It has been a thoroughly frustrating couple of weeks as I’ve made it a little over half the games I wanted to see of the preseason, but my actual paying jobs has been kicking me round the place and sadly this endeavour does not pay my mortgage.
I always try to bring you things I’ve seen or my opinions rather than parroting conventional opinion so I shall dive straight into a preview of week one, and the return of the picks competition from Dan, who I think is still smarting from his narrow loss last season. Once more we’ll be taking the lines from the ESPN Pick ‘Em game and I will be using this to judge how I feel about the game.
Remember, the default line between two equal teams is -3 to the home team
Steelers @ Patriots (-3.5)
All I want to say about deflate gate, and the ongoing saga of NFL administrative incompetence is that we now have an extremely motivated all time great quarterback starting in the opening game of the season. The defensive overhaul in the offseason, shedding the high cost secondary and appearing to focus instead on rushing the passer, is the kind of tactical flexibility that Coach Belichick is known for and so I am less concerned about this than I would be for many other teams. Time will tell if they can pull it off, but I for one will want to see an extended downturn before I believe it.
The Steelers have a terrifying offence, but a huge part of that is on paper only this week given Le’Veon Bell’s suspension, and we saw in the playoffs how much trouble Bell’s absence can cause. Add to this the injury of Maurkice Pouncey and you do start to have concerns about what should be the better side of the ball. The Steelers’ secondary worries me, and as they transition to a more cover-2 based scheme, which is what Mike Tomlin is more usually associated with, I think they will suffer again this season on the defensive side of the ball as they work things through.
I don’t think there can be too many places that a team in this situation would less like to visit than Foxborough so I’m going for the Patriots to cover.
Gee’s Pick: Patriots
Dan’s Pick: Patriots
Colts @ Bills (+2.5)
The Bills certainly increased their media presence with the hire of Rex Ryan as their head coach, but what he will be able to do with their already fearsome defence shall be fascinating to watch. The question will be if Greg Roman can get enough out of the offence to get them into the playoffs for the first time since 1999. Having won the quarterback competition, it will be interesting to see if Tyrod Taylor can give them the play that this team have been searching for over recent years, and make the most out of second year receiver Sammy Watkins.
The Colts have the opposite problem in that they have their quarterback, and a few other good players, but I’m still not convinced by the way this team is run despite the pair of shellackings they gave the Bengals last year. In Andrew Luck they have a player who can carry a team on his back, but with plenty of other areas to develop I’m not sure that a receiver in the second round was really necessary given their existing depth and issues on both lines. I think they are in with a very good chance of winning their division again this season, and may well win this game but I just have a feeling that the Bills will keep this one close.
Gee’s Pick: Bills
Dan’s Pick: Colts
Packers @ Bears (+5.5)
The Packers offseason was what we expected, Ted Thompson knows what he is doing, and so no one was surprised when they held onto their own, drafted solidly and will again be a contender this year. Such is the faith in the infrastructure in Green Bay that people are remaining calm about the loss of Jordy Nelson for the season to a torn ACL. There is depth at receiver, and so whilst there is no doubt that it will hurt the Packers, Rodgers is such a good quarterback that as long as their depth doesn’t get tested too much further then the Packers should be fine. It will be interesting to see whether the Clay Mathews experiment at inside linebacker becomes a staple this year as it certainly helped them last year, but the return BJ Raji could also help here as well.
The Bears are a team in transition after a mess of a season last year, but whilst I would not want Jay Cutler as my franchise quarterback, given the dysfunction that was surrounding the team and coaching staff last season you have to hope he won’t be that bad again. That said, they have lost Brandon Marshall and it remains to be seen whether the line has improved. Meanwhile the defence is transitioning schemes and it would seem to me that it will be a multi year project to turn them round. I have faith that John Fox will at least return this team to respectability, and he has a great record in improving defences, but I think it will take time. I am sure that John Fox will want to make a statement against the old enemy in his first game in charge, particularly as it is in soldier field, but I just don’t think they have the players to do it this early in the project.
