As you could probably gather from the title, I am once again taking a little time each week to talk about one of my favorite things in the world: the NFL.
Before we get into the magical entity that is the National Football League, I thought I’d take a second to fill you in with what’s been going on in the life of your favorite Times-Union sports editor.
It was a fun summer. I had enough time to catch up on some video games I’ve wanted to play. I added a few LEGO sets to my collection and am currently working on the Mos Eisley Cantina from Star Wars. Truthfully, my summer was spent mostly at the movie theater. I was able to see pretty much every big feature film I wanted to, with the best being Oppenheimer. When I saw John Wick 4 back in March, I was fairly certain it would not be replaced as my favorite movie of the year.
I was wrong.
Oppenheimer is a masterpiece from top to bottom and I have no problem calling it the best movie I’ve seen in the early years of this decade. It features some of the best actors of this generation, and all of them give top performances of their careers. The score is so breathtaking I still find myself listening to it in my car on the way to work. It is edited to perfection, mind-blowingly weaving the past and present together. And please, don’t get me started on the visuals. In a world oversaturated with crappy looking CGI, the fact that director Christopher Nolan was able to achieve what he did practically is a triumph for the world of cinema.
Barbie, Spiderman: Across The Spiderverse and Mission Impossible 7 were among my other favorites of the summer, and truthfully, I could spend the next 1,500 words writing about the many movies I’ve seen this year. Alas, you are in the sports section and most likely don’t really care.
Speaking of sports, I made my first ever trip to Lucas-Oil Stadium this summer to watch my Bears take on the Colts in the preseason with my wonderful girlfriend. My main takeaway was that if there ever is a zombie apocalypse, Lucas Oil is probably where I’d want to shelter up. That place puts army fortresses to shame.
College football began last week and did not disappoint. Actually, my Missouri Tigers kind of did but we can move past that. Colorado looks incredible under Deion Sanders, Clemson looks terrible under Dabo Swinney and it looks like LSU might have been just a tad overrated once again with Brian Kelly at the helm. There may not have been a plethora of top teams matching up, but there was enough chaos and touchdowns scored to keep me happy as an appetizer to this week’s main course.
Locally, it has been a whirlwind start to the fall sports season. It’s been a banner year for football teams so far, with all six looking greatly improved from last season. Whitko has already won more games than a season ago, while Wawasee and Manchester have already matched last year’s totals. Warsaw and Tippecanoe Valley are still undefeated on the backs of stout defenses, and Triton has built off a great season last year with two wins out of three to begin the Zach Whittaker era.
Volleyball has also gone great in the early season. Fresh off of a regional final appearance last year, Warsaw has reloaded and looks to be back this season. Valley has been extremely successful under new head coach Jon Hutton.
Overall, it’s been an absolute pleasure to watch what our local athletes have already accomplished this fall, and I can’t wait to see what happens as the playoffs begin to approach.
Now, let’s get into the meat and potatoes. The Week 1 NFL schedule is a doozy, with great matchups in the primetime games and a lot of interesting contests in between. Being truthful, I didn’t even need there to be exciting games this early in the season. Just knowing we are this close to NFL football being played is enough to bring a tear to my eye. As was the case last year, I’m going to pick every game, every week. Based on last year’s track record though, I would bet on these picks at your own risk.
Detroit Lions at Kansas City Chiefs (-6.5)
Think about this for a second. We now live in a world where the preseason hype for a Detroit Lions team is so high, that they are kicking off the NFL season against the Super Bowl champs. Seriously, think about that! The hype is somewhat warranted. Detroit looked fantastic down the stretch last year, barely missing the playoffs in Week 18. The offense is still going to be explosive but the defense does retain similar question marks from last season. The Chiefs are still the Chiefs and will probably win the Super Bowl once again, but the team is dealing with issues of their own, as star defensive lineman Chris Jones continues to hold out. I think the Chiefs win this game, but the Lions offense keeps it to one score.
The Pick: Lions +5.5
1 O’CLOCK SUNDAY
Jacksonville Jaguars (-4.5) at Indianapolis Colts
This game is a case of two teams that seem to be heading in opposite directions. The Jags had a very successful 2022, making the playoffs and winning a game before falling to the Chiefs. The Colts were a dumpster fire last season, drafting quarterback Anthony Richardson in the top five to try and find some much needed stability for this year. Last season, I went overboard on the favorites in Week 1 and while I’m trying not to fall into that trap once again, this is a favorite I love this week. Richardson might go out and surprise everyone, but there are too many question marks for me to be confident. With Jonathan Taylor not playing and Jacksonville looking to avoid another slow start, I think Doug Pederson’s guys get it done.
