The regular season in finally here! This is one of my favorite weekends of the year right up there with Masters weekend, the Austin City Limits music festival, and any weekend the Astros don’t get swept. I’ve researched the lines this week and I feel pretty confident, but before I get into the lines, let me explain how they work (it’s pretty standard so if you know how they work, just go ahead and skip this whole part). Sportsbooks in Vegas put a line on every game favoring one team or the other. For all of my articles, the home team will always be on the right, and the team that I like to cover the spread will have the number next to them. Let’s take a look at the Cowboys at Giants game for an example of how this works. The line is Giants -4 (or Cowboys +4). This means that the Giants are giving the Cowboys 4 points. So, if the Giants win by less than 4 points or if the Cowboys win outright, then the Cowboys would cover the spread. If the Giants win by exactly 4 points, then it is a push and the bettor would get their money back with nothing gained and nothing lost, and if they Giants win by more than 4 points, they cover the spread.
Now let’s look at the Bills and Jets. The line is Jets -3 (or Bills +3) and as you will see in a minute, I like the Bills to cover that spread. This means that I think the Bills will either lose by less that 3 or win the game outright. It’s fairly straightforward, just remember that the team with a (-) is the favorite to win and the team with the (+) is the underdog. Now let’s get started with those lines!
Cowboys at Giants (-4) – They just won the Super Bowl so everybody will be gunning for them, but I think they will be too much for the Cowboys to handle right out of the gate. The Cowboys come into this season with high expectations but I think they will underperform and Cowboy fans will walk away from this one disappointed. Plus, you know MetLife Stadium will be rocking with the eyes of the football world watching the season kickoff on Wednesday night. Eli and Co. should cover, but expect the Cowboys put up a respectable fight.
Colts at Bears (-9.5) – Andrew Luck’s first start! This is a highly anticipated game and will definitely be overanalyzed by every talking-head at ESPN, but in the end I think that the Bears defense will be too much. Luck looked great in the preseason, I just don’t think he has enough weapons around him to truly threaten the Bears. On the other side, Jay Cutler, Matt Forté, and Brandon Marshall should have no problem running over the Colts’ defense and putting up a lot of points.
Eagles at Browns (+8.5) – Another rookie quarterback in Brandon Weeden starting for the Browns here and he has quite a test going up against the staunch Eagles defense. The Eagles are a great team all around and some analysts are even picking them to win the Super Bowl, but I think that because it is the first game and they open on the road, the Eagles might start the season a little lackadaisical and allow the Browns to cover. (I also think Andy Reid is a terrible coach and will somehow find a way to keep the Browns in this game.)
Bills (+3) at Jets – An AFC East battle to start Week 1! The Jets have some of the most passionate fans in the NFL, too bad they don’t have a reliable quarterback. They didn’t score a touchdown until the 4th preseason game, and that was thrown by third-string QB Greg McElroy. The Bills added Mario Williams during the offseason and should be pressuring Sanchez (and/or Tebow) all night. The question is, can the Bills produce enough points against a very good Jets defense? This should be a good one.
Redskins at Saints (-7) – Interesting angles on both sides in this game. The Redskins added dynamic playmaker Robert Griffin III in the offseason (I refuse to call him RGIII until he proves himself as a worthy NFL quarterback. And I’m already annoyed of his Subway commercials so that’s not helping his case) and the Saints have been all over the news in the offseason. I think that the Saints are out to prove they aren’t going to just lay down and die this season without head coach Sean Payton, and opening with the Redskins in the Superdome gives them the perfect opportunity.
Patriots (-5) at Titans – The Patriots have one of the best offenses in the league year in and year out, and it is more of the same this season. The Titans won’t be able to stop the TE duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, not to mention WRs Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd in the slot and on the outside. I think the Titans could put up some points against a porous Patriots defense, but they won’t be able to keep up with them for four quarters. I was surprised this line was only at 5 and not higher.
Jaguars at Vikings (-4) – I spent a long time trying to figure this game out, and never really could convince myself one way or the other. The Jags have said that Rashad Jennings will start at RB and MJD will primarily be used on 3rd down, while the Vikings have said that Adrian Peterson will be used very limitedly if he’s even active at all. I’m leaning towards the Vikings because they have a superior defense, and because Blaine Gabbert isn’t a good quarterback. Neither of these teams is supposed to be any good this year but I think the Jags will be the worse of the two.
