NFL Week 7 Predictions: With or Without Gronk Edition

Not feeling great this Saturday, so just time for a look at the game of the week.

Patriots at Bears

The Patriots are playing an Andy Reid-style offense for the second week in a row after allowing 40 points to the Chiefs (again) last week. The Bears are not nearly as talented at the skill positions, and Trubisky is a big downgrade from Patrick Mahomes, but I think the Bears can score 27+ on that defense. Plus it’s not like we haven’t seen so-so quarterbacks with a little mobility pick apart the Patriots before. See Blake Bortles this year or Jay Cutler last December. Home-field advantage should also help, though the Bears fans need to get up for this one against an unfamiliar opponent.

What would concern me is that the Patriots can usually neutralize one great pass-rusher on a defense (see games vs. J.J. Watt). The Bears don’t have a great running mate to help Khalil Mack out, and they weren’t even able to sack Brock Osweiler last week as he hit a career-high in passing yardage. Akiem Hicks isn’t a bad player, but if Mack can’t get pressure in this one, then it could get ugly. At least the Bears have been getting takeaways again, and in fact have had multiple takeaways in each game. They’ll need that against the Patriots, who aren’t protecting the ball as well this year (10 TO in six games) as in the past.

Perhaps the great equalizer is Rob Gronkowski missing the game, which sounds like it could be the case after he didn’t travel with the team. Gronk has missed 30 games in his career that Tom Brady started since 2010, and the splits with him in and out of the game are very interesting.

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Gronk being in the game raises Brady’s YPA by almost a full yard. Without Gronk, his numbers slip below the league average in completion percentage and YPA. The passer rating (87.7) is barely above league average in those 30 games. The QBR also shoots up 12 whole points with Gronk. He’s the league’s greatest cheat code among receiving weapons. The Bears can only be so lucky for him to miss this game.

I just can’t bring myself to trust Trubisky yet (in his first NE game) to sustain long drives, convert third downs, and finish in the red zone to take down a Belichick team that’s picking up steam. Beyond losing Gronk, don’t ignore that the running game has been very effective behind Sony Michel as of late, and they still have Josh Gordon, James White, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, etc. Maybe none of those players can replicate the insane YAC skills Albert Wilson showed off last week to bolster that Osweiler stat line, but that game gives me pause about trusting Chicago as a legit contender so quickly. Not to mention we have not seen good game management from Matt Nagy in holding these 11+ point leads against Green Bay and Miami (both lost).

Final: Patriots 27, Bears 23

NFL Week 7 Predictions

I had Denver winning on TNF, but did not expect Arizona to put up one of the worst performances by any team this season. Someone had to get fired from that one, and someone (Mike McCoy, again) did.

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I’m feeling a teaser this week with Titans (rebound from 11-sack disaster), Dolphins, Panthers, Colts, Jets to not lose by more than 10, and I really like Dallas in Washington. I also think Drew Brees can notch a win over the Ravens for the first time in his career. I know I should go with the home team that plays defense there, but I think the Saints are a complete offense and can get it done in any way possible with the running back duo and Brees with his receivers. As long as the D isn’t getting killed deep by the likes of John Brown, I like the Saints there.

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NFL Week 6 Predictions: AFC Game of the Year 2.0 Edition

Just have time for a quick look at some of the big AFC matchups in Week 6.

Chiefs at Patriots (-3)

The Chiefs were already involved in the Game of the Year last week, and used a Blake Bortles pick parade to march towards an easy win. Here they are again in a more legitimate Game of the Year, because it’s Sunday night in New England. With any luck, the Chiefs will have three more Game of the Year events, including a November matchup with the Rams, a potential rematch (JAX/NE) in the AFC Championship Game, and a potential rematch (Rams) in Super Bowl 53.

But before we talk about any Super Bowl with this team, beating New England at least once is crucial to that. Winning on Sunday night would go a long way in making sure a rematch happens at Arrowhead. The Chiefs could then finish 12-4 and the Patriots would have to win out (10-0) to guarantee a playoff seed above KC. That doesn’t look plausible with this roster in a season where few teams are standing out, but you can get a good fight almost any week.

