Finally. After the tempest in a teapot of the lockout, an even lamer preseason than usual, and a baseball season that has absolutely no drama left in its regular season with a month left to tread water, the NFL (or, in Mark Schlereth’s always-unabbreviated terms, the National Football League) is back. The only word that really captures it is Finally. With a capital F.
There are many storylines to look at this year. Will Michael Vick complete his road to redemption and win a Super Bowl for the Eagles? Will the seemingly-likeable Aaron Rodgers and his Packers repeat as champs? Will the unlikeable-except-for-Troy Polamalu Steelers exact revenge for their Super Bowl loss? Will Ndomukong Suh actually kill a quarterback on the field and somehow remain someone you’d want to be your best friend (and not just because of the intimidation factor, but because he really seems like a good dude off the field)? Will fleeb tymp the wombo? Who knows?
You know what the most compelling storyline is to me? Whether or not Travis makes money gambling on football. So that’s the storyline (among others) that will be covered in this weekly Anna Fell (get it?) column. We (and by we, I mean me) will track the progress of Travis (by which, I also mean me) as he (again, me) goes all Hunter S. and puts it all on the line to make even the least interesting game on the schedule interesting. In the words of Brazilian nu-metal heroes Soulfly on their classic (to dirty nu-metal fans with white dreadlocks) song “Bumba”: “Brrrrrring tha shit!”
Around 1:08 in this nonsense.
(Note: All point spreads listed here are the lines at the time bets were made. Be sure to consult your very legitimate and legal sports book [cough] before making a bet of your own; lines move constantly due to the action on particular games. Also, gambling is illegal in many states. And watch out for those offshore betting sites, lest you end up like an online poker professional. Okay? Okay. Onward and upward.)
My Record So Far: 0-0
Thursday Night NFL Opener (9/8 8:30PM ET)
New Orleans Saints at Green Bay Packers (-4)
The Super Bowl champions from the past two seasons meet to open the season. Both teams look really good. The Packers haven’t lost a beat and there’s no reason to believe that they won’t be competing to repeat; the only thing that could really stop them is injury trouble, the circumstance that, in the NFL, often assures that the predictable doesn’t always happen. The Saints’ offseason moves look solid—they let go of Reggie Bush and replaced him with a better version of Reggie Bush in Darren Sproles, and are otherwise pretty much the same, Sean Payton with his tiny, Scott Rolen-like duck mouth and brilliant offensive schemes still at the helm and more than one Drew Bree at quarterback. With both teams looking great going in, I have to go with the Lambeau home (Lambeaume?) advantage to kick the season off.
My Pick: Packers (-4)
Sunday Early Games (9/11 1PM ET)
Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens (-2.5)
Ahh. Crime. Morality. I guess when it comes down to it, for whatever reason, I’m more disgusted by rape, than I am by murder. Probably doesn’t make any sense, but who says it has to, right? Something about power, sexual dominance, versus rage . . . Oh, wait, we’re talking about football? Well, then, here’s the part where I say neither person was ever found guilty, and then I talk about how the Steelers have looked good other than their offensive line, and the Ravens still look like they have some things to work through. I think both of these teams will make the playoffs, but in Week One I have to go with the Stillers winning outright over the Ravens.
My Pick: Steelers (+2.5)
Detroit Lions at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-2)
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were a great story last season, with Josh Freeman becoming an above-average quarterback and coach Raheem Morris establishing himself as a complete and total badass. Meanwhile, the Detroit Lions have put on a show in the preseason, with Suh and company completely dominating the line, showing the potential to be the best front four in the league. The question in the long run with the Lions is whether Matthew Stafford can stay healthy; when he’s in there, he’s definitely got the skills. If this game were happening in Week 11 or something, I might choose differently, but Week One it’s all about the terrifying defensive line. Yeah, the last time the Lions went 4-0 in the preseason, they went 0-16 in the regular season, but that’s not gonna happen this year, and I have them going at least 1-0.
My Pick: Lions (+2)
Atlanta Falcons at Chicago Bears (+3)
The Bears had a fluky season last year. They were lucky. I’d rather not explain, so I’ll leave it to Bill Barnwell, formerly of Football Outsiders, now of Grantland. The Falcons still have Matt Ryan and Roddy White. How is the line only 3 here, even with the Bears playing at home?
