I whiffed on my Super Bowl pick because I underestimated Denver's defense. I acknowledged them as the top defense in the league last year, and I still undersold the impact they would have on that game. I whiffed on last night's pick because I completely undersold Denver's offense. Trevor Siemian played better than I expected, but the biggest surprise was how well Denver ran the ball. CJ Anderson had himself a night: 20 carries for 92 yards, 4 catches for 47 yards, and 2 total touchdowns. If Denver is able to run that well all season long, they will be a bigger threat than I'm giving them credit for.
Carolina's offense attacked the Denver defense for a half. The two biggest changes to their passing game plan were Cam Newton's depth of drop ((making it shorter to make it harder for Denver's rushers to go around the tackles to get to him) and they actually chipped Von Miller consistently instead of leaving their tackle on an island. Interestingly, they seemed to deviate from these changes in the second half, and Denver's defense started feasting again.
The league completely failed Cam Newton last night. I don't buy for a second that Newton wasn't concussed (there are many levels of concussion, and just because he didn't get fully knocked out doesn't mean he didn't suffer one), which is the story the league and team are trying to sell you today. On the lone penalized hit to his head (more on this in a second), Newton was clearly dazed, and no one even went up to him to run any tests, even though there was a sizable delay while the officials figured out the penalty situation. Shameful.
Almost as shameful as the officials' performance. They penalized one hit to Newton's head, but missed at least 2-3 others. One the first one (when Ware sacked Newton and Miller's helmet hit Newton's), yes it's a judgment call, but it's a judgment call the officials are told to throw the flag on. Many other QBs would have gotten that call.
And the most shameful performance of all goes to the Broncos defenders. They were clearly targeting Cam's head, there were too many instances for it to have been an accident. The officials let them get away with it, and they kept targeting Newton's head. And what was a truly exciting game got marred by the elephant that remains in the room for the NFL: head injuries.
As always, home teams in CAPS.
Tampa Bay (+2.5) over ATLANTA
I'm buying the Buccaneers as a legitimate playoff contender this season. They have a good young quarterback, a strong offensive cast around him, and the defense should improve from Lovie's outdated schemes. I'd like to believe Atlanta will improve as well, but I don't see how they've shorn up their defensive weaknesses.
Minnesota (-2.5) over TENNESSEE
The Titans want to be a smash mouth running offense, and this is not the defense to try that against. Yes, Minny's quarterback situation is a problem, but the rest of the team is strong, and that should be enough to outlast a Mike Mularkey-coached team.
PHILADELPHIA (-3.5) over Cleveland
Let's be up front about it, the Browns are following the 76ers' process: bottom out and accumulate assets. You can't be quite as blatant about it in football, as you still need to field a team, and you need enough talent on that team to evaluate your young players, but the Browns aren't particularly interested in contending this year. They'll take their high draft picks, hopefully refrain from blowing them again, and re-stock over another couple of offseasons.
But the Eagles are kind of doing the same thing, just for different reasons. The Eagles are getting rid of as many vestiges of the Chip Kelly era as they can, so they can go into next offseason with money to spend to re-shape their roster. The only problem is, in trading up for what they believe is a franchise quarterback in Carson Wentz, quite a bit of Philly's draft capital belongs to Cleveland, which deprives Philly of assets to rebuild.
So I believe these two teams will have similar records by the end of the season. Why am I picking the Eagles? They're at home, and their front four (especially Fletcher Cox) should harass RG3 into the same problems that doomed him in Washington.
NEW YORK JETS (+2.5) over Cincinnati
Andy Dalton took a big step forward last year, but much of his support that helped him take that step is now gone: 3 of his top-4 targets (Sanu, Jones, and Eifert), and his OC, Hue Jackson are all either gone or injured. This game will be a struggle of two very good defenses, and I'll take the home team in Week 1.
