By Neil Keefe
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I hate the end of summer. I hate that it’s been raining for the last three days and it’s cold enough to have to get out the hoodies. But I love that football is back tonight, the Giants begin their season in three days, the first game of the ALDS is in 22 days and the NHL season begins in 28 days.
The beginning of the football season gives every team and every fan a chance to believe in their team and in moments like this happening (That’s me in Boston after the Giants beat the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. I might have had a few beers). That night I drank in celebration at a bar in Faneuil Hall in the heart of Boston watching the highlights of the game over and over and over and over until the bar kicked us out.
The next morning I woke up without any traces of a hangover and walked out onto Hanover Street, which looked like the opening scenes of Vanilla Sky or I Am Legend. There were hardly any people around and the handful of people I did see how a look of complete devastation across their face. I couldn’t have been happier. That’s what football can do.
Tonight begins another team’s chance. And another fan base’s chance at having Super Sunday be more meaningful than using a stopwatch to time the National Anthem — and setting an over/under of 11.5 on how many cheese balls your friend Scott can fit into his mouth (He fit 21 and then somehow ate them all without removal).
Between my fantasy teams, my survivor pools, my pick ’em pools, trying to put together six-team parlays and three-team teasers, I thought it would be a good idea to pick every NFL game for the entire season and have it documented.
(Home team in caps.)
GREEN BAY (-4) over New Orleans
The Packers scare me in a way that I feel like they will never have to punt. Obviously that’s ridiculous, but that’s what it seems like. I just see receivers open all over the field and Aaron Rodgers swiftly moving his team down the field and into the end zone. The weird thing is that I felt this same way about the Saints after the 2010 season.
I think the Packers have a chance to do what the Patriots did to spreads during the 2007 season. The Patriots offense forced Las Vegas to make double digits lines for most of the year because of their ridiculous win differentials in the first eight weeks (24, 24, 31, 21, 17, 21, 21, 45). If I’m right about the Packers following this lead, it’s time to jump on board now before they are favored by 17.5 points in a few weeks. If I’m wrong, I will open the 2011 season with a loss.
Pittsburgh (+2.5) over BALTIMORE
One of the great Week 1 matchups, but also a game that feels like should be scheduled for later in the year. Even though they only meet twice a year, it seems like these two teams are always playing against each other and it seems like the rosters for both teams never change. Neither of these things is obviously true.
This really is a coin flip. In their last six regular season meetings, three points have decided their games five times. The other time? Four points.
I think the Steelers are the better team and that’s why I have to take them with the points in what will most likely be a three-point game.
TAMPA BAY (-1.5) over Detroit
Everyone is on the Lions bandwagon. Everyone. How often do these bandwagons derail? Well, just about every single time. That’s not to say the Lions won’t make the playoffs for the first time since 1999. If you’re buying into the Lions because of how they improved in 2010 (2-14 in 2009 to 6-10 in 2010), why not buy into the Bucs who did the same (3-13 in 2009 to 10-6 in 2010)?
Atlanta (-3) over CHICAGO
Part of me thinks that the Bears will manage the game and the clock and I will look up in the fourth quarter with the Falcons needing to go 76 yards in 1:56 to cover and win. Then the other part of me sees Lovie Smith staring blankly into space and wondering if he will give Jay Cutler the silent treatment after another pick six. I can’t put my faith in Jay Cutler in Week 1. That would be irresponsible.
KANSAS CITY (-5.5) over Buffalo
I’m surprised this line is only -5.5. It’s the Bills. THE BILLS!
HOUSTON (-9) over Indianapolis
It’s very weird that Peyton Manning won’t be playing on Sunday and also disappointing. Peyton has started every game for the Colts since Sept. 6, 1998. That’s a long effing time. 13 seasons of starting every game for the Colts and now Kerry Collins will take over for him. The same Kerry Collins that I watched the other day on ESPN B-roll do the karaoke exercise like his feet were tied together. It wasn’t pretty.
