BOSTON (CBS) — We live in a country that accepts all people, no matter race, religion or creed. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” says the Statue of Liberty, the first image of America for many immigrants who have made their way to our country throughout its rich history.
But let’s be real here, folks. The Statue of Liberty might as well say this: “Welcome to America. We love watching football.”
And fortunately for all of us, the single greatest day on the sports calendar is nearly upon us – the first NFL Sunday.
Oh, sure, we’ll get started with a little appetizer on Wednesday night, and it will be enjoyable and all of that, but Sunday is the day we’ve yearned for since the regular season ended on New Year’s Day. That’s more than eight full months without a complete slate of Sunday NFL action, so the mere thought of plopping on that couch from 1 p.m. until 11:30 p.m. is enough to make most of us completely and utterly incapable of focusing on anything other than football.
So what better way to bide our time than to go through some picks?
The way it goes is simple: Picking winners is too easy and boring, so these picks will be against the spread (as of Wednesday). To prove to you that I don’t take myself too seriously here, I’ll be including Ridiculous Quotes From Last Week’s Picks (RQFLWP for short) to make fun of myself for my occasionally inaccurate prognostication. Those do pop up from time to time. In my three years doing this, I’m 388-363-17 in the regular season, getting worse each year, so there will be plenty of opportunity for that.
But for now, this season, I’m perfect, so there’s no need to mock myself. Yet.
(Home team in CAPS; lines as of Wednesday)
Atlanta (-3) over KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
I didn’t miss anything here, right? The Chiefs are still the Chiefs, no? You always get some odd lines like this in Week 1. Atlanta is no juggernaut, but this is a solid slam dunk to start your Sunday afternoon.
CLEVELAND (+9) over Philadelphia
My “Are You Completely Insane?!” pick of the week. I think the Eagles win this one, but their preseason was in such disarray, from Andy Reid’s family tragedy to Michael Vick getting knocked out of the game that Mike Tirico called a “dress rehearsal” 500 times, I just don’t see them coming flying out of the gates.
At the same time, goodness, this is just a crazy pick. But the NFL is crazy. You understand.
NEW ORLEANS (-7) over Washington
Often, when teams are punished for very valid reasons, they galvanize behind their wild belief that the whole world is against them and it’s unfair and oh-my-God-why-did-everyone-conspire-against-us?!
So it’s really, really easy to see 73,000 lunatics filling the Superdome, welcoming Robert Griffin III to the NFL with the most deafening environment he’s ever experienced. It’s going to get ugly, even if the Saints do have an interim head coach for their interim head coach.
New England (-6) over TENNESSEE
A couple of weeks ago, I would’ve said picking New England might be the surest choice of opening weekend. Now, I don’t even know what to make of the team anymore.
I penciled in Jabar Gaffney and Deion Branch to combine to catch about 85 passes and 10 touchdowns, and now neither are on the team. The offensive line was a mess all preseason, but no matter — All-Pro guard Brian Waters would just magically show up after camp and the problems would be solved.
Now I don’t really know what to make of them, but I do know the Titans’ only threat is Chris Johnson, and stopping a world class running back (if he even still is one) has never been a problem for Bill Belichick. And, well, Tom Brady-Rob Gronkowski-Aaron Hernandez-Wes Welker is still a thing.
I’ll add in the random fact that the last two times the Patriots have opened on the road (2011, ’07), they won by 14 and 24 points respectively. Of course, what the Patriots did five years ago has absolutely nothing to do with what the Patriots will do this year … unless I say it does. And I just did.
HOUSTON (-12.5) over Miami
The Dolphins might be the worst team in the NFL this season, but hey, at least they’ll always have this article that says Ryan Tannehill is Dan Marino.
Buffalo (+2) over NEW YORK JETS
Aww, look! The Jets are a favorite! That won’t last long.
I’m also probably a little too high on the Bills, a team that did the right thing by focusing on defense but maybe went about it the wrong way in spending $100 million on Mario Williams and signing a one-trick pony with inflated stats (Mark Anderson) for fairly big money. Still, I’m eager to see how they put it all together. However, if the Bills don’t turn out to go 15-1 like some of their crazed fans on the Internet who go by “#BillsMafia” seem to believe, I just ask that they not attack me for telling the truth.
Last year, in Week 1, I wrote that those Bills weren’t a very good football team, and a whole “#BillsMafia” message board discussion was born in my honor. Here are my favorite insults from that thread:
“If there’s a God, we’ll stomp the patsies at least once to prove what a huge steaming pile of monkey poop this kind of yellow journalism really is.”
(Editor’s note: Yellow journalism! In a picks column! Lighten up, Francis.)
“Instead of actually doing the required research for the job, I will portray the elitist above commenting on bad team so I’ll make smarmy seemingly clever comments about inferior teams to hide my lack of knowledge and ignorance. After all, people read what I write because I’m cool and want to be like me.”
