With the NFL just about underway, a lot of fans have their minds wrapped around their team’s first win. Whether your team went 15-1 or 4-12 last year, everyone seems to be optimistic about the 2016 season. With that being said, take a look at who I have winning in this weeks NFL Pick ‘Em Series:
Carolina Panthers at Denver Broncos
For The Broncos: I think we can all agree on the fact that Trevor Seiman is no Peyton Manning, but he will be the one starting for the Denver Broncos on Thursday night. With an inexperienced quarterback, as well as a defense that lost some key assets via free agency, the Broncos need to play conservative football to win this game. Otherwise, this season could go downhill before they know it.
For The Panthers: Cam Newton has looked like Cam Newton this preseason, and he is only getting better somehow. With the loss of Josh Norman this offseason, there is a lot of doubt to what the Panthers pass defense will look like. If the Panthers are able to keep their fast-paced offense rolling, they may be able to pull out the win in Denver.
Prediction: Give me the Panthers in this one. I like the fact that Kelvin Benjamin is back on the field for Carolina, mixed in with the fact that Trevor Seiman has never thrown the ball in the NFL and is somehow expected to beat out an elite Panthers defense.
Green Bay Packers at Jacksonville Jaguars
For The Packers: Aaron Rodgers wasn’t Aaron Rodgers in 2015, and it’s easy to blame Jordy Nelson’s ACL and Eddie Lacy’s weight for that. With everyone back and focused, the Packers could be poised for a great season in 2016. One thing I will note is that Rodgers was sacked 45 times in 2015, making him the second-most sacked QB in the NFL. This offensive line needs to improve before a Super Bowl run can be pondered about.
For The Jaguars: Debatably the “winners” off the offseason, the Jaguars improved greatly on the defensive side of things via the NFL Draft, as well as free agency. I noted that Rodgers was sacked 45 times in 2015. Well, Blake Bortles was sacked 51 times last season, making him the most sacked QB of the 2015 season. In order for Jacksonville to win this game, they’ll need to protect Bortles as much as they can.
Prediction: I’ve got a good feeling about Green Bay’s offense this season. With Lacy looking like his old self again (knock on wood), the Packers should be able to hold off Jacksonville in enemy territory.
Buffalo Bills at Baltimore Ravens
For The Bills: After missing the playoffs once again in 2015, the Bills are being considered one of the losers of the offseason. With the release of Karlos Williams, as well as the suspension of Marcell Dareus, the Bills have a lot of question marks coming into week one. The first-team offense looked a bit shaky throughout the preseason, so it will be interesting to see what Tyrod Taylor can do in his return to Baltimore.
For The Ravens: The Ravens are looking to bounce back after a disappointing 2015 season, losing Joe Flacco due to a torn ACL/MCL, as well as Steve Smith Sr to a ruptured Achilles. With Flacco back in action for week one, it will be interesting to many to see if his ACL/MCL gives him any issues, or if he is able to operate fully.
Prediction: Even though I like the Bills chances at stealing a few away games this season, I’m going to go with the Ravens. During the preseason, the Ravens were able to have a +/- point difference of +34, while the Bills finished with a -16. Yes, I’m aware the preseason means very little to many, but it’s also a stat you can’t ignore.
Chicago Bears at Houston Texans
For The Bears: Losing Matt Forte was the biggest splash out of Chicago this offseason, and something tells me it’s not going to pay off for them. While I am a fan of Jeremy Langford, he did have 0.5 less yards per carry than Forte did in 2015, as well as 22 less receptions. With a mediocre defense paired with a mediocre quarterback, I’ll be shocked if the Bears can go above .500 this season.
For The Texans: The Texans made a lot of changes to their offense in the offseason, signing both Lamar Miller and Brock Osweiler to big contracts. While the team looks great on paper, I am a bit concerned about the health of J.J. Watt, as well as the consistency that Osweiler can bring to the table. I hope the Texans can provide unity this season, because this is a fun bunch to watch for.
