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Thursday, 10 September 2015

NFL Week 1 Picks 2015 (September 10-14)

The NFL season is finally kicking off a little later than usual thanks to August covering five weekends and the full American Football season is now underway after College Football kicked off last week.

Sunday's won't be the same again, but you can still have a quick read of the season preview I put together with thoughts about all 32 teams that are looking to get to the Super Bowl. You can have a read of that here.

There is no doubting that the NFL landscape has been dominated by the scandal of 'Deflate-Gate' and I am stunned Tom Brady has gotten away with no suspension to begin the season. There might be no real evidence after he deliberately destroyed his phone, but anyone who still defends the New England Patriots as an organisation that doesn't just push the boundaries but regularly pisses over it have to be in the minority.

I don't care any more, it will make the Miami Dolphins winning the AFC East all the sweeter if Brady plays every game and this whole issue has seriously run its course.

However, I expect the Over/Under to be around 500 when it comes to the commentators mentioning 'Deflate-Gate' during coverage of the opening game of the new season as the New England Patriots host the Pittsburgh Steelers with both teams shorn of key players through injury and suspension.

Anyway, the Week 1 Picks will all be kept in this one thread although I don't anticipate fully completing the post until Saturday morning once the College Football Week 2 Picks and Weekend Football Picks are posted too.

Week 1 Picks
Pittsburgh Steelers @ New England Patriots Pick: Tom Brady is back so there won't be any excuses from the New England Patriots fans if their team can't continue a strong run of Super Bowl Champions performances in Week 1 of the new season.

Since 2000, the defending Super Bowl Champions are 12-3 straight up and 10-4-1 against the spread and the return of Brady has seen Vegas bump this up to the key number of 7.

There are changes in New England, particularly on the Defensive side of the ball, but Bill Belichick has usually found the pieces to make his team effective on that side. He will be boosted by facing a Pittsburgh Steelers team that is missing both Le'Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant and it is Bell at Running Back that looks to be the biggest problem for the visitors.

Bell does so much for the Steelers when it comes to running the ball and catching it out of the backfield, but he is also an effective blocker and I am not sure DeAngelo Williams is able to replicate that. Dri Archer is a weapon to get out into space and Antonio Brown is going to get his numbers, but I don't know if Ben Roethlisberger is consistently able to move the chains.

On the other side Dick LeBeau has moved on this off-season and the legendary Defensive Co-Ordinator is going to be tough to replace. The Steelers seem to be going through a transition on the Defensive unit and Tom Brady is going to be in the mood to flip the bird at the NFL which makes him dangerous.

I have no doubt that Brady can turn it up when he feels he has something to prove and he still has Rob Gronkowski as a huge match up problem in the middle of the field. Julian Edelman is banged up but should start, while LeGarrette Blount is suspended at Running Back meaning the likes of Brandon Bolden and James White will likely get the call with the hot hand staying on the field. Look out for White in situations you would have found Shane Vereen too and that is another match up problem for the Steelers to try and overcome.

New England have never lost to Pittsburgh at home with Brady at Quarter Back and they have won those three games by an average of 20 points per game. The Patriots have covered the spread in each and I think Brady puts in a huge performance in this one in the face of all the criticism he has had all summer, plus the Super Bowl Champion record is hard to ignore as they clearly have rode the momentum and emotion to a Week 1 win.

Green Bay Packers @ Chicago Bears Pick: The NFL has tried to keep the schedule interesting through the season and that has led to a trend of early Divisional games as well as those in the last few weeks of the season. Two of the oldest rivals in American Football will meet in Week 1 and it is up to the Chicago Bears to turn things around against the NFC North Champions Green Bay Packers.

Despite the loss of Jordy Nelson in the last month, Aaron Rodgers is back and not many will be looking for the Packers to miss a beat Offensively. Randall Cobb escaped a big injury and looks set to play, while the Packers have been high on Davonte Adams, as have I.

I expect a big season from Adams and I think the Chicago Bears are going to need time to adapt to what new Defensive Co-Ordinator Vic Fangio wants from them while the release of Tim Jennings will affect this Secondary. I simply don't know how the Bears will consistently get off the field if the Packers go back to pass, let alone if they simply use Eddie Lacy to pound the space that is likely to exist up front where the Bears are dropping men into coverage to stop Rodgers.

Lacy had a strong 2014 season and he can get 2015 off to a flyer both as a Receiver out of the backfield or pounding the rock between the tackles. Either way the Green Bay Packers will be looking for a statement win after the stunning way they lost the NFC Championship Game and I expect Rodgers to have a really strong day.

