Friday, September 10, 2010

Week 1 picks

After last nights disappointing result (at least as far as my pick is concerned), it's time to bounce back with some Sunday night picks. Tonight I'll be covering the nine 1:00 pm games and then tomorrow I'll go through the rest of the weekend (plus Mondays) games. You're not gonna like some of these...... Browns @ Buccaneers -- Like this one for example. I'm going to take - against every fiber of my gut instinct - ... the Buccaneers. I should know better than to do this, to put optimism in this young group of players led by a competent young coach ahead of the cold, hard reality that Buccaneers fans are astounded every time their team scores more than 20 points. But I am optimistic about the Bucs'. When Head Coach Raheem Morris took over play calling duties last year the defense improved. Not by leaps and bounds. But they got better. The Bucs' offense has also stumbled along a little. The loss of Antonio Bryant will hurt, but their other crop of receivers are developing nicely and if young QB Josh Freeman can learn to use the quarterbacks best friend - his Tight End (Kellen Winslow II) - then there is hope for Tampa. The Browns are another team with hopes and dreams, but little else right now. They're hoping that Jake Delhomme will somehow pull back on the controls and recover from his nose dive into mediocrity. History tells us this is unlikely to happen. It doesn't help that his receiving corps in Cleveland could probably match the level of obscurity of the corps in Carolina, with Steve Smith the exception rather than the rule. The Browns do have some hopes however. Josh Cribbs is likely to ply his trade not just as a return specialist but also as an every down wide receiver. He still has a way to go to fully being considered a threat at the position, but his legitimate ball skills and agility will help. RB Jerome Harrison will also be worth watching as he eyes up a Buccaneers defense that struggled against the run last year. Dolphins @ Bills -- I said you weren't gonna like some of these. You sure as hell aren't gonna like this one. I'm taking the Bills. Yes, Buffalo. Now that you've finished laughing, can we continue please? Good. The Bills do have two things in their favour. One is the fact that their defense was among the leagues best against the pass last year. People forget that about the Bills. Safety Jarius Byrd led the league jointly (with Darren Sharper) in interceptions, and so far corners Drayton Florence and Terrence McGee have given able service to a secondary that is much better than people assume. What the Bills need now is for Linebackers Aaron Maybin and Paul Posluszny to make the difference up front. The second thing in the Bills favour is RB C.J. Spiller. Spiller is one of those players who TV talking heads will annoyingly and generically refer to as a "dynamic playmaker". Spiller is quick in the open field and that works for the Bills in so many ways. Like Chris Johnson for the Titans, not only can Spiller generate big plays in the running game, but he can also catch short passes and check downs which he then turns into first downs (and more). The constant threat of what Spiller might do if he gets the ball, will be just as useful as the things he does do when he actually gets the ball. If that makes sense. Hopefully it'll open up holes in the defense to allow the Bills struggling quarterbacks to find passes to Lee Evans and co. upon whom much of the Bills season will rely. For the Dolphins it's a tough ask. Their ground game is first class, but as they showed last season the Dolphins seem to lack confidence in it and routinely try to force the ball downfield with QB Chad Henne. Against a pass defense of the caliber that the Bills bring to the table, it could prove a costly error. The problems faced by the Dolphins is compounded by the loss of both Joey Porter and Jason Taylor. While the 'phins have some good linebackers to replace them, this unit is not up to the same standard as it was last year. Unless Brandon Marshall and Davone Bess can keep the Dolphins offense steadily moving down the field, expect a tough day for Miami. Bengals @ Patriots -- The New England Patriots are yet to suffer an opening game loss at Gillette stadium. Tom Brady is yet to suffer a defeat at the hands of the Bengals. But don't forget the old phrase "there's a first time for everything". The Bengals will welcome back Defensive End Antwan Odom who sat out most of last year through injury. Odom recently tested positive for a banned substance but will be allowed to play while his appeal is being heard, claiming that he tested positive because of medication that he is currently taking. It's a big boost for a Bengals defense that is already among the best in the league without him. Corners Jonathan Joseph and Leon Hall will certainly get a worthy test against Randy Moss and the Patriots receiving unit. Wes Welker returns from a serious knee injury and will be hoping he can slot back into a Patriots offense that depended on him highly last year, especially on third down. Rookie tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez played well in the pre-season and will look to make their presence felt early, especially in the red zone. The Bengals also have a rookie tight end, first rounder Jermaine Gresham. Gresham is just one of the many additions to the Bengals offense this season, as