By Kyle Soppe
We are only a matter of days away from the first Sunday of the 2011-2012 NFL season. Here I preview the top 5 games of the weekend, and predict every game on the slate.
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Baltimore Ravens(-2.5) – These two divisional rivals square off in an important season opener that could go a long way toward determining who earns a home playoff game. They split last year’s series, playing two very hard fought games that came down to the wire. Both teams feature elite running backs with diverse styles, but neither has had much success in this rivalry. Joe Flacco’s game is maturing fast, and I believe he is ready to perform equally to that of his counterpart, Big Ben Roethlisberger. He has more receiving weapons in his arsenal, and should be able to manage a few successful long drives in this game. The underrated addition this offseason for the Ravens was Vonta Leach, who gives them the physical force to bang with Pittsburgh’s aggressive style. This old fashioned, bloody their nose game ends with the Ravens getting the last laugh, in a 20-17 win,
Indianapolis Colts (+8.5) @ Houston Texans – With an ailing Peyton Manning, Houston has their best chance to find themselves atop the division. The Texans aren’t fully healthy either, with Arian Foster battling a hamstring injury, but they are more equipped to handle life without their All Pro. Indy struggles stopping the running game, so expect the Texans to pound the ball, regardless of who is in the backfield. If the Colts decide to stack the box, Andre Johnson will make them pay dearly with big plays. A healthy Manning and this is a coin flip, but without the 4 time MVP anywhere near full health, the Texans finally beat the Colts: 31-24.
Atlanta Falcons (-3) @ Chicago Bears – Two division winners from a year ago that are headed in very different directions. The Bears won 11 games last year, but the schedule turned out to be quite favorable, and the record doesn’t reflect their true talent level. The Falcons, however, are on the upswing with stars like Roddy White and Michael Turner pacing their offense. Young Matt Ryan is among the games most promising QB’s, and will benefit from the addition of rookie WR Julio Jones. Da Bears can’t score enough to keep up with the high flying Falcons: Atlanta wins going away 31-17.
Seattle @ San Francisco (-6) – Unfortunately, when NFC West teams do battle, we are forced to crown a winner. Seattle figures to struggle with new QB Tavaris Jackson at the helm, and the ever inconsistent Marshawn Lynch at running back. Mike Williams and Sidney Rice is an underrated receiving duo, but with a quarterback who has a hard time throwing spirals, let alone hitting covered receivers, their talent will be underutilized. The 49ers have a few playmakers in Vernon Davis and Frank Gore, and that should be enough to win this one. No real winner in this game: Seahawks lose 10-20.
Dallas Cowboys (+4) @ New York Jets – The Jets talk a big game, but I like the Cowboys to bounce back from a rough 2010. Felix Jones will provide balance, allowing Tony Romo to find his talented trio of pass catchers in Jason Witten, Miles Austin, and Dez Bryant. The J-e-t-s play as solid a defense as anybody, but I am not too sold on their offense and Mark Sanchez. Demarcus Ware will be in the backfield and around the ball all night long, forcing Sanchize into mistakes and rushed decisions. This Sunday Night game shouldn’t lack trash talking or end zone dances, with the ‘Boys getting the final one: 24-20.
Buffalo Bills @ Kansas City Chiefs (-5.5) – The Jamaal Charles show takes center stage: Chiefs 27-13
Tennessee Titans (+3) @ Jacksonville Jaguars – A motivated Chris Johnson will be worth the monster contract, for this week at least, and lead the Titans to a 20-14 win
Cincinnati Bengals (+6.5) @ Cleveland Browns – The Dog Pound will carry the bad Browns in over the awful Bengals: 17-13.
Philadelphia Eagles (-4.5) @ STL. Rams – The Eagles will remind old Rams fans of their “greatest show on turf” years, led by Kurt Warner. Birds fly away in this one: 31-14.
Detroit Lions (+1.5) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Both are teams headed in the right direction. Success starts with ability to run the rock, and the Buc’s struggle at stopping the run: Lions 24-21.
Minnesota Vikings @ San Diego Chargers (-9) – AP can’t do it all, and while McNabb is an improvement over past years, the Vikes can’t match the Chargers potent offense. Bolts win 35-17.
New York Giants (-3) @ Washington Redskins – The Giants get to the QB as well as any team, and run the ball effectively. Two things that the Skins will have no answer for: G-men 24-10.
Carolina Panthers @ Arizona Cardinals (-6.5) – Two new quarterbacks in this one; I trust the one with NFL experience. Larry Fitzgerald corrects QB errors, and they will run the ball efficiently: Cards 24-17.
New England (-7) @ Miami Dolphins – I like Miami to surprise a little bit this year, but not against a Belichick team with this much time to prepare. Pats win going away 31-17.
Oakland @ Denver (-3) – The Broncos have more consistent players than the Raiders, who depend on long plays. The thinner air at Mile High won’t help the Raiders speedsters. Broncos take it 28-20.
Total Record (1-0) Against The Spread (1-0)