If it weren’t for the end of the NFL lockout, you wouldn’t be gearing up for the five-day, season-opening extravaganza that is kickoff weekend. You wouldn’t be scouring injury reports, trying to get your fantasy team in order, and you wouldn’t be buying chips, beer, wings and pizza in bulk as you get ready to sit on the couch for 11 straight hours on Sunday. Well maybe you would, but if that’s the case, you should probably think about a gym membership.
More important than all that, though: You wouldn’t be reading this picks column. Obviously.
Actually, you might not be reading anything with this byline attached to it, because if the world didn’t have NFL football, it may not have been a world I was willing to live in. I don’t know how I would be feeling right now if there was no NFL to look forward to, but fortunately, I don’t have to know.
For those of you new to the picks column, the format is pretty simple. I make my picks against the spread (as of Wednesday), using irrefutable, scientific and exact reasoning and logic. It is that process that, in two full seasons, playoffs included, have given me a 97 percent success rate (52 percent is the same as 97 percent, right? Right.).
For an added bonus, I include a “Ridiculous Quote From Last Week’s Picks” (RQFLWP, for short), where, on the rare instance that one of my predictions does not come true, I take a moment to poke fun at myself and invite you to laugh at me, as well.
With no “last week” available this week, I’ll bring back some Ridiculous Quotes From Last Year’s Week 1 Picks (RQFLYW1P … that’s going to catch on with the hip kids, just you wait).
Looking at the Week 1 matchups, there’s a lot of uncertainty around the league, but there is one thing you can take to the bank: Football is back.
(Home team in caps.)
GREEN BAY (-4.5) over New Orleans
In the 44 seasons that a team has opened the year as defending Super Bowl champions, that team has never lost its home opener. OK, so I made that up (the last 11 have won, though), but the Packers are going to win this game by 10 points, and all those Green Bay crazies will enjoy being Green Bay crazy.
Side note: Umm … Maroon 5 is helping to kick off the NFL season? Really? Nothing gets me more geared up for some fast-paced, hard-hitting NFL action than a pop rock band. Nothing.
Pittsburgh (+2) over BALTIMORE
If there’s one thing I enjoyed reading this past week, it was Tim Layden‘s story in Sports Illustrated’s NFL preview issue about the lost art of tackling. It was a fantastic story for a number of reasons, but one part in particular stood out to me:
On a muggy summer afternoon the Steelers are nearly finished with practice when coach Mike Tomlin dials up a full-contact short-yardage drill on the goal line. It will last just seven snaps, but for those seven snaps there will be no thudding up or padding off. There will be live tackling, and players will be taken to the wet grass, which is still oozing rainwater from showers earlier in the day. Teammates will edge closer to the action, screaming encouragement and spewing trash talk.
On the fourth snap, rookie running back Baron Batch, a seventh-round pick from Texas Tech, darts through a hole cleared by the offensive line. [James] Farrior, the veteran inside linebacker, bursts forward into the void and meets Batch at full speed. There is an unmistakable crack of helmets, face masks and upper body pads all colliding, a noise that can’t be heard on Sundays in living rooms or from the distant and soft club seats. But it is the soundtrack of the game. Batch is drilled backward into a scrum of yellow and white. Cheers and howls explode from players and spectators. Both players rise, shaken but seemingly unhurt.
I have a feeling Pittsburgh’s going to be ready for this season opener. Granted, Baltimore will be, too, but these games can often be so close that it’s hard not to like the points.
Detroit (+1) over TAMPA BAY
Nice! I think I have a new rule this year that won’t allow me to pick against the Lions when they’re the underdog. They just went on a crusade to win preseason games (congrats on the undefeated preseason, Detroit!) and showed that they embrace their underdog status in a way that would make Rodney Harrison proud. Harrison, you’ll remember, is the one who said “nobody thought we could do it” when reminiscing about the 2003 Patriots winning Super Bowl XXXVIII. Pretty sure people thought you could do it, Rod. You guys did win a Super Bowl just a couple of years before, you had Tom Brady entering the prime of his career and you had perhaps the best defense that Bill Belichick and Romeo Crennel ever got their hands on in New England. The Patriots beating the Panthers and Jake Delhomme wasn’t exactly Eruzione-against-the-Soviets type stuff.
