I have four picks for Sunday and Monday night in the NFL. I will provide my contest picks with a short analysis for the rest of the games. “My line” means what I think the line should be.
Saints (-3) at Falcons
My line: Saints -1
Analysis: I was very close to picking Atlanta but don’t trust taking them here. Saints offense can dominate in opener.
Pick: Pass (Contest: Falcons)
Vikings at Rams (-3.5)
My Line: Rams -3.5
Analysis: Shaun Hill against Matt Cassel isn’t what we imagined. Can see either team winning this game so take the points if you have to.
Pick: Pass (Vikings)
Browns at Steelers (-7)
My Line: Steelers -7.5
Analysis: Don’t trust either team right now. Steelers started off slowly last year and I could see that same thing happening again.
Pick: Pass (Browns)
A lot of people picked against Tennessee in Week 1 because they were an inexperienced group playing a star quarterback in Chuckie Keeton. The Volunteers responded in primetime with a convincing 38-7 victory on the SEC Network. Now with one day less day of normal rest, the Volunteers return home for an early start against Arkansas State. I think the line at Tennessee -17.5 is a little high.
Tennessee’s inexperience and a look-a-head situation will make this a closer game. The Volunteers play at Oklahoma next Saturday so I think they will just do enough to win this game and make sure they are healthy for their trip to Norman.
Arkansas State is one of the better teams in the Sun Belt despite having a revolving door of coaches. The Red Wolves beat Montana State 37-10 in their first game and racked up 547 yards. They have the talent to keep this game close.
Pick: Arkansas State (+17.5) over Tennessee
Two of the best programs in the state of Illinois (not saying much) meet on Saturday in Evanston. Northern Illinois opened the post-Jordan Lynch era off with an easy with against FCS Presbyterian. Northwestern was upset at home by California.
With the line at Northwestern -7.5 this appears to be an overreaction to what happened last week. The Wildcats were a double-digit favorite against California. There is no way that Northern Illinois is a better team than California this season. Pat Fitzgerald will make sure his team has a maximum effort this week. The Wildcats should be a 10-point favorite or more in this game.
Pick: Northwestern (-7.5) over Northern Illinois
Missouri travels to Toledo as a four-point favorite and this line seems too low. Both teams are coming off victories over FCS schools. Toledo’s victory was more convincing but it’s hard to react to the Week 1 results. Rocket quarterback Phillip Ely had an impressive first collegiate start throwing four touchdowns. The Tigers will need to get him in check.
Last season, Missouri was just as good at home as on the road. They scored over 41 points in four true road games. Quarterback Maty Mauk only started one of those games but Mauk has a higher ceiling than previous quarterback James Franklin. Mauk will need to avoid mistakes this game, and rely on running backs Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy to keep the offense balanced. I think the Tigers will do that and they will win by over a touchdown.
Pick: Missouri (-4) over Toledo
The Patriots are a five-point favorite in Miami. That’s implying that they would be about a 10-point favorite if this game was in Foxboro, and I think the line is too high. The Patriots defense vastly improved this offseason with the addition of Darrelle Revis. Vince Wilfork is back from injury, which will make players like Chandler Jones better on the defensive line. The offense needs Rob Gronkowski to stay healthy or there might be some problems for Tom Brady this season. I think the Patriots will win the division but they aren’t a top five team in the NFL.
The Dolphins had a pretty good season last year especially when you consider the Richie Incognito distractions. The offensive line is much improved and Knowshon Moreno was added to provide depth at running back. Don’t be surprised if Ryan Tannehill has a big game against New England.
Miami beat New England at home last season 24-20. I expect the game to have a similar feel with the Patriots coming out on top at the end on a late field goal or touchdown.
Pick: Dolphins (+5)
I have the Bengals and Ravens rated about the same at the moment. I think the Ravens will end up wining the AFC North and the Bengals will finish third in the division. Giovani Bernard and A.J. Green are special talents on the Bengals offense. The defense has a lot of great players too. However, one reason to go against the Bengals this week is the pressure of a new contract on Andy Dalton. The Bengals quarterback has been above average in his three seasons and earned the kind of money that most starting NFL quarterbacks receive. I think the pressure of playing in his first game since the big payday will hurt him against a well-coached Ravens defense.
Another reason to pick the Ravens is a change in offensive scheme. Gary Kubiak is now the offensive coordinator in Baltimore. I think he will help Joe Flaaco improve this season. Steve Smith is a great pickup to play along with Torrey Smith. The Ray Rice absence doesn’t mean much and Bernard Pierce can be a serviceable running back. I think the Ravens should be a three-point favorite in this game.
Pick: Ravens (-1)
The Chargers and Cardinals exceeded expectations in 2013 thanks to strong offenses. I think the Chargers will continue to play well this season but the Cardinals will have a regression. Philip Rivers is a reliable quarterback and Kennan Allen emerged as a go-to receiver. The Chargers defense added Brandon Flowers in the offseason, and the pass rushing duo of Melvin Ingram and Dwight Freeney will be dangerous in a 3-4.
The Cardinals offense has great weapons in Andre Ellington, Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd. I think Arizona will regress because Carson Palmer will struggle this season. Arizona’s offensive line is shaky and defensive tackle Darnell Docket sustained a season-ending injury last month. Bruce Arians is a great coach but you never know what you’re going to get with Palmer.
I think the Chargers are the better team and the how field advantage for Arizona isn’t that great. The Chargers plus the points is the pick for the second Monday night game.
Pick: Chargers (+3)
Carolina was 12-4 last season and won the AFC South but they will finish below .500 in 2014. The Panthers lost receivers Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell in the offseason. They surprisingly only addressed that need in the draft when they selected Kelvin Benjamin. Quarterback Cam Newton has new receivers to throw too but hasn’t had much time to work with them because he is nursing broken ribs. The Panthers have a strong defense and have invested a lot of money in their rushing game but running the football isn’t a key to long-term success in the NFL.
The Buccaneers look like they will be this year’s Chiefs. They have a new coach, a new quarterback and solid pieces on both sides of the ball. Lovie Smith is familiar with Tampa Bay and a perfect fit for that team. I’m not fully sold on Josh McCown as a starting quarterback but he has two big targets in Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans. Doug Martin is primed for a bounce back season after a sophomore slump. The defense should be able to stop a banged up Newton.
The Panthers were a road favorite when this line opened and there has been a lot of movement since. Even with the drastic line move, the Buccaneers under a field goal is a solid pick.
Pick: Buccaneers (-2)