The Bears gave up 93 points to the Packers last year and unsurprisingly were blown out in both games. John Fox has come into replace Marc Trestman as Head Coach and he has brought Adam Gase with him as Offensive Co-Ordinator from Denver, although Gase has some work to do to restore Jay Cutler's confidence.

One big problem that Cutler might have is now that Brandon Marshall has been shipped off, that the likes of Kevin White and Alshon Jeffrey might be missing in the Receiver department. He can hand the ball to Matt Forte and hope the Running Back can keep the Defense honest, while he is also is a threat out of the backfield, but Cutler could be under some pressure from the Green Bay front seven.

Throughout his career, Cutler has made bad decisions with the pressure in his face and I think the chance of the Packers winning the turnover is very high.

Green Bay have covered the spread in 8 of their last 9 games against the Chicago Bears and the Packers are 7-3 against the spread in their last 10 games as the road favourite in Divisional games. The Bears are just 1-5 against the spread in their last 6 games as a home underdog, while John Fox was 1-4 against the spread as the home underdog as Denver Broncos Head Coach in the regular season and 1-6 when adding in Play Off games.

The Packers look to have too much talent on both sides of the ball and I like them to cover what may look a big number as the road favourite in the Divisional game.

Kansas City Chiefs @ Houston Texans Pick: I am going to have a small interest on the Houston Texans to cover a small spread and get their 2015 season off to a flying start.

They won't be able to beat the Kansas City Chiefs easily though as these two teams have some similarities as to what they are trying to achieve. Both teams have a game manager at Quarter Back and will look to win the game behind a dominant Defensive performance.

The Houston Texans Defensive Line looks like being one of the best in the NFL and they will look for Vince Wilfork to prevent Kansas City being able to run the ball effectively. Jamaal Charles will still be a threat catching the ball out of the backfield, but JJ Watt and Jadeveon Clowney should be able to crash the pocket and Alex Smith might not have the time to get the ball out to him.

Of course Brian Hoyer has to take note of where Justin Houston and Tamba Hali are coming from on the other side of the ball, but a couple of injuries in the Secondary and the absence of Dontari Poe might affect the Chiefs.

I think the game against Denver Broncos on Thursday Night Football could be a distraction to the Chiefs and I believe Hoyer makes the bigger plays than Smith at Quarter Back.

Both the Chiefs and the Texans have considerable success as the small underdog and small favourite respectively (three points or less points), but I like the Houston Texans in this one.

Miami Dolphins @ Washington Redskins Pick: There are plenty of Conference games and a few Divisional games to be played in Week 1 which have huge implications later in the season. Non-Conference games don't always have the same impact, but I don't think any team wants to lose in Week 1 and no team can afford to 'overlook' any game at this stage of the season.

The Washington Redskins fans might be 'overlooking' the whole season as the mess that is the franchise continues to dominate the sporting headlines for the wrong reasons. Jay Gruden and the Coaching Staff would clearly love to move on from what looks like the failed Robert Griffin III era, but Dan Snyder's ownership voice won't allow for any talks of a trade.

It won't be on the mind of Gruden this week who has already made the decision to name Kirk Cousins as the starting Quarter Back with RG3 suffering a concussion in the pre-season. However, it doesn't feel like Cousins is being thrown into a great situation as he is playing behind an Offensive Line that looks like it will struggle in pass protection.

Facing the Miami Dolphins Defensive Line is not what the Washington Redskins would have wanted in Week 1 as they try to get their Offensive Line some consistency. Now they face a Dolphins team that might have one of the best Defensive Lines in the NFL and the huge Free Agency signing of Ndamukong Suh gives them a body alongside Earl Mitchell to improve on the poor rushing Defense numbers from 2014.

That is key for them here as they look to contain Alfred Morris and force Cousins to beat them through the air. With Suh getting a push, the likes of Cameron Wake could have a career year when it comes to Sack totals and I don't know if Cousins will have as much time to attack the Dolphins down the field as he would like.

I am also expecting big things from Ryan Tannehill and a supporting cast of young Receivers as well as veterans like Greg Jennings and Jordan Cameron. He should at least set the marker for the season as the Washington Defense tries to come together a number of moves in the off-season. Tannehill should have enough time to make his plays from Quarter Back as I also think LaMar Miller can have success on the ground.

