Thursday, September 26, 2013

NFL Week 4 Picks: Pittsburgh Steelers Are Not As Bad As The Minnesota Vikings

San Francisco (1-2) at St. Louis (1-2)

Colin Kaepernick has had two dud games in a row and the 49ers look to be struggling. That being said, the Rams aren’t exactly blowing people out of the water, either.

The Rams got manhandled by the Cowboys last week. They lost by 24 points, threw for only 197 yards, ran for only 35 yards and surrendered 396 yards on defense.

It’s a good time for the Niners to get back on track.

San Francisco wins.

Baltimore (2-1) at Buffalo (1-2)

After getting torched by the Broncos and holding on against the Browns (which always seems to be a battle), the Ravens finally took it to someone else. It’s quite impressive what they did to a Texans team that some would consider a Super Bowl contender, beating them 30-9.

The Bills don’t look terrible this season. Their two losses are by one score or less.

Still, the Ravens won a big game last week, have some momentum, and have more talent than the Bills.

Baltimore wins.

Cincinnati (2-1) at Cleveland (1-2)

It seems like the Browns last week decided to do whatever it takes to win a game, a fake field goal and a fake punt included. Jordan Cameron caught three touchdown passes and looks like one of the best tight ends in the league. Their defense isn’t half bad, either.

Not to take away what the Browns did last week, but it was against the struggling Minnesota Vikings. The Bengals are a different story.

This team had high expectations for themselves this year and after falling short against the Bears in Week 1, they took it to the Packers last weekend. They caused Aaron Rodgers to throw two interceptions and look pedestrian.

Cincinnati wins.

Chicago (3-0) at Detroit (2-1)

The Lions passing game is ranked third-best in the league. Matthew Stafford is playing well and he’s gotten great contributions from Calvin Johnson (of course), his running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell, and Nate Burleson has stepped up alongside Megatron. He has more catches than Johnson and a nice 239 yards.

But Burleson has a broken arm now. How does that affect Detroit’s passing game? The running backs are third and fourth on the team in yards and receptions, and no other player (after Bush) has at least 45 yards receiving. In fact, the only one that’s been even targeted more than 10 times is tight end Brandon Pettigrew, who has five catches (on 12 targets) for 38 yards and no touchdowns.

Chicago wins.

New York Giants (0-3) at Kansas City Chiefs (3-0)

The Giants were absolutely embarrassed last weekend. That was a new low for the franchise. They were shutout and lost by 38 points. Eli Manning was sacked seven times. As a team, they registered only 90 yards passing. They turned the ball over three times. They yielded over 400 total yards of offense.

It was the second consecutive game the Giants lost by double digits. It was the second consecutive game they turned the ball over at least three times. And to make matters worse, they also statistically have the worst rushing attack in the league.

The Chiefs are well-known to play very well at home and they could very well provide more misery for the New York football Giants.

Kansas City wins.

Arizona (1-2) at Tampa Bay (0-3)

In a surprising move, the Buccaneers have benched Josh Freeman in favor of rookie Mike Glennon. It’s not the move that’s surprising, it’s more so the timing of it; it’s much earlier than anyone could have expected.

But the Buccaneers have lost eight of their last nine, dating back to last season. Will Glennon be the shot in the mouth the team needs, the fire lit under their backsides?

What I do know is that the Cardinals have the third best rushing defense, so they will make Glennon beat them.

Arizona wins.

Indianapolis (2-1) at Jacksonville (0-3)

There just isn’t any reason to pick the Jaguars. They have yet to be competitive and against another potential playoff team there’s just nothing to like for them in this match-up.

Indianapolis wins.

Seattle (3-0) at Houston (2-1)

The Texans are 2-1 and tied for first in the AFC South. But they haven’t been sharp. They had a come-back win late over the San Diego Chargers. They needed overtime to dispose of the Tennessee Titans (the other team tied atop the AFC South) at home. Then there was last week’s debacle in Baltimore.

That being said, the Seahawks typically don’t play well on the road. Their last road game, they barely got past the so-so Carolina Panthers.

Which defense will perform better? The Seahawks defense has given up the fewest points in the league and Jacksonville only got to 17 last week after Seattle’s reserves took the field. The Texans, meanwhile, are second in the league in passing defense (Seattle is first) and ninth in rushing defense (Seattle is 12th).

