Version 2.0

While the Vikes stumbled in Motown, the season picks up steam as we zoom into Week 2.

After encountering a speed bump last week in Motown, the Vikes will be looking to gain speed Sunday in a divisional bloodbath vs the Bears.

Last week: 4-2 ATS

Season to date: 4-2 ATS

Week 2 picks: (home team in CAPS)

Tennessee Titans and HOUSTON TEXANS OVER 43: Sure, the Texans were handed a gift due to an incorrect interpretation of a new rule designed to protect the long-snapper. But they were good enough to cash in and squeeze out a prime-time road win, no easy chore at this level. It’s the type of win that galvanizes a team early in the season. The revamped Titans are interesting, so expect something in the neighborhood of 27-17, just enough to push the number north and you into the winner’s circle.

Even his harshest critics can't deny Romo's toughness.

Even his harshest critics can’t deny Romo’s toughness.

Dallas Cowboys (+3) over KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: I picked Dallas to win the NFC East, and this is exactly the type of game they must grab if they have any intentions of reversing recent swoons. Can they handle prosperity after finally beating the Giants in Jerry’s new palace? KC rolled in a laugher last week vs hapless Jacksonville, so it’s tough to truly quantify any progress thus far under Andy Reid. While I think KC has the makings of a WC contender in the weaker AFC, this is a game Dallas scraps out. Barely. Will they commit to the run? Romo’s rib injury could be a blessing in disguise as they win the battle of the trenches. Fun game, roll with the ‘Boys.

New Orleans Saints (-3) over TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: Alert! Alert! Franchise in distress! Anarchy on the horizon! If you think that’s a stretch, clearly you haven’t followed the early soap opera follies of Greg Schiano’s Bucs. The former franchise QB losing his captaincy after three years? The same QB reportedly missing a team picture? Players only meetings? A hideous loss to the Jets? Yup. Oh yeah, they’re playing the Saints who for the record, are back to being the Saints. Capitalize on a bad situation that appears destined to get worse. Saints, big.

Carolina Panthers and BUFFALO BILLS UNDER 44: The Panthers were game in a narrow home loss to Seattle last week while the Bills were pinched ostensibly at the gun by the Pats. Despite flashing in his debut, expect Doug Marrone to play it safe with rookie QB E.J. Manuel. That, coupled with a dearth of explosive weapons for Cam Newton to utilize,  should add up to a relatively low scoring game that keeps this one below the number.

Denver Broncos and NEW YORK GIANTS OVER 54.5: One Manning equals a lot of points, two Mannings equals a ton of points. The game plan? Lace up the Nike’s and air it out from the coin flip. Over!

CINCINNATI BENGALS (-6.5) over Pittsburgh Steelers: Ordinarily, I would be reticent to roll with such a high number in a divisional showdown, but the Bengals are by far the superior team. Forget history and pride, this is a mismatch. Treat it as such. The energy of the home opener coupled  with the sting of a tough loss in Chicago against a solid Bears team will have the jungle in a frenzy. Big Ben will be on the run all night behind a ravaged front five, and without much help in the backfield, a hungry and athletic Cincy defense will be salivating.

Version 1.0

1

(home team in CAPS)

A word to the wise: work up a decent lather before bursting into an all out assault on Vegas. The sharps are formidable, particularly with several months to prep for Week 1. No need to slide down the mountain before mid-September. Tread lightly, grab momentum!

Atlanta Falcons and NEW ORLEANS SAINTS OVER 54: Handicapping, 101. Two elite QB’s with plenty of weapons on a fast surface with a comfy, controlled dome climate generally equates to a ton of scores. Brees and Ryan reward this play with 35 + points in the 1st half alone, making the final 30 minutes “Coast City.” Enjoy an early gift.

Elite vs elite.

Elite vs elite.

Kansas City Chiefs (-4) over JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: The equivalent of a tap-in putt for Andy Reid as the removal of the stench suffocating KC gets off to a quick start with a road win and cover. Beware, however, as Alex Smith is more dink and dunk than downfield, so a blowout seems unlikely. Still, the Jags are road kill once more in the AFC while the Chiefs should be in the mix for a WC. Better talent, better coaching. KC handles Blaine Gabbert and the Jags.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (-9.5) OVER Oakland Raiders: I’m not sold on Indy making a return trip to the playoffs, but I am very aware of the frightening dearth of talent Dennis Allen has to “work” with. It’s not his fault his GM has failed to stock the cupboards with a viable NFL roster. This game opened at 7 and has ballooned nearly three full points for a reason. Act fast, because the number ain’t going south. Indy exploits the Silver and Black’s deplorable offensive line and hangs a demoralizing loss on the worst team in the NFL. They’re baaaaaad. Biggest play of the day. By the way, anyone else think Reggie McKenzie resembles a “chubby” Blake Griffin?

Cincinnati Bengals and CHICAGO BEARS OVER 41.5: With back-to-back playoff appearances on their resume for the first time since the 80’s, the Bengals bring a wealth of explosive and hungry talent to the Windy City for a marquee matchup with the Bears. Injuries to Jay Cutler the past two seasons have derailed positive starts, but with QB-friendly Marc Trestman now calling the shots, look for Cutler to have his best season to date. Not sure this one climbs into the 30’s, but with a relatively low total of 41, lucky for you, it won’t have to. Roll with the over.

The next generation is here. #beast

The next generation is here. #beast

Arizona Cardinals and ST. LOUIS RAMS OVER 41.5: Bruce Arians looks to shore things up offensively with a vertical style that will match Carson Palmer’s skill set nicely. Both teams are trending in the right direction, particularly Jeff Fisher’s squad. In the bloodbath knows as the NFC West, the Rams, not the Niners or Seahawks, owed the best divisional record in ’12. (4-1-1) It’s officially time for Mr Bradford to step up. While this game lacks national sizzle, it has under-the-radar intrigue. Welcome back, Larry Fitzgerald. Over.

NEW YORK JETS (+3.5) over Tampa Bay Buccaneers: While the Jets have very publicly staged yet another QB circus, they have enough elements to hang at home against a team with QB and injury issues of their own. Darrelle Revis hasn’t played a meaningful snap in a year and will undoubtedly be very rusty. The Jets offensive line and defense is stout enough to keep things interesting before they become unraveled in Week 2 vs the Pats. If you’re patient, you might gain 1/2 point Sunday morning with some late action on the Bucs. Capitalize as Gang Green registers a surprise and possibly rare cover.

And they’re (almost) off!

AFC East

Still the man, but for how much longer?

Still the man, but for how much longer?

1. New England Patriots (11-5) Brady’s arm, strong running game and elite coaching enables Pats to feast on shallow division once more.

2. Miami Dolphins (8-8) Improving, but porous O-line could derail season. Liked this team a lot more in July.

3. Buffalo Bills (5-11) You want to believe, but where’s the evidence?

4. New York Jets (4-12) The circus is already underway. Dig in, Jets fans. 

AFC North

Absolute beast, and only getting better.

Absolute beast, and only getting better.

1. Cincinnati Bengals (11-5) Most talented roster in AFC must take the next step: playoff success. I’m confident they will.

2. Baltimore Ravens (9-7) Proud champions will not go as quietly as some think.

3. Cleveland Browns (7-9) Ascending, but not fast enough. Still, the Brownies could catch a few quality teams napping.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-10) Descending, but proud. The logo stands for something, always has. Will it be enough to avoid the basement?

AFC South

Year 2 of the "Luck Era."

Year 2 of the “Luck Era.”

1. Houston Texans (11-5) Plenty of divisional wins in forecast, but how far can you truly ride Schaub? Not sold.

2. Indianapolis Colts (9-7) Luck’s efficiency improves, while the overall W/L record takes a baby step back.

3. Tennessee Titans (7-9) The absolute definition of irrelevant: good enough to avoid # 1 overall pick talk, nowhere near good enough to further the conversation toward anything pertinent.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-14) Yikes. Hello, blackouts. Again.

AFC West

Plenty of regular season wins, but plenty of January blemishes for Peyton.

Plenty of regular season wins and plenty of January blemishes for Peyton.