The Pick: Jaguars -4.5
Cincinnati Bengals (-2.5) at Cleveland Browns
The first line I’ve seen to give me a puzzling look on my face. In my head, I would assume the Bengals are at least five-point favorites. They have all of the offensive talent with Burrow, Chase, Higgins and Mixon. The defense is one of the top units in the AFC. But the feeling in Cleveland is that the team is going to be a lot better than last year with Deshaun Watson getting a full offseason under his belt. Nick Chubb is still a top five running back in all of football and the Browns’ defense is nothing to scoff at with Myles Garrett leading the unit. I’m the type of guy that sticks to what he knows. Sure, the Browns might be as improved as people are saying, but until I see it, how am I going to go against a team that’s made it to two straight AFC Championship games?
The Pick: Bengals -2.5
San Francisco 49ers (-2.5) at Pittsburgh Steelers
The Niners are a team that I like a lot, but I’m not sure how this season is going to go for them just yet. The team finally decided to cut ties with Trey Lance, putting all of their eggs into the baskets of Brock Purdy and Sam Darnold. At the skill positions and on defense, San Fran has all of the guys we’ve come to know over the past few seasons. The Steelers come into this season somewhat under the radar, but are starting to get some attention because of how second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett has looked in camp. I’m pretty high on this Pittsburgh team, and considering Mike Tomlin remains one of the best coaches in the league, I think the Steelers enjoy a nice bounce-back year. It starts here.
The Pick: Steelers +2.5
Tennessee Titans at New Orleans Saints (-3)
I watch at least part of every game, every week. If there is one that I miss this week, however, I wouldn’t mind it being this one. Outside of Derrick Henry and head coach Mike Vrabel, there’s not much to be excited about in Tennessee. The Saints’ new man under center is former Raider Derek Carr and New Orleans still boasts a top defensive unit in the league. The Saints have the better defense and the better QB, but the Titans are the better coached team by lightyears. That makes it interesting to me, but I’ll try not to over think it.
The Pick: Saints -3
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Minnesota Vikings (-6)
Just as quickly as Tampa Bay appeared in the limelight with Tom Brady at the helm, the team has seemingly gone back into the shadows with Baker Mayfield leading the offense. I’m not so sure that should be the case. Tampa has retained a lot of guys from the Super Bowl winning team from 2021 and while last year was rough, I think this season is going to go better. I don’t think Minnesota is going to have the same luck in one-score games as they did last year, but they still will be in the playoff race. The Viking defense isn’t a stout unit, and I think the Buccs can exploit it. This one is going to come down to the wire.
The Pick: Buccaneers +6
Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens (-10)
Former Ohio State man C.J. Stroud is the new quarterback for the Houston Texans, and he has his hands full in Week 1 going up against Baltimore. With any other game, I’d say the 10-point underdogs would be fine in an opening week contest. But Baltimore and head coach John Harbaugh love to start the season off with fireworks. Lamar Jackson finally has a wide-receiving core he can be proud of and is ready to take flight. The Ravens have started out the season with a double-digit win in three out of the last four years and I think the trend continues. Houston won’t be as bad as last year’s team, but they won’t be able to do much in this one.
The Pick: Ravens -10
Arizona Cardinals at Washington Commanders (-7)
I am confident in saying that going into Week 1, the Arizona Cardinals are the worst team in football. The defense is bad, the skill positions leave something to be desired and Kyler Murray won’t be available for quite some time after tearing his ACL late last year. Josh Dobbs is set to lead the charge this week against a Commanders team that has some hope after finally getting rid of Dan Snyder. Sam Howell is the new man under center for a Washington side that features some great skill position players and a deadly front seven. If the Commanders lose this game at home on “Dan Snyder Is Gone” day, this team is a lost cause. I’m confident in this one.
The Pick: Commanders -7
Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons (-3.5)
This is an interesting one to pick. Carolina’s new quarterback, No. 1 pick Bryce Young, has never played in the NFL before. The Falcons’ signal-caller, second-year QB Desmond Ritter, hasn’t played any meaningful snaps. I do think that overall, Atlanta has the better roster, and it should show in this game. Few teams did more work this offseason on revamping the roster than the Falcons did this summer, and I think it pays off for them here. With the NFC South as weak as it’s ever been, don’t be surprised to see the Falcons contending for a playoff spot.
