With all due to respect to Andy Williams: tomorrow brings the advent of the most wonderful time of the year. Football season is back, baby.
And that means i’m back with my fourth annual NFL preview “extravaganza” (for lack of a better word that’s much more accurately understated, in regards to what this column really is).
So sit back, relax, and block off an hour or so off your calendar, as we take a look at some of the top storylines for the 2017-2018 NFL season:
There’s (Still) Nobody That Can Beat The Patriots
Full disclosure: I was going to come out and start this column by declaring that the New England Patriots were essentially the 2016 (or 2017) Golden State Warriors, playing in a league where everyone else was just competing for second place.
And then the season-ending ACL injury to Julian Edelman happened.
Look, I know that “football is a team sport” and “it takes 53 guys to win a Super Bowl” and all those other coachspeak football clichés. But here are the cold, hard facts: since 2009, Edelman’s first season with the Patriots, New England is 84-19 (.816) in games Edelman has played, and 15-10 (.600) without him (h/t to ESPN Stats & Info).
Edelman doesn’t gash teams with big plays like Antonio Brown, go silent for three quarters and then make highlight reel plays that change the entire game like Odell Beckham, or simply present an unfathomable combination of size and speed like Julio Jones. Rather, Tom Brady and Julian Edelman beat opponents through “death by papercut:” repeatedly nipping opponents with a steady dose of 6 yard gains that keep moving the chains. He was a pesky gnat operating out of the slot that teams simply had no answer for. Every single game, he was good for 6.5 catches for 70 yards. In other words, he was the “security blanket” for Brady — the one guy he could really truly rely on. Want proof? Brady himself commented that the 1 thing that will be missed from Edelman is the trust.
Brady still has plenty of weapons at his disposal. I think Brandin Cooks is primed for a huge year. Rob Gronkowski is healthy, and still totally uncoverable. Chris Hogan has the underground nickname of “7-11” because “he’s always open.” I fully expect New England to use a lot of James White, Dion Lewis, and Rex Burkhead in the passing game as well.
But taking a step back, it all comes down to one thing with the Patriots. I’ve said this a thousand times — including in last year’s preview — and i’ll say it again this year: borrowing from the Nature Boy himself (who’s thankfully recovered from his life-threatening hospital stay), “to BE the man, you gotta BEAT The man.” Even without Edelman, there definitely isn’t a team in the AFC, and perhaps not even in the league overall, that’s good enough to go toe-to-toe with New England, and beat them on a neutral field.
If you know me, you know that i’m not exactly a fan of the New England Patriots. In general, i’d rather eat an entire plate of chinese dumplings filled with camel dung, versus interact with most “Masshole” Boston sports fans. I’ve got exactly zero quarrels with you if you root for the Patriots demise. If you happen to also root against the Boston Celtics — who now employ my least favorite player in the NBA (Kyrie Irving) — we might end up becoming great friends.
But, again, here are the cold, hard facts: once Tom Brady was done serving Roger Goodell’s baseless, tyrannical, and self-serving suspension, the Patriots had a 14-1 record with Brady under center, if you include the postseason. They won 11 of those 14 wins were by double-digits. Only two of those 14 wins were decided by less than a touchdown, and their smallest margin of victory was a full five points.
And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the rest of the league stood by and watched the Patriots somehow actually get better this offseason. New England usually eschews making any expensive free agent moves, but they opened things up in this year’s free agency by signing cornerback Stephon Gilmore (one of the best cornerbacks available in this year’s free agency group), re-signed linebacker Dont’a Hightower (who might’ve been the most integral player on their defense), and then snagged restricted free agent running back Mike Gillislee from the Buffalo Bills (who could very well end up being a thousand-yard rusher for the Patriots, and one of the biggest steals in free agency overall). They also eschewed taking some rookie with the #32 overall pick in the NFL Draft (who likely wouldn’t be ready to play for this team right away), and sent the pick New Orleans Saints in exchange for Cooks
So, if you’re keeping score, the Patriots went on a complete tear through the NFL between October of 2016 and January of 2017, completed the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history in February of 2017, then spent the past six months adding pieces to a Bill Belichick defense and an offense orchestrated by Brady.