Prediction: I’m not buying the Bears for 2016, because frantically they’ve given fans nothing to be excited about for years. I’ll take the Texans in this match up, and I think they’ll take this one with ease.
Cleveland Browns at Philadelphia Eagles
For The Browns: Let me start by saying that Robert Griffin III has looked terrific this preseason, and Josh Gordon has given Cleveland something to be optimistic about. With that being said, the defense is still rebuilding, and I don’t know if Griffin III has what it takes to outscore above average defenses quite yet. While I do like the direction the Browns are heading in, I can’t say that they are quite ready to be an elite team in a tough AFC North division.
For The Eagles: While shipping off Sam Bradford and letting go of Chip Kelly may have been best for the Eagles, it still leaves question marks around the organization. Carson Wentz has played one quarter of NFL preseason football, and no one has a clue to what he can provide. The defense should be able to keep the Eagles in a lot of games for 2016, but the offense is their biggest concern.
Prediction: I think this will be a low scoring game on both ends, but the Eagles are my favorite to win this match up. The Browns may shock the world and steal this game, but I can’t pick them as the favorite in Philly.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons
For The Bucs: Jameis Winston posted pretty nice stats in 2015, throwing 22 TDs to 15 INTs. With that being said, I would like for him to step it up a notch, seeing that his stats placed him as a tier 2-3 QB by the end of last season. Another guy I’d like to keep an eye on is Doug Martin. While he may be viewed as a top 5-10 RB by many, it’s important to note that he has only posted 1,000+ rushing yards in two out of his four years in the league; 2015 and 2012 (his rookie season).
For The Falcons: This is a team that stayed quiet in the offseason, when they really should have worked on improving their defense. Finishing 15th against the run, this is a team that was not able to take opportunities in 2015, finishing 22nd in points per game. I want to see Matt Ryan rely more on his teammates in 2016, and they could potentially snag this one.
Prediction: I believe this one will be fairly close, seeing that both the Falcons and Bucs have similar stats relating to their offense. With that being said, give me the Falcons at home in this one, as I don’t think the hype around the Bucs is all it’s living up to be.
Minnesota Vikings at Tennessee Titans
For The Vikings: With the recent addition of Sam Bradford, I feel torn about this one. While I don’t think he is anywhere close to the answer for the Vikings, I am optimistic about him being a game manager for the team. With Adrian Peterson undergoing another year, he is another guy I am worried about. Can he stay healthy? Is he going to remain in his prime? I feel confident in the defense Minnesota has, but their offense may be a bump in the road.
For The Titans: The offensive line was a huge issue for the Titans in 2015, but they finally have a run game to take the pressure off of Mariota in 2016. With DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry both playing lights out in the preseason, look for the Titans to rely heavily on the run game this season.
Prediction: While I believe both of these offenses will succeed, I think this is going to be a match up of who has the better defense. With that being said, I feel more confident about the Vikings stealing this one on the road, even with Sam Bradford under center. The Titans may have a solid run game this season, but their receiving core and offensive line are suspect to say the least.
Cincinnati Bengals at New York Jets
For The Bengals: The Bengals barely touched their roster in the offseason, but they did lose Hue Jackson to the Cleveland Browns. The Bengals are typically an elite team in the regular season, but they face a dreaded Jets defense, who is a proven force against the pass. I would be concerned about the Jets record at home from 2015, which happened to be 6-2.
For The Jets: With the re-signing of Ryan Fitzpatrick, the hopes are that the Jets can start 2016 right with a victory at home. One thing I am concerned about it whether the Jets can keep Matt Forte healthy, seeing that his age is becoming a factor in his production rate.
Prediction: This should be another close game, but I think that Green may struggle with Revis on coverage. The Jets are poised to be a wild card threat for 2016, and I think week one will treat them right with a victory.
Oakland Raiders at New Orleans Saints
For The Raiders: As big-time winners of the offseason, the defense for Oakland is a force to be reckoned with. Along with that, I see Derek Carr and Amari Cooper substantiating their chemistry heading into the season. While they look solid on paper, I look forward to whether or not the Raiders can live up to their hype. In order to win this game, the Raiders will need to execute, seeing that the Saints defense is below average.