But anyway, where was I? Oh right, the Lions. I bet they’ve had “Tampa Bay (-1)” hanging in their locker room all week, so I’m going with them.
Plus it’s just a matter of time before Ndamukong Suh actually rips the head off a quarterback, Mortal Kombat-style. I’m not sure where that really fits in here, but I felt it needed to be addressed as soon as possible this season.
Atlanta (-3) over CHICAGO
The Falcons have a doozy of a task ahead of them. For starters, they’re SI’s pick to win the Super Bowl this year, which is a distinction that no team really wants in August. Second, they have to open up on the road against Chicago, which, despite all the Jay Cutler jokes that have been bandied about since January, can be challenging.
Still, I’ll stick with Mr. Ice, for now, but mark this one down as “tentative.”
KANSAS CITY (-5) over Buffalo
So, uhh, Buffalo, huh? I think that I’ll add another rule for this year: Don’t spend more than 50 words when discussing Buffalo, unless the spread is at least 12 points. They are not a very good football team, so to blabber on about the Bills is just not worth … (word limit!)
HOUSTON (-9) over Indianapolis
Nobody is more disappointed about Peyton Manning‘s neck injury than I am. It’s not because I care all that much about Peyton or the Colts, but it’s because I had planned for months to tell you all about the Colts’ demise in my Week 1 picks column. I was going to be the one to tell you that this was the year that the Colts fell back into normalcy, that Peyton would start playing like his brother (still better than most QBs, but that’s not really saying much), that without Tom Moore‘s all-knowing, all-powerful presence, the Colts would finish with a 9-7 record.
But now that Manning’s doubtful, everyone’s on that train. Everyone knows the Colts are as good as dead without Manning under center (Wherefore art thou, Jim Sorgi?!), and it’s just so in vogue to pick the Texans here. But can the Texans cover a nine-digit spread, even against a Manning-less Colts team? This is a game you want to stay away from, unless you love heart attacks.
ST. LOUIS (+4.5) over Philadelphia
The greatest team ever assembled in the history of teams and assemblage is going to lose to the Rams on Week 1? The horror!
The Eagles may not lose, but the Rams are a good football team looking to surprise a lot of us this year. Are they vulnerable to a Vick attack inside their dome? Of course, but I have a feeling the Eagles might need some time before they’re the well-oiled, surefire dynasty that everyone expects them to be.
CLEVELAND (-6.5) over Cincinnati
If I’m NBA commissioner David Stern, here’s what I do:
First, I punch myself in the face, because I’m David Stern and I probably deserve it.
Second, I find out who decides which games are broadcast in certain areas of the country.
Third, I bribe that man with $3 million to broadcast this Cleveland-Cincinnati game to THE ENTIRE COUNTRY.
Fourth, I laugh maniacally as everyone is so distracted with how terrible the NFL is that they’ll forget that my league is in the midst of a lockout that puts the NFL’s to shame.
Fifth, I punch myself in the face again, just for good measure.
JACKSONVILLE (-3) over Tennessee
It’s games like these where people turn to so-called “experts” to try to get an idea of what’s going to happen. It’s games like these where I tell you that all that garbage is just that — garbage. If you told me that you could, with some shred of confidence, tell me what’s going to happen in EverBank Field on Sunday afternoon, then I won’t be your friend. No sir. I won’t even be your friend if you knew the name of the Jaguars’ home was EverBank Field.
With that established, I’m picking Jacksonville, just because. That reasoning, in this instance, is as good as any. You’ll see.
New York Giants (-3) over WASHINGTON
If Washington’s only giving three points, I’m not going to waste your time by writing anything.
ARIZONA (-7) over Carolina
The career of Cam Newton is going to be fascinating to watch. He’s been a lightning rod for a year now, and everyone wants to offer you an opinion on how he’ll do in the NFL. It seems like most folks want to see the kid fail.