Mike Lombardi of The Ringer said it best (although he’s obviously the second biggest Patriots homer in sports media, behind only his employer in Bill Simmons): to beat the Patriots, you have to outplay New England for all 60 minutes of the game (right Atlanta?), you have to figure out a way to outsmart Belichick (perhaps the most cunning game-to-game strategist in the history of the NFL), you have to keep Brady off the field as much as realistically possible, AND you have to play perfect football in all three phases of the game, without one single self-inflicted mistake.
Oh, is that all?
Let me be clear: I really don’t want this season to be an exercises in prolonging the inevitable Patriots championship. I really want someone to emerge from the ranks and beat New England, just for the sake of changing things up. We had the same two teams play each other in the college football national championship. We had the same two teams play each other in the NBA Finals. We had the same team win the Stanley Cup two years in a row (and comically dispatch our beloved Washington Capitals for the second year in a row).
But as much as I want a change-up of the team that’s most likely to win the Super Bowl this year, I wouldn’t hold my breath on it.
To borrow from the nefarious Jean Girard: God needs the Devil. The Beatles needed the Rolling Stones. Even Diane Sawyer needed Katie Couric.
But no team in the NFL seems like they’re up to the task of being the the Patriots’ Katie Couric.
Atlanta Falls Victim To The “Super Bowl Loser Hangover.”
Over the last 20 years, the team that lost the Super Bowl failed to make the playoffs 9 times. Over the last 15 years, the Super Bowl loser failed to make the playoffs the ensuing year. In other words, it’s basically a 50/50 chance that if you lose the Super Bowl, you’re not making the postseason the following year.
Along those lines, speaking candidly: I think the 2017-2017 Atlanta Falcons not only fail to win the NFC South division this year, but also fail to make the playoffs.
Why? Because of two simple reasons:
But I think two things things working against Falcons cannot be overstated enough:
1. I think everyone overlooked an Atlanta defense that really wasn’t all that greatNoah
2. The difference between Kyle Shanahan’s offense and Steve Sarkisian’s offense is going to be jarring, in a really, really bad way if you’re a Falcons fan.
While the offense was busy putting up franchise-best numbers last season, the defense finished 26th in defensive DVOA last season, 25th in total yards allowed per game, and 28th in passing yards allowed per game. They allowed the fifth-most touchdown passes in the NFL to opponents last year, and didn’t have anyone on the entire team (outside of Vic Beasley Jr.) register more than five sacks.
Does that sound like a “good defense” to you?
I was a big fan of the one-year “prove it” addition of defensive tackle Dontari Poe (I would have LOVED to see the Redskins sign him instead), and thought the selection of edge rusher Takkarist McKinley — one of my favorite prospects in this year’s draft — was a great move. But name me the player on the Falcons defense, outside of maybe Beasley, who opposing teams really need to worry about. If you polled 100 relatively knowledgeable NFL fans, could they name more than three players on the Falcons defense?
Atlanta plays in a division where they’ll face Drew Brees, Cam Newton, or Jameis Winston in more than a third of their games this year; that’s not even mentioning the fact that Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Russell Wilson are all on teams who are on the Falcons’ schedule this year as well.
And before you say: “well, Atlanta can win those games in a shootout,” that brings us to the Shanahan-Sarkisian issue, with that issue specifically being the fact that the Falcons are replacing one of the BEST offensive minds in the NFL with someone who has NEVER called plays or ran an offense in the NFL at any point in his career.
What Shanahan did for the Falcons offense last year was his career’s magnum opus; it was his Eiffel Tower, his Rachmaninoff’s Third, and his Pietà. He found a way to masterfully utilize Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Taylor Gabriel, Mohamed Sanu, the incomparable Julio Jones, and a veritable pupu platter of tight ends, taking all of those random ingredients and concocting an offering in a way that would’ve made an Iron Chef proud.
