NFL fans received the first taste of what should be a great season Thursday night, with the Packers and Saints combining for 76 points in what very well may be a preview of the NFC Championship — that is, if the Saints can find a way to gain a yard when they really need it. The gambler in me felt it was smart to take the Saints at +4.5 in that game, as the two teams felt pretty even. With New Orleans being one measly yard from taking the game into overtime, it seems like that assumption was true. Alas, the Packers covered in the highly entertaining game.
Putting that game behind us, let’s move on to the rest of the Week 1 action. Hopefully you were able to open up a sizable fantasy lead by this point of the week. Even better, I hope you gamblers were able to make a little coin off a Packer-Over parlay or a Saints-Over teaser. Below you’ll find my picks for the rest of Week 1, and I’ll do my best to steer you in the right direction with my Best Bets each week. Here we go.
Pittsburgh (+1) at Baltimore
Baltimore looks like a team that could take a step forward this year; however, Pittsburgh is already among the league’s elite, reaching the Super Bowl last year despite injury issues on the offensive line. Ben Roethlisberger showed up this preseason looking better than ever, which is a scary thought for the rest of the AFC. The Ravens secondary looks like a weakness with rookie Jimmy Smith and untested Cary Williams starting at cornerback. Despite this being a road divisional game against their biggest rivals, I think Pittsburgh has an easy time here.
The Pick: Pittsburgh +1, Over 36
Detroit (+1) at Tampa Bay
Detroit is getting a lot of love as this year’s hot sleeper team, with what could be an explosive passing game coupled with maybe the best defensive line in football. As good as those two facets of the Lions look, they still have a questionable back seven on defense and a questionable inside rushing attack. Meanwhile, the Bucs return five starters on the offensive line that combined to start 53 of a possible 80 games last season. They should do a solid job against the Detroit D-line, while Josh Freeman works his magic for a Week 1 win.
The Pick: Tampa Bay -1, Over 41
Atlanta (-3) at Chicago
Looking for nice upset picks in Week 1? Home underdogs are generally the way to go, especially when the underdog was the No. 2 seed in the NFC last year. Unfortunately for the Bears, the guys in the opponents locker room were the No. 1 seed. While Atlanta spent the offseason getting better (Ray Edwards, Julio Jones, Jacquizz Rodgers), the Bears’ big pickups were castoffs of a 6-10 Cowboys team. Color me unimpressed. Atlanta should dominate this one, and I don’t trust the Bears offense to push this over.
The Pick: Atlanta -3, Under 40.5
Buffalo (+5.5) at Kansas City
These two teams played in Kansas City last year with essentially the same lineups, and the result was a 13-10 OT win. Don’t expect a ton of offense here. A low-scoring affair favors the big underdog, and Matt Cassel’s health could limit the Kansas City passing game. That’s not good for a team that completed just 14 passes in their first meeting. The KC defense should do enough to win this game, but I don’t see a cover here against the plucky Bills.
The Pick: Buffalo +5.5, Under 40
Indianapolis (+9) at Houston
By now you know the story line: not only is Peyton Manning out for this game, but the Colts have no idea when or if he’ll play this season. Even if Arian Foster is forced to miss this game, it’s hard to see the Texan offense missing a beat. Meanwhile, Kerry Collins’ on-the-job training of the complex Colts offense doesn’t bode well for their season outlook, and the Indy defense is one of the worst in the league. Last season these teams met in Week 1 in Houston and the Texans won by 10. This year, the balance has shifted greatly in their favor.
The Pick: Houston -9, Under 43.5
Philadelphia (-4.5) at St. Louis
You may laugh, but this could easily be a preview of a playoff matchup in January. The Rams imported offensive guru Josh McDaniels to aid the development of an already impressive Sam Bradford. Philadelphia clearly won the offseason, but it’s not a given that it’ll translate to scoreboard wins, at least early. In particular, the Eagle offensive line could be in trouble, with four new starters (or starters in new positions). That’s not good against a Steve Spagnuolo defense. Not only should the Rams keep this close, but I like their chances at winning.
The Pick: St. Louis +4.5, Under 44
Cincinnati (+7) at Cleveland
Cincy is going to have a predictable, power-running attack this season and could challenge to match the Lions’ record of futility with an 0-16 season. Meanwhile, the Browns look like a team on the rise, and they have an excellent young QB by the name of Colt McCoy under center. He may not draw much fantasy attention, but he holds the record for more NCAA career wins, so he’s a proven performer. I don’t think Cleveland will ever be in danger of losing this game, but it’s going to be low-scoring, so I’ll have to side with the seven-point underdog here. Think 17-14.
