Friday, September 11, 2015

NFL Week 1 Primer (With Picks): Football, Baby; Football

Football is back, and Sunday night's Giants-Cowboys game will give us this dude (Odell Beckham Jr.) making crazy plays, Romo and Eli either being really good or terrible, and a pass rusher missing a finger! God bless the NFL.
 By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin) and Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

What a long, strange year it's been. When we left you, the Patriots had just won their fourth Super Bowl in the last decade and a half, and were about to embark on perhaps the most bizarre offseason a football team has ever faced. But that's over now. Because we're here.

Joe took our picks crown in 2013 with a regular season record of 125-122-11, beating Jeremy's 118-129-11. In 2014, Joe took the crown again (barely), 128-121-7 to 126-123-7. This year, Jeremy is out for blood.

Jeremy and Joe (mostly Joe) have spent the last month previewing the season, so we won't waste time with that here. We'll just jump straight into the picks, because all that's important is that Joe loses this year.


Game(s) of The Week

We really could qualify every game this week as a Game of The Week, considering football is back and we've all missed it, but we'll just run through a few ones of particular interest.

Indianapolis @ Buffalo (1:00 p.m. Sunday, CBS)

This could end up being the No. 1 passing offense in the league versus the No. 1 passing defense in the league, so whoever takes the upper hand here could be a decent harbinger for the year to come. 

Seattle @ St. Louis (1:00 p.m. Sunday, FOX)

For some reason, funky things seem to happen in the NFC West every year. Weird teams make unexpected leaps and teams you'd never expect to fall apart seem to disintegrate before our very eyes. If there's any chance at all that this is the year that St. Louis finally reaches their potential, or that Seattle suffers from a year-after Super Bowl hangover, it might be on display here.

Baltimore @ Denver (4:25 p.m. Sunday, CBS)

This is the only matchup of two playoff teams from a year ago (excluding last night's game, obviously), and both come into the game featuring a few new faces. Both teams saw turnover among their defensive starters, and Denver's new coach, Gary Kubiak, spent last season as the offensive coordinator for Baltimore. These two teams know each other well and it should be on display.

Tampa Bay @ Tennessee (4:25 p.m. Sunday, CBS)

The last time the No. 1 pick of the draft and the No. 2 pick of the draft were both quarterbacks, and then they played against each other in Week 1 of the following season was, well, never. So, this could be interesting. (For the record, I didn't actually look this up. It just seems so obscure that I'm assuming it's never happened before. If it has, feel free to send me hate mail.)

Here Are The Picks We Agree On (Home Teams In CAPS)

NEW ENGLAND (-7) over Pittsburgh

An absolute garbage cover that is just the perfect way to start the season. Even if we didn't agree on this pick (which we did, and can be confirmed via Twitter Dot Com) we'd still have to take the push, so let's just move on.

Green Bay (-7) over CHICAGO

JC: The Chicago defense has given every indication that it intends on being an absolute train wreck this season, and, historically, Aaron Rodgers has performed well against train wreck defenses. Until we see some type of tangible proof that Green Bay is going to be appreciably worse without Jordy Nelson, I'll just back the idea that the Packers can put up points and the Bears can't stop teams from putting up points.

JP: Much like last night's game (which somehow ended up being a backdoor push), I don't see how this line is just a touchdown. Maybe Vegas worries about Green Bay's offense without Jordy Nelson, but I'd take Aaron Rodgers and The Goonies against that Chicago pass defense, which ranked 30th in the league in yards per game and yards per attempt allowed last season.

Kansas City (+1) over HOUSTON

JC: In my general Week 1 strategy, I identify teams that I think are underrated going into the season, and teams I think are overrated. If a team I think is underrated (Kansas City) is playing against a team I think is overrated (Houston), I pick accordingly.

JP: Say what you want about Alex Smith's unremarkable game-managing, I'll still take him in the opener against Brian Hoyer, a man who finished his time in Cleveland losing his last three games, while throwing 5 interception to just one touchdown.

NEW YORK JETS (-3) over Cleveland

JC: Both of these teams are relatively garbage-esque, but the Jets at least should have a stellar defense. If they can score 17 points this should be an easy cover. Granted, the Jets scoring 17 points at any point this season might be a tall order, but I think they'll manage to do it a few times.

JP: If New York had a quarterback, I would actually like their chances to make a run at the Wild Card this year. Losing Geno Smith doesn't really change my opinion of them, and I think Ryan Fitzpatrick (as depressing as this sounds) may actually be a forced upgrade.

BUFFALO (+3) over Indianapolis

JC: Wouldn't it be the most Rex Ryan thing ever to pull an upset over a Super Bowl contender in Week 1 to put his team and himself back on the map? Am I crazy or does that make way too much sense?

JP: The Bills are going to have one of the best defenses in football, and it's week one, where defenses are usually a little ahead of offenses. Like the Jets, Buffalo's quarterback situation is precarious at best, but if they live up to the hype on D and just don't turn it over, they should play everybody close, especially at home.

Miami (-4) over WASHINGTON

JC: I think Miami has an outside chance of winning 10 or 11 games this year. I think if Washington is the lucky, they only lose 10 games. I have a feeling that we'll look back on this line at mid-season and be dumbfounded.

JP: Washington has been a train wreck for years now, and things seem to get worse every season. I like the Dolphins to make the playoffs this year, thanks to an improved front seven built around Ndamukong Suh, and the continued development of Ryan Tannehill with some fresh talent on offense.

Don't see how they're giving less than a touchdown, but it's week one, I guess.