To continue the culinary metaphor, if Kyle Shanahan is Bobby Flay — a super-talented prodigy with a personality that simply begs you to punch him in the face — then Steve Sarkisian is the Swedish chef from the Muppets — a hilariously incompetent “professional” in name only, whose comedy originates from the immense amount of brain cells he’s likely burned out due to immense substance abuse in his past. After all, “Sark” is the guy best known for 1) being great buddies with (uber-douche) Lane Kiffin, and 2) showing up to speaking events while being absolutely hammered.
In the three seasons prior to 2016, Atlanta finished 21st, 12th, and 20th in the NFL in points per game. Tell me what sounds more realistic to you: Steve Sarkisian implementing another league-leading, well-oiled offensive juggernaut? Or Atlanta’s offense reverting back to the mean, thanks to a coordinator who was so toxic that most college programs gave tremendous pause to the idea of hiring him?
So, scoff all you want at my 7-9 projection. Go ahead and overlook the fact that, in the three seasons before last year, Atlanta failed to reach nine wins, or the fact that they’ve ranked in the bottom six in the NFL in points allowed per game in three of the past four seasons.
I stand by my “hangover” prediction.
All Aboard The Tampa Bay (Boat)wagon.
In the course of one year, I went from questioning why the hell was everyone so overly optimistic about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, to becoming one of their biggest “hype men.” The NFL powers-that-be made a brilliant decision — one of their VERY few — featuring Tampa Bay on HBO’s Hard Knocks television show, because there might not be a more intriguing team heading into this season than the Buccaneers.
This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but it all starts with quartterback Jameis Winston. I went from someone who really didn’t have much of an opinion about Winston either way when he was coming out of Florida State University, to someone who’s absolutely captivated by Winston. He has comfortably and gracefully transitioned from the college to the professional game better than any young quarterback we’ve seen in recent memory. In just his second season in the league, Winston finished among the top 12 quarterbacks in passing yards and touchdowns. And that was with a supporting cast comprised largely of backups and bargain-bin players.
But on top of his talent, Winston oozes that “it” factor that the great quarterbacks need to have. He has this incredible charisma, charm, and confidence thats absolutely captivating (how’s that for alliteration?). It’s the same combination of swagger, humility, and determination that tantalized us Redskins fans in regards to Robert Griffin III, minus that undercurrent of it all being totally disingenuous and prepared for the camera (side note: I still think RG3 would make a tremendous politician, and has a brighter future in that profession than he does in pro football).
As you watch Hard Knocks, you’d think that Winston’s energy, passion, and pep talks would get old, especially to his veteran teammates. And yet, it’s quite the opposite. I think it spoke volumes when, in the opening episode of Hard Knocks this year, Gerald McCoy said something to the effect of: “with all due respect to any other player on this roster, myself included, Jameis Winston is the face of the franchise.” That was coming from one of the longest tenured members of the team, who’s endured five losing seasons in the seven years he’s been in the NFL.
I think Winston is primed for a huge year in 2017. For those who partake in fantasy football, I have him ranked 6th among all quarterbacks, behind Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Russell Wilson, Tom Brady, and Ben Roethlisberger (in that order). The Buccaneers front office saw how strongly Winston played over the second half of the 2016 season (when Tampa Bay when 6-2 over its final eight games), and dedicated much of the offseason to giving Winston more weapons to work with.
The result? They signed away wide receiver DeSean Jackson from the Washington Redskins on the first day of free agency, giving Winston and the offense a deep threat that they lacked last season. They drafted tight end O.J. Howard with their first round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, who many projected to be a top-10 selection (they were able to take him with the 19th pick). They drafted wide receiver Chris Godwin with their third round pick in the draft, as a potential #3 wide receiver. All those guys will be at Winston’s disposal, in addition to now-officially-a-superstar Mike Evans (who finished fourth among all receivers in receiving yards and tied for second in touchdowns caught) and tight end Cameron Brate (who led the league in touchdown catches among tight ends last year).