At home, I think the Texans defense plays just a bit better.

Houston wins.

Pittsburgh (0-3) vs. Minnesota (0-3) – GAME IN LONDON

Both teams head to the NFL’s annual game in London struggling mightily.

The edge in this game is at the quarterback position, though. The Steelers have Ben Roethlisberger, who has won multiple Super Bowls and is a proven commodity.

The Vikings have Christian Ponder. He’s third in the league in interceptions, tied for fifth in sacks and is 22nd in completion percentage. He does not look sharp and fans are calling for Matt Cassel to come into games.

Pittsburgh wins.

New York Jets (2-1) at Tennessee (2-1)

How many people had both these teams coming into this game with winning records?

Other than passing yards per game, there isn’t much separating these two teams. The biggest difference, more important than the difference in passing yards, is the turnover battle. Tennessee is second in the AFC with a plus-five turnover differential, helped by the fact that they haven’t committed a single turnover yet this season. The Jets, on the other hand, are minus-six in turnovers, thanks to six interceptions from Geno Smith.

That could be huge, especially with the Titans as the home team.

Tennessee wins.

Washington (0-3) at Oakland (1-2)

Had Terrelle Pryor not picked up a concussion last weekend, thus making it unlikely he will play this weekend, it would have been a very fun match-up between two quarterbacks that can seriously move with the ball.

RGIII has played decently this season, but he still hasn’t matched the magic he had from last year. It hurts that Washington’s defense is just downright terrible this year.

The Raiders aren’t world beaters though. And while Matt Flynn played well in reserve of Aaron Rodgers, there has to be a reason he went from big free agent signing to Russell Wilson’s back-up, to Oakland, then to Pryor’s back-up.

This seems like a game that Washington can take away.

Washington wins.

Philadelphia (1-2) at Denver (3-0)

The Broncos are cruising. And at home? This team knows how to get the job done.

Something worth watching: the Eagles rushing attack is first in the league in yards per game but the Broncos defense is first in fewest rushing yards allowed per game.

The Broncos are first in total points scored while the Eagles are tied for sixth for most point allowed. Denver has won their games by an average just shy of 19 points per game.

Denver wins.

Dallas (2-1) at San Diego (1-2)

All three of the Chargers games this season have been decided in the final 30 seconds. With gunslingers like Phillip Rivers and Tony Romo playing quarterback in this game, anything can happen.

Neither team defends the pass very well, but the Chargers are dead last in passing yards allowed, giving up a whopping 340 yards per game. The Cowboys may rank only 18th in passing yards, but Romo picked apart the Rams defense before the team finally relented and worked to kill the clock.

Dallas wins.

New England (3-0) at Atlanta (1-2)

The Patriots young receivers finally looked to start clicking with Tom Brady against the Buccaneers last weekend, which is promising for the team.

But even with Steven Jackson injured and Roddy White still not at 100 percent, the Falcons at home have a slight edge. Even though they have two losses, those losses are both less than seven points and the Miami loss occurred very late in the fourth quarter of a back and forth game. Both losses were also on the road.

The Falcons have never been two games under .500 with Mike Smith as the team’s head coach.

Atlanta wins.

Miami (3-0) at New Orleans (3-0)

The Dolphins are one of the surprises of the league thus far this season and have a strong defense and very improved offense to thank.

They can make this a competitive game, but prime time home games are what the Saints do best. New Orleans is 7-0 in Monday night games since 2009 and 5-0 in Monday night home games in the same time frame.

With the team undefeated, Drew Brees starting off strong and Sean Payton back on the sidelines, expect the New Orleans fans to be even louder than usual.

New Orleans wins.

Bye Week: Green Bay, Carolina

Last Week: 9-7

Overall: 34-14

Photo Credit.
Ben Roethlisberger: AP Photo/Don Wright

Thursday, September 19, 2013

NFL Week 3 Picks: New York Giants Will Finally Get First Win

The NFL season is continuing to pick up and it has certainly been exciting.

Quarterbacks throwing for 400-yards? How about another three last week (lead by Aaron Rodgers’ 480 yards) and eight more throwing for over 300 yards.