The Pick: Cincinnati +7, Under 35.5
Tennessee (+1) at Jacksonville
A lot has happened to swing this line two points in Tennessee’s favor. First, Chris Johnson ended his holdout and signed a contract extension, giving the Titans their most dangerous weapon for this Week 1 game. Then Jacksonville decided to release starting quarterback David Garrard, a highly questionable decision considering the Colts’ expected fall leaves the division wide open. Are the Jaguars giving up on the season already? I’ll take Matt Hasselbeck, Chris Johnson, Kenny Britt and Jared Cook against Maurice Jones-Drew and mediocrity, even on the road.
The Pick: Tennessee +1, Over 37
New York Giants (-3) at Washington
The Giants have seen key defensive players succumb to injury far too often this preseason, leaving them with a decimated group of cornerbacks and a sixth-round rookie starting at middle linebacker. Even Rex Grossman should be able to post quality numbers against this bunch. These two teams played in the last game of the season last year, and Grossman went 26-of-44 for 336 yards, two TDs and one interception. Three starters that are going to miss this week’s game were New York’s key contributors in that 17-14 win. To top it off, Washington’s running game should be much better, making them the clear favorite despite the line.
The Pick: Washington +3, Over 38
Carolina (+7) at Arizona
Carolina is a bad team, but they’re going to do better than two wins this season. Arizona seems like a much improved team, but are we sure Kevin Kolb is a quality quarterback? Considering he’s had such a short time to prepare after being traded this offseason, I’d expect the Arizona offense to be a little rusty in this one. Carolina will run, run, run, which gives them a great chance to keep this one close. I like Arizona to pull out a close game, but the Carolina money line is also worth pounding at +260.
The Pick: Carolina +7, Over 37
Seattle (+5.5) at San Francisco
If you’re lucky, you’ll manage to avoid not only any live coverage of this game, but any “highlights” as well. Seattle upset the Saints in last year’s playoffs, but Matt Hasselbeck has been replaced by Tarvaris Jackson, who essentially defines the term “replacement player.” San Francisco’s rush defense is going to miss Aubrayo Franklin, but I don’t like a hobbled Marshawn Lynch’s chances of going beast mode. San Francisco’s offense has looked pathetic this preseason as well, so I’m comfortable predicting a low scoring game that’s decided by a field goal. I feel awful backing Jackson on the road, but it is what it is.
The Pick: Seattle +5.5, Under 38
Minnesota (+9) at San Diego
The Chargers are notorious for starting slow, and there’s no reason we should expect anything less this year. Secondary receiving options Patrick Crayton and Vincent Brown may miss the game, which doesn’t bode well for a San Diego blowout. Adrian Peterson may be running behind a subpar line, but he’s still Adrian Peterson. I’m not sure I believe in Ryan Mathews quite yet, so I like the Vikings’ chances to keep this one within a TD. If the Chargers’ spotty early-season history holds up, Minnesota could come out of this with a win.
The Pick: Minnesota +9, Over 42
Dallas (+5.5) at New York Jets
The Cowboys seem underrated heading into this season; they’re clearly at least the second-best team in their division and could be a Wild Card favorite if not the winner of the NFC East. The Jets seem overrated and definitely are no better than the second-best team in their division. The Jets have a great defense, but their offense pales in comparison to that of the Cowboys, even with a gimpy Miles Austin. Remember, Darrelle Revis can only cover one Cowboy at a time. I think Jason Witten and Dez Bryant could have nice games, and I like Dallas and its improved defense to win here.
The Pick: Dallas +5.5, Under 40.5
New England (-7) at Miami
The Patriots once again should be competing deep into January, but the Dolphins may be closer to a playoff appearance than you realize. Despite the organization showing no faith in him, Chad Henne actually improved in most aspects last year. He has an excellent No. 1 option in Brandon Marshall, and Reggie Bush could keep the running game relevant till his impending injury. Throw in one of the game’s best left tackles and a beastly pass rusher, and the Dolphins should do much better than last year’s two shellackings at the hands of the Pats. Still, it’s hard to bet against New England when they beat Miami by a combined score of 79-21 last year.
The Pick: New England -7, Over 45.5
Oakland (+3) at Denver
The +3 line tells us these two teams are considered equals (home field usually translates to three points). However, Denver went 4-12 while getting outscored by 127 points in 2010, while Oakland finished 8-8 and outscored their opponents by 39 points. Denver’s key acquisitions this offseason were head coach John Fox (of the 2-14 Carolina Panthers), Willis McGahee and rookie linebacker Von Miller. Seems like the Raiders should be favored in this one, right? Losing Nnamdi Asomugha will hurt throughout the season, but their excellent rushing attack and quality defensive line will be enough to start the year 1-0.
The Pick: Oakland +3, Under 40.5
Pittsburgh/Baltimore Over 36
Seattle/San Francisco Under 38
Upset Special (+200 or higher)
Cowboys (+210) over Jets
Lines from Bodog Sports.