Looking at Week One NFL Games
by Robert Ferringo - 09/08/2006
(Note: this is normally included in my Power Rankings. But it's opening week and I'm a little excited. Well, I haven't slept in four days and am riding a killer buzz of meth, coke, heroin, Pez, pixie sticks, Wheat Thins, Dr. Pepper and the NFL Network. OK, so that's not true at all. But I am excited, and this was too long for one story so I split it up. See, I couldn't even say that without being wordy.)
So I'm watching ESPN the other night and Mike Schlereth and Sean Salisbury - the definition of media bobbleheads - are making their predictions for the records of each team in the National Football League. Hilarious stuff. They posted about 90 percent of the teams at either 8-8, 7-9, or 9-7. They sprinkled in a few 6-10's or 10-6's, but for the most part it was by the book. San Fran sucks, Carolina is good, and everyone else is 8-8.
Here's the thing: when they were done making their picks they had about 30 more wins than was humanly possible! It wasn't even close. They had a division like the NFC North, probably the second- or third-worst division in football, getting between 32 and 36 wins. That's absurd! Those four teams have combined to average about 29 over the last five years and will be lucky to match that this year.
I bring this up because these guys wouldn't last 10 seconds in Our World. When I make a prediction there are repercussions. There's money involved. This is Big Boy World, and there has to be a winner and a loser. I can' t just ride the fence and make things up to keep people happy like the circus clowns as ESPN. I'm not here for ratings, and I'm not here to stir things up. I'm in this business to win - winning is fun, and fun is Happy - and I'm here to make my customers and myself money. This takes time and effort; it's not just throwing out half-ass theories or following the crowd.
So I apologize for not picking the New Orleans Saints to go 12-4, and I'm sorry that my preseason Super Bowl pick didn't involve some combination of New England, Indy, Dallas and/or Carolina. That's just not reality, and I'm here to work for you - the people - and to make everyone as much money as humanly possible. That's why I get out of bed every morning. The NFL is a cold, cruel beast and it leaves grown men battered and beaten. So I say, yet again, ignore the bobbleheads and their fiction and hop on this train. We're headed to Reality, with stops at Fun, Winning, Drunkenness, Luck, Excess, Bad Beat, Hot Streak, and Cleaning House. All aboard!
Here's a look at some key games in Week 1:
Atlanta (+5) at Carolina
I know there are other juicier subplots on tap but this is the Best Game on the board this weekend. We've got a bitter team trying to get over the hump squaring off with Everyone's Super Bowl Favorite. It's an intradivisional tilt that could reverberate throughout the season.
The Steve Smith Situation is crucial to this game, and will neutralize Atlanta's loss of Edge Hartwell, their middle linebacker. Demario Williams will start on the outside for the Falcons, meaning Keith Brooking will slide back inside. It will hurt the run defense, but Carolina is more of a pass-to-setup-the-run kind of team anyway.
However, the Smith situation is much juicier. Smith was one-time buddy of Atlanta's DeAngelo Hall. Not so much anymore. If Smith is gimpy that means Hall, a Pro Bowler, should dominate him. Yeah, I said that. However, the decision that Atlanta may face - especially near the goal line - is what to do with Keyshawn. Rookie Jimmy Williams is Atlanta's other corner, but Johnson flosses his teeth with inexperienced DBs. If Smith is out, Hall moves to Keyshawn and the Falcons gain a huge edge. If Smith plays, even as a solid decoy, then Keyshawn should fill up Williams.
Dallas at Jacksonville (-2)
Dallas has an edge when it comes to talent, but this game is going to be decided by toughness. These are two of the best defensive front sevens in football and they're going to be banging heads with offensive lines all day. Dallas' new two-tight end set is going to be tested early. By keeping Anthony Fassano and/or Jason Witten in to block, they can chip down on the defensive ends, allowing the offensive tackles to help out against John Henderson and Marcus Stroud - the best 1-2 defensive tackle punch in the game.
But less tight end means more pressure on the Cowboys receivers to make plays. And that's why Terrell Owens is an X-Factor here. He's been staying late at practice for the last week, and has something to prove on Sunday. He knows that. And when T.O. focuses that energy on the field he is usually a pretty productive player.
Jacksonville may be the favorite, but from a P.R. standpoint they are the underdog in this game. The fact that they've maintained the role of favorite from the books speaks volumes. The trouble is - as it will be all year - where are the points going to come from? This is a Cowboys secondary that can be beaten for a big play or two. I know it's not the Jags style, but they need to come out of the gate chucking it downfield. That will loosen up the underneath stuff so Leftwich can work. If they try to dink and dunk and play timid offensively, that front seven from Dallas will swarm.
Seattle at Detroit (+6.5)
This is like a sick practical joke by the schedule makers at the NFL. Sending the Seahawks back to Detroit for their opener is like sending a brutalized assault victim back to the scene of the crime, or sending some heart-broken teenager back to the site of their Big Break-up. It's just cruel. Especially after all the post-Super Bowl bitching that came out of the Seahawks organization. I'm telling you that means this one is going to go either way:
A) Seattle is going to be enraged by the familiarity of the situation and stadium, come out with guns blazing and something to prove and overwhelm a confused and frightened Detroit club.
B) The Seahawks will be stunned and hesitant, with wicked flashbacks to What Could Have Been. They'll be lethargic and an undervalued Lions crew is going to pull a Week one stunner.
I believe Detroit is a fabulous moneyline bet here. You're getting tremendous value on a talented, upstart squad that's playing at home. Remember, before last year Detroit was a horrendous road team. But the one thing that will keep me from pulling the trigger is the fact that the Lions are still light years away from having a grasp on the offensive or defensive schemes.
Questions or comments for Robert? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.