Pick 16: Danny O’Neil’s Week 1 NFL predictions
Carolina at Denver
The NFL began having the reigning Super Bowl champion host the kickoff game in 2004. The defending champion is 10-2 in those games. Of course, the defending champion never started Trevor Siemian at quarterback like Denver will be. The best thing you can say about Siemian is that the bar is set pretty low because it would have been hard for Peyton Manning to be much worse than he was a year ago. Think the Panthers can block Von Miller this time around? Carolina has only had seven months to prepare, and hey, maybe Cam Newton will go nuts and stick around for the entire post-game press conference this time around. Dare to dream.
Pick: Panthers 23, Broncos 16
Tampa Bay at Atlanta
The Bucs made the single most surprising coaching move of the offseason when they fired Lovie Smith so they could promote this Dirk Koetter guy, who couldn’t hack it at Arizona State. How are you going to can a guy named Lovie? What the heck is a Dirk? Is it the sound your team makes when it nosedives in the season-opener? This one’s for Lovie, who was 2-0 against Atlanta last year with those two wins coming by a total of seven points.
Pick: Falcons 31, Bucs 17
Buffalo at Baltimore
Rex Ryan’s defensive players spent a large part of his first season complaining about the coach’s scheme. So of course he went and hired his brother. Then the first two players Buffalo drafted – defensive lineman Shaq Lawson and linebacker Reggie Ragland – suffered injuries before they ever played a regular-season down for the Bills. Top it all off with the fact that the only way Ryan keeps his job for a third season is for Buffalo to end what is the longest active postseason drought in the NFL, and well, you’ve now got an idea of the challenge Ryan’s dealing with.
Pick: Ravens 20, Bills 16
Chicago at Houston
The pairing of Jay Cutler and the defensive-minded John Fox might be the oddest QB-coach combo in the league yet last season there were times that Cutler was downright responsible with the football. He was picked off just 11 times, and if you didn’t know better, it looked like there were occasions in which he actually cared about the outcome. Yeah, well, asking him to do that two years in a row might be a little much. But for one more week? Maybe.
Pick: Bears 19, Texans 17
Green Bay at Jacksonville
Gus Bradley is a great guy. As enthusiastic a man as you’ll ever meet. Someone whose blood type is assuredly Something Positive. But in his three seasons as Jags coach, they’ve gone 12-36. Top all that off with the fact that Jacksonville is 3-20 in September and October during those seasons and that’s an intimidating forecast even for someone as positive as Bradley.
Pick: Jaguars 34, Packers 33
San Diego at Kansas City
Our former boss here at 710 ESPN Seattle has the sweetest son. He thinks this is going to be the Chiefs’ year. Shouldn’t kids be protected from being raised with unrealistic expectations that fly in the face of 30 years of documented history. Freaking Joe Montana couldn’t get the Chiefs to the Super Bowl, and someone out there thinks Alex Smith is going to do it? Here’s to another year of Andy Reid of handling the play clock with all the delicacy of Edward Scissorhands. Oh, and that sweet kid who thinks this is the Chiefs’ year? He didn’t really get to cheer for the Kansas City team that DID win a championship since his dad raised him to be a Dodgers fan.
Pick: Chiefs 31, Chargers 26
Oakland at New Orleans
The Raiders are a team on the rise while the Saints look like one in free fall. Oakland has a roster that is one of the youngest and considered to be the most talented by executives across the league while the Saints are an aging bunch who’ve jerry-rigged their salary cap for about three years now. And while the Raiders will finish better than the Saints this year, New Orleans and Drew Brees aren’t so woeful as to lose a home opener to a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in more than a decade.
Pick: Saints 30, Raiders 27
Cincinnati at New York Jets
The Bengals are a first-date team. You absolutely love them to begin with. They’re fun and laid back. They don’t complain about the dirty dishes in your sink and they applaud the suggestion to head to the tailgate four hours before kickoff. For that first month you feel like the luckiest dude in the world. In fact, the Bengals haven’t lost a game in September either of the past two seasons and they are 11-3 in the first month of the year going back to the start of 2012. It’s only later that you discover why the Bengals are still single. They’re crazy. Like break-your-dishes-at-midnight-during-an-argument crazy. But it’s cool. It’s still September so Cincinnati’s fine. They don’t get nuts until January.
Pick: Bengals 23, Jets 20
Cleveland at Philadelphia
Well, the Eagles have decided to dive headfirst into the tank from which the Browns are so desperately trying to emerge. Philadelphia decided why be merely bad with Sam Bradford when you can be awful without him. Meanwhile, the Browns have brought in Robert Griffin III to be their XLVIIth quarterback in the past 15 years. I have no idea if that’s true or not. For one, I’m not sure exactly what XLVII translates to though I think it’s 42, but I don’t care enough to Google. Second, no way I’m actually going to waste any time counting up that quarterback carnage in a city whose lake once caught fire. This team once started Charlie Frye to begin the season and traded him a week later. Enough said. Cleveland averaged 17.4 points last season, third-lowest of any team in the league. It may get worse before it gets better. The Browns averaged 11 points per game in the preseason this year, fewest of any team.
