BOSTON (CBS) — It’s still very early in the season, and admittedly, we all have a lot to learn about most of the teams in the NFL (we know enough about the Browns). Still, I can’t help but look at this week’s lines and wonder why so much emphasis is seemingly being placed on home-field advantage.
By my unscientific estimation, nine of this week’s 16 games have lines that are a little too favorable for the home team, highlighted by the Steelers only being favored by four points in Oakland.
Also curious is the Saints being favored at home by nine against the Chiefs, the Bears favored by eight at home against St. Louis, and Dallas being favored by eight at home against the Buccaneers. On the other side, it seems as though some home underdogs are being given a little too much credit, like the Browns getting just three points against the Bills, the Dolphins getting just 2.5 points against the Jets, and the Broncos getting just two points against the Texans.
Ideally, if such an assessment is accurate, it should be a week of easy pickings. Let’s get into those, plus some brief looks back to some Ridiculous Quotes From Last Week’s Picks.
(Home team in caps; Thursday lines)
St. Louis (+8) over CHICAGO
Smokin’ Jay Cutler is the best thing I’ve ever seen.
Also, he’s a stiff. Also, the Rams seem to play competitive football this season, while the Bears are all busy griping about each other. And you want me to pass on 7.5 points?
Buffalo (-3) over CLEVELAND
So the Browns get the old home-field advantage three points here, but, umm … last time the Browns were at home, the starting quarterback got himself trapped under the giant American flag. People don’t forget.
(If you’re wondering, yes, I might reference that every week in my Cleveland pick, and yes I will likely try to sneak it into the column during the Browns’ bye week. Yes.)
DALLAS (-8) over Tampa Bay
The Dallas Cowboys were kind enough to author the blueprint for how not to start a football game last week. They fumbled the kick return, gave up a blocked punt for a touchdown and then threw an interception. I’d be lying if I said the memories of that opening sequence weren’t affecting my feelings this week, but I have to go against Tampa here.
For one, their rookie head coach has been busy defending his bush league order last week, and for two, they’ve kept it close in their games but I feel the score has been deceptive in both. The Bucs beat the Panthers by a point and lost by a touchdown to the Giants, despite allowing 801 passing yards and throwing for just 356 yards of their own. Obviously, those yards allowed were affected significantly by Eli on Sunday, but they rank 32nd in that department, and the next-closest team has allowed 174 fewer passing yards. It’s just not a recipe to be competitive, despite the perception given by recent results. They’re due to lose big.
New York Jets (-2.5) over MIAMI
In going over my notes, I’d decided that I’d take the Jets if they had to cover a touchdown. So imagine my surprise to see the line was just a field goal. This game is in Miami. There is no such thing as home-field advantage in Sun Life Joe Robbie Pro Player Land Shark Stadium Park. The Dolphins ranked 31st, 26th, 27th and 31st in attendance in the last four seasons, a stretch in which the Dolphins have gone 14-18. If any team in the league lacks home-field advantage, it’s the Dolphins … and that’s on any week. This is a week that features the chosen son of Florida, one Mr. Tim Tebow, returning to the field that honored him last season … when he played for the visiting team. I’m setting the over/under for “Teeeee-booooowwww” chants at 5.5, and I’m taking the over.
Oh, also, Miami is bad.
Ridiculous Quote From Last Week’s Picks: “Honestly, I might take the seventh-grade team which was officiated by the NFL replacement ref over the Dolphins this year.”
Note: This statement only makes the Raiders look more ridiculous, not me.
San Francisco (-7) over MINNESOTA
If this game were in San Francisco, what would the line be? Twelve, probably? Yet because it’s in Minnesota, where the Vikings went 1-7 last season, it’s just 7.5. God bless America.
In case you missed EVERY SINGLE ANALYST saying it this week, there are 20 teams in the NFL with a 1-1 record. Of course, over the next 15 weeks, some of those teams will improve upon that record, others will hover around .500 all year, and others might not win more than three games all year. I think Minnesota is closest to the latter of those three.