The offense will get more than its share of the headlines this year because of Winston, Evans, Jackson, et al., but Tampa Bay has a bunch of interesting pieces on the other side of the football as well. Gerald McCoy is one of the most underrated defensive linemen in the NFL, despite the fact that he’s made the Pro Bowl for the past five consecutive seasons (and has been named first or second team All-Pro in four of those five years). Chris “Swaggy” Baker, also formerly of the Redskins, was a solid offseason acquisition next to McCoy. Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander are like east coast versions of Bobby Wagner and KJ Wright, in terms of being a duo of linebackers who chase down ballcarriers like a couple of hangry (hungry + angry) jackals. Defensive end Noah Spence could be one of the league’s breakout pass rushers this year, after flashing much of the talent last year that led many people to call him the best pass rusher in the 2016 NFL Draft. Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III looks like a player in the secondary, and if veteran Brent Grimes can hold up (and his wife can stop making a public spectacle of herself on social media during the season), the defense, as a whole, should be plenty good enough to hold up their end of the bargain.
This team might still need to suffer a bitter postseason loss or two, before they’re really ready to position themselves as a true contender in the Royal Rumble that is the NFC. But with Winston under center, Tampa Bay has the makings of a very interesting team both this year, and in coming years.
The Miseducation of Jared Goff
So, this the NFL equivalent of my “LEAVE BRITTANY ALONE!!” moment
(side note: that video came out five years ago? Fuck i’m old.).
A lot of people spent most of last season absolutely crushing Jared Goff of the Los Angeles Rams, after an admittedly terrible rookie season. But even in today’s world of hot takes and instant overreaction, I still think we’re writing him off way too early.
To start, people forget there was absolutely going to be an adjustment period for Goff, as he transitioned from the “Bear Raid”/spread style of offense he operated in college, to the style and complexity of NFL offenses. And to help Goff with that transition, the Rams decided it’d be a great idea to surround him with the WORST coaching support system in the NFL last season: Jeff Fisher (a walking malignancy to offense), Rob Boras (a journeyman tight ends coach who last oversaw an offense for UNLV over a decade ago), and Chris Weinke (a first time NFL coach at any level). You might as well have hired Curly, Larry, and Moe, because I don’t think it would’ve made a difference. And then you put him in an offense with one of the three worst offensive lines in the NFL, and a group of wide receivers that entered the year with a grand total of ZERO seasons with a thousand yards receiving combined?
So, yeah, I get the fact that Goff looked absolutely terrible for much of his rookie season. Tell me what rookie quarterback WOULDN’T look terrible, given how little he was probably “taught” — and I use that term VERY generously — by that band of nincompoops, and playing in one of the most talent-starved offenses in the NFL? You don’t go from being a quarterback prospect touted for his top-tier combination of football IQ, pocket presence, toughness under pressure, anticipation, and downfield accuracy, to someone whose career is over before it even got started, without something going majorly wrong along the way (with that “majorly wrong” being “he was coached by Jeff Fisher”).
Let’s see what new head coach Sean McVay — the offensive prodigy child (he’s only 31 years old) who led one of the most quarterback and receiver-friendly offenses in Washington last year — can do to help turn things around with Goff. Comparing Jeff Fisher’s version of offense versus Sean McVay’s version of offense is like comparing a Speak and Spell with an iMac. If Goff still looks totally lost and overwhelmed under McVay’s tutelage, then the detractors will have ended up correct.
But I don’t think that’s going to be the case. The early scuttlebutt From the spring and summer was filled with glowing optimism, with everything coming out of Los Angeles being about the players recognize what a difference in focus, leadership, and intellectual horsepower the new coaching regime has already brought. The same optimism extended to Goff, who fully immersed himself into nothing but football this offseason (after dealing with all the nonsense of being the top overall pick the year before), and whose teammates have noticed a substantial improvement in his command and confidence on the field. During the preseason, Rams fans — yes, those really do exist — commented that there’s a night-and-day difference between this version of Goff, and the guy under center last year.