1. Denver Broncos (11-5) I like Denver, but not nearly as much as others. Good team, but far from dominant. Could be bumpy at points, particularly the first 5-6 weeks.

2. Kansas City Chiefs (9-7) Andy Reid slowly cleans up the stench from last season as Alex Smith dinks and dunks KC to a winning record. Barely.

3. San Diego Chargers (7-9) Crossroads for Rivers, which way will he turn? Very tough team to gauge. Show me.

4. Oakland Raiders (2-14) Pryor adds intrigue, but the trenches are pitiful. Overall dearth of talent leads to another coaching change in Oakland. This team is B-A-D.

NFC East

No greater unknown in the NFL. Is he ready?

No greater unknown in the NFL. Is he truly ready?

1. Dallas Cowboys (10-6) I’ve played this game before and been burned. But really, working in definitive terms, who’s better?

2. Washington Redskins (9-7) It’s going to be interesting, that’s for sure.

3. New York Giants (8-8) Poor LB’er play and decaying pass rush will force Eli to win shootouts every week. He’s good, but he’s not that good. Let’s be honest: he was spotty last year.

4. Philadelphia Eagles (5-11) I believe in Chip Kelly, just not immediately.

NFC North

Will the leader of the Pack once again lead his team to a divisional crown?

Will the leader of the Pack once again lead his team to a divisional crown?

1. Green Bay Packers (10-6) Defense was sliced up at the ‘Stick last January. Good team, but not a lock for divisional supremacy. 

2. Chicago Bears (9-7) If Cutler clicks with his new HC, this division goes thru the Windy City.

3. Detroit Lions (8-8) Bush helps, but there’s something about this team…not sold.

4. Minnesota Vikings (6-10) Playoffs last season, this season, not so much.

NFC South

Truly elite?

Truly elite? I believe so. Matty “Ice” has arrived.

1. Atlanta Falcons (11-5) Class of an interesting division. Championship balance?

2.  New Orleans Saints (10-6) Welcome back, Sean Payton. Welcome back, playoffs.

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-8) How will Freeman respond? Is Revis 100% healthy? Is Schiano the right man for this job? Lots of questions, are there enough answers? Could go either way.

4. Carolina Panthers (7-9) Exciting, but flawed.

NFC West

Flip a coin for divisional supremacy.

Flip a coin.

1. Seattle Seahawks (12-4) Super Bowl talent, athleticism and depth. Best team in the NFC.

2. San Francisco 49ers (10-6) Second best team in football’s best division. Love Kaepernick, but he’ll miss Crabtree. Secondary issues, too.

3. St. Louis Rams (8-8) They’re coming, but in all probability, remain a year away. Still, buckle that chin strap when Fisher’s team rolls in.

4. Arizona Cardinals (6-10) With a little luck, the Cards might hang around into December. Can Patrick Peterson make an impact at WR? Bruce Arians inherits decent talent in the desert.

Another chapter!

“THAT OTHER PREGAME SHOW” LAUNCHES ON CBS SPORTS NETWORK, EXPANDING FOOTBALL COVERAGE ON SUNDAY MORNINGS

 NFL Veteran Bart Scott, Former Oakland Raiders Executive Amy Trask and  

CBS Sports Radio’s Brandon Tierney Join Host Adam Schein on “TOPS”

Beginning Sunday, Sept. 8

“The NFL Today” and “The NFL on CBS” Announce Team to Appear Regularly

Continuing its aggressive expansion of programming around CBS Sports’ marquee properties, CBS Sports Network launches THAT OTHER PREGAME SHOW (TOPS), a new weekly Sunday football studio program debutingSunday, Sept. 8 (9:00 AM-1:00 PM, ET). The announcement was made today by Sean McManus, Chairman, CBS Sports, and Executive Producer, THE NFL ON CBS, and David Berson, President, CBS Sports.

THAT OTHER PREGAME SHOW breaks from the familiar pregame show format, presenting a unique fan-focused take on all the week’s NFL and college action, headlines and hot-button issues, giving viewers all the latest information as it happens. TOPS will be hosted by Adam Schein along with 11-year NFL veteran Bart Scott, long-time Oakland Raiders executive Amy Trask, CBS Sports Radio’s Brandon Tierney, CBSSports.com fantasy analyst Nathan Zegura and LEAD OFF’s Allie LaForce reporting.

The show also will incorporate various forms of social media interaction, engaging the TOPS team with its viewers.  The last hour of the show will be centered on Fantasy Football helping fans set their line-ups each week. Continuing its focus on all things football, TOPS will take a look back at all the college football games and performances that fans are still talking about from the previous day and look forward to the week ahead.

Regular contributors to THAT OTHER PREGAME SHOW include analysts from THE NFL TODAY: Dan Marino, Boomer Esiason, Shannon Sharpe and Bill Cowher, as well as host James Brown and Insider Jason La Canfora. CBS Sports’ NFL on CBS announcers will appear regularly from their game sites, including Phil Simms, Dan Fouts, Dan Dierdorf, Rich Gannon, Solomon Wilcots, Steve Tasker and Steve Beuerlein.

“In today’s television landscape, there is certainly room for another pregame show if that show offers a unique approach and perspective,” said McManus. “THAT OTHER PREGAME SHOW will accomplish that, as we combine all the assets of CBS Sports including CBS Sports Radio and CBSSports.com, creating a show focusing on the fans and how they consume football.”

THAT OTHER PREGAME SHOW is part of CBS Sports Network’s expanded studio programming focusing on NFL football. TOPS joins NFL MONDAY QB, which returns for its second season on Monday, Sept. 9 (5:00 PM, ET), with host Adam Schein and analysts Phil Simms, Rich Gannon, Steve Beuerlein and Insider Jason LaCanfora. After Week 1, NFL MONDAY QB airs weekly at 6:30 PM, ET.

Scott joins CBS Sports Network after an 11-year NFL playing career with the Baltimore Ravens (2002-2008) and New York Jets (2009-2012). In 2006, he was a Pro Bowl selection and earned All Pro honors.

Trask spent 26 seasons with the Oakland Raiders working directly for Al Davis. She was named the first female CEO in the NFL in 1997. Under her watch, the Raiders won four Division Championships (1990, 2000, 2001 and 2002) and one AFC Championship (2002).

Tierney serves as co-host of TBD in the AM, CBS Sports Radio’s national morning show. He has been a staple on sports talk radio in New York and San Francisco for the last 10 years, most recently at 95.7 The Game in the Bay Area. 

Schein, host of TOPS and NFL MONDAY QB, anchors “Schein on Sports,” a sports talk radio show on SiriusXM’s Mad Dog Radio, and is featured on SportsNet New York’s weekday show “Loud Mouths.”

Zegura is the Senior Fantasy Football Writer for CBSSports.com and appears regularly on CBSSports.com’s FANTASY FOOTBALL TODAY.

LaForce is a co-host of LEAD OFF, CBS Sports Network’s weekday late night news and commentary program, and also served as sideline reporter during the 2013 NCAA Tournament.  She joined CBS Sports Network in 2012. 

Shawn Robbins and Andrew Finger produce THAT OTHER PREGAME SHOW. Tyler Hale is Vice President, Studio Production, CBS Sports and Harold Bryant serves as Executive Producer of CBS Sports. The show will originate from the CBS Broadcast Center in New York City.

 

* * * * *

 

CBS Sports Contacts: Mariel Brady     212-975-5373  mariel.brady@cbs.com

                                 Jerry Caraccioli 212-975-7466  gwcaraccioli@cbs.com

Coinage!

The race for the "Big Apple" should yield plenty of twists and turns. Buckle in!

The race for the “Big Apple” should yield plenty of twists and turns. Buckle in!

ARIZONA CARDINALS: (5-11) 2013 O/U: 5.5 Will a brutal division offset a new head coach, new philosophy and new QB? Close call. I watched Carson Palmer up close with the Raiders, and the former #1 pick can still spin it. Larry Fitzgerald, enjoy your respite from your recent tortured past. Good enough to win more than 5.5 games? Yes. Good enough to matter from late November on? No. Verdict: OVER.

