Sunday, September 7, 2014

NFL Picks, Week 1

I'm the best prognosticator in the game. When you come at me with a sorry line like Seattle -5.5 at home against a defense like Green Bay, that's the result you're going to get! Don't you ever talk about me!

*mic drop*

Sorry about that, with me being undefeated for the season and all I just had to channel my inner Richard Sherman. I probably won't get this opportunity to crow again.

Before we move on to the rest of week 1's slate, here are three thoughts on the 36-16 Seahawks win.

1. Green Bay's defense is not good. They have talent in their secondary, but their line and linebackers (outside of Clay Matthews and maybe Julius Peppers from a pass rushing perspective) are average at best. Fortunately for Green Bay, their offense will be good enough to jump out to early leads and force other teams to play catch-up. In that mode, this defense should be okay. But against the top teams who can stay balanced, Green Bay is going to struggle to keep up. I still expect the Packers to win their division, but barring some big changes between now and January, I don't see them as legitimate contenders for the title.

2. Last year Seattle was the best team in the league with an historically good defense, great special teams play, and an offense that did enough overall. This year the defense looks pretty close to last year's levels, the special teams have taken a small step back (Earl Thomas is a phenom, a terrific safety, and the lynchpin that makes Seattle's defense work...but he's not a punt returner), but the offense is ready to take its place as a true peer to the defense, instead of remaining in its shadow. Much of that improvement comes with having a healthy (for now...hopefully for the season) Percy Harvin. But two other important factors are 1) the continued maturation of Russell Wilson and 2) massive improvements in the play of both offensive guards.

3. The margin of victory in this game was 20 points. Seattle was never threatened in the second half. And the Seahawks played maybe a B- game. This game could easily have been a 30+ point blowout in the 3rd quarter. Your move, rest of the NFL.

Onto the picks. Home teams in CAPS

New Orleans (-3) over ATLANTA
The Saints have a great offense, and a very good defense. Atlanta has a very good offense, and...well, their offense is pretty good. Did I mention that?

Minnesota (+3.5) over ST. LOUIS
In all honesty, I wasn't all that impressed with the Greg Williams hire as defensive coordinator for the Rams. Williams is a very good defensive mind, but his specialty is bringing extra guys to pressure the quarterback, leaving his secondary very vulnerable if they don't get home. The Rams have arguably the best young front four in the league and a poor secondary. If Williams gets blitz-happy, he's needlessly going against the strength of his team.

Oh yeah, and St. Louis lost their starting quarterback for the year in preseason.

PITTSBURGH (-6.5) over Cleveland
Cleveland is 4-25 against the Steelers since 2000. Brian Hoyer is not the quarterback to change these fortunes. And if they feature a Manziel-package, well, ask Rex Ryan how specialty packages for the backup quarterback work out (spoiler alert: not well).

PHILADELPHIA (-10.5) over Jacksonville
I'd feel better about this pick if Philly's defense were good. Luckily, Chad Henne is definitely not good, so I'm going with Philly's offense to run up a lead and coast to an easy win.

NEW YORK JETS (-5.5) over Oakland
Rex Ryan's defense against a rookie quarterback on the road with Oakland's supporting cast? Yes please.

BALTIMORE (-1.5) over Cincinnati
Andy Dalton is 30-18 in his three seasons in the NFL. Exactly zero of those 30 wins have come on the road against Baltimore. In fact, Dalton has just 2 wins in 6 tries against the Ravens overall, and his last win (in week 17 last season) featured this stat line:

21/36, 281 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT, 0 sacks

Yeah, not good. The Ravens won't be completely inept on offense this year, so I'm picking Dalton's struggles against them to continue.

CHICAGO (-7) over Buffalo
Chicago's defense is legitimately bad, but their offense (as long as Cutler stays healthy) should be explosive. Buffalo's defense should be above average, but their offense is going to struggle. At the center of these struggles is second-year starting quarterback EJ Manuel. Manuel was so unimpressive this preseason that Buffalo got Kyle Orton off of his couch and handed him $5 Million to "back up" Manuel. Of course, if they really wanted him to back up Manuel, a) they would have brought him in sooner, so he could help Manuel get better over the course of the preseason and b) they wouldn't have handed him $5 Million.

Washington (+3) over HOUSTON
I believe RG3 will make more plays against a great Houston defense than Ryan Fitpatrick will make against a good-when-its-healthy-and-it's-week-one-so-it's-pretty-healthy Washington defense.

KANSAS CITY (-3) over Tennessee
The Chiefs earned a playoff spot last year by beating the teams they should beat and losing to the good teams they played. They just had an easy schedule so the math worked for them. This year their schedule is harder, but Tennessee has no part in making their schedule harder than last year's.

New England (-4.5) over MIAMI
New England is going to be a powerhouse defensive team this season. Miami is starting an all-new offensive line from last season (which is more good than bad, as last year's line was atrocious, but still isn't ideal heading into week 1), and their starting center is missing the first month of the season.

TAMPA BAY (-2.5) over Carolina
The reason Greg Schiano was fired is because this team has talent, especially on defense, and Schiano had no idea how to use it to maximize their ability. Case in point, he had Darrelle Revis, likely the best man corner in the league, playing almost exclusively off zone defense. Lovie Smith knows defense. He's clueless on offense, which helps explain why he gave Josh McCown the unquestioned starting quarterback job, but he will have this defense playing up to its talent level. And Carolina, with an injured Cam Newton with no receivers on the roster who caught a pass from Newton last season, won't put up enough of a fight to force Tampa's offense to make a lot of plays.

San Francisco (-4.5) over DALLAS
I know the 49ers have had their share of offensive struggles this preseason, but Dallas fielded the worst defense in history last season...and they somehow got worse this offseason. And by somehow, I mean thanks to Jerry Jones' a) mismanagement of the salary cap and b) refusal to commit to a rebuilding period to clean up their cap. But he insists he's the guy to bring Dallas back to prominence.

DENVER (-7.5) over Indianapolis
I believe Andrew Luck is on his way to being a great quarterback. I believe the Colts have used up their good fortune for the next 50 years by timing their tank jobs so well twice (for Manning and then Luck). I believe the Colts are the 3rd best team in the AFC. But I believe Indy's defense is a patchwork job, and the absence of Robert Mathis means the pass rush cannot paper over this fact. Without a pass rush, they will not slow down Peyton Manning.

DETROIT (-6) over New York Giants
Did you see the Giants offense this preseason? I just don't see them hanging with the offense the Lions will put up, especially when you factor in that Detroit front four going against the unimpressive New York offensive line.

San Diego (+3) over ARIZONA
Arizona reached 10 wins mostly on the back of a top-5 defense. Thanks to defections, injuries, and suspensions, that defense will take quite a few steps back this season. That will force Carson Palmer to do more. And when Carson Palmer tries to do more, turnovers happen. In bunches.

This Week: 1-0

Regular Season History:
2013 season: 115-134-7 (.463)
2013 Midweek Picks: 7-9-1
2012: 114-133-9 (.463)
2011: 51-55-4 (.482)

Postseason History:
2013 Postseason: 4-5-2 (.455)Miles' 2013 Postseason: 6-3-2 (.550)
2012 Postseason: 6-4-1
2011 Postseason: 6-5

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