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Week 1 NFL Picks

I had written a very depressing introduction to today’s picks premised around Roger Goodell being a bad person, but it ended up growing to almost 2,000 words. I pitched it to The Classical, their editor David Roth made it much better, and it’ll be up there later this afternoon.

(Update: it’s here.)

So instead of using this space to make you feel guilty about liking football and everything else about our convenient lives as American consumers, I’m going to ask you for money.

I have no idea if this solicitation will have a substantial effect, but it is something that I am willing to try in an effort to make this weekly conceit anywhere near worthy of the vast amount of time and energy it takes me to create. This post is something that I hope is informative, but more importantly, as Clay Travis regularly writes, funny and entertaining and helpful in bringing a dull Friday workday to a close.

I tried pitching it elsewhere, and I received little response and less interest. That’s probably for the best — I enjoy having something that is all mine to sink or swim on, and the positive feedback that comes with it is only that much more fulfilling. But I can’t pay rent with feedback. I make some money for my recurring role at SI, I have a seasonal gig as a writing coach at an Ivy League business school, and I can cobble together $100 here and there on freelance assignments, but I am not yet at a level where I feel comfortable that this occupation will be sustainable over the long haul.

Obviously, this is not your problem. Lots (most?) people don’t enjoy their jobs and nobody should shed a tear if my dream of writing about the toy section of life does not come to glorious fruition. But, if my small corner of Internet banter is something that you appreciate the entertainment value of on par with, say, a magazine subscription or television show or going to the movies, then sponsoring my cause will go a long way towards preserving it.

You can also think of it as an investment — based on last year’s picks, it would be quite lucrative to bet the other way.

Currently, I have a very generous sponsor who is contributing $50 per week towards the creation of this column. I don’t know how realistic it is for me to raise any more, but I figured it can’t hurt to ask. I also don’t know exactly where to set the bar. Ideally, I’d hope to raise at least $5,000 during the NFL season for these posts; with the weekly pledge, I am about 20% of the way there. As a bizarre incentive, if I do raise $5,000 I will take video of myself Office Spacing my printer. (See Cardinals-Rams pick.)

Literally, any amount helps. My PayPal is email hidden; JavaScript is required; If you would prefer to mail me a check or transfer through Bank of America, please email me at that address.

So, that was fun. On to the picks! (Asif and I both started off 0-1.)

New England (-9.5) @ Buffalo

Ryan: This is one of those Week 1 match-ups that it is difficult to have an accurate gauge on. We don’t know how much the tumultuous Patriots offseason will affect the team. We tend to treat professional athletes as unfeeling robotic machines, but it seems a bit unreasonable to expect that knowledge of sharing a locker room with a suspected serial killer and the barrage of questioning that has followed would not have any impact on the team’s on-field performance. Beyond that, Rob Gronkowski is not expected to play, one would expect a drop-off from Wes Welker to Danny Amendola, and the team has perpetual difficulty in the secondary.

The Bills are also a major question mark. They have a new head coach in Doug Marrone, a rusty rookie quarterback in E.J. Manuel, and we don’t really know how C.J. Spiller’s body will handle his purported increase in carries.

With no idea what to really expect, I’ll take the points. Bills cover.

Asif: Sure, the Patriots have some issues, but nothing the Bills are going to exploit. Pats cover.

Tennessee @ Pittsburgh (-7)

Ryan: My unscientific gut feeling is that the Steelers bottom out this season. They were an uninspiring 8-8 last year, their offensive line has been atrocious for awhile now, and they have a combination of age and inexperience on defense.

In researching this entry, I tried to figure out what’s been going on with the Titans this offseason and was greeted with these lovely Google results:

Blah. Nothing like using SEO voodoo to flood the market with meh content and getting handsomely rewarded for it. Anyways, I made this point on Twitter, and a Bleacher Report NFL writer swiftly corrected me:

And, upon further review … well … he was right. Literally zero other mainstream sites have done an exhaustive breakdown of the Titans offseason. I was wrong. This time.

Spread feels too big again. Titans cover.

Asif: Doooooonn’t care. Titans cover.