My Pick: Falcons (-3)
Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs (-6.5)
This one’s actually really tough, showing that the dudes who set the lines in Vegas really know their shit. The Bills are obviously going to be terrible, which means that the Chiefs, who won their division last year, should have a large advantage going into the game. But! But! But! The Chiefs have a high potential to be terrible this year, with Matt Cassel at the helm (for any baseball fans out there who understand BABIP, Matt Cassel is the not-throwing-interceptions equivalent to a guy with a high BABIP). Still, the point spread can be a trap. It may seem like, hey, the Chiefs will probably win, but maybe not by a touchdown—that’s exactly why the line is set where it is. A grizzled old alcoholic gambler who had won and lost many fortunes once told me never to pick an underdog based on the point spread unless you believe they can win outright. If he was always right, he probably wouldn’t have been a grizzled alcoholic, but I’ll go with him on this one, and choose the Kansas City Lil Wayne fans.
My Pick: Chiefs (-.6.5)
Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans (-5.5)
This was the line, at the time of betting and thus the time of writing, with Peyton Manning’s status for the first game of the season still very much in doubt. As someone who has watched football religiously since the Rams made their move to St. Louis (with a slight gap for being an artsy college weenus trying to pretend football isn’t the best thing ever) I have absolutely no doubt that Peyton Manning will play in this game. Here, I am picking the underdog with every belief that they will win the game outright, by the grizzled alcoholic’s advice. And hey, even if I’m wrong about Peyton Manning, I’ll at least be able to root for another grizzled (former) alcoholic, when Kerry Collins takes the reins of the Colts offense looking like the reluctant anti-hero in a revisionist western.
My Pick: Colts (+5.5)
Philadelphia Eagles at St. Louis Rams (+5)
This one may be where my heart gets the better of me, but I think the prematurely-named Dream Team goes down in Week One to my hometown boys. If the Eagles had a full offseason to practice in preparation I wouldn’t be so sure, but the Rams’ defense is “pretty dece” and they’re going to be playing in an Edward Jones Dome that’ll be as loud as it’s been since the Greatest Show on Turf days. Sam Bradford will be competent enough not to throw at Nnamdi Asomugha (spelling of name definitely CTRL-C + CTRL-V) and Steven Jackson should run for decent yardage. Despite my love of doggies, I couldn’t help loving the Eagles last year, with them being the most fun football team in forever to watch, so this isn’t about that (and the Eagles have a St. Louis hometowner with a great story behind him, Jeremy Maclin, to tug at my heartstrings, though he likely won’t be playing, [so glad it’s not cancer, though]); it’s about the Eagles’ offense not being quite ready, and the Rams defense being on its game. And on the home team being given five points. For serious?
My Pick: Rams (+5)
Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns (-6.5)
Are the Browns really that far ahead of the Bengals that they’re basically a touchdown favorite? Man, I guess they are.
My Pick: Browns (-6.5)
Tennessee Titans at Jacksonville Jaguars (-3)
This is a weird one. Neither of these teams seem very good. I always overestimate the Jacksonville Jaguars because I fell in love with Jack Del Rio when he wore a suit on the sideline once and he is just so football-seeming, in a Bill Cowher sort of way. I always kind of loved the Tennessee Titans because they gave the Rams their Super Bowl and because Jeff Fisher’s kid went to the University of Montana, where both my parents went, and when my mom took her usual homecoming game trip he was really nice to people as he sat in the stands to watch his son play. Both these teams, though, are in pretty wack transitional phases. The Jaguars can’t really decide whether to start David Garrard, an okay pro quarterback, or Blaine Gabbert (third on the depth chart now, but obviously the quarterback of the future). The Titans have Matt Hasselbeck as their starter and Jake Locker waiting in the wings. Gabbert will probably be better than Locker, and Garrard is probably better than Hasselbeck, but what does all this mean for Week One of 2011? Jeff Fisher’s not there anymore, so I guess I have no reason to root for the Titans (other than when I worked at the Schnuck’s video store, and we had customers sign this receipt whenever they rented something, but it only had so many letters on it, so whenever someone checked out Denzel Washington’s dignity-fest Remember the Titans it said “Remember the Tit”) but I still think the Titans will both win this game and be better than the Jags. Maybe it’s because of Chris Johnson.
