NFL Week 1 Predictions: Upsets & Awards

I almost refuse to work on Saturdays during the offseason, but I don’t mind it during the season when it comes to making predictions here or doing that last-minute research for Sunday.

I even got a rare Saturday article at FO, the first of its kind for me. I interviewed a former NFL player, picking Jamal Anderson’s brain over what was different for the 1998 Falcons, one of the biggest surprise Super Bowl teams and quick turnarounds ever. And you know I had to ask about the Dirty Bird and Curse of 370. So that was something cool and different for me to do.

Now back to the stuff I’m used to doing. The full season predictions posted below were an epic-length post even by my standards, so I left the award predictions for today.

Award Predictions

  • MVP: Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
  • OPOY: Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
  • DPOY: Aaron Donald, Rams (think J.J. Watt’s health fails him)
  • Coach: Mike Tomlin, Steelers (really couldn’t think of a good answer for this one based on my playoff seeds)
  • OROY: Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys (would be cool if it’s Tajae Sharpe)
  • DROY: Jalen Ramsey, Jaguars
  • Comeback: Andrew Luck, Colts (the “because he sucked the year before” variety)

In the last two years I picked the MVP from my top-seeded team, and both picks were disasters with the 2014 Saints (Drew Brees) and 2015 Colts (Luck). Hopefully I didn’t put the jinx on Roethlisberger and the Steelers, though you can read in my predictions why I’m already cautious about their success this year.

The reason I pick Roethlisberger is that I think he’s playing as well as he ever has in the last couple of seasons. I think QB should pretty much always win MVP, so when you look at his competition this year, it’s not very deep and there are some real question marks, including how Luck will play. But with Peyton Manning retired, Tom Brady suspended, Aaron Rodgers coming off his worst year, Drew Brees on a bad team, and Tony Romo hurt, the field has really shrunk. Yes, Carson Palmer and Russell Wilson are right there, and I think it comes down to these guys staying healthy and they should all be high up there again by the end of the season. Yes, I see some people picking Cam Newton for back-to-back MVPs, but I never thought he deserved it last year and he’s off to the wrong start this season. In fact, I put together a chart of every first-team All-Pro QB season since 1989 and Newton’s season stands out in a bad way.

dyarap

Newton is the only season with fewer than 1,100 DYAR. In the last two seasons, Roethlisberger has had passing DYAR of 1,114 (missed four games) and 1,572 (1st in 2014). In addition to his play, shouldn’t he have a preset argument with all the skill guys that have been injured or suspended around him? Le’Veon Bell suspended for three games, Martavis Bryant gone for the year, Heath Miller retired and they put Ladarius Green on PUP for at least six weeks. Now that gives me some concern about how good this offense will be, but I think as long as Ben and Antonio Brown stay healthy, they’ll have enough to be successful. And therein lies the rub. Instead of debating Roethlisberger for MVP, I see Antonio Brown for MVP, which would be the first wide receiver to ever win the AP’s MVP award. That’s some 7-9 bullshit thinking right there. They call it a passing league, not a catching league. What has Brown accomplished without QB1 in the lineup? Not much, and for a wide receiver to truly win MVP, I think he’d have to have a mediocre QB at best and make some unbelievable plays that tip the balance of several high-profile games for a team that makes the playoffs. You would need a passing offense with stats where the QB was significantly more efficient and productive when throwing to this wideout than the rest of the receivers. Calvin Johnson may have been able to do this in past years, yet he never even came close to being MVP in Detroit.

But it’s really just typical mainstream NFL media giving Roethlisberger the Rodney Dangerfield “No Respect” treatment. I wrote about this during the 2014 season, and not much has changed. I know he doesn’t help himself by missing games most years, but few quarterbacks play at his level on a yearly basis. As long as the health is there, he has to be a top MVP candidate.

Week 1 Upsets

I have a few games I wanted to share some thoughts on in particular this week.