For The Saints: Drew Brees is already looking for a new contract, and he may be deserving of every penny. Brees has been one of the most consistent quarterbacks over the last five years, but frantically, the offense isn’t what I’m worried about. The Saints finished 31st in points allowed per game, 27th in yards allowed per game, and 30th in passing yards allowed per game. This is a defense that needs improvement on the defensive sides of things before the playoffs are a realistic hope.
Prediction: While I think Carr will have no issue picking apart New Orleans’ defense, I think Drew Brees will find a way to win this one for the Saints at home. With a strong running game and a solid receiver in Brandin Cooks, I predict the Saints will simply outscore the Raiders to win this one.
San Diego Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs
For The Chargers: Finishing at a whopping 4-12 last season, the Chargers hit their rock bottom. I would like to see them utilize Melvin Gordon a bit more in 2016, but the real question is if he can be productive or not. I see another guy as a huge question mark in 2016, and that’s Keenan Allen. There is no doubt that he is a monster when he is on the field, but it is a matter of if he can stay on the field for the 2016 season. If the answer is yes, I think the Chargers have a small improvement to their record from last season.
For The Chiefs: The Chiefs are another team, much like the Bengals, that are strong during the regular season. With Jamal Charles injured, it’ll be interesting to see Alex Smith rely on his passing ability to win this football game. If he can do that, I think the Chiefs will come away with this one.
Prediction: This one isn’t as tough as people may make it out to be. I have the Chiefs taking this game with ease, only for the mere fact that the Chargers, in my opinion, will finish with a losing record once again in 2016. Alex Smith may be relying on his arm, and it may cause a couple turnovers along the way, but the Chiefs shouldn’t have an issue winning this one.
Miami Dolphins at Seattle Seahawks
For The Dolphins: With a new head coach comes a new system, and that could very well benefit Adam Gase and the Dolphins in 2016. With no Lamar Miller, the team brought in veteran Arian Foster to fill the void. I don’t buy the fact that Foster will play all 16 games, due to health, but I do think he will be an efficient back for Tannehill. If the Dolphins can get their defense to show up, they may be a 9-7 team this season (that’s a very strong if).
For The Seahawks: After making the playoffs in 2015, the Seahawks will look to get back into the Super Bowl after missing out in 2015. With Marshawn Lynch retiring, Thomas Rawls will look to fill the role somehow. The Seahawks have always been a run-first offense, but I am weary of the fact that Wilson will be forced to dish to ball to guys like Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockette in 2016. If the Seahawks can keep opponents under 24 points a game, they should be locked in for a playoff slot.
Prediction: A new head coach also means a new set of question marks, and that’s not something I’m willing to bet on, especially for week one in Seattle. The offense for Seattle may take some time to wake up, but I think the defense will win this one against the Dolphins.
Detroit Lions at Indianapolis Colts
For The Lions: After an unexpected retirement from Calvin Johnson, the Lions chose to go out and get Marvin Jones as his replacement. While I am a huge Marvin Jones fan, let’s face it, no one can fill the hole Johnson is leaving for Detroit. I think this Lions defense may struggle at points against the Colts, but stranger things have happened in the NFL.
For The Colts: Andrew Luck will finally be seen back on the field, but Colts fans should be careful, because that doesn’t secure them a playoff slot. Luck is being regarded as one of the NFL’s best young quarterbacks, and I don’t disagree, but it takes a lot more than one player to win a game. The Colts worry me for the simple note that their defense was not able to keep up in 2015. The Colts ranked 31st in strength of schedule for 2015, and Andrew Luck clearly struggled against defenses. This season? The team will rank 22nd in strength of schedule. I’ll leave it at that.
Prediction: Even though I just bashed the Colts defense, I don’t believe they have much to worry about with this Lions team. With little to no run game, and a sloppy defense from 2015, the Lions didn’t do much in the offseason to convince me to pick them against a hyped Colts team. I think both quarterbacks may struggle early, but look for the Colts to come away with the W.