Oakland (+1.5) over NEW ORLEANS
I'm also buying Oakland's rise this year. Their division is coming back to the pack a bit, and Oakland is finally emerging from the salary cap and asset hell they were mired in when GM Reggie McKenzie took over, ready to contend for the playoffs again. New Orleans should be good on offense again and another epic failure on defense. If I'm right about Oakland, this is the type of game they should start winning, even on the road.
KANSAS CITY (-6.5) over San Diego
The Chiefs have won 4 straight against the Chargers, and it would be 5 straight if their kicker hadn't shanked a very make-able field goal back in week 17 of the 2013 season (a game that Chase Daniel started and played all of). The Chargers simply don't have the horses to run with the better teams in the league, which will become more and more apparent as the season goes on and they lose more and more players to injury. Philip Rivers can only hide so many warts.
BALTIMORE (-3) over Buffalo
I am decidely NOT buying the Ravens bounce-back. Their defense should be improved (which isn't saying much), but Flacco still has no one proven to throw to. Steve Smith is old, and will not last the season coming off an Achilles injury, Mike Wallace is an extremely limited receiver, and Breshad Perriman is a giant unknown. However, I'm also selling as much of my Buffalo stock as I can, this team feels like it's going to implode if it hits early adversity.
HOUSTON (-6) over Chicago
Houston's offense is going to be good: Lamar Miller should finally be unchained now that he's out of Miami, and Brock Osweiller has to be better than Brian Hoyer, et al last year. The Bears defense will continue to be bad.
Green Bay (-5.5) over JACKSONVILLE
Jacksonville is being talked up as another riser that could take the next step and contend for the playoffs. I understand the temptation due to their residence in the AFC South, but this team is not ready to take the next step. I firmly believe a team needs to learn how to win, and I have seen nothing in the last couple of seasons to indicate they were ready to do so. I know it happens, but most teams don't go from zero to hero overnight. Jacksonville isn't beating mediocre teams yet, I don't see them changing their stripes this season.
Miami (+10.5) over SEATTLE
I would be surprised if Miami won this game. As much as I like Adam Gase, I'm not sold on Ryan Tannehill, franchise quarterback. But Seattle does not typically get off to strong starts (either in games or seasons), and I could see Tannehill dinking and dunking his way down the field to frustrate the Seahawks for most of the game. I do like Seattle to win this one, but that spread is crazy high.
New York Giants (PICK 'EM) over DALLAS
The Giants are my pick to take the NFC East this season, which does not fill me with confidence. I'm trusting their spending on defense will yield results, and that Eli will be more good Eli than bad Eli. And as impressive as Dak Prescott was this preseason, it's a different ballgame when defenses are game-planning for you.
Detroit (+3) over INDIANAPOLIS
The Colts should be better than last year's mess, as Andrew Luck is healthy (for now). But their offensive line remains a shambles, their pass rush still isn't good, and then I stumbled onto this tweet:
#Colts healthy CBs:— Nick Mensio (@NickMensio) September 9, 2016
Antonio Cromartie (signed 8/23)
Patrick Robinson (signed 3/23)
Darryl Morris (claimed 9/5)
Rashaan Melvin (signed 9/7)
That's 3 strikes, Indy.
ARIZONA (-6) over New England
It's not a good feeling going against Bill Belichick getting that many points, but Arizona is a damn good team and I don't see Jimmy G being successful against them on the road. Arizona puts up points against pretty much everyone, and though I respect New England's defense, they're going to have to hold the Cardinals under 20 points to have a chance and I don't see that happening unless Carson goes full Palmer (you should never go full Palmer).
Pittsburgh (-3) over WASHINGTON
I know half his weapons are out, but Washington's defense still isn't going to slow down Big Ben.
SAN FRANCISCO (+2.5) over Los Angeles
This is the type of game the Rams have lost for years under Jeff Fisher, which is why they can have all that defensive talent, beat the top teams in their division each year, and still finish 7-9 each year.
This Week: 0-1 (D'oh!)