Pudge’s Picks – Week 1 2014

As I explained on Thursday, I will be picking games once again this year and hoping for better luck than I had in 2013. Things have gotten off to a good start with the Seattle Seahawks winning handly over the Green Bay Packers earlier this week. Nothing really caught me off guard there. The Packers really got limited once Bryan Bulaga went down with a knee injury, as Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett ate Derek Sherrod alive. The Packers have been limited the past few years due to poor offensive line play, and that is going to be something to watch for the next few weeks until Bulaga returns.

These first few weeks are usually a period of feeling out certain teams. Typically, a couple of pre-season  expectations are thrown out of the window. For example, last year I expected the Kansas City Chiefs to be a competitive, but average team. Of course they opened the season 9-0, which was more wins than I expected them to have the entire season. There’s certainly the possibility that another team like that emerges.

There’s also going to be the team is expected to be good, but is terrible. Obviously the Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans could have qualified as that from last year. It will be interesting to see if these occur again this year.

* All lines are provided by ESPN.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Jake Matthews

New Orleans Saints (0-0) at Atlanta Falcons (0-0)
Sunday, September 7 at 1 pm ET on FOX

*Line: Falcons (-1.5)

This is an early-week line, as it has moved significantly since then. At this point, history says the Saints will win because Drew Brees/Sean Payton are 13-3 against the Falcons. And even in the year where Payton was suspended (2012), the lowly Saints still managed to split with the best team the Falcons have fielded since their 1998 Super Bowl run.

These Falcons-Saints games are usually close, as nine of their last 12 meetings have been decided by one score. But there’s absolutely no reason for the Falcons to be favored especially given that some suspect this year’s Saints team will be in the Super Bowl, while the Falcons might struggle to make the playoffs.

The Falcons are at home, so you cannot sleep on them there. Under Mike Smith, they are 36-12 at home and 6-0 in home openers. Yet despite that strong home record, they are only 2-4 against the Saints at home under Smith.

The Falcons got pushed around last year in the trenches, and hope their new additions this year will equalize that matchup this year. If so, then the Falcons will have to find ways to get the balls into the hands of their playmakers like Julio Jones, and also find a way to get off the field on defense. That has been their biggest problem over the years, and it’s unlikely that their upgrades along the defensive line in Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson will significantly change that.

Spread Pick: Saints
Straight Pick: Saints

Cincinnati Bengals (0-0) at Baltimore Ravens (0-0)
Sunday, September 7 at 1 pm ET on CBS

*Line: Ravens (-2.5)

The John Harbaugh-led Ravens are 7-5 head-to-head against the Marvin Lewis-led Bengals. However the Ravens are 5-1 at home against the Bengals. Like many divisional games, these are usually close with eight of the 12 matchups being decided by one score.

Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb is questionable with a back injury, but that shouldn’t be a huge obstacle to overcome since Bengals No. 2 wide receiver Marvin Jones is out with a foot injury. The Ravens will look to establish the run sans a suspended Ray Rice, and hope that incoming wide receiver Steve Smith and a healthy tight end in Dennis Pitta give Joe Flacco more options to throw to. The Bengals will rely on their front seven to get pressure on Flacco, who has a tendency to hold onto the ball a bit too long. If the Bengals can do that and get the ball into the hands of their offensive playmakers in wide receiver A.J. Green and running back Gio Bernard, they will have a chance to pull off the road upset.

Spread Pick: Ravens
Straight Pick: Ravens

Buffalo Bills (0-0) at Chicago Bears (0-0)
Sunday, September 7 at 1 pm ET on FOX

*Line: Bears (-6.5)

It’s hard to be high on the Bills going into this one. Quarterback E.J. Manuel has struggled in the preseason and is coming off a mediocre rookie season. Young quarterbacks are notoriously bad when asked to play on the road. The Bills lone hope is that they can get their running game going against the Bears porous run defense, which was the worst in the league last year. They also need their pass rush to really get after Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and harass him all day. And while I think the Bills can make it competitive, I don’t expect them to pull out the win. The Bears are just too talented when at full strength.

Spread Pick: Bears
Straight Pick: Bears

Tennessee Titans (0-0) at Kansas City Chiefs (0-0)
Sunday, September 7 at 1 pm ET on CBS

*Line: Chiefs (-6.5)

Despite a famous home-field crowd, the Chiefs haven’t been great in their home openers over the years, sporting a 4-6 record in their last 10. But they did win a close one against the Dallas Cowboys a year ago under head coach Andy Reid.

The Chiefs will rely heavily on Jamaal Charles to lead the way on offense. Titans quarterback Jake Locker won’t have the same luxury as Chiefs starter Alex Smith to just feed a running back since Shonn Greene and Bishop Sankey aren’t on that level. But Locker does have better weapons outside given that top Chiefs wideout Dwayne Bowe is suspended. This will likely be a defensive struggle, and despite my affinity for Titans defensive coordinator Ray Horton, I would give the Chiefs a firm edge there just because they are the more known commodity.

