Friday, September 9, 2016

NFL Week 1 Primer (With Picks): Welcome Back Football, We've Missed You

The Patriots trade in one beautiful quarterback for another...
 By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin) and Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

Football is back. It's almost like it never left.

We opened the season exactly where we left off in February, with Denver using a stellar pass rush to overcome some maybe-not-so-quietly-bad quarterback play and upset Carolina.

There's a lot to look forward to this football season, like the return of a few All-Pro receivers (Kelvin Benjamin, Jordy Nelson), two new rookie quarterbacks taken at the top of the draft (Jared Goff, Carson Wentz), the emergence of a few potential young stars (too many to count), and, well, for those of you who chose to ignore the Brady/Manning debate and opted to hate both of them, you're blessed with four consecutive weeks in which NEITHER of them play for the first time since Bill Clinton was President.

Unfortunately, there's also a lot to dread this football season, like another year's worth of played-out DeflateGate stories (and probably a lot of insufferable memes, too), Patriots fans whining that the league railroaded them (they're not wrong), everyone else whining that Patriots fans are insufferable (they're not wrong, either), the potential that both highly-touted rookie quarterbacks might not be that good, and, well, every game that features the NFC East.

All that being said, I can't think of a single person who would say that the bad outweighs the good. Except maybe a Browns fan, but even Cleveland is probably still riding high from the NBA Finals. Things are looking up, pretty much everywhere.

Let's get started.

Game(s) of The Week

Carolina at Denver (8:30 p.m. Thursday, NBC)

This game already happened. But it was a really good game.

Cleveland at Philadelphia (1:00 p.m. Sunday, CBS)

Carson Wentz going up against the team that traded out of the spot where they could have gotten him? Does that count as a revenge game? Are you allowed to have a revenge game in your NFL debut? I don't know, you guys. This week's slate isn't that good.

Oakland at New Orleans (1:00 p.m. Sunday, FOX)

This game will be high-scoring and entertaining. That's the one pick in this column you can take to the bank.

New York Giants at Dallas (4:25 p.m. Sunday, FOX)

This game would be a lot better if the Giants didn't maybe suck and the Cowboys had their starting quarterback. But it's really not football season until Joe Buck calls a Cowboys game during the national broadcast while the Cowboys kinda suck and it's just really awkward.

Pittsburgh at Washington (7:00 p.m. Monday, ESPN)

This one might actually be pretty good. Plus, it's the first Monday Night Football featuring Boston's own Sean McDonough, so there's that to look forward to.

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

Carolina (-3) over DENVER

We both whiffed on this one. Jeremy would have taken Denver had the line moved to 3.5, so it seems like he was at least on the right track. He just didn't pull the trigger.

Minnesota (-2.5) over TENNESSEE

JC: Sure, the Bridgewater injury is going to de-rail what could have been a really promising season, but the defense is still really good and they still have Adrian Peterson. Tennessee improved on paper, kind of, but they're still going to be one of the worst teams in the league. This looks like a low-scoring rock fight, and Minnesota usually wins those games.

JP: I love football and all, but please don't make me watch this game.

Cleveland (+3.5) over PHILADELPHIA

JC: Robert Griffin III hasn't played football in a year and might be really bad. Carson Wentz has never played in the NFL before and might be really bad. Both head coaches have never been head coaches before and might be really bad. When in doubt, take the points.

JP: Man, we're already at the "I hate both these teams but one is getting more than a field goal" point of the season? It's Week 1!

Cincinnati (-2) over NEW YORK JETS

JC: One team's biggest flaw is a lack of depth at wide receiver. The other team's biggest flaw is that their quarterback might throw 30 interceptions in a season if left to his own devices. At full strength, Cincinnati had a legitimate argument for being the best team in football. And now they're only giving two points to a team that over-achieved last year and has regression written all over it?

JP: Not gonna lie, Cincy's loss of weapons around A.J. scares me a little bit, especially since he figures to be on Revis Island all day. But yeah, the Bengals are just a better team, and may have the most underrated front seven in football right now.

Oakland (+1.5) over NEW ORLEANS

JC: If this is going to be the shootout I expect it to be, I'll roll with the team that has an all-world talent on defense. I know both of these teams can put up a buttload of points, but only one of them has Khalil Mack.

JP: I'm going to have a lot of fun betting against New Orleans this year. Offensively, they still have Drew, and Mark Ingram is better than you remember, but what else is there? Not enough for me to pick them against my favorite young offense and a defense built around Khalil Mack who, if he continues his current rate of improvement, will go All-Pro at three or four positions this year.

Buffalo (+3) over BALTIMORE

JC: I just think Baltimore is over the hill - they don't have enough talent on either side of the ball to be a legitimate contender. I think their running backs and wide receivers are both among the worst units in the league, which means they're going to rely on Joe Flacco making plays. I'm not buying it, especially coming off a major knee injury.

JP: Yeah, kinda surprised Baltimore is the one giving points here, but I guess they're at home, and nobody REALLY wants to buy in on Buffalo too hard yet. In a lot of ways, the Bills remind me of the Ravens from a couple years ago: They're very good on defense, they run the ball with a couple different backs (while one gets all the pub), have some big wideouts, and a quarterback who is better than you think, but still not all that great or consistent.

If one of these teams is making the playoffs, I think it's Buffalo (haha, no really), so I've gotta take the Bills and the points.

