Thursday, September 9, 2010
NFL Week 1 Picks: Houston Texans To Beat Indianapolis Colts in Upset
AP Photo/Michael Conroy
Are you ready for some football?
The NFL is back in action, starting with the New Orleans Saints beginning their title defense against the Minnesota Vikings, the team that they beat in the NFC Championship game (and in case you couldn’t keep track of all his flip-flopping once again, Brett Favre is returning for another season).
The cliché is that the start of a new season is a clean slate for everyone. The parity in the league makes picking winners for Week 1 difficult. There are always surprises in the league, and there is not much to go by when choosing one team over another.
Yes, teams have strengths, weaknesses, home field advantage, and talented players, but to really judge a team accurately you need to see how they play (and the preseason doesn’t help much).
Still for the fans, Week 1 is chock full of great matchups.
Let the games begin.
Minnesota at New Orleans
For the past six seasons, the defending Super Bowl champions have started their seasons off with opening night wins. It is an exciting atmosphere. The team comes back to the field for the first real time since the big win and raises the championship banner in front of the ravenous home fans.
The Vikings, with Brett Favre returning at least one more season and with an axe to grind after losing to the Saints in the NFC Championship game last season, will look to successfully crash the party.
New Orleans will look to keep the momentum rolling. Drew Brees and company are considered strong Super Bowl contenders. Who Dat Nation will be in full force and recent history is also backing the Saints.
New Orleans wins.
Carolina at New York Giants
Generally speaking, two things happened to the Giants last year: injuries and egos.
The Giants started off a dominating 5-0 but finished the season at .500. There are a number of intricate things that went wrong, but overall there were a number of injuries to high profile players and the Giants became a collection of talented individuals rather than a united team.
The Panthers actually came together at the end of the season. With Matt Moore inserted as the starting quarterback the team won its final three games and four of its last five.
Moore might have been productive, but that didn’t stop the Panthers from drafting Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen.
The Giants say they are committed to returning to the ways of a strong team. The belief is that the group of players wants to prove that themselves as individuals as well as the team as a whole are out to prove that last year was a fluke.
Opening up the New Meadowlands Stadium, they have the chance to prove it firsthand to their home fans.
New York Giants win.
Atlanta at Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh's No. 1 receiver Santonio Holmes was traded in the offseason and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was suspended for the first four games of the season. Those are major roster changes.
Dennis Dixon is a promising prospect who should do considerably well in Roethlisberger’s absence. He still has Hines Ward at receiver and a lot of focus will be paid to running back Rashard Mendenhall.
However, even with Roethlisberger’s suspension Dixon wasn’t the guy the Steelers pegged to replace him until Byron Leftwich went down with an injury. There’s a reason for everything, and the reason here is that Dixon still needs a little seasoning.
Matt Ryan hit a sophomore slump last season, lowering his completion percentage and yards thrown, and had more interceptions and fumbles.
He did however throw more touchdown passes and has another year of experience under his belt—yes, it counts for something.
Winning at Heinz Field is not an easy feat, but right now this Steelers team will have some growing pains.
Cleveland at Tampa Bay
Offensive weapons will be hard to come by in this game.
A lot of people were excited to see Browns rookie running back Montario Hardesty, but he is lost for the season due to injury.
Cadillac Williams appears to, once again, be the Bucs starter at running back but he has strong injury concerns.
Young wide receivers will be the highlight in this match as Browns’ second-year WR Mohamed Massaqui and Tampa rookies Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams are top targets.
The Browns brought in quarterback Jake Delhomme in the offseason. He has struggled mightily the past couple seasons, but he is a veteran leader that has played, and played well, in some big games. It’s highly unlikely that he leads the Browns to the playoffs, but in a matchup against another weak opponent, he may be able to bring them to victory in this game.
Denver at Jacksonville
Josh McDaniels turned his starting quarterback and No. 1 wide receiver against him and both worked their way out of Denver. After starting the season 6-0, they finished the season 2-8—for an overall record of 8-8—and missed the playoffs. Mike Nolan, the man who helped improve a weak defense, was let go. And finally last year’s NFL sack leader Elvis Dumerville is out for the entire season.
There’s also some quarterback controversy brewing. The Broncos traded Cutler for Kyle Orton, who came in and played smart and efficient football. He solidified himself as a good starting NFL quarterback. This offseason, though, the Broncos traded for Brady Quinn and drafted Tim Tebow. Competition is a good thing, but this raises a lot of questions.
How short of a leash does Orton have? Was the trade for Quinn a statement that the Broncos didn’t believe Orton would last as starting quarterback? Was the drafting of Tebow a sign that they felt the Quinn trade was a mistake? Orton is the starter, but who is the No. 2? Will Tebow even play quarterback, or some other position and used as a Wildcat type guy?