If the game was in Arrowhead — past playoff disasters aside — I think the Chiefs would be an easy pick to win this week. But it’s at Gillette Stadium where you virtually can’t lose the turnover battle, can’t fall behind by 7+ points, and can’t allow 27+ points if you expect to win. Then again, the Chiefs did ALL of those things on opening night in 2017 and still won 42-27 behind big nights for Alex Smith and Kareem Hunt. Now the offense looks even more loaded with Patrick Mahomes taking over and the addition of Sammy Watkins to the wide receivers.

But I’m not sure Andy Reid can win with an offense-first mentality two years in a row in NE. That’s generally not the way to beat Tom Brady at home, and unless Mahomes pulls off some 2012 Colin Kaepernick magic in this one (that crazy 2012 SF game), I think this is a game where KC’s defense gets exposed and he has to play from behind too much, leading to mistakes against Bill Belichick’s defense. This is a game where the Chiefs really miss someone like Eric Berry to cover Rob Gronkowski. Not to mention the Patriots have a full arsenal now with a white security blanket for Brady (Julian Edelman), a receiving back (James White), and a freak athlete (Josh Gordon). That’s a tough matchup for any defense, let alone one that has struggled as much as the 28th-ranked Chiefs. Justin Houston or Dee Ford will have to have a lights out game off the edge in pressuring Brady, but I just don’t see it this time around.

It also should help that the Patriots had a few extra days to prepare for this one after playing last Thursday.

Final: Patriots 34, Chiefs 24

Steelers at Bengals (-1)

Games rarely get much bigger in Cincinnati than this one as it’s a chance for the Bengals to move to 5-1 and give themselves some nice distance over the rest of the AFC North. However, Marvin Lewis is 2-13 at home against Pittsburgh. It’s one of the crazier stats in NFL history, but it’s legit, and a lot of it can be seen in Ben Roethlisberger’s splits in those games. He’s thrown multiple interceptions six times against the Bengals in 30 games, but all six of those games happened at Heinz Field, including some of the worst passing performances of his career (2006, 2012, 2015).

Roethlisberger is 23-2 when his passer rating is at least 75.0 against the Bengals, so it usually takes a poor day from him for the Bengals to win. Cincinnati usually does well against Antonio Brown, but JuJu Smith-Schuster actually has 77 more yards on 13 fewer targets than Brown this season. While Roethlisberger threw two touchdowns to Brown last week, I think he’d be best advised to not force the ball there this week.

Pittsburgh’s defense had been struggling this year, but last week against a very good Atlanta offense it showed some promise. They held the Falcons to 17 points, didn’t let Julio Jones catch a pass until the 3rd quarter, and also got a fumble return TD. The pass rush has been generally good this year, and that will be key to get after Andy Dalton. When the pass rush doesn’t get there, this secondary can look as bad as any in the league. The Bengals also are getting a big third-year boost from Tyler Boyd, who has as many targets as A.J. Green and only trails him by 16 receiving yards. They did lose Tyler Eifert at tight end again, but Boyd is looking like a legit No. 2 option. They need it with receiving back Giovani Bernard out until November.

These teams definitely hate each other, so I wouldn’t dismiss the possibility of several 15-yard flags. That could be bad news for an undisciplined Pittsburgh team that has racked up penalties this season. I understand why the Bengals are a slight 1-point favorite, but I basically don’t know of an NFL universe where Cincinnati wins games like this, so I still lean towards the Steelers pulling off the win. The Bengals have been living on the edge all year and have three fourth-quarter comebacks already to get to 4-1.

Final: Steelers 26, Bengals 23

NFL Week 6 Predictions

I had the Eagles beating the Giants on TNF, and I also thought it’d be a better game than that.

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I think the spreads are too high for the Vikings and Texans here. Arizona has been more competitive since benching Sam Bradford, and neither the Vikings nor Texans (two OT wins by 3 points) have beat anyone by double-digits this season. Of course I can be wrong here (see below), but this has been a bad season for double-digit favorites covering and I think that continues here. I don’t however think we see a straight-up loss by any of the four teams favored by a touchdown or more.

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NFL Week 5 Predictions: Matchup of the Year Edition

Before we get to my misery of picking a Falcons-Steelers Super Bowl, let’s look at the best matchup of the season in Arrowhead.

