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Thursday, 4 September 2014

NFL Week 1 Picks 2014 (September 4-8)

I can't believe that there have been seven months since the last game in the NFL when the Seattle Seahawks absolutely battered the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl.

I went back to have a quick look at my predictions from this time last year and, while there were some horrific picks in terms of who I thought would make the Play Offs, I picked the San Francisco 49ers to be the team to beat both Seattle and Denver. To that end, I feel I was only one Interception from being able to have hit on those teams and would have favoured the 49ers over Denver, even more so in hindsight.

There have been a number of changes in the rosters heading into the new season, but the elite teams in Denver, San Francisco and Seattle will be the favourites to win the Super Bowl this time around too. New England and Green Bay could be teams on the periphery that may make a move forward, especially if both teams can remain healthy, but there are always a couple of surprise packages that you have to look out for.


Below I have a few thoughts from the season upcoming with my predictions for the Super Bowl and how I feel each Division may end up shaping up. Hopefully this will be the start of another positive season following on from the last season, but the NFL is not an easy sport to pick winners consistently and I will need a bit of luck to land on my side too.


AFC East: This is a Division that has mainly been dominated by the New England Patriots and I do think they are the most likely winners again. The Patriots look improved on Defense with the arrival of Darrelle Revis, and the Offense might have more consistency with a returning Rob Gronkowski and I wouldn't be surprised if the Patriots are challenging for the Number 1 Seed in the AFC as I can see them finishing with a 12-4 record.

The closest challengers in the Division may be the Miami Dolphins who I have projected at 7-9 unless Ryan Tannehill really improves and they may have to settle for another season out of the Play Offs. The Buffalo Bills are backing EJ Manuel this season, but he wasn't appointed a Captain which shows how much his teammates believe in him as far as I am concerned.

Sammy Watkins is a boost to their team, but the Defense might have taken a step back in the Secondary and the Bills may do well to surpass last season and I have them down for a 5-11 season.

One team that I under-estimated last season was the New York Jets, but I still can't see them matching their 0.500 record from last season. Geno Smith is still lacking some serious play-makers in this Offense and the Defense has lost some big players.

Rex Ryan is respected enough to coach this team up so I may be way wrong again with the Jets, but the schedule looks difficult this time around and a 4-12 record may be as good as it gets.


AFC North: This is a Division that I can't really get my head around this season and I have projected the top three teams to all have winning records and potentially all make it to the Play Offs as Wild Card teams as well as the Division winner.

Last season I picked the Pittsburgh Steelers as the Division winner, but they failed to finish with a winning record for consecutive years for the first time in over ten seasons. They began 0-4 last time out, but rallied to finish level and I think they can make a couple of adjustments to end 10-6 this time around.

They are likely to be challenged for the AFC North from old rivals the Baltimore Ravens who I have also projected to finish with a 10-6 record, although a couple of bad bounces could see them struggle to hit that mark.

Baltimore also finished with a level record in 2013, but I like these two old powerhouses to finish ahead of the Cincinnati Bengals who I believe may fall  from their back to back double digit win seasons and end with a 9-7 record this time around. The Bengals have put all their chips into the Andy Dalton basket, while losing Mike Zimmer as Defensive Co-Ordinator may prove to be the biggest obstacle to overcome.

Jonny Football may be arriving at the Cleveland Browns but he doesn't look like he will be a starter and there aren't a lot of weapons on the Offensive side of the ball. The Browns may even struggle to finish with as many wins as last season as I think they will end 3-13 this season.


AFC South: I think the AFC South could be one of the weakest Divisions in the NFL and that means I make the Indianapolis Colts as a surprise team that could win the Number 1 Seed in the AFC. With rebuilding teams in the AFC South that are not quite ready to challenge, Indianapolis could win all 6 Division games and their schedule doesn't pose a lot of problems.

They get New England at home off a bye, while also facing Philadelphia, Baltimore and Cincinnati at  home and I do think the Colts are good enough to finish as good as 13-3 or better this season.