(Editor’s note: I wrote that the Bills were a bad football team, and a fan of that team gleaned all of this information from that simple fact.)
“If I ran into this dude ever I’m [going to] punch him square in his greasy face.”
In case you lost track, the Bills finished the year with a 6-10 record, but I received exactly zero apologies from the #BillsMafia! How rude of you, mafia!
Hopefully we get along better this year. I don’t want to get punched in my greasy face.
Jacksonville (+3.5) over MINNESOTA
The epic meeting of last year’s 5-11 Jaguars and 3-13 Vikings! With Adrian Peterson’s availability and effectiveness in question, I am strictly taking the points here. I’m definitely nervous that Blaine Gabbert used up all of his passes that didn’t land in opponents’ hands in the preseason, though.
Alas, if this is a game on which you’d like to risk your money or your reputation, you should probably keep that to yourself.
Indianapolis (+10) over CHICAGO
Without a great amount of reason, I’m hopping aboard the Andrew Luck train. The Colts are definitely at least a touch better than they were last year, and you should consider that when they were making a run at a defeated season, starting the year 0-13, they lost by 10 or fewer points six of those times. So if you factor in the improvements, they can lose by fewer than 10 points more often! Progress!
And yes, it’s only Week 1 and the NFL is already causing me to lose my mind.
DETROIT (-7) over St. Louis
The Rams heard me say the Dolphins might be the worst team in the NFL this year and got really jealous.
San Francisco (+5) over GREEN BAY
I already regret this one, but I can’t in good conscience let five points go to waste like that. Green Bay has all sorts of pent-up rage left over from January, and Aaron Rodgers could be poised to have an absolutely ridiculous season, but San Francisco’s too solid for me to pass up that five spot.
Seattle (-2.5) over ARIZONA
There are only three late afternoon games on Sunday, which means if you’re watching the RedZone channel, you’re going to see a lot of this game, and you’re probably going to think to yourself, “Man, do I even like football?”
Trust me, you do still like football. You just have to put up with some games like this sometimes. It’s OK. We’ll get through it together. And we’ll agree that we might never pick the Cardinals getting anything less than 14 points this season.
TAMPA BAY (+1.5) over Carolina
Oh, lordy, this is one of the 4:25 p.m. games, too? The fact that we have to watch Bucs-Panthers and Seahawks-Cardinals with replacement refs is enough to already have me asking for a refund. And I haven’t even paid for anything.
I’ll take the points at home because as excited as I am to see Cam Newton again, the Bucs look like they might have a somewhat decent little team down there. (I reserve the right to come back after Week 8 and delete that last sentence.)
DENVER (-1) over Pittsburgh
I would like to go on the record to say I don’t expect the Broncos to go deep into the playoffs this season because I firmly believe that Peyton Manning is one big hit away from his career ending. I always use this play right here to illustrate that point.
But each individual week, the team should always be a threat to win big. This team went to the playoffs last season without a quarterback who could throw the football. Now you add one of the best QBs of all time, and you let the defense go up against an offensive line with more leaks than the Red Sox clubhouse (sorry, still transitioning out of baseball season), and you factor in the semi-annual Ryan Clark being unable to play in the Denver air, and you’ve got the recipe for 0-1 for the Steelers.
Cincinnati (+6) over BALTIMORE
This is a little crazy, considering the Ravens really should be the defending AFC champions, if not for a terrible Lee Evans drop and an even worse Billy Cundiff shank job, but remember that the Ravens lost their MVP in Terrell Suggs. His value can’t be overstated, and when a defensive-minded team loses its defensive anchor, bad things happen. That begins on Monday night.
Having a Twitter war with your starting left tackle just five days before your season opener is also a suspect way of doing business.
OAKLAND (-1) over San Diego
Every year, I make the mistake of picking San Diego too often, and it always comes back to bite me, so I might just pick against them 16 times this year and turn that tide. This way, even if I miss my pick, at least I didn’t pick Norv Turner’s team. That will always help me sleep at night.
Now let’s just hope these replacement refs don’t ruin everything for us.
Regular season: 0-1
Wednesday night’s pick:
NEW YORK GIANTS (-3.5) over Dallas Cowboys
Nothing drives me crazier than pointing to random historical “records” to try to predict the future, like when someone says “the Steelers have only beaten the Ravens three out of 11 times in games that start at 4 p.m. or later,” as if that will have some effect on a future event. To that, I always say, “OK, neat.”
But if there’s one arbitrary trend I’ll endorse, it’s that you should always trust the defending Super Bowl champs in the season opener. A defending champ hasn’t lost its season opener since the Broncos in 1999, but that was after John Elway retired, so it barely even counts. But if you start with the Ravens in 2000 and go all the way up to the Packers last year, the defending Super Bowl champion has won by an average of 10.75 points.
With the pregame ceremony and the fireworks and the jacked-up home crowd, it’s just too much for any opponent to overcome. Especially the Cowboys.