Spread Pick: Titans
Straight Pick: Chiefs

Oakland Raiders (0-0) at New York Jets (0-0)
Sunday, September 7 at 1 pm ET on CBS

*Line: Jets (-4.5)

The Jets secondary is a mess with safety Antonio Allen likely to draw a start in place of an injured Dee Milliner at cornerback. Darrin Walls was solid last year, so it’s not like the Jets don’t have somebody competent back there. Luckily for the Jets, the Raiders aren’t exactly a prolific pass attack. Rookie David Carr will be making his first career start. Carr provided some energy for the Raiders offense in the preseason that veteran Matt Schaub could not give. But Carr is still young and green, and Jets head coach Rex Ryan is likely to throw the kitchen sink at him.

The Raiders have lost 13 straight early games in the Eastern time zone. Second-year Jets quarterback Geno Smith was 6-2 at home last year, and thus he should push that record to 7-2 after Sunday.

Spread Pick: Jets
Straight Pick: Jets

Cleveland Browns (0-0) at Pittsburgh Steelers (0-0)
Sunday, September 7 at 1 pm ET on CBS

*Line: Steelers (-5.5)

The Browns have beaten the Steelers only twice in their last 24 meetings. With Brian Hoyer starting at quarterback and no Josh Gordon at wide receiver, I doubt they snap that streak this week. This however could be among the weakest Steeler teams that Pittsburgh has put on the field in the past dozen years, so it’s not impossible for the Browns to pull off the upset. But they will need their defense to really show up and disrupt the Steelers offense. It’s the formula the Tennessee Titans had a year ago when they ran the ball down the Steelers throat for 112 yards, got after Ben Roethlisberger for five sacks, and got two extra possessions with a pair of turnovers to pull off the 16-9 win. That’s a plausible outcome, but not something I’ll go out on a limb and predict to start the year. I just don’t think the Browns will produce enough offense to cover.

Spread Pick: Steelers
Straight Pick: Steelers

Minnesota Vikings (0-0) at St. Louis Rams (0-0)
Sunday, September 7 at 1 pm ET on FOX

*Line: Rams (-6.5)

The Rams will be heavily reliant on their running game and pass rush to get after the Vikings. The focus will be on stopping Adrian Peterson and using the horses up front to get off the field on third down. What is promising for the Rams, is that they were one of the best run defenses in the league last year and adding defensive tackle Aaron Donald shouldn’t hurt them there.

The Rams problem is going to be whether or not they can score points offensively with quarterback Shaun Hill. Hill is a competent game manager, but really needs running back Zac Stacy to carry the offense. That sort of conservative approach is not conducive to covering such a large spread, but certainly could get them the win.

As for the Vikings, they will hope that new offensive coordinator Norv Turner will have some wrinkles for a weak Rams secondary. If the pass protection can hold up, it’s going to be hard for the Rams defense to cover weapons like Greg Jennings, Cordarelle Patterson and Kyle Rudolph, even if Matt Cassel is the one throwing them the ball.

Spread Pick: Vikings
Straight Pick: Rams

New England Patriots (0-0) at Miami Dolphins (0-0)
Sunday, September 7 at 1 pm ET on CBS

*Line: Dolphins (+3.5)

Tom Brady is 6-6 as a starter when playing the Dolphins in Miami. But half of those losses came in December. This is only the second time that Brady and the Patriots have had to go to Miami in September, and the first time they won the game.

When the Patriots beat the Dolphins, they usually do so handily with only six of their last 18 wins against the Dolphins being by one score.

With Dolphins center Mike Pouncey out, and the Patriots only main injury being tight end Rob Gronkowski, this should be another sizable win by the Patriots. Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork should be able to work over Pouncey’s replacement at center in Samson Satele, along with other Patriot defenders attacking a weak Dolphins offensive line. It’s just hard for me to imagine the Patriots dropping this game. The Patriots have won 10 straight season-openers and three consecutive coming on the road, including that 2011 win in Miami.

Spread Pick: Patriots
Straight Pick: Patriots

Jacksonville Jaguars (0-0) at Philadelphia Eagles (0-0)
Sunday, September 7 at 1 pm ET on CBS

*Line: Eagles (-11.5)

A common theme in last year’s picks columns was that the Jaguars were huge underdogs and my insistence that I’d never pick them. Until the Jaguars prove they can reliably cover these large spreads, that theme will carry over into 2014. Nine of the Jaguars 12 losses came by 12 points or more last year. On the opposite side of the coin, five of the Eagles 10 wins last year came by the same margin.

Spread Pick: Eagles
Straight Pick: Eagles

Washington Redskins (0-0) at Houston Texans (0-0)
Sunday, September 7 at 1 pm ET on FOX

*Line: Texans (-2.5)

The Redskins need to show me something before I can start picking them. Quarterback Robert Griffin III struggled a bit this summer running Jay Gruden’s more traidtional dropback offense. They have some weaknesses up front, which I believe J.J. Watt and/or Jadeveon Clowney will be able to exploit and pressure Griffin. Unless the Redskins can get running back Alfred Morris going and disrupt the Texans offense, it’s going to be tough for them to get this win. Despite the presence of Ryan Fitzpatrick under center for the Texans, the Texans are just too balanced a roster to drop this one.