Goff will have a lot of interesting tools at his disposal this year as well, compared to the barren offensive wasteland this roster has been in years past (it’s baffling how Rams General Manager Les Snead still has a job, after doing so little with so much — this is the guy who supposedly “ripped off” the Redskins in the RG3 trade; what does this team have to show for that?).
The team signed wide receiver Robert Woods, and later traded for wide receiver Sammy Watkins, instantly giving the Rams the best pair of receivers they’ve had since Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt were still in the league. Tight end Gerald Everett, the team’s second round pick out of South Alabama, is a poor man’s Jimmy Graham. Wide receiver Cooper Kupp, the team’s third round draft pick in this year’s draft from Eastern Washington, is a crafty slot receiver in the Jarvis Landry mold. And McVay is going to use Tavon Austin as a deep ball threat, as opposed to someone relegated to only gadget plays (like he was under the Fisher regime). And Todd Gurley looks primed to return back to his rookie form, after an absolutely miserable sophomore season.
I’m not saying that Goff is going to turn into the second coming of Kurt Warner, or that this team is going to win more than six games this year. The offensive line is still a disaster, for the umpteenth year in a row. The best player on the team (defensive tackle Aaron Donald) held out for most of training camp, which usually results in lingering & nagging injuries during the subsequent season. Their group of cornerbacks is a hot mess, with the top cornerback on the team (Trumaine Johnson) publicly being on the trade block. Oh, and the Rams still have to play the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals four times this year.
In other words: if this team wins six games this season, that should be considered a success. But, that’s not because of Goff. I just don’t buy this premature “Goff is a bust” hot take that everyone seems to have landed on.
My 2017-2018 NFL MVP Prediction
On the other end of the quarterback spectrum: the seven-to-one odds aren’t that tantalizing, but I would happily wager a large sum of money on Aaron Rodgers winning the MVP award this season.
Matt Ryan might have had the best overall season of any quarterback in 2016-2017, but over the second half of the season, Rodgers might have reclaimed the championship belt for “most dangerous quarterback in the league.” Even if you include the Packers humiliating defeat to the upstart Titans, and getting totally dumptrucked by the Redskins the following week, Rodgers averaged just under 299 yards passing per game, threw 20 touchdowns, and was only picked off two times (he didn’t throw a single interception in the Packers’ last seven regular season games). In the opening round of the playoffs, he ruthlessly slaughtered the over-hyped defense of the New York Giants, dropping 362 yards passing and four touchdowns — along with zero interceptions, again — en route to a 38-13 drubbing.
One week after that, he was responsible for that inhumanly accurate 36-yard throw to Jared Cook. I mean, how in the actual fuck does he pull off this throw?
At the end of the season, Rodgers led the league in touchdown passes (40) and touchdown-to-interception ratio (almost 6-to-1), and finished 4th in total passing yards (4,428).
Now here’s the scary part: he’ll get to throw to an even-better group of receivers this year. Jordy Nelson is another year removed from the season-ending ACL injury in 2015. Randall Cobb is coming into training camp as healthy as he’s ever been, after going through an injury-plagued 2016 himself. Davante Adams is coming off a breakout year (his 12 touchdown catches were good for 2nd in the NFL last year), and reportedly came into camp in even better shape this spring. Plus, the Packers went out and signed tight end Martellus Bennett, easily a Pro Bowl-calibert tight end up who could be one of the biggest steals in free agency this offseason. On top of that, running backs Ty Montgomery (the converted wide receiver) and Aaron Jones (one of the two running backs they selected in the 2017 NFL Draft) are very capable pass catchers out of the backfield. So, it could be very hard to argue against the idea that Rodgers has the best cadre of pass catchers assembled around him of any quarterback in the NFL.
And you’re giving that to a someone who’s playing the quarterback position as well as anyone in the league.