Here’s my problem with this game: The Houston Hype. This phenomena has been going on for a few seasons now, but has actually cooled this year. The idea that “This is the Texans year!” has settled down as the media and the “experts” (you can’t forget the experts) trade in their Texans apparel for their Lions apparel.
This is a game the Texans should win. Scratch that. This is a game the Texans have to win if they have any fantasies about running out of that tunnel with their helmets shining in the sun. And by that I mean if they have any fantasies of playing in the postseason for the first time in franchise history.
Philadelphia (-4.5) over ST. LOUIS
Everyone with a heart and a soul is rooting against the Eagles. Obviously this doesn’t include anyone from Philadelphia.
I hate the Eagles for so many things. Most recently their comeback in Week 15 against the Giants and then their robbing/stealing of Steve Smith away from Giants fans while Jerry Reese and Tom Coughlin stood by and broke the Good Samaritan law.
I’m forced to hear about how great the Eagles are and how they are the “Dream Team” despite having won nothing. I have already mentally prepared myself for their three Sunday Night Football games in which Cris Collinsworth will try to destroy the over 63.5 times he will say “Mike Vick” in the three games combined. I’m also thinking about blocking my friend Connor from Facebook, GChat, Twitter and any other line of communication I can think of in the event that the Eagles do end up being nasty and embarrass the Giants in Weeks 3 and 11. I might as well have Verizon block his number from my phone while I’m at it.
Even with my hatred for the Eagles coming on strong on the outside for my hatred for the Red Sox (the Eagles will never actually catch them), I can’t help but pick them this week. I know the Rams almost went to the postseason last year (with a .438 win percentage), but I just don’t see them handling the Eagles well in Week 1. I would like for nothing more than to be wrong about this pick.
CLEVELAND (-6.5) over Cincinnati
The Browns proved last season that they don’t completely suck. The Bengals did the opposite. If I wrote anything more about this game it would be a waste of my time and yours.
Tennessee (+2) over JACKSONVILLE
Let’s look at this chain of events:
1. David Garrard is named Jaguars starting quarterback on the depth chart released on Monday that has Blaine Gabbert listed as the backup and Luke McCown as the No. 3.
2. David Garrard throws three interceptions in Monday’s practice.
3. David Garrard is introduced as Jaguars starting quarterback at a chamber of commerce luncheon to promote the team on Tuesday.
4. David Garrard is cut by the Jaguars with coach Jack Del Rio calling his effort at Monday’s practice, “the last straw.”
5. Luke McCown is named Jaguars starting quarterback.
6. Las Vegas takes down the Titans-Jaguars line of Jaguars -3.
7. Las Vegas puts the line back up at Jaguars -2.
Somehow the Jaguars are still giving points here. Am I missing something? Did the Jaguars not cut their nine-year veteran then bump their No. 3 to No. 1? I’ll take the Titans and thanks for the two points.
New York Football Giants (-3) over WASHINGTON
A lot of people think the Giants are going to suck. I don’t. But I’m also a Giants fan, so I’m not exactly objective. The Giants never lose to the Redskins. Never. Well never as in not since Dec. 16, 2007, but that was a long time ago.
The Giants defense is depleted and Eli is missing his two safety blankets and if these things happened to any other team I would be laughing and writing them off. But if you’re thinking about taking the Redskins, think about this: REX GROSSMAN!
I’m picking the Giants not only because I believe in them, but also because I don’t believe in Rex Grossman. The Giants have a brutal schedule, and if the Giants can’t beat or cover against the Redskins then they aren’t going anywhere this season. This is also why I’m picking the Giants in my survivor pool. All in on Week 1. I love it.
ARIZONA (-7) over Carolina
Is there a game I could care less about? If you’re from Cleveland or Cincinnati, don’t answer that question.
One time in 16 games last year did a Panthers quarterback pass for more than 195 yards. Now they are giving another rookie quarterback a chance. This won’t end well, and this might be the lowest line we see for a Panthers road game this game season.