RQFLWP: “Turning around and getting up for a lesser opponent is going to be a real challenge, especially when your quarterback is Alex Smith.”
Note: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
NEW ORLEANS (-9) over Kansas City
I’m being stubborn with regard to the 2012 New Orleans Saints. I recognize this fully. I just can’t accept them being as bad as they’ve looked thus far. I suppose if it they fall flat on their face at home against the Chiefs, who are just terrible, I will begin to believe it.
By the way, if you’re someone who finds great humor in public disasters but you haven’t yet read this 1,200-word ruthless takedown of Scott Pioli, you are really missing out.
WASHINGTON (-3) over Cincinnati
The Redskins have better stats across the board but have the same record (1-1) as the Bengals. That’s because the Redskins didn’t get to play the Browns. There should be no doubt which is the better team here. You’ve also got 100,000 crazed Redskins fans jacked up for their first glimpse at Robert Griffin. I smell a romp.
Detroit (-3.5) over TENNESSEE
For one, you have the ghost of Chris Johnson still somehow existing. He has 21 yards on 19 carries. This stat line leads to many dopes saying, “I could do that,” but no, you couldn’t, because you’d fumble and wet your pants every time you took the ball. But for “CJ2k,” that’s embarrassing.
Next, you have Matthew Stafford coming off a 230-yard game. The last time he threw for 230 or fewer yards was Week 14 last year. In Week 15, he threw for 391 yards and four touchdowns.
Third, you have the Detroit defense, which hasn’t yet suplexed a quarterback to the ground in the era of replacement officials. I would’ve never guessed they’d make it through two weeks without a complete mauling of a quarterback. Jake Locker, you officially should be worried.
INDIANAPOLIS (-3) over Jacksonville
Don’t watch this football game.
ARIZONA (+4) over Philadelphia
If I’ve learned anything in the past year or so, it’s that it’s best to just not pick the Eagles to cover any spread. It’s not worth the trouble. They’re 0-2 against the spread this season, and as the “Dream Team” last year, they went 5-6 against the spread when favored. As road favorites, they went 2-4 against the spread. Arizona, meanwhile, has won nine of its last 11 games, and if they’re now pulling that off with Kevin Kolb dropping back (and not doing much else after that), then you’ve really got to be worried facing them.
RQFLWP: “[Kevin Kolb] will be the man under center on Sunday, and he’ll be terrible.”
Note: Sure, the Cardinals won, but Kolb was pretty terrible.
SAN DIEGO (-3) over Atlanta
I couldn’t be any less impressed by the Falcons. They were given the ball four extra times in the first half at home in front of a raucous crowd, and they were barely able to open up a lead. They almost blew it against a guy who’s shown the arm strength of a backup freshman high school quarterback (more on you later, Peyton). In fact, had the officials not mistakenly awarded possession to Atlanta after The Scrum That Never Ended, I think the Broncos would’ve ended up winning that game.
Plus, aren’t the Chargers supposed to go 3-0 and turn on the hype machine before their patented late-season slide? I think so.
Houston (-2) over DENVER
Just too much respect given to Peyton Manning here. I’ve watched him for two weeks now, and I see a man who is unable to throw a football. That touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas has to be the worst pass ever completed in the NFL. The ball comes out of Manning’s hand like he just finished devouring greasy Popeye’s chicken, and it’s not outrageous to believe he lost a lot of strength and some feeling from his neck surgeries. If you’re not convinced, try to figure out why Manning would take a seat for Brock Osweiler if the Broncos need a Hail Mary pass this season.
Manning’s still the smartest quarterback in the league, so he’s still dangerous in that sense, but it’s going to take superhuman efforts from his receivers on almost every pass (including wide-open outs and comebacks, when he’s getting his receivers absolutely smoked) for the Denver offense to work this year.