Dolphins at Texans (-12.5) – I like the Texans for a few reasons, the main one being that they have one of the best defenses in the league and are up against rookie QB Ryan Tannehill. The Dolphins defense will have to stack the box to try (read: try) to stop Arian Foster, and that will only open up the passing game downfield. The Dolphins defense won’t be able to stop the Texans’ offense and their offense won’t be able to move the ball against the Texans’ defense. This one should be close until kickoff and then the Texans will show why they are contenders to win the AFC.
Rams at Lions (-7) – I’m not sure why this line isn’t higher. The Lions are out to prove they are a real contender while the Rams are trying to prove they aren’t the worst team in the league. Matt Stafford has become one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL while Sam Bradford has just been a disappointment. Then again, the quarterback can only do so much when he doesn’t have any playmakers to throw the ball to. I think the Lions will dominate on both sides of the ball and pull away fairly early.
Falcons at Chiefs (+3) – Coaches, players, and analysts always say that Arrowhead Stadium is one of the hardest places to play in when the fans show up. Well, I expect the fans to show up in full force for this one. Jamaal Charles is back from a torn ACL last season and like the Saints, the Chiefs are ready to prove they aren’t going to be pushovers this year either. Matt Ryan and the Falcons should be one of the best teams in the NFC this season but I think the Chiefs make a statement at home in Week 1.
49ers at Packers (-5) – This is one of the games that I’m most looking forward to watching this week – a high-flying Packers offense vs. a stealthy 49ers defense. The key to this game is going to be whether or not the 49ers will be able to move the ball against the Packers defense. I say no. The Packers are just too good of a team all the way around and the 49ers won’t be able to score. The 49ers defense should slow the Packers offense down but it won’t stop them completely.
Panthers at Buccaneers (+2.5) – During the second half of last season, Cam Newton put up below-average passing numbers for a quarterback. Why? Because teams were starting to figure him out. The sophomore campaign will be a tell-tale sign as to whether or not Newton is the real deal. On the flip side, the Buccaneers played some awful football last season and QB Josh Freeman struggled all year. This could be a high-scoring affair but if the Buccaneers can contain Cam Newton’s legs, I think they’ll win it at home. In fact, I like the Buccaneers to surprise some people this season and they may even be fighting for a playoff berth come January. It all starts with this game against the Panthers.
Seahawks (-3) at Cardinals – The Seahawks offense looked scary-good in the preseason. So good in fact, that rookie Russell Wilson was named the Week 1 starter. Now, I know that the preseason doesn’t mean anything and the other teams may not have had their starters in, but Wilson impressed me regardless. The Cardinals have been a mess and just recently named John Skelton their starting quarterback. With RB Beanie Wells always nursing his knee, I don’t see the Cardinals getting anything going on offense. I don’t usually pick rookie quarterbacks to win their first week, especially on the road, but I like the Seahawks to cover against a bad Cardinals team.
Steelers at Broncos (-1.5) – A lot in play on both sides here: Sunday night game, Peyton Manning’s first game in a Denver uniform, and the Steelers out for revenge after the Broncos knocked them out of the playoffs in Denver last season. The Steelers offensive line is about as useful as the Berlin Wall is nowadays and there isn’t a chance they will be able to stop Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil (a.k.a. VonDoom – the greatest tandem nickname in professional sports) from getting to Ben Roethlisberger. I think that between Sports Authority Field absolutely rocking and Peyton Manning providing a huge spark to the Broncos offense, the Broncos will roll the Steelers.
Bengals at Ravens (-6) – I think that the Bengals season last year was a little bit of a fluke and they will regress a little bit towards the mean. The Ravens always have one of the best defenses in the league and I don’t think that Andy Dalton and the rest of the Bengals offense will be able to do much. The Ravens have not-great-but-never-terrible Joe Flacco under center and one of the three best running backs in the NFL in Ray Rice lined up behind him. I just don’t see the Bengals being able to keep up.
Chargers at Raiders (-1) – This should be a good one. With Chargers RB Ryan Mathews not expected to play at all (collarbone injury) until week 2, I like the Raiders to cover. As I wrote a couple weeks ago, I think Carson Palmer could surprise some people this season, but even if he plays poorly, the Raiders still have the always-dangerous (if he can manage to stay healthy) Darren McFadden (aka Run DMC – I love that nickname too) in the backfield. Plus it’s a Monday night game in Oakland so expect that place to being going nuts.