Trying to pick games against the spread in Week 1 is about as difficult as trying to forecast the twists and turns of a tropical storm. Am I right, weathermen?
The reality is that there’s just so much unknown.
Including Denver Thursday night, there will be seven home underdogs (assuming the Giants will be favorites by kickoff). If there’s one thing I learned from last season, it’s that you shouldn’t underestimate home underdogs early on. I think four of them — the Jets, Titans, Redskins and 49ers — will win outright.
Expect a lot of close games, and afteward, I’m sure we’ll be left with as many questions as we had before we turned on the NFL RedZone channel.
BENGALS AT JETS
Bengals by 2.5; O/U: 42
TV: Ch. 2, 1 p.m.
I still can’t believe the Jets didn’t make the playoffs last season when all they had to do was win their finale. After the latest heartbreak, will it be J-E-T-S again, as in Just Expect The Same? One look at their schedule and the playoffs might be a long shot. After Cincinnati, it’s at Buffalo, at Kansas City, vs. Seattle, at Pittsburgh, at Arizona, vs. Baltimore. Raise your hand if you’ll sign up for 3-4, Jets fans. That’s why the Jets need to start strongly with a win. I think Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brandon Marshall connect for a touchdown — just as they did in last season’s opener — and the Jets find a way to win the most competitive game of the week.
The pick: Jets
GIANTS AT COWBOYS
Cowboys by 1; O/U: 46.5
TV: Ch. 5, 4:25 p.m.
The Giants had 15 weeks to make up for last season’s Week 1 meltdown in Dallas, but it seemed as if they were doomed from that point on. Now the schedule makers have given them a shot at redemption. You have to think Eli Manning has been counting down the days. With a healthy Victor Cruz and rookie Sterling Shepard joining Odell Beckham Jr., Manning is poised for a career year. If Tony Romo didn’t get hurt, I’d probably take Dallas. Dak Prescott had a preseason for the ages, but let’s see how good he is when it counts. The Giants’ new-look defense makes some plays to complement the offense and Big Blue leaves Big D with a big “W”.
The pick: Giants
1 P.M. GAMES
BUCS AT FALCONS
Falcons by 2.5; O/U: 47.5
Jameis Winston had a strong rookie season, and should only improve under new coach Dirk Koetter, who was the offensive coordinator last year. Tampa Bay won at Atlanta last season, so there’s no reason to think they can’t do it again.
The pick: Bucs
VIKINGS AT TITANS
Vikings by 2.5; O/U: 41
Whether Sam Bradford starts or not is irrelevant to me. That’s because I would’ve picked the Titans to win even if Teddy Bridgewater was playing. Marcus Mariota is going to have a super sophomore season, helped by the two-headed rushing attack of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. The Titans played hard when Mike Mularkey took over last season. No malarkey when I say I think Tennessee will be in the playoff hunt.
The pick: Titans
BROWNS AT EAGLES
Eagles by 4; O/U: 41
It’s the battle of unknowns. Does Robert Griffin III have anything left? Is rookie Carson Wentz ready? I thought the best offseason coaching hire was Hue Jackson to the Browns. His hard-hitting coaching style, as shown on the Bengals’ season of “Hard Knocks” a few years back, always stuck with me. I have a feeling RG3 will have a huge game. The Browns are going to surprise some teams, and it starts here with an upset win on the road.
The pick: Browns
RAIDERS AT SAINTS
Saints by 1; O/U: 51
If you like overs, this is your game. There was a time not too long ago when New Orleans was a lock at home, but not anymore. The Raiders are a team on the rise.
The pick: Raiders
CHARGERS AT CHIEFS
Chiefs by 6.5; O/U: 44.5
I called an audible at the “line” on this one. When I walked into the office, the Chiefs were 7.5-point favorites. Then I saw that it dipped to 6.5, and as many of you know, that’s a huge one point. Kansas City is a tough place to play anyway, and San Diego has a lot of question marks.