Cincinnati looks to repeat as division champions and return to the playoffs. Without question however their attack still revolves around RB Cedric Benson, ably supported by Bernard Scott and Cedric Peerman (Cincinnati loves Cedrics' like the Eagles love xxSeans'). The question for the Bengals is can Carson Palmer make use of the rushing attack and his new receiver toys to punish defenses. If they drop a safety and switch to a cover 3 shell, can Palmer expose the weaknesses? Can he make use of his new TE and the potential of receivers like Andre Caldwell and rookie Jordan Shipley running routes underneath? I'm going to say yes, and take the Bengals. The Patriots defense was shaky at times last year and will struggle again I think to generate a sufficient pass rush. Against the Bengals that will be too much to overcome. Colts @ Texans -- Ok, the silly predictions end here. I'm mad, but not quite that mad. To be fair to the Texans, they're getting ever closer, gradually creeping up on the Colts. But I still think there is a way to go. The trouble for me is the Texans Defense. When you deduct linebacker Brian Cushing from an already flimsy unit, it just doesn't have the punch that you need to compete with an offense like the Colts. The Texans do have the capability to keep up in a shoot out, but you just know that one slip and it's over. By slip I mean a sack. And when you're facing Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, sacks are more common than the Texans would like. Add the return of safety Bob Sanders to the mix and the Colts defense is very potent. Too potent I'm afraid. Colts win. Broncos @ Jaguars -- My tip for the AFC West opens against a team almost nobody would tip for the AFC South. The Jaguars have finally started to make progress off the field, selling sufficient tickets to avoid a black out for this game. Sadly for the Jaguars their on field product may not match the optimism in the stands. Maurice Jones-Drew is still a dangerous RB, but David Garrard doesn't look like the franchise QB everyone is hoping he would be. Couple that with a defense that doesn't exactly give people nightmares, ranking worst among all teams in 2009 for sacks (14; eight behind the next worse team Kansas) and you have a recipe for defeat. The Broncos meanwhile seem to have finally purged their demons. Brandon Marshall is gone and now - presumably - Head Coach Josh McDaniels is happy with everyone in the building. Kyle Orton leads an offense that is poised to have a good year. The Broncos are happy with a receiving corps that put up a good showing in pre-season and may have finally fixed their rushing attack. The key for the Broncos is defense. With Elvis Dumervil consigned to the injured reserve list once more, somehow the Broncos have to find a way to get to the quarterback. Second year outside linebacker Robert Ayers must lead the way, recapturing the form he found in his last year of college. The back end of the Broncos D is good enough to compensate somewhat, but if the Broncos are going to stand up and be counted this year, they need some pressure from the front seven. Facing Jacksonville is a good early test and I think they pass. Broncos win. Falcons @ Steelers -- This is a tough game to pick a winner from. Pittsburgh may not have Ben Roethlisberger, but they do have safety Troy Polamalu back in the fold. That makes their defense dangerous. We know they can generate pressure on the QB and we know they can stop the run with their front seven. Question is, can they score enough points to off set any defensive slips. Dennis Dixon gets the starting nod for the Steelers and although his passing has looked sometimes suspect, his ability with his feet cannot be ignored. That poses an extra problem for defenses when defending the pass, and that's before we even get to the issue of the Steelers run game, which has a four headed punch in Rashard Mendenhall, Mewelde Moore, Jonathan Dwyer and Issac Redman. Standing before them is an Atlanta team that many people are tipping to have the best shot at unseating the Saints for the NFC South crown. Led by a defense that includes John Abraham and was led in the pre-season by Kroy Biermann & mike linebacker Curtis Lofton, the Falcons are well equipped to get after the Steelers. The big problem for the Falcons D is their relative weakness in the secondary. Against Pittsburgh this is slightly offset by the lack of a true deep threat on the Steelers roster. The Falcons themselves are well accounted for on offense, with Matt Ryan leading a group that will hope to have a big year. They get RB Michael Turner back and in good health which is always a huge positive. For me, the Falcons have the edge. I see their offense being just a little more consistent, especially late in the game and in and around the red zone. Falcons win, but only just. Raiders @ Titans -- The Raiders finally managed to rustle up a pretty good draft in the off season. On top of that they dumped JaMarcus Russell in favour of Jason Campbell. The result seems to have been a sigh relief from within the Raiders team, with players reportedly happier and more optimistic. That optimism is being shared by analysts up and down the country. Except perhaps me (though I'm in a different country so maybe that explains it). I don't think the Raiders will be as craptacular as they have been under Russell, but this is still the Raiders