With that in mind, I am not expecting a lot from the Houston Texans, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars who all are beginning new projects or are coming out of a big hole.

The Texans may improve to the point of doubling their 2 wins from last season, while Tennessee could take a step back from the 7 wins they achieved. Jacksonville may be an improving team that Gil Brandt described as a dark horse for a Wild Card spot, but I think their schedule may mean matching last season's 4 wins is a good job from Gus Bradley unless they decide Blake Bortles needs to begin playing.


AFC West: After the embarrassment of the Super Bowl last February, the Denver Broncos have loaded up on their Defense to try and get over the hill. The likes of Aqib Talib, TJ Ward and DeMarcus Ware should all have a big impact for the Broncos, while Peyton Manning can take Denver to the upper reaches of the NFL when it comes to their Offense too.

With the AFC West paired up with their NFC counter-parts, Denver will do well to surpass the 12 wins they achieved last season even if they remain the pick of the teams in the AFC. That could mean that all roads to the Super Bowl in this Conference may not be going through Peyton Manning's backyard as it has the last two seasons.

After strong showings in 2013 which ended with Play Off spots for both teams, I think both the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Diego Chargers may struggle to end the season with a winning record this time around. The schedules are tougher with Denver in the Division, matching up with one another effectively and being matched with the tough NFC West and both may miss the Play Offs this time around.

The Oakland Raiders are an interesting team that have had back to back 4-12 seasons and they may struggle to even reach that with the way the schedule has panned out for the team. Rumours of a move from Oakland may dominate the fans thinking, although they have the experience of playing in London to look forward to and I think the schedule means matching last year's 4 wins would be a success.


AFC Division Winners: New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, Indianpolis Colts and Denver Broncos
AFC Wild Card: Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals
AFC Champion: Denver beating Indianpolis in the House that Peyton Built to reach a second Super Bowl in a row


NFC East: In my opinion, this is one of the most difficult Divisions to forecast in the NFL simply because there is a lot of doubt about every team in the NFC East.

Can the Philadelphia Eagles play the way they did last season or will teams figure Chip Kelly's Offensive schemes out? Will the New York Giants get good Eli or bad Eli? Will Jay Gruden reinvigorate the Washington Redskins? And can the Dallas Cowboys somehow produce anything resembling a Defense to give a powerful looking Offense the chance to win games?

Out of all the teams, I think the Eagles are in the best position to repeat as NFC East Champions even despite losing DeSean Jackson to the Washington Redskins and I think they are the only one that finishes with a winning record.

The Giants will do well to surpass the 7 wins they achieved in 2013 with issues on both Offensive and Defensive Lines to resolve, while Eli Manning might have already slid too far from the ranks of the elite Quarter Backs.

I am expecting a much improved Washington team that might be able to double their wins from 2013, while the Dallas Defense may mean the team settles for just their second losing season in the last ten years.

Washington, Philadelphia and Dallas have a lot of Divisional games in the final weeks of the regular season and it may take a little bit of momentum for any of those teams to reverse/fulfil projections and win the Division.


NFC North: As long as Aaron Rodgers can stay healthy, I would expect the Green Bay Packers to be a leading contender to win the Super Bowl and it will all begin by continuing their recent dominance of the NFC North. The Packers barely won the Division last season after it had looked like Rodgers injury was going to cost them for the first time since 2010.

They had to beat Chicago late in the season to win the NFC North and open at Seattle this time around, but Green Bay have a decent schedule outside of a couple of tough games and I can see them reaching as many as 13 wins this season.

It won't be easy for the Packers, as they are likely to be chased down by the Chicago Bears and the Detroit Lions for much of the season. The Bears are still transitioning their Defense, but look a team that can score plenty of points and may reach double digits in wins for the third time in five seasons and are a real Wild Card kind of team.

The Lions also should be improved as long as the front four can disrupt Offenses enough to cover the holes in the Secondary and the arrivals of Golden Tate and Eric Ebron give them other passing threats outside of Calvin Johnson. Detroit finish the season with back to back road games at the Bears and Packers and that might be the reason they finish with 9 wins and miss a Play Off berth.