The Redskins are now just 2-8 against the spread as the home underdog in non-Divisional games in recent seasons. Miami did cover both games as the road favourite in non-Divisional games last season and I do think they are the superior team and can visit the nation's capital and win this by a touchdown or perhaps more.

New Orleans Saints @ Arizona Cardinals Pick: This is a big season for the New Orleans Saints who might not have a much of a window left with Drew Brees at Quarter Back to win another Super Bowl. Cap issues have meant the New Orleans Saints have been willing to trade some major Offensive weapons away to make sure they can reinvest in a Defensive unit that was atrocious last season.

The likes of Kenny Stills and Jimmy Graham have moved on and it looks like the New Orleans Saints are going to be a little more of a power running team these days. Brandin Cooks could be ready for a breakthrough season, but he is going up against a tough Arizona Secondary even if Antonio Cromartie has left the team.

Patrick Peterson didn't have a great 2014 season, but Arizona are expecting him to be a lot better this time and he will likely shadow Cooks for much of this contest, although it will still be difficult to shut down New Orleans Offensively.

The big question is how much have Rob Ryan and Dennis Allen been able to do with a Defense that finished Number 31 in the NFL last season and who allowed over 380 yards per game. While the Defensive Line is intact, New Orleans have had a high turnover in the Linebacker and Secondary units and we will see if Ryan has been able to make them efficient and able to get off the field.

New Orleans struggled to do that last season, but they will feel they can get some pressure on Carson Palmer who returns for the Arizona Cardinals from an injury that curtailed his 2014 season. I expect Palmer is going to have some strong numbers in this one as he has some solid weapons at his disposal in Receiver positions, although will be hoping the Cardinals find a running game to complement him.

There have definitely been some nice pieces added by the New Orleans Saints for the Defensive side of the ball to show an improvement from last season. Losing Stills and Graham means there are some big shoes to fill for the replacements and the Saints have struggled to a 3-7 record against the spread as the road underdog in recent seasons.

Arizona also have a very strong record at home since Bruce Arians arrived as Head Coach and they are 7-2-1 against the spread as the home favourite over the last two seasons. The Cardinals haven't been the best favourite of three points of less in recent years, but the look to be the better team going into the new season.

The small spread for a team that has been dominant at home under Bruce Arians (13-3 straight up last two seasons) can't be ignored by me and I like the Cardinals to cover.

Cincinnati Bengals @ Oakland Raiders Pick: The Oakland Raiders have been something of a mess for the last fourteen seasons since reaching the Super Bowl in 2002, but Mark Davis might be changing the culture of the franchise. Instead of wasting a lot of money in Free Agency for players that have been over-rated, Oakland are concentrating on building through the Draft.

Credit them for picking Derek Carr, Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper in the last eighteen months as these three could be the cornerstones of Raiders football for the next decade. I like all three players and they have been given some solid veteran support with the Raiders anything but the pushover some may perceive them to be.

The Raiders are a young team that are looking to get things done the right way and they won't rush things, but the Cincinnati Bengals can't afford to have a similar outlook. There is a small window of opportunity for the Bengals to finally get something done in the Play Offs having played so well in the regular season, but failure to do that might see some big changes to be made.

Cincinnati have a Defense that will cause teams some problems, but they are not as strong as recent seasons, while the belief in Andy Dalton is wavering in the fan base. Marvin Lewis might also be asked to move on if the Bengals can't win a Play Off game and they won't have it easy moving the ball in this one if the Offensive Line can't improve their play.

Jeremy Hill is capable of breaking some big runs, but Oakland played the run well last season and they might force Andy Dalton to try and beat them. While he will be able to team up with AJ Green for some big gains through the air, the Raiders could get some real pressure on Dalton by pushing through the Offensive Line and it won't be easy for the Bengals.

The Oakland Raiders might only have ended last season at 4-4 against the spread as the home underdog, but dealing with the expectation on the road is not a spot the Cincinnati Bengals have thrived in. The Bengals are 1-5 against the spread as the road favourite in the last couple of years and I think Oakland could be one of the most improved teams in the NFL.

Taking the points look to be the call.

Baltimore Ravens @ Denver Broncos Pick: Peyton Manning ended the 2014 season in disappointing fashion to the point that some were suggesting it was time for him to hang up his cleats and retire from the NFL. However, Manning is a super competitor and believes a torn quad was the reason for his struggles in the last six weeks which saw Manning end with another one and done in the Play Offs.