Last second finishes? The Bills, Bears, Saints and Chargers all won with 10 seconds or fewer remaining in the game, the Texans won in overtime and a total of 10 of the 16 games last week were won by a single touchdown or less.

For good measure, how about a blockbuster trade? It may not have involved many pieces, but the Browns traded last year’s No. 3 pick in the draft Trent Richardson to the Colts for a first-round pick next year.

Who will come out on top in Week 3?

Kansas City (2-0) at Philadelphia (1-1)

It will be a reunion of sorts when Andy Reid brings his new team to Philadelphia the same night the Eagles will retire Donovan McNabb’s number.

Philadelphia’s offense has been good to open the season. The defense hasn’t been as stellar, allowing an average of 30 points per game.

The difference maker in this game, despite how efficient the Chiefs have been this season, is injuries. Starting tight end Anthony Fasano is doubtful while his backup, Travis Kelce, is questionable. Cornerback Brandon Flowers is also questionable. Jamaal Charles isn’t on the injury report, but had a thigh contusion last week and had only 55 yards on 16 carries.

With a short week and going on the road, not giving players the ample time to heal well enough and having to prepare for Philadelphia’s new offense, the Chiefs just might not have enough going for them this week.

Philadelphia wins.

Green Bay (1-1) at Cincinnati (1-1)

The Packers will be on the road, but did you see what their offense did last week?

Aaron Rodgers was remarkable, throwing for 480 yards and four touchdowns. Equally impressive was the team’s usually non-existent running game. Filling in for starter Eddie Lacey, who left the game with a concussion, James Starks ran for 132 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. It was the first time the Packers had a 100-yard rusher since Brandon Graham had 115 yards on October 10, 2010 (fittingly, that too was against the Redskins).

The Bengals D is a lot better than that of Washington’s, and they are at home, but that’s still a lot of yardage for any defense to be dealing with. Especially for a team that isn’t quite lighting up the stat sheet as hoped.

Green Bay wins.

St. Louis (1-1) at Dallas (1-1)

This one surprisingly might be a shootout. Dallas and St. Louis rank 24th and 27th in passing yards allowed per game, respectively. And while Dallas is only 17th in passing yard gained per game, they are only about 20 yards behind Arizona, and Carson Palmer threw for 327 yards in Week 1 against St. Louis.

Neither team has run the ball very well in the early going.

It will be a close one, but Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray have played well against the Rams in the past. At home, they get the edge.

Dallas wins.

San Diego (1-1) at Tennessee (1-1)

Both teams have lost to the Texans this year.

The Titans have played fairly well in the early going, not turning the ball over. There have also been small improvements in individual play from Week 1 to Week 2.

But Philip Rivers is on too much of a roll right now. He has 614 yards, seven touchdowns and only one interception. He most likely won’t have Malcolm Floyd to throw to against Tennessee, but he still has team receiving leader Antonio Gates and Eddie Royal, who leads in touchdown receptions.

Just have to go with the hot hand here.

San Diego wins.

Cleveland (0-2) at Minnesota (0-2)

Both teams have had a rough go of it early this season, but Cleveland looks to be in shambles and already thinking about 2014 and beyond.

They just traded starting running back and the No. 3 pick in last season’s draft, Trent Richardson. They had no legitimate runners backing him up and are taking a look at Willis McGahee, who was dinged up at the end of last season and wasn’t even on a team getting reps in the offseason.

They are also down to their third-string quarterback.

The Vikings have not been sharp, but they do have Adrian Peterson.

Minnesota wins.

Tampa Bay (0-2) at New England (2-0)

The Patriots have been far from impressive this early in the season. But they are still a team. They are working through it. Tom Brady is still the team’s leader and Bill Belichick still has the team working together.
Playing in Tampa Bay doesn’t seem to be a pleasant thing these days. Rumors have surfaced that quarterback Josh Freeman wants out and Darrelle Revis, who was just acquired this offseason, reportedly isn’t happy with head coach Greg Schiano.

The idea of malcontent players and media reports being “distracting” to a team may sound cliché, but in this case it may be appropriate.

New England wins.

Arizona (1-1) at New Orleans (2-0)

Neither team has run the ball particularly well in the early going, and that might be just the way the Saints like it.

When both teams strengths are in the passing game, how can you not favor Drew Brees? Especially when the New Orleans pass defense is eighth in the league in passing yards allowed per game.