I wouldn’t be the slightest bit surprised to see him absolutely shred any opponent that has the unfortunate luck of facing Rodgers and the Packers this year. Green Bay is in the top half of the NFL this season, in terms of “easiest strength of schedule for 2017,” so my prediction for those poor opponents on their 2017 slate?
Other Postseason Award Predictions
Offensive Player of the Year: Le’Veon Bell, Running Back, Pittsburgh Steelers — Go ahead and ignore his preseason holdout. Bell finished #5 in the NFL in total rushing yards last year, #2 in total yards from scrimmage, #2 in receptions by a running back, and #2 by receiving yards by a running back… and that was after missing a quarter of the season due to a suspension. Now imagine what he can do over 16 games. Any team playing the Steelers this season is going to have to spend most of the game with their nickel or dime defense on the field, considering Pittsburgh is more than happy lining up three or four receivers on any given down and distance. That’s just going to give more room for Bell to operate within. Assuming he stays healthy — and that’s a significant assumption — he could put up a stupid level of production this year.
Defensive Player of the Year: JJ Watt, Defensive End, Houston Texans — Until proven otherwise, i’m just going to pick the best defensive player in the world. I know he missed nearly all of last season after undergoing pretty significant surgery on his back, but it’s amazing to see how little and infrequently we’ve heard Watt’s being named at all this offseason. I get that offensive players dominate the headlines in today’s fantasy football-focused world, but how the hell can we possibly overlook the single best defensive player in the history of the league since Lawrence Taylor and Reggie White were playing? Watt has reportedly been fully recovered from his surgery since last February, and given his legendary offseason training regimen, i’m fully betting on him resuming his reign of terror on opposing quarterbacks, starting this season.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Joe Mixon, Running Back, Cincinnati Bengals — Let’s just start off with the elephant in the room: Joe Mixon’s assault incident involving another woman was despicable, even if he was somewhat provoked. It’s not excusable in any way, and it’s up to people to make an individual decision as to whether they’ll ever forgive him or not. As someone who fashions himself as a realist, I tend to see things through the prism of “great people aren’t always great football players, and great football players aren’t always great people.” With that being said, as far as the on-the-field abilities, Mixon might have been the most talented complete running back in the entire 2017 NFL Draft class. He has the legitimate upside to become a very, very close facsimile to Le’Veon Bell, in terms of his abilities as a runner AND a pass catcher. He might not be listed atop the depth chart in Cincinnati just yet, but it’s just a matter of time before he fully supplants Jeremy “four yards per carry only if you’re lucky” Hill as the team’s starting running back. Plus, with Gio Bernard likely to come back from his ACL injury at less than 100% this year, Mixon could see even more touches as a runner and a receiver. I think he has a big rookie season, and fends off McCaffrey — who could very easily put up more than 1,500 yards of combined offense on his own this year — for the offensive rookie of the year award.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Solomon Thomas, Defensive End, San Francisco — A really tough choice to make, in the historically loaded group of defenders in this year’s class. I think he gets the nod over Myles Garrett, as the latter will receive a lot of attention from opposing offenses scheming to neutralize him. Thomas’ combination of burst and strength is reminiscent of Aaron Donald at times, and I think he has the chance to be a star playing the “Michael Bennett”-role in the 49ers defense (who will be a running a Seattle-style 4-3 hybrid this year), especially as teams also have to deal with fellow defensive linemen DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead. After Thomas, my two sleeper for this award are Haason Reddick of the Arizona Cardinals (I feel like they’ll put him in a lot of great situations to utilize his freakish athleticism) and Jonathan Allen (admittedly a rare homer pick, but I think he’s going to show why he racked up so many awards in college).
Week 1 Lines and Picks
A quick reminder of my unbreakable ground rules for each week’s picks: 1) I always pick the Redskins to win, and 2) I always pick the Dallas Cowboys to lose. Just being honest. Which is also why these picks should be considered “recreational and sure to go wrong:”
Kansas City at New England (-8.5) — I can’t wait for the Patriots to trounce the punchless Chiefs on the NFL’s opening night, followed by Andy Reid lamenting that he “should’ve done a better job preparing his team for this game” (like he always does/says). If your team wasn’t prepared for a game in Week 1, what the fuck were you doing for the past seven months?
