(Home team is in caps.)
FALCONS (-4) over Dolphins
This game may be the toughest one of the week to pick. Was either team for real last year? Is Matt Ryan really this good? Can Chad Pennington hold up for another season? Will Joey Porter do (or say) something crazy? I’m not really sure, but I’ll go with Atlanta at home.
BENGALS (-4) over Broncos
Last year the Broncos’ defense was 30th in points allowed (28.0), 27th in rushing yards allowed per game (146.1), and 26th in passing yards allowed per game (228.5). Basically, they didn’t stop anyone. So this offseason, the Broncos signed safety Brian Dawkins, linebacker Andra Davis, and defensive tackle Darrell Reid; they also drafted four defensive players with their first six picks in the NFL Draft. So at least they’re trying to rebuild the defense.
The Bengals, on the other hand, return a middle-of-the-pack defense (t-19th in points allowed), but they finally have a somewhat healthy Carson Palmer back, which is all they really care about. The Bengals may not be great, but they should have enough weapons to put up some points on that still-porous Broncos’ defense.
Vikings (-4) over BROWNS
Not only will the Vikings’ defense shut down Brady Quinn and Jamal Lewis, but Adrian Peterson shouldn’t have any problem finding the end zone a couple of times.
Jaguars (+7) over COLTS
The Jaguars haven’t lost to the Colts on the road by more than seven points since 2003. In fact, going back to that season, Jacksonville has won by two, lost by three, lost by seven, lost by seven, and won by three when playing in Indianapolis. Maurice Jones-Drew also loves playing against the Colts: In six games, Jones-Drew has rushed for 571 yards and five touchdowns while also catching 20 passes for 199 yards and one touchdown. The Colts will win, but recent history says it’ll be a tight one, for whatever that’s worth (probably nothing).
SAINTS (-13) over Lions
The Lions’ defense just isn’t good enough to stop Drew Brees and the Saints’ high-powered offense.
Cowboys (-6) over BUCCANEERS
Terrell Owens is gone, but the Cowboys still have plenty of offensive firepower with Tony Romo, a strong trio of running backs, Jason Witten, and Roy Williams. The Bucs, however, boast weapons such as Byron Leftwich, Derrick Ward, Cadillac Williams, Antonio Bryant, and Kellen Winslow, which seems to be an improvement over last year’s offense. But it won’t be enough to keep up this week.
PANTHERS (-3) over Eagles
Last year, the Panthers were third in rushing yards per game (153.3), while the Eagles’ defense was fourth-best at stopping the run (92.3 yards per game). Jonathan Stewart’s reps will likely be limited because he’s a little banged up, so DeAngelo Williams will have to carry the load, which he is more than capable of doing (1,515 rushing yards, 18 touchdowns in 2009). On offense, the Eagles will be without two potential starting offensive linemen in right tackle Shawn Andrews and left guard Todd Herremans. The Panthers, though, are pretty healthy to start the season except for safety Chris Harris, who is out.
Two important questions this season for the Eagles: How much will the defense miss defensive coordinator Jim Johnson (RIP) and middle linebacker Stewart Bradley? And will the offensive line be able to hold up?
This game should be extremely competitive, but I like the Panthers at home.
RAVENS (-13) over Chiefs
This game may come down to whether Matt Cassel is healthy or not. Just kidding. The Ravens win handily.
Jets (+5) over TEXANS
Both teams seem to be popular sleeper picks this season. The Texans have a formidable offense with Andre Johnson and Steve Slaton. The Jets have a potentially solid rookie quarterback in Mark Sanchez, along with new head coach Rex Ryan, who should help the Jets’ defense. Sanchez may struggle on the road, but the Jets can run the football -- something Ryan loves to do anyway. Houston should still win, but it may come down to the wire -- and be close throughout.
Redskins (+7) over GIANTS
This matchup could end up being very similar to the Titans-Steelers game. Two solid defenses should make this a low-scoring contest that stays close throughout. The Redskins’ offensive line will have their hands full.
CARDINALS (-6) over 49ers
In 12 career games against the 49ers, Kurt Warner has a 100.8 quarterback rating with 3,341 passing yards and 23 touchdowns (and 10 interceptions) -- nearly 279 passing yards and two touchdowns per game. Even if the Cardinals’ defense can’t stop Frank Gore and the 49ers very often, Warner should find Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin enough to keep this game out of reach.
SEAHAWKS (-8) over Rams
The Rams haven’t won in Seattle since 2004, when St. Louis finished only 8-8. But that team was still led by Marc Bulger (3,964 passing yards, 21 touchdowns), Marshall Faulk and Steven Jackson (who combined for 1,447 rushing yards and seven touchdowns), and Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce (who combined for 183 catches, 2,664 receiving yards, and 16 touchdowns). Bulger is still the starting quarterback, but Faulk, Holt, and Bruce are all long gone; Jackson is the team’s main weapon, but he doesn’t have much help around him. If Jackson doesn’t have a huge game and Bulger’s injured right pinky prevents him from getting the ball to promising wide receiver Donnie Avery, the Seahawks will cruise to an easy win.
Bears (+4) over PACKERS
Are the Bears, with Jay Cutler at quarterback now, for real? Are the Packers, with their new and improved 3-4 defensive scheme, legit contenders? Who knows? It should be an interesting game, though.
PATRIOTS (-11) over Bills
The Bills just fired their offensive coordinator. Terrell Owens says he doesn’t like the team’s new no-huddle scheme. Arguably the team’s best offensive player, running back Marshawn Lynch, is suspended for the first three games of the season. Oh, and they open up on the road, on Monday night, against a team looking for revenge after losing Tom Brady and missing the playoffs with a 11-5 record last season. Anything less than a blowout would be surprising.
Chargers (-9) over RAIDERS
See the last sentence above. Though, hey, the Raiders are at home. So that’s something.