Me? You don’t need me to add to the already-overflowing pool of Cam Newton thoughts, so I’ll just say that I foresee a Jimmy Clausen sighting Sunday afternoon. And when Jimmy Clausen is your safety net, you have some problems.
RQFLYW1P: “Count me in on the Matt Moore bandwagon.”
Note: This is an all-time ridiculous statement. Hall of Fame material.
Seattle (+5.5) over SAN FRANCISCO
Is this a typo? Or are they doubting Tarvaris Jackson that much? I mean, it’s not like it’s a bad idea to doubt Tarvaris Jackson, I’m just wondering why this one’s not at three points. We are talking about the same Seahawks who steamrolled their way to an incredible 7-9 record and a division title last year, right?
SAN DIEGO (-9) over Minnesota
In December, we’ll look back at this spread and laugh that it was only nine. For now, I’ll have a good chuckle to myself.
That was nice.
NEW YORK JETS (-4) over Dallas
I am going to miss Wade Phillips. He made picking against the Cowboys so much easier.
What scares me a bit here is that last season, after the Jets spent the summer in front of HBO’s cameras, they came out and stunk up the joint on opening night, at least offensively. Jerricho Cotchery was the leading receiver with 18 — eighteen! — yards.
So while the slow start is a definite possibility for the Jets here, I’ll put my faith behind Rex, if only because I haven’t heard too much noise from Jets camp lately.
New England (-7) over MIAMI
It’s kind of hard to shake the image of Tom Brady jogging off the Sun Life Stadium field last October, after he and the Patriots absolutely demolished the Dolphins on a Monday night. He had this look of satisfaction, the type of feeling that rarely comes to the greatest quarterback on the planet. He didn’t even have that great of a game, and he was probably just happy with the 41-14 final score. It was hilarious.
The Dolphins entered the game with a 2-1 record and had visions of contending in the AFC East at the time; they finished the season 7-9.
Now, it’s a new year, and one past meeting doesn’t predict the future and all of that, but tell me: Since Oct. 4, 2010, have the Miami Dolphins done anything to convince you that they’ve gotten any better? And don’t say the words “Reggie” or “Bush,” please.
I just hope I didn’t hurt Chad Henne‘s feelings with anything I just said. Sorry, Chad!
RQFLYW1P: “The Dolphins may not be the ’75 Steelers, but writing them off before the season begins could be a huge mistake.”
DENVER (-3) over Oakland
I think I’m still mad at the Raiders for their choke job against the Chargers on Monday Night Football to kick off the ’09 season. Maybe I picked them to cover, and that Darren Sproles scamper cost me a winning weekend, or maybe I just don’t like the Raiders. Who can say for sure?
I do know that if I were John Fox, I’d send Tim Tebow out to the huddle for the first play of the game, just to get a rise out of people. I’d then call timeout before he could snap the ball and then put in a real quarterback. Something tells me, though, that Mr. Fox isn’t exactly the practical jokester.
Anyway, I was reading up on some season preview-type material for the Raiders, and the first reason the Raiders can make the playoffs, according to the Oakland Tribune, is this:
Quarterback Jason Campbell gives the Raiders their first legitimate passing attack since 2002.
Ha. Legitimate? That is a stretch, Oakland Tribune. A stretch indeed.
Now that the picks are done and you have a map of how to go 16-0, I’d like to take a brief and rare break from my pathetic attempts at humor. I think it’s important to note that as seriously I take my football, I understand it’s not life or death. It’s not even close. The fact that most of these games fall on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 is something that shouldn’t be lost on anyone. As we all sit there watching football like the big, dumb idiots that we all are, it’s worth a moment or two of reflection to remind ourselves how lucky we are to have the opportunity to worry and care about something as meaningless as football. Ten years ago Sunday, we weren’t so sure we’d get back to that point.
Thank goodness for our country, thank goodness for our lives, friends and family, and, on a level with much less importance, thank goodness for our football. Let’s not take any of it for granted.
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