13

Steelers @ Broncos:  Peyton Manning couldn’t have asked for a bigger nightmare matchup in his first game back in over a year.  While the Steelers don’t particularly excel in coverage, both their pass rush and their rush defense are superb.  It’ll be interesting to see how Manning performs in the face of pressure.  With Denver not likely to establish their running game now that their starting quarterback is no longer a running threat, Manning might be facing a lot of third down passing situations.  I think he’ll be a little skittish in the pocket in his first game back under center.  On the other side of things, Pittsburgh is unlikely to find much success moving the ball either.  New offensive coordinator Todd Haley will definitely be looking to run the ball more this season.  Rashard Mendenhall may play this week, but it’s unlikely that he’ll see any significant playing time, while Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer are nothing more than stopgap options.  Big Ben will be facing many third down passing situations of his own, but unlike Manning, I trust Roethlisberger a little more to stand in the pocket and make the throws necessary to move the chains.  Pittsburgh has waited all offseason to get another chance at the Broncos and they’ll take full advantage.  Steelers 20, Broncos 17

SURVIVOR PICK
My general rules of thumb for making survivor picks are:
a) No division games
b) No road teams
c) No underdogs

Based on my rules of thumb and general common sense, here are the games that I would consider for this week in order of confidence:
1)  Houston vs. Miami — the safest pick, Miami is dreadful
2)  New Orleans vs. Washington — the Saints are a force at home
3)  Green Bay vs. San Francisco — I’m expecting the Packers to blow out the ‘9ers
4)  Chicago vs. Indianapolis — Should be safe but Urlacher status is a concern
5)  Detroit vs. St. Louis — Rams have upset potential; this one worries me

You’ll notice that Philadelphia and New England are not on this list.  That’s not by mistake.  Taking road teams is a dumb thing to do.  Even the worst NFL teams usually finish with 3 or 4 home wins per season.  The best NFL teams don’t usually lose more than 1 or 2 games at home.

SEASON RESULTS:
Week 1 – Houston Texans – ?

AGAINST THE SPREAD-SHEET
Week in and week out, you will get a look at my spreadsheet which shows my confidence in each selection.
The ‘Strength of Pick’ column indicates how confident I am in my selection with 1 being the most confident and 16 being the least confident.
The ‘Initial Reaction’ column indicates my confidence when the game lines were first released.
The ‘Mid Week’ column indicates my confidence on Wednesday.
The ‘Final Selection’ column indicates my final picks against the spread.

Strength of Pick Initial Reaction Mid Week Final Selection 2010 Record
1 BUF ARI GB 9-7
2 KC GB ARI 5-11
3 PIT BUF PIT 7-7-2
4 GB KC NO 9-7
5 ARI NO HOU 10-6
6 PHI PIT BUF 10-6
7 NO MIN KC 11-4-1
8 HOU PHI MIN 11-5
9 CAR CAR STL 7-9
10 MIN IND IND 8-7-1
11 DET TEN PHI 8-8
12 NE HOU CAR 7-9
13 CHI STL TEN 9-7
14 - 6-6
15 - 4-3
16 - 0-1-1
Overall 121-103-5

FINAL SELECTIONS
It’s one thing to show you a table indicating who I like in each game, but it’s another thing to actually show you where I’m throwing my money down.

I rate my plays on a scale of 3* to 6* with a 6* play qualifying as my top play.  I would estimate that 1 out of every 25 plays earns a 6* distinction, with approximately 50% of my plays earning a 3* distinction.

The last time I made these picks in 2010, I finished with a 39-29-2 record with a 14.3 unit profit.

Four picks this week:
5* Green Bay Packers -5 (-103) – Pinnacle
The only thing preventing this from being a 6* play is the fact that this is Week 1.  Had this game been later in the year and I had the luxury of seeing both teams play, I’d probably make this a top play.

4* Arizona Cardinals +3 (-120) – SportsInteraction
Wrong team is favored.  Pay the extra juice and get the line at +3 at Sports Interaction.  I’d much rather pay 10-15 cents extra to get the line at a full field goal.

3* Pittsburgh Steelers +2 (-110) – SportsInteraction
I debated playing this game on the money line instead of against the spread, but again, it’s Week 1 and I’d rather play things safe.  Pittsburgh’s been involved in some weird one-point games in the past, so I’ll take the points.

3* New Orleans Saints -7.5 (-110) – Bet365
Jump on the -7.5 at Bet365.  In many places this line is already as high as 9.