Philadelphia (-1) at Washington — I’m putting a lot of eggs in the “Terrelle Pryor is the second coming of A.J. Green” basket. And that’s exactly why you should never take any of my advice when it comes to football picks.
NY Jets at Buffalo (-8) — Even at home, this “stripped for parts” Buffalo team shouldn’t be this heavily favored against New York. And this is coming from the guy who picked the Jets to go 1-15 this season.
Atlanta (-7) at Chicago — As the President (and perhaps only remaining member) of the Kendall Wright Fan Club, I am thrilled with the idea of him reuniting with Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, who also ran Tennessee’s offense when Wright enjoyed two of the three best seasons of his career (2012 and 2013).
Jacksonville at Houston (-5.5) — As long as Blake Bortles remains the quarterback of the Jacksonville Jaguars, they’re going to be a bad football team. As long as Tom Savage is the quarterback of the Houston Texans, they’re not going to be all that much better.
Arizona (-1.5) at Detroit — There is literally nothing interesting or noteworthy about the 2017 Detroit Lions, unless you’re still amused that their offensive coordinator is named Jim Bob Cooter. Otherwise, this team is about as intriguing as a used roll of toilet paper.
Oakland at Tennessee (-2) — Why is Tennessee giving points to Oakland? Did I miss something? I get that Oakland is traveling 80% of the way across the country. But I dare you to name more than one player off the Titans’ defense from last year. I’ll bet you can’t.
Tampa Bay (-2.5) at Miami — Last year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers tied for the second most interceptions of opposing quarterbacks in the NFL. They’re playing against Jay Cutler. You do the math. (editor’s note: the NFL postponed this game to Week 11, due to the impending arrival of Hurricane Irma, after this post was published).
Baltimore at Cincinnati (-3) — Back in the mid-2000’s, the NBA had to create an entire rule around teams who egregiously overpaid a single player to the point where it was detrimental to the team and the league as a whole (the amnesty clause, commonly known as “the Allan Houston rule”). Why am I talking about this? Because Joe Flacco is quickly becoming the NFL’s version of Allan Houston.
Pittsburgh (-8.5) at Cleveland — DeShone Kizer looked great in the preseason. The regular season is not the preseason.
Indianapolis at LA Rams (-3.5) — The fact that the Rams are essentially favored to win this game by half a point (subtracting the standard three points usually given to the home team), even with Indianapolis starting Scott Tolzien at quarterback, sums up everything about how poorly this Rams team was built under the former Jeff Fisher regime.
Seattle at Green Bay (-3) — An early-season Ali-Frazier-esque matchup. If Green Bay’s defense can just get in the way of the Seahawks’ offense, I think the Packers have enough weapons to overcome the Seahawks’ defense.
Carolina (-5.5) at San Francisco — Cam Newton was still rehabbing his shoulder at least a week ago. The Panthers top two wide receivers are still hulking, plodding guys who are slower than molasses. The 49ers are still a mess on offense, but could quietly have a frisky defense. Major upset alert here.
NY Giants at Dallas (-3.5) — A primetime matchup featuring two teams who could potentially be really good, in spite of their head coaches. In any other situation, rooting for the Giants is about as appealing as fellating a used tampon… except for those two times a year they play the Cowboys.
New Orleans at Minnesota (-3.5) — While the “Adrian Peterson vs. the Vikings” plot line might seem highly savory, I think this comes down to Drew Brees playing in a fixed-roof stadium, with Sam Bradford — Comrade Checkdown himself — unable to keep the Vikings in this game.
LA Chargers at Denver (-3.5) — This Denver Broncos team just has the feel of a car that needs to be totally overhauled (or taken to the chop shop), but is somehow being kept together by a combination of duct tape and Robitussin.