And this week, Manning and his surgically repaired neck are going to have to worry about J.J. Watt, the reigning AFC Defensive Player of the Week who has six sacks already. Look out.
Pittsburgh (-4) over OAKLAND
I opened this column with a note about perceived home-field advantage affecting this week’s lines, and here’s your prime example. I know the Steelers have their issues but they’re playing the Raiders. The same Raiders who just got blown out by the Dolphins. The Dolphins, man.
Carson Palmer’s thrown for a bunch of yards, but that’s easy to do when you’re getting blown out by the Dolphins. Of Palmer’s 670 yards, 457 of them (68.2 percent) came when the Raiders were trailing. He’s also targeted his running back nearly twice as many times as any receiver, which tells you he’s not really seeing the field all that well. What I’m trying to tell you is that I’m not impressed with Palmer, and neither should you.
It’s not entirely unfathomable to see the Steelers starting the season 1-2 … until you remember that they’re playing the Raiders. The Raiders, man.
Baltimore (-2.5) over NEW ENGLAND
When these two teams play each other, the Patriots either win a tight one or get blown out. Since 2007, here are the results of the meetings between the Patriots:
2007: Patriots 27, Ravens 24
2009: Patriots 27, Ravens 21
2009 playoffs: Ravens 33, Patriots 14
2010: Patriots 23, Ravens 20 (OT)
2011 playoffs: Patriots 23, Ravens 20
So the fact that this line is 2.5 instead of 3 is downright diabolical. I’d really enjoy that extra half-point. Still, I think the Patriots are a little vulnerable right now. The Josh McDaniels system is off to a slow start, and bodies are shuffling in (Deion Branch) and out (Aaron Hernandez), and the offense has yet to click. Of course, it could come together and explode for 40 points any time now, but Baltimore is an unlikely place for that to happen.
Frankly, as someone in Boston, I fear for the screaming, yelling and potential rioting that will come from the Patriots falling to 1-2, which would be the first time they’d have a losing record at any point in any season since losing Week 1 in 2003, but at least it will prepare me for the end of the world in December.
Green Bay (-3) over SEATTLE
I don’t get it with Seattle. I really don’t. They’re at best a .500 team every year, yet they always pull off an absolutely dominant early-season performance that makes you think otherwise.
I’m trusting that they used up this year’s a week ago, and the fact that Green Bay has had an extra few days to prepare for a rookie quarterback makes it a bit easier for me.
This week: 0-1
Last week: 8-7-1
CAROLINA (-2.5) over New York Giants
In the last quarter of football, Eli Manning has thrown for 243 yards. That’s more yards than 23 quarterbacks have thrown in entire games this season. Twenty-three. As for the Panthers, it’s still hard to get a feel for them, because it’s hard to judge what a win over the Saints this year really means.
I’d normally go with the champs getting 2.5 points, but with the absences of Hakeem Nicks, Ahmad Bradshaw and David Diehl compounding the inherent difficulty of a short week, the Panthers are the safer bet.
I will say that I think picking these early-season Thursday games is going to be a bit of a crapshoot, at least if last week’s Packers-Bears game was any indication. Those teams looked just sloppy, and instead of seeing a classic NFC North matchup, we were treated to sacks. Lots and lots of sacks. And Jay Cutler interceptions. And some more sacks.
I think later in the season, when teams are in more of a rhythm, they can prepare a bit better for the shortened week for a Thursday game. But early in the season, I’m expecting some more ugly football.
RQFLWP: “The Panthers get too much respect when it comes to the lines, and I blame fantasy football. I know Cam Newton puts up some silly stat lines, and that grabs the national headlines, but that doesn’t mean he’s winning many games. The guy is 6-11 as a starter with 22 TDs and 19 INTs. I’ll take Drew Brees’”
Note: Roles were reversed last weekend. I’ve learned to never bash fantasy football in a public forum. It just invites too much hate.