Right then. It's that time that anyone who writes about the NFL dreads. It's time to stick my neck on the line for another week and make some picks. Having got the Packers over Saints I'm already at a 1-0 start, which is good. My goal for the weekend is to get over 60%. And I might as well chuck in the Monday picks with the Sunday picks. So we'll start with.....
Steelers @ Ravens; We had to start here really. The Steelers and Ravens has become one of the premier rivalries in the NFL right now. And recent history has seen the Steelers run rough shod over the Ravens in win-loss terms. Is this the year for the Ravens to claw back some ground.
Is the simple answer. I look at the respective squads and I see the Steelers having more depth and more overall talent. It's still likely to be a relatively close game, in the sense that it wont be a blow out, but I think the Steelers will open a little more of lead in this one than we're used to seeing, maybe as much as two scores. They were in the Super Bowl for a reason last year and even now their current squad looks a little more settled than last year.
Their receiving corps is faster and more experienced. Their offensive line is slightly stronger and likely more cohesive. Their defense is much stronger up front, has a better pass rush and a better secondary. But most importantly is the man in the gun; Ben Roethlisberger is superior in just about every way to Joe Flacco. In a hard fought contest, that can make a huge difference. So I'm saying Steelers win.
Falcons @ Bears; I didn't even have to stop and think about this one. I'm taking the Falcons 10 times out of 10 against the Bears. Look, the Bears offensive line needs a radical overhaul and this game may just be the latest resounding example of why that is. On the Falcons D-line you have guys like John Abraham, Kroy Biermann, Ray Edwards, Cory Peters and rookie Cliff Matthews. That D-line is going to tear the Bears offensive line to shreds.
And when that happens... well, it negates the fact that Jay Cutler has a big time arm and that some of his receivers are better than people give them credit for. Couple that with a Falcons running game that can - once a lead has been established - control the ball and the clock, forcing the Bears to throw it a whole bunch playing catch up, and you have a recipe for a miserable afternoon in Chicago, followed by some strong drinking in the evening. Falcons win.
Bengals @ Browns; I had a real hard time picking this one. I think the Bengals and the Browns have surprisingly good elements to their teams, especially on offense. I think the Bengals have some really good, really under rated receivers, I love their tight end pairing of Jermaine Gresham and rookie Colin Cochart, and I think they have an excellent backfield, with Cedric Benson, Cedric Peerman and Bernard Scott all really unappreciated around the league for their skills.
I just can't buy their quarterbacks or their defense. Bruce Gradkowski is a pretty good back up, but is he good enough to beat Colt McCoy? Andy Dalton certainly isn't. And then on defense I have a lot of respect for the front portion of the Bengals D, with guys like Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap as young, enthusiastic players up front, and some solid linebackers as well. But that secondary? Remove Leon Hall and it's not looking good.
For the Browns I think all around they're just a bit better. I love Colt McCoy, that's why he was on last years rookie watchlist, and I think they have plenty of offensive weapons for him to play with. Most importantly though is the D, where I think rookie Jabaal Sheard was a great addition to the pass rush, I think the linebacking corps is going to be solid this year, and I love the addition of rookie corners Buster Skrine and James Dockery.
Unless you're a Browns fan you probably wont have heard much about Dockery, but I say keep your eyes and ears peeled if he gets the chance to play. And on that note, I say Browns win.
Colts @ Texans; Simply put, without Peyton Manning this thing is over before it has even begun. The Texans have a really good offense, just as they've had for many seasons now. And this season they've taken a great stride forward in fixing that defense. The additions of rookies like the excellent J.J. Watt and Brooks Reed to the defensive line and linebacking corps respectively will make a difference, along with new coordinator Wade Philips. The Colts will watch, in wonder, suddenly realising that they should have drafted a true replacement for Peyton Manning about three years ago. Texans win.
Titans @ Jaguars; There has been much said about the fact that David Garrard was cut by the Jaguars. I would suggest that a lot of people are getting their knickers in a twist for no reason. The Jaguars gave Garrard every opportunity to succeed, or to even just show something, anything that could be called a repayment of their faith in him. They got nothing.
So now the post David Garrard era begins and maybe it will enliven the Jags? It's expected Luke McCown will start and for the sake of Jaguars fans I hope that's right, because you're not going to like the Blaine Gabbert era. Then again you might not like the McCown era much either. See the thing is, I look up and down that roster and I see names that catch my eye.
