From Wednesday to Monday, from New Jersey to Oakland, this is the sporting moment of the year so far, this side of February. The sporting moment of the year apart from when I was laid low for 17 days with Olympic Fever, something that actually did cause me to phone in sick the morning after the closing ceremony as I couldn’t face the banality of the office after seeing London transform its beautiful self. People even smiled. What days they were. Yes, it did all feel like a Frank Capra movie.
As I’ve written previously, Week 1 of the NFL season is the time to keep your $$$ firmly in your pocket. However, what lies beneath is a horror story of predictions from yours truly, the objective being to look back next week at what might have been if we’d carelessly decided to put the house, the car and the family dog on Cleveland covering the spread against Philly.
I wasn’t originally going to predict each and every game (the ridicule is a deterrent in itself), but let’s see how this week goes. This column could always evolve over the course of the season and I hope that some of you perhaps have a little fun reading it. Now, let’s get prognosticating.
DALLAS COWBOYS at NEW YORK GIANTS
Dallas can generally be backed +4 points on the handicap, while if you like the Giants to cover the spread, they’re available -3.5 points. This is a game to leave well alone. Just enjoy it for what it is. Football’s back, albeit on a Wednesday.
Ever since the Super Bowl champion hosted the opener on a Thursday, that host has won nine of the ten contests so far. That bodes terribly for Dallas and, while my money won’t be following this pick, I take the Giants to cover the spread.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS at CHICAGO BEARS
The Bears are my Super Bowl XLVII tip (I got on at 33/1 before some bookies saw sense) and there’s no way they lose to the Colts on Sunday. They wouldn’t dare. It’d be bad luck.
Indy are available +9.5, while Chicago can be found -9. This may well have rout written all over it, but there’s an important intangible to consider here. Four days after this one, the Bears take on Green Bay at Lambeau. They’ll have their eye on that one so I take the Colts here and the points on offer.
ATLANTA FALCONS at KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
This is a good matchup and a test for Atlanta’s aerial attack. The fact that Julio Jones is one of my fantasy keepers won’t have me rushing to watch this one though. KC might prove attractive +3 at home, especially if your lingering memory of the Falcons is their 24-2 misery on wild card weekend last season.
And to think, they even took a 2-0 lead. Matt Ryan is a regular season kinda guy, that’s where the stats really count, not in the playoffs and that’s why he point blank refuses to win in the postseason. Good for him!
LaDainian was right all along...it’s all about the Hall of Fame. Why on earth would anybody want to win a Super Bowl? KC to pull the minor upset here.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES at CLEVELAND BROWNS
Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. No, I really have. Going against all the evidence available in black and white, I’ve put money down on the Browns (+9) to win ATS versus Philly. However, that was before stud cornerback Joe Haden had gotten himself a four game suspension.
As I write, he’s waiting to hear the outcome of his appeal, but if he is out, I can probably rule out any return on my investment.
The Eagles are available -8, which is probably being snapped up as the odds on Haden being given a reprieve are about as good as the Browns are to cover the spread without him. Now, where’s my bookie’s Platinum Loser phone number gone...?
If Haden plays, I like the Browns +9. If he doesn’t, the Eagles should cover -8.
WASHINGTON REDSKINS at NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Go on, you can say it. Who gets to be shown the money after the first real lick on RGIII? If all roads in the NFC playoffs are to go through New Orleans to reach, er...New Orleans, then the Saints will have to have had one hell of a season. I secretly hope it happens so that we can see Ben Stiller playing Sean Payton in the film.
They should have little problem getting past the ‘Skins, but it’s not a game I’m looking to bet on. There’s a nice little discrepancy on the spread here as Washington are available +9 while N’Awlins can be backed -7. If pushed, the Redskins to cover...just.
ST. LOUIS RAMS at DETROIT LIONS
As good a cornerback as Cortland Finnegan is (and nobody knows him as well as Jeff Fisher), it’s a reach to ask him to have any amount of success on his own against Calvin Johnson this Sunday. The discrepancy that can be found in the Skins/Saints spread is also on show here.
The Rams are available +9 (which means Detroit are -9 on the same sportsbook), but the Lions can also be had -7, which looks to be very tasty.
Sam Bradford’s had a good preseason and may have some success against Detroit’s very shaky secondary (Louis Delmas missing at safety would be a huge blow), but it’s difficult to forget how horrible the Rams were last season. I have a lot of respect for Jeff Fisher, but not enough to think they’ll cover the spread this week.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS at TENNESSEE TITANS
Every sportsbook I can find has the Titans +6. There’s not even a half point extra available anywhere, which is astonishing. That looks a little too skinny for my liking and I like the Patriots a lot to cover the spread.
