Tread lightly, folks.
It’s only the first week of the NFL season. Those of us who enjoy a wager or three have been waiting seven months for some action on a real game. Just be patient.
Judging teams based on last season, or worse, meaningless preseason games, is a recipe for failure. And falling into a big hole early can impact your long-term finances.
But take heart. There might just be some worthwhile plays we can find. And the second week of the season is one of my favorites, mostly going contrary to the first week’s surprises. On to this week’s games (home teams in all caps):
PITTSBURGH 6 over Tennessee (Thursday night): No sissies need apply here. Intimidation, imposing wills, bruises. It won’t be pretty, but you can’t resist watching. Defending Super Bowl champs are not usually great to bet on, but for one week at least it’s tough not to, especially with revenge motive for loss at Tennessee last year. Pittsburgh 20-10.
Sunday, Sept. 13
ATLANTA 4 over Miami: Two of last year’s biggest surprise teams, back from the dead and into the playoffs (both 11-5). Miami, particulary, will face a much stronger schedule this year. Tough to figure, but looks like a field goal game either way. Miami 20-17.
BALTIMORE 13 over Kansas City: Let’s see…one team strong, one not. KC new coach and already banged up new QB. Don’t usually like to lay big points, but I’ll make an exception here. Baltimore 31-10.
Philadelphia 2 over CAROLINA: Eagles moved from dog to favorite since line came out. Hard to erase memory of Jake Delhomme’s 5-INT meltdown in the playoffs against Arizona last year but dynamic RB DeAngelo Willliams could be difference here. Take the home points. Carolina 24-20.
CINCINNATI 4 OVER Denver: With all the changes in Denver, mostly for the worse, what to make of the Broncos? Last year they generally thrived as underdog, disappointed as favorite. And the Bengals, whose No. 1 draft pick showed up late, out of shape, and immediately got hurt, are still the Bengals. Cincinnati 17-16.
Minnesota 4 1/2 over CLEVELAND: Ah, the Brownies. Only team without a starting QB (we assume it’s Quinn). And Cleveland still can’t run the ball or stop the run, two things the Vikings do very well. Favre will show his age eventually, but shouldn’t matter here. Minnesota 23-14.
HOUSTON 5 over New York Jets: Two teams that scored plenty and gave up plenty a year ago. And of course, Jets collapse led to new coach and rookie QB this year. Still, Texans have shown little ability to close out games and hardly a reliable favorite. Jets 21-20.
INDIANAPOLIS 7 over Jacksonville: Jags disappointed last year but have beefed up the O-line and should get back to their typical run-first style. Colts might miss Tony Dungy’s steady hand, and have typically struggled against this division foe twice a year. Indianapolis 27-24.
NEW ORLEANS 13 1/2 over Detroit: Can Lions repeat that unprecedented 0-16? Probably not but will throw No. 1 pick QB Matt Stafford to the wolves immediately. Still they might exploit Saints’ less than stellar defense for the backdoor cover. New Orleans 30-21.
Dallas 6 over TAMPA BAY: Late-season Bucs’ collapse bounced coach Chuckie doll into the broadcast booth. QB woes will have them going run-heavy again. Cowboys still have plenty of firepower, although T.O.-less receiving corps needs work. Too many points to give on road. Dallas 17-14.
ARIZONA 6 1/2 over San Francisco: 49ers did everything but win this match-up on a Monday night in Phoenix last November, Mike Singletary’s first game as coach and with Shawn Hill the new starting QB, a job he has earned from the start this year. Cards’ offense still mighty but visitor figures to keep this one close again with Gore and company pounding it on the ground. Arizona 28-25.
NEW YORK GIANTS 6 1/2 over Washington: Giants had few problems handling Skins’ limited offense in a pair of victories last year, and only the near-TD sized spread gives one pause here. Giants’ smash-mouth style should prevail anyway, even with receiver questions, as Jacobs and Bradshaw lead the way. Giants 24-10.
SEATTLE 8 1/2 over St. Louis: Seahawks won just four games a year ago, but two of those came at the sorry Rams’ expense. Seattle, with now-healthy Hasselback, looks for a bounce-back. Meanwhile, one-time greatest show on turf lies in tatters with little hope of revival. Seattle 27-13.
GREEN BAY 3 1/2 over Chicago: Two of the best young QBs could turn this one into a shootout. Will Bears’ run-first style become a Bronco-like aerial show with Cutler at the helm? Probably not, but Chicago would be foolish not to turn its shiny new toy loose. Upset would be no surprise. Chicago 20-17.
Monday, Sept. 14
NEW ENGLAND 11 over Buffalo: Bills already griping about offensive problems in preseason, enough to get O coordinator canned. Patriots have won 11 straight in series, covering all but two. You want to take the points? Me neither. New England 31-14.
San Diego 9 over OAKLAND: This rivalry goes back to the old AFL days, just like moldy Al Davis. Ignore the eccentric owner and watch likely breakout star RB Darren McFadden run hard and keep his team within the spread. San Diego 20-16.