Hello again, pro football fans and Upset Bird flock. Welcome back as we begin our 24th season of Friday Page predictions. It all started in 1991. The No. 1 song on the radio was the sappy Bryan Adams ballad, “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You.” Moviegoers were making Arnold Schwarzenegger and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” the big draw. And I set out on a career-spanning, ill-fated effort to solve the mysteries of the NFL. We look to rebound from a down year last season. Our personal-best records are .705 overall and .574 against the spread, and our career averages are .633 and .504. You know that’s the truth because if I were lying the numbers would be much more impressive. [Note: Thursday-game pick was Packers (+5 1/2) over Seahawks, 24-20].
PATRIOTS at DOLPHINS
“AAAWWWK!” sings the Upset Bird, barrel-rolling to decorate a preening entrance. “Ryan Tannehaawwk!” Bill Belichick (gunning for his 200th career win) and Tom Brady have ceased to be an unsolvable mystery for a Miami team I see as better than most NFL literati do. Recall the Dolphins beat the Pats here, 24-20, last December on a big day from Ryan Tannehaawwk, I mean Tannehill. Yes, the English have Rob Gronkowski back from injury now and added cover guy Darrelle Revis. They remain entrenched as AFC East favorites — and should, until a replacement raises a hand and proves worthy. But the margin has narrowed. Time will tell if I’m being a homer here, but I honestly think the Fins begin the season as one of the league’s most underrated teams. I also think Brady, 37, will face steady pressure Sunday and be sacked three-plus times. “Giselle won’t like that,” notes U-Bird, beak clamped in a nodding smirk. “Hey, anybody up for starting an appreciative Joe Philbin chant Sunday? Who’s with me? Joe Philbaaawwwk!”
COLTS at BRONCOS
Colts owner Jim “Oxycodone” Irsay and Broncos receiver Wes “Molly” Welker will both sit this one out suspended, but it isn’t the jurisprudence that makes the season’s first Sunday nighter our GOTW. It’s Peyton Manning and Denver at home against PeyDay’s old team. Broncos are the popular preseason Super Bowl pick until somebody proves that faulty. Indy has won five in a row in series, including last year at home, but the venue challenges don’t come much taller than Mile High. Oh, and Andrew Luck is overrated, by the way. He’s good, not great.
Adrian Peterson and not enough else describe the Vikings once again as new coach Mike Zimmer takes over. Rams aren’t in much better shape with QB Sam Bradford lost for the year and journeyman Shaun Hill making his first start since 2010. A.P. leading an outright upset temps, but make it a venue call.
Saints have won 13 of past 16 in this division series, including six of past eight in the A-T-L. But Saints also lost five of last six road games last season — a different, diminished team away from N’Awlins. That and Matt Ryan’s 36-10 career home record give home ’dogs a shot here, but give me Drew Brees and that massive offense in almost any shootout.
It’s Andy Dalton vs. Joe Flacco in a duel of overpaid QBs in another of four Week 1 division games. Flacco is 11-0 at home in September and Cincy has lost four in a row in Maryland, but those feel like trends about to end. Law of averages, please? Crows are missing suspended RB Ray Rice, but even with him, ’Gals look like a stronger team all-around.
Buffs last made the playoffs last century (1999) and likely will continue the sad streak. Bears have won five openers in a row, and Bills are 0-5 at The Soldier. E.J. Manuel and his sputtering offense look like the perfect remedy for a Chicago defense still trying to find itself. No such problems for the Bears’ O. As long as Jay Cutler is healthy, Chitown will outscore far better offenses than Buffalo’s.
A clash of first-year NFL head coaches in Bill O’Brien of the Texans and Jay Gruden of the Unmentionable Nicknames — two of seven teams with new coaches. A talented, J.J. Watt-led Houston defense further infused with Jadeveon Clowney could make it a struggling start for Robert Griffin III. Texans might struggle on offense, but that D should carry the day.
KC’s diminished line and subpar receiving corps make it Jamaal Charles-or-bust on offense. Tennessee gained hope from Jake Locker’s solid preseason but still has issues on defense that should make it a smiling Sunday for Charles’ fantasy owners and a frown for new Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt. Venue pick.
Maurice Jones-Drew vs. Chris Johnson in a battle of recycled running backs trying to revive themselves with new clubs. Planes secondary looks shaky but Oaks rookie Derek Carr won’t take advantage. Rex Ryan — 7-1 against rookie QBs — will crash Carr with an effective blitz barrage.
The Jags are the worst team in the league — somebody gotta be the caboose! — until they prove they aren’t, or until Blake Bortles gets his chances and proves he’s all that, whichever comes first. Still not convinced Philly is a top-tier Super Bowl threat, but man that offense looks terrific. Can’t see how LeSean McCoy wasn’t No. 1 overall in just about every fantasy draft.
I guess the over/under on TV mentions or sideline shots of Johnny Manziel would be about 45, but the quarterback who’ll have the most to do with this game’s result is the one who is 17-1 vs. Cleveland in his career, including 9-0 at home. His name is Ben Roethlisberger. He’ll make it a sad debut for new coach Mike Pettine and a 10th consecutive Week 1 loss for the Earthtones.
I’m on record here: Dallas has a legit, sizable outright upset shot because Tony Romo can put up a bunch of points and San Fran has taken some body blows on defense, and the combo should make it an interesting game. (Over/under on TV mentions or sideline shots of ’Boys practice-squad player Michael Sam: 32). Dallas’ defense just looks awful, though.
Carolina swept T -Bay by a combined score of 58-19 last season. That’s a lot of ground to make up for new Bucs coach Lovie Smith and stopgap QB Josh McCown. Cam Newton’s health issues make this pick a bit of a crapshoot, but Panthers’ defense still looks pretty great.
Turnover Bowl? With pick-prone Eli Manning, Matthew Stafford and these erratic teams, chances are the side that self-destructs least will win. Biggies, despite an undefeated preseason, looked like the team whose problems most remained unsolved. So make it a happy start for new Lions coach Jim Caldwell in Motown’s first Monday-stage season opener since 1971.
This game was toughest call of Week 1 for me, going back and forth on it like eyes at a tennis match. Both teams are second-tier, playoff-caliber. I rate Philip Rivers and Diego slightly better all-around, but must respect ’Zona at home. Cacti finished last season on a 7-2 run and were 6-2 in the desert.