ATLANTA FALCONS: (13-3) 2013 O/U: 10 Previous playoff failures aside, Matt Ryan is entering a stretch in his career that will produce gaudy stats and plenty of wins. Enjoy the ride, Atlanta. This team is loaded, and SHOULD have been in New Orleans playing Baltimore last February for the Lombardi Trophy. Verdict: OVER.

BALTIMORE RAVENS: (10-6) 2013 O/U: 8.5 Speaking of Baltimore, congrats to a great organization and terrific fan base on an amazing run towards glory. Now, hold on to that feeling when things go awry this season, because they will. Too many injuries and other defections to overcome. Verdict: UNDER

BUFFALO BILLS: (6-10) 2013 O/U: 6.5 The Bills last winning season came in 2004. The perpetual rebuild continues: new HC, new QB’s, etc. I’m rolling Missouri-style when it comes to this team: SHOW ME. They’re intriguing, but until they actually crack thru, I’m not buying anything Bills related. Verdict: UNDER, but close and by all accounts, they’re slowly emerging from the abyss. SHOW ME. 

CAROLINA PANTHERS: (7-9) 2013 O/U: 7 I’m a Cam Newton fan, period. Verdict: Over, 8-8.

CHICAGO BEARS: (10-6) 2013 O/U 8.5 Jay Cutler, meet Marc Trestman. You’re going to like this guy, trust me. Verdict: OVER

CINCINNATI BENGALS: (10-6) 2013 O/U 8.5 On paper, Cincy has as much balance as anyone in the league. Vertical weapons at TE should make life easier for Andy Dalton and A.J. Green to connect on some quick strikes. Tough early schedule gives me pause, but this team is still ascending, and they were pretty good last season. Verdict: OVER.

CLEVELAND BROWNS:  (5-11) 2013 O/U 6 See, Buffalo Bills. Verdict: UNDER, but improving.

DALLAS COWBOYS:  (8-8) 2013 O/U: 8.5 New contract, new play-caller…same old Tony Romo? Tough division, and given RG III’s injury and questions for Big Blue on defense, I’m expecting a revival in Big D. Verdict: OVER, but tread lightly.

DENVER BRONCOS: (13-3) 2013 O/U: 11.5 Peyton Manning + Wes Welker + Oakland + San Diego = wins. Verdict: OVER.

DETROIT LIONS: (4-12) 2013 O/U 8 Better balance for Matthew Stafford with Reggie Bush on the scene, allowing more methodical drives, which in theory, should keep the defense off the field more than last season. Last year was a disaster, but clearly, this team has the talent to win double figures. Verdict: OVER, barely. 9-7, 10-6 feels right for this squad. 

Leader of the Pack.

Leader of the Pack.

GREEN BAY PACKERS: (11-5) 2013 O/U: 10.5 Are they getting better or are they beginning to level out? Tough call. This is one I’d probably stay away from given the conflict between my brain and my eyes. The last time I watched this team play, they couldn’t tackle a QB. Granted a very, very fast QB, but a QB nonetheless. They were shredded at the ‘Stick, yet my brain says Aaron Rodgers will once again dominate the regular season. Verdict: Over, with sincere hesitation. Translation: stay away.

HOUSTON TEXANS: (12-4) 2013 O/U: 10.5 Plenty of horses, but last season’s swoon should be reason for slight concern as the Texans dropped 3/4 to close out the regular season. Are you truly a Matt Schaub believer? I’m not. Verdict: UNDER, but close. 

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: (11-5) 2013 O/U: 8.5 Seamless transition for Andrew Luck, who never stopped winning after leaving beautiful Palo Alto. However, there were more than a few charitable bounces that Indy cashed in. What happens if they bounce the other way this season? Are they good enough to close the gap. If it’s my money, I’m leaning towards no. Verdict: UNDER.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: (2-14) 2013 O/U: 5 Would you risk a penny on any team with real, legitimate QB concerns? Of course not. Verdict: UNDER, as the Blaine Gabbert “era” officially ends.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: (2-14) 2013 O/U: 7.5 Plenty of talent for Andy Reid, and Alex Smith should stabilize the circus that emerged under center last season. How bad was Matt Cassel? Wow. As long as they don’t ask Smith to shoulder too much, the Chiefs should be much improved. I watched Smith mature with my own eyes in the Bay Area, and while I recognize some obvious physical limitations, he’s smart and tough. Exactly what this franchise needs right now. Verdict: OVER, Wild-Card threat in AFC.

MIAMI DOLPHINS: (7-9) 2013 O/U 8 Very, very tough call. All summer I’ve positioned Miami as a Wild-Card threat in the AFC, but O-line issues might be too big to overcome. One thing working for Miami (aside from a fair amount of talent) is the dearth of talent in their own division. They should bag enough wins to push the number past 8. I’m sticking with my instincts here. Verdict: OVER

MINNESOTA VIKINGS: (10-6) 2013 O/U: 7.5 I could be wrong, but the 2012 Vikes felt and looked like a team that somehow stumbled upon 10 wins. While that might be unfair and a 2.5 drop in wins represents a radical twist, I think they are “capable” enough to do just that. Verdict: UNDER, not sold at all. 

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: (12-4) 2013 O/U: 11 I’ll just save everyone the trouble: it’s over. The league has changed quite a bit since ’05, the last time the Pats hoisted the big one. Respect Brady immensely, and they should once again win the division, but the erosion is obvious. Why is everyone so afraid to say it? Prediction: UNDER, 10-6.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: (7-9) 2013 O/U: 9 They won 7 games without Sean Payton, which means they’ll win at least 2 more with Sean Payton. Love the fact that it’s an even 9. I like this play quite a bit. Prediction: OVER.

NEW YORK GIANTS: (9-7) 2013 O/U: 9 I like the fact that the 9 stands alone here as .5 would probably force me to go the other way. Terrific coaching, team pride and QB play should push the number north of 9. If not, a push looks more likely than a loss here. This team always bounces back under Coughlin. Right? Verdict: OVER. I think.

NEW YORK JETS: (6-10) 2013 O/U: 6.5 I like the Jets defense quite a bit and if Chris Ivory stays healthy, along with Bilal Powell they should be able to run the ball with enough efficiency to surprise a few teams. The sooner Mark Sanchez disappears, the better. Is Geno Smith the real deal? Regardless, an overall dearth of talent at the skill positions makes this offense pedestrian, at best. Verdict: OVER, BARELY (or complete implosion)

OAKLAND RAIDERS: (4-12) 2013 O/U: 5.5 GM Reggie McKenzie is gutting the roster, and understandably so. Things are real bad in Oakland. By deleting bloated contracts and underachieving, lazy veterans the cupboards will slowly fill with hungry, viable NFL talent. The question is, will Dennis Allen be around to enjoy the fruits of his GM’s purge? My gut says no. This team is terrible.  Al Davis was lost for a decade, and it shows. Verdict: UNDER

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: (4-12) 2013 O/U: 7.5 By early October, Chip Kelly will be reaching into his own pocket, hoping to book Bowling Green for a layup win. Tough camp for Philly as injuries and Riley Cooper’s stupidity have dominated the NovaCare Complex. Who’s playing QB, by the way? Verdict: UNDER

PITTSBURGH STEELERS: (8-8) 2013 O/U: 9 I want to respect the logo, they’ve earned it. The Raven’s stumble could open the door for a revival in Pittsburgh, and at the very least, inspires enough to lay a little wood on the Steel Dawgs. Verdict: OVER, barely.

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: (7-9) 2013 O/U: 7.5 What the heck happened to Phillip Rivers’ career? He should rebound, but not enough to invest any real coin in the Bolts. Tough call. Verdict: UNDER

Less posing minus Crabtree?

Less posing minus Crabtree?

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: (11-4-1) 2013 O/U: 11 They’ll miss Crabtree and Dashon Goldson, but Jim Harbaugh is a brilliant head coach, and he has a great locker room. This team loves football, and has strong interior play on both sides of the ball. Love Kaepernick, but Boldin’s odometer is running high and the division is getting better. They desperately need a young WR to emerge. Verdict: UNDER, but a playoff lock and viable threat for the title. 10-6 sounds right.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: (11-5) 2013 O/U: 10.5 Last time Seattle played the 49ers, they beat them to a bloody pulp. It’s the kind of loss that empowers one franchise and possibly raises question for another. Another playoff lock, I think they edge out SF for the division by a game. Verdict: OVER, legit.

