Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos. The horses' defense is a mess that's missing Von Miller, Elvis Dumervil (who will be chasing Peyton Manning in a purple uniform) and Champ Bailey. The Ravens may still be adjusting to the post-Ray Lewis/Ed Reed era. However, Manning's extremely fast-paced offense (showcased sparingly in the preseason) and the altitude may be a bit too much for Baltimore. The key to the game will be whether Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and the rest of the defense can stop Joe Flacco and Ray Rice. Going with the Broncos in a high-scoring game (they have Wes Welker this season in case you just re-entered the atmosphere) at home despite the defense, but not by more than a touchdown.
Straight Up: Denver
Against the Spread: Baltimore +8.5
Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints. Last season the Saints were playing essentially defense-free football. Rob Ryan is desperately trying to fix that, but the loss of Jonathan Vilma, Victor Butler, Kenyon Coleman and Will Smith to injury could be a killer. Matt Ryan and his group will match Drew Brees and company score for score. The punters may be reduced to serving Gatorade. The Falcons' defense should be better than their opponents, but Atlanta's kicker is nursing a bad back and that could make the difference as the Saints win by a field goal.
Straight Up: New Orleans
Against the Spread: Atlanta +3.5
Oakland Raiders at Indianapolis Colts. Avert your eyes. The Raiders' offensive hopes rest completely with Darren McFadden as the team continues to have no stability at coach or quarterback. Even scoring machine Sebastian Janikowski is questionable with a right calf injury. And the Silver and Black no longer have punter Shane Lechler to bail them out of lackluster drives. Meanwhile, the only uncertainty in Indy is whether or not Andrew Luck is good enough in his sophomore to overcome a middle-of-the-pack defense. That D will probably look pretty good against Oakland, so hold that question for another week.
Straight Up: Indy
Against the Spread: Indy -8.5 (at least)
Miami Dolphins at Cleveland Browns. While Miami may well end up the better team this season, the Browns hope to find success behind super-rusher Trent Richardson, with a few deep balls to their non-suspended WRs. Norv Turner has already improved Brandon Weeden's playmaking ability and this weekend will be the first real test against a Dolphins' D on the verge of something special. The Browns' defense is quite talented and should handle a still-gelling Dolphins offense that will be greatly improved once they get comfortable.
Straight Up: Cleveland
Against the Spread: Cleveland -.5
New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills. E. J. Manuel and I are from the same hometown, so I'd like to tell you he could prevail against a Bill Belichick-coached defense. But I can't. Then there's the fact that Tom Brady has been completely MVP-like in preseason. Unless the Bills' secondary, featuring a very unhappy star DB in Jarius Byrd, can stop Brady-to-Danny Amendola this could be a disheartening afternoon for Bills' fans.
Straight Up: New England
Against the Spread: New England -9.5
Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions. Adrian Peterson versus Calvin Johnson is all we hear about this game. Great headline except that they don't play against each other. The Lions' plan was to bring in Reggie Bush to give them a rushing attack absent since No. 20 retired. The Vikings' plan was to bring in Greg Jennings to give uneven QB Christian Ponder a boost. The flaw here is that if Bush performs as expected it will directly improve the offense whereas Jennings will still be dependent upon someone to pass him the ball. You see the problem. However, the Lions' defense has appeared to be in an identify-crisis in preseason while the Vikings' D seems healthy and improved. Bottom line: Matthew Stafford is a far better QB than Ponder no matter what his detractors say.
Straight Up: Detroit
Against the Spread: Detroit -4.5
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New York Jets. Normally I go with home underdogs and I'm not that impressed with the Bucs' offense after preseason. However, rookie Geno Smith is starting at quarterback for the Jets and they still don't have a running game. I expect the Bucs' D to have at least one pick six. Next.
Straight Up: Tampa Bay
Against the Spread: Tampa Bay -2.5
Kansas City Chiefs at Jacksonville Jaguars. No one is going to give the Jags or Blaine Gabbert a chance. However, the Chiefs are still working out the Andy Reid system. A system that doesn't believe in power rushing and features a power rusher. Okay. And the Jacksonville defense is a legitimate pro unit. The Chiefs will end up with the better record by year's end, but the Jags keep it close at home.