Bill Belichick has probably had sleepless nights (of the good variety!) devising a defensive gameplan for Jake Locker to get his sophomore head around. This is one of my bets of the week.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS at MINNESOTA VIKINGS
Of all the games this week, this one really frightens me and I don’t just mean in offensive output, although that’s probably a little unfair to the Purple People Eaters. Yeah, it’s an old nickname and it was the moniker for the defense and not those charged with lighting up the scoreboard, but those old nicknames are part of NFL lore and what helped get me hooked in 1984 so, if I may be so bold, I’d like to wheel them out on the odd occasion.
I can see the Vikes generating interest -3.5, while the best available on the Jags is +4, but, as I began to allude to above before getting horribly distracted, which in turn horribly distracted you, neither team is to be trusted this week. However, for the purposes of this experiment, I take Minnesota to win by at least four.
BUFFALO BILLS at NEW YORK JETS
Anybody new to this gladiatorial chess would be excused for thinking that only one team plays in New York. They do, it’s the Jets’ opponent this week. OK, New Jersey then. The reigning Super Bowl champions reside in the same stadium as the Jets and yet it’s the green cousin who somehow hogs the limelight. It must be this “exciting” Tim Tebow fellow, who’s so “excited” to be a Jet that the media simply forgot about the exciting Super Bowl victory the blue half of the city recently enjoyed.
Buffalo was available +4 when the line first opened, but that’s now been trimmed to 3 (2.5 in some places) so the smart money is on the Bills’ new, all singing, all dancing defense to do a number on the Mark Sanchez/Tebow axis.
My smart money goes nowhere, but I favour the Jets to cover, if for no other reason than they can’t be as bad as they were in the preseason. I agree, I don’t know what I’m doing.
MIAMI DOLPHINS at HOUSTON TEXANS
How are the Dolphins going to score any points at all against that Texans defense? Only special teams or a careless Matt Schaub can help. Even more than I like the Seahawks this week, Houston -11 is my bet of the week.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS at GREEN BAY PACKERS
An outstanding matchup awaits us as Aaron Rodgers goes against the Niners’ vaunted D. I’m inclined to favour San Fran and the 6 points on offer, but Green Bay -5 is also very appealing. Much like the Wednesday opener, just enjoy this for what it is, happy in the knowledge that we’re all Packers fans for three hours.
CAROLINA PANTHERS at TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
The Panthers -1, available in more places than should be allowed, are fantastic value here. My only slight doubt with the Panthers this season is a possible Cam Newton sophomore slump. However, he’s not a one trick pony and appears to have everything he needs at his disposal, including support from everybody around him.
This is Newton’s team and will be for as long as he wants it to be. Even Steve Smith lifted his head from the pillow in 2011 as Newton rejuvenated him last season. Yes, Cam did that. On his own.
The Bucs are adapting to a new system under Greg Schiano and can’t be trusted this week (although I love what he’s doing in Tampa) against a settled Panthers organisation on an upward curve.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS at DENVER BRONCOS
I can see Denver being heavily fancied here -1. That’s what having Peyton Manning under center will do for you. They’re the trendy pick to make a deep playoff run, but I can’t shake the feeling that Manning has no chance of seeing out the whole season.
The shrewdest choice here is to side with Pittsburgh +2 and, while I’m doing nothing of the sort with real money in the real world, I’m doing exactly that virtually or virally, or whatever the term may be.
CINCINNATI BENGALS at BALTIMORE RAVENS
If it wasn’t for receiver Lee Evans and kicker Billy Cundiff last year, the Ravens would’ve represented the AFC in the Super Bowl...and they would’ve won. The Giants only serve up their Cinderella stories against the Patriots and the outcome would have been different had Eli come up against a Ravens defense far superior to anything the Pats had.
And what better way to begin exacting revenge than by beating up on a division opponent you swept last season?
If I believe that Cam Newton will avoid a sophomore slump, I don’t believe that Andy Dalton will be as fortunate. Yes, I have nothing to go on, it’s just a hunch, but as I’m armed only with that in Week 1 of the regular season, I’m basing my pick solely on that.
The Ravens to cover -6; the Bengals are available +6.5.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS at OAKLAND RAIDERS
Some sportsbooks can’t split these two, meaning there’s no handicap available, which is the best line available on San Diego as they’re -1.5 in some places.
The best you’ll find on Oakland is +1.5. I’m looking forward to this one and not just because I find it difficult to separate the teams either. No, I enjoy watching our old AFC West foes go up against each other. Nostalgia has its place and that place is on Monday Night Football to close the first week of the regular season. I’ll take any points on offer, which equates to the Raiders +1.5.
Should I escape from this with anything above an 8-8 record, I’ll be happy.