Last night, the NFL returned to our lives. College Football had center stage last weekend. And it was a great weekend. But now, we have all the football that we could ask for for the next 5 months. We’ll have an NFL game on Thursday night, sometimes a decent college game also. On Friday night, if you live in a town with a good high school football program, you’ll have that. All day Saturday you’ll have great college football games. And then on Sunday and Monday night, you’ll have a full slate of NFL games. Yes, the best part of the year has come again. I really missed you football, I always knew you’d come back.
The Patriots came out last night with a Deflategate-sized chip on their shoulder and beat the Steelers 28-21. I had the Patriots -7, and would’ve been right if it weren’t for a late Ben Roethlisberger touchdown pass to Antonio Brown with two seconds left that covered the spread. So that game was a push. Let’s dive into the rest of this weekend’s games. Home teams are in caps.
Packers (-6) over BEARS
I don’t care that Jordy Nelson isn’t playing. The Packers are easily one of the three best teams in the NFC, and if I had to rank them I’d still put them number one. Not that Nelson isn’t a great player, but Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the league, and he still has Randall Cobb along with a rising star in Davante Adams. Eddie Lacy is one of the best backs in the league, and with a healthy Clay Matthews, defensively they’ll be good enough. The Bears, on the other hand, are a dumpster fire. Jay Cutler is imploding. He lost one of his top threats in Brandon Marshall, and their defense was one of the worst in the league last year. The Packers won the two matchups last year 38-17 and 55-14. This one could get ugly.
Chiefs (+1) over TEXANS
I think both of these teams are going to be good this year, but I’ll take the team with the better quarterback. Alex Smith has the best receiver he’s ever had in Jeremy Maclin, maybe a receiver will even catch a touchdown pass for the team this year. Jamaal Charles is still an elite running back, Travis Kelce is an emerging wide receiver, and they have a strong offensive line. Defensively the Chiefs are very good, just like the Texans, and Andy Reid is going into his third year as Kansas City’s coach. Brian Hoyer will be an upgrade at quarterback over the crap they had last year, but I still think J.J. Watt might be the Texan’s best hope at quarterback. Seriously, go watch the last episode of Hard Knocks, the guy can throw. I’ll take Kansas City in a close one.
JETS (-3) over Browns
If I watch more than three seconds of this game then I must have to do something that I really don’t want to do. I think the Jets will be a little better, as I like Todd Bowles, but they’re still a long ways off from being good. The Browns, as always, have no clue what they’re doing.
Colts (-2.5) over BILLS
Seriously, Andrew Luck is only laying 2.5 points against a Rex Ryan-coached team that’s starting Tyrod Taylor at quarterback? This is the best bet of the week. The Colts have given Luck more weapons, and while they haven’t really helped him on the offensive line, he’s done a tremendous job of overcompensating for that to this point. Luck is a top three quarterback in the league right now, and it’s very easy to argue he’s number one. The Bills have Pro Bowlers all over their roster, but they’re so weak at coach and quarterback, and with a shaky LeSean McCoy, I have no confidence in Buffalo.
Dolphins (-3.5) over REDSKINS
Forget what I said in the last pick, this is the easiest bet of the week. The Redskins have no clue what they’re doing at quarterback. It won’t take long for the locker room to divide, and while they have some good players, this is going to be another tough year for the Skins. The Dolphins, on the other hand, are a playoff contender. They added the best defensive player in the league outside of J.J. Watt, and while they had to lose depth because of that, a defensive line with Cameron Wake and Suh is scary to think about. They’re not great but they’re good at quarterback, and the offensive line is an ongoing improvement. The Dolphins should roll in this one.
Panthers (-3) over JAGUARS
The Panthers aren’t great, but the Jaguars are pretty damn bad. Cam Newton doesn’t have a legitimate receiver without Kelvin Benjamin, but let’s admit, he was pretty good at the end of last year. Luke Kuechly is one of the top linebackers in the league. The best player on the Jaguars is a tight end who doesn’t have a quarterback. This one is easy too.
Seahawks (-4) over RAMS
This one isn’t as easy as it looks. The Seahawks won’t have Kam Chancellor, and that’s a big deal. I’d argue he’s better than Earl Thomas. Of course, the Rams biggest strength is their defensive front, and the Seahawks have a smart, mobile quarterback that’s the perfect answer. And of course, that defense is still littered with stars playing against an average quarterback (Nick Foles) playing his first game in a new system.
