The waiting is all but over and the first Sunday of the 2012 NFL season is here. Week one has plenty of good games and matchups that could easily go either way.
New England Patriots at Tennessee Titans, 1:00
For the Patriots to win they need to play like they did last year and not how they did in preseason. Granted with no game planning August games are nothing more than glorified tryouts masquerading as full priced sporting events, but the Pats offense was not clicking – because the offensive line was losing their battles. Tennessee will be without both of their starting defensive tackles but former Raider Kamerion Wimbley will be more than a handful for Nate Solder to handle. A tight end could be used to aid in blocking but that would be fine with the Titans, as it removes one of the Pats most effective offensive weapons. On the other hand if the Patriots can hold their own blocking then the Titans will join a long list of teams that has no answer for how to cover tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. In addition to also having to cover Wes Welker the Pats have two new wrinkles for them to attempt to defend: Brandon Lloyd, and screen passes to running backs like Stevan Ridley. Michael Griffin will get most of the work covering Gronk but he will be overmatched; expect the Titans to use a wide variety of defensive looks to attempt to catch the Pats off guard.
On the other side of the ball Chris Johnson will get the ball early and often, in both the running and passing game. Whereas Matt Hasselbeck was almost exclusively a straight dropback passer with a quick release, Jake Locker will buy more time rolling out. Nate Washington is a legitimate threat at wide receiver and tight end Jared Cook is very underrated. This will be a good test for the new Pats defense.
Prediction: Patriots 24, Titans 20
Titans +5½, under 47½
Buffalo Bills at New Jersey Jets, 1:00
Bills have improved and they are healthy, at least for now. The Jets on the other hand appear to have taken a step backwards. The Jets originally opened as six point favorites; it should have been the other way around.
Buffalo +3½ (2 units); under 39½
Miami Dolphins at Houston Texans, 1:00
When the line first opened with Houston at -6 I had to a double take before jumping all over that. Who cares if Arian Foster is only probable when they have Ben Tate? I don’t know why so much is made of the loss of Mario Williams; the Houston defense was perfectly fine without him last year. The Dolphins are a mess and look to be a very long ways away from ever being a winning team again. Even as a double digit spread this one is too tempting to ignore.
Houston -11½ (5 units), under 43
Atlanta Falcons at Kansas City Chiefs, 1:00
The Chiefs defense was playing great ball last year once they dumped Todd Haley and Romeo Crennel took over. Jamaal Charles is a full year removed from his knee injury and Peyton Hillis is there to pound the rock and prevent him from being over worked. That adds up to effective play action passes from Matt Cassel to Dwayne Bowe and Jonathan Baldwin. The Falcons’ Matt Turner has no tread left on his tires and Atlanta has been declared the de facto champion of the NFC South – which means that most likely won’t happen.
Chiefs +3 (1 unit), under 44
Indianapolis Colts at Chicago Bears, 1:00
Thus far Andrew Luck appears to be as advertised, but let’s see how he does in the real games; unfortunately he has no supporting cast. The Bears’ defense led by Julius Peppers will be too much, with or without Brian Urlacher. Trading for Vontae Davis helps the Colts’ defense a bit, but they’re completely overmatched by Matt Forte, Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall. The only thing working in the Colts favor is that the Bears may not take them seriously and look past them to next week’s game against Green Bay. That may be enough to keep it close, but not enough to win.
Colts +10½, over 43½ (1 unit)
Philadelphia Eagles at Cleveland Browns, 1:00
LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, DeSean Jackson, Brett Celek, Michael Vick; the Eagles just have far too many weapons for the Browns to handle.
Eagles -8½ (2 units), under 43 (3 units)
Washington Redskins at New Orleans Saints, 1:00
Remember the Patriots’ scorched earth tour in 2007 after they were fined by Roger Goodell? Here comes the sequel, with the Saints reprising the role of the Pats.
Saints -7½ (3 units), over 49½ (3 units)
Jacksonville Jaguars at Minnesota Vikings, 1:00
Vikings have a couple more playmakers as Maurice Jones-Drew is limited to a third down role in this game.
Vikings -3½, under 39½
St. Louis Rams at Detroit Lions, 1:00
Steven Jackson still seems to be going strong and could have a decent day against the Lions. It won’t be enough though; until proven otherwise Sam Bradford is a shell shocked bust with no weapons to throw the ball to.
Lions -7½ (3 units), over 45½ (2 units)
San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers, 4:25
This should be the best game of the day; 2011’s best defense versus 2011’s best offense. The Packers are great at home; the 49ers have become the NFL’s best road team. I’m just not sold on Alex Smith, and Frank Gore doesn’t seem to have much tread left on his tires; Cedric Benson upgrades the Packers running game.
Packers -4 (1 unit), over 45 (1 unit)
Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 4:25
Why exactly is this a late game? Anyways, the Panthers are a trendy pick to win the division but I’m not buying it. Their defense still has a ways to go and I don’t know that they can expect Cam Newton to continue to produce as he did last year (he had 8 touchdowns in two games against the Bucs last year). As valuable as the additions of Carl Nicks, Vincent Jackson, Lavonte David, Doug Martin and Mark Barron may be, none are as important as the upgrade at head coach.
Buccaneers + 2½ (2 units), over 47
Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals, 4:25
Arizona finished 2011 on an upswing, especially on defense. Since then they seem to be a mess on both sides of the ball, especially at QB – and both RBs are rehabbing from knee injuries. Seattle is so much better at home thanks to the noise level than on the road though; wouldn’t it have been nice if Robert Kraft had hired their architect and built a stadium that retained sound the same way? While Seattle’s Russell Wilson deservedly won the starting job, how much faith do you put in a rookie quarterback making his first NFL start?
Cardinals +3; under 42 (3 units)
Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos, Sunday Night Football
What a great way to finish the first Sunday of the NFL season: a rematch of last year’s overtime playoff game. The Steelers wanted to become less dependent on the passing game because Ben Roethlisberger was getting so beat up the last three years behind a porous offensive line. Problem is that Rashard Mendenhall is rehabbing from a knee injury, Isaac Redman failed to grasp an opportunity to take over, and RG David DeCastro is out for the year. Looks like it will be back to the previous plan of Big Ben impersonating Fran Tarkenton while waiting for Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace to eventually get open.
Denver on the other hand was declared the AFC West champions a bit prematurely by many NFL analysts when they signed Peyton Manning. One thing that seems to be over looked is that they vastly overachieved last year; while they did indeed finish 8-8 talent wise they were probably only a 4 or 5 win team. If Manning does win them three or four more games but it is from their expected result rather than their actual 2011 result, then that makes them … once again an 8-8 team.
Steelers +2, over 44½
Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens, early MNF
Ray Rice is the real deal. Torrey Smith is now the real deal too. If Jarrett Johnson had not left in free agency and Terrell Suggs had not torn his achilles then Baltimore might just be this year’s Super Bowl favorite. The Bengals on the other hand have never been able to handle success well under Marvin Lewis; can they do so this year, even with all the talent they possess? On paper it looks like this could be Cincy’s time I just can’t go with the Bengals … at least not to win.
Bengals +7½, under 41½
San Diego Chargers at Oakland Raiders, late MNF
Ryan Mathews and Jared Gaither are out for the Chargers; Norm is not smart enough to overcome that. Darren McFadden will do well since it’s early in the season and he’s not hurt yet. Once that happens Carson Palmer will find someone deep. Philip Rivers will try to respond but without Vincent Jackson that won’t be possible.
Raiders -1 (4 units), over 46½
On today’s date in 1956 the King made his first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.
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