Brad's NFL Picks is back for it's 10th season, and so is George. Once again we'll keep track of the home team vs. visitor record (146-109-1 in 08, 146-110 in 09), and the NFC vs AFC record (32-32 in 07, AFC 34, NFC 30 in 08, AFC 36, NFC 27 in 09). Brad's NFL Picks was 173 - 78 through the Super Bowl last season (I missed Week 12 because of a computer malfunction.)
Here is a site that shows what games will be televised in your area:
So here we go - 32 winless teams get to play with real bullets this weekend - Vikings and Saints get to start the shooting on Thursday night. George took a bit of a walk about this summer, but I found him rolling around on the floor. So, since he seems a bit restless, I'll see what he has to say a bit more this season - I'll get his input on games I consider a toss up.
(Last season's record in parentheses).
Thursday night football:
Minnesota Vikings (12-4 & 1-1 in playoffs) at New Orleans Saints (13-3 & 3-0 in playoffs -to include the Super Bowl) - The last time these two teams met (January 24 in the NFC Championship game), the Saints won 31-28 in OT at the Superdome. I'll take the Saints here because they appear to be pretty healthy and return 20 of 22 starters and because Brett Favre has just been back with the Vikings for a couple weeks (looks good though) and because the Vikings best receiver, Sidney Rice, will miss the first half of the season with a hip injury and because their O line hasn't been able to practice together much in the pre season. And also because the Superdome will be rocking as the fans welcome the Super Bowl Champions back onto the field.
the 11:00 MDT Sunday games:
Denver (8-8) at Jacksonville (7-9) - Jags are not a very good team, but are the Broncos? Broncos have been 8-8 the last four seasons. Broncos have had a lot of injuries this preseason, especially on the O line. But Kyle Orton still lit it up in the pre season, spreading the ball around. Alas, the Broncos have not discovered much of a run game, while the Jags have Maurice Jones-Drew, one of the best. 2nd year RB Rashad Jennings came on strong at the end of 09, and FB Greg Jones is one of the best. Broncos run D has not been good this preseason. Jags dumped both starting safety's from last year, and will go with two safeties that were part-time players last year.
It looks to me like the Broncos pass offense versus the Jags run offense. Since the Jags only had 14 sacks in 09, I think Orton will surprise people with his passing. Look for a high scoring game, and a wild one, partly because it's Week One. On a neutral field I wouldn't hesitate to take the Broncos, but this is in J'Ville, where it will be hot and humid. Broncos are horrible in early season games in Florida. Don't know what to do here, so I'll ask George. George says the home team Jags will win, but I guess I'll disagree, after some back and forth. I think Kyle Orton and a good group of receivers can get it going early, take the lead, and keep Maurice Jones-Drew pretty much out of it. Maybe I should say I hope the Broncos can get the early lead and hold it.
Miami (7-9) at Buffalo (6-10) - Division game. Dolphins haven't won in Buffalo since 2003. But this is year 3 of the Parcells/Sparano regime, while the Bills have new coaches all around and are moving to a 3-4 defense. Dolphins traded for big receiver Brandon Marshall, who will help young QB Chad Henne tremendously. They still have one of the best run games in the league with Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown. Dolphins get their first win in Buffalo in 7 years.
Detroit (2-14) at Chicago (7-9) - Division game. Jay Cutler led the league with 26 INT's in 09 but only tossed one in the last two games (Vikings, Detroit) while throwing 8 TD's in those two games. He has a new O coordinator in Mike Martz, who was responsible for a big pass attack in St. Louis a few years ago. A match made in heaven? We'll see but it's worth a note that Cutler's 17 second half TD passes last year led the league. It's also worth noting that Lions QB Matt Stafford, in his rookie year, threw 6 fewer INT's than Cutler last year.