CARDINALS (-2) over Saints
I feel like I’m picking too many favorites here, but the Saints need to prove something to me before I pick them on the road over a playoff team a year ago. Arizona is a legitimate threat to the Seahawks in the NFC West. Bruce Arians is probably the most underrated coach in the NFL, they still have an elite defense, and they made the playoffs without a real quarterback. Now Carson Palmer is back, and presumably healthy. The Cardinals should win this handily but not easily.
CHARGERS (-2.5) over Lions
I really like the Chargers this year. I think Rivers is going to have a bounce back year after all the rumors flying around him this year, and I like the additions of Orlando Franklin and Melvin Gordon. The Lions have a good team, they were a legitimate playoff team last year, but playing out in San Diego with no Ndamukong Suh and a questionable running game, this should be the Chargers game.
BUCCANEERS (-3) over Titans
How great did the NFL do with its scheduling? The top two picks in the draft were both quarterbacks, and they’re going to face off against each other in their first NFL games. I don’t think either Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota are going to be franchise quarterbacks in the long run, but I will say I’m rooting for Mariota a lot harder. I think Jameis is a little more talented, but Mariota makes up for that by being infinitely more mature. The difference early on will be Winston’s receiving core. Mike Evans is one of the best in the league, and Vincent Jackson still has something left. I’ll take the Bucs at home.
RAIDERS (+3) over Bengals
Get all your Raiders jokes out now, because in a year or two they’re going to be good again. You heard it here first. Derek Carr got better as the year went on last year, which is the best you could hope for from a rookie quarterback. They added Amari Cooper, who is might be better than any rookie receiver last year. His route running, physicality, and overall athleticism is mind boggling. Jack Del Rio is a pretty good coach. The Bengals are getting older, and Andy Dalton is, in the words of the great Colin Cowherd, “a boring water pistol.”
BRONCOS (-4) over Ravens
If you bet on the Broncos every game for the first eight and bet against them every game for the last eight, I think you’ll win money. I say that without having taken one look at the schedule beyond this week. The Broncos are going to look really good at the beginning of the season. Peyton Manning will be healthy. They’ll have an improved running game. They have a lot of stars on their defense, from Von Miller to Aqib Talib. But then, Peyton’s going to wear down. He’ll get hurt. It’ll linger. He won’t heal as fast. The offensive line has one proven starter in Louis Vasquez, and another All-Pro guard in Evan Mathis who was just brought in a couple of weeks ago. At least two rookies will play a significant role on the line this year. The Ravens will be a good team too, but in Week 1, at home, I’ll take the Broncos.
Giants (+6) over COWBOYS
The Giants will be one of the most improved teams in the NFL this year. They addressed their offensive line issues in the draft. It still won’t be great, but it’ll be better. Eli Manning had a good year last year, and with a (cross your fingers) healthy Victor Cruz lining up across from Odell Beckham Jr., along with a healthy Rashad Jennings playing with Andre Williams in the backfield, I think they can be vey good defensively. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with Jason Pierre-Paul, as I don’t think they can be a playoff team without him unless another pass rusher emerges. The Cowboys will be good, but I don’t see them replicating what they did last year. They were 5-1 in one possession games a year ago, expect that to scale back a little this year, especially with a reduced running game. Defensively, they haven’t improved, and they’re without their best corner now. Give me the Giants in the upset.
Eagles (-3) over FALCONS
Everybody likes to criticize the moves Chip Kelly made this year, but they’re going to look silly when they realize he upgraded at running back, linebacker, corner, and quarterback, while maintaining the receiving core at the same time. He’s won ten games each of his first two years, I think he’ll win more this year and win the division. The Falcons have improved their pass rush, but failed to address their offensive line, I think the Eagles put up a lot of points and don’t expect Atlanta to keep up.
Vikings (-2) over 49ERS
The 49ers are not in a good place right now. They’ve lost practically their entire defense, along with Michael Crabtree and Frank Gore. But the biggest loss they’ve suffered was Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh walked right into a shaky locker room and took them to the NFC Championship, one play away from winning it, then two more NFC Championship games, won one, came a play away from winning the other, and came one play away from winning the Super Bowl. Then they go 8-8 in an injury-riddled season and everyone’s ready to run him out of town. Their loss. And San Francisco will have a lot of those this year, starting this week, against a team that I think will be a playoff contender with a second-year Teddy Bridgewater and the return of Adrian Peterson.
For all you college football degenerate gamblers, or just people with gambling problems that will bet on anything, I’m in a weekly college football pick ’em, so here’s my picks for this week. Minnesota (-6), Penn State (-20.5), Hawaii (+40), Michigan (-15.5), Tulsa (+4), Michigan State, Tennessee, and LSU straight up.
For more useless sports banter, follow me on Twitter @rory_maccallum
NFL record: 0-0-1
College Football Record: 0-0-0