So, I’m going to start making picks and will try to have a regular post before Sunday’s games, which is surely going to lead to all sorts of embarrassing moments throughout the year. These are all provided for entertainment purposes only. I’m going to put a pick out on every game, but I’ll indicate those I like, those I lean, and those I throw darts at. For consistency, I am going to use the current USA today odds (at the time I write this) and shop for the best line (including vig) among those listed.
The Games I Like:
1. Carolina (+7) at NEW YORK GIANTS. I’ve done a fair amount of research about home field advantage and familiarity, including the effect of new stadiums. The basic upshot is that teams experience an increased home field advantage, particularly in the second year in a new stadium, as other teams are unfamiliar with the new stadium while the tenant gets to build up familiarity over the first season. The problem here is that the New York teams are getting a lot of hype and a point spread boost for the new stadium, but this is the first game, and they’ve never played a regular season game there either. Since 1990, home teams are 6-9 ATS when opening a brand new stadium, including the Colts’ loss to the Bears two years ago. I think people are sleeping on Carolina, as they were actually playing pretty well at the end of last year with Matt Moore. Just nine months ago, they closed down Giants Stadium with a 41-9 win.
2. Baltimore (+3) at NEW YORK JETS. Make it a New York play against two-fer here. I really like Baltimore this year. The only concerns are in the secondary here, where some injuries at corner and Ed Reed’s annual ritual of missing games has begun. I’m just not sure that the Jets will be able to take advantage. The rush defense was among the league leaders with Haloti Ngata and company, and they should neutralize the Jets’ strength. I think the matchup favors the Ravens here, the Ravens are the slightly better team anyway, and the home field advantage will be muted in game 1 for the new stadium. I’ll take the points here.
3. NEW ENGLAND (-4.5) vs. Cincinnati. Do you know who led the AFC in point differential in 2009? It was New England at +142. Cincinnati, on the other hand, was +19, and though both teams finished 10-6 last year, the Pats were about 10.5 points better when we factor in schedule (and still over 7 points better even if we exclude the Tennessee butt-kicking). If I can get the better team, at home, for under 5, I’ve got to take it.
4. BUFFALO (+3) vs. Miami. It wouldn’t be right to make my first post about the Bills not being as horrible as people think, and then not take them as a home dog against a team that only had 1 more win and a point differential less than 3 better, and when the Bills won the game last year 31-14. Get on board the slow moving Buffalo train, people.
5. PITTSBURGH (+2) vs. Atlanta. What’s a starting quarterback worth? My colleague Doug Drinen did a neat study on this, and the answer is roughly 2.3 points.I actually think the injury to Leftwich and going with Dixon will prove a blessing in disguise here. If you buy that here a starting QB is worth a little less than home field advantage, then I think the public is overreacting to the loss of Big Ben here. Speaking of home field advantage, it is strongest in these inter-conference matchups where the visitors rarely play in the home stadium, and home dogs in interconference games are a solid play. With the exception of a few veterans like Tony G, the current Falcons have not played at Heinz field.
6. San Francisco (-2.5) at SEATTLE. I like San Francisco in the West, and this matchup will be a big step toward the division. The home team in this divisional matchup is only 8-8 straight up since 2002. Plus, now Pete Carroll has to play against a team that gets to pay its players too.
7. Green Bay (-3) at PHILADELPHIA. I’d like to completely buy into the Green Bay hype, because that offense has some major point potential. I’m always leery going against a playoff caliber team on the road getting points, but if I’m going to do it, it’s going to be with a team that has the ability to put up 30+ points and can pass the ball efficiently.
8. KANSAS CITY (+6) vs. San Diego. I can’t quite pull the trigger, as the Chargers owned this series last year as Rivers threw long balls to Jackson when the Chiefs literally played with no safeties. The Chiefs will be improved in their pass defense (not necessarily in the run) with Eric Berry and now with Romeo Crennel coordinating, though I am less sold on the offense making a huge jump unless Cassel makes quicker decisions. Arrowhead will be rocking and the Chiefs will be better, but by how much? I would not take the Chargers, but might stay away depending on how I feel on Monday night.
9. TAMPA BAY (-3) vs. Cleveland. I like Mike Williams to be your rookie fantasy breakout WR, but I don’t love either of these teams enough to jump in yet.
10. HOUSTON (+2) vs. Indianapolis. I like Houston, and they looked good on both sides of the ball in that third game against Dallas, but Indy has owned this series and it’s difficult to go against Manning with under a field goal here.
11. Detroit (+7) at CHICAGO. I have tempered optimism that the Lions will be improved this year with a year of experience for Stafford, the addition of the explosive Best, and the beast named Suh. However, I want to see it before I believe it with the Lions.
12. Dallas (-3.5) at Washington. In a game otherwise lacking in compelling storylines, all of us are eagerly waiting the debuts of kickers David Beuhler and Graham Gano.
13. TENNESSEE (-6) vs. Oakland. I think the Titans should win, but I fear the dreaded Jason Campbell to Darrius Heyward-Bey late touchdown for the backdoor cover.
14. Arizona (-4) at SAINT LOUIS. I really want to pick against both teams here, but haven’t quite figured out how to pull that off.
15. JACKSONVILLE (-2.5) vs. Denver. A time machine back to the late 1990’s would make this the matchup of the week.