The Minnesota Vikings should be better with Norv Turner known for his Offensive credentials and I expect him to get the best out of Adrian Peterson, while Teddy Bridgewater should start sooner rather than later.

However, I think the Vikings need some breaks going their way to finish better than 3-13 this time around with a difficult schedule to negotiate as well as playing their home games in an unfamiliar venue. Later in the season, those will become unfamiliar conditions with outdoor play in the freezing temperature of Minnesota.


NFC South: Since the realignment of the NFL Divisions back in 2002, no team has won the NFC South in back to back years and I fully expect that to continue this season with the Carolina Panthers not looking in a position to repeat.

The Panthers have lost a number of their playmakers from last season, Cam Newton looks beat up before a ball has been thrown and is playing behind a porous Offensive Line. Of course, Carolina still have an awesome Defensive Line that will pressure opponents, but that might not be enough to hide their problems and they might only win half as many of the 12 games they did last season.

That leaves room at the top and I think the most complete team in the Division is the New Orleans Saints who remain an Offensive machine, but also have the benefit of a second season under the guidance of Rob Ryan as Defensive Co-Ordinator. The Saints look like a team that could earn home-field advantage in the NFC this season and that would make them a real contender to reach another Super Bowl, although that means continuing their dominance at home when Green Bay and San Francisco come calling.

I am also expecting to see an improvement out of the Atlanta Falcons who finished with just 4 wins last season- they have Julio Jones back, but the Falcons may only go as far as their Offensive and Defensive Line can carry them and I project them for 8 wins this season, although that could quickly change if they beat the Saints in Week 1 at home.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers are an interesting case with Lovie Smith and Lesley Frazier returning as Coaches, but I think they are still finding their real identity Offensively and I don't trust Josh McCown despite his success with the Bears last season. It might be another transitional year with the schedule being what it was and I projected the Buccaneers to finish with a 4-12 record.


NFC West: I don't think you would many people to argue with if you call the NFC West the best Division in the NFL, a far cry from just four seasons ago when it was comfortably the worst. Solid decision making and coaching makes this the most fascinating Division, especially as it houses two of the favourites to win the Super Bowl.

Of course, the Seattle Seahawks have a huge target on their backs after winning the Super Bowl so convincingly and it will be interesting to see if they can become the first team in ten years to repeat as Champions. The tools are there and even the losses hasn't changed the depth in the rotation for Pete Carroll, but the big question is whether they can come through this tough Division unscathed.

I expect the battle to be between the Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers through the season for the Division and it could come to those two epic games between them in a three week stretch beginning on Thanksgiving Day. I expect both to reach double-digits in terms of wins and both should at least the Wild Card, although home field proved invaluable last season for Seattle and may be a key to deciding which team goes furthest this time around too.

The other two teams in the Division would be a leading contender in any other Division other than the NFC West. Out of the two teams, there are more questions surrounding the St Louis Rams who have lost Sam Bradford for the season and will likely b starting Shaun Hill at Quarter Back.

Last season, the Arizona Cardinals won 10 games but missed the post-season and I think the schedule makes it tough for them to reach that again, especially with the loss of key Linebackers and losing Darnell Dockett for the season.

I actually think the Cardinals may take a step back this season unless they get a couple of surprise wins like they did at the back end of last season and could see Bruce Arians' men finishing at 7-9.


NFC Division Winners: Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks
NFC Wild Card: Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers
NFC Champion: Green Bay Packers over New Orleans Saints at Lambeau Field


Super Bowl Champion: Green Bay Packers break Peyton Manning's heart in the big game, 35-31 winners over Denver Broncos.



Week 1 Picks
I had a look back at the results of last season and the difference between 2013 and 2012 was simply the fact that I recovered the terrible weeks with some really big performances. That is the nature of the NFL, although I would love to bring more consistency through the season.

Half of the first six weeks proved to be losing weeks for the picks and I want to improve the percentage of strong weeks, and I do want to improve the 54% strike rate which is the lowest limit from which to produce winning totals, especially where the picks are being managed.