Green Bay (-5.5) over JACKSONVILLE

JC: I truly believe that Blake Bortles' manifest destiny (at least for this year), other than settling America from coast to coast, is to be the entertaining quarterback of a high-powered offense who constantly ruins spreads that are a two or three points too high by tossing a garbage-time touchdown to secure a backdoor cover. That being said, it's not going to happen here. Green Bay is too good, too experienced, too polished. They should take care of business and win by double-digits.

JP: I think you captured the essence of Bortles pretty well there, only I will add that he'll go off for 35 fantasy points two or three times, and go for 10 or less two or three times this year. Good or bad, the Jags are actually going to be entertaining this year. But, as far as winning on the field, I'll go with Aaron Rodgers and the Pack to win in a venue where the best selling point is in-game pool parties.

Not a bad idea, actually. 

Miami (+10.5) over SEATTLE

JC: Pure and simple, I'm not laying over 10 points in Week 1, regardless of who is playing who. We know a good amount about most teams, but not enough to lay 10 points.

JP: Yeah, I've finally given up on Miami breaking through, but this is too rich for my blood.

DALLAS (PK) over New York Giants

JC: This is pure "I just like Dallas more than New York, Dallas is at home, and I hope Dak Prescott turns out to be good." There's very little analysis, if any, going into this pick.

JP: The Giants don't have any film on Dak Prescott (none of those nationally televised SEC games count!), so HOW CAN THEY STOP HIM!

Detroit (+3.5) over INDIANAPOLIS

JC: Detroit closed last season 6-2 in the second half. Indianapolis might have the worst defense in the league, and no running game. Just sayin'.

JP: I want to like Indianapolis, and I believe a healthy Andrew Luck makes them better in every facet, but Detroit ain't as bad as you remember.

WASHINGTON (+3.5) over Pittsburgh

JC: So, Pittsburgh has a great receiver, and Washington has one of the best cornerbacks in football in Josh Norman. Considering Pittsburgh's secondary weapons aren't that great, I think this actually might be advantage: Washington. If Pittsburgh can't get their ground game going, their offense might stall. I think Washington's offense is still going to be pretty good, and getting more than a field goal at home is too enticing to pass up.

JP: If Pittsburgh wasn't without Le'Veon Bell (suspension), Martavis Bryant (suspension) Ladarius Green (an ankle injury that mysteriously turned into ongoing headaches. Hmm..) and Bud Dupree (out eight weeks, at least, following groin surgery this week), I might disagree with you. But this Pittsburgh team is a skeleton version of what it could be on offense, and missing one of the guys it was hoping would make a leap and improve the defense.

SAN FRANCISCO (+2.5) over Los Angeles

JC: I can't quit you, Chip Kelly.

JP: Me either.

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

JC: ATLANTA (-2.5) over Tampa Bay

Atlanta wasn't as bad as everyone remembers them being last year, and Tampa Bay wasn't as good as everyone remembers them being last year. Don't forget, Atlanta started the year 5-0 before they faded big time during the middle of the season. But also don't forget, after fading big time, they upset Carolina in Week 16 and managed to finish at .500. I'm not willing to give up on Atlanta quite yet, especially when they're giving less than a field goal at home to a team they were objectively better than last season.

JP: Tampa Bay (+2.5) over ATLANTA

On my tombstone it will read "over-estimated the Bucs every year from 2013-2016," but I don't care. This team has sooo much talent on defense, and Jameis Winston seems poised for a break out year. Plus, he's actually got weapons (Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson, the artist formerly known as Muscle Hamster, Austin Snuffleupagus-Django)... Why won't this team be good!

I'm sure we'll found out by Week 4, but for now I'm going down with the ship. Tampa Bay should be good, dammit!

JC: San Diego (+6.5) over KANSAS CITY

Kansas City is without Jamaal Charles, and pretty much all relevant metrics point to San Diego having a nice bounce-back season. The Chargers' biggest weakness last year was their run defense, but Joey Bosa (and their opponent being without their starting running back) should help minimize that this week. If Phil Rivers can make a few plays downfield against a re-tooled Chiefs' secondary, this could be the biggest surprise of Week 1.

JP:  KANSAS CITY (-6.5) over San Diego

It's a Week 1 division game, so I'm hesitant to pull the trigger on a line this big. That said, I think Kansas City will be able to get to Rivers, and the Chiefs have shown they can still run the ball consistently with anybody at running back. Gimme KC 20-13.

JC: HOUSTON (-6) over Chicago

If Houston expects to put together a great season and potentially challenge for a top-2 seed in the AFC, this is where they come out and lay the smackdown in their opening game, at home, against a not-very-good team. This just feels like a statement game to me.

JP: Chicago (+6) over HOUSTON

I can't believe I'm picking Chicago, but I just feel like the Bears defense can't be any worse than it was last year, and they do have some weapons on the outside with Alshon Jeffrey (& Kevin White, whom I took way too early in my fantasy draft... It could pay off!).

Mostly, I think the Texans are frauds, and the product of that God-awful division, so I'll take the points and hope Jay Cutler holds it together for at least one week.

JC: ARIZONA (-6.5) over New England

As much as I would love to see Jimmy Garoppolo step onto the field and be a great quarterback in addition to already being incredibly handsome, I just don't see them beating Arizona. Although, to be fair, it would be just about the most Bill Belichick thing ever to waltz into Phoenix with Jimmy Garoppolo and win by 20. I just don't see it happening.

JP: New England (+6.5) over ARIZONA

Uh uh, no way am I giving a touchdown against Belichick when he's had the entire offseason to prepare for this game and get his young quarterback ready. Not gonna do it.

Jeremy's Record: 
Last Season: 131-117-8

Joe's Record:
Last Season: 132-116-8

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