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NFL Lines 2014, Week 1

September 7, 2014

Time to re-start the blog with a weekly look at the slate of NFL games! Each week, I’ll post my pick against the spread for each NFL game. To start, I’m giving myself credit for Seattle -5 on Thursday night. Even though I didn’t post the pick here, that would’ve been my play, as until further notice you don’t go against Seattle at home.

For week 1, a couple of notes. First, there isn’t a lot of certainty among sports pundits as to who the dominant teams are this year. Everyone expects Seattle to be good again (and they seem to be the trendy pick to win the Super Bowl), as well as half of the NFC, and New England and Denver in the AFC. At the other end of the spectrum, not much is expected out of the Browns, Buffalo, Dallas, Carolina, or the AFC South. It would seem the league has a lot of parity among the remaining teams. Something to keep in mind when considering spreads over three points, and home underdogs.

Second, week 1 is one of the quirkier weeks in the NFL schedule. Teams you would never expect to compete win games outright, or put a real scare into a team that was supposed to be a lock for the playoffs. With that in mind, this week’s picks (my pick in bold):

New Orleans at Atlanta + 3

Everyone loves New Orleans in this game for a couple of reasons. 1) The Saints are expected to be much better than the Falcons this year, so giving only three points seems like a gift from Vegas. 2) Drew Brees, the Saints’ QB, plays better in a dome than outdoors, and this game is in a dome, so therefore Brees will have an excellent game. Couple of problems with this logic: 1) It’s a road game for the Saints, and it’s never easy to win on the road in the NFL. 2) This is a divisional game, which will make it all the more competitive for the Falcons; they aren’t going to let a division rival come in and walk all over them even if they were 1-14 at the time, much less 0-0. Throw in the weird things that tend to happen in week 1, and I’ll happily take the points.

Minnesota +2.5 at St. Louis

This game started off with the Rams -5.5, and then Sam Bradford, the Rams QB, went out for the year with an injury. The Rams have an excellent defense, and the Vikings have a journeyman QB in Matt Cassell. Plus, the Vikings will be missing one of their starting receivers (Jerome Simpson). The Vikings are also dealing with a new head coach in Mike Zimmer. Given all of this, it might not seem a wise decision to take less than a field goal here. However, the Vikings do have the best player on the field in RB Adrian Peterson. He’s good enough to change the outcome of games himself, and I expect him to do just that. Considering ZImmer’s past as a defensive coordinator, the under (43.5) here also looks good.

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Cleveland +5.5 at Pittsburgh

This is admittedly a bit of a heart-over-head pick for me, as I am a Browns fan. Upon examination, though, I don’t think it’s too crazy. The Browns’ defense is pretty good. Joe Haden should be able to shut down the Steelers’ Antonio Brown. If the defensive line can corral Le’veon Bell, QB Ben Rothlesberger won’t have a lot of options. As for Cleveland’s offense, they don’t have to explode, just do enough to keep it within a field goal for this pick to come through. QB Brian Hoyer was serviceably good last year, they upgraded at RB with Ben Tate, and the team should be amped up with the possible return next week of currently suspended star receiver Josh Gordon. Thow in the week 1 wackiness, and I’ll happily take the points.

Jacksonville +10 at Philadelphia

Ten points is a lot in an NFL game. I would consider giving double-digit points in a few scenarios, but this isn’t one of them. Yes, the Eagles have a potent offense. Yes, Jacksonville will probably be terrible. Yes, the Jaguars have a bad QB (Chad Henne), their starting RB (Toby Gerhart) is a bit unproven as a starter, and their best players are two rookies (Blake Bortles and Marquise Lee). But 10 points is a lot in an NFL game. Last year, Eagles coach Chip Kelly probably would’ve tried to score as many points as possible in a game like this. But now I suspect he’s a bit savvier and will try to give away as little of his playbook as possible in week 1.

Oakland +6 at New York Jets

This is a classic “West coast team plays a 1 p.m. game on the East coast” game. As the thinking goes, a 1 p.m. start time on the East coast is the same as 10 a.m. on the West coast, which is far too early for an NFL team to be eating breakfast much less playing a game. The Raiders have problems at QB, RB Maurice Jones-Drew is coming off an injury, and the defense has a lot of new players. On the Jets side, Geno Smith is supposed to be better at QB, they upgraded at WR in Eric Decker, and they signed RB Chris Johnson from Tennessee. That said, it’s unknown how Decker will play with a QB other than Peyton Manning, and I’m not a Chris Johnson believer. This line should have been Jets -3; I’ll take the three extra points.

