Welcome back, pro football fans and Upset Bird flock, as we begin our 23rd season of Friday Page predictions. The year was 1991. Movie fans loved Silence of the Lambs, kids played with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and I set out on what would be a futile, career-spanning effort to make sense of the NFL. We had mixed results last season. Our .651 overall winning percentage was our best since .2009, but our .488 record against the point spread marked a 59-point tumble. Our personal bests are .705 and .574, and our career averages are .635 and .506. You know I’m not lying, or else the numbers would be much more impressive. [Note: Thursday game pick was Broncos (-7.5) over Ravens, 31-27].
|Final 2012||166-89-1||.651||114-120-22||. 488|
DOLPHINS AT BROWNS
I must tell you this is a matchup of such little attraction outside these two markets it could easily be our Dog of the Week, but since I possess a latent homer gene the Dolphins are never my mutt game unless they are both winless and playing Bethune-Cookman. Plus, points for pure competitiveness here as this is Week 1’s only pick ’em game and toughest call, elevating watchability. Cleveland has lost eight consecutive season openers but — in spite of that aforementioned homer gene — I see this as a trend ripe to end and make this a venue pick tilting to the Dawg Pounders. Sorry, Dolfans. It’s nothing personal. I think Miami is the better overall team here, but Browns have much young talent and could surprise under first-year coach Rob Chudzinski, the former Miami Hurricane. An aggressive Earthtones pass rush will put heat on Ryan Tannehill, and Mike Wallace could have a tough matchup with Cleve corner Joe Haden. “I’m going to have my swag out, too,” said Wallace, “so he better be ready.” I like that attitude, but I must stick with one of my prognosticatory rubrics when it comes to coin-flip games: When in doubt go home.
FALCONS AT SAINTS
The Game of the Week panel had a contentious call out the gate because the real GOTW looked like Ravens-Broncos on Thursday night. But for the weekend we liked this one over Giants-Cowboys, and it enjoyed a divisional tiebreaker over Packers-49ers. (This is one of six Week 1 division games). N’Awlins coach Sean Payton is back from his BountyGate abyss and has a 10-2 record against . Atlanta, a fact that steers this pick in our a mind a lot more than the Falcons’ 0-4 preseason record. ATL made a nice offseason add in veteran RB Steven Jackson, should be a season-long player in the NFC and has a big upset shot here. But it’s just always a risk to side against Drew Brees at home.
SEAHAWKS AT PANTHERS
“AAAWWWK!” thunders the Upset Bird, soaring, serpentining, Kickoff Weekend sash displayed against iridescent black feathers. “Movie sequel. Sadness in Seattle. Meg Ryaawwk!” We’ll be a genius or an idiot with this call. Seattle ran the table in the preseason and Russell Wilson’s bunch is a darling Super Bowl choice. Hawks are not as mighty on the road, though, and Panthers ended last season with four consecutive wins, so we like this as a pure hunch pick. “Hunch paawwk,” concurs U-Bird. “Anybody else notice that Seahaawwks coach Pete Carroll has long, equine facial features? No? Naawwk?”
CHIEFS AT JAGUARS
Constant readers know our Dog of the Week refers not to a betting underdog but to the week’s least interesting matchup, and host Jacksonville being maybe the NFL’s worst team sort of makes this a default pick. That and these teams’ combined 4-28 record in 2012. Gus Bradley makes his head coaching debut for Jaguars, but transplanted Andy Reid has a lot more talent to work with.
OK, let’s see. Patriots have won 18 of past 19 in this series. Coaching sensei Bill Belichick is facing rookie coach Doug Marrone. Quarterback master Tom Brady is facing rookie EJ Manuel. New England has won 10 consecutive games within the AFC East. Pats have won a league-best nine season openers in a row. Should I go one or will that about do it?
Ex-Canes assistant Marc Trestman (via Canada) makes his NFL head coaching debut for Bears and faces a thorny maiden test, with Bengals coming off first back-to-back playoff years since 1981-82. ’Gals also happen to be 4-1 all-time at The Soldier.
It’s the Darrelle Revis Bowl as the former Stinkin’ Jets CB returns to face his old team. If only Rex Ryan had a receiver worth covering! NYJ is 6-0 all time at home vs. Bucs and I give the Planes an upset shot here if rookie QB Geno Smith can make a little magic. But that’s a reach.
My sense that Pittsburgh is headed for a down year was not altered by an 0-4 preseason, but Ben Roethlisberger is still very good, and Steelers at home still are tough if no longer impenetrable. In fact their 10-0 streak in home openers is NFL’s best current run. Titans beat Pitt last year, though. Betting line seems a bit flattering to the homies.
Vikings made playoffs last year and swept Lions, making it an 11-2 run in series. And Minny will have a shot as long as Adrian Peterson is the guy a million fantasy owners hope he is. A.P. needs 151 yards Sunday to join Jim Brown and Eric Dickerson as only men with 9,000 rushing yards in first 90 games. Like Motown here at home, but closer than the Vegas number.
So it looks like Terrelle Pryor beat Matt Flynn in the Raiders’ evil-of-two-lessers quarterback battle. Not sure that’s a good thing, Oakland. Not sure there IS much good going on with the visitors entering this game or season. Andrew Luck has led Colts to six consecutive regular-season home wins and the streak won’t stop here, but Oaks worth a dice-roll against spread.
The battle begins to see who’s the third-best team in the NFC West, with St. Lou on the early inside rail. Rams have lost six consecutive seasons openers, but Redbirds remain a handy cure-all for most such streaks. STL swept two from the Cacti last year, and old newcomer Carson Palmer doesn’t have enough left to put a smile on Bruce Arians’ Arizona coaching debut.
NFC heavyweight bout between reigning division champs is a venue call for Colin Kaepernick and his Niners, although I like Aaron Rodgers and the Cheesers to keep it inside the betting number. Even an outright upset would not shock. Frans won two from Pack last year (including playoffs), and beating a great QB three straight times is a mountain to climb.
I guess I get why this rivalry is treated to the marquee Sunday night slot, although, honestly, I could as easily see both these teams scrambling for wild-card contention as winning the NFC East. NYG is 4-0 in Dallas’ new stadium, but Biggies are banged up on the O-line, and ’Boys will show better pass-D versus Eli Manning under the wing of sage old Monte Kiffin.
Robert Griffin III had six TD passes as ’Skins swept both 2012 games. Meanwhile Mike Vick is trying, on the early Monday stage, to prove he has life left in his career. I give Philly a small upset shot, but it’s more likely Washers will win comfortably. RGIII and Alfred Morris are a tough duo for even a good defense to stop. Welcome to the NFL, Chip Kelly. You’re not in Oregon anymore.
Houston has won four road openers in a row, and Monday’s nightcap will likely make it five. Big weight on both clubs. Houston is dreaming Super Bowl, and Diego expects new life with stale Norv Turner finally gone and Mike McCoy in. Bolts a marginally tempting home ’dog here, but I’m leading the Texans’ bandwagon until injuries or results lead me elsewhere.