New Orleans wins.

Detroit (1-1) at Washington (0-2)

In two games, the Redskins have surrendered 1,023 yards. That’s two shy of the most yards allowed in the first two weeks in history.

Matthew Stafford may be known for getting hurt a lot in the beginning of his NFL career, but he’s also known for throwing for a ton of yards, especially to Calvin Johnson – who is arguably the best wide receiver in the game.

Detroit wins.

New York Giants (0-2) at Carolina (0-2)

It has been an awful start for both these teams, particularly the Giants. They’ve turned the ball over 10 times in the first two games.

The Giants can’t be written off though. They tend to be inconsistent early in the year in recent history and tend to start off slow. They also tend to play fairly well on the road.

Since Cam Newton has been the starting quarterback in Carolina, the Panthers have just found way too many ways to lose games. Not saying Eli Manning hasn’t either, but the Giants do have two Super Bowl victories with him.

New York wins.

Houston (2-0) at Baltimore (1-1)

The Ravens will induct Ray Lewis into their ring of honor this weekend, and they really could use him against Houston.

The Texans are one of the top offensive teams in the league right now, while the Ravens have not been quite as hot, especially in a tough 14-6 win over the Browns last weekend. Ray Rice was banged up last week and against an aggressive Houston defense it’s tough to imagine how well he will fare.

And while Lewis will return to Baltimore in some type of suit, former Raven icon Ed Reed will be showing up in a Texans uniform. You have to imagine he’ll be looking to have an extra good game.

Houston wins.

Atlanta (2-0) at Miami (2-0)

The Falcons are a very good team with a lot of weapons. They will be the Dolphins’ stiffest test to date.

But they’ll be without Steven Jackson on Sunday. They will be on the road and they are 0-1 on the road so far this season. And on defense, Sam Bradford just torched the Falcons secondary for 352 yards and three touchdowns.

Ryan Tannehill threw for 319 yards last week and got Mike Wallace (better than any receiver the Rams have) into the mix more than in his debut. It’s Miami’s first home game of the season and they are riding a lot of momentum. Enough momentum, that is, to take down the Falcons.

Miami wins.

Buffalo (1-1) at New York Jets (1-1)

It’s a battle of rookie AFC East quarterbacks in New Jersey this weekend. E.J. Manuel has vastly outplayed Geno Smith so far (although you would hope a first round draft pick would do exactly that).

Buffalo is supporting Manuel with better weapons, like C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson and Stevie Johnson. New York has gotten solid play from the likes of Bilal Powell, Chris Ivory and Stephen Hill, but nothing exceptional.

The Jets defense has been much better than that of the Bills, however. And against a rookie quarterback and at home, they might be able to do enough to pull one out despite any Smith interceptions.

New York wins.

Indianapolis (1-1) at San Francisco (1-1)

The 49ers just got figuratively punched in the mouth by the Seahawks last week. There is no way to drum up anything positive from that game from a 49ers perspective. But good teams – and San Francisco is a good team – make sure not to be embarrassed two weeks in a row.

They have more talent than Indianapolis does and they will be looking to rectify the situation.

San Francisco wins.

Jacksonville (0-2) at Seattle (2-0)

Seattle is known for being one of the toughest places to play on the road. They just beat the 49ers at home, 29-3. Is Jacksonville as good as San Francisco?


Seattle wins.

Chicago (2-0) at Pittsburgh (0-2)

The Steelers are 26th in the league in passing yards per game, 31st in rushing yards per game and 30th in points scored per game. They’ve also yielded seven sacks (tied for fifth in the league).

On the flip side, Jay Cutler has only been sacked once this season, Brandon Marshall is eighth in the league in receiving yards, and Pittsburgh has only one sack so far this season.

Chicago wins.

Oakland (1-1) at Denver (2-0)

Has any team looked as good as the Denver Broncos so far this season?

Peyton Manning is third in the league in passing yards, first in touchdowns (9) and has zero interceptions. And while the running game is currently 21st in the league, Knowshon Moreno bounced back from a poor first game to rush for 93 yards and two touchdowns on only 13 carries last week.

Oakland has the most rushing yards per game so far this season, but just watching the two teams play (with Denver playing supposedly tougher opponents) the Broncos just look sharper and better.