The Pick: Falcons -3.5
LATE AFTERNOON SLATE
Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks (-5.5)
The Rams had a nightmare of a 2022 season as reigning Super Bowl champs but after an offseason of getting healthy, Los Angeles should return to form somewhat this season. On the other side, Seattle was one of last season’s biggest surprises. Is Geno Smith going to have career years in back to back seasons? I think it’s unlikely. Pete Carroll is a great coach and Smith has some dudes to throw to, but I just don’t see the same Geno as last year showing up once again. Give me Sean McVay and the Rams starting to right the ship with a win here.
The Pick: Rams +5.5
Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears (-1.5)
In what should be no surprise, this is my most anticipated game of the week. The Bears, for what feels like the first time in forever, are favorites over those stinky cheeseheads from up north. It may even be for good reason too. Justin Fields wowed everyone with his ability to run the ball last season, and was rewarded with the addition of D.J. Moore to his receiving corps. There are still question marks surrounding the defense, but on paper, the unit should be much improved. The Packers are now without Aaron Rodgers, going all in on Jordan Love and some familiar faces like Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon at running back. Listen, I have no idea how good the Bears will be this season, but I have hope. And as a man with hope, I have no choice but to put all of my biases on the table and say that 2023 starts off with a bang.
The Pick: Bears -1.5
Miami Dolphins at Los Angeles Chargers (-3)
This is another heavy-hitter of an opening week game. Two of the best offenses in the league squaring off after not-so-great endings to last year. After a couple of scary head injuries suffered last season, Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa seems to be healthy and ready to get back to throwing to the unguardable receiver duo of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. The Chargers have a great young QB of their own in Justin Herbert, but I don’t trust their head coach Brandon Staley one iota. I think LA has a very talented team, but I’m not sure they’ll reach their full potential with him at the helm. I’ll go with Miami here.
The Pick: Dolphins +3
Philadelphia Eagles (-3.5) at New England Patriots
The reigning NFC champion Eagles begin the season in Foxborough against a Patriots team I can’t quite put my finger on. I know Jalen Hurts and company while be firing on offense and while I don’t think the defense will be as crazy as last year’s record-breaking unit, they will be stout. I don’t know if Patriots QB Mac Jones is good or not (leaning towards the latter) and Bill Belichick just hasn’t gotten it done since Tom Brady left town. The line being this close is bugging me, but again, I’m trying not to overthink things until I see these teams in action a little bit.
The Pick: Eagles -3.5
Las Vegas Raiders at Denver Broncos (-4)
Not many teams had a worse go of it in 2022 than the Denver Broncos, but the team is back with Sean Peyton at the helm. Can he fix Russell Wilson? Who knows. But, I like him a whole lot more than Nathaniel Hackett to lead this team. The Raiders had a little offseason drama of their own with star running back Josh Jacobs holding out. Former Niner Jimmy Garoppolo leads the Vegas offense that features one of the best wideouts in the league in Davante Adams. The defense outside of Maxx Crosby needs a lot of work and I think Denver can take advantage just enough to get it done. Is it by more than a field goal though? That’s the real question.
The Pick: Raiders +4
WAITIN’ ALL DAY FOR A SUNDAY NIGHT
Dallas Cowboys (-3.5) at New York Giants
The Cowboys on national television. It didn’t take long. Both teams were in the playoffs last year and both will have a chance to be back there again. Dallas will hope that Dak Prescott can avoid leading the league in interceptions once again while the Giants hope Daniel Jones will continue to improve and earn the mega contract he signed this offseason. New tight end Darren Waller will help with that, but I’m not sure this will be the easiest game to start the season for the G-Men. I still think they cover at home.
The Pick: Giants +3.5
MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL
Buffalo Bills (-2.5) at New York Jets
What a game to wrap up Week 1. This is going to be a great one. The Jets were the talk of the NFL all summer long after finally acquiring Aaron Rodgers (and appearing on Hard Knocks). The defense was one of the best in all of football last year but Gang Green truly was a quarterback away. I think they make the playoffs this year, but man is this a doozy to start the campaign off with. Buffalo was a force to be reckoned with last season before flaming out in the playoffs. I have a feeling Josh Allen and company are not happy about that and are ready to come out fired up. Not to mention that teams led by Rodgers have not started fast the last couple of seasons.
The Pick: Bills -2.5
Well, now there’s nothing left to do but wait for the fun to begin. I probably say this every year, but I truly feel like a kid on Christmas Eve fighting the excitement to fall asleep.