It is a couple of things that I have been noticed from the results over the last couple of years and something to keep in mind going forward.


New Orleans Saints @ Atlanta Falcons Pick: Both the New Orleans Saints and the Atlanta Falcons will feel they are going to be capable of scoring a lot of points this season, but the former definitely seems to have an edge in a couple of facets of the game that could prove critical.

I expect New Orleans to have the better Defense against the pass and I also think New Orleans will be able to run the ball more effectively than the Atlanta Falcons which could prove to be the difference in this game.

There have been improvements in the Atlanta Defense, particularly the players brought in to improve the run Defense, but losing Sean Weatherspoon is a big blow, while Jake Matthews is in for a rude awakening in his first start at Left Tackle against the likes of Cameron Jordan.

While both teams should score points with the Receivers on display, I can see the New Orleans Saints making enough plays Defensively to turn the momentum in their favour and secure a big opening week win.

The Saints were a terrible road team last season against the spread, which is my biggest concern in backing them to open the season with a win in the Georgia Dome where they have won on 6 of their last 8 visits.


Cleveland Browns @ Pittsburgh Steelers Pick: The Pittsburgh Steelers have to play the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday Night Football this week which could take away some of their focus, but I think Mike Tomlin would have reminded them of what a poor start cost them last season.

With that memory still fresh, the fact that this is a Divisional game to open the season should keep Pittsburgh occupied with the Cleveland Browns and I think their younger looking Defense is going to cause problems for a Browns Offense lacking playmakers.

Ben Tate could get established to help the Browns, but I think Brad Hoyer will be need his Receivers to step up in the absence of Josh Gordon and the Steelers actually played the pass pretty well last season. Ryan Shazier improves the Linebackers and Pittsburgh could ride the Defense to inspire the Offense.

There is no doubt that the Cleveland Defense is one of the better units in the NFL, but Pittsburgh will look to wear them down early with a power running game that should be more effective than in recent seasons. Ben Roethlisberger seems happier with what Todd Haley wants the Offense to do too, while Cleveland have had a hard time in Pittsburgh in recent years with 10 straight losses by over two Touchdown a game on average.


Jacksonville Jaguars @ Philadelphia Eagles Pick: At the end of the 2013 season, there were clear signs that the Jacksonville Jaguars will be moving in the right direction under Gus Bradley after some poor years for this franchise. However, they will begin this season with a number of Wide Receivers out through injury or suspension and Chad Henne remains the Quarter Back despite the pick of Blake Bortles at the top of the last NFL Draft.

Those injury problems at the Receiver position should give the Philadelphia Eagles a chance to begin this season with a decent game from the Secondary, especially if they can generate more pressure up front. That was a problem for the Eagles in 2013, but the Jaguars Offensive Line is still a weakness and Henne isn't someone that is mobile enough to scramble away from pressure.

Toby Gerhart will be the premier Running Back, but he will need the Offensive Line to open up more holes than they did in 2013 so the Jaguars can control the clock in this one.

A bigger concern for the Jaguars is trying to slow down the Philadelphia Offense which was so potent last season. Nick Foles should be more comfortable in his first full season as a starter and they should be able to attack a Secondary that is still inexperienced. DeSean Jackson has moved on, but there are still enough weapons for Foles to attack this Jaguars Defense starting with LeSean McCoy.

This is a non-Conference game on the road for Jacksonville and they were 0-4 against the spread against non-Conference teams last season. The Eagles weren't a great home favourite last season, but they did go 3-1 against the spread in their last 4 games in that spot and I think Jacksonville will struggle to peg them back if they fall into a two score hole.


Cincinnati Bengals @ Baltimore Ravens Pick: This looks like being a tight game between two teams that will believe they are the favourites to win the AFC North this season, and one that shouldn't have a lot of points scored when it is all said and done.

Baltimore are looking for a bounce back year after failing to make the Play Offs last season following their Super Bowl win, while the Cincinnati Bengals want to prove they are better than they have shown in the Play Offs the last three seasons.