Denver wins.

Last Week: 13-3

Overall: 25-7
Photo Credit.
Eli Manning: AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Thursday, September 12, 2013

NFL Week 2 Picks: Will San Francisco 49ers Passing Game Overcome Tough Seattle Seahawks Secondary?

The opening day jitters should be gone now.

Week 1 of the NFL season was crazy, with three safeties, three quarterbacks throwing three interceptions, and three quarterbacks throwing over 400 yards.

What can we expect from Week 2, which features seven divisional games?

New York Jets (1-0) at New England (1-0)

Both teams won in Week 1 by two points or less. But in New England, can the Jets squeak out another victory? New York was aided by a big penalty at the end of their game against the Buccaneers. It’s not to say this will be a blowout like when these teams played on Thanksgiving Day last year, but New England still has Tom Brady at quarterback and that right now is a big edge over Geno Smith.

New England wins.

St. Louis (1-0) at Atlanta (0-1)

Neither team was impressive on defense last week, especially against the pass. What Atlanta has though is a much more balanced attack on offense. Steven Jackson showed that he was a good signing, rushing for 77 yards on only 11 carries. And even though Roddy White was questionable heading into last week’s game, he moved well enough to garner enough attention to open up Julio Jones and Harry Douglas for big days catching the ball.

Atlanta wins.

Carolina (0-1) at Buffalo (0-1)

Both teams lost in one possession games last week but Buffalo looked like the more dangerous of the two. The Bills defense was able to force three turnovers against New England. They were able to put up 21 points on offense.

The Panthers, despite Cam Newton at quarterback, threw for only 119 yards (though to be fair Seattle does have a good secondary). Still, the Panthers didn’t get much going at all.

Buffalo wins.

Minnesota (0-1) at Chicago (1-0)

Christian Ponder’s three interceptions last week played a big role in the Vikings loss.

The Bears took it to a good Bengals team and did not allow a sack to their vaunted defensive line. The Jay Cutler-Brandon Marshall hookup looks as good as ever.

Chicago wins.

Washington (0-1) at Green Bay (0-1)

The Packers have had the unfortunate task of taking on the 49ers in Week 1 the past two years and while both games were great matchups, the Packers have come out the loser both times. They’re a very good 0-1 team.

The Redskins were run all over by the Eagles last week and while the Packers may not play as fast as the Eagles, they are still a very aggressive offense that spreads the ball around and can do maybe even more damage than Philadelphia did.

Green Bay wins.

Miami (1-0) at Indianapolis (1-0)

Two sophomore quarterbacks will continue the path to take the next step and both did well in Week 1.

Miami was aided by three Browns interceptions, but the Dolphins were also able to really cause those turnovers by the pressure their defense brought. The Dolphins are tied for first in the league in sacks (6) and also only allowed 47 rushing yards.

It will be a close game but the underrated Dolphins defense will be key here.

Miami wins.

Dallas (1-0) at Kansas City (1-0)

The smart quarterback against the gunslinger. Tony Romo and Alex Smith play two different styles. But how efficient was the Dallas offense? They were plus-five in the turnover differential but only one the game by five points. The Giants committed three turnovers in the first quarter, yet that quarter ended with a score of 3-3. Where’s the killer instinct?

The Chiefs are very good at home and they won’t make the same mistakes the inconsistent Giants offense did.

Kansas City wins.

Cleveland (0-1) at Baltimore (0-1)

Peyton Manning put on a crazy performance last week against the Ravens to get the defending Super Bowl champions off on the wrong foot. But that was on the road.

Teams that win the Super Bowl traditionally open at home. This will be their home opener and the fans will be very much behind this team.

Playing a Browns team that threw three interceptions last week should help the Ravens get back on track.
Baltimore wins.

Tennessee (1-0) at Houston (1-0)

The first week of the season gives a very small sample pool to make these decisions from. So give credit to the Titans for doing what they had to do to defeat the Steelers, especially defensively. But was it more the Titans defense or the poor play from Pittsburgh’s offense?

Either way, the Texans have many more options on offense than the Steelers do. Their defense is better than Pittsburgh’s. And they are at home.

Houston wins.