My Pick: Tit (+3)
Sunday Late Games (9/11 4:15PM ET)
New York Giants at Washington Redskins (+3)
The Redskins are so stupid. How much does Mike Shanahan wish he’d just chilled out after getting canned from the Broncos, repping his two Super Bowl rings in Vail and further wind-burning and overly-tanning his face while skiing nice, groomed black single diamond runs and then wooing 31-year-old rich ski bunnies by twilight? Now instead of trying to decide between trying to sleep with Windsor, who’s fighting with her boyfriend Ethan from Taos, or Claire, the kinda drunk perky girl who teaches the preschool pizza vs french fries beginner lesson, he’s choosing between John Beck and Rex Grossman. Tom Coughlin all the way.
My Pick: Giants (-3)
Carolina Panthers at Arizona Cardinals (-7)
It’s pretty crazy that one of the largest spreads for the weekend involves two teams that were absolutely horrible last year, both of whom have new, potentially game-changing quarterbacks at the helm. Cam Newton is the definite starter for the Carolina Panthers, but he looks pretty much like pre-dogfighting Michael Vick: a much better Madden player than a real player. On the other hand, Kevin “Corn on the” Kolb looked pretty dope throwing it to Larry “This is my brother Darryl and this is my other brother Darryl, F. Scott” Fitzgerald during the preseason. As a Rams fan, I’m more scared of the Cardinals than either the Seahawks or the 49ers, purely because of this. Sorry, my Berman impression went overboard there, but Arizona was allegedly where the “You’re with me, Leather,” thing went down. Yeah, I said, “went down.”
My Pick: Cardinals (-7)
Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers (-5.5)
This will be the worst game in football history. I can’t even begin to explain how bad this game will be. Yeah, the Seahawks made the playoffs last year, but that was because the Rams’ head coach tucked his balls and cock up into his body M. Butterfly style. Also, the Seahawks will apparently be starting Tarvaris Jackson at QB this year? Though the 49ers will be starting Alex Smith. Okay coin flip. Never mind, coin flip said Seahawks. Coin flip again. Shit. Again. Okay.
My Pick: 49ers (-5.5)
Minnesota Vikings at San Diego Chargers (-8.5)
The Vikings were exactly as terrible as they should have been last year. The Chargers were unlucky based on a bunch of special teams plays. Despite the ridiculous spread, it’s all about those who Charge San Diego (hopefully LA next year? [fingers crossed I could totally root for some Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates])
My Pick: Chargers (-8.5)
Sunday Night Game (9/11 8:25PM ET)
Dallas Cowboys at New York Jets (-4.5)
This is another tough one. The Cowboys sucked last year, but could easily pull it together this year. The Jets were pretty darn good last year, but because of their offense could have a serious downgrade. Tony Romo is handsome. Mark Sanchez, also handsome. Rex Ryan, probably into feet. Jason Garrett, no evidence of any foot fetish, though I do know that he was the Cowboys’ offensive coordinator when they were terrible last year. I’m going Rex Ryan.
My Pick: Jets (-4.5)
Monday Night Football Early Game (9/12 7PM ET)
New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins (+7)
Here comes another one of those tempting big point spreads. Grizzled alcoholic says: “Only pick the underdog when you think they can win outright.” I honestly don’t even know who plays for the Dolphins anymore, and neither does anyone in Miami, because they’re too busy getting butthurt about who might have to sit out at The U because like ten years ago Devin Shapiro made sure Devin Hester got a blowjob and a convertible. Yeah, the Lions made the Patriots’ offensive line look stupid in preseason (and I thoroughly enjoyed it) but this game is going to be an out-of-control blowout.
My Pick: Patriots (-7)
Monday Night Football Late Game (9/12 10:15PM ET)
Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos (-3)
This one appears to be one of those games where the spread is only in favor of Denver because of the home field advantage. The Raiders are probably the better team all around. Since it’s the last game of the week, it’s time for another “upset.” Also, Denver is such a nice, pleasant place that it doesn’t really deserve to have any functioning professional sports teams; all the people who live in Denver can be happy eating granola bars, hiking, and making Aryan but liberal children. Oakland needs this shit. Silver and Black, yo. Silver. And. Black.
My Pick: Raiders (+3)
Right on. So them’s the picks for Week One. If you happen to be reading and wondering about the Over/Under, team futures, and other NFL bets you can make at the beginning of the season, I recommend this podcast. Whatever your opinion on Bill Simmons, he takes his gambling seriously. At least as seriously as his overused Shawshank Redemption references.
Beyond that, I wish you, and me, luck for the upcoming season. See you next week(end).