Pittsburgh at Washington

Well, this might not help the Roethlisberger MVP campaign. My thinking on Monday night’s opener is that Washington is going to pounce on a weakened Pittsburgh roster. While the pre-game narrative is going to be “Washington didn’t beat a good team last year and is Kirk Cousins legit?”, I think the Redskins and Cousins will put on a show in this one. Or at least for 3.5 quarters before maybe a PIT comeback, but it’s a tough matchup when you lose Bud Dupree, don’t have much in the secondary, and will be without RB1 (Bell), WR2 (Markus Wheaton) and TE1 (Green). Washington may not be able to run much, but I think the receiving corps is very deep and will give the Steelers trouble as long as Cousins is getting rid of the ball quickly. I’ve just seen too many instances of the Steelers laying an egg, especially offensively, on road games in prime time. I think the offense will need to step up in this one (24-point minimum), and while I don’t have any real fear of Josh Norman shutting down Antonio Brown, it is a limited PIT offense this week and Brown shouldn’t go off all night. I’d play Sammie Coates a lot because I think he’s the closest thing to Martavis on the roster, but the coaches seem to be emphatically in favor of Eli Rogers and Darrius Heyward-Bey. And then Jesse James is the best TE at this point. Ho-hum.

I still have Pittsburgh going 12-4 and Washington 7-9, but at least for one night, I think it’s Hail to the Redskins.

Pittsburgh 16, Washington 24

Green Bay at Jacksonville

So much great, young defensive talent in Jacksonville after the last two draft hauls and bringing Malik Jackson over from Denver. The problem is this unit has never played together in a meaningful game, and Dante Fowler, Myles Jack and Jalen Ramsey have yet to play a regular-season game period. They’ll get a great test right away with the Packers, especially if Jordy Nelson and Eddie Lacy are playing at a high level. But I think with the recent offensive line shuffle and the Jaguars being at home, the Packers are going to face some good pressure and struggle to run the ball. When healthy, I think Jordy Nelson is one of the best in the game, but I’m a little skeptical of him this week. No reason to think too highly of Davante Adams or new tight end Jared Cook either. Meanwhile, the Jaguars have plenty of options in their skill players, but Blake Bortles needs to avoid the mistakes that plagued him last year. He can make a lot of good plays, but just hasn’t been consistent enough in his first two seasons.

Much like with Pittsburgh, I still think Green Bay has a great season and the Jaguars lose double-digit games, but for one week, it’s about the home team.

Green Bay 20, Jacksonville 24

New England at Arizona

If you know me well, then you know I basically always pick New England to win its game. This would have been a good one to test myself as I think it’s a loss even if Tom Brady was the quarterback. Arizona is a very talented, tough road opponent. This is  rough spot for Jimmy Garoppolo to make his first start, and when you take Rob Gronkowski and Nate Solder out of the game too, that’s just asking for trouble. Bill Belichick would be pulling off a major upset with a win here, which I think can only happen if Carson Palmer really has turned into 2009 Jake Delhomme and implodes again with turnovers. Maybe a Jamie Collins pick-six, because I do think the defense for New England will keep this at least competitive.

The Gronkowski injury news coming late in the week intrigues me as potential out-of-the-box thinking from the Pats again. Keep an eye on his status next week to see how quickly he heals. I honestly believe Belichick is the only coach who would not go all in on a Week 1 non-conference game that he doesn’t think his team has a realistic shot to win. If you expect to lose, why play one of your most important players at less than 100% health? I doubt Gronk will miss a division game coming up.

New England 19, Arizona 27

2015 Week 1 Predictions

I took an L to start the year with Carolina losing a 10-point lead in Denver and Graham Gano missing a 50-yard field goal at the end. Real “game of inches” stuff to start the season.

Winners in bold

  • Packers at Jaguars
  • Bengals at Jets
  • Chargers at Chiefs
  • Raiders at Saints
  • Vikings at Titans
  • Bills at Ravens
  • Bears at Texans
  • Browns at Eagles
  • Buccaneers at Falcons
  • Dolphins at Seahawks
  • Giants at Cowboys
  • Lions at Colts
  • Patriots at Cardinals
  • Steelers at Redskins
  • Rams at 49ers

Oh fudge, that’s 13 home winners including Denver. You know that’s not right, but this is part of what makes Week 1 so fun. And it is very important too. That Bills at Ravens game was my deciding factor in which team I picked for the AFC’s second wild-card team.

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NFL Week 10 Predictions, Midseason Review and Award Predictions

In writing a NFL midseason review, it takes a lot of work to come up with something for all 32 teams. I learned that this week, passing the milestone of having written 200 articles (all but eight of them done since mid-July 2011).