San Diego (0-1) at Philadelphia (1-0)

Make no mistake about it, the Eagles will be exciting to watch this season, whether they win or lose. Their rushing game was pretty lethal last week against the Redskins and that trend should continue. The Chargers couldn’t hang on to beat the Texans last week and the Eagles will push the pace early on.

Philadelphia wins.

Detroit (1-0) at Arizona (0-1)

What an addition Reggie Bush was to the Lions in Week 1. He looked like the Reggie Bush we all saw play at USC, rushing for 90 yards on 21 carries and catching four passes for 101 yards and a touchdown. Take into account that Calvin Johnson had two touchdowns called back and this offense could be pretty scary.

Detroit wins.

New Orleans (1-0) at Tampa Bay (0-1)

Drew Brees puts up big numbers. He’s not underrated by any stretch of the imagination. But actually watching him play is a treat. His long ball is a thing of beauty, they arc it takes and how it perfectly drops over the receiver’s shoulders into a spot only he can catch it.

A Drew Brees pass is like a David Beckham free kick or a Ray Allen three-point shot. It’s a special skill that has been worked on to perfection.

New Orleans wins.

Jacksonville (0-1) at Oakland (1-0)

The Jaguars scored two points at home last weekend. At least the Raiders played a very competitive game against the Colts.

Oakland wins.

Denver (1-0) at New York Giants (0-1)

Will the Broncos be able to repeat the gaudy stats they compiled against the Ravens in Week 1? Well against the Giants, sure they can.

The Giants defense has holes all over the field but especially in the secondary, especially with Prince Amukamara suffering a concussion last weekend.

Denver wins.

San Francisco (1-0) at Seattle (1-0)

These two teams are the ones most likely to win the NFC West, so this matchup is critical. The Seahawks are one of the best teams at home, but the 49ers are the defending NFC champions.

Something will have to give this weekend. The Seahawks have a very strong secondary that allowed only 119 yards passing to the Panthers, but the 49ers –behind Colin Kaepernick – threw for 404 yards and three touchdowns. And that is without Michael Crabtree.

It will be a fight, but San Francisco is the more accomplished team and even on the road they are tough to overlook.

San Francisco wins.

Pittsburgh (0-1) at Cincinnati (0-1)

Both teams were big disappointments in Week 1 and with all four AFC North teams losing last week this game will be very important.

At least the Bengals put up a fight in Week 1 however. The Steelers finished last week 27th in the league in passing yards and 31st in rushing yards and only two teams put up fewer points than them.

The Bengals still got very good production from A.J. Green (nine catches, 162 yards, two touchdowns). And even though he threw two interceptions, Andy Dalton completed 78.8 percent of his passes.

The Bengals just looked more dangerous than the Steelers.

Cincinnati wins.

Last week: 12-4

Photo Credit
Colin Kaepernick: AP Photo/Ben Margot

Thursday, September 5, 2013

NFL Week 1 Picks: Denver Broncos to Bump Off Defending Champions

After months of draft boards, free agency, salary caps and roster cuts its finally time for NFL teams to take the field to play in games that count.

The Baltimore Ravens start the season at the top of the mountain, but will they be at MetLife Stadium to defend their title?

Who will start the season off on the right foot?

Baltimore at Denver

The defending champions have won eight nine consecutive season openers. There may not be a better time for that streak to end, however. Usually, the defending champion gets to open the season at home and unfurl a nice championship banner. Due to an Orioles game the same night, though, the Ravens are being forced to open at Mile High Stadium in Denver.

The Broncos will be hurt by the suspension of Von Miller and departure of Elvis Dumerville, but the Ravens have undergone many more changes: Ray Lewis and Matt Birk retired, Ed Reed went to Houston, Anquan Boldin was traded to San Francisco and Dennis Pitta is injured. The defense has many new pieces attempting to come together and the team is thin on pass catchers.

The Super Bowl champion is vulnerable, especially away from home.

Denver wins.

New England at Buffalo

The Patriots have their own issues with pass catchers this season. Four of the top five in receiving yards last year are no longer with the team and the fifth (Rob Gronkowski) is injured.

From 2004 to this season the Patriots have lost to the Bills only once, however. The Bills have a rookie head coach. They have a rookie starting quarterback who has missed the past couple of week because of a knee injury. If he isn’t ready to go come game-time his back-up is an undrafted rookie.