Both teams improved their D line, Bears bringing in Julius Peppers and the Lions bringing in Kyle Vanden Bosch. Lions also drafted Ndamukong Suh, the big DT from Nebraska, with the second overall pick. Lions D line has looked real good in the pre season. Lions also drafted speedy RB Jahvid Best in the second round, while the Bears brought in tough veteran RB Chester Taylor to alternate with Matt Forte.
So who's gonna win? I think this will be a helluva game, and I wish I could watch it instead of Panthers at Giants. I think it will be a close, tough game, and I'll go with the home team Bears. But it's a tossup, so I'll ask George. George says take the Lions.
Undianapolis (14-2 & 2-1 in playoffs including the Super Bowl) at Houston (9-7) - Division game. Matt Schaub passed for 4,770 yards last year, while Peyton Manning only managed a paltry 4,498.
The Texans open the season with Arian Foster ( free agent signee in 09), Steve Slaton and Derrick Ward at running back. Slaton has been out with a sore toe, and Ward was signed Saturday and is learning the system. Foster, who averaged six yards a carry in preseason, is the only back the coaches can count on Sunday vs. the Colts.
Colts' Pro Bowl Center Jeff Saturday (knee) and LT Charlie Johnson (foot) missed all four preseason games.
Colts won both games last year by a combined 11 points. I'm taking the Texans at home, but I admit that part of that is my hope. So let's see what George thinks. Hey George! Uhoh, George likes the Colts.
Atlanta (9-7) at Pittsburgh (9-7) - Steelers will be without Ben R for the first four games, suspended for having sex with a drunk minor in a toilet. But hey, Ben bought the drinks. Whudda guy!
Byron Leftwich was acquired in free agency, but he's hurt and will not play. So that leaves Charlie Batch, starting his 13th year, and Dennis Dixon, starting his 3rd. Batch actually outperformed both Leftwich and Dixon in the preseason, but HC Mike Tomlin has named Dixon the starter. Perhaps it's a kindness to Batch, as the Steeler O line is still going to be porous. They drafted Maurkice Pouncey in the first round, but then lost their RT for the year. Dixon is very mobile so he presents problems that way, and can maybe avoid some of the rush.
Atlanta finished 9-7 last year (but you knew that). Michael Jenkins, the Falcons number 2 receiver is out for a few weeks with a shoulder injury. Roddy White is the number one WR. Michael Turner is the RB, and he showed up to camp in shape, after a slacker year in 09. Falcons added CB Dunta Robinson in the off season, but he hasn't played a lot in the pre season because of nagging injuries. They picked up Sean Weatherspoon (Missouri) in the first round. I'll take the Falcons here. Although Dick LeBeau will turn his dogs loose on Matt Ryan.
Oakland (5-11) at Tennessee (8-8) - The light seemed to come on for Titans QB Vince Young last year. He took over at QB after six winless games with Kerry Collins at QB, and the T's finished 8-2. A lot of that was due to RB Chris Johnson, who became just the 6th RB in league history to go over the 2,000 mark (with 2,006). He also broke Marshall Faulk's all time record of 2,429 yards from scrimmage by adding 503 yards on receptions. I think the Raiders will be much improved this year, with Jason Campbell at QB (instead of JaFatso Russell) but the Titans should easily win this one at home.
Cleveland (5-11) at Tampa Bay (3-13) - Two of the weaker teams in the league, but the Browns did win 4 in a row to close the 09 season. Jake Delhomme has been very good at QB (pre season though) after bombing in Carolina the last two years. Jerome Harrison was one of the best RB's in the league the last third or so of 09. Browns added big RB/FB Peyton Hillis from Denver in the off season, and he's been the best RB for the Browns in the pre season.
Bucs liked what they saw in rookie QB Josh Freeman last year, and he's now the starter. Freeman rode the pine the first seven games, but then posted a 54.5% completion rate. Not great, but better than fellow rookies Matt Stafford and Mark Sanchez. Problem for Freeman is that he broke the thumb on his throwing hand a few weeks ago. It's mostly healed, but not a good thing for an inexperienced QB. Cadillac Williams had a good year in 09, after all the injuries. Look for a lot of running in this game. I'm going with the experience and healthy thumb of Delhomme and his Browns. But I feel the need to consult with George. Ah, George likes the Browns too.