I like McCown at quarterback. Love Maurice Jones-Drew at running back. Like Marcedes Lewis at tight end. Like Kasim Osgood at receiver. Like Eugene Monroe at offensive tackle. Love Tyson Alualu.... at defensive end, not defensive tackle. Love Paul Posluszny at linebacker. Love rookie safety Chris Prosinski.
But then I look at the rest of the roster and I have to cover my mouth and fight off the urge to vomit. Because the rest of that team is hideous. Just, abjectly horrid. It's like a whose who of "who the hell are you?". And that's where the Jaguars fall down. They have some great players, they have some good players, and then they have just empty spaces, names penciled into the roster awaiting replacement at the first available opportunity.
The Titans meanwhile are a difficult team to judge. They have some very, very talented veterans and some good young players. Their mix of defensive line, linebackers and secondary is often grossly under rated. Their receiving corps has some real play makers in it. The problem is at the quarterback position.
Matt Hasselbeck is a veteran, but he's also been basically a one system guy, accustomed to playing in a much quicker, shorter ranged passing offense (I'm loathed to say "West Coast Offense"). Will he be able to squeeze the most out of his receivers? Will he take advantage of the play-action possibilities generated by Chris Johnson? Have I spent way too much time on this one game? Titans win.
Bills @ Chiefs; Now this, this is a tough game to call. I say that because you and I both know that the Chiefs are a running team. That is where their bread is buttered. Everyone knows it. Everyone knows how dangerous Thomas Jones, Jamaal Charles, and now Le'Ron McClain can be. Everyone except the one man who matters, which is Head Coach Todd Haley.
That's why I'm undecided. Because if it wasn't for that then I would take the Chiefs right now. They have some great defensive players and they run the ball really well. But give the ball to Matt Cassel and try and make him chuck that thing 35 times a game, against a much improved Bills defense? I'm not happy with that.
And the Bills have improved. Rookie defensive tackle Marcel Dareus has been a great pick up. Shawne Merriman is looking a bit more like his old self. I think rookie linebacker Chris White has some speed to get after the quarterback. And I think Nick Barnett was a nice addition up the middle of that defense. The secondary is good too. We all know about Jarius Byrd and Drayton Florence, but also keep an eye out for rookie corner Aaron Williams.
The trouble is the Bills offense. I think losing Lee Evans was big for the Bills, as they don't really have anyone who stands out as a natural replacement for him. Their running game is still having problems getting going, especially C.J. Spiller who has so much potential, but just isn't finding a way to make it work in the NFL right now. In fact, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is about the only thing about that Bills offense that I have a decent amount of faith in. And that's why I'm taking Kansas. Chiefs win.
Eagles @ Rams; The Dream Team gets its first real test. And although I'm not sold on the whole Dream Team moniker, I still think the Eagles are a good team. The only real issues they have is on the offensive line and the linebacking corps. But with the D-line much improved, including the presence of Cullen Jenkins up the middle, the linebacking problem shouldn't be such a huge issue. The offensive line will.
There are some good players on that line, although I think rookie Danny Watkins is wasted as a guard (he played tackle in college). However that line is not up to the same standard as the rest of the offense and will likely get exposed against a capable pass rush. Luckily for the Eagles though, the Rams don't really have that.
The Rams D-line isn't terrible. They're just not very good. And that really throws much of the hope out of the window for St. Louis. Quarterback Sam Bradford is pretty good and he has some talented receivers at his disposal, but he's still young and against this defense I think he might struggle.
It all depends on how well Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, who was a line coach up until last year, can cope with putting together all the talent available to him and whether he can make those guys work as a unit. I think they have enough in the tank for week 1. Eagles win.
Lions @ Buccaneers; This is quite an interesting battle because right here we have two teams that are highly touted to have resurgent years, perhaps finally breaking into the playoffs again. Now one of these teams I can kind of buy, the other I can't. The can't, is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Number one, I think Josh Freemans success is being over stated to a degree. Two, the interior of that offensive line is still a little on the suspect side. Three, the Buccaneers still have no discernible pass rush, despite the efforts made in the last two drafts to fix that. Four, the secondary needs some work still.
Compare and contrast to the Lions. One, if Matthew Stafford can be kept healthy then he finally seems to be clicking with his receivers. Two, ok, their interior O-line isn't much better. Three, the Lions pass rush has probably never been better than it is now. Four, ok, their secondary sucks as well.
