There’s no denying it: football season is upon us. And boy have we earned it after surviving yet another lengthy, minutiae-filled NFL offseason where basically nothing matters but everything somehow manages to dominate the daily sports news cycle.
Anyway, since I’ll be right along side you trying to break down these games and figure out exactly who’s going to win and why for the duration of the season, I’ll start by explaining my master plan for breaking down these games.
This ‘plan’ is devised to give you the best shot at picking winners and to give me the best shot at saving face when I pick losers, which as we all know, is bound to happen.
Each week I’ll be picking every matchup both against the spread (ATS) and straight up (if you don’t know what that means, phone a friend) and breaking all the games down into the following three categories based on my level of confidence.
No way we can lose – locks of the week: As you can guess, these will be the stone-cold locks of the week. The games that I’m so confident about that I’d put my life’s savings on them if I had a life’s savings to wager.
Feeling pretty… pretty good: Not quite willing to bet the farm on this batch, but as Mr. Larry David would say, I’m feeling pretty… pretty good about these games.
Heads or tails: These are your true toss ups: they can go one way or another and you should pick with caution even after heeding my expert advice.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get right down to it and dive into Week 1 of the NFL season. Also note that I’ll always begin with the Thursday Night Football game and we’ll proceed to the Sunday action from there.
All spreads as of 9/7 from CBSSports.com
Carolina Panthers @ Denver Broncos (+3.5) – Thursday, Sept. 8 – 8:30 p.m. ET
ATS & Straight Up – Panthers
Level of confidence – No way we can lose – locks of the week.
Lock it in folks, and ring me up for my first “No Way We Can Lose” lock of the NFL season.
There’s really nothing not to like about the Panthers here.
First of all, Cam Newton is going to be out for blood after last year’s Super Bowl debacle, as will the rest of the Panthers. That includes their top-tier defense that will be licking its chops at the prospect of Trevor Siemien dropping back under the brightest lights in the sport for the first passing attempt(s) of his NFL career.
Add to that the fact that the Broncos lost key cogs on defense like Danny Trevathan and Malik Jackson and the Panthers will have a healthy Kelvin Benjamin back in the fold and you have the makings of a big Panthers victory.
Lock it in, folks, it’s going down.
And with that, let’s dive into our first full Sunday slate.
No way we can lose – locks of the week:
Raiders @ Saints (-0.5) – Sunday, Sept. 11 – 1:00 p.m. ET
ATS/Straight Up – Raiders
New Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen will likely get the ship righted in New Orleans and get the worst defense in the league in 2015 back to respectability, but not in Week 1.
I like Derek Carr and Co. to come in and live up to all of the offseason hype they’re been garnering with a big time offensive performance against a new Saints defensive scheme. Get on board before the Raiders hype train officially leaves the station.
Browns @ Eagles (-3.5) – Sunday, Sept. 11 – 1:00 p.m. ET
ATS/Straight Up – Eagles
This is not a knock on RG III as much as it’s… well, it’s a knock on the Browns in general. I love what they’re doing stockpiling draft picks and readying for the future, but Sunday, Sept. 11 is not the future – it’s now.
And right now, the Browns are a severely depleted football club and they won’t be able to keep up with the Eagles even though they’re starting a rookie QB and have a rookie head coach.
Vikings @ Titans (+2.5) – Sunday, Sept. 11 – 1:00 p.m. ET
ATS/Straight Up – Vikings
The Teddy Bridgewater injury was absolutely devastating on a human level and I was truly looking forward to seeing how he developed in Year 3 under coach Mike Zimmer.
However, on a football level, it’s quite possible the Vikings have actually upgraded their QB situation. (Relax, Bradford haters, I said possibly, not definitely.)
Or at the very least, realistically, this team is built to run the football, play defense and not turn the ball over – all things they’ll continue to do regardless of who’s playing quarterback.
That’s why the Vikings will handily beat the Titans. They’ll pound them into submission running the ball and will play stout defense same as they did last year.
Giants @ Cowboys (-0.5) – Sunday, Sept. 11 – 4:25 p.m. ET
ATS/Straight Up – Giants
Guys, are we really going to pretend that this one’s going to be that close? I respect the Cowboys and all (eh, kind of) but Dak Prescott is not the second coming of Cam Newton just yet. And Ezekiel Elliott is not going to look like Emmitt Smith in Week 1. And the Cowboys’ defense is still going to be a bit of a train wreck. And the Giants invested a ton of money in big-name defensive players like Olivier Vernon, Damon ‘Snacks’ Harrison and Janoris Jenkins.
And they STILL have that Odell Beckham Jr. guy, and Eli Manning.
I’m sorry Cowboys fans, but I don’t see any way the Cowboys keep this one close. Giants win big in Big D.
Feeling pretty… pretty good:
Bengals @ Jets (+2.5) – Sunday, Sept. 11 – 1:00 p.m. ET
ATS/Straight Up – Jets
Ryan Fitzpatrick sat out most of training camp and rust was still evident towards the end of the preseason, but the Jets are the pick here. The Bengals will be without Vontaze Burfict (three-game suspension) and Tyler Eifert (ankle), which hurts them on both sides of the ball.
Look for the Jets’ explosive front four to limit the Bengals’ rushing attack and get to Dalton much of the day and keep the pressure off of their relatively weak secondary.
Packers @ Jaguars (+4.5) – Sunday, Sept. 11 – 1:00 p.m. ET
ATS/Straight Up – Jaguars
That’s right, baby – here’s your first upset pick of the year. The Jacksonville Jaguars, former laughing stocks of the NFL and the team most likely to fold up and move to London in the middle of the night, will beat the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.