Carolina (8-8) at New York Giants (8-8) - Panthers have become the first team in 14 years to not score an offensive TD in the pre season. Young QB Matt Moore had a dismal rating of 56. Not sure why the Panthers O struggled, but I hear that WR Steve Smith and RB Jonathan Stewart missed a lot of time. They should be OK for Sunday. Panthers D is very good. Giants D is mutating, with a new DC. Giants started hot last year, then ran into the injury bug. This is a tough call, so I'll check with George, but in the meantime I'm going with the Panthers on the road. George likes my call. This will be a slobber knocker game.
Cincinnati (10-6 & 0-1 in playoffs) at New England (10-6) - Carson Palmer has been one of the better QB's in the league for the last seven years, and the Bengals tried hard to get him some receiving help. They brought in Terrel Owens to pair with another aging receiver, Chad Ochocinco (Palmer liked the idea of bringing Owens in). They also drafted TE Jermaine Gresham (Oklahoma) in the first round, and smallish but fastish WR Jordan Shipley (Texas) in the 3rd. Cedric Benson is the hard nosed RB. Bengals have one of the best, and most balanced, defenses in the league.
Patriots D line is pretty inexperienced except for NT Vince Wilfork. Wilfork is one of the best and happy with a new contract. Tom Brady's new contract is still up in the air, but Brady has expressed some irritation with the Jets and seems to be a man on a mission. Randy Moss' new contract is also up in the air, so he may want to show something also. This should be a heckuva game, a real snobber knocker. I'll take the Patriots at home. Just because it's in New England.
the 2:00 MDT games:
San Francisco (8-8) at Seattle (5-11) - Division game. Seahawks have a new HC in Pete Carroll, who escaped USC just before the NCAA axe fell. So, lots of changes in Seattle, although Matt Hasselbeck is still the QB. Meanwhile, Mike Singletary has been the HC of the Niners for one and a half seasons now, and is doing a good job. They will start two rookies on the O line, but both are first round picks (T Anthony Davis from Rutgers and G Mike iupati from Idaho). Seattle also drafted an OT in the first round (Russell Okung from Oklahoma) but he suffered a high ankle sprain in late August and will likely miss 6-8 weeks. You gotta take the Niners here, although the two teams split their series last year. Niners are more established under Singletary.
Green Bay (11-5 & 0-1 in playoffs) at Philadelphia (11-5 & 0-1 in playoffs) - Eagles traded Donovan McNabb in the off season, and Kevin Kolb (drafted in the 2nd round out of Houston in 07) will get the start. Kolb has looked OK in the playing time he's had. Eagles have continued to get rid of older players, like Brian Dawkins a year ago, and Brian Westbrook this off season. This is a very young team. Packers are really established, making the playoffs last year and barely losing in Arizona. Aaron Rodgers is maybe the best QB in the league today, and he has great receivers and Ryan Gant is a very good RB and the defense really came on the last half of last season and....Well, take the Packers here. And don't be surprised if you see them in the SB next February.
Arizona (10-6 & 1-1 in playoffs) at St. Louis (1-15) - Division game. Cardinals just gave the heave to former first round pick Matt Leinart, and will go at QB with Derek Anderson, who recently got the heave from the Browns. Kurt Warner says he is very happy in retirement land, so no hope there.
In St. Louis, top pick Sam Bradford gets the start at QB, and RB Steven Jackson is one of the very best.