Gee’s Pick: Packers
Dan’s Pick: Packers
Browns @ Jets (-3.5)
The Jets are an interesting proposition this year as I have a great deal of respect for Todd Bowles, the offseason looked to be building nicely and I think they are going to have a really good defence this season having put together a secondary to go with their great front seven whilst somehow stealing what for many was the best player in the draft. However, the recovery took the most Jets like of stumbles when before he could he even take a snap of the 2015 regular season, Geno Smith’s jaw was broken by a team mate with a locker room sucker punch. Once more it is a familiar story for Jets defence, a great defensive coach with a really good defence, and a questionable offence.
That said, they welcome a Browns team who have a turgid set of skills players on offence behind a good offensive line that have two players who would start on pretty much any other team’s offensive line. I’m really not sure what the plan is for this team’s development, and they certainly have missed on an awful lot of first round picks recently. Coach Pettine is a really good defensive coach, but this is another team who have too much dysfunction to succeed consistently. I think a lot of their problems on offense followed the Alex Mack injury, but it says something about a team when the only quarterback who has played for them recently with a winning record, and a native of Cleveland, is now playing for another team. The fans of Cleveland have been so loyal to this team, and deserve better, but I think this will be another season of frustration for the city.
Gee’s Pick: Jets
Dan’s Pick: Browns
Chiefs @ Texans (-1.5)
This is one of those games that I have gone back and forth on.
I have been watching the Texans on hard knocks all season and have seen the first three of their preseason games. It’s not exactly a secret that I’m a huge fan of JJ Watt, and I would love to see Jadeveon Clowney make a difference this season, but a lot is resting on the performance of Brian Hoyer at quarterback, but having watched him play I feel that you can win with him and this team has more around him than the Browns team of recent years. It remains to be seen if they can cope with the loss of Arian Foster, who is hugely important to them when fit, but in JJ Watt they have one of the few defensive players who can make enough of a difference to turn a game on his own.
The Chiefs are a solid football team that in case you hadn’t heard, struggled getting the ball to their outside receivers, but they have strong defence with a pair of great pass rushing linebackers and one of my favourite defensive tackles who I am very worried about as back injuries are never easy to come back and I really want to see Dontari Poe causing havoc in the middle of the Chiefs defence again. They also have one of the leagues great rushing backs in Jamaal Charles. I’m really looking forward to seeing them in London this year and I think that they should be in the playoff hunt again this year.
I can see this being a tight game between two teams in that tier just below the teams you expect to make the playoffs, but I just have more faith in the Chiefs as a team and Alex Smith as a quarterback. I’ve changed my mind multiple times as I’ve written about both teams, including during this conclusion, but last year taught me to trust my first instinct in cases like this so with a great deal of worry, not to mention betrayal of my man crush, I will reluctantly back the Chiefs in this one. I would not put money on this game!
Gee’s Pick: Chiefs
Dan’s Pick: Texans
Seahawks @ Rams (+3.5)
The Seahawks have had an interesting offseason, dominated by contract talks with their starters and in particular Russell Wilson. They also pulled off a trade to bring in Jimmy Graham, and whilst Kam Chancellor is still holding out, there is an awful lot of talent on this roster. It may take them time to get going as a number of important players are coming back from injury, but the Seahawks once again have to be considered one of the elite challengers in the NFC. It will be interesting to see how they transition from a team who can pack their roster thanks to having a cheap quarterback playing at a high level, to one that has to pay that quarterback, but for now I have faith that Pete Carroll will be able to keep this team on the right track.
I’m really not sure what to make of the Rams this year. Their defensive front looked terrifying on paper last year, but between a scheme shift and injury, it took a long time for them to get going, but in the offseason they managed to increase their depth with the addition of Nick Fairley. However, I’m not at all sure of how Nick Foles is going to play, and they are awfully banged up at running back right now. I think that Jeff Fisher will pull out the stops to give them another solid season, but I’m not sure they will turn the corner, and whilst they usually play the Seahawks tough at home, I have to go with the visiting team in this game.
Gee’s Pick: Seahawks
Dan’s Pick: Seahawks
Dolphins @ Redskins (+2.5)
There is real hope for Dan and his Dolphins team, but whilst I’m not sure I would have invested the amount of money in a non quarterback that the Dolphins gave Ndamukong Suh, I can understand why they did. They have a young promising quarterback who is still on his rookie deal, and Suh is a hard worker who will set the tone for that defence and help a pass rush and run defence that went missing down the stretch. I can also see Ryan Tannerhill taking another step forward, in fact I’m fairly sure it was the progress he made in his first year under Bill Lazer as Offensive Coordinator that kept Joe Philburn his job. There was talk that this was the year that they could perhaps topple the Patriots in the AFC East, but now that Brady’s ban has been overturned, I think it could be a tough ask.