Tom Brady finds a way to get it done, at least in Week 1.

New England wins.

Cincinnati at Chicago

The Bears ran hot and cold last season. They won seven of their first eight games and looked like legitimate championship contenders then spiraled out of control losing five of their last eight games and missed the playoffs. With a rookie head coach coming over from the CFL, the question of what exactly will we get from the Bears remains.

The Bengals have looked fairly well in the preseason. Andy Dalton and A.J. Green continue to make a good combination but the defense is rather impressive. The defensive line, with Geno Atkins and Domata Peko, is one of the best in the league. The addition of James Harrison to the linebackers makes that group rather formidable as well.

Cincinnati wins.

Miami at Cleveland

The Dolphins haven’t made the playoffs since 2008. Ownership made moves this season to attempt to make sure that streak ended this year.

Many argue that Mike Wallace was overpaid in his new $60 million free-agent contract. That much money is always a gamble, and Wallace was 34th in the league in receiving yards in 2012 (836). But Miami needed help at the position; they had only 13 receiving touchdowns all season and fewer from wide receivers. They needed a deep threat and a legitimate No. 1 wide receiver. Wallace was the best free agent wide receiver available.

The Dolphins made other additions and while it remains to be seen if they are good enough to overthrow the Patriots – a huge task – they are improved.

Miami wins.

Atlanta at New Orleans

The Falcons are a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Matt Ryan had a career year last season and is still getting better, Julio Jones and Roddy White are possibly the best wide receiver tandem in the league, Tony Gonzalez was convinced to come back for one more season and Steven Jackson is an improvement at running back.

It’s not unreasonable to think that last year’s Saints 7-9 season was an aberration, a fluke, though. Bountygate and the suspension of head coach Sean Payton seemed to weigh on this team. Now Payton is back.

The Falcons may be the better team at the end, but the Saints will be opening the season at the Superdome, the fans will be loud and the team should feel a renewed sense of confidence with Payton returning.

New Orleans wins.

Tampa Bay at New York Jets

The Jets finished a poor 6-10 last season and they needed better play from the quarterback position. Mark Sanchez completed only 53 percent of his passes, threw only 13 touchdowns compared to 18 interceptions, and fumbled nine times, including the infamous “butt fumble”. It wasn’t just the turnovers either, it was that many of them came at times when the Jets were driving and could score or even win the game. So they drafted Geno Smith in the second round.

He went on to throw three interceptions in preseason and seemingly won the starting role because Mark Sanchez is injured. That’s not to say Jets ownership wasn’t hoping he’d win the job all along, or that Smith won’t be successful eventually, but Week 1 is no sure thing.

They have to go up against former Jet Darrelle Revis.

Tampa Bay wins.

Tennessee at Pittsburgh

The Ravens won last year’s Super Bowl. The Bengals were on HBO’s Hard Knocks. The Steelers are entering the season under the radar, for a change of pace. They lost Mike Wallace at wide receiver and are unproven at running back, but Ben Roethlisberger is still the quarterback and Mike Tomlin is still the head coach.

The Titans are even more unproven. Jake Locker was inconsistent and the defense finished 27th in yards allowed. They didn’t make many noteworthy changes so until they prove this is a different squad than last year it’s tough to go with them.

Pittsburgh wins.

Minnesota at Detroit

The Vikings had the second-best rushing attack but the second-worst passing game. They lost leading receiver Percy Harvin in the offseason. It’s hard to believe that Adrian Peterson will have a season as good as last year.

The Lions added an interesting aspect to their offense, bringing in Reggie Bush. He’s played well for the Dolphins the past two seasons and you have to imagine with Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson, the Lions will really utilize Bush in the passing game.

Detroit wins.

Oakland at Indianapolis

The Raiders will be starting their fourth different quarterback on opening day in the past five years. Darren McFadden hasn’t played more than 13 games in a season and fans now just assume he will eventually get hurt. Their starting left tackle, Jared Veldheer, has a partially torn triceps and will be out for at least the first nine weeks. That’s not the consistency you want from your offense.

The Colts got a great season from Andrew Luck last year, even making the playoffs a year after the first overall draft pick. They’re looking to make even more progress this season and they seem to be hoping that Ahmad Bradshaw can give the offense another look.

Indianapolis wins.