Atlanta @ New Orleans (-3)

Ryan: I went to the Eagles-Saints game last year at the Superdome and it was indescribably LOUD. Like, it was by far the loudest sporting event I’ve ever been to, and it was a random game in November in which both teams were more or less out of contention. Part of that is due to the physiology of a closed dome, but believe me when I tell you that people were screaming at the top of their bloody lungs.

Question marks about whether or not the Saints revert to old form upon Sean Payton’s return notwithstanding, I can’t bring myself to go against that home field advantage in a game where New Orleans will be out for blood. Saints cover.

Asif: Does anyone really believe that the Falcons are a Super Bowl contender? Sure, we have to pay them lip service because they’ve been a consistent playoff team in the Matt Ryan era and Steven Jackson should be an upgrade over a spent Michael Turner (at least until he inevitably gets hurt), but no one outside the 404 would bet on this team if they were hosting the Seahawks in a first round playoff game. Still, the Saints defense is so porous and the Falcons offense is excellent that I have to go with Atlanta to cover.

Tampa Bay (-3) @ NY Jets

Ryan: About 75 times per day on Twitter, somebody will make an insightful-but-obvious joke or observation that I kick myself for not thinking of and sending out first. This was one of those times:

The Jets just seem destined to perish in a dumpster fire this year. Buccaneers cover.

Asif: I’d rather not even think about this game. Bucs cover.

Kansas City (-3.5) @ Jacksonville

Ryan: CONSPIRACY THEORY: the Jaguars’ evil plan is for continued putridity, pushing/keeping the fans away for long enough that they can make their case to move to Los Angeles or London (the latter of which is a weird thing that Roger Goodell seems to want). Should only be another year or two.

It wouldn’t be surprising to me if the Chiefs are frisky this season – Fast Food Friday has powerful implications. Kansas City covers.

Asif: I’ll hold my nose and take Kansas City because Blaine Gabbert. BTW have you seen Blaine Gabbert’s theme song? It’s terrible, because Blaine Gabbert.

Cincinnati @ Chicago (-3)

Ryan: It is downright astonishing that the Bengals have made the playoffs three of the past four years. Even if I’m at a bar with six screens, I never make it a priority to watch them. It’s like trying to figure out Nickleback’s sustained success — sometimes the world’s just inexplicable.

On a different note, I no longer recall who came up with this idea first, but it’s a travesty that Andy Dalton has not yet dyed black stripes through his hair to make his head look like his helmet.

Another random gut feeling of mine is that the Bears are going to be really good. They have adults in charge now, and the manner in which they coldheartedly parted ways with depleted franchise great Brian Urlacher proved it. Jay Cutler is in a contract year, which, again: these are human beings and such things should theoretically matter. Bears cover.

Asif: I actually enjoy watching the Bengals (I can’t believe I’m wrote that). They have a solid D, and one truly transcendent offensive player, AJ Green, who I could see leapfrogging Megatron as the best receiver in the league this year. The Bears, on the other hand, do nothing for me, I just find nothing about them intriguing. Bengals cover.

Miami @ Cleveland (-1)

Ryan: This is the beginning what will (probably) be a weekly reminder that the Browns owner is guilty of at least presiding over massive fraud and that their new general manager is a noted moronDolphins cover.

Asif: I did all my fantasy drafts as auctions this year and it was AWESOME. I am never going back to the snake draft. Also, I wouldn’t pay more that $15 for any player on either of these teams, including Trent Richardson, who is almost guaranteed to be walking with a limp by Week 3. Dolphins cover.

Seattle (-3.5) @ Carolina

Ryan: This is another game where I’d like to see each team play a week or two before picking. I expect Seattle to have another great season (they ranked first in Football Outsiders’ DVOA last year) while Carolina won five of its last six last year. It seems like writing the look-how-mature-Cam-Newton-is-now story is the cool thing to do; this is mutually beneficial training camp fodder, but needs to be subsequently justified.

Given that I am high on the Seahawks and don’t have any feeling either way on the Panthers yet, Seattle covers.

Asif: I find Seattle hard to gauge, I could see them making the leap and being one of the top 3 teams in the NFC this season, I could also see them missing the playoffs. I have no idea why Ron Rivera is still coaching the Panthers. Seattle covers.