That said, there are worse places to start your campaign than in Washington. What started off with a solid draft and a promising looking approach to the offseason has once again become bogged down in the status and play of Robert Griffin. This is another team where there is a continued stretch of dysfunction and I think that this is going to be another long season for the fans in Washington.
Gee’s Pick: Dolphins
Dan’s Pick: Dolphins
Panthers @ Jaguars (+4.5)
The Jaguars have been building through youth for a while, and it feels like this was supposed to be the year that some of the promise finally began to show through. So it was a real kick in the teeth when their first round pass rusher Dante Fowler didn’t even make it through OTAs before tearing his ACL and being done for the season. Their big free agent signing Julius Thomas is battling some combination of a broken finger and tendon issues, and so I would imagine that Jaguar fans could well be fearing the worst. However, I still feel they are heading in the right direction, and for Gus Bradley it is probably a do or be fired season.
It didn’t feel like the Panthers of this season were too much different from the team of last season until they lost Kelvin Benjamin for the season to another of this preseason’s rash of ACL tears. There seems to have been more rookie wide receivers make an in impact in their rookie years recently, much like Benjamin did last year, but whilst I can see the logic of drafting a big target as Devin Funchess as a target for Cam Newton who is not the most accurate of quarterbacks, I don’t think he is the kind of polished receiver prospect you would want to be relying on to fill the void having lost your number one receiver. The defence will play well again this season, but I have a feeling that this game will be tight, and that the Jaguars will cover at home.
Gee’s Pick: Jaguars
Dan’s Pick: Panthers
Lions @ Chargers (-2.5)
I’m really not sure about either of these teams.
The Chargers appear to have secured the future service s of Phillip Rivers, and there is no way that their offensive line can be as beaten up as they were last season so the offence can hopefully recapture some of their best form from last season once Antonio Gates comes back from his four game PED suspension. However, apart from Eric Weddle, there just aren’t a lot of defensive players that really inspire me and I wonder how they are going to cope this year. That said, if Rivers can sustain his early season form behind a healthier line then this could be a team to keep an eye on.
The Lions will be a team to watch, but possibly for different reasons. Last season’s return to the playoffs was brought about by a new disciplined approach that Head Coach Jim Caldwell was able to bring to the team in his first year in charge. However, this is a very different roster than the one last year as not only did they lose Ndamukong Suh, but lost Nick Fairley, and it will be interesting to see how their defence rebuilds itself around Haloti Ngata. Having watched Ngata over the years in division games, I know what a good player he has been, but a gap controlling 3-4 nose tackle, even one as good as Ngata, does not really replace the two players the Lions have lost. I also have questions about Matthew Stafford, who never seems to win the big games when they count. If Calvin Johnson can stay healthy, then a pairing of him and Golden Tate will be one of the more fearsome starting receiver pairs in the NFL, but there are questions at running back and the offensive line has to do a better job than last year if this team are going to build on the previous season’s success.
I’m not convinced by Stafford on the road, and so despite the points I am going to back Phillip Rivers at home to get the job done with his offence.
Gee’s Pick: Chargers
Dan’s Pick: Lions
Saints @ Cardinals (-2.5)
The Cardinals stumbled into the playoffs last year despite the carnage at quarterback, but have lost Todd Bowles to the Jets as Head Coach, and there are still questions about their running backs and offensive line. The return of Carson Palmer should help the offence if he can stay healthy. The real test will be how they adjust on defence to the shift in personnel in the secondary and their new defensive coordinator, but after what Bruce Arians and his staff managed to do last season, I have faith that they will be competing for a playoff place once again this season.
The Saints on the other hand, are a team that’s in flux and I have mixed feelings about them. It was a surprise to see them trade away Jimmy Graham, the tight end that has been the centre piece in what they have done in the last few years, but it appears that Sean Payton is trying to take some of the load off Drew Brees’s shoulders and if anyone can pull this off successfully it is Payton. However, this is also a team who have been badly managing their cap for years, and I worry about their talent on defence. I’m not sure Roby Ryan is going to be able to turn it round this year, which could make things very tough for a team trying to run the ball more to extend the career of their great, but aging quarterback.