That's evens on two counts and the Lions leading on another two. On that note then, Lions win.
Panthers @ Cardinals; Oh god. There's always one clash, one battle of such epic proportions that you have no idea who will win it. In this case it's the bad sort of epic battle, as in two teams that will live on in our memory for the next decade or so, due to nothing more than their sheer ineptitude.
I honestly don't know where to go with this one. Both teams have pretty good offenses and both teams have, to varying degrees across positions, terrible defenses. Part of me then looks to the quarterbacks and says "Newton is worse than Kolb" and will probably hurt his team more. But then part of me thinks "Head Coach Ron Rivera is not John Fox, he's seen the success a good running game can bring, he won't try and put it all on Newton."
But then another part of me remembers "this is the Panthers we're talking about. And I hate the Panthers. and they always go out of their way to ruin my picks". I should point out at this juncture that I just made that noise that people make when they breath out deliberately in such a way as to puff out their cheeks in the process.
Or as it's otherwise known, that noise you make when you don't have a damn clue which decision to make. On balance, and at the risk of feeling the Panthers pick wrath, I'm going to take the Cardinals. I just think the mixture of Kevin Kolb, with a slightly better receiving corps and a marginally better defense, key among which will be safety Adrian Wilson, will be enough. Cardinals win.
Vikings @ Chargers; I like a lot of things about the Vikings. I also like a lot of things about the Chargers. So which is better? That of course is the million dollar question, or at least it would be if you were a gambling addict with deep pockets. For me it's a mere matter of pride and smugness at picking the right team.
On the one hand we have the Vikings, who will be lead by Donovan McNabb, with Adrian Peterson in support, with receivers like Percy Harvin and Michael Jenkins to throw to, along with tight ends like Visanthe Shiancoe and Jim Kleinsasser, and with a strong defense in tow. That's a handy combination.
On the other hand, I look at the Chargers and see Phillip Rivers, with Ryan Matthews and/or Mike Tolbert in support, with receivers like Vincent Jackson and Malcolm Floyd to throw to, along with tight ends like Antonio Gates and Kory Sperry, and with a strong defense in tow. That's a handy combination.
I'm making that noise again.
On balance I think the Chargers have it. Rivers in the pre-season looked really good, really precise, and Ryan Matthews looked rejuvinated somewhat as he ripped through the 49ers defense (hkjsdlfgsg bastar...fuc..mother...grr). I think the Chargers receiving corps is a little deeper and its defense is just a little stronger, especially in the secondary. So I'm going with a Chargers win.
Seahawks @ 49ers; As a 49ers fan, it saddens me to look at my team. Luckily the Seahawks aren't much better. So at least for one week I can be sort of optimistic. I say sort of because then I look at the 49ers again and I realise that the difference between them wouldn't accommodate one of my hand roll cigarette papers.
If they were great teams then that would be a testament to them both. But they're not. Not by a long way. The 49ers are relying on Alex Smith to guide the ship. Number two to Smith is Colin "no please kid, don't throw the ball over ther... oh another pick, nice work," Kaepernick. I have never wanted two quarterbacks to suffer simultaneous muscle pulls more than I do right now. Bring on Scott Tolzein.
The critical thing for me though is looking at the 49ers O-line. How, how in the name of God did Mike Person make the active roster? Especially when undrafted center Chase Beeler didn't. It sucks, which is a word that could be used to just generically describe the 49ers O-line right now. There is hope in Joe Staley at left tackle and there's Mike Iupati at left guard. I'd like to see rookie Daniel Kilgore slotted in at right tackle, but I fear that's too much to hope for. In case you hadn't noticed I'm not a huge fan of Anthony Davis.
This is an O-line that right now is not built for winning championships, or indeed anything. Couple that with the dubious decision to shift defensive end Isaac Sopoaga over to nose tackle and I fear the mighty 49ers (stop laughing) are in trouble. It all depends on the Seahawks.
They're by no means a juggernaut waiting to swat their prey to one side. But I do think that as bad as Tavaris Jackson is, he's better than Alex Smith, and he has some slightly more dangerous weapons at receiver in Sidney Rice and Mike Williams. I also think that the running back committee of Marshawn Lynch, Leon Washington and Justin Forsett can do some damage to this 49ers defense.