New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys
For The Giants: It wasn’t so much that the Redskins won the division last year as much as the other three teams lost it, and the Giants defense is to blame for that. This season, the Giants improved greatly (on paper) on defense, and even added Sterling Shepard to add to their already dangerous wide receiver core. With no Tony Romo for now, the Giants may be able to steal a W in Jerry’s World.
For The Cowboys: Romo going down was the Cowboys biggest concern, but have they found a gem in Dak Prescott? The rookie sensation played better than any other rookie in preseason, and as a matter of fact, he played better than most quarterbacks in the preseason. I like what I see in Prescott, but my main concern is with the Cowboys defense. Lack of turnovers and getting to the quarterback was a big part of the blame in 2015, and they have no reason to think it will be different this year.
Prediction: The Giants should be the favorite to win the NFC East, but I think this will be closer than a lot of folks think. If the Cowboys defense can hold their own, look for them to upset the Giants in week one. By the way, yes, I am choosing Dak Prescott over a two-time Super Bowl winner. Why? Because I think the Giants have no run game, and the Cowboys offense will be able to outscore them late in the second half.
New England Patriots at Arizona Cardinals
For The Patriots: Even with Tom Brady, I think this would be a tough game to overcome in Arizona. There have been reports out of Patriots camp that Garoppolo has looked unimpressive, and that’s evident on the field. While I think he may be the answer down the road, Jimmy G needs to prove everyone wrong, and what better way to do it against the Cardinals in prime time television?
For The Cardinals: The Cardinals made yet another playoff push in 2015, but came up short. This season, the team is a bit healthier, and has the opportunity to load up their carries to David Johnson. The one concern I have about the Cardinals is their ability to stay healthy, as a lot of their stars such as Larry Fitzgerald, Carson Palmer, Tyranne Mathieu have experienced injuries in the past.
Prediction: For the record, I think the Patriots will be making a deep playoff push in 2016, but week one may get ugly for Pats fans. I have the Cardinals taking this one, simply because Garoppolo is inexperienced and has to go up against a top 5-10 defense in week one.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Washington Redskins
For The Steelers: The Steelers biggest issue coming up is finding a way to get by without Lev Bell for three games, as well as Martavis Bryant for the entire 2016 season. While I think the Steelers have the weapons to make it to the playoffs, they need to make sure they keep their guys on the field if they want to be taken seriously as contenders.
For The Redskins: Coming away with the NFC East title in 2015, Kirk Cousins was a huge part in that success. Coming into a contract year, expect Cousins to have a chip on his shoulder coming into week one. The one concern I have with the Redskins is their ability to score though. With no Alfred Morris and an aging DeSean Jackson, how confident can anyone be in the Redskins being able to repeat division titles in back to back seasons?
Prediction: While I think the Redskins are being overlooked by many, I don’t give them much of a shot to win this game, even if it is at home. With Big Ben and Antonio Brown, that’s really all the firepower you need to beat an average Redskins roster.
Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers
For The Rams: The team gave up a boat load to grab Jared Goff in the NFL Draft, and that bit them in the behind shortly after. With Case Keenum going in as the starter, this is simply going to be a team that relies on their defense to win them games this season. Keenum, in my opinion, does not have the strength to carry this Rams team, as well as the expectations many fans have for Los Angeles.
For The 49ers: There is a whole lot to say about the 49ers, and almost none of it actually has to do with the actual football players. Whether it’s Colin Kaepernick and his controversy about America, or Chip Kelly and who he wants as the starter, the 49ers are the biggest wild card this year in the NFL (and I don’t mean that in a good way).
Prediction: Call me crazy, but I think the 49ers have a real shot at winning this football game. I don’t like either of these teams winning more than 7 games in 2016, but the Rams quarterback situation is dreadful. I’ve got the 49ers in a not so exciting Monday night game, but this one is anyone’s guess.