Both Offenses may come off second best to their Defensive counter-parts this week, but I think the Baltimore Offense may have the edge. That is mainly down to the continuity they have Defensively and the fact it feels they have more weapons for the Cincinnati Defense to be looking out for.

The Bengals were also just 3-5 on the road in the regular season last season and Baltimore have won at least 6 games from their 8 home games under John Harbaugh as Head Coach.

Add in the ridiculous stat that teams that reached the Play Offs who are then road underdogs in Week 1 the following season are a crazy 2-21-1 against the spread in those games and I like Baltimore to open their new season with an important home Divisional win.


Buffalo Bills @ Chicago Bears Pick: I can see both the Chicago Bears and the Buffalo Bills doing very well on the ground in this first game of the season with players like Matt Forte, CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson capable of ripping of yards and doing well for Fantasy Football players.

However, I believe the Chicago Bears have the edge when it comes to throwing the ball and it will be interesting to see how the Buffalo Bills deal with a couple of key losses on their Defense in Kiki Alonso and Jarius Byrd from a top ten unit of 2013.

Jay Cutler won't want to be in too many long distance situations considering the pressure Buffalo produced on the Quarter Back a season ago, but he will be keen to get his big time Receivers the ball.

Marc Trestman will be hoping the Defense is in better shape than a season ago, but the return of Charles Tillman and Draft choice Kyle Fuller should improve the team. They will want to get more pressure up front and hope Jared Allen can replace Julius Peppers, but the Bears look in better shape than the Bills coming into Week 1.

The Bills are also just 3-11 against the spread as the road underdog and might not be fully committed to a non-Conference road game with the Miami Dolphins next on deck.


New England Patriots @ Miami Dolphins Pick: For all the casual players out there, the New England spread looks far too short and they are being pounded to cover in Miami, but those same people need to be aware as to how tough life as been for Tom Brady when visiting this Stadium.

Add in the doubts about Rob Gronkowski and how much playing time he will have, plus the calf injury that Brady is playing through, and I think an improving Miami Dolphins team can keep this very competitive.

A Divisional game will always get the juice flowing, but the Dolphins may even be able to take advantage of the conditions with the humidity that is likely to follow the storms in Miami. Tom Brady may be a little hobbled and is playing behind an Offensive Line that has lost Logan Mankins in recent weeks and you have to believe the Miami Defensive Line is looking forward to getting after the Quarter Back.

Miami will be hoping the Secondary has improved with the signing of Cortland Finnegan to start opposite Brent Grimes, but the key to their success will come by getting pressure up front. I expect New England to be on the same page Offensively, while Shane Vereen/Stevan Ridley could have success moving the chains on the ground.

However, the feeling is that the game could be kept close with a new Offensive Line coming together to give Ryan Tannehill time to make plays with his arm. The young Quarter Back has shown signs of improvement under the tutelage of Bill Lazor, but New England's Defense looks improved too with the addition of Darrelle Revis. Tannehill may be asked to do the majority of the work if the Offensive Line  is still struggling to open running lanes but the Dolphins can certainly make this a game with their successes over New England and the new, quick passing team that they will become.

The Dolphins are 5-1-1 against the spread as the home underdog under Joe Philbin, while New England failed to cover as the road favourite last season. Miami have covered in their last 2 home games against the Patriots too and I think this looks like a field goal game to me.


Carolina Panthers @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers Pick: These two teams could be going in opposite directions in the 2014 season after the Carolina Panthers decided to let go of all their big time Receivers from last season.

Cam Newton has been banged up too and I think an improved Tampa Bay team coupled with the excitement of a new Head Coach at the helm is going to contribute to a Buccaneers win in this NFC South Divisional game.

Tampa Bay's Offensive Line will be under pressure from the front seven that Carolina have, but Josh McCown will remember his time with the Chicago Bears in 2013 and has two huge Receivers that can go up and make plays against this Secondary. Both Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans will believe they have the strength and size to make some plays, although Doug Martin may struggle to be established as a Running Back against a Defense that allowed just 87 yards per game on the ground in 2013.