ST. LOUIS RAMS: (7-8-1) 2013 O/U: 7.5 Ignore the sub-500 mark from 2012 for a moment, as it doesn’t tell the entire story. This team improved as the year progressed, and oh yeah, by the way, also had the best divisional record: 4-1-1. Sam Bradford remains the key, but Fisher will have this team ready to roll after laying the foundation last season. Ascending. Verdict: OVER.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: (7-9) 2013 O/U: 7.5 Interesting offseason for Tampa, as Greg Schiano and ownership drew a line in the sand for Josh Freeman: it’s time. I like Freeman, always have, and think he responds nicely. Improved field position courtesy of a revamped secondary will help. I’m buying the Bucs. Verdict: OVER, and playoffs.

TENNESSEE TITANS: (6-10)  2013 O/U: 6.5 Aggressive play by Tennessee in FA tilts the needle in the right direction, and given the small bump in wins, I’m inclined to roll the dice and push the number to 7, possibly 8. They’re not as bad as most people position them to be. Verdict: OVER, barely.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS: (10-6) 2013: 8.5 RG III is great for football, and like everyone else, I’m rooting for a quick and full recovery for the second year star from Baylor. That knee, however, has been problematic for quite some time. When it comes to green, I’m rolling with my head over emotion and sentiment and I’m simply not convinced he’ll hold up for the  duration of the season. Plenty of holes on the roster. Verdict: UNDER

*Team record from 2012 in ( ), followed by updated Vegas Over/Under projected win totals in ’13.

***If you take this too seriously, you’re insane.

Prove it!

Quick, name an NFL QB without pressure. Impossible. Whether it’s aging icons like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning or developing neophytes like Luck and and Wilson, when it comes to the shield, no one one’s safe from the unrelenting spotlight. Had a good season? Great, have a better one this year. Finally brought your franchise back to the playoffs? Terrific, now get to the conference championship.

In attempting to quantify the pressures certain QB’s face entering the ’13 season, I used one pretty simple gauge: which players could have the course of their careers permanently altered if they stumble badly beginning in September? With that in mind, I automatically disqualified last season’s rookie crop: Luck, RG III, Wilson and Tannehill are safe. Regardless of what this season yields, they’re already locked in as starters for the ’14 season.

Immediately, Tony Romo came to mind, but let’s face it: I could have written this piece three years ago with the same result. Even with all of his miscues, in Dallas, his armor is impenetrable. Win, lose or draw there never appears to be any real consequence for Romo, unless of course you count contract extensions. His head coach of course, is another story.

With all of the whispers coming from Tampa, it’s impossible not to study Josh Freeman. I believe in Freeman and expect his play to mute the groans and silence his critics, so I eliminated him.

Sure, I’d like to see Andy Dalton take another step forward, particularly with his deep routes, and with another weapon at TE, the microscope is out, to an extent. Is he merely very good, or is he a superstar? Either way, safe. The Jaguars simply drafted the wrong guy in Blaine Gabbert as did the Vikes with Christian Ponder, so I won’t waste anyone’s time there. Eli and Big Ben, multiple rings, safe regardless. Philip Rivers’ implosion the last two seasons is a head scratcher, but I attribute that to other factors and for the most part, exonerate the former NC State star. He still resonates enough, barely, for him to avoid the heat of this column.

I’ve never truly been a huge Matt Schaub fan, and while I’ve always gone against the grain and supported Jay Cutler, his talents alone will keep him around, somewhere, for a while. Joe Flacco and Matthew Stafford, armed with new deals and lofty expectations, will invariably have to fend off a few detractors at certain points this season, same with Cam Newton in Carolina, who by the way, will deliver. As always, there’s a revolving door under center in Buffalo and Oakland, and while the Bills situation is less intriguing to me, I strongly considered Matt Flynn, before ultimately passing. We know Matt, you tossed 6 TD’s a few years ago in a meaningless game, cashed out and haven’t been heard from since. Wake me when he’s actually relevant, which quite frankly, will probably be never.

Aaron Rodgers remains the best all-around QB in football and until one of the kids fully ripens, that title appears safe for another few seasons. Is Drew Brees still a Hall of Fame QB, or will there be a trace of attrition? Can Matty Ice take the next step? I’ll keep an eye on Carson Palmer in Arizona, now that he’s finally paired with an elite WR again, and while they could surprise, there’s not enough happening in Tennessee or Cleveland to make me loook twice, not yet anyway.

Michael Vick could easily headline my short list of QB’s facing the most pressure entering September, but quite frankly, it’s 50/50 that he departs Lehigh’s campus with a starting job, so he gets a reprieve for now. That ship has sailed.

For a select few, it’s less about money and glory, and more about salvation. Can they regain the wheel of their career or veer off into a very undesirable exit on the NFL Freeway. It’s called Obscurity Avenue.

sam-bradford

Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams: I like Bradford quite a bit. Talented kid, but there’s one very important stain on the former #1 overall pick’s resume: his W/L record. While the NFC West is now undeniably the strongest in football, for most of his career, it was irrefutably among the worst. Yet, entering his 4th season, Bradford’s career mark is a ghastly 15-26-1. While his TD/INT ratio is relatively solid, his overall efficiency lags behind many of his peers. Franchise QB’s connect on more than 60% of their pass attempts, plain and simple. The kid has the requisite tools, and he still has my support, but it’s time. He finally has the coach and a nice toy in 1st round stud Tavon Austin, plus with FA import Jake Long locking down his blind side, he’ll have time to throw. At the end of the day, QB’s are judged on how many games they win versus how many games they lose. He needs to start stuffing a more W’s in the left-hand column. Simply put, Bradford needs to prove that he’s not a bust. Will the real Sam Bradford stand up? Or perhaps, he already has?

Can Smith win without Harbaugh? We'll find out soon.

Can Smith win without Harbaugh? We’ll find out soon.

Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs: Since being drafted #1 overall by the 49ers in 2005, two Alex Smiths have emerged: Alex Smith without Jim Harbaugh and Alex Smith with Jim Harbaugh and boy, they are two very, very different players. Without Harbaugh maniacally patrolling the sidelines, Smith’s first five seasons in the Bay yielded the following results: 2-5, 7-9, 2-5, 5-5 and 3-7. Following Dr. Jim’s rehabilitation, Smith rallied to win 19 of 25 games before having the plug pulled in favor of Colin Kaepernick last season. Yet, plenty of questions linger. Can Smith win without an elite defense? Remember, short fields equal fewer risks and fewer risks equate to fewer turnovers. What happens when he has to fling it 35-40 times on the road? He’s a smart kid, and a lot tougher than people give him credit for, but can he win without Harbaugh holding his hand? The training wheels are off, and Alex Smith needs to prove that he can play. I wouldn’t bet too much on Smith, personally. 

Fewer butt-encounters and more TD's must he on the menu for Sanchez to remain in New York.

Fewer butt-encounters and more TD’s must be on the menu for Sanchez to remain in New York.

Mark Sanchez, New York Jets: I have to admit, Sanchez tricked me. Looked the part, won a few games early, made some big throws on the road, in tough venues, in the playoffs. The problem with the former USC star, is that not a single part of his game is clearly above-average. His arm is solid strength, but he doesn’t have a blaster. At one point, his accuracy was developing nicely, but his mechanics dissolved and he now resembles a helpless pitcher aiming the ball. He’s a good athlete, but not nearly dynamic enough to actually have to game plan against outside of the pocket. But most disconcerting to the organization is his inability to lead other grown men, which at this level, is paramount. Santonio Holmes and others poisoned a winning culture, and Sanchez did nothing to stop it. At the end of the day, he’s an average QB with poor leadership skills. The Jets drafted Geno Smith for a reason and with Rex Ryan’s rope fraying to the core, Sanchez is out of chances. Stand up, put up and deliver, or get bounced from New York. Mark Sanchez needs to prove that he’s more substance than show. Simply stated, he needs to prove that he’s a starting QB in the NFL. My opinion? He trips early and stays on the canvas.

