It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Yes, loyal readers, after an offseason lockout scare, the football season is upon us and the first week of games offers some very intriguing match ups. While one must consider that no two seasons are alike, last season’s results, along with offseason transactions and preseason adjustments are our best indicators of how teams will fare in these early weeks. I certainly do not recommend using the exhibition results as an indication of what is to come now that the games count, but one can get a decent sense of injuries, position battles and breakout stars that will help define a team’s success this year. Enough preamble, let’s get to the picks!
Top 4 Week 1 NFL Picks:
Pick: Atlanta -2.5 (-110) Over Chicago
No great disrespect to Chicago, who defied expectations last year and always play tough at home, but the Falcons are (and rightfully so) considered one of the marquee teams in the NFC this year, and any time I can take them against a non-elite opponent for less than a field goal, I’m going to jump at the chance. The Falcons were a terrific team last year, and have only improved with the addition of stand-out rookie wideout Julio Jones. Jones will join one of the best receivers in the game in Roddy White, providing Matt Ryan with arguably the best one-two receiving combinations in the league. White led the league in catches last year with 115, and if the Bears give him extra attention in the secondary, expect Jones to have a huge first game, as he could realistically amass 100 yards and a touchdown in his debut. Of course, let’s not forget about perennial pro bowler Tony Gonzalez, who has been an elite tight end for years now. Ryan himself is no slouch, throwing for over 3700 yards last year and 28 touchdowns. With improved weapons on offense, there is no reason to think Ryan can’t top 4000 yards for the season. On the ground, Michael Turner is coming off a solid season where he amassed 1371 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns and could find more open space to run with teams focusing on the Falcons vaunted aerial attack. On the other side of the ball, the Bears enter this season amidst various off-field distractions. Two of their best players, running back Matt Forte and linebacker Lance Briggs are upset with their contract situation, and while they will play, one has to wonder how mentally focused they will be. In addition, let’s not forget that the Bears season ended with Jay Cutler’s mysterious knee injury, which led to much speculation about his toughness. Even without all of these concerns, the Bears simply are not a strong enough offensive team to keep up with the Falcons. They have no true first wide receiver, although Earl Bennett is looking like a candidate for a break out season. Still, the Atlanta defense is stable enough to keep the Bears in check, and Ryan will wear down the Bears’ D with prolonged possessions. Atlanta are also 4-0 ATS in their last 4 on the road, and are 7-2 ATS in their last 9 as a favorite. Chicago also don’t start the season too hot, going 3-7 ATS in their last 10 opening day games.
Pick: Philadelphia -4.5 (-110) Over St. Louis
I believe the best time to rely on the Eagles for a bunch of points is when Michael Vick is healthy, and he will never be healthier than he is going into week one. The Eagles offensive attack is downright scary, with Vick at the helm and throwing to explosive wideout DeSean Jackson, versatile receiver Jeremy Maclin (back from an offseason health scare) and solid tight end Brent Celek, the Eagles are a tough team for any defense to match up against. Couple that with a very strong rushing attack led my LeSean “Shady” McCoy, and Philly can beat you in any number of ways. Despite missing some games to injury, Vick set career highs in passing touchdowns with 21, and passing yards with 3018. He also rushed for another 9 touchdowns himself, and looked legitimately unstoppable at times. The Rams are an up-and-coming team without question, but are still wildly uneven. Let us not forget that all they had to do to make the playoffs last year was beat the Seahawks in week 17, but instead managed a meager 6 points against a pretty lackluster Seattle team. Sam Bradford is on the verge of becoming a star, but will be facing the three-headed cornerback monster of Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. The Eagles are simply too stacked, and should have no trouble winning by at least a touchdown in this one. Also something to keep in mind is that Philly is 4-0 ATS in their 4 games on turf, while the Rams have a history of slow starts, as they are 1-9-1 ATS in their last week 1 games. St. Louis will get its share of victories this season, but they will have to wait until at least week 2 to do so. Back the Eagles with confidence.
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Pick: NY Giants -3 (-110) Over Washington
Despite it being only the first week of the season, the New York Giants already have a season’s worth of injuries to contend with. They now have five defensive players lost for the year, as middle linebacker Jonathan Goff tore his ACL on Monday. Other defensive cogs Osi Umenyiora and Prince Amukamara will also be sidelined this week, and now defensive end Justin Tuck is unlikely to go. However, even with these setbacks, I still like the Giants to mow down the mediocre looking Redskins in this week one matchup. The main reason for this is that I simply do not believe in Washington’s offense whatsoever, as any team where Rex Grossman lines up at starting quarterback is not one that I can believe in. Grossman beat out John Beck for the starting gig, but he has yet to prove during his shaky tenure in the NFL that he is anything but a below average quarterback. Grossman doesn’t exactly have a plethora of great options to throw to either, as other than Santana Moss there aren’t a lot of proven commodities at wide receiver. Veteran tight end Chris Cooley may be missing from the lineup as he heals from knee surgery, but even when on the field Cooley has cooled down a little over the past couple of years. On the other side of the ball, Eli Manning may not be the flashiest quarterback and needs to limit his turnovers, but has still proven to be an above average talent who can make the plays when he needs to. Manning can turn to one of the league’s best receivers Hakeem Nicks to make some big catchers, as well as rapidly improving Mario Manningham. The Giants’ double-headed rushing assault of Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs also trumps whoever the Redskins give the ball to in their backfield, whether it be Cardinal castoff Tim Hightower or rookie Roy Helu. The Giants should make a statement in this game, letting the rest Eagles and Cowboys know that the NFC East won’t be a two team race. In addition, New York is 14-5 ATS in their last 19 as a road favorite, and are 27-12 ATS in their last 39 on the road in general. Meanwhile, the ‘Skins have only won twice ATS in their last 17 as an underdog of a field goal or less. I feel good with the Giants here at what I think is a discounted week one price.
Pick: Carolina @ Arizona UNDER 37 (-110)
Warning: this game is going to be bowling-shoe ugly to watch, although notable for the debut of Kevin Kolb in a Cardinals jersey and for Cam Newton’s debut, period. Other than these intriguing storylines, neither of these teams, particularly the Panthers, inspire much confidence as far as offense goes. Carolina had plenty of issues putting up numbers last year, and Cam Newton looks about as ready this year as Jimmy Clausen was last year. Looking at both offenses, the only name that really excites me is Larry Fitzgerald, as I expect him to be a monster this year now that he has a halfway capable quarterback throwing to him. Fitzgerald somehow managed 90 catches and 1137 yards even with the triumvirate of Anderson, Skelton and Hall throwing him the ball. Kolb will serve as a major upgrade, but he is still largely unproven. Beyond Fitzgerald, with the possible exception of Deangelo Williams, there just isn’t a lot of guys that seem like they are capable of putting a lot of points together. In addition, both defenses are actually a little underrated, particularly the Cardinals. It would not be a shock to see Arizona’s defense and special teams put up more points on the board than Carolina’s offense. This game could be given the tagline “Jay Feely vs. Olindo Mare”, since it will probably be the kickers doing most of the offensive damage. Games involving Arizona have been under the point spread in their last 4 opening days, and 11 of 15 when Carolina has gotten their season started. In addition, the Panthers ended last year with 4 games in a row that did not hit the over, and that trend should continue here. Don’t let the low number scare you, these teams are simply not offensive juggernauts, as we will see a battle for field position for much of the game with the occasional field goal to spice things up. Take the under, but I recommend watching the highlights of this one rather than putting yourself 3 hours of what should be an insufferable game to watch.