In two of his three years in Denver, the Broncos have lost their first Play Off game and those losses sandwich a run to the Super Bowl before being blown out by the Seattle Seahawks. While John Elway wanted to keep Peyton Manning, Head Coach John Fox was seen as dispensable and has been replaced by Gary Kubiak at that position.

Kubiak seems a strange fit with Manning as he is much happier seeing his team pound the ball on the ground and then use the Quarter Back in play-action and short screens. Peyton Manning is much better than that and surrounded by some top Receivers, while going up against Baltimore who are notoriously tough to run against should see the new Head Coach adapt to a new situation.

I think Manning is going to want to show the rest of the NFL there is still plenty left in his game and he has a good record against Baltimore in the regular season including throwing seven touchdown passes in the opening game of the 2013 season. While Baltimore have a solid Linebacker and Secondary corps, it will still be difficult to slow down a Peyton Maning Offense and the key for the Ravens is going to try and keep up with Denver.

However, Wade Phillips comes in as the new Defensive Co-Ordinator and looks to have all the pieces he could have asked for as he switches the Broncos to a 3-4 Defense. The Defensive unit might actually be even stronger than the Offensive side of the ball which goes to show how highly they are rated and Denver are going to put some pressure on Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Offense.

With Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware now coming from Linebacker, the Baltimore Offensive Line will be put under some pressure to keep Flacco upright. It doesn't help that Torrey Smith has moved on and Breshad Perriman looks set to miss out so it could be tough for Flacco to move the chains through the air.

I think Justin Forsett will have little room too to keep the Offense in third and manageable spots and Baltimore could have some real difficulty keeping up with Denver.

The Broncos are 16-7 against the spread as the home favourite since Peyton Manning came in as the new Quarter Back and they were 15-5 before the quad injury that affected him. Denver have also been far too good for Baltimore in the last couple of regular season games and the Broncos have covered in those games too.

Road underdogs in Week 1 that made the Play Offs the previous season are 5-21-1 against the spread since 1989 too and I like the Broncos to get their season off to a positive start. I don't think Denver look ahead to a big Divisional game on Thursday Night Football and can cover this number.

New York Giants @ Dallas Cowboys Pick: The NFC East might be the best Division in the NFL with two teams amongst the leading contenders for the Super Bowl and another that has upset the odds in recent years for surprising successes.

The Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants open up Sunday Night Football in Week 1 and I like the underdog in the game to find a way to keep this close, although I am still expecting Dallas have enough to win the game.

I think the Cowboys could have the best Offensive Line in the NFL and even the loss of DeMarco Murray might not slow down this Offense. Much of their success of last season was based on being able to run the ball, but the Cowboys have players who can make up for the loss of their leading rusher in 2014, although perhaps not the consistent player in that regard.

However, Dallas won't mind using a committee at Running Back and I think they bully the line of scrimmage in this one. That will only open things up for Tony Romo to find his big time Receivers in Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley and Jason Witten and it is difficult to imagine the Cowboys can't move the chains in this one.

On the other hand, I am expecting the New York Giants to have success in this one too, especially as Eli Manning with his new contract in tow will be facing a Secondary that is looking short of numbers and quality. No Victor Cruz is a blow, but I think Manning is going to have time to hit the likes of Odell Beckham and Larry Donnell with Dallas missing the likes of Rolando McClain and Greg Hardy from the Defense.

A key for the New York Giants is to find something of a running game to control the clock and keep this Dallas Offense off the field. Andre Williams and Rashad Jennings are going to both get their touches, but they have to hit the holes better than they did last season to help the Giants improve their 3.6 yards per carry from last season.

The Giants weren't at their best as the road underdog last season, but they have a strong 11-6 record against the spread as the road underdog in Divisional games over the last eight years. The Dallas Cowboys have struggled as a home favourite though, going 6-15 against the spread in this position in Divisional games over the same time period.

New York haven't covered the spread in their last couple of visits to Arlington, but there are enough questions about Dallas Defensively to think the Giants are getting too many points in this one.

MY PICKS: New England Patriots - 7 Points @ 1.95 Betway (2 Units)
Green Bay Packers - 6.5 Points @ 2.00 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Houston Texans - 1 Point @ 1.91 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Miami Dolphins - 3.5 Points @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Arizona Cardinals - 2.5 Points @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Oakland Raiders + 3 Points @ 1.91 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Denver Broncos - 4 Points @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
New York Giants + 6.5 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (2 Units)

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