Prove it.

BT’s “6 pack of picks” Version 8.0

Maintaining Jedi-like focus during World Series nuttiness has proven difficult for many mere mortals in the Bay. Lucky for you, my middle name is Obi, nickname Wan.

Let’s blast Week 8, Solo-style, shall we?

Season to date: 23-18-1 ATS

Last week: 5-1 ATS

Week 8 picks: (home team in CAPS)

New Orleans Saints (+6) over DENVER BRONCOS: Work this sizable line to your favor and bank on a solid effort from a decaying but still proud team getting nearly a full TD. Strap in for a shootout in Mile High, and while there’s a pretty good chance the home team emerges with the “W,” Brees and the Saints keep it tight and secure a cover.

NEW YORK JETS (-2.5) over Miami Dolphins: Plenty of smack hitting the walls leading up to this one, which suits Rex Ryan’s squad just fine. New York rewarded me two weeks ago by blasting the Colts and also handled their business against the Pats, easily covering a double digit number. I like Ryan Tannehill, and Miami is improving, but the Jets get this one at the gun, and cover the number yet again.

ST. LOUIS RAMS (+7) over New England Patriots: I’m banking on the Giselle’s stumbling into some late-night, off-the-radar drug-feuled orgy bash in London tonight, which should lead to a tired and uncharacteristically sloppy Tommy B on Sunday. It’s the only way I’m able to rationalize this pick, quite frankly. Just a gut play, nothing more. Move along.

Carolina Panthers and CHICAGO BEARS UNDER 43.5: The Bears are very good, the Carolina Panthers are not. Even worse, their freakishly gifted QB has some serious body language and leadership issues. Not good. Bears put the squeeze down on D, keeping this one under en route to the win.

Just because.

DALLAS COWBOYS and New York Giants over 47.5: These games in Big D are always fun and usually involve plenty of  4th quarter fireworks. Unfortunately for Dallas, Eli is almost always the one holding the match and the fuse. This game has 50+ points written all over it. Roll with the over kids.

TENNESSEE TITANS (-3.5) over Indianapolis Colts: Soft Colts run defense + rejuvenated Chris Johnson = tough day for Indy on the road.

BT’s “6 pack of picks” Version 6.0

Only a matter of time kids…

Riding high after consecutive 4-2 weeks ATS, pushing my season record above the break even point for the first time in ’12.

Lucky for you, I plan on staying there.

Was considering an additional play of over/under 2.5 K’s for A-Rod tonight, but quite frankly, I’m not even sure if he plays. Sit him, Joe!

Good luck, and remember: never up, never in.

Last week: 4-2

Season to date: 15-13-1

Week 6 picks: (home team in CAPS)

Cincinnati Bengals -2 over CLEVELAND BROWNS: The relatively small number is simply too inviting to pass up given the current state of the Browns defense. Cleveland ranks 29th in total yards allowed per game (423) and have been lit up to the tune of nearly 30 points per game. After tripping vs Miami, Andy Dalton and AJ Green absolutely need to cash in, and they’ll do just that, on the road.

NEW YORK JETS -3 over Indianapolis Colts: Despite heavy criticism, I rode Gang Green last week against the Houston Texans, and was rewarded nicely on the national stage. This week, I’m flipping to a different chapter from the same psychological playbook as the Jets extend their season with a win at home. While the Jets lack the talent to win the division, some proud holdovers remain from recent back to back AFC Championship Game teams. The Colts conversely, are rebuilding and understandably emotionally spent after fighting so hard last week for their ailing head coach. New York wins ugly, covering the 3 spot in the process. 

Redemption?

SAN FRANCISCO 49ers -6.5 over New York Giants: Last season, the better team represented the NFC in the Super Bowl. The Giants were more diverse and explosive on offense and pounced on the Niners offensive limitations (and uncharacteristic mistakes). The script has changed. The 49ers run the ball with great proficiency and Alex Smith continues to evolve with more weapons on the perimeter. Colin Kaepernick is a dangerous wrinkle for Jim Harbaugh, while the defense handles the rest. Mix in a some O-line issues for the Giants and Hakeem Nicks’ injury, and the Giants fall hard Sunday in the Bay. Revenge.

Denver Broncos and SAN DIEGO CHARGERS over 49.5: Both teams allow a fair amount of yards and are vulnerable to the big play, which strongly appeals to the over in what should be a fun shootout between Manning and Rivers. Cha-ching!

ATLANTA FALCONS -9 over Oakland Raiders: For most teams, the bye week is a terrific opportunity to regenerate  and reposition for a lengthy stretch run. For the Raiders, it was merely a brief respite from getting pummeled. The Raiders have a lot of work to do, and it doesn’t get any easier here. The comfy confines of the Georgia Dome along with a fast track makes this a nightmare for an Oakland secondary pieced together with spit and tape. If Ryan Tannehill and Brian Hartline had their way in Week 2 (35-13 Miami win), what happens here? Laying 9 points is always unsettling, but in this case, it shouldn’t be. Mismatch.

St. Louis Rams + 3.5 over MIAMI DOLPHINS: As expected, Jeff Fisher’s team is growing more efficient in small increments and improving weekly. Very quietly the Rams are riding the wave of a hot streak winning 3 of 4, including consecutive division wins over Seattle and Arizona. Expect a low scoring game in South Beach decided by 3 points either way, which makes the extra .5 very appealing. Follow this line over the weekend, as a Money Line play could provide nice value if you like the Rams as much as I do here.

BT’s “6 pack of picks” Version 5.0

Admittedly, I was concerned.

For the first few weeks of the NFL season, I had about as much control over my picks as Jim Lehrer  had during Wednesday’s Presidential Debate: none.

I was in a slump, trying to mechanically fight my out of it, rather than simply trusting my instincts.

Lucky for you, the back of my baseball card is pretty good.

At the end of the day, you just have to tee it up, let ‘er fly, and deal with the consequences.

I’m back in the short stuff.

Last week: 4-2

Season to date: 11-12-1

Week 5 picks: (home team in CAPS)

Chicago Bears -4.5 over JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS After Monday’s beat down in Big D, the Bears roll into Jacksonville winners of 3 of  4 with a chance to cash in against a spotty team with an apathetic fan base. The Jags are dead last in sacks, getting to the QB just twice thus far. That means one thing: less pressure on Jay Cutler, ensuring that “Good” Jay shows up and leads the team to a relatively stress-free win.

Cleveland Browns +8.5 over NEW YORK GIANTS I’ve seen the Giants choke on this type of number numerous times over the past decade or so. The Giants are the better team and should find a way to pull it out in the end. However, the Cleveland’s defense, Trent Richardson and some key NYG injuries make it way too risky to lay a touchdown plus. Give me the Brownies to cover the number.

Legend vs. Legend

Denver Broncos and NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS over 51.5 Honestly, I’m far from convinced that Peyton Manning’s arm strength has returned  as much as so many talking heads yakked about this week. If they actually watched the game, rather than being fooled by the numbers, they would know that precious few of those 30 completions traveled very far in the air. The Broncs were aided by an embarrassing Raiders defense, making Peyton look better than he actually was. Still, these two iconic QB’s should find a way to shine enough to tilt the number over. Barely.

CINCINNATI BENGALS -3 over Miami Dolphins: Nice matchup of two very talented, young QB’s. Lucky for Andy Dalton, his WR’s are simply more advanced and explosive than Ryan Tannehill’s weapons. Add it all up, and the Bengals pick up win # 4 on the year. If you’re concerned with the cover, buying .5 point should quell those fears. With a small spread, take the better team at home every time.

NEW YORK JETS + 8 over Houston Texans: By no means am I fooled or leaning toward this pick with my heart. This one is pure business. The Jets are brutal, and it’s only going to get worse. Without Revis and Holmes (and a running game, and a natural pass rush, and an accurate QB and…) the season is absolutely over. However, every proud dog has his day, and with the entire nation watching, the Jets rally, ride emotion, and find a way to stick around and lose late. But they cover.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS and Buffalo Bills over 44.5: Bills have to be a bit demoralized after squandering a 21-7 home lead last week against the Pats, while the Niners are pumped to return to home turf after a lengthy two week roadie. The crowd will be howling and the defense greased up, which should lead to a few Ryan Fitzpatrick miscues. Short fields = points, while points = OVERS.