Seattle at Carolina

The Seahawks are a trendy pick to make the Super Bowl. A tough defensive headlined by an aggressive secondary to go along with the charismatic Russell Wilson at quarterback and the thunderous Marshawn Lynch at running back.

Cam Newton cut down on his interceptions last season but he also had a lower completion percentage than in his rookie season. He is a gifted passer and rusher but in Week 1 it’s tough to imagine how he will do against such a strong defensive unit.

Seattle wins.

Kansas City at Jacksonville

With five Pro Bowlers already on the roster on both sides of the ball and special teams, the Chiefs added even more talent this offseason.

Kansas City drafted a top offensive lineman in Eric Fischer, extended Dwayne Bowe’s contract, signed veterans Dunta Robinson, Anthony Fasano and Sean Smith and, most importantly, traded for Alex Smith.
Smith may not have the flashiest arm, but he is a smart and efficient quarterback that doesn’t turn the ball over. Had Smith not gotten hurt or had Colin Kaepernick not played so well, Smith might still be in San Francisco. For a team to climb from worst to first, cutting down turnovers and solidifying the quarterback position are very essential.

Kansas City wins.

Arizona at St. Louis

The Cardinals struggled terribly at the quarterback position. It was so bad it basically neutralized the talents of Larry Fitzgerald. After an impressive 4-0 start the team lost 11 of its finals 12 games. Some changes in Arizona should help reverse that.

The team brought in new head coach Bruce Arians, an offensive minded coach who has great success stepping in as the Colts interim coach last season. They brought in Carson Palmer to play quarterback; like him or not, he still threw for 4,018 yards and 22 touchdowns with Oakland's lack of depth at wide receiver. They also brought in running back Rashard Mendenhall, who had an injury plagued 2012 but who the Cardinals' staff thinks still has plenty of football left in him.

Arizona wins.

Green Bay at San Francisco

This could be an NFC Championship game preview. Last year, the 49ers opened up the season at Lambeau with a victory.

What can Colin Kaepernick do for an encore? He might have caught some teams by surprise last year but his opposition has had a whole year to focus on him. And what will he do without his favorite target, Michael Crabtree, who is out with an injury? The team added Anquan Boldin and still has Vernon Davis, but Crabtree got most of Kaepernick's attention last season.

As for the Packers, can rookie Eddie Lacey give them a running presence that the team hasn't really had in Aaron Rodgers' time as starter?

San Francisco wins.
New York Giants at Dallas

These rivals open the season against each other again for the second straight year.

The Giants seem to struggle early in the season under Tom Coughlin and the team hasn't looked all too strong on offense this season and the defense has some question marks. The pass rush was once their strength, but Jason Pierre-Paul is banged up and didn't participate much in preseason, Justin Tuck was not as productive as in the past last season, and Osi Umenyiora and Chris Canty are elsewhere in the league.

The Cowboys are an extremely talented roster and it's time this team put it all together. An improved offensive line will be key in letting Tony Romo, Dez Bryant and company make plays.

Dallas wins.
Philadelphia at Washington

How will the Eagles take to Chip Kelly and his new offensive system? It would've been nice to see Jeremy Maclin running routes but he's injured. Still, despite a rough couple two years in 2011 and 2012, they still have playmakers on offense. Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson and LaSean McCoy can still move and this offense should cater to them.

The Redskins success will largely depend on the health of Robert Griffin III. He's ready to go for the opener, but will he continue to play at the same level. Will the injury affect his burst? Will he play more tentatively to try and not get hit? If he gets hit will it affect him? Or will he come back even better, like Adrian Peterson did last year?

Philadelphia wins.
Houston at San Diego

The Texans have finally gotten over the first hump. They’ve beaten the Indianapolis Colts. They’ve made the playoffs. They’ve won the division. Now they need to clear the next hurdle: get past the Divisional Round.
They are 2-2 the past two seasons in the playoffs, beating the Bengals in the Wild Card round, but can’t get any further. They still have Arian Foster at running back and the defense is very talented.

The Chargers got subpar performance from Philip Rivers and Ryan Matthews cannot stay healthy.
The team has a whole new coaching staff and maybe something other than Norv Turner will do them some good, but they are definitely opening the season below the radar and without many expectations.

Houston wins.

Last Season: 165-90