Looking into the crystal ball for Week 1 and beyond, let's remember the lesson of the Titans and the Chiefs last season.
You survived eight months without football. Your reward is the enigma that is the first month of the NFL season. We all struggle to figure out which teams are good, which teams are bad, and which Week 1 losses will look really bizarre in eight weeks. Did you remember the Chiefs lost to the Jake Locker-led Titans in Week 1 last season? By 16 points. It's true. That kind of explosion even led some poor suckers to put Jake Locker on their fantasy team for Week 2's tilt against an "undermanned" Cowboys defense that was reeling after falling to the 49ers. Some sucker who writes this column.
The jump to conclusions mat is normally all we have in the first few weeks. In these cases, I like to keep it simple. And since I am giving myself $1000 theoretical dollars each week of this season for my NFL picks, I'm only going to use $500 of it here. Better to wait out surer bets than get crushed here and not have a buffer.
New England (-6 to -7 1/2) over Pittsburgh -- $100
The Patriots are missing starting wideout Brandon LaFell, but the Steelers come into this matchup neutered. The preseason robbed them of center Maurkice Pouncey, an All-Pro lost to injury. Suspensions to running back Le'Veon Bell and wideout Martavis Bryant limit the explosiveness of the offense.
I tend to believe the concept that the Thursday opener has historically been an asskicking in favor of the home team as a small sample size fluke. But if you believe in it, all the more reason to put some money down here.
I'm just struggling to see how the Steelers keep pace with the Pats barring a statement game from the front seven or the offensive line.
Cincinnati (+3 to +3 1/2) over Oakland -- $100
The Raiders have successfully transferred themselves to the step of the rebuilding cycle Jacksonville is on. They've scraped together a few young players who could become something someday. Quarterback Derek Carr had a decent rookie season, and first-round pick Amari Cooper is very likely to be a good NFL receiver.
The Bengals aren't very sexy right now. Andy Dalton is an average quarterback, and they didn't add much of anything this offseason. But they've also added a lot just in injury recovery. Wideout Marvin Jones, tight end Tyler Eifert, a healthy A.J. Green. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins has looked like a renewed person another season removed from tearing his ACL.
I don't anticipate riding Cincy often in this column, but this game is absolutely a candidate to be 17-10 before the Bengals put it in Jeremy Hill's hands and have him bulldoze the Raiders into oblivion.
Philadelphia (+3) over Atlanta -- $200
The Eagles are coming off an impressive preseason, and I'm starting to come around on the idea that Sam Bradford might show us more than he ever has in this offense. In what will be a glorified track meet against the Falcons, I like the Chip Kelly offense to exploit the many weak links Atlanta still has on defense.
The Falcons run game has been pathetic over the past two seasons. And even with the explosive potential of Tevin Coleman, I have a tough time getting traction against the Philly front seven. That could very well be the difference.
I think you're getting a discount on the Eagles until Bradford shows he deserves more respect. Might as well take it.
Minnesota (-2 1/2) over San Francisco -- $100
As is the case with getting in on Sam Bradford before the price goes up, get in on betting against the 49ers while the NFL odds are still low. They're turning over an entire team, we have no idea if their head coach can get anything but a generic Mike Singletary-esque "respect" from his players, and the youth the team has turned over to is more reputation than results so far.
The Vikings did lose right tackle Phil Loadholt for the season in the exhibition games, but I don't think the 49ers have the better unit on either side of the ball. I'd need more than 2 1/2 points with this team to dance against the Vikings.