The Saints really struggled last season, and I’m not sure how much better they are going to be this one so whilst I’m a little nervous about the pick. I’ll back the Cardinals to be too strong in their home opener against the Saints.
Gee’s Pick: Cardinals
Dan’s Pick: Cardinals
Bengals @ Raiders (+3.5)
After years of horror, there was actually some hope for Raiders fans last season. Khalil Mack shone in a linebacking group that I thought was coming together nicely, and Derek Carr did enough to suggest he may be their quarterback for years to come. It will be interesting to see what effect Jack Del Rio will have on the team, but in drafting Amari Cooper the Raiders are clearly trying to give Carr every chance to succeed. They were a tough team to play at the end of last season, and their fans will be hoping that this continues into this season.
Then Bengals look to be loaded on offence this year, with a number of players back from injury and once again it will be playoff win or bust for them. They have a tough schedule and this is not exactly the start Marvin Lewis would have wanted, but whilst I still have some concerns about the defence, the pass rush looked markedly better in preseason, and whilst it was a blow to lose Terrance Newman, you can see why the Bengals did as first round picks Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard have looked good as they work into the rotation alongside Adam Jones and Leon Hall.
I think the Raiders will make this a tough game, and the points give me a slight pause, but the optimist in me sees the Bengals taking care of business this year, and getting off to a good start in Oakland.
Gee’s Pick: Bengals
Dan’s Pick: Bengals
Ravens @ Broncos (-4.5)
The Broncos have had an interesting offseason as John Elway has brought in a coach in Gary Kubiak that he knows very well, and whom he believes will make sure that the Broncos go out with a fight rather than a whimper. The nervousness will still surround how much Peyton Manning has left, and whether he will be more willing to relax his legendary work habits to protect his body a bit more. Between the scheme change, and the rebuilt offensive line there are a lot of questions, and it hasn’t helped that as good as Elway has been in free agency, the draft has not yielded a lot of high quality players recently. That said, the defence looks to have improved and if Manning can’t live up to his legendary past, it appears that he might not have to as the defence has the tools to make sure that he doesn’t have to score thirty points a game to win. I think they should have another competitive season, but there is going to be a hint of the circus surrounding this team until Manning finally calls it a day.
The Ravens are now on their third offensive coordinator in three years, and although I only saw a little bit of them in preseason, their receivers worry me and at some point all this change has to catch up with them. They are a really well run franchise, and have been managing to re-tool effectively around Joe Flacco’s enormous contract. Their defence front continues to be excellent, but I’m not sure that their secondary that was truly awful at the end of last season due to injury, will be fully back to where they want it this season. I expect another black and blue AFC North battle this year, and the Ravens are going to be there or there abouts, but I just expect the Broncos to take care of business at home on opening day.
Gee’s Pick: Broncos
Dan’s Pick: Broncos
Titans @ Buccaneers (-3.5)
This is the battle of first round rookie quarterbacks. The Buccaneers were seen by some as a trendy sleeper pick last season, but this team who had apparently won in the free agency race had a truly rotten season. Despite a trade to get Logan Mankins and signing swing tackle Anthony Collins who had always played well for the Bengals, the o-line didn’t gel and the only bright spot was the play of Mike Evans who managed to mass over one thousand yards in his first season in the NFL. Things however, were not a lot better on defence, and it is a sign of the offseason problems that both high price free agents the Bucs prised from the Bengals are no long the team with Anthony Collins being cut and is a free agent, whilst Michael Johnson has returned to the Bengals and is still being paid by the Bucs. However, a new season brings new hope in the shape of first round pick Jameis Winston, a player who can make all the throws, but was constantly questions about off the field issues during the draft process. Time will tell if he was a good pick, but I’ve not heard too much about the Bucs this offseason and there is a lot to put right.
The Titans were one of the most anonymous teams in the NFL last season, but were the source of constant speculation during the offseason before they finally picked quarterback Marcus Mariota. He was not an obvious fit for Ken Wisenhunt’s offensive system, but there has been a real buzz surrounding him this preseason. The addition of Dick LeBeau and his famous zone blitz to the coaching staff is a fascinating move that in combination with possibly finding a franchise quarterback seems to be giving this team an identity. The proof will be in how they perform this season, but the Titans traditionally have been better than their recent malaise and I’m not sure what the Bucs have done to get an extra half point at home. I have a feeling that the Titans could well pull this game out and win the battle of the rookies.