Cardinals let LB Karlos Dansby and safety Antrel Rolle walk in free agency, but I don't think Ken Whisenhut would have let that happen without an alternate plan. Bottom line is that the core of the Cards is still the bunch that almost won the Suoer Bowl two years ago. I'll go with the Cardinals here, because they have Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston and Early Doucet at receiver. And Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells at RB.
the SNF game:
Dallas (11-5 & 1-1 in playoffs) at Washington (4-12) - Division game. Mike Shanahan is the new HC in Washington, and, like any new HC, he has made a bunch of changes. Donovan McNabb at QB, for example. And Larry Johnson at RB to complement Clinton Portis. Albert Haynsworth, the big NT that the Reds way overpaid for a year ago, is in Shanahan's dog house. The Reds still have a good D, but the Cowboys are loaded for a big season and should win this game. They won at Washington 17-0 last December.
the MNF games:
Baltimore (9-7 & 1-1 in playoffs) at New York Jets (9-7 & 2-1 in playoffs) - Jets rookie RB Shonn Greene had just 540 yards on 198 carries in the first 14 games last year - 2.7 per. But he had 304 on 54 in 3 playoff games - 5.6 per. I suppose that's one reason the Jets let Thomas Jones go. Jets replaced Jones with LaDainian Tomlinson, who, I hear, is looking pretty spry so far. Mark Sanchez hasn't really shown that he's progressed a lot since his rookie year (after knee surgery), while Ravens QB Joe Flacco continues to improve in his third year. And Ray Rice at least matches Shonn Green.
Fact is, these are two very good teams. Last year, the Jets were first on D and first in the run game (but, alas, 31st in the passing game), while the Ravens were 3rd on D, 5th in the run game, and 18th in the passing game.
Add in the fact that Jets HC (Rex Ryan) was the Ravens DC a year ago, and you have a very interesting matchup. It's too close to call, so I'll ask George (but I have my pick - just want to see if George is smart enough to call another close one). So, George? Jets, says George. My thoughts also, for a couple reasons. Jets are at home in their new digs at the brand new Meadowlands, which they share with the Giants, who get to open the stadium on Sunday, but the first MNF game is a plus for the Jets. Anyway, big crowd, and all that. And I'm really betting on Rex Ryan, who I've come to admire. So I'm taking the Jets.
San Diego (13-3 & 0-1 in playoffs) at Kansas City (4-12) - Division game, and those are always a little bit different. Chargers are still the Chargers, except they are without their starting LT and best WR, both of whom are caught up in a really ugly contract dispute. Meanwhile, Kicker Nate Kaeding misssed all 3 FG tries in 17-14 loss to Jets in the playoffs and is seeing a shrink. Chargers said good bye to LaDainian Tomlinson, who landed with the Jets. They drafted Ryan Matthews out of Fresno in the first round, and he's looked real good in the pre-season.
Chiefs' fans think they are on the way up, in HC Todd Haley's second year, and they are probably right, but how fast is the elevator? Matt Cassel is at QB, and they discovered speedy RB Jamaal Charles the last half of 09, and brought in steady and hard Thomas Jones to alternate with him. Pretty good RB combo. WR Duane Bowe, a first round pick in 07, has had his good moments and his not so good moments. But the word is he buckled down this off season and has been looking good.
I'm gonna take the Chiefs at Arrowhead, partly because the crowd will be not just the 12th man, but the 13th and 14th. MNF, after all. Also, the Chargers are notoriously slow starters.
For those of you unfamiliar with George: I've been doing Brad's Picks for the last decade, and have been pretty consistent at about 64% accuracy, although last year at 69% was very nice. Anyway, I always thought that you should be able to get 50% right just by flipping a coin, so in 08, I enlisted the aid of George, a quarter minted in Denver in 2000, the year Brad's Picks began. George finished 2008 at about 47% right. Last year, he saw limited action in the regular season, but came on strong in the playoffs, going 8-2, but then blowing the SB pick by taking the Colts. I'm starting to think that George is a true quantum quarter, but, like the double slit experiment teaches us, it's up to the observer to decide. At any rate, I'll call on George to give us what insight he can on games I consider tossup games.