Straight Up: Jacksonville
Against the Spread: Jacksonville +3.5
Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers. Another home underdog that will cover. The 'Hawks have to travel and play the early game: never a good combination for a team that already has a shaky road reputation. On the other hand, the Carolina offense is still subscribing to the belief that Cam Newton can win every game all alone, with a few catches by Steve Smith. That won't "fly" well against the Seahawks' imposing defense. Seattle could end up in the Super Bowl this season, but in hot Carolina they may get off to a rocky start.
Straight Up: Carolina
Against the Spread: Carolina +3.5
Cincinnati Bengals at Chicago Bears. And the Bears still can't protect their quarterback. That's excessively bad news when the ferocious tigers come to town. Unless a Chicago D that has a big bite of its own can score, the Bengals shock the Bears at home.
Straight Up: Cincinnati
Against the Spread: Cincinnati +3.5
Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh Steelers. Until Jake Locker can prove to me that he can attain NFL-level accuracy in a real game, I'm going with the Steelers. Yes, Pittsburgh has some significant issues on offense (including the Chicago Bears' school of offensive line play) and yes, the defense is still old. However, it's Big Ben and the terrible towels against a Titans' offense whose most dependable component is RB Chris Johnson.
Straight Up: Pittsburgh
Against the Spread: Pittsburgh -7.5
Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers. In probably the most evenly matched game of the week, Frank Gore will make the difference unless Aaron Rodgers can carve up a slightly re-vamped 49ers secondary--which, heaven knows, is a possibility. Green Bay will once again try to prove that they can run the ball. They will be trying this against one of the best defensive front sevens of recent years. Yeah. Welcome to Candlestick. But the Packers' DB's pick Colin Kaepernick off at least once and Rodgers has a statement opening night, so it will be close.
Straight up: San Francisco
Against the Spread: Green Bay +4.5
Arizona Cardinals at St. Louis Rams. Tavon Austin, welcome to the NFL. Jeff Fisher unveils the NFL's fastest man and the only Card who can keep up with him will be CB Patrick Peterson. The game, however, will be in the hands of a quietly impressive Rams' D. If St. Louis can sack new Arizona QB Carson Palmer, this could be an unpleasant game for the well-traveled and under-rated signal-caller. Don't miss checking out Rams rookie linebacker Alec Ogletree. You heard it here first.
Straight Up: St. Louis
Against the Spread: St. Louis +4.5
New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys. Although the Cowboys' D stormed out of the gate in the preseason, the offensive line still can't manage to keep Tony Romo from running for his life. Despite a generally uneven preseason, Big Blue does believe in protecting their franchise QB, which will allow them to win on the road as Romo spends the afternoon trying to avoid Jason Pierre-Paul.
Straight Up: New York Giants
Against the Spread: New York +3.5
Philadelphia Eagles at Washington. Robert Griffin III plays his first game of the year. Yes, he'll be rusty. Former college winning coach Chip Kelly has handed the keys to his NASCAR offense to Michael Vick. Both defenses will have their hands full. This game will be a test case for both offenses; so defensive stars will make the difference. Advantage to Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan.
Straight Up: Washington
Against the Spread: Washington -3.5
Houston Texans at San Diego Chargers. You have to feel for Philip Rivers and new coach Mike McCoy. They're both dealing with a less-than-ideal assembly of offensive talent. If rusher Ryan Mathews can come though, the Chargers have a chance. If Rivers can stay on his feet, the Chargers have a chance. I wouldn't count on either scenario against the Texans' D. Houston's Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson have resumed their Pro Bowl ways in the preseason and Arian Foster/Ben Tate present a daunting prospect for any run D.
Straight Up: Houston
Against the Spread: San Diego +3.5 only because Rivers is a stud and I hate going against a home underdog.
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