Jaguars at Chiefs (-3): I really like what the Rams are doing offensively, and the Bears have been stellar defensively with Khalil Mack. But for my money, there’s no better matchup right now than Kansas City’s offense against Jacksonville’s defense. I’m glad we get to see it early this season when both units are relatively healthy. Patrick Mahomes has been passing every test so far in keeping this offense ahead of the porous defense in KC. The Jaguars have been really sharp offensively in two of the last three games, but you’re starting to see some injuries pile up there at RB (Leonard Fournette) and LT (Cam Robinson on IR). I still think a mobile QB with some playmaking WRs can cause real problems for Bob Sutton’s defense, so it could be another game where Mahomes has to score 27+ to win.

That’s really hard against Jacksonville, but I think it can be done if Andy Reid continues to move Tyreek Hill around. Don’t fall into the pissing match with Jalen Ramsey, and just move him around the field to get matched up with other receivers. They also have a lot of flexibility with Travis Kelce, and Kareem Hunt finally got it going on the ground last week in Denver. There’s going to be a day where Mahomes is off and this team loses, but I think they can get to 5-0 for the second year in a row. This should be a good one.

Falcons at Steelers (-3): I feel like I’m paying for picking these teams to make the Super Bowl in Atlanta this year. Did you see this stat?

THESE TWO TEAMS ACCOUNT FOR 3 OF THE 4 LOSSES SINCE 1940. That’s the kind of nutty offensive shit that is the 2018 season, but I still can’t believe this keeps happening here. Maybe if the field is in poor shape after a rainy Pitt game on Saturday, then the under (58) might actually hit. Maybe these teams will actually decide to play defense. At least in Pittsburgh’s case, it’s not injuries like it is for Atlanta, which will also be without Grady Jarrett. For the Steelers to lose two home games already, it’s not so bad when you consider one was a Mahomes masterpiece, and Baltimore has given Pittsburgh problems at home in a way only New England surpasses this century. The Falcons are an unfamiliar opponent, but I think Dan Quinn’s defense can be picked apart by Ben Roethlisberger. They may even get the running game more involved this week after knowing they’ve gone away from it lately, and with all of Atlanta’s injuries right down the middle of the field (DT/LB/S), James Conner needs to get more involved. Just can’t afford to get behind 14-0 or 21-0 again.

Then again, maybe it’s another shootout. It was in 2002 and 2006 between these teams; games that went to OT (so did 2010’s low-scoring game with Roethlisberger suspended). Or maybe it’s more like the last meeting in 2014 (27-20) where the offenses were very efficient in a limited-drive game, but the Steelers had a big pick-6 and did just enough on defense.

Just enough is enough D for these teams. But the fact that one is likely to go into Week 6 with one win is depressing for my vision of 2018.

NFL Week 5 Predictions

I nailed the TNF game, because let’s face it, Colts-Patriots hasn’t changed in two decades. The Indianapolis QB has the weight of the world on his shoulders with the weaker team and coach, and things just come so easier for the other guy. At least the Manning-era games were more dramatic.

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I’m digging the Steelers to win at home, and I like a teaser this week with three of the 6-point favorites (TEN, CIN, NO) and also SEA (+13.5). I also like the Cardinals to win their first game.

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NFL Week 4 Predictions: This Could Be Interesting Edition

When I look at the Week 4 schedule, I see a lot of games that may not be that exciting to watch, but if the underdog comes to play, it could be a very interesting Sunday.

Just a few quick thoughts before the picks.

Texans at Colts (-1) – with Houston 0-3 and the 1-2 Colts heading to New England after this game, it’s basically an early playoff elimination game for these teams. I’ve been disappointed by both so far, especially in regards to the way the offenses have handled their returning QB. I would be worried for the Colts in this one with the way J.J. Watt was back on track last week (3.0 sacks), but T.Y. Hilton has shredded that defense throughout his career. Now we just have to see if Luck is still willing to get him the ball deep in this new offense.

Dolphins at Patriots (-7) – A sign of the end times would be the Dolphins going to 4-0 by beating the Patriots in New England. As good as that would be for the AFC, I just cannot see it happening even though I see very little happening from the Patriots on either side of the ball right now. Miami won the last meeting in December when no one expected it, and it’s not like this would be a shock after the way the Dolphins have produced big pass plays and interceptions this season. I just harp back on the way Miami is scraping by some so-so competition. Falling behind in New England is a no-no, and Adam Gase has been down by 18+ in his first two games there with the Dolphins. I am very interested to see what Ryan Tannehill does in the biggest game of his NFL career, but I’m not yet a believer that we’re seeing a changing of the guard in the AFC East.