But even after making playoff predictions and second-half predictions for the teams, one thing I did not write anywhere were my picks for the individual awards, so here they are. The picks are based on who I think has deserved it in the first half, and not necessarily who willl win the award at the end of the season.

First-Half Awards

  • MVP: Matt Ryan
  • Offensive Player of the Year: Adrian Peterson
  • Defensive Player of the Year: J.J. Watt
  • Offensive Rookie of the Year: Andrew Luck
  • Defensive Rookie of the Year: Chandler Jones
  • Coach of the Year: Mike Smith
  • Comeback Player of the Year: Peyton Manning

This Week’s Articles

Captain Comeback Week 9: New York Giants Shell-Shocked by Pittsburgh Steelers – Cold, Hard Football Facts

Pittsburgh came back on the road from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win for the third time in the Ben Roethlisberger era. Andrew Luck led his fourth game-winning drive in just his eighth game. Matt Ryan (27 years, 171 days) became the youngest QB to reach 20 game-winning drives. Also included is a review of how each team’s offense has done in 4QC/GWD opportunities this season. Only Houston and San Francisco has yet to face one.

NFL Midseason Report – NBC Sports

This is one of three articles I did for NBC Sports this week as part of a midseason review special, and this is the central piece that looks at all 32 teams: where they have been this year, and where they are headed.

Five Biggest Surprises of 2012 NFL Season – NBC Sports

Which surprises continue to amaze us halfway through the season? A look at Peyton Manning’s comeback in Denver, Andrew Luck and the Colts’ quick rebuild, the five rookie quarterbacks, the disappointment of the New Orleans Saints, and the recent dominance of Tampa Bay rookie Doug Martin.

Are These NFL Teams Pretenders or Contenders? – NBC Sports

Finally, I take a look at some playoff hopefuls and just how legit their chances are, focusing on the remaining schedule and conference playoff races. Teams included: Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, San Diego, Miami, NY Giants, Seattle, Minnesota, Detroit, and Tampa Bay. I conclude with a prediction for the 12 playoff seeds when it’s all said and done.

Andrew Luck: Midseason Review for Colts’ Rising Star – Bleacher Report

How good has Andrew Luck been so far? I break down his first eight games by the numbers and find all the records he’s already set or is on pace for. Hint: there are a lot of them.

Following a Legend: Andrew Luck Week 9 vs. Miami Dolphins – Colts Authority

My traditional Luck column, breaking down his record-setting performance by Miami where he passed for 433 yards and converted 12 of 17 third-down opportunities.

The Thinking Man’s Guide: NFL Week 10 Predictions – Bleacher Report

You voted for change? Well, not really, but change has come. Not only did I give a marquee preview of Texans/Bears, followed by Colts/Jags, Chargers/Bucs and Falcons/Saints, but I picked every game this week, and will continue to do s.

Predicting the Second Half of a NFL Season Using the First Half – Cold, Hard Football Facts – Cold, Hard Football Facts

Is the second half of the season just a repeat of the first half? Not quite, but we can learn some things from it. Since 2002, 71.3 percent of teams leading their division through eight games go on to win the division. Also some interesting results on the sustainability of offense versus defense, and more playoff predictions.

2012 NFL Week 10 Predictions

Dallas didn’t quite come through last week, marking the first time I picked against Atlanta this season. I am doing it again this week, but promise to only do it one more time at most going forward (regular season at least).

Winners in bold:

  • Raiders at Ravens
  • Broncos at Panthers
  • Giants at Bengals
  • Titans at Dolphins
  • Lions at Vikings
  • Bills at Patriots
  • Falcons at Saints
  • Chargers at Buccaneers
  • Jets at Seahawks
  • Cowboys at Eagles
  • Rams at 49ers
  • Texans at Bears
  • Chiefs at Steelers

Season results:

  • Week 1: 12-4
  • Week 2: 11-5
  • Week 3: 4-12
  • Week 4: 10-5
  • Week 5: 10-4
  • Week 6: 5-9
  • Week 7: 12-1
  • Week 8: 10-4
  • Week 9: 11-3
  • Season: 85-47