03 September 2006

If I Were a Betting Man . . .

(results here)

. . . these would be my picks for the opening week of NFL football. I don't care about fantasy football. It's too early to worry about the playoffs, but it's never too early to place some 'action' on the contests. No sport is better suited towards gambling than football. No sport has benefitted more from folks gambling on it, than football. Sports betting should be legal, and taxed throughout the nation, not mostly illegal and underground.

With that said, it's very easy to put my mouth where my money isn't, so here are my purely theoretical picks for opening week of football (lines are the MGM-Mirage lines posted (@ 11:41 09/03/06) at Vegas.com)

(each team's name links to their NFL.com training camp preview)

Thursday Night (09/07)
Miami at Pittsburgh(-4)[no line]
I think this game isn't going to be close. Miami looks solid on both sides of the ball, and Culpepper will be reborn as one of the top QBs in the NFL. Roethlisberger on the other hand, might still have timing and jitters issues after his accident, plus other than the Pats, teams recently in the Superbowl haven't fared well. Miami will win on the road, in a walk. I still think Miami has a real shot at making it to Superbowl XLI in their home stadium.
[UPDATE] Due to Ben Roethlisberger's emergency surgery for appendectomy he's out of the game, and therefore, no line. Get well soon, Big Ben, tough off season (you'd think he was on the Madden '07 cover, or something).

Sunday (09/10)
Denver(-3.5) at St. Louis
The Rams are home underdogs against Denver, and they deserve to be. Denver will threaten to win the AFC West as usual (boringly competent is the best I can say about Denver, though Plummer can be exciting). The Rams on the other hand are going nowhere fast.

NYJ at Tennessee (-3)
Pennington's arm strength remains questionable for the Jets, and by the way, they are less talented on both sides of the ball than the team that went 4-12 last year (yet I think they'll do better, just not much better). Tennessee is usually tough at home, but not last year. This team is also coming off of a 4-12 season, great scheduling this duel for the opener! The Titans aren't as bad as their record was, and will improve this season, starting with beating a bad Jets team. A game not worth watching outside of New Jersey or Tennessee, or even paying attention to, basically.

Buffalo at New England (-8.5)
Biggest blowout of the week, according to the odds makers. Of course, they set the lines to try and get equal money on both sides of the line, so the betting line isn't a reflection of the relative talent of both teams. The disparity is much larger than the line would suggest. The Pats at home will romp, this has the looks of a 42-10 massacre.

Baltimore at Tampa Bay (-3)
Both these teams are going to have good, possibly excellent, seasons. The change of scenery will do McNair good, and Baltimore's defense will continue to dominate the opposing team's offense. A healthy Lewis for an entire season, and a healthy McNair could make this squad a premiere team in the league, but those are big ifs, and if either of them struggle with their health, it could be another tough season for the Ravens. Tampa also has great talent, and Chris Simms seems to be really 'getting it' as QB and could have a monster season with numbers that will rival both Mannings, Plummer and Brady. Tough game to call actually, but I think that the Bucs will prevail at home, and cover the spread. This should be one of the best games of the week, probably low scoring but intense.

Cincinatti at Kansas City (-3)
Is Palmer back completely? If he is, then Cincinatti will upset KC at home. Cincinatti has to be one of the teams favored to win it all this year (I can't believe I just typed that sentence). The Bengals are for real. KC is in a transitional year, probably. Green will not stay healthy the entire season, he holds the ball too long, and will get hit, and knocked-out of some games. It's a huge change from being coached by Vermeil to being coached by Edwards, personality wise, hard to know how the players will respond. KC has amazing talent at many positions, yet they seem less than the sum of their parts. They may start cooking after a few games, but I don't think the fire is lit, just yet, I expect Cincinatti to win on the road and get the upset.

Seattle (-5.5) at Detroit
Seattle is fighting the Superbowl loser jinx. They are also fighting the Madden Curse. They could be dealing with the Cubs curse, and the pre-championship Red Sox curse combined and still beat Detroit, though. Detroit is still Detroit, that's all that needs to be said about this game. If you watch this game, even if you are from Seattle or Detroit, you are a looooooser. (In the NFL.com training camp preview they seem pretty optimistic about Detroit's chances this season, even talking playoffs, {insert comment that expresses both disbelief and derision, here}). As for the pick, Seattle on the road will still cover the spread and demolish Detroit.

Atlanta at Carolina (-5)
Atlanta will be an exciting, unpredictable team, so long as they have the exciting, unpredictable Marcus Vick[oops!] Michael Vick (what the hell was I thinking? How 'bout I just call him Ron Mexico?) as their QB. They are talented, unfortunately they open the season against a division rival with even more talented. Carolina may be the best team in football. They have depth and talent on both sides of the ball. They have excellent coaching, and they probably feel they have something to prove after getting beat in the NFC Championship game. Steve Smith and Keyshawn Johnson are a great pair of targets for a talented QB. Plus they have one of the best defenses in the league. They are going to have a great season in a tough division, but I think they'll still lose their home opener as Atlanta is going to get lucky, and Vick will play inspired ball, for at least one game. I'm picking against common sense and going with the Falcons in this game, even though I think the Panthers could go all the way and win their first Superbowl this year. Should be a great game to watch, anyway.