Browns at Raiders (-3) – When I made my preseason predictions, I had the Browns going on a winning streak starting with the Jets game, followed by dropping Jon Gruden’s Raiders to 0-4. I might as well stick with it, picking the Browns to win their first road game since Week 5 of 2015. A big reason is the defense, which has been stellar so far. I think as long as Gregg Williams doesn’t leave too soft of a space for Derek Carr to keep dumping the ball into, they’ll get pressure on him and make him very uncomfortable. I also think the lack of pass rush by Oakland should help Baker Mayfield ease into his first start. I’d take Cleveland straight up in this one.

Ravens at Steelers (-3) – It’s been two dramatic come-from-behind wins by Pittsburgh in the last two meetings at Heinz Field. Baltimore plays this team tough all the time, and I see no exception this week. Baltimore’s offense has been much better so far this season and Joe Flacco even hung 38 points in the last meeting in December. These are better receivers to deal with and the Steelers have been giving up a lot of points since the Ryan Shazier injury. The offense is going to have to be great again, which it usually is at home. Antonio Brown is often held in check by the Ravens, but at least Jimmy Smith is still suspended. I’ll pick the Steelers to win by a small margin, but a Baltimore win wouldn’t be the least bit surprising.

Chiefs (-5) at Broncos – There will come a time when Patrick Mahomes has an off game, but he’s in historic form so far. He already has a start and a game-winning drive at Mile High under his belt, and I’m not sure any defense that lets Derek Carr complete 29-of-32 passes should still be considered as vaunted. The Chiefs have been doing very well in this rivalry the last few years and I think we’ll see another good game from Mahomes on Monday night. The only thing that can spoil it is if Case Keenum finally takes advantage of this poor KC defense. Keenum has really struggled in the first half this year.

NFL Week 4 Predictions

I had the Rams winning 30-24 on TNF, but the 38-31 final gives me a push to start the week against the spread.

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I like NE, GB, DAL, and JAX all to rebound with a home win. I also think the Chargers are a double-digit favorite that should actually cruise this week now that Jimmy Garoppolo is out.

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NFL Week 3 Predictions: Glad to Be Here Edition

After a rough couple of days personally, just time for a quick look at Monday night’s game. Just glad to still be here typing.

Steelers at Buccaneers

When I did my season predictions, I had the Steelers overlooking this one as a trap game and losing to a Tampa Bay team I had finishing 3-13. What a difference a few weeks can make. Now this game is a pick ’em and the Buccaneers are flying high behind Ryan Fitzpatrick while the Steelers are 0-1-1 and fading fast. They’re about one more bad headline away from getting their own Ronan Farrow feature.

Oddly enough, I like the Steelers to win on Monday now. I think they can put much of this drama behind them and play well against a team they should match up well with. So much of Fitzpatrick’s success so far has been nailing the deep balls. They have the weapons to do that with, but Fitzpatrick has never proven he can sustain this level of play for any extended period of time. It’s also typically not a sustainable strategy against Pittsburgh, a defense that for years is more vulnerable to spread, dink-and-dunk assaults. If Fitzpatrick holds the ball long to set up vertical shots, then I think T.J. Watt and Cameron Heyward can get to him. Joe Haden returning to the secondary can help. Tampa Bay’s also dead last in rushing YPC (2.7) so it’s a pretty one-dimensional attack. Fitzpatrick came into this season with 13 TD passes of 50+ yards. He has four in two games with a pair in each win. I know the Steelers had some problems last year with giving up long scoring passes, but I really think they can avoid getting beat by the early deep balls that the Saints and Eagles couldn’t survive.

On the other side of the ball, there’s not much of a secondary in Tampa Bay. I think Ben Roethlisberger and his receivers, including Antonio Brown, can have another big game. Even if Ben and Brown aren’t on the same page yet, JuJu Smith-Schuster still looks great, Jesse James had a big game with Ben’s improvising, and James Washington caught his first touchdown last week. The weapons are there even without Le’Veon Bell. I also think the offensive line can hold up against that front seven, the strength of Tampa’s D.

It may very well have to be a shootout, but I like the Steelers to restore some order in this one and get a win before this season goes totally off the rails.