we're talking about. It's still a Raiders team that lacks a stand out receiver. Darren McFadden is still projected to be the starting running back in week one (Michael Bush is injured). And they still have the Raiders O-line. And they still have the Raiders D. Things have improved on this side of the ball. By all accounts Richard Seymour has stepped forward as a leader. The acquisition of Kamerion Wimbley was over looked, but will be important in the weeks ahead. Rookie Rolando McClain also brings some run stopping punch to the outfit. But they're still fundamentally the Raiders. The Titans conversely are still the Titans, which is a good thing. While the Titans may be pushing their luck a little on the RB front (Chris Johnson, Javon Ringer, and FB Ahmard Hall. That's it), they are still a strong overall team. Vince Young has developed as a passer and still remains a serious threat with his feet. Defensively the Titans have all of their starting secondary available from week one. A lot of people seem to be overlooking the fact that at the start of 2009 the Titans had more holes in their secondary than a chunk of Swiss cheese. The same secondary that the season before (2008) had led the Titans to an undefeated streak of ten games to open their campaign. Now that the Titans have finally dumped Kerry Collins to the bench and are leaning more on their excellent running back, I see the Titans edging out the Raiders. Panthers @ Giants -- Hmm, another toughie. Mainly because regardless of what I guess the Panthers will do, they're bound to do the opposite, even if I attempt to play the old bluffing game with them. Thankfully I think the Giants are good enough to overcome that regardless. Tentatively I'm going to say that the Panthers will look at the pre-season debacle that was their offense and decide that what they desperately need right now is to air the ball out even more in the mistaken hope that they will rack up points like a loyalty based credit card. Which of course they wont; because the Giants have a good pass rush and because credit card companies are notoriously stingy with their loyalty points. Eli Manning may not be his brother, but he is pretty good. As long as he stops d**king about at the line of scrimmage trying to be Peyton mark 2, the Giants have a very good chance this season. Their offense is well manned and the addition of defensive coordinator Perry Fewell will hopefully give the defense the guidance it needs to get back to its previous Super Bowl winning form. Giants win. I think. Unless those damn Panthers screw me over again. I hate the Panthers. Lions @ Bears -- The potential bottom feeders of the NFC North come together for what might actually be a good game. Typically when two bad teams meet they struggle to make tackles and get a pass rush going, which ends up with a high scoring game. Don't count on the Bears either. Picking up Julius Peppers in free agency will help the Bears a little (certainly not in the long term though given the cost). The trouble with the Bears is that they needed more than just a "little" help. With key LB Brian Urlacher down injured again, it poses a real question as to where the threat from this defense will come from? Offensively it's just a cluster f**k of problems. The One Man Team Beater (the team in question being his own) Jay Cutler is serving under Mike Martz, a coordinator famous for a) airing the ball out lots (which is part of Cutlers problem) and b) his inability to develop quarterbacks. This last one seems an odd thing to say given that all the hyperbole about Martz for the last few months has centered around his magic skills at working with quarterbacks. But as a 49ers fan I have two words for you: Alex Smith. So, who's the Bears RB? Maybe that will help. Oh, it's Matt Forte. What about the O-line? Forget it. They only seem to know how to concede sacks and get their running back beaten up on a regular basis. What then, about the receivers? Well, their leading receiver is a corner back and punt returner, who is "mentored" by Deion Sanders. The same Deion Sanders who "mentored" Michael Crabtree into an extended contract holdout that has significantly hurt his ability to gel with his team, and the same Deion Sanders who "mentored" WR Dez Bryant into a season long college suspension through his senior year. The Bears are a joke. The Lions used to be. But not any more. Their defense still shares many qualities with that of a sieve, primarily that of having lots of holes, but at least their offense has improved. QB Matthew Stafford has improved and you get the sense that he's a leader with his head planted firmly on his shoulders. Calvin Johnson is... well he's Calvin Johnson. Rookie running back Jahvid Best is already looking like a strong addition to a young group of backs and Nate Burleson brings some experience at the receiver position which will help Staffords' development. Guard Rob Sims was also a good pick up through trade with Seattle. And just in case you haven't guessed already, I'm taking Detroit to win this one. That then, is all the 1:00 pm kick offs. Tomorrow I'll be back to finish off the list of this weekends games, but until then, Have a great day everyone. P.S. For what it's worth, I'd just like to say that I'll be thinking of all those lost in the 9/11 attacks nine years ago and their families.

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