Philadelphia (-3.5) at Houston
The Eagles will rebound this season, but they aren't a deep into the playoffs team anymore. Houston will improve on last year, but that's not saying much, but they aren't yet a team worth paying attention to. This is a big 'who cares' game. Go with Philly and the points to win on the road, but again, who cares.

New Orleans at Cleveland (-3)
New Orleans should have a much better season than last season, and this team does have some talent. Reggie Bush may have an impact as a rookie, especially as a receiver out of the backfield. But, they're in the same division as Carolina, Tampa Bay and Atlanta, they'll be lucky to win even one game within their division. Cleveland also made a bunch of changes, and are in transition. I think the Saints will play with more passion than the Browns do, and pull off the mild upset, winning on the road in Cleveland, but this also is a big, who cares, game.

Dallas at Jacksonville (-2.5)
Dallas, much ink has been spilled about the Cowboys. I'm sick of them. I don't care much about TO or Tuna, either. They are probably going to end up having a good season, and maybe even make a run deep into the playoffs, assuming TO really isn't injured, doesn't have a meltdown, and Bledsoe doesn't get knocked out of half the games this season. That's a lot of assumptions. Jacksonville, on the other hand, are one of the best teams in football, and aren't dealing with a soap-opera. Jacksonville will win at home (and cover the small spread), but it could be a fun game to watch.

Chicago at Green Bay (-3.5)
Chicago is a hard team to get a feel for. They looked like a monster late in the season, and then got ripped apart by Carolina due largely to some questionable decisions defensively (don't let the opponent's star wide-receiver expose your weakest corner, there are plenty of defensive schemes that could have prevented that). They still are monsters on defense and have a credible offense. Green Bay on the other hand, suck. Green Bay will lose this game, and badly. The Packers are favored due to sentiment, and not reason. Sentiment, or cheeseheads, won't help the Packers in this game against the Bears.

San Francisco at Arizona (-7.5)
When the Cardinals are a 7.5 point favorite, you know the other team really stinks. The Niners stink worse than the loser hippies that still infest Haight-Ashbury. San Fran will earn themselves the #1 pick in the draft for '07, that's probably the safest prediction that can be made about this football season. Arizona may or may not be a good team this year, it's hard to tell. Warner might do well, and they actually have an offensive line that could give him the time to rekindle the old magic. Edgerrin James could have a huge impact here, giving this team the balanced offensive attack they desperately need. This game won't tell you one way or another though whether Arizona is for real this season. They will win easily, and prove nothing. Another game that nobody should watch.

Indianapolis (-3) at NYGiants
The premiere game for NBC's Sunday Night Football with Madden and Michaels, expect hype! hype! hype! Did Indianapolis hit the wall last year? Are they going to start to slip? Will the loss of James and Vanderjagt prove significant? Naaaaaaah. This team is so good it's scary, plus they manage to replace Vanderjagt with the only better kicker playing, Adam Vinatieri. The Giants are going to get hyped, given that they are in NYC, and have a decent team. Eli might put it together, or he might not. He was more hype than substance last year. The Colts still have the talent on both sides of the ball to dominate the other team either on offense or defense. This team is scarily good, the Giants aren't. The Colts will win, and cover, and you'll be so sick of hearing comparisons about the two Manning brothers during this game that you'll hope that they never play each other, again.

Monday Night (09/11)
Minnesota at Washington (-4.5)
Minnesota has many question marks coming into this game. New Coach, new starting QB (an old Brad Johnson), I don't expect them to be ready to do much damage, yet. Washington has plenty of questions to answer themselves. Will they get it together as a team and continue playing up to their considerable talent level? This game won't tell one way or the other. The Vikings are no challenge, if they are pressed at home against the Vikings, then expect a long season for the Redskins. They should romp at home, running up a nice big score on offense and holding Minnesota to less than 2 touchdowns on defense. A blowout in the making.

San Diego (-3) at Oakland
San Diego could be one of the best teams in Football, or they could be mediocre. A lot depends on whether or not Rivers turns out to be a legitimate starting QB in the NFL. With the tools at his disposal, he should be able to succeed and flourish. Oakland on the other hand, has been terrible lately, and despite a perfect pre-season record, look awful. Art Shell may be able to bring some pride back to the Silver and Black, but he's going to have to do it without a lot of talent. With that said, whenever these teams play, the talent level and records don't seem to matter. This rivalry gets ugly, as ugly as Raiders fans (and that's some serious ugly). Expect the Raiders to play an emotional game, and challenge the Chargers, but superior talent will prevail, even in a hostile environment. The Chargers will win, and cover the spread (but it will be closer than it should be).

That's week one of the NFL, every team is a Superbowl contender, at least to some fan somewhere. By week 3-4 a lot more will be known about which teams are good, or just good on paper, and which teams are better than they look. For now it's all speculation.

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