Meanwhile in Jacksonville, while the team finished with a losing record, David Gerrard was his reliable self, throwing for only 10 interceptions, and running back Maurice Jones-Drew finished fourth in rushing yards and second in rushing touchdowns.
Facing a weakened defensive line, expect the Jaguars to rely on a heavy dose of Jones-Drew to wear down the Broncos further.
Indianapolis at Houston
In the history of the franchise, the Houston Texans are 1-15 against the Indianapolis Colts.
2009 was the team’s first winning season, yet they were swept by the Colts. To truly turn the corner the Texans need to get over the hump and start beating the Colts. That’s not saying if they don’t win this game their season is doomed, but at this point it is as much a mental issue as it is a physical one.
The Colts take some time to find their groove, and this preseason was a rocky one as the issue of how the referees spotted the ball affected the way the Colts ran the no-huddle offense and threw off their rhythm.
The Texans are an athletic, skilled, and explosive team that needs to get up for this game. With a slow starting, out of sync Colts team the Texans need to take advantage of the opportunity and take it to the Colts.
Miami at Buffalo
While the Jets and Patriots get all the publicity, the Dolphins went about this offseason looking to improve their roster and be able to compete with those two teams for the division crown. They added wide receiver and deep threat Brandon Marshall and linebacker Karlos Dansby. Ronnie Brown is also healthy and will complement Ricky Williams in an already strong running game.
Buffalo lost Terrell Owens and is still extremely unsettled at the quarterback position.
Detroit at Chicago
The Bears were very active in the beginning of the offseason, spending cash to bring in defensive end Julius Peppers and running back Chester Taylor. Both are nice additions.
The Lions also nabbed a defensive lineman and a running back, but did so through the draft. Jahvid Best is a quick and electrifying back from California and Ndamukong Suh is a monster of a man who knows how to hunt down the quarterback.
While the Lions have not been a good team in recent years, the Bears have had talented teams with high hopes that have underachieved, which is more worrisome than just being a bad team and performing like it.
Jay Cutler was supposed to finally solve the quarterback issue in Chicago, but he threw a league leading 26 interceptions. Confidence was an issue.
Offensive coordinator Mike Martz was brought in to energize the offense, which could be interesting. However he has a history of not using the tight end effectively. This is a problem because Chicago’s best receiver is tight end Greg Olsen.
Meanwhile, while Matthew Stafford did not have the greatest rookie season, he did show a lot of courage. He started for a team in an obvious rebuilding phase and took control of the offense. In Week 11 against Cleveland, Stafford suffered a bad shoulder injury, but threw for five touchdowns, the last one coming with zero seconds remaining on the clock to help the Lions to a 39-38 come from behind victory.
And while Mark Sanchez gets good reviews because his team went far in the playoffs, he and Stafford had very similar stats. Sanchez’s completion percentage was a couple of tenths higher than Stafford and he threw for a little under 200 yards more, but Stafford had one more touchdown and was sacked two less times. They both had 20 interceptions.
With questions swirling around Cutler and the job security of head coach Lovie Smith, there is a prime opportunity here for a Lions upset.
Oakland at Tennessee
When Vince Young entered the Titans starting lineup, he immediately ended the team’s six-game losing streak and went on to win five consecutive games, eight of the final 10, and put the team in playoff contention.
Young needs to prove he can have consecutive successful seasons, but he has talent around him to help. Kenny Britt, Nate Washington, and Justin Gage form a nice receiving corps and of course there is the 2,000-yard sensation Chris Johnson at running back.
Oakland should improve with newly-acquired quarterback Jason Campbell taking over the offense from JaMarcus Russell. Campbell provides a solid, steady, calm leader for a young and inexperienced offense.
Still, the Titans are the more talented team.
Cincinnati at New England
Four iconic wide receivers will be on the field in Massachusetts: Chad Ochocinco, Terrell Owens, Randy Moss, and Wes Welker. All are talented and three of the four (exclude Welker) have big egos.
With Tom Brady slinging the ball to Moss and Welker, and Palmer throwing to Ochocinco and Owens against a young and inexperienced Patriots’ secondary, expect this game to be a high-scoring aerial battle.
Gillette Stadium was an impenetrable fortress last year for the Patriots, who finished 8-0 at home in the regular season. However they were run over by the Ravens at home in the playoffs, and some believed that the loss marked the end of the Patriots dynasty.
Season-ending injuries to defensive end Ty Warren and cornerback Leigh Bodden have left already suspect positions in even more disarray.
With no pass rush and poor coverage, Palmer should have plenty of time to find an open player from his strong stable of receivers and tight ends.
Is it time for Boston to panic?
Arizona at St. Louis
Kurt Warner retires. Anquan Boldin leaves for the Ravens. Karlos Dansby signs, at the time, the largest contract for a linebacker and joins the Miami Dolphins.