Gee’s Pick: Titans
Dan’s Pick: Titans
Giants @ Cowboys (-5.5)
The Cowboys have had an interesting offseason. I can see the logic in them not resigning running back DeMarco Murray to a huge contract given that he’s not had a history of staying fit and had basically four hundred and fifty touches last season. This is particularly understandable as whilst their restrained draft strategy has yielded one of the best offensive lines in the league, their cap management has been a mess and they only had the money to resign one of their big free agents and it really had to be Dez Bryant. However with the o-line still looking excellent, a healthier Tony Romo it is not the offense that worries me about the Cowboys. I was not the only one who was expecting their defence to be a disaster last season, but somehow coordinator Rod Marinelli managed to bring together a unit that did enough for the Cowboys to get into the playoffs. However, whilst the pass rush will be improved with the risk that unfortunately paid of in their signing of number 76 as his suspension was reduced to four games, the secondary worries me, particularly with the injury to their cornerback Orlando Scandrick who is out for the season.
The Giants made some progress on offence last year as Eli Manning bedded into the new offensive system of Ben McAdo, but the real bright spot was the play of Odell Beckham. Unfortunately, that might be all the Giants fans have to hold onto this season as there are questions about their offensive line, and a real dearth of talent on the defence. This wasn’t helped by the firework accident that Jason Pierre-Paul suffered that resulted in him voluntarily having his index finger amputated in an attempt to be ready for the season, a decision that doesn’t seem to have paid off.
I’m not sure whether the Cowboys are going to repeat their performance of last year, but at home I think they have more than enough to cover these points against the Giants.
Gee’s Pick: Cowboys
Dan’s Pick: Cowboys
Eagles @ Falcons (+0.5)
The Falcons were a mess last season, not helped by a wave of injuries to their offensive line, they finished 6-10 and it was time for a change. With a franchise quarterback in place ownership chose to go for defensive in their decision to bring in Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. This would seem to make sense as the Falcons defence, and in particular their pass rush was a mess, and by giving Kyle Shanahan the best probably the best quarterback of his NFL career the offence should take care of itself. I’m not as familiar with their offseason moves as I should be, but it will be fascinating to see what aspects of the Seattle defence he brings with him as he tries to turn round the defence, and what impact his rookie pass rusher Vic Beasley will have.
If the Falcons have been a bit quiet in the offseason, at least to my eyes, the Eagles have been making all kinds of headlines. No one can accuse Chip Kelly of being hesitant with his knew front office role, and whilst I would question some of the ways he has chosen to spend his money, there is not doubting his talent as a coach. The team has looked excellent in the preseason and they are favourites to be challengers in the NFC. There is the question of whether Sam Bradford can stay healthy, but I shall look forward to finally seeing this team on coaching tape, and I think they should win this one comfortably, even if they are on the road.
Gee’s Pick: Eagles
Dan’s Pick: Eagles
Vikings @ 49ers (-2.5)
The turmoil of the offseason for the 49ers has left their fans reeling. With the loss of so many players to retirement, this a remade roster, and the hiring of internal candidate Jim Tomsula was not the kind of signing to excite the fans. There is still a good level of talent on the team and so I do not expect the atrocious season that some were predicting, but it is going to be a tough year. The big questions are whether this team will be able to remake the defence having lost so many players, and whether spending time with Kurt Warner will have helped Colin Kaepernick make the developmental steps that are needed for him to progress as a player. It will also be interesting to see how Jarryd Hayne fairs having made the roster, but when he has the ball in his hands the Australian rugby league player is a dynamic runner, and a natural punt returner.
The Vikings are so many peoples’ sleeper team this year that they don’t even count as a surprise any more. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has really looks to have taken another step in his development this preseason, and Mike Zimmer is continuing his excellent run with defences. The hire of Norv Turner as an offensive coordinator seemed like a really smart decision last year, and I think the Zimmer/Turner combination is going to continue to get results this season. I feat they may just miss out on the playoffs, but this is a team on the rise and I think they start with a win against the recovering 49ers.
Gee’s Pick: Vikings
Dan’s Pick: Vikings