NFL Survivor Pool Picks and Expert Advice: Week 1
by Matt Severance - 9/3/2014
The 2014 NFL season is upon us, and as usual you are stuck with me as your Survivor Pool "expert." The first week is always a challenge because you just don't really know how good or bad teams are. I'm not gleaning much from the preseason. I'd be willing to bet that the NFC Championship Game will not feature the N.Y. Giants against Minnesota. Those were the two preseason unbeaten teams in that conference. That said, I might take something from Dallas going winless, because that putrid 2013 defense looks no better.
As noted in the 2014 primer a few weeks ago , I will break these weeks into five categories. Because I have no clue which teams you decide to choose, the same team (Denver, Seattle) will likely appear in the Lock of the Week multiple times. Sometimes it's smart to stay away from my Lock of the Week because if it looks that one-sided to me it probably does everyone else in your pool. It's a way to play a type of prevent defense in Survivor Pools. Don't choose that one team everyone else is going to. Should the major upset happen, you are covered.
Finally, always wait until the latest possible minute to put your picks in because injuries mean everything. For example, last season I picked the Steelers over the Titans as my top choice in Week 1, but after writing this story on Wednesday a few Pittsburgh injuries came up that forced me to change my pick.
And we're off. The team listed first is the side I'm leaning.
Lock of the Week
Philadelphia vs. Jacksonville: This is one of those times where I wouldn't take my Lock of the Week because I can guarantee you that at least 75 percent of your league will. Jacksonville is the only double-digit underdog in Week 1. Do I think the Jaguars are better than people think? I do, especially whenever Blake Bortles gets in there. I could easily see them cover here. But win in Philly? No.
Pittsburgh vs. Cleveland: This was in the competition for my Lock of the Week. The Browns looked pretty awful in the preseason, and I find it hard to see how that offense can score more than 10 points in Pittsburgh. Also, the Steelers have never lost at home to Cleveland under Ben Roethlisberger. The Ohio native still holds a grudge the Browns passed on him in the 2004 draft. Big Ben went No. 11 -- the Browns took Miami (Fla.) tight end Kellen Winslow at No. 6.
Denver vs. Indianapolis: Two key players will be out of this one. Broncos receiver Wes Welker and Colts pass-rushing demon Robert Mathis are both suspended the first four games of 2014. That's a win for Denver, which has plenty of receivers to cover for Welker. Mathis was all over Peyton Manning when the Colts upset the Broncos in Indy last year.
Chicago vs. Buffalo: Bills QB E.J. Manuel didn't look NFL-ready in the preseason, hence the Kyle Orton signing, plus star rookie receiver Sammy Watkins has hurt his ribs twice already in exhibition games. The Bears defense stinks, but Jay Cutler and Co. will score enough to win.
NY Jets vs. Oakland: The Raiders' David Carr keeps a streak alive: at least one rookie QB has started Week 1 in the NFL every year since 2008 (the year of Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan). I highly doubt Carr is ready for Rex Ryan's complex defense. The Jets are a better team this year than last, when the easily handled Oakland at MetLife Stadium.
Detroit vs. NY Giants (Monday): The Lions were the team that ousted me in 2013, but they really have no right losing here. The talent level isn't close. The question is whether a head coaching change will keep the Lions from playing stupid football as they've tended to do.
San Francisco at Dallas: Entering the preseason, this would have been one category up, but the 49ers sure did look shaky there. Two of their best defensive players, Aldon Smith and NaVorro Bowman, won't play in this game or for several more. It's still a much better defense than the Cowboys'. All of a sudden, this looks like potentially the highest-scoring game of Week 1
Tampa Bay vs. Carolina: Two teams that had vastly different offseasons, with the Bucs getting much better and the Panthers regressing. Also, Cam Newton is playing with a fractured rib. I've had that injury. Could barely sleep. Going No. 2 felt like I was being shot in the side (TMI?). Don't know how Newton can play in an NFL game. Wouldn't be surprised if the Bucs knock him out at some point.
Houston vs. Washington: Two teams that have combined for 22 straight losses. I don't feel too comfortable backing Ryan Fitzpatrick, but I think Houston's defense is going to be stellar. Also don't believe Robert Griffin III will ever be what he was as a rookie.
Kansas City vs. Tennessee: This is one of those where I simply like the home team.
Cincinnati at Baltimore: The Bengals are better but don't usually win in Baltimore.
St. Louis vs. Minnesota: Shaun Hill vs. Matt Cassel in the Backup Bowl. Vikings have much more offensive talent. Rams do on defense. They should win close at home.
New Orleans at Atlanta: The Saints can win the NFC this season, and they generally handle the Falcons under Drew Brees. But this game means a ton to the Falcons. They need a good start to erase last year's disaster.
Seattle vs. Green Bay (Thursday): The defending Super Bowl Champions had won all the games in this format until the past two years. However, you can't really fault Baltimore for losing on the road at Denver last year -- the Ravens couldn't host because of a conflict with an Orioles game. The Seahawks have just that one fluke home loss -- late last season to Arizona -- since Russell Wilson joined the team. I despise Green Bay, but it would be great karma if the Packers were to win this game on a last-second referee's decision. Of course, that went against the Pack in the "Fail Mary" game when these two last played in Week 3 of 2012.
Arizona vs. San Diego (Monday): I don't think much defense will be played here. This is another one of those where I simply like the home team.
Upset of the Week
Miami vs. New England: Rob Gronkowski says he will play. Bill Belichick says not so fast. Gronk is clearly not 100 percent yet. I am not real high on the Patriots this year. I also sense much more urgency in this game for Miami. A win here and that literally could change the dynamic of the Fins' season and take Coach Joe Philbin briefly off the hot seat. Patriots can lose it and say, "Oh well." They are still good enough for that.
I don't see a game not worth watching or caring about. Week 1 is always too interesting and full of possibilities.
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