Thursday, September 6, 2018

NFL Week 1 Primer (With Picks): Parello's Vengeance Starts Here

J.J. Watt and editor Joe Parello are both back and out for blood in 2018.. Or, ya know, Joe is just gonna try to pick football games better.
By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin) and Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

This will be the sixth season that Joe and Jeremy have competed against each other, head to head, for pride, glory, eternal bragging rights, a case of beer, and a gift card to Dave & Buster's worth $42,000.

We choose to compete over NFL handicapping, because the other categories we floated, like arm wrestling and Fast & Furious franchise-related trivia, just wouldn't be a fair fight (Joe has the pipes, Jeremy has the inside-out familiarity of Vin Diesel's neck rolls).

For four consecutive years, Joe took home the trophy (for those of you scoring at home, that's $168,000 worth of D&B). Last year, Jeremy bested Joe by two games, his first season win ever. He's feeling pretty good about it, so he wanted to remind you all here. While Joe leads 4-1 on season wins, make no mistake, the overall score is much closer. Over five years, Joe holds a record of 639-596-47, a winning percentage of 51.68 percent. Jeremy clocks in at 625-610-47, a solid 50.59 percent. So, we're practically within a percentage point of each other.

Anyway, that's the least important part of this intro. The important part is that Football is back. We just had our last Sunday of 2018 without NFL games on; we're about to have 20 in a row. We're at that part of the late summer before the season starts where we all talk ourselves into our team unquestionably being better than the year before, and not see potential regression staring us in the face. It's optimism season.

A bunch of teams have new quarterbacks, some star players moved teams and/or signed new huge deals, and Walkabout Wednesdays just started at Outback Steakhouse. There's a lot to be excited for.

The Eagles are coming off a Super Bowl victory and added some talent in Michael Bennett and Mike Wallace, while the Patriots lost the Super Bowl and then also lost a decent amount of talent, but it also might not matter because the other teams in their division haven't seemed to have improved much.

The teams that lost in the conference championship round both seem better - Jacksonville is a year more seasoned, and Minnesota upgraded at quarterback. Teams like Pittsburgh, Kansas City, the Rams, New Orleans, Carolina, Atlanta, and Green Bay still have the potential to win 12+ games if they stay healthy, while teams like Baltimore, Tennessee, the Chargers, Arizona, Dallas, and Washington have all the potential in the world to make a leap. Really, every team in the league, save for, like, Cleveland and the Jets, could accidentally win 8 or 9 games this year.

And now, Year 6 of The Ultimate SuiteSports NFL Picks Challenge, Presented by Dave & Buster's and Outback Steakhouse.

[They aren't actually sponsors, but they could be.]

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

INDIANAPOLIS (-3) over Cincinnati

JC: The Colts were really, really bad last year. There's a chance, though, that the return of Andrew Luck is enough to cure their ills. The Colts are +425 to win the AFC South, a price I'm almost ready to talk myself into. The Colts should be better this year, and I really don't have much faith at all in Cincinnati.

JP: How many more years can the Bengals keep doing the same thing before they move on from Marvin Lewis? But hey, at least Pacman Jones is gone. Felt like that guy was in Cincy for like 20 years.

BALTIMORE (-7) over Buffalo

JC: Nathan Peterman will be starting for the Bills in Week 1. I mean, I'm kind of amazed that he's still on an NFL roster. Between the regular season and the playoffs last year, he completed 25 of his 52 attempts, for 266 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions. It's really hard to be worse than that. Going against Baltimore's defense, which somehow is still a top unit, should be a disaster.

JP: Oh man, I was about to burn you with a sick Joe Flacco joke, then I remembered the other quarterback in this game is Nathan Peterman. Can we get Lamar Jackson vs Josh Allen instead?

Tampa Bay (+9.5) over NEW ORLEANS

JC: If history tells us anything, it's that the Saints, for reasons passing understanding, don't have good defenses two years in a row. Sure, the Bucs will be starting Ryan Fitzpatrick due to Jameis Winston's suspension, but 10 points still seems like an awful lot for Week 1 for a team that I'm not totally on board with yet. 

JP: I don't actually think Fitzpatrick is that much of a downgrade from Winston, and I quite like the collection of weapons Tampa Bay has assembled. New Orleans should win, but I see no reason why the Bucs can't at least keep it close enough for a backdoor cover.