Pick: Indians 9, Phillies 5
Minnesota at Tennessee
Has there ever been a quarterback who’s made more for doing less than Sam Bradford? He has already made $89 million, and that’s not NFL funny-money contract talk. That’s $89 million that he has been paid. Straight cash, homie. And for all that money, he’s 25-37-1 as a starting quarterback in the NFL. Bradford has made $3.5 million per win and $1.14 million per touchdown pass. Minnesota is so desperate it gave up next year’s first-round pick and a fourth-rounder to get the right to pay Bradford $24 million over the next two years. After writing this paragraph, I have no idea how Michael Bennett makes it through a day without punching someone in the throat.
Pick: Titans 23, Vikings 20
Miami at Seattle
The Dolphins went 25 years under one head coach. They also had one of the coolest, campiest logos in the NFL. They’ve now hired five different head coaches in the span of 11 years, and that’s not counting the two interim coaches who’ve stepped in after Miami ash canned someone in the middle of the season. Oh, and that logo? It now looks like an eyeless space dolphin more suited for an opponent in “Any Given Sunday” than the NFL. The Dolphins haven’t won a playoff game since 2000, and they’re the largest underdogs on the NFL schedule this weekend.
Pick: Seahawks 22, Dolphins 16
New York Giants at Dallas
Ever seen a football coach doomed by his surname? Ben McAdoo might be the first. Too many plays on words here. McAdoo-doo. McAdon’t. McAdoo-What-Eli-Says. And to top it off he’s coaching in New York where the tabloids are going to have a field day. Hey, it’s not like he was the offensive coordinator last year during that inexplicable series of Week 1 plays against Dallas. Oh wait. Yes he was.
Pick: Giants 20, Cowboys 17
Detroit at Indianapolis
The Colts are that dysfunctional couple that everybody knows would be better off with a divorce yet they’re sticking it out for the kids. Well, the kid. And in this case, Andrew Luck isn’t so young anymore. The Colts went 8-8 last year with an offensive line bad enough to lacerate Luck’s kidney and nearly get poor Matt Hasselbeck killed. Is now the time to mention that line included a couple of veterans the Colts overpaid for? Oh, that kind of makes it awkward because the Colts brought back Ryan Grigson, the GM who signed Gosder Cherilus. But hey, here’s hoping everything works out fine. For the kids.
Pick: Colts 38, Lions 27
New England at Arizona
On the one hand, the Cardinals allowed 25.3 points per game in the preseason, most of any team in the league. On the other hand, they’re facing the Patriots’ backup quarterback Janeane Garofalo since Tom Brady is suspended four games because of underinflated balls. So what’s a Seahawks fan to do here? You’ve got to root against Arizona, right? The Cardinals are the defending division champs. But that means rooting for the Patriots, who beat Seattle in the Super Bowl two seasons ago. Here’s your workaround: Root for Garofalo … err … Jimmy Garoppolo to throw for 423 yards and four touchdowns and start a downright historic four-week tear through the NFL so that when Brady comes back, Bill Belichick will sound all constipated when asked – repeatedly – about his decision to reinsert Brady as the starter. Then again, Belichick always sounds constipated.
Pick: Cardinals 26, Patriots 24
Pittsburgh at Washington
When was the last time Pittsburgh appeared more dysfunctional than Washington? The Steelers will be missing one of the league’s fastest receivers as Martavis Bryant is suspended for the year for a positive drug test. They won’t have their top running back Leveon Bell. He’s out three games for reportedly missing a drug test. The most controversial thing that happened to Washington this offseason was that they were willing to pay Kirk Cousins $20 million, but even then, it’s only for one year. And just when you thought the Epithets might be smartening up they went and dropped $15 million a year on cornerback Josh Norman only to have him take a moonlighting TV gig without telling the coach. Still, he’s eligible to play on Monday, which is more than you can say for a couple of Pittsburgh’s best players.
Pick: Steelers 27, Epithets 20
Los Angeles at San Francisco
Is Trent Dilfer serving as color commentator on this game? Because America really wants to be yelled at again regarding how the 49ers are changing the launch point in the pocket. And isn’t a chaser supposed to cleanse your palate? Then why – after a full weekend of football – are we being served this murky concoction that smells like I don’t know what? The Rams passed for the fewest yards in the league last season while the 49ers scored the fewest points of any team. But that was last year, right? Certainly that’s going to change. Well, not when the Rams are starting Case Keenum while the 49ers go with Blaine Gabbert. People are going to pay more attention to what one of the backup quarterbacks does during the national anthem for this game than they will to what either of those passers does from the pocket.
Pick: Rams 18, Niners 15