NFL Week 3 Predictions

I thought I was going to fall to 0-3 on TNF, but the Browns came through after putting Baker Mayfield in the game.

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I think this is a perfect week to do a teaser with some of the big favorites. Make it PHI -1, JAX -3.5, MIN -11, KC -1, LAR -1, NE -1. And I also like PIT +6 and ARI +12 (the latter because Steve Wilks might get fired before October if things don’t start to resemble an NFL team).

Trying something different with the weekly summary. I’m not a big fan of how the red comes through here so might tinker with it.

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NFL Week 2 Predictions: The Good Life Edition

I’m not going to say that Week 1 of the 2018 NFL season sucked, but when the first two full games I watched live were Falcons-Eagles and Steelers-Browns, it didn’t get off to the best start. The Week 2 schedule looks really good, but it didn’t take long for injuries to start having an impact. Some of the players missing in action this week include Devonta Freeman, Greg Olsen, David DeCastro, Olivier Vernon, and basically every long-time Seahawk not named Russell Wilson or Earl Thomas. We’re also waiting to see if Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, and Marcus Mariota are good to go this week at quarterback. We still must wait to see the 2018 debuts of Joey Bosa, Carson Wentz, Alshon Jeffery, and Jack Conklin.

Game of the Week: Vikings at Packers

I really hope Aaron Rodgers plays this one, because it is a huge game for playoff seeding despite it only being Week 2. The Vikings knocked Rodgers out early in the first matchup last year and didn’t have to see him for the second one. They shouldn’t get that advantage again this year. They also have Kirk Cousins now in what is arguably the second-biggest game of his NFL career when you think about it. His only playoff game was also against Green Bay and Rodgers, a 35-18 loss at home in the 2015 Wild Card.

Over the last three seasons in Washington, Cousins was 3-10 on the road against teams that finished the year with a winning record. You’d expect Green Bay to be that kind of opponent this year. However, that 3-10 mark includes wins last season in Seattle and LA (Rams). Cousins also should have had a signature win in Kansas City, but Josh Doctson dropped a game-winning touchdown in the end zone. He can function in these spots and his Minnesota debut last week was solid.

Mike Zimmer’s had some decent success against Rodgers in his career, and this should be the most talented roster he’s taken into a Green Bay game yet. As I pointed out in FOA 2018, Zimmer entered this season with the best record against the spread (44-23) among active head coaches. Last week, his defense forced Jimmy Garoppolo into the worst start (and first loss) of his young career, and covered the spread.

HCATS

We don’t know what the spread is yet for this one because of Rodgers’ health, but clearly he isn’t 100 percent. I think a lack of mobility can be troublesome against such a talented Minnesota defense, and the Vikings should have scoring opportunities on the other side of the ball. That’s why, regardless of Rodgers’ status, I like the Vikings to pull this one off on the road with a superior roster. I know I’m already going against my season predictions where I had these teams splitting the series with each home team winning, but I also didn’t anticipate another Rodgers injury situation so soon.

Chiefs at Steelers

Under Andy Reid, Kansas City has beaten just about every contender in the NFL over the last four years. That includes wins over six of the last eight Super Bowl teams: 2014 Seahawks, 2014 Patriots, 2015 Broncos, 2016 Falcons, 2017 Patriots, and 2017 Eagles. (They didn’t play against the 2015 Panthers or 2016 Patriots, but notched wins against those teams the following season.)

One team Kansas City has not beaten is Pittsburgh, or at least not the Steelers with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback. They won a game at Arrowhead in 2015 when Landry Jones had to start. But Reid is 1-6 in his career against Roethlisberger going back to 2004 with the Eagles. That’s not even necessarily impressive for Ben, because he doesn’t play defense and the number that stands out in those seven games is 16. Reid’s teams never scored more than 16 points against the Steelers in those games.