 

BT’s “6 pack of picks” Version 4.0

Baby steps.

While the Steelers late nap in Oakland robbed me of a momentum-building 4-2 week, at this point, I will settle for 3-3. The Jets and Chiefs rewarded my faith, while the Redskins and Bengals combined to nail the over in the Nation’s Capital. Took a flier on the Rams in Chicago and was rightfully burned, and while the Ravens knocked off the Pats, they failed to cover the number. That’s .500 in any language, folks.

Before diving into this week’s picks, how about a hearty “Welcome back!” to the zebras. You were sorely missed.

Last week: 3-3

Season to date: 7-10-1

Week 4 picks (home team in CAPS)

New England Patriots (-4) over BUFFALO BILLS: Injuries have ravaged the backfield for the boys from Western New York, leaving them one-dimensional against the mad scientist. Advantage, Pats. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick has struggled mightily in this rivalry, combining for 11 INT’s in his last 4 games against NE. If Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller were healthy, the line and the outcome might very well be different. If. I like the Pats to pull away on the road.

San Francisco 49ers (-3.5) over NEW YORK JETS UNDER 41.5: Interesting stat on Alex Smith: Of the NFL’s 32 quarterbacks who have thrown at least 30 passes, only Buffalo’s Ryan Fitzpatrick has attempted fewer of at least 20 yards than Smith. Minus Revis Island, you would imagine that changes on Sunday in New Jersey. The Jets don’t run the ball well against average defenses, let alone stout, disciplined ones like SF. The Niners are very good and very focused following last week’s head scratcher in Minny. Not a good look for a Jets team with 7-9, 8-8 written all over it. By the way, who exactly covers Vernon Davis? Ugggggh.

New Orleans Saints (+7.5) over GREEN BAY PACKERS:  No, I do not think the Saints rebound from such a dreadful start. They are cooked. I do, however, see enough cracks in GB’s armor to take the touchdown plus, hope for an early Drew Brees score and pray that they are able to hang on. Proud, experienced teams usually go down swinging, and I’m hoping Brees and the offense have a few haymakers in reserve to reward this play.

Oakland Raiders and DENVER BRONCOS OVER 48.5: Is it rust, or is this simply the new Peyton Manning? The answer is probably somewhere in the middle, and he should improve as he gains chemistry and familiarity with his new ‘mates. The Raiders secondary, while game down the stretch vs Pitt, remains a week-to-week issue and is in for a long season. They simply lack the horses to keep things in the high teens. However, I like what I saw from Carson Palmer last week, and a 64 yard scoot from RUN DMC should keep the box stacked, opening things up downfield. Fun game, shootout. Enjoy.

Cincinnati Bengals (-2.5) over JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: The Jags are always dangerous because MJD is capable of exploding for 150 + against anyone in the league. That threat alone makes this one, on the surface, a bit of a risky play. However, Jacksonville’s defense ranks 28th in the NFL, which means AJ Green could flirt with 2 bills on the day. I viewed Cincy as a playoff team in August and I view them as a playoff team entering October. Playoff teams find ways to win games like this.

Washington Redskins and TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS OVER 47.5: Tough to ignore certain trends, and on this one, I’m working the numbers to my advantage. The ‘Skins average 33 ppg and the Bucs average 20. Add it up, and ding, we have a winner. Defensively, Washington allows 33.7 ppg while Schiano’s crew allows 22.3 ppg. Add it up, and ding, we have a winner. Or at least, we should have a winner.

 

A Crack in the Shield

It’s pretty hard to compromise perfection. Yet, for some inexplicable reason, the NFL appears focused on doing just that, tinkering with the secret sauce that long ago propelled the shield to the top of the sporting landscape.

Baseball? Too slow. Steroids and other PED’s coupled with a massive discrepancy in payrolls and an inept Commissioner, and an entire generation of fans have been irreparably alienated.

Hoops? It’s regressed into one-on-one showmanship, with little regard for team concept. Sure, the playoffs are great, but for the most part, just 2-4 teams have legitimate championship aspirations. Flip on the last few minutes of most games, and you’ll pick up on the story lines. Think a few hard-working people were turned off by Lebron’s moronic soap opera?

Hockey? A) it’s not even our sport and B) it translates poorly to TV.

Golf? It’s for the affluent, and it lacks personality. There are no distinct swings anymore and coupled with Tiger’s demise and Phil’s empty season, the fringe fan has already checked out.

Then there’s football, a riveting combination of sheer strength and grace, agility and bone-rattling hits. Impact plays covering 60 plus yards long ago replaced three yards and a cloud of dust. The league is no longer about passing out of necessity, it’s about passing to survive.

Economically, salary caps and TV contracts support an even playing field. The Bills and the Jaguars, in theory, can compete with the Giants and the Cowboys. It’s worked for years, and we inhale everything about the sport.

Team gear, sports bars dedicated to specific teams and fan bases, tailgating, NFL Sunday Ticket, Red Zone, Fantasy Football, offshore accounts and daily highlight shows long ago sucked us in.

However, beyond the ineptitude of the current crop of replacement refs, the NFL is slowly losing its edge, and unless the league acknowledges and eventually corrects the spider crack on the windshield, one of the best products, ever, is in danger of losing everything it worked so hard to protect.

It starts here:

FREQUENCY: The NFL has always had a built-in advantage over other sports, as we were always thirsting for more. However,  in the quest to dominate the sports landscape even further, the suits may have missed the boat by actually watering down their golden goose. The beauty of football has always been the palpable emotion that each snap brings, something no other sport can remotely replicate. The ability to dial-up the emotion once a week before decompressing and ultimately dialing the meter back up the following week was tactically brilliant. However, 12 hours of football on Sunday, followed by 4 more on Monday, followed by 4 more on Thursday has created football overload. Suddenly, Sundays feel a little less…special. And over time, that can’t possibly be a good thing.

PACE:  Part of the fuel behind the NFL’s engine is the way the pace  of the game seemed to organically shift with the changing pace of society. It’s been a tremendous asset. Why stand in line at my bank when I can simply deposit a check at an ATM? Heck, I’ll just snap a picture of my check on my smart phone and download it right into my account from  my couch. Immediate gratification. Contrast that to the methodical (yet still beautiful) pace of baseball. Pitcher stares in for a sign, shakes off his catcher several times, pauses and runs thru the signs again. Subsequently, the batter requests time from the ump; the batter then steps out of the box, scans the field, plays with his batting glove, adjusts his cup, tugs on his helmet, all while the pitcher circles the mound, wipes the sweat from him brow, climbs back on top of the hill, toes the rubber, and runs thru the signs. Again. I just stared at a screen for 47 seconds, yet nothing of significance occurred, at least nothing that actually impacts the game. As a viewer, what is my reward for investing my time in that product? In my case, I’m the sucker, as I’m genuinely a baseball fan, so I’m in. But what about the rest of the world? They’ve moved on. Yet, with replay and so many touch backs on kickoffs, the NFL has foolishly managed to slow down a locomotive. Every year, the games get longer, while our collective attention spans decrease. Never a good combination.

FEROCITY: I’ll be totally honest: as long as a player wasn’t motionless on the ground and God forbid, possibly paralyzed, I never gave much thought to injuries.  Clearly, if it affected my team, yes, I was emotionally invested, but for the most part, the bigger the car crash, the better. I ruptured my Achilles a few years ago and had Tommy John surgery in college, so I’ve always been aware of the physics and kinesiology of sport. But it’s jumped to an entirely new level the past few years now that the brain has become such a central part of the game and the coverage. It humanizes athletes who for so many decades, seemed beyond physical reproach. I actually am turning away from some of the brutal hits, which ironically, was a magnet to initially tune in so many years ago. Aren’t we supposed to escape reality for a few hours when tuning into a sporting event? I’m sorry, but seeing players removed from the field and carted off has no appeal for me.