Minnesota @ Detroit (-5.5)

Ryan: The Lions lost their last eight games last season and somehow Jim Schwartz is returning. Has anything like that happened in recent NFL history? Why would anyone think the team would be substantially improved?

***

Because Christian Ponder is not a serviceable NFL starting quarterback, the Vikings sorta snuck up on people last year as a playoff team.

The primary reason?

Adrian Peterson is a physical marvel — perhaps on the level of LeBron James — but we don’t necessarily realize that all the time because he is hidden inside pads and a helmet while NBA players rock shorts and a tank top. There are two or three non-quarterback superstars that can swing their entire team — Peterson and JJ Watt, for example — but it’s something that is only noticed when it’s already happened as opposed to being prognosticated.

Vikings cover.

Asif: AP gon’ AP, especially against a subpar Lions defense. Vikings cover.

Oakland @ Indianapolis (-9.5)

Ryan: Has anybody heard a peep out of Andrew Luck this offseason? I saw him and his flip-phone in this Onion video and found myself thinking that he has been eerily silent for the past seven months. The only thing I ever hear about the Colts these days is stat-heads saying that they are doomed for regression. The combination of these two aspects means that I will be rooting for them heavily.

The Raiders remain haunted by the ghost Al Davis, who existed for his last few years in body, but not mind. They seem to still be a year away from even mediocrity.

Colts cover.

Asif: After years of knee-jerk hatred for the Colts, I think this team could be pretty fun to watch. I could see them playing like a poor man’s version of the 2011 Pats, with Luck taking another step forward and Dwayne Allen and Colby Fleener playing the parts of Gronk and Aaron Hernandez, you know minus the meathead dance parties, angel dust, and homicides. Are we sure that Al Davis is really dead? Because it doesn’t seem like anything has changed in Oakland. Colts cover.

Arizona @ St. Louis (-4.5)

Ryan: I hate the fact that we still need printers and I hate the fact that my printer is a festering pile of dog crap. A few months ago, I bought an Epson XP-400 and what has since ensued is emblematic of what happens when the sole reason for buying something is that it is the cheapest product on Amazon.

About six weeks ago, the printer ran out of black ink (I’m unsure how many pages I printed in the intermediate time period, but it didn’t seem like nearly enough to warrant an empty cartridge), and I endured five weeks without replacing it, going to FedEx to print stuff once or twice because who-has-that-kind-of-time. Last week, I went to a printer cartridge store to try and replace it, and the store — WHICH EXISTS ONLY TO SELL PRINTER CARTRIDGES — didn’t have the one I needed. They directed me to the Office Max, which was only four additional blocks away, but it was hot and supremely humid and ugh.

So to Office Max I went. There were two options: a normal cartridge for $12, and one that had 2.5x normal capacity for $30. Despite the fact that the bulk purchase had no extra value, I of course recalled the inconvenience of an empty cartridge and opted for it anyway. I got home, installed it, clicked to print, and a blank page came out.

After taking it out, putting it back in (repeat 3-5x to no avail), and having the cartridge LEAK INK ALL OVER MY HAND — its impotence clearly only applied to paper — I called tech support. The call agent, who I don’t think was located in America and was unable to transfer me to a supervisor, kept walking me through the same process of cleaning the ink jet. Eventually, the printer would work for 3/4s of the page with random blank space in between, which is almost worse than nothing.

After 35-40 minutes of getting worse than nowhere, I hung up in a fit of rage. My printer still doesn’t work — I want to Office Space it.

Oh, and Cardinals cover.

Asif:I think the league needs to start having byes every week again, some of these matchups are just so terrible. Arizona covers.

Green Bay @ San Francisco (-4.5)

Ryan: I am pretty optimistic about this Packers season. As long as Aaron Rodgers is upright, you can pencil them in for 10 wins a year from now until who-knows-when — I’m sure that people who understand how to break down film and diagram plays would wholeheartedly disagree, but I’ve become more and more convinced that elite quarterback play and head coaching account for about 85% of an NFL team’s regular season fortunes. The playoffs, which have not entirely made sense for the past five years now, are a completely different beast.

