NFL Analysis: The Week 1 Undercard

TheSportsNotebook’s NFL analysis has given special treatment to Week 1’s showcase games—Baltimore-Denver on Thursday night, and the quartet of games that will start late Sunday afternoon and cover the prime-time slots on Sunday and Monday. But the bulk of the games—12 to be precise—are on the undercard, almost all at 1 PM ET. Here’s the rundown on all 12…

All of the games are predicted on the moneyline, which unlike the pointspread is simply about winning outright. If a team is (-300) as the favorite, it means you’re required to wager $300 to turn a $100 profit. If an underdog is (+220), a simple $100 bet gets you a profit of $200. Each team’s moneyline is in parentheses, and the road team is always listed first.

Atlanta (+135)-New Orleans (-155): This is where we see how big the season-ending injury to New Orleans’ defensive end Will Smith really was. The loss of their best pass-rusher swung my pick in the NFC South from the Saints to the Falcons.

With a healthy Smith, I’d have liked New Orleans to defend their homefield. As it is, they have no other pass rushers and aren’t going to defend anything. It’s a shootout, but Atlanta gets a little more heat on Drew Brees than New Orleans can on Matt Ryan, and the Falcons win it.

Cincinnati (+125)-Chicago (-145): I want see the Cincinnati defense really assert themselves here. Chicago has a lousy offensive line, they’re learning a new system under rookie head coach Marc Trestman, and the Bengal defensive front, led by Geno Atkins can dominate people.

I don’t care if Cincy wins big, so long as they take care of business on the road and the defense looks great in the process. And I think they will.

Minnesota (+180)-Detroit (-225): Good early game in the NFC North. I’m curious to see the interior of the Viking offensive line match up with Lion defensive tackles Ndamakong Suh and Nick Fairley. Detroit needs to own this battle, not just Sunday, but throughout the year. In the bigger picture, I like the Vikings to finish ahead of the Lions. But not so convincingly that I’d pick a road win. Detroit holds serve in Ford Field.

Arizona (+175)-St. Louis (-215): Note that this is the one undercard game with a 4:25 PM ET start time. It’s a good one too, as the Cardinals and Rams are both getting a lot of respect  in helping to create the NFL’s toughest division. We’ve got to see if Sam Bradford and his coalition of young skill players can help the Rams move the ball against a Cardinal defense with a good reputation. I think the Rams are a bit better team, and they’re at home, so I’ll go their direction.

New England (-525)-Buffalo (+410): The Patriots are the biggest favorite on the board for Week 1 in spite of being on the road. While I don’t condone reducing football games to a quarterback comparison, the one between Tom Brady and Jeff Tuel is kinda difficult to overlook.

Seattle (-190)-Carolina (+167): This is a good early test for Seattle to see if they’re ready to live up to the hype of being one of the Super Bowl favorites. Can they pound the rock on the ground against a pretty good Panther front seven, anchored by middle linebacker Luke Kuechly? Can they still dominate defensively, with end Chris Clemons out?

If not, the loss isn’t a killer—it’s not in the division, and it’s not wasting a home game—and gives Pete Carroll time to figure things out. And if Seattle does meet expectations? Then all is good. I’m picking Carolina.

Miami (-105)-Cleveland (-115): The moneylines aren’t a typo, the sportsbooks’ customary house advantage just creates a situation where both teams have to be bet at favorites’ prices. Cleveland needs to show they can get a running game going with Trent Richardson, if only to keep Miami defensive end Cameron Wake at home and not let him get turned loose on the quarterback.

I don’t like either team, but the Dolphins are still mediocre, while the Browns are just bad. I’m piling up a lot of road picks, with the Fish being the fourth in a row.

Oakland (+360)-Indianapolis (-460): It looks like Terrelle Pryor is going to start at quarterback for the Oakland Raiders. Unless it’s a case of Matt Flynn not being fully healthy after a preseason injury, this makes two training camps in a row, in two different cities, that Flynn has lost a starting job. And lest Oakland fans get their hopes up, Pryor isn’t Russell Wilson. I’m not sold on the Colts this year, but this is an easy win.

Tampa Bay (-190)-NY Jets (+167): It’s homecoming time for Darrelle Revis, now playing corner in Tampa. Also for head coach Greg Schiano, formerly the boss at Rutgers. This pick contradicts my preseason predictions, but I’m going to take a flyer on the Jets to win here. It wouldn’t be the Jets if they didn’t get everyone’s hopes up before  crashing and burning.

Kansas City (-185)-Jacksonville (+165): Think about this—after a 2012 season as bad as any team could possibly have, the Kansas City Chiefs are a road favorite. I know they hired Andy Reid and signed Alex Smith, but what exactly does this tell you about the Jacksonville Jaguars? I’ll take another road team to win.