Carolina (-3.5) over JACKSONVILLE

JC: Carolina is coming into the year healthy (for the most part), which means they'll start hot. They'll only taper off once their skill position guys get banged up. Until then, they should be able to handle an overmatched Jaguars squad.

JP: I wouldn't exactly call Carolina healthy at the skill positions, what with Kelvin Benjamin out for the year and all, but I do see your point in general. The Panthers have the better defense and better quarterback, and their entire receiving corps has not yet been lost to injury.

Even on the road and giving over a field goal, I'll take the Panthers to win the "1995 Feline Expansion Team" Bowl.

Tennessee (+3) over TAMPA BAY

JC: I think both of these teams are going to be substantially better than they were last season, and not just in the way that pretty much all 2-14 teams are better the following year. I think there's a decent-or-better chance that both of these teams make it to 7 or 8 wins. Until I see otherwise, I'll just assume they're equal and take the free points.

JP: Mariota > Famous Jameis. Oh, and gimme the points.

Baltimore (+5) over DENVER

JC: It's weird, but I think I have more faith in Denver's defense than in their offense right now. Until I see what Peyton Manning looks like, I'm just not sure how much I trust them. If he looks anything like he did last January, I could spend a good chunk of the season betting against the Broncos.

JP: I agree with you, and I'll go a step farther: That Broncos defense is going to be nasty, eventually. As for the offense, I actually think I'll trust that they can run the ball in Gary Kubiak's zone blocking scheme, if any of their backs can stay healthy, but I'm not sure if Peyton Manning is totally dead yet, or if the end of last season was an injury-induced aberration.

Either way, I don't feel like giving more than a field goal against a good team.

New York Giants (+6) over DALLAS

JC: I think the Giants are better than they were last year, and I think the Cowboys are worse than they were last year. I think Dallas will come to regret letting DeMarco Murray walk away with no real replacement in mind and not addressing the issue at any point, especially if Tony Romo has to start slinging the ball around. He's a fine quarterback, but he needs to be able to pick his spots.

JP: Yeah, this line's a little large for my taste, especially when I feel pretty good about New York coming into the year. This game has the makings of a classic, not a game Dallas runs away with, so I'll take the points.

ATLANTA (+3) over Philadelphia

JC: This new Philadelphia offense is a bit of an enigma right now, but we do know that (a) the Falcons can put up points, and (b) the Eagles' defense is a steaming pile of wet garbage. Until I actually see what their offense is capable of, I'm going to assume their defense can't cover a spread on the road against a good offense.

JP: Both teams can score and both defenses are lacking, but the Dirty Birds are at home, so I'll take them and the points.

Here Are The Picks We Disagree On (Home Teams Still In CAPS) 

JC: ST. LOUIS (+4.5) over Seattle

The Rams are my NFC sleeper for the 17th year in a row. I'm going to have them on a much shorter leash this year, though. This might be their one and only chance to impress me.

JP: Seattle (-4.5) over ST. LOUIS

I know the Rams usually play Seattle close (or beat them outright), and that they're at home and potentially much better this year, but something just tells me the Seahawks are going to come out and make a statement. Go with your gut!

JC: ARIZONA (-2.5) over New Orleans

I believed in New Orleans for too long last year, and they burned me. I didn't believe in Arizona until it was too late, and they burned me, also. As long as Carson Palmer is healthy and playing relatively well, Arizona should be a safe bet.

JP: New Orleans (+2.5) over ARIZONA

I agree with your sentiment, but Arizona can't run the ball, Larry Fitzgerald is old and I don't trust Carson Palmer, even when he's healthy. Give me Brees (whom everybody is writing off this year... Seems like a great time for an All-Pro season) and the points.

JC: SAN DIEGO (-3) over Detroit

Until I see what Detroit's defense looks like without Suh, I don't think I can trust them. Especially against a good offense on the road.

JP: Detroit (+3) over SAN DIEGO

I'm actually pretty high on Detroit, mostly because I think they have the most underrated linebacker group in the league, and I think Ezekiel Ansah is about to become a household name up front. That said, this is really about Megatron opening the year healthy, and the high hopes I have for rookie running back Ameer Abdullah. With both of those guys in the fold, Matthew Stafford should be able to return to form in 2015.

JC: Cincinnati (-3.5) over OAKLAND

It's a bit weird for Week 1 to be Put Up Or Shut Up time, but this is the type of game that the Bengals need to win in blowout fashion to be taken seriously. The AFC North is going to be a bloodbath, so the Bengals need to pick up easy wins wherever they can find them.

JP: OAKLAND (+3.5) over Cincinnati

Not so fast Jeremy! Here's my upset special, as Derek Carr, Amari Cooper and Latavius Murray go ham on the deceptively porous Bengals defense, while Khalil Mack helps the Oakland defense slow down Jeremy Hill. The Raiders win outright and take their first step back toward respectability. 

JC: SAN FRANCISCO (+2.5) over Minnesota

Everyone and their brother thinks San Francisco is in for an even worse season than they had last year, and everyone and their brother thinks Minnesota is going to make a big leap forward (if you want to bet on Minnesota's Over for season wins, which currently sits at 7.5, you have to lay -250 odds, which is [expletive deleted]ing insane). As a general rule, if everyone is thinking one way, I go the other way. I could be proven incredibly wrong and could start betting heavily on Minnesota and against San Francisco, but for now I'll try to buck the public.

JP: Minnesota (-2.5) over SAN FRANCISCO

I ran this pick by my brother and he agreed.

Joe's 2014 Record:

Joe's 2013 Record:

Joe's Two-Year Pick Percentage: 

Jeremy's 2014 Record:

Jeremy's 2013 Record:

Jeremy's Two-Year Pick Percentage:

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