This is not the same Arizona team that went to the Super Bowl two years ago, or lost to the Saints in the second round of the playoffs.
And the quarterback that was originally drafted as the future of the franchise, Matt Leinart, was released.
It looks grim for Arizona but new starting quarterback Derek Anderson was a Pro Bowler. And they still have Larry Fitzgerald, who catches anything thrown in his general direction.
They also get a good confidence boost against St. Louis in the opening week.
The Rams are just not a talented team. Their top wide receiver Donnie Avery is injured. They are starting a rookie quarterback who missed all of last season because of a shoulder injury. Steven Jackson is a very talented running back, but how much of the burden can he carry?
San Francisco at Seattle
San Francisco has stockpiled young talent all over the field. Joe Staley, Mike Iupati, and Anthony Davis—all former first round picks—anchor the offensive line. Michael Crabtree will be ready for the entire season this year, and he will be joined by former first-round pick Ted Ginn, Jr., who while having difficulties catching the ball still has blazing speed. There is also linebacker and defensive leader Patrick Willis, rookie safety Taylor Mays, tight end Vernon Davis, and running back Frank Gore.
The key to San Francisco realizing their potential will be quarterback Alex Smith doing the same. The former first-round pick has yet to live up to expectations but will be given the keys to the offense.
He doesn’t have to win games; that’s what Frank Gore and a tough defense are for. If Smith can muster up some confidence though and show off some of the talent that made him such a No. 1 pick, then the 49ers can make some noise.
It all depends on Smith though.
San Francisco wins.
Green Bay at Philadelphia
Kevin Kolb will begin his attempt to succeed a franchise legend. The Eagles traded Donovan McNabb, who spent the past 11 seasons as Philadelphia’s starter and most accomplished quarterback in franchise history, because they felt Kolb was ready to take on the starting role.
It’s a tall task to take on, something Aaron Rodgers is very familiar with. Rodgers enters his third season starting in place of the “retired” Brett Favre.
Rodgers has done a magnificent job gaining the fans trust. He has lit up the stat sheet and has the media pegging him as an MVP candidate and the Packers a Super Bowl contender.
Kolb is getting quite a bit of praise, but Rodgers has the experience of having such lofty expectations put on him and right now the Packers are a better team.
Green Bay wins.
Dallas at Washington
Neither team has wowed early on in the preseason. Of the two though, Washington looks to be in more trouble.
Donovan McNabb is an upgrade from Jason Campbell, but he is questionable for the opening game. High-priced defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth missed the beginning of camp because he could not pass a conditioning test, and the team has recently been shopping him, yet McNabb says the team can’t win without him.
Dallas may not have put everything together yet, but they have a slew of explosive players on offense that, when a big play is needed, can deliver.
This game may not be pretty, but the Cowboys have the weapons to pull it out.
Baltimore at New York Jets
The first Monday Night Football game is a great one. Fresh off their season of “Hard Knocks” Jets head coach Rex Ryan, linebacker Bart Scott, and safety Jim Leonhard face off against their previous team, the team with the famed elite defense, the Baltimore Ravens.
It is also the Jets' first regular season game at the New Meadowlands Stadium.
Both teams brought in some considerable talent this offseason.
The Ravens vastly improved their passing game by bringing in wide receivers Anquan Boldin, T.J. Houshmanzadeh, and Donte Stallworth (who is out the first eight weeks because of a foot injury).
The Jets added cornerback Antonio Cromartie, linebacker Jason Taylor, running back LaDainian Tomlinson, and wide receiver Santonio Holmes (who will miss the first four weeks of the season due to a suspension).
During the preseason, the Jets could not put all the pieces together. When the starters played well, the backups failed. When the defense played strong, the offense was anemic. When the running game was pounding it out, the passing game was errant.
The expectations are high for the Jets so they need to figure out how to get some continuity in their play.
The Jets offense may be a little shaky, but the Ravens defense, specifically the secondary is significantly weakened. Already a cause for concern, they will also be without safety Ed Reed for the first six weeks thanks to a hip injury.
If the Jets' running game can pound out the football and take advantage of a questionable secondary, then the defense and home field advantage, with the fans amped up because of the team’s expectations and a new stadium, could push them over the top for one night.
New York Jets win.
San Diego at Kansas City
The Chiefs are at the comfy confines of Arrowhead Stadium and the Chargers are without star wide receiver Vincent Jackson.
Still, it’s tough to imagine that the Chiefs have made enough improvements to knock off the Chargers, the team that has won the AFC West the past four seasons.
It should be an exciting game however as the Chargers’ Ryan Mathews and Chiefs’ Dexter McCluster make their NFL debuts. Both running backs are expected to ignite their teams’ offenses.
San Diego wins.
Last season (beginning in Week 3): 151-73