NEW ENGLAND (-6) over Houston

JC: These teams played a close game last year, so this line might seem a little bit high considering Houston is probably a little bit better and New England is probably a little bit worse, but I'd like to see what kind of shape DeShaun Watson is in coming off his ACL injury before I trust Houston too much. Ordinarily, the Patriots covering a spread less than a touchdown at home against any team in the league isn't too tall an order, so I'm pretty sure I trust them to cover it against a team that was 5-11 last year. 

JP: Watt and Watson are both back, but I trust Bill, Brady and the boys to be ready to send a Week One message.

Tennessee (-1.5) over MIAMI

JC: I'm pretty close to being 100 percent out on Miami this year. I think they're going to be terrible. I don't like any of their position groupings, and I really don't like their coach or quarterback. I'm just not sure what they're good at. Tennessee, on the other hand, has a lot of pieces that I like and is my No. 1 candidate to unexpectedly go, like, 13-3 and then lose in the playoffs to an inferior team.

JP: Damn man, I've been on the "Miami is gonna break through this year" bandwagon for a few years, but at some point you've just got to cut your losses. But, while Ryan Tannehill rightly gets a ton of hate, I have to say that I despise both of these quarterbacks, and I say that as someone who was a YUGE Marcus Mariota fan when he was at Oregon.

Seriously, go watch that Tennessee-Pittsburgh game from last year where the whole thing was in SkyCam, and you will conclude that Mariota would, to put it mildly, not be very good at Madden. From that angle, you can literally watch him lock in on a receiver and throw the ball directly at a defender who has been standing there since the ball was snapped.

That said, the Titans are still better.

Seattle (+3) over DENVER

JC: I think Denver stinks. They've got a great group of wide receivers and they'll still have a very good defense, but I just don't think they'll be able to score enough to keep pace with good teams. Honestly, I don't get how they're favored over Seattle. Seattle had a rough year last year, but they still have some top-end talent on their roster.

JP: Denver would be better off if Peyton Manning, without a neck, was its quarterback.

CAROLINA (-3) over Dallas

JC: I kind of like this Dallas team, and their offensive line might still be the best position group in all of football. That being said, I trust Carolina slightly more than I trust this Dallas team. I really like Carolina's potential to grind out first downs on the ground, and I really like their front seven, as per always. One way or the other, Dallas' offensive line versus Carolina's front seven will be a very entertaining battle for anyone who goes nuts about trench play.

JP: Part of me says Dak is do for a major bounce back, but another part of me says Dallas' line won't be the same without Travis Frederick, who was recently diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome. With the All-Pro center's status up in the air (though it seems VERY unlikely he'll play this week), I'll roll with the Carolina D and Cam.

ARIZONA (PK) over Washington

JC: I genuinely don't understand how Arizona finished 8-8 last season, but apparently it happened. Sam Bradford, if he's actually healthy, should be an upgrade over the dumpster fire that lined up under center for the Cardinals last year, and David Johnson gives them a safety blanket that they just didn't have last year. Washington probably projects to be better, but there's still a small voice in my head telling me to not trust Alex Smith when he's not under the tutelage of an offensive masterworker like Jim Harbaugh or Andy Reid. Also, Washington doesn't really have the type of tools that Smith has found success with in the past - their skill position players are wildly underwhelming. I could be wrong, but I'll ride with Arizona here.

JP: Beats me, but I don't feel like arguing with you about two teams I'm not at all invested in.

GREEN BAY (-7.5) over Chicago

JC: This game seems like Aaron Rodgers' opportunity to say "listen up losers, I'm back, and I'm still the best quarterback in the league, in case you forgot." Chicago shouldn't be that great, even with Khalil Mack, so I'd expect this to be Green Bay's re-coming out party. They're still one of the three or four best teams in the NFC when they're healthy.

JP: Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers is good. Chicago, at its fullest potential this year is... Eh, not bad.

Los Angeles Rams (-5) over OAKLAND

JC: The Rams were really good last year, and then added Brandin Cooks and Ndamukong Suh and Aqib Talib. Are Suh and Talib still good? I'm not sure. But if they are, holy sweet Jesus are the Rams going to have a great defense. Meanwhile, I think Oakland is going to have a rough year. The Gruden thing sounds good on paper until you remember he's been out of the league for 10 years. Ask any Knicks fan how they feel about Phil Jackson's performance in the front office. Just because he's a big name doesn't mean he's going to be good. I like the Rams here.