That could really change on Sunday after the Chiefs come in hot behind new QB Patrick Mahomes after scoring 38 points in LA as underdogs. Mobile quarterbacks have been giving the Steelers fits as of late with Brett Hundley, DeShone Kizer (Week 17), Blake Bortles and Tyrod Taylor (he actually stunk passing, but still ran well) hanging pretty good scoring numbers on the defense. Now the Steelers could be without Joe Haden and Artie Burns in the secondary, which is bad news with Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins coming to town. This isn’t Mahomes’ first road start either so they can’t hang their hat on that advantage, though Heinz Field is a different beast from the Chargers’ small park. He looked pretty poised last week and this is one of the most talented offenses in the league. It just hasn’t clicked in the past against Pittsburgh, though James Harrison is no longer there to own Eric Fisher. T.J. Watt is coming off a huge multi-sack game, and the pass rush looked quite good in Cleveland albeit a very indecisive game from Taylor.

If Mahomes can avoid the turnovers on the road, then the Chiefs have a great shot to win this one. It’s a bad week for Roethlisberger to be questionable and missing practices with an elbow injury, because this defense looked really vulnerable for the Chiefs last week. Philip Rivers had huge numbers that would have been even better without so many drops. Roethlisberger should have success with his weapons at home where the Steelers obviously play much better. I think the conditions played a factor in several of the turnovers last week, a game that Pittsburgh almost certainly wins without the rain leveling the playing field.

It could be a really fun game, but I think the Steelers get a tight win at home to avoid an awful 0-1-1 start to what was supposed to be another season with Super Bowl aspirations.

Patriots at Jaguars

I wish this rematch of the AFC Championship Game was the Sunday night game instead of Giants-Cowboys, but you know we can’t let a September or October go by without getting that matchup at night. When you try to pick out one of the few games the Patriots are going to lose this season, you always start with road matchups against playoff-caliber teams. This should be one of those, though the Jaguars didn’t scream “playoff lock” to me coming into the season. The offense scored 13 points last week against the Giants.

Much of that has to do with Blake Bortles, who lost the two Allen’s (Robinson and Hurns) at WR, and Marqise Lee is out for the season with a torn ACL. I’m just not sure this team has enough firepower to keep up with the Patriots, who aren’t as loaded themselves right now, but still have the best TE in the game. For all the talk Jalen Ramsey did this offseason, I’d like to see him match up frequently with Gronk in this one. Walk the walk, if you will. That’s really the key to slowing them down right now without any Welker clones left (Julian Edelman is suspended for three more games).

It would take an excellent performance from the defense, which has the talent to pull it off, to keep the Patriots under 20 points (preferably under 17). I think that’s what the Jaguars must do to win this one, because I just don’t see Bortles putting up many points. NE played the Texans and Deshaun Watson well last week.

Alas, it doesn’t sound good for RB Leonard Fournette playing this week. I actually think that could help Jacksonville. Maybe they won’t lean so heavily on him, because in that playoff game, the Jaguars tried to run out the clock way too early and weren’t aggressive enough on early downs. Also, Corey Grant had three early catches for 59 yards in that game. Maybe this lets Jacksonville get more people involved and opens up the playbook instead of just trying to grind things out with Fournette.

NFL Week 2 Predictions

I started 10-5-1 for both ATS and SU last week, but fell victim (like many) to the Buccaneers’ shocking upset in New Orleans, the season’s first double-digit favorite to collapse. Starting next week I’ll post a fancier version of my results, but for now, here are my Week 2 picks with a Twitter update to come on my MIN-GB pick (likely going Vikings regardless of spread).

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My three favorite picks: NO -9.5, ATL -6, NYJ -3.

NFL Week 1 Predictions: Awards Edition

NFL 2018 Award Predictions

Let’s start with my picks for the top awards this season. I was 0-for-8 last year after Aaron Rodgers, David Johnson and J.J. Watt all suffered serious injuries before Week 6 ended.

  • Most Valuable Player: Aaron Rodgers, Packers
  • Coach of the Year: Mike Zimmer, Vikings
  • Assistant Coach of the Year: Teryl Austin, Bengals
  • Offensive Player of the Year: Aaron Rodgers, Packers
  • Defensive Player of the Year: Jalen Ramsey, Jaguars
  • Offensive Rookie of the Year: Saquon Barkley, Giants
  • Defensive Rookie of the Year: Derwin James, Chargers
  • Comeback Player of the Year: Deshaun Watson, Texans

For comeback player, I’m sticking with my predictions that have the Texans edging out the Colts for the playoffs, so Deshaun Watson gets it over Andrew Luck (another great candidate for that) after proving he is the real deal over a full season. I had Aaron Rodgers as MVP last year, and I think that had a decent shot had he not broke his collarbone again. Give Rodgers a mediocre defense and a soft schedule and I think he’ll be on top of things again this year. I struggled with the coaches because I didn’t really pick surprise teams to come out of nowhere this season. So I’m sticking with my No. 1 seed in the NFC in Minnesota as Zimmer wins again with another quarterback.