GAMBLING: Sure, there were millions of dollars lost last night due to the egregious mistake by the referees on the last play. Still, I’m not sure how many people truly realize just how much was impacted by that one mistake. Some bet the Packers straight up, on the money line: loss. Others laid a few points: loss. But what about all of those casinos, websites and street hustlers who took parlays and reverses and round robins and teasers with the Packers as one of the elements needed for a win? It’s tough enough sweating out a 3 teamer under normal circumstances, imagine being 2 for 2 and then losing like that? If people no longer believe their dollar will be rewarded, at the very least, with integrity and accuracy from the officials, why bet? What if you had the Packers Defense/Special teams last night? It seems small, but let’s face it: gambling has been the NFL’s best friend for decades.

Personally, I’m not sure how you reverse this. Yes, I have a few ideas, but I’ll leave that one up to the NFL. They were intelligent enough to transform the shield into the beast of all logos. Now it’s time to hit the lab and make sure they keep it there.

Right now, for myriad reasons, it’s leaking fuel.

Fast.

BT’s “6 pack of picks” Version 3.0

Pass the match.

I recommend you either A) completely ignore these picks or B) pick the exact opposite.

Last week: 2-3-1

Season to date: 4-7-1

Week 3: (home team in CAPS)

New York Jets (-2.5) over MIAMI DOLPHINS: Two words: Revis Island. Rex Ryan will confuse the talented but very inexperienced Ryan Tannehill from the opening series. Something tells me Brian Hartline will revert back to being Brian Hartline. This isn’t the Raiders secondary, it’s the Jets. For additional fodder, Tim Tebow punches in his first TD of the season for Gang Green.

Kansas City Chiefs (+9) over NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: In attempting to correct a tactical mistake on my end two weeks in, rather than sweating out big point spreads without much reward, I’m taking two scores worth for the ‘dogs and hoping for the best. I know KC is better than they’ve shown thus far, but quite frankly, I’m not so sure about New Orleans. Eventually, it’s going to click for the Chiefs…I think.

No one said it was easy.

Pittsburgh Steelers (-4) over OAKLAND RAIDERS: Thus far, the Raiders are absolutely the worst team in football. Penalties, coupled with an inability to transition to a new blocking scheme makes this an easy call. Mix in a band-aid secondary and this should be a very strong play. While a cross country jaunt is always a factor, it’s early enough in the season where Pittsburgh is fresh, and should pounce early. Optimism is fading fast in the East Bay, and suddenly, you sense this has the potential to bottom out for the Silver and Black. Get that draft board ready, Reggie!

BALTIMORE RAVENS (-3) over New England Patriots: Strange happenings up in Foxboro, as Wes Welker is slowly phased out of the offense. There are probably more appealing games to reach for since it’s always dicey betting against Brady. However, the Ravens are the class of the AFC, and will be highly motivated after last week’s loss in Philly. No need to over think this one. I’m rolling with the better team, and that’s Baltimore.

St. Louis Rams (+7.5) over CHICAGO BEARS: The Rams are quickly taking on Jeff Fisher’s feisty personality, just ask RG III. I still think Chicago is pretty decent, despite Cutler’s antics on Monday night against the Packers. They may rally the troops, or they could be staring at a divided locker room. I’ll split the difference and take the home team, in a close one, as the points work in your favor.

Cincinnati Bengals and WASHINGTON REDSKINS over 49: Not sure if you noticed, but the Browns exploited Cincy’s D last week. Yup, the Browns. That, coupled with some devastating news on the injury front to Washington’s defense, and the score board should get worked over early and often.

 

 

BT’s “6 pack of picks” Version 2.0

Pleading for civility in Week 2. Yeah, right!

Week 1: 2-4 ATS

Season to date: 2-4

Week 2: (home team in CAPS)

CINCINNATI BENGALS (-6.5) over Cleveland Browns: Simply put, I like the ingredients at play in this one. An angry team with playoff pedigree coming off an embarrassing loss on national TV, in their home opener, against a terrible Browns team with an overmatched rookie QB under center. Yes, Andy Dalton took some licks on Monday night, but he’s young, and good, and should bounce back in a big way.

Baltimore Ravens (+2) over PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: Speaking of nationally televised beat downs, how impressive did the Ravens look in Week 1? Wow. The Eagles, on paper, have enough weapons to certainly keep this close, and maybe even steal one, so tread lightly. However, the more I watch Philly, the less I like them. It’s pretty obvious, something is missing, and the Ravens, look more than capable of exploiting it.

What exactly is Michael Vick at this point in his career?

NEW YORK GIANTS (-7) over Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Plenty of issues in the secondary, but the Lombardi Trophy still resides in New Jersey. I think Big Blue takes a step back this year, and has intermittent struggles throughout, but all things considered, this simply can’t be one of them if they have any plans of defending their belt. 24-13 sounds about right.

Oakland Raiders (-2.5) over MIAMI DOLPHINS: Lost in the comedy of special teams errors Monday Night against the Chargers was the fact that the Raiders defense actually played pretty well (Tommy Kelly aside). High-flying WR Denarius Moore returns in a limited role, which should open things up for Carson Palmer. Once that happens, RUN DMC takes over in a big way. The Raiders are touting this as a must win game. They get it.

Dallas Cowboys (-3) over SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: Dallas is well rested and quite frankly, this is the type of game that could ultimately shape their season and playoff seeding in January. Seattle rates among the toughest venues in the NFL, but with a spruced up secondary, a healthy running game and big game weapons on the perimeter, look for Romo and company to emerge with an impressive double digit victory. If Dallas can’t jump on a rookie QB, are they really the threat most people think they are?

Denver Broncos / ATLANTA FALCONS over 51: Sit back, relax, grab your favorite snack and beverage, and enjoy the explosiveness of the modern day NFL. This one has 34-31 written all over it.

BT’s “6 Pack of Picks” Version 1.0

What lurks behind the curtain for Week # 1? 

Here we go again.

Buckle in for the inevitable roller-coaster of emotions. The all too rare easy covers,  the close but invigorating wins and too often, dreaded backdoor losses courtesy of an untimely fumble, missed FG or, and get ready for this: mind-blowing non-calls or a flurry of flags from overzealous scabs trying to make a mark.

What’s that you say, the “refs” did a great job Wednesday in New Jersey? Really? Well, that depends on your perspective. In some books, the over that night was 44.5. With 41 points combined in an impressive Dallas win, if your rode the over, you lost. However, if the refs threw the flag and called holding at the GL against Dallas and rightfully rewarded Victor Cruz, rather than settling for 3 points on that possession, the Giants probably punch it in for 7. 41 becomes 45 and yup, you guessed it: in many circles, the same bet produces a win rather than a loss, or at the very least for some, a push.

Just another calculation toward the pot of gold, but consider that my cautionary tale when putting scratch in the hands of 3rd grade teachers from Iowa. Tread lightly this weekend, gauge the field, establish trends. Trust me, these fellas will blow a few big ones.

Lucky for you, they won’t be able to mess up these games.

But as always, buckle in.

WEEK 1 (home team in CAPS)

1. Indianapolis Colts /CHICAGO BEARS (Over 43.5) Tough spot for Andrew Luck? Sure. But there are two very obvious things that will work to your advantage here: 1) the Bears are very talented and 2) so is Luck. Chicago should pull away and handle the majority of the heavy lifting in this one, but Luck’s eventual greatness shines thru just enough as the rook makes plays on the road to pop this puppy over the number.

2. Philadelphia Eagles (-9) over CLEVELAND BROWNS Pretty simple premise applied here: the Eagles are good, the Browns are terrible. Mix in the not-too-subtle pressure applied to Andy Reid’s job security and the fact that this entire roster felt the wrath all summer on the Philly airwaves, this group should be extremely motivated to play. Hopefully for Cleveland, Trent Richardson is the real deal, but either way, it won’t matter here. Not this week, and probably not this year.

Stare at this long enough, Dolphin fans should forget just how bad their team really is. Maybe.

3. HOUSTON TEXANS (-12) over Miami Dolphins I’m applying simple logic here and stacking the deck against a rookie QB (not named Luck) and a rookie head coach for a team with a dearth of offensive weapons. That team also happens to be on the road, against a conference heavyweight. Yeah, I’m expecting a blowout. Even if Miami’s D is stingy early on, and they are capable of doing just that, Houston eventually pulls away and pounds ’em, covering the big number with relative ease. 31-10 sounds about right.