JP: I'm with you on your last point: I think Gruden is going to be a disaster. Like, I think football has moved on a bit since the early-2000s Raiders/Bucs West Coast days.

This guy is gonna yell "Spider 2 Y Banana" and "Turkey Hole" until Derek Carr is decapitated, and the Davis family is ready to move on to a fresh face. Ya know, someone like Bill Cowher. I hear his 3-4 defense is the next big thing!

Oh, and the Rams are good.

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

JC: Atlanta (+2) over PHILADELPHIA

These teams played last January, in Philadelphia, and Atlanta almost won the game. Nick Foles has looked really, really bad in preseason (10 drives at quarterback, 0 points), and a lot of their other top-shelf talent is banged up. The Eagles may well end up as the best team in the NFC once again, but they aren't going to look like it for a few weeks.

JP: PHILADELPHIA (-2) over Atlanta 

Come on, you'r gonna bet against Big D*** Nick in the game the banner is hung (pun absolutely intended)?

JC: CLEVELAND (+4.5) over Pittsburgh

The Browns have had five first-round picks in the last two years. They've had 20 picks in the first three rounds in the last four years. It's almost impossible to acquire that much talent at the top of the draft and not improve eventually. I actually think Cleveland is going to be a lot better this year. Not like, make the playoffs better, but better.

JP: Pittsburgh (-4.5) over CLEVELAND

The Steelers played way too many close games last year, and Le'Veon Bell is unlikely to play, so I could definitely see the Browns surprising people Sunday... But I could also just see the Steelers whooping them like they do every other time they go to Cleveland.

JC: San Francisco (+6.5) over MINNESOTA

I thought Minnesota over-performed most of last year. Sure, a lot of that had to do with Case Keenum playing better than he ever has in his life, and they upgraded their quarterback to Kirk Cousins, so maybe they'll be just as good, but for now I have them pegged as a candidate for regression. Meanwhile, Jimmy Garoppolo is 7-0 in his career as a starting quarterback. The two of those factors make it pretty easy to take the 49ers here.

JP: MINNESOTA (-6.5) over San Francisco 

I went back and forth on this one, because I like San Fran to take a step forward and, like Pittsburgh, Minnesota seems likely to take a step back. Still, the Vikings were so close, and just upgraded the most important position on the field. A big home win to build up that terrifying Minneapolis hope seems in order.

JC: NEW YORK GIANTS (+3) over Jacksonville

There's a 94 percent chance I'll regret this pick by Sunday at like, 1:40. This is a pure value play. The Giants had some pretty rotten luck last year, with Odell Beckham only playing four games and the rest of the offense falling apart around that hole. With Beckham healthy and Saquon Barkley giving them a ground game for the first time in half a decade, they should be much better on offense.

JP: Jacksonville (-3) over NEW YORK GIANTS

I'm not over-thinking this one: Jacksonville is better, as long as Blake Bortles continues to be not terrible, and Jalen Ramsey continues to be the best trash talker since Deion.

JC: LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (-3.5) over Kansas City

If the Chargers stay healthy for the first time since 1986, then they're my pick to win the AFC West. I really like what Pat Maholmes brings to the table for Kansas City, but I want him to prove it against a real NFL defense before I'm willing to put money on the table. There's a decent chance that I start riding him as early as Week 2, because I really like his skill set, and I like that he learned on the bench for a year. But it's too early right now.

JP: Kansas City (+3.5) over LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

Maybe I'm ahead of schedule, but I'm already on the Pat Mahomes bandwagon. Maybe not enough to draft him in my fantasy league, but enough to think that he makes a splash in his starting debut, despite an occasionally dominant Charger pass rush.

JC: DETROIT (-6.5) over New York Jets

Like, I don't think Detroit is going to be that good, but I think the Jets are going to be pretty bad. I'm just not clear on what the strength of their team is. There has to be one, obviously, but I can't quite pinpoint what it might be. The line seems high, but Detroit did at least call and ask about invitations to the playoffs last year. They didn't make it to the party, but they were at least aware that there was a party, you know? Maybe this line is fair.

JP: New York Jets (+6.5) over DETROIT

Ok, hear me out: Sam Darnold leads the Jets to a backdoor cover against a mediocre team on the road, is further anointed "The Chosen One" by New York media, then proceeds to suck for the rest of his career. Did I get that about right?

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