NFL Week 1 Thoughts

Steelers at Browns

The weather for this one sounds brutal with a ton of rain in the area this weekend. I’d imagine they’ll keep the field in better working condition than the time Heinz Field had a 3-0 game with Miami in town (when the punt stuck in the ground). But it could be pretty nasty so I definitely like the under in this one.

It was only a 21-18 win by Pittsburgh in Week 1 last year, one of Cleveland’s closest calls on the way to 0-16. The offense scored just 14 points after getting a punt blocked for a touchdown to start things. That’s right, even with Le’Veon Bell, who finished with 10 carries for 32 yards, the Steelers’ starting offense scored 14 points on the Browns last year.

That’s why I’m hoping people can be rational, especially if the field is a mess, if the results of this game are not favorable to the offense with Bell holding out. For one, I think James Conner will be just fine in his absence. But as I just showed, the bar was already set so low for the offense with Bell in Cleveland last year. You know the Browns, with a much improved roster, will be fired up to finally win a game by beating their hated rival. If Myles Garrett and company wreck the line like they did a year ago, it wouldn’t matter if Bell was playing or not.

So I’m a bit worried about the outcome of this one driving a ton of irrational “Pay the man!” and “This is what you get Steelers!” hot takes. Since 2014 the Steelers are 12-6 without Bell. They score just about as many points without him as they do with him. Let’s not act like Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger haven’t had first-round bye seasons and been to multiple Super Bowls before Bell.

As long as the offensive line plays well, Conner should be just fine. However, this is a game the Steelers should win on the road against a team not expected to be anything this year. So you know I’m already skeptical of a good performance coming from Pittsburgh in this one. If the weather evens the playing field even more, well we could be looking at the upset of the week right here.

Texans at Patriots

This was one of the better matchups in 2017, a game that Houston should have won had it not dropped a late interception by Tom Brady. That was only Deshaun Watson’s second start and our first glimpse at just how exciting he can be as a dual-threat quarterback. He threw for over 300 yards in that game and had the Texans over 30 points in Foxboro, a very difficult feat to pull off. I’m excited to see him and J.J. Watt back, but the Patriots have done a very good job of limiting Watt in past matchups. It’s also a fact that we haven’t really seen Watt playing at a high level since the 2015 season.

DeAndre Hopkins won’t have Malcolm Butler to deal with, but the Patriots still have Stephon Gilmore and will likely make Houston’s other receivers try to beat them. Will Fuller did not play in that game last season. I’m interested to see how the Patriots operate without Julian Edelman (suspended) and Danny Amendola (Miami). At least Edelman will be back soon, but for a month they’ll have to go without one of their prototypical slot receivers. They still have Chris Hogan, Gronkowski and the receiving backs, but it’s another new-look offense for the Patriots, albeit one that’s less impressive than last year’s.

Bears at Packers

I usually groan at this matchup that we probably get in prime-time every single year, but this one could actually be good on Sunday night. Aaron Rodgers is back, which is the only storyline Green Bay really needs. The Bears have a new offensive-minded coach, Mitchell Trubisky is no longer a rookie stuck in a dead-ball passing offense, they have noteworthy receivers again, and they managed to add Khalil Mack. The Bears should finally be watchable again, but how about good?

I think the Packers should feel very fortunate that they get this home game in Week 1. Chicago should be a much better team later in the season when the offense gets to mature together under Nagy. You get Mack and rookie Roquan Smith arriving very late in the preseason, so that too can take time to get the front seven going. I think they can give Green Bay a good fight tomorrow night, because most teams do with the Packers these days. But I wouldn’t count on an upset just yet unless Mack is an absolute monster to spoil several drives for Rodgers.

NFL Week 1 Predictions

I’ll be picking every game against the spread this season. In my first partial season of trying that, I finished 60-59-5 (basically .500) last year. I’m looking to do better, but I already am 0-1 after picking the Falcons to win by a touchdown in Philadelphia, forgetting about the cursed red zone.

2018Wk1