As the Green Bay Packers were getting blown out of the NFC championship game at Atlanta, Aaron Rodgers turned to Jordy Nelson with a thought.
“We gotta get one of these at home, man,” Rodgers told Nelson on the bench, as shown by NFL Films.
This isn’t college football, where you can lose early because the rankings and playoff committee will eventually just excuse you for it. When we start talking about NFC playoff scenarios and seedings in December, the Packers’ first game against the Seattle Seahawks is probably going to matter. Rodgers has never played in an NFC championship game at home, and he clearly understands how important that would be. The quest to get that starts right away.
The NFC is fairly wide open, but most people expect the Packers and Seahawks to be among the top few teams. If the Packers and Rodgers want to “get one of these at home,” it’ll be a longer road if they don’t beat Seattle in the season opener. This could be a big tiebreaker game.
It’s probably the marquee game of the Week 1 slate, though there are a few other good ones. I’m still skeptical enough of the Seahawks’ offensive line that I’m taking Green Bay as a 3-point favorite. Rodgers finished on a roll last season and there’s no reason to believe he can’t get off to a good start this year, especially with new tight end Martellus Bennett in the fold. And if the Packers don’t win this week, they might regret it way down the line.
Here are the picks for Week 1. As in past years, all lines are from Yahoo Pro Football Pick’em, except for my five SuperContest picks (I’ll note when there’s a difference in the lines):
Bengals (-2.5) over Ravens: The Bengals are the better team, so I can’t figure out why the line is so low. I’m supposed to believe that Joe Flacco won’t be rusty after missing all preseason with a back injury? Even if Flacco never had an injury issue, this Ravens offense isn’t impressive.
And yes, I’m in the famous Westgate SuperContest again as part of Team OddsShark (and back after finishing first among the OddsShark pickers last season … thank you Drew Brees for that Week 17 backdoor cover). The concept is simple: Submit your top five picks against the spread each week. The concept is simple, but actually winning the picks is not so easy. I’ll be posting my five SuperContest picks here each week.
Cardinals (-2) over Lions: A stat I can’t get over: Detroit trailed in the fourth quarter of 15 of its 16 games last season. The Lions need to play a lot better this season to get close to nine wins. And I think the Cardinals are a great bounce-back candidate this season. The concern I have is that Arizona is breaking in a lot of new players on defense, but the Cardinals are typically a fast-starting team under Arians. They’ve gone 8-2 in their last 10 September games according to OddsShark. (The line is Cardinals minus-1 in the Yahoo Pro Football Pick’em.)
Titans (-2.5) over Raiders: The Raiders were last season’s breakout team, and they get to face a team that sure looks like this season’s breakout. This is the game I’m most interested to watch this week. I think the Titans make a nice statement here (the line is Titans minus-1 in the Yahoo Pro Football Pick’em).
Jaguars (+5) over Texans: Remember, the whole plan was to have Leonard Fournette carry the load and take responsibility off Blake Bortles’ plate. I assume the Jaguars were just being overly cautious with Fournette by holding him out most of the preseason with an injury. I’m not sure if the Jaguars can get the upset, but I think this is a close, low-scoring game with two fantastic defenses (the line is Jaguars plus-5.5 in the Yahoo Pro Football Pick’em).
Vikings (-3) over Saints: I’m not sure the fantasy of Adrian Peterson going crazy against the Vikings is going to happen. He’s generally a slow starter and the Vikings have a really good defense. I’m fairly high on Minnesota this season. I’m not the biggest Sam Bradford fan but I also acknowledge he stepped into a rough situation last season, joining the Vikings a week before the season, and didn’t do that bad. If he’s better and Dalvin Cook improves the running game, the Vikings will be a better team.
THE REST OF THE PICKS
Patriots (-8.5) over Chiefs (picked Thursday): Shocker. Even if I understood the Chiefs could cover, I never figured on them winning straight up. The Patriots have some issues they need to figure out.
Jets (+11) over Bills: How many wins would you mark down for the Bills? Five? Six? There wasn’t a lot of positive news from Buffalo’s offseason (though there were constant updates about them Changing The Culture). And the Bills are still huge favorites over the Jets. I’ll swallow hard and take the Jets, because the Bills shouldn’t be favored by this much over anyone.
Bears (+7) over Falcons: The Bears had a fairly unlucky season last year. Bad luck in close games, injuries and turnover margin usually doesn’t carry over, and the Bears hit the trifecta in those categories last season. I like the Falcons in general, but it’s a lot of points for a Week 1 road team to give.
Browns (+10) over Steelers: I can’t say I love backing the Browns with a rookie quarterback starting and No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett out, but the Steelers are a different team on the road. Ben Roethlisberger’s home and road splits are dramatic and weird: 116.7 rating at home last season and 78.4 on the road last season, and that’s a three-season trend for him. When you lean toward any double-digit home underdog in the NFL, you end up backing some teams like the Browns on Sunday.
Eagles (pick’em) over Redskins: Of all the games this week, this is the game where I’m having the toughest time figuring out both teams. Washington’s offense really did not look good in the preseason, and I’m worried about a slow start for the Redskins.
Rams (-3) over Colts: If the Rams can’t win this one, with Andrew Luck and Vontae Davis out for the Colts, which games are they going to win this season? Though, it’s also fair to point out that the Rams not having Aaron Donald is a pretty big factor too. For what it’s worth I do like the Rams as a survivor contest pick, because when would you ever pick them again this season?
Panthers (-5) over 49ers: Tough game because I’m not sure about Cam Newton’s arm strength yet, after shoulder surgery and all of two preseason passes. If the 49ers come out and give the Panthers a run in Week 1, I’ll be impressed with Kyle Shanahan.
Giants (+4) over Cowboys: If I knew Odell Beckham was playing, this would be one of my top five picks. Beckham is questionable with an ankle injury. The Giants played the Cowboys very well last season, and bring back a great defense and an improved offense. If Beckham is close to 100 percent, I think the Giants win straight up.
Chargers (+3.5) over Broncos: This is a nice game to finish the week. I’m really interested to see the Chargers this season. Just about every year some team goes from worst to first in the NFL, and I think the best candidate for that this season is the Chargers. It won’t be a huge shock if they win this game straight up.
– – – – – – –