4. Carolina Panthers (-2.5) over TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS I saw firsthand how Greg Schiano transformed a lifeless, moribund Rutgers program into a regional power with national cache, so I know the man can coach. I also believe that Josh Freeman is a lot better than he showed last season. In his second NFL season, he tossed 25 TD’s against only 6 INT’s, so the cupboard is hardly bare. However, Cam Newton is scary good and Carolina is poised to be a player in the WC hunt. Don’t see the Panthers boarding their short flight back to Carolina saddled with a loss in Week 1, not against this opponent. The 2.5 points makes it even more enticing. Might want to jump on this early, as I expect it to jump north to 4, 4.5 by kick. Great value now, get it.

5. DETROIT LIONS (-7.5) over St. Louis Rams: Eventually, the Rams will be good. Great hire bringing in Jeff Fisher to help connect the dots. Problem is, there are a mountain of dots, dots that stretch all the way into the infirmary. Big picture, Detroit remains a bit too immature and combustible to be viewed as a legit SB threat, but they are talented. Ford Field will be rockin’, and the best QB/WR duo in the NFL will send everyone home very, very happy.

6. Seattle Seahawks (-3) over ARIZONA CARDINALS: Definitely a bit risky riding a rookie (not named Luck) on the road in a divisional matchup, but if Seattle develops at the rate I expect them to this season, these are games you simply have to win. The Cards QB situation created a very strange vibe this summer, which in reality, was the exact opposite of the spirited and focused foundation Pete Carroll created entering ’12.

Just for bragging rights, of course.

The race is on!

EAST

1. Philadelphia Eagles (11-5) Like a rough Saturday night, I’ll probably regret this pick in the morning, but it’s impossible to ignore their talent. I’m not a big Michael Vick fan, but with immense pressure on Andy Reid to win, I’ll give the edge to a man who’s battled adversity his entire life, and more times than not, found a way to survive the flames of fandom in Philly. They can beat you on the ground, in the air, and after last season, should be starving for redemption.   Add it all up, and they’re the top dog in the East when the smoke clears.

2. Dallas Cowboys (9-7) Pretty fitting that “America’s Team” mirrors America itself, given it’s volatile and underachieving ways the past few seasons. The one area they needed to shore up was CB, and they did, signing FA Brandon Carr away from the Chiefs and drafting LSU stud Morris Claiborne. I think they drop the opener to the Giants, but should bounce back with wins in Weeks 2-3 against Seattle and Tampa. It’s always an adventure in Big D, but this year, the road finds the playoffs.

3. New York Giants (9-7) Yes, Eli Manning is officially entrenched as one of the best QB’s in football, and while Cruz and Nicks remain great targets, quietly, the Giants will miss Mario Manningham, who had a TD reception in all 3 playoff games leading up to the SB. Their pass rush is fierce and they are very well-c0ached, but the talent base is a bit overrated. They clawed their way into the playoffs after losing 7 regular season games. I can’t completely ignore that.

4. Washington Redskins (7-9) Looking forward to watching RG III transition to the NFL, and for the most part, I expect a pretty smooth ride for the former Baylor star. While the secondary remains suspect (not a good thing in this division), Washington’s front 7 is stout. They remain a year or two away, but you better tie your laces before kickoff against this team, otherwise, they’ll pick off a few decent teams.

NORTH

1. Green Bay Packers (13-3) Think they learned their lesson by sitting Aaron Rodgers in the regular season finale? They were stale and flat against the Giants, and it destroyed their season. Not sure if 15 wins is realistic again, but the Packers are the team to beat in the NFC, even though the Lombardi Trophy rests comfortably in New Jersey. Can Rodgers blow past 50 TD’s this season?

2. Chicago Bears (11-5) Absolutely love the way this team looks on paper headed into the season. Michael Bush was a nice addition behind RB Matt Forte and Brandon Marshall and Jay Cutler have undeniable chemistry. This team is legit, and if healthy are a lock to win double digit games and make life miserable for someone come playoff time. DANGEROUS.

3. Detroit Lions (9-7) Personally, I’m not sold. They’ll flip the scoreboard with Stafford to Mega Tron, but the Lions are a little too one-dimensional to reside in the upper-tier of a monster division. They ranked 22nd against the pass last year and 23rd stopping the run. Mix in some immaturity and off-field chaos, and I’ll pass on the boys from Motown this season. Elite? Hardly.

4. Minnesota Vikings (4-12) Here’s a great idea: even though we pretty much suck, let’s rush Adrian Peterson back! I’m sorry, but sometimes an organization needs to protect a player from himself, and the Vikings are failing to do that with AP. To be fair, I was initially lukewarm on Christian Ponder, but am slowly becoming a fan. Bottom-line: this is no division to rebuild in.

SOUTH

1. Atlanta Falcons (11-5) Simply put, it’s time for Matt Ryan to erase the donut in the column entitled “playoff wins.” This team has terrific balance, combining vertical explosion with the ability to stop the run (6th overall last season) How they react to two new coordinators very well should determine whether Atlanta is merely good, or legitimately in the mix come mid/late January. I’m leaning towards the latter.

2. New Orleans Saints (9-7) Yes, Drew Brees is great, and yes, Drew Brees runs the huddle like a coach, but there is a fine line between having coaching characteristics and actually being a coach. Mix in suspensions and free agent defections and the Bayou will lack the energy of the last few football seasons. The window has shut, my friends.

3. Carolina Panthers (8-8) Raise your hand if you ever encountered an athlete like Cam Newton in the schoolyard growing up? Didn’t think so. Good God, what laboratory was this prodigy created in? Yes, he’s really that good. Here’s something else that’s pretty good in Carolina: the LB’ers. Still a year or two away, but you just know that eventually, Newton and Carolina will be hosting a few NFC Title games.

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-10) On one hand, I really like the addition of Vincent Jackson. Smart move getting Josh Freeman a sorely needed weapon. However, given Greg Schiano’s penchant for running the ball, I’m not sure how much they’ll actually utilize him. Seems like a strange fit, no? As for Freeman, the kid can play, and in my opinion, last season’s step back is a temporary trip, not a foreshadow of his career arch. Rebuilding.

WEST

1. San Francisco 49ers (10-6) The Niners were pretty damn good last year, and the additions of Randy Moss and Mario Manningham should create better balance on offense. Defensively, this is the best unit in football, and special teams remains one of the elite units in football. There are very few holes, but for this team to take the next step, they’ll need better QB play and personally, I’m not sprinting to the window in Vegas to lay money on Alex Smith. The red zone and 3rd stats need to improve significantly. The real pressure begins now for # 11. The Niners could win the SB or regress significantly from 13 wins. I reside somewhere in the middle. 10 wins and capable of beating any team in football.

2. Seattle Seahawks (9-7) Personally, I thought Pete Carroll did a fantastic job last season, turning over a roster and improving greatly as the season progressed. The team that showed up at the ‘Stick for Week 1 was a shell of the inspired unit that finished the season. In December, Seattle knocked off Philly, St. Louis and Chicago in succession, lost by 2 points vs SF and lost in OT at Arizona. No one knows what to expect under center the first month of the season, but Seattle is definitely on the way up. Russell Wilson, please report to the front desk…

3. St. Louis Rams (8-8) Remember when the Rams were the trendy pick for many entering last season? Injuries quickly destroyed any chance for a semblance of a season, which lead to a change at the top: enter, Jeff Fisher. Absolutely love the hire. The Rams were actually picking CB’s up off the street last season, that’s how far down they were forced to reach on the depth chart. Impossible to compete that way. Still, Sam Bradford needs to reestablish himself as one of the premier young QB’s in the league. If he does, the arrow for this team is pointing north. They’ll be much, much better.

4. Arizona Cardinals (4-12) When your best player is a WR, yet, you begin the summer with an uninspiring and at times perplexing QB battle, you know things are rough. They remain athletic on defense, but this team is going nowhere, even in a division looking to define itself.

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