Spread Pick: Texans
Straight Pick: Texans

San Francisco 49ers (0-0) at Dallas Cowboys (0-0)
Sunday, September 7 at 4:25 pm ET on FOX

*Line: Cowboys (+4.5)

The 49ers aren’t at full strength. Outside linebacker Aldon Smith is suspended, right tackle Anthony Davis is out, and wide receiver Michael Crabtree is nicked up. But the 49ers answer will be to just ground and pound with their physical offensive line and strong stable of running backs. The Cowboys have the ability to put points on the 49ers defense, especially if guys like Justin Smith and Ahmad Brooks can’t provide steady pressure. The Cowboys have a pretty solid offensive line, and I suspect Dez Bryant could have a big game. That may keep things close, but ultimately the 49ers should be able to get a couple of stops, while I doubt the Cowboys can.

Spread Pick: 49ers
Straight Pick: 49ers

Carolina Panthers (0-0) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-0)
Sunday, September 7 at 4:25 pm ET on FOX

*Line: Bucs (+1.5)

Since Cam Newton joined the team, the Panthers are 4-2 against the Buccaneers. But Newton is injured, nursing sore ribs and a recovering ankle, and also is still getting into the groove with his new stable of receivers and playing behind a weak offensive line. Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is likely to wreak havoc, as he’ll likely be matched up against either a rookie Trai Turner or Fernando Velasco for much of the day. The Bucs aren’t sporting a great offensive line themselves, with a bevy of Panthers pass-rushers, particularly defensvie tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short facing a weak interior. But the trade for Logan Mankins should help some, although whether or not he’s completely up to speed remains to be seen.

Both teams will be heavily reliant on their running games to do damage. But the main difference is that the Bucs at least have some weapons on the outside that they should be able to exploit against a weak Panthers secondary. The Bucs secondary contrastingly doesn’t have that weakness. If the Bucs can give quarterback Josh McCown some time, then they are in a much better position to put points on the board, especially at home.

Spread Pick: Bucs
Straight Pick: Bucs

Indianapolis Colts (0-0) at Denver Broncos (0-0)
Sunday, September 7 at 8:30 pm ET on NBC

*Line: Broncos (-6.5)

The Colts took down the Broncos a year ago in Peyton Manning’s return to Indianapolis. They did so by creating pressure from Robert Mathis and creating a trio of turnovers. Unfortunately, Mathis is suspended for the first month of the season. So are Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker and kicker Matt Prater. Not sure the Colts have someone that can replace Mathis, as Bjoern Werner has been okay but nothing special. In Denver, they at least have Emmanuel Sanders and Brandon McManus to replace their guys. McManus is a question mark, but given he’s playing for the Broncos offense, he’ll likely be asked to kick extra points as opposed to a ton of field goals.

The Colts won’t sneak up on the Broncos like they did a year ago, and I once again want to point that the loss of Mathis is huge for them. Without getting pressure on Manning, their defense will struggle to get off the field. The Colts lone hope is that their running game finally gets going and Trent Richardson shows up in a big way. I’ll believe that when I see it.

Spread Pick: Broncos
Straight Pick: Broncos

New York Giants (0-0) at Detroit Lions (0-0)
Monday, September 8 at 7:10 pm ET on ESPN

*Line: Lions (-4.5)

The Giants have a number of injuries on their offensive line, which does not bode well when they are facing Ndamukong Suh on the opposite side of the ball. The Giants will have to figure out a way to get pressure on Matt Stafford and force him into the sort of mental errors that he’s prone to make. With Eli Manning still trying to get comfortable in Ben McAdoo’s offense, I don’t see the Giants being as adept at attacking a weak Lions secondary this week. In past years, this is the type of game that would easily devolve into a shootout but with all the question marks on the Giants offense, I don’t think they can hang with the Lions.

Spread Pick: Lions
Straight Pick: Lions

San Diego Chargers (0-0) at Arizona Cardinals (0-0)
Monday, September 8 at 10:20 pm ET on ESPN

*Line: Cardinals (-3.5)

The recent loss of running back Andre Ellington is a significant blow for the Cardinals. Given that they’ve already lost defensive tackle Darnell Dockett and linebacker Daryl Washington for the year on defense, means they won’t be able to rely on their prolific defense to win games as they have been in past years. The Chargers secondary was a glaring weakness a year ago but they should see significant improvement with acquisitions like Jason Verrett and Brandon Flowers.

The key for this game will be pressure. The Cardinals might be a little too reliant on John Abraham to create that pressure for their defense, while the Chargers have a bit more options with Dwight Freeney and Melvin Ingram. While Abraham is probably the best of the group, he missed a lot of time in camp which makes me believe he won’t come out firing out of the gates like he did a year ago. For that, I think I like the Chargers.

Spread Pick: Chargers
Straight Pick: Chargers

About the Author

Aaron Freeman
Founder of FalcFans.com