I still believe the Buccaneers can make some plays and Carolina will have to do the same if they want to win this game. However, Newton doesn't have a lot of options to throw to and he might not be as mobile as he wants to do be with his rib injury suffered during pre-season. Add in the fact that the Carolina Offensive Line allowed more sacks in 2013 than they had in three years with Tampa Bay's 35 sacks last season and Newton could be under pressure all day.

The Panthers may be able to establish a running game through Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams as that was a facet in which the Buccaneers struggled at times in 2013, but Tampa Bay could sell out on the pass and look to make Carolina one-dimensional.

Carolina have been a strong road underdog under Ron Rivera, but they look to have lost a lot of pieces and Tampa Bay may just be able to open with a win in 2014.


Indianapolis Colts @ Denver Broncos Pick: There has to be some anger that the Denver Broncos want to get out in this game and I think this is a bad place for the Indianapolis Colts to be starting their NFL season. The Broncos look improved on the Defensive side of the field and are always going to score their points with the Peyton Manning led Offense, so the question is whether the Indianapolis Colts can keep up.

Unfortunately for the Colts, I can see the Offense becoming one dimensional as I am not expecting a lot of running room for Trent Richardson and that means a lot of pressure on the shoulders of Andrew Luck.

In a shoot out in New England, Indianapolis' Defensive problems meant they couldn't hang with the Patriots in a Play Off game and were eventually beaten easily. The Colts are 4-6 against the spread as the underdog on the road in the regular season, plus they have lost 2 Play Off games on the road as the underdog.

Add the statistic I mentioned earlier of road underdogs in Week 1 coming off a Play Off being 2-21-1 against the spread and the fact Denver are 12-3 against the spread as the home favourite over the last two seasons and I think the Broncos show they are over their Super Bowl hangover.


New York Giants @ Detroit Lions Pick: This is a very simple pick- as long as the Detroit Lions don't do what they normally do, which is make stupid mistakes and shoot themselves in the foot, I think they will comfortably beat a New York Giants team that is still implementing new ideas in the Offense.

I think the additions of Eric Ebron and Golden Tate will allow Matthew Stafford to look away from Calvin Johnson when trying to move the chains and the Quarter Back should have a fairly clean pocket to throw from. The Giants struggled to get pressure up front in 2013 and have lost the likes of Justin Tuck, so the pressure is on the younger players to step up their play, but the Lions should also have success with the screen passes to Reggie Bush to negate any pressure they see.

I fully expect Detroit to be able to score points, but the bigger problem for the Giants is the Offensive Line which is faced with a fearsome front four that the Lions have. Eli Manning hasn't looked comfortable in the new West Coast Offense that has been put in place although I respect the fact the Giants are 11-6 against the spread as the road underdog over the last three years.

Detroit were a poor home favourite over the last couple of years, going 4-8 against the spread in that spot, but I am struggling to see how the Giants can suddenly click into gear Offensively and that should give the Lions the chance to move clear.


Picks for 0 Units: Green Bay Packer + 6 Points, Minnesota Vikings + 3.5 Points, New York Jets - 5 Points, Washington Redskins + 3 Points, Tennessee Titans + 3 Points, Dallas Cowboys + 4 Points, San Diego Chargers + 3 Points

MY PICKS: New Orleans Saints - 3 Points @ 1.92 William Hill (1 Unit)
Pittsburgh Steelers - 7 Points @ 2.05 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
Philadelphia Eagles - 10.5 Points @ 1.95 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Baltimore Ravens - 1.5 Points @ 1.92 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Chicago Bears - 6.5 Points @ 1.92 William Hill (1 Unit)
Miami Dolphins + 4 Points @ 1.92 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers - 2.5 Points @ 1.90 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
Denver Broncos - 7.5 Points @ 1.95 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Detroit Lions - 6.5 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (1 Unit)

Season 2013: 86-70-2, + 22.27 Units
Season 2012: - 4.78 Units

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