Here is a 5-Pack of NFL plays for this Sunday to build your bankroll on Kickoff Weekend, highlighted by the late afternoon marquee 49ers at Cowboys matchup.
Well, the time has arrived as the NFL preseason and its exasperating contests that averaged 20 penalties per game has come and gone and we have now arrived at perhaps the most exciting weekend of the entire calendar year. Yes, we have arrived at NFL Kickoff Weekend for the 2014 season, and just as in years past we will be here every week offering up our 5-Packs of NFL picks during the regular season.
The season actually began on Thursday night with the defending Super Bow Champions hosting the official season opener, as has become the norm over the years, and the Seattle Seahawks picked up right where they left off in February with a convincing 36-16 victory over the Green Bay Packers in front of the “12th Man” in Seattle. That combined score of 52 points went ‘over’ the closing total at Pinnacle Sports of 46½.
Moving on to Sunday, we expect the rest of Kickoff Weekend to be dominated by the underdogs with one notable exception, so three of our five picks this week are underdogs. We also have the one favorite that we feel will be the exception to the Week 1 rule, as well as one total play on an ‘under’. As has become our custom, all NFL odds come from Pinnacle Sports.
Sunday, September 7th
Pittsburgh Steelers -7 (+104) over Cleveland Browns (1:00 ET): This is the lone favorite we like this week as we expect the Steelers to be able to move the ball pretty well on a normally good Cleveland defense. Pittsburgh has some nice offensive balance right now with Le'Veon Bell as the primary running back and LeGarrette Blunt providing quality relief and the underrated Antonio Brown again expected to be on the receiving end over 100 times on passes from Ben Roethlisberger and catching 110 passes for 1499 yards last season. More importantly Brown was able to snare 15 catches for 179 yards and a touchdown in two games vs. the Browns’ fine shutdown cornerback Joe Haden last season, and that was without a speedster on the opposite side of the field like Pittsburgh has now in Markus Wheaton. Plus the Steelers will be anxious to avoid another 0-4 start like last year that ruined their playoff chances far too early. There was actually some enthusiasm surrounding the Browns after the NFL Draft, but expectations were tempered when Josh Gordon was suspended for the season and Johnny Manziel could not beat out Brian Hoyer for the starting quarterback job. Plus remember that the Steelers have won 10 straight meetings with the Browns here in Pittsburgh by an average of +14.7 points including an easy 20-7 win last season.
Oakland Raiders +5½ (-110) over New York Jets (1:00 ET): Well, it happened much earlier than anyone expected but rookie quarterback Derek Carr will make his NFL debut as the starting quarterback in his first game. It was expected that Carr would sit behind veteran Matt Schaub for possibly this entire season, but he was better than Schaub by leaps and bounds during the preseason and then when Schaub suffered an elbow injury, it gave Coach Dennis Allen the opening he needed to immediately anoint Carr as the starter. Carr even took the Raiders right down the field vs. the great Seattle Seahawks’ first string defense in the final preseason game! He now has a chance to be successful in his first game vs. a poor Jets’ secondary, but for that to happen, the Raiders have to give him time as the Jets do have a nice defensive front seven. That is where free agent addition Maurice Jones-Drew comes in as he ran well in preseason and continuing to do so should keep the young Carr out of third-and-long situations and keep the New York pass rushers honest. We are not sold on the Jets’ offense right now, not with Geno Smith as the starting quarterback and running back Chris Johnson yet to show he can recapture the form from his glory years. This offense is reason enough to be leery about giving this many points with the J-E-T-S.
Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens ‘under’ 42½ (-103) (1:00 ET): The Bengals have both a new offensive coordinator and a new defensive coordinator this season, but the greater effect will probably be felt on the offense. You see, the former OC Jay Gruden, now the head coach of the Washington Redskins, favored a high-volume quick passing game, and that allowed someone with seemingly limited passing skills in Andy Dalton to pass for over 4000 yards last year. Well, expect a lot less passing and a lot more running this year as the new OC Hue Jackson has always been a proponent of the power running game. The big question entering this year whether or not Giovanni Bernard could handle an extended workload, but he may now not have to with the emergence of running back Jeremy Hill, a big bruising back that is the antithesis of Bernard’s quick slashing style, during the preseason, now giving Cincinnati a nice “Thunder and Lightning” backfield that can work Jackson’s plan to perfection. The Ravens could also have an improved rushing attack this year, although there was really only one direction to go after ranking dead last in the NFL in rushing last year. Still, a lot of that had to do with shoddy offensive line play and that unit was much improved during preseason, especially in run-blocking. Thus, this total may be a bit inflated given that both teams should run reasonably well.
Tennessee Titans +3 (-102) over Kansas City Chiefs (1:00 ET): This contest has attracted much attention as Tennessee opened at +5½ or +6 depending on the shop and the Titans have been bet down to the current +3. The move is understandable however and an outright Tennessee upset would not be at all surprising. The Chiefs made the playoffs as a wild card at 11-5 in their first season under Andy Reid last year, but they took advantage of a last place schedule after going 2-14 two seasons ago, and only one of their 11 wins came vs. a team that finished with a winning record, with that coming in Reid’s homecoming at Philadelphia vs. the Eagles early in the year. The defense in particular was then exposed while blowing a 38-10 lead and losing 45-44 in the Wild Card Round of the NFL Playoffs to the Indianapolis Colts. Yes the Titans were only 7-9 in 2013, but that was mainly due to quarterback Jake Locker being injured and running back Chris Johnson being mostly ineffective. Well, Locker is healthy right now and has an underrated receiving corps to throw to in Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter and Nate Washington. Johnson is gone and now with the Jets, but that may be addition by subtraction as he is replaced by a nice timeshare between rookie Bishop Sankey and veteran Shonn Greene. That offensive balance should serve Tennessee well here.
Dallas Cowboys +4 (-110) over San Francisco 49ers (4:25 ET): Many observers including ourselves believed the “real” Super Bowl last season took place in the NFC Championship Game between the 49ers and the eventual champion Seattle Seahawks, as despite San Francisco being a wild card with both clubs coming out of the NFC West, those were probably the two best teams in the entire NFL. Will that be the case again this season? Well, maybe or maybe not but if the 49ers are expecting a cakewalk of an opener in Dallas they may have another thing coming! The 49ers actually have some issues on defense right now with All-Pro linebacker NaVarro Bowman and premier pass-rushing linebacker Aldon Smith both out, and the first string offense was one of the most underperforming first units in the league during the preseason. Meanwhile, as down as people have been on the Cowboys they were still just one win away from winning the NFC East last year. Dallas is not lacking for talent at the offensive skill positions as Tony Romo does not seem to be showing any ill effects from his second off-season back surgery in as many years, Dez Bryant is one of the elite wide receivers in the NFL and running back DeMarco Murray could approach superstar status if he can only stay healthy, which he is right now. Given that San Francisco looks more vulnerable right now defensively than in any year since Jim Harbaugh took over as coach, do not be surprised by an outright shocker.