If the Seahawks can lean on the run, find ways to get the ball downfield to Rice and Williams, maybe use tight end Zach Miller as a safety valve over the middle, and possibly get the ball to Leon Washington in space on some screen passes or just swing routes out of the backfield, then I think the Seahawks walk it. Needless to say (but I'll say it anyway), I hope I'm wrong about this. Seahawks win.
Giants @ Redskins; I think, personally, that the Redskins have improved somewhat in recent times. Through the pre-season, their running game looked strong and the defense flashed its potential. Things are definitely starting to look up in Washington. But I'm still not buying them in this game.
I like the Giants for this one and a big part of that is the defense. From the line - with guys like Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora, Chris Canty, Rocky Bernard and Linval Joseph - to the linebacking corps with guys like rookies Mark Herzlich and Greg Jones, supporting veterans like Mathias Kiwanuka and Jonathan Goff - all the way to the secondary with guys like Corey Webster, Antrel Rolle, and promising rookie safety Tyler Sash - that defense has the edge.
I think the Giants have the pass rush to get after Rex Grossman, the ability to win the battle in the trenches with regards to the running game, and a slightly stronger coverage unit on the back end. On offense, I'm not a huge Eli Manning fan, but I would take Manning over Grossman. I also think the Giants would just nudge the win in terms of running backs, with Ahmad Bradshaw and Da'Rel Scott in particular as highlights.
Providing Brandon Jacobs doesn't pick a fight with everyone in the stadium and the Giants can avoid adding another twenty fumbles to their tally this season, I see a Giants win on the horizon.
Cowboys @ Jets; Santonio Holmes... I want you to think about that for a second and consider its meaning.
.... done? Ok, if you haven't figured it out yet, I'll let you in on the secret; Holmes may be one of the best receivers in the NFL right now. More significantly though, he's the only decent receiver the Jets have right now.
I do not, not, consider Plaxico Burress or Derrick Mason to be players that will give teams nightmares. I think the Cowboys are good enough not to have to worry about them, with enough depth and quality in its secondary to cope.
And like with Eli Manning, I'm not a huge fan of Tony Romo, but I still think he's better than Mark Sanchez. The Jets defense will give him some nightmares at times, but I do think the Jets pass rush is missing some of the bite that it had last season. I don't the Jets offense is up to much either. Cowboys win.
Patriots @ Dolphins; The first of the two Monday night games sees New England start its 2011 campaign against a Dolphins side that has under gone some changes in the off season, welcoming in Reggie Bush at running back, Dante Rosario at tight end and... man, this is basically the same team that sucked it up last year?
In that case, I'm going with New England. The Patriots have some injury issues this week, but luckily they've got quite a deep squad to draw from. That for me is the killer. Quarterback, running back, receiver, tight end, offensive line, D-line, linebacker, secondary, in every area the Patriots don't just look better than their opponents, they completely out match them. Patriots win.
Raiders @ Broncos; As much as I hate new Broncos Head Coach John Fox, there just is no excuse for taking the Raiders in this game. Their running game might be ok, but I'm not sold on quarterback Jason Campbell. Some of the Raiders receivers have talent, but with Campbell throwing to them I think they're going to struggle to tap that potential.
The Broncos meanwhile have the opposite problem. Their rushing attack is nothing more than an after thought and has been now for many years. Their passing attack however is somewhat under rated in the main stream circles. Kyle Orton is a good quarterback and his receivers have a good mix of speed, hands and route technique.
Perhaps critically for the Broncos, they've beefed up their defense. Von Miller has been playing really well in the pre-season, demonstrating a responsiveness to coaching in training camp in order to refine his pass rushing technique to something much more appropriate for this level. Given the extra pressure that's being created up front, that just generates more opportunities for guys like corners Champ Bailey and Andre Goodman.
On that note, I'm saying Broncos win.
So there you have. All the weekends games in the bag. I'll be back possibly Sunday Night, more likely Monday or Tuesday night to find out how I got on pick wise and to share my thoughts on all the games. I also have a few interesting things planned for next week, including why I think the owners were so keen to sign the new CBA, a word about Plaxico Burress, and the return of 'Lombardi Watch', where I pick holes like an asshole in articles written by Michael Lombardi.
So enjoy your football this weekend. I know it's a hugely significant weekend for all, but in particular for the people of New York, what with it being the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. On that note I wish you all well and I can assure you that even here in the UK we'll be thinking of the families who lost loved ones during the events of that day, not least because many UK citizens were also among the victims.
May we never see such a day again.