I'd like to tell you I'm really enthused about the 2016 NFL season from a personal standpoint, but that would be false because I expect very little out of my Chicago Bears. In fact, I probably won't even pay much attention to them until the Cubs allow me to die happy some day by finally winning the World Series. Already planning to need my stomach pumped that night.
But with all that extra free time saved from worrying about what the Bears might do each week, I might as well put that toward homework for my Survivor (and Confidence) Pool competitions. I'd be lying if I said I've won all my competitions every year, but I've taken my share and usually get into mid-November at a minimum on the Survivor Pools. (As an aside, I'm also in one where you pick which team you are most confident in losing each week, not winning. It's an interesting change you might want to try.)
This year I will break my games down into four downs. First down: super confident, go for the jugular. This choice trumps all. Second down: Feeling pretty good about things but for one reason or another it's not a top pick. Third down: Play conservative and for field position. Best to avoid the game. And fourth down: Punt.
I know some competitors who go through the entire schedule at the beginning of the year and map out their likely Survivor Picks. I've always recommended against that. Some teams will be better than expected and some teams worse. And then obviously you have the big injuries as with what happened with the Cowboys and Vikings this preseason. Sure, I might pick often against the Cleveland Browns or San Francisco 49ers in 2016, probably the league's two least-talented rosters, but they are each going to win at least a few games. Cleveland and San Francisco aren't Kansas or Central Florida circa the 2015 NCAA season.
Keep in mind that getting these stories in on Wednesday ahead of the weekly Thursday game leaves things open to change later in the week. You should simply never use the Thursday game as your top choice and always wait until the deadline on Sunday to make any selection after getting last-minute injury news. Remember, though, that the NFL did away with the "probable" designation on the injury report this year. Two days before kickoff, teams must list injured players as "questionable," "doubtful" or "out" for that game. "Questionable" used to mean 50-50 chance of playing but now means uncertain. The NFL did us (or bettors) no favors with this change. Its logic was that guys who were listed as probable almost always played regardless, so why keep it. But you know coaches like New England's Bill Belichick will shift once-probable guys to questionable and now we won't know the difference between who is sure to play and who might not.
So let's get to it. The team I recommend is listed first.
Houston vs. Chicago: I probably won't actually use this as my top choice because I might be a little biased against what I saw from the Bears this preseason. But I can't see them going to Houston and winning, especially with J.J. Watt set to return from injury for the Texans. That Chicago defense is banged up in the secondary and missing top linebacker Pernell McPhee. Let's hope this is the final season opener for Jay Cutler in a Bears uniform.
Seattle vs. Miami: This has the largest spread of the week, and that's exactly why I won't use it as my top choice as most likely a large majority of your competitors will. Do I think the Dolphins will win in the Pacific Northwest? Not really, but the Fins have some talent -- maybe Adam Gase is as good of a head coach as he was an offensive coordinator -- and have been able to game plan for Seattle for two weeks.
Kansas City vs. San Diego: I may elevate this to the top spot. The Chiefs have won four straight in the series and held the Chargers to six total points in last year's wins. I'd feel much better about this if the Chiefs' Jamaal Charles and Justin Houston were healthy.
Baltimore vs. Buffalo: I expect the Ravens to get back to Super Bowl contending status in 2016. Murphy's Law certainly applied to that team last year. The Bills will continue the NFL's longest playoff drought, especially after losing their top two picks in this year's draft to injury as well as a couple of guys to early suspensions, and Rex Ryan will be your first NFL coach fired in 2016.
Carolina at Denver (Thursday): Being a former Midwestern guy, I watched plenty of Northwestern football. And when Trevor Siemian was that school's starting QB, he wasn't any good. Siemian couldn't even complete 60 percent of his passes in college and had more interceptions (11) than touchdowns (7) as a senior while averaging just 5.6 yards per attempt. How is Siemian starting Week 1 for the defending Super Bowl champions? Worst. Starting. Quarterback. Ever. For. A. Defending. Champion.
Arizona vs. New England: Maybe Tom Brady replacement Jimmy Garoppolo becomes Tony Romo, who was also a star at Eastern Illinois. But I'm not counting on that Sunday night against a very good Arizona defense.
Jacksonville vs. Green Bay: I believe the Jaguars can win the AFC South this year. Is simply the return of Jordy Nelson enough to make the Packers Super Bowl favorites as they are at sportsbooks? I don't think so. Plus, he's still not fully healthy.
Atlanta vs. Tampa Bay: It's the final season opener at the Georgia Dome for the Falcons as they move to a new palace next season. Atlanta was swept by Tampa last year, but both games went right down to the wire.
Minnesota at Tennessee: The Vikings might have been the top choice before the injury to QB Teddy Bridgewater. I don't have the same faith in either Shaun Hill or Sam Bradford, but Minnesota should still win a close one.
Cincinnati at New York Jets: Basically flip a coin here, but I prefer the Bengals because Andy Dalton is better than Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Bengals will be without Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert and top linebacker Vontaze Burfict, however.
Oakland at New Orleans: I expect a game and final score here similar to that thrilling Notre Dame-Texas matchup on Sunday night in Week 1 of the NCAA season. I believe the Raiders win the AFC West this year.
Indianapolis vs. Detroit: Colts are overrated as they are still weak on the offensive line, at running back and on defense. But Andrew Luck is enough to pick them at home here.
New York Giants at Dallas: Is Dak Prescott for real? The fourth-rounder from Mississippi State looked like the steal of the 2016 draft in the preseason. But there have been a lot of preseason stars who were busts in the regular season (ahem, Cade McNown). The Cowboys always beat the Giants in Week 1, but not this year. Prescott will find things about tougher against an opposing defense's starters.
Pittsburgh at Washington (Monday): I root for Kirk Cousins because he played at Michigan State, but I expect major regression for him in 2016. And have you seen Washington's running back situation?
Philadelphia vs. Cleveland: In one way, the most important game of Week 1, but you couldn't pay me to watch it. I would have liked the Eagles fairly strongly here before they went ahead and punted on the season in trading Sam Bradford to the Vikings and starting very raw No. 2 overall pick Carson Wentz at quarterback. Frankly, the Browns might be best served by trying to end this in a tie. That way a win doesn't hurt their chances for the top pick in the 2017 draft, while an Eagles win doesn't hurt Cleveland's chances of Philly's owed first-round pick to the Browns from the Wentz trade landing at No. 1 overall.
Los Angeles at San Francisco (Monday): Case Keenum vs. Blaine Gabbert. Exciting! Unfortunately, the Rams cut everyone who was interesting on HBO's "Hard Knocks" -- the Bears signed the tank top guy, which makes me both happy and sad. At least if Jared Goff was playing I might tune in. I'm certainly not going to do so simply to see what Colin Kaepernick does during the National Anthem.
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