Rodgers love being spoken, the 49ers just seem to be the rock to their scissors. I’m not terribly hopeful that Dom Capers’ trip to Texas A&M to study the read option is going to provide any sort of magical panacea for what was a series of events that would haunt my dreams if I were not watching them on a four-inch screen at a happy wedding.

Now, what may in fact provide such a remedy would be if the Packers defense follows up on Clay Matthews’ promise to smack Colin Kaepernick in the mouth on read option plays, whether he’s the ball carrier or not. (Shockingly, Jim Harbaugh was not enamored with said gameplan.) If they do that, are not flagged for it, and effectively turn Kaepernick into a pocket passer, then I’m saying there’s a chance. However, promising the physicality and actually executing it are wholly different enterprises. I’ll believe it when I see it.

I hope I’m wrong, but 49ers cover.

Asif: These are both great teams, but I can’t help but feel like they’re heading in opposite directions. 49ers cover.

NY Giants @ Dallas (-3.5)

Ryan: I’m not inclined to spend a half-hour figuring out the exact numbers right now, but I feel like I am about 4-28 picking Giants games the last two years. As such, I am just going to say that Dallas covers because my grandfather, a die hard Giants fan, reads this column and I know he appreciates it when I pick against them.

Asif: The Giants LOVE playing in Cowboys stadium. New York covers.

Philadelphia @ Washington (-3.5)

Ryan: This is the non-Packers game I’m most excited for this week and another one in which I admittedly have no idea what to expect. Chip Kelly’s jump to the NFL has fascinating potential. His offense should be effective — not to mention immensely enjoyable to watch — for as long as Michael Vick remains healthy. From an admirer-of-innovative-offense perspective, it’s a damn shame that Jeremy Maclin will miss this entire year with a torn ACL, as it would’ve been fun to see Chip Kelly deploy his full arsenal. But again: it should still be quite explosive.

It will also be really interesting to see whether RG3 has any rust and how the Redskins run their offense. An underlying subplot is that he really doesn’t seem to get along with the Shanahans. It’s a little bit below the surface at this point, but the way they speak about each other, and the manner in which various leaks come out of their respective camps, is passive aggressive and implies discord behind the scenes. The best is when Dr. James Andrews gets involved, because he also doesn’t appear to be on the same page with the Shanahans but they can’t say a damn thing back — Michael Jordan was the Dr. James Andrews of basketball — and the renowned orthopedic surgeon is beyond reproach.

On a whim, Eagles cover.

Asif: Will Chip Kelly’s offense translate to the NFL? The answer is yes, we already know it does because teams like the Pats have been using it for a couple years now. That said, I don’t see it working out in Philly, where Mike Vick will probably get hurt early in the season and DeSean Jackson unofficially retired two years ago, which of course will lead airhead pundits to declare the system a failure.

As for the Redskins, they might be the hardest team to gauge this year. If RG3 is in full form, I have to think they’re a playoff team. However, they haven’t done much to improve the team around him, and that roster was awfully thin to begin with. Eagles cover.

Houston (-4) @ San Diego

Ryan: The return of football is, of course, coupled with the return of gambling on football and, consequently, the return of debilitating gambling losses. I only bet $10 at a time on games, but that doesn’t make them any easier to cope with. I’ve already had my first of the season — an aggravating push, actually — and it came at the hands of my alma mater.

Wisconsin was 45-point favorites last week against Cupcake U (UMass, specifically) and I figured that putting a Hamilton on the game would make an otherwise blah second half compelling. And it did. Anyways, the Badgers were up 45-0 on their final drive.

They ran this sequence of plays:

Clement looked like he was about to score on that 2nd-to-last play. After that, we thought the Badgers would take a knee and let the clock expire. They didn’t. And then that final rush was actually well inside the 1. Hopefully this wasn’t some sort of omen.

Houston covers.

Asif: San Diego is the classic “held on too long” team. They’ve turned over their core at the skills positions over the past few seasons. Unfortunately, the players they’ve plugged in have been downgrades from the glory days of LT and Vincent Jackson. (Well, as glorious as great regular seasons and early playoff exits can be, anyways.) Teams can do this kind of stuff when they have a truly great quarterback like Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, but it’s clear that Philip Rivers is nearing the end of the line. Time to blow it up. Houston covers.


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