The pick: Chiefs
PACKERS AT JAGUARS
Packers by 5.; O/U: 48
This is one of the trickiest spreads of the week. Listen to what Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell told The Associated Press: “We can match up with virtually almost anybody.” Follow-up question: Does “virtually almost anybody” include Aaron Rodgers? Jacksonville keeps it close, but loses by a touchdown.
The pick: Packers
BILLS AT RAVENS
Ravens by 3; O/U: 44.5
The Ravens led the league in bad luck last season, losing Joe Flacco and Steve Smith Sr. But they never stopped fighting: Only four of their games were decided by more than six points. Baltimore is one of my favorite plays of the week, even though I expect Tyrod Taylor to make some big plays against his old team.
The pick: Ravens
BEARS AT TEXANS
Texans by 6; O/U: 44
On paper, this looks like one of the most lopsided games of the week. Houston — my Super Bowl pick — gave Brock Osweiler a big contract, and also brought in running back Lamar Miller to team with super-talented receiver DeAndre Hopkins. J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney will make it a long day for Jay Cutler, and Osweiler will show Denver what it’s missing.
The pick: Texans
4 P.M. GAMES
LIONS AT COLTS
Colts by 3.5; O/U: 51
The Colts were one of the biggest underachievers last season. Teams with something to prove can be a bettor’s best friend. Andrew Luck and his offensive weapons win a shootout.
The pick: Colts
DOLPHINS AT SEAHAWKS
Seahawks by 10.5; O/U: 44
The 10-plus gives me pause because Miami has talent on offense. But ask yourself what’s more likely to happen: Seattle winning 35-17 or 24-21? I’ll go with Door No. 1.
The pick: Seahawks
PATRIOTS AT CARDINALS
Cardinals by 6; O/U: 47
A possible Super Bowl preview had the air taken out of it once Tom Brady’s suspension was upheld. Enter Jimmy Garoppolo. (Quick aside: Every time I hear that name I think of the actress Janeane Garofalo). The chances of Garoppolo doing to Brady what Brady did to Drew Bledsoe are all but impossible, but I think he will hand the keys back to Brady at worst 2-2. One of those losses will be here, against an Arizona team that is 19-5 straight up (SU) at home in Bruce Arians’ three years as coach.
The pick: Cardinals
STEELERS AT REDSKINS
Steelers by 3; O/U: 50
The Redskins went 6-2 SU at home last season, and Kirk Cousins looked like Joe Montana in some of those games. The Steelers don’t have Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant, and with Josh Norman locking in on Antonio Brown, they’re going to have trouble moving the ball. Give me the Redskins to win outright.
The pick: Redskins
LOCK OF THE WEEK
RAMS AT 49ERS
Rams by 2.5; O/U: 43.5
I learned a valuable lesson on the first Monday night of last season: Don’t pick against home underdogs . . . in the first week . . . on national TV. The 49ers upset the Vikings in the identical spot last year. It’s also Chip Kelly’s debut as coach, and he will be eager to turn the page on the Eagles mess. As for the Rams, I wasn’t impressed with their “Hard Knocks” season. HBO should’ve aired it from 7-9 instead of 10. Sorry for the hard knock, Jeff Fisher. San Francisco isn’t going anywhere this season, but they’re starting 1-0 again.
The pick: 49ers
Staff picks (Best Bets in bold)
Joe Manniello: Jets, Giants, Bucs, Titans, Browns, Raiders, Chiefs, Ravens, Texans, Packers, Seahawks, Colts, Cardinals, Redskins, 49ers
Bob Glauber: Jets, Giants, Falcons, Vikings, Eagles, Raiders, Chiefs, Ravens, Texans, Packers, Seahawks, Colts, Cardinals, Steelers, Rams
Tom Rock: Jets, Giants, Bucs, Vikings, Eagles, Raiders, Chiefs, Bills, Texans, Packers, Seahawks, Lions, Cardinals, Steelers, Rams
Kimberley A. Martin: Jets, Giants, Bucs, Titans, Browns, Saints
Chiefs, Ravens, Texans, Packers, Dolphins, Colts, Cardinals, Steelers, Rams