Cincinnati +1 at Baltimore

First things first: as a Browns fan, I never have any luck going against Baltimore. Still, it’s hard to like the Ravens here. Starting RB Ray Rice is suspended for (unfortunately only) two games, and the Bengals should be the much better team this year. I’m counting on their defense to stifle the Ravens offense, and for Andy Dalton to not completely screw up after signing a big contract.

Buffalo +6.5 at Chicago

The Bears’ offense should be a juggernaut this year, and Buffalo’s team should be horrible. So why go against Chicago here? The Bears’ defense is terrible. The defensive line is good, but the linebacking corps and secondary (other than CB Charles Tillman) are entirely suspect. The Bills will be able to run the ball with Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller, and it will be hard to imagine that QB EJ Manual will play as badly as he did in the pre-season. This is too many points to pass up.

Washington at Houston -3

This is a terrible game. Fans should be given a refund for having to watch it. The Texans’ defense should be enough to stop RG III and Washington’s offense. Arian Foster (if healthy) and Andre Johnson should carry the Texans’ offense. At the very least, there’s really no compelling reason not to take the home team here when they’re giving only three points.

Tennessee at Kansas City -3

There’s a lot to like about the Titans this year. They finally shed themselves of the albatross that RB Chris Johnson had become, QB Jake Locker is healthy (for now), coach Ken Wisenhunt has been to the Super Bowl, and they have an exciting new rookie RB in Bishop Sankey. On the other hand, there’s nothing not to like about Kansas City in this matchup. QB Alex Smith wins most of the games he plays. A lot of people who follow the NFL find this hard to believe, despite the statistics in front of them. The Chiefs also have the best player on the field in RB Jamaal Charles. WR Dwayne Bowe is suspended, but the Chiefs should still be able to win by more than three points. If anything, this could be the trap game of the week because the spread is so low.

New England -3.5 at Miami

It rarely feels like a good idea to go against New England coach Bill Belichik, to say nothing of QB Tom Brady. Miami is a bad home team. Their QB is Ryan Tannehill. I could go on, but I think this one is a fairly safe pick.

Carolina at Tampa Bay -4

Ugh. This is a hold-my-nost and look away pick. Tampa Bay should be improved under new coach Lovie Smith, and with RB Doug Martin back from injury. QB is a bit dicey for the Bucs, as they attempt to start career backup Josh McCown. The Panthers have a stifling defense, but QB Cam Newton is hurt, and even if he weren’t it’s not clear who he would be able to throw to. The Panthers have a good thing going with their RB-by-committee approach, but it won’t mean much with Smith’s bend-but-don’t-break defensive scheme. If the total weren’t already so low (37.5), this would’ve been a great time to go under.

San Francisco -3 over Dallas

San Francisco’s defensive problems due to suspensions are pretty well known, and they’re only going to get worse in the coming weeks. But Dallas might have the worst scoring defense in the league. Contrast them with the 49ers, who perennially make the playoffs, and this game could be a blow out.

Indianapolis at Denver -7.5

It’s a lot of points, I know. But I’m not going against Peyton Manning on Sunday night, at home. This is also a revenge game for the Broncos from their loss to the Colts last year.

New York Giants +6.5 at Detroit

Detroit could have a very good team this year. They have a better coach in Jim Caldwell, and a stout defense to go with a fairly loaded offense. The Giants were a bit of a disaster last year, but that was more of an aberration than the norm under coach Tom Coughlin. Particularly considering the way the season started off last year for the Giants, I expect them to come out prepared. This line probably should have been Lions -4.5.

San Diego at Arizona -3

The Chargers are a trendy pickĀ  to make the playoffs and potentially usurp Denver and New England as the kings of the AFC. One problem with that: Philip Rivers is their QB. The Chargers aren’t a terrible team, but the Cardinal’s defense should prove to be too much for them to handle. Taking the home team and laying the points seems like a reasonable play.

From → NFL 2014

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