Seattle (+5.5) over SAN FRANCISCO
Another year of football and another year of the 49ers getting love from Las Vegas. Alex Smith is still the starting quarterback, right? OK, just checking.
I’m pulling for Tarvaris Jackson because the Vikings put him on the back burner while they gave Brett Favre a second go-around with the team. Second go-arounds don’t usually end well. Just ask Javier Vazquez who blew his team’s chance to go to the World Series like Favre did the Super Bowl (well, actually it was Kevin Brown, but it wouldn’t work as well if I used Brown) and then in his second chance he was so bad that he didn’t even see the postseason (though his team did). I know. I’m stretching it with this analogy.
I don’t know if Jackson will be any good. He probably won’t be. But I know that his backup, Charlie Whitehurst, isn’t good either. When I watched Charlie against the Giants last year I felt terrible. Not because Charlie couldn’t complete a pass and the Giants led 21-0 in the first quarter and won 41-7. But because I didn’t bet the mortgage that I don’t have and the savings fund for my kids’ college tuition that I don’t have for the kids I don’t have on the Giants.
Minnesota (+9) over SAN DIEGO
How many times a year are the Chargers giving 8.5 and 9 points? Too many. For some reason people still think the Chargers are good. Sports Illustrated’s Peter King actually thinks they are going to the Super Bowl. But he also picks his Fine Fifteen out of a hat and tells Larry David how to write and produce Curb Your Enthusiasm in his Monday Morning Quarterback. So I guess we’ll let that prediction slide and just attribute it to some unusual ingredient in one of the coffees he drank from a Sunoco gas station off some dirt road near some NFL team’s training camp.
I’m not buying into the Chargers because I don’t see why anyone would. This doesn’t mean that I’m about to volunteer to drive the Vikings bandwagon and by its first tank of gas. I’m not ready to believe in a team that is coming off a 6-10 season and starting a quarterback that the Redskins thought was a worse option to win games than Rex Grossman. All it means is that when you have a situation like this, you take the points. Especially when it’s nine points.
NEW YORK JETS (-4) over Dallas
Cowboys-Jets in Week 1 in a preview of “The Super Bowl Matchup I Never Want To See Take Place.” Well, along with Cowboys-Patriots, Jets-Eagles and Patriots-Eagles (which I had to live through in Boston in January 2005).
This should have been Giants-Jets on Sunday Night Football on Sept. 11 in Giants Stadium. (I don’t think I will ever refer to it as MetLife Stadium.) But instead we get Cowboys-Jets with a whole lot less meaning.
I’m sure there is a reason for this. I’m sure there’s a good reason the NFL decided to not have both New York teams play on the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11. I’m sure there’s a good reason why the New York teams are now meeting on Christmas Eve, which is convenient. Just the NFL nearly canceling the entire season and then ruining what could have been an awesome moment for the city. No big deal.
New England (-7) over MIAMI
And so it begins. Another year of my love/hate relationship with Tom Brady. Here’s what I wrote about Brady on Dec. 7, 2010 after the Patriots embarrassed the Jets on Monday Night Football:
I should hate Tom Brady. He is a legend and an icon in Boston and has brought immense happiness three times to the sports city I hate more than any other. But everything about Tom Brady says I should like him.
He’s the Derek Jeter of football. He’s a winner. He says the right things (minus that Plaxico Burress defense comment). He wears a Yankees hat away from the football field and is married to a smokeshow. I think I want to be a fan of Tom Brady. I just don’t know if I can.
How badly do I want the Patriots to lose this game? Badly. But I don’t think they will, and I don’t think it will be close.
Oakland (+3) over DENVER
The Raiders went 6-0 in the AFC West last year and DIDN’T make the playoffs. That’s pretty amazing. That would be like LOSING 15 games on a 95-win team in Major League Baseball and then being under .500 the following year on the best team in the American League on Sept. 8. (What? You thought I would write about the NFL without talking about A.J. Burnett. Not possible.)
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