This is the dawning of a new era in Jacksonville, and this young, upstart team is going to start the year right with the signature win of the Gus Bradley era.
Note – Please feel free to direct all hate mail/’you’re an idiot’ mail here. I will respond in due time.
Chargers @ Chiefs (-7) – Sunday, Sept. 11 – 1:00 p.m. ET
ATS – Chargers
Straight Up – Chiefs
The Chiefs will get the job done at Arrowhead, but it won’t be a blowout by any means. They lack the firepower to blow the Chargers out and Philip Rivers will keep it uncomfortably close for most of the game.
Bears @ Texans (-6.5) – Sunday, Sept. 11 – 1:00 p.m. ET
ATS/Straight Up – Bears
UPSET ALERT NO. 2!
Here’s why: The Bears’ defense is on it’s way up again. Vic Fangio had this unit playing above its head last year and most of that unit is in tact heading into 2016.
Fangio will find ways to confuse Brock Osweiler who still hasn’t proven anything in this league as far as I’m concerned.
Besides that, I like Jeremy Langford and think the Bears will grind out a low-scoring, sometimes boring, season-opening victory over the Texans.
Dolphins @ Seahawks (-10.5) – Sunday, Sept. 11 – 4:05 p.m. ET
ATS/Straight Up – Seahawks
This is just a brutal draw for the Dolphins and new coach Adam Gase. The Seahawks will be looking to send a major message to the league after last year’s disappointing campaign and the Dolphins will be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
New coach + new scheme + 12th man + L.O.B. = Seahawks blowout.
Lions @ Colts (-3.5) – Sunday, Sept. 11 – 4:25 p.m. ET
ATS – Lions
Straight Up – Colts
Matt Stafford thinks their offense will be harder to stop without Calvin Johnson, and I’m not saying it’s true, but I am saying that Week 1 against the Colts won’t exactly dispel or prove that grand theory.
The Colts’ defense has not been and still will not be a formidable unit and Stafford and the Lions should have their fair share of success against them.
That being said, the Colts’ offense should be back in full swing with Andrew Luck back leading the way. Take the points here, but know that the Colts will likely pull this one out. I’m guessing on a last minute Luck drive to save the day and start the season with a bang in Indy.
(L.A.) Rams @ 49ers (+2.5) – Monday, Sept. 12 – 10:20 p.m. ET
ATS/Straight Up – Rams
While the Rams will eventually need Jared Goff to pan out into a No. 1 overall pick, they’ll be just fine without him in their first game as the Los Angeles Rams in over 40 years.
The combination of Todd Gurley and the Rams’ scary defensive line putting Blaine Gabbert under the gun all game long will give the Rams a big victory to head back home to L.A. with.
Heads or Tails:
Bills @ Ravens (-2.5) – Sunday, Sept. 11 – 1:00 p.m. ET
ATS/Straight Up – Bills
All the reasons this game will be a blast to watch – Rex and Rob Ryan pacing the same sideline for the first time in decades, the return of Joe Flacco, Steve Smith and Terrell Suggs for the Ravens, the Sammy Watkins factor, just to name a few – is exactly what makes this game so hard to pick.
The amount of unknowns heading into the season for both teams is staggering, so trying to pick a winner is a Herculean task.
However, that’s why I’m here, so it’s time to stand on one side of the aisle.
I like the Bills here. I think the Ryan boys’ defense gets after Joe Flacco and makes him look shaky in his return from a major injury en route to a Bills victory and endless Ryan brothers bravado between Week 1 and Week 2 that should keep media types like myself plenty busy.
Buccaneers @ Falcons (-2.5) – Sunday, Sept. 11 – 1:00 p.m. ET
ATS/Straight Up – Falcons
This one’s tough to call one way or another, but the thing that puts me over the top for the Falcons is the fact that Dan Quinn has had his year of lumps with this defense and now it’s time to see some returns.
I think Matt Ryan rebounds and that the combination of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman will overwhelm Tampa Bay and result in a Falcons win at home.
Plus, if we learned anything from Quinn’s first year with the club, it’s that they like to start the year hot, right?
Patriots @ Cardinals (-5.5) – Sunday, Sept. 11 – 8:30 p.m. ET
ATS – Patriots
Straight Up – Cardinals
This one’s a bit of a mystery due to the Garoppolo factor and the Belichick factor. Nobody knows how Belichick is going to scheme for this game around his new quarterback and I’ll be damned if I’m the guy that disregards the potential for Belichick to mastermind his way to a victory over a great Cardinals team.
Still, I think even with Tom Brady at the helm the Cardinals have the edge at home, so I’ve got to go with them to take this one, but not by much.
Steelers @ Redskins (+3.5) – Monday, Sept. 12 – 7:10 p.m. ET
ATS – Redskins
Straight Up – Steelers
Two things are factoring into this pick for me. No. 1 being the Le’Veon Bell suspension. With Bell, I think the Steelers cover, but they’re a different team without him in the backfield.
No. 2 is the Redskins being home on Monday Night Football. It’s hard to pass up the points, especially for a team that won its division last year and is poised to have one of the more prolific offenses in the league alongside the Pittsburgh Steelers assuming Kirk Cousins is who we think he is.
I like the Steelers in a high-scoring affair, but by less than three, so make sure you take the points.
There it is – Week 1 in the books.
Next week, we’ll do it all again, including a postmortem of Week 1 to see what went wrong, why and try to fix it for Week 2’s slate of games.
Enjoy the start of the NFL season football fans. Good luck, see you next week.
Bryan Altman is, for some reason, an unabashed fan of the Rangers, Jets and Mets. If he absolutely had to pick a basketball team it would be the Knicks, but he’d gladly trade them for a championship for any of his other three teams.