Organized Sports is a recurring sports column named for a seminal DC avant-hardcore song by the equally stupid and brilliant (to me, “equally stupid and brilliant” pretty much just means “brilliant”) band Void. Take from that what you will.
“Y’all got that new flick Colonel Mandelli’s Banjo?”
No, but we here at Fully Reconditioned do have a new season of Organized Sports NFL Picks. The 2013 season is about to begin, and not a day too soon—for the most part, baseball’s playoff teams have been decided for months, it’s another month until hockey starts and a month beyond that for basketball, and your favorite St. Louis Rams fan, semi-profitable football picker against the spread, and maker of bad puns is ready to watch some guldurned sports.
Before the picks, though, it’s time to catch up on all the offseason storylines. Robert Griffin III is cleared to play after his knee injury, and he has also usurped Andrew Luck as the most annoyingly over-exposed quarterback in the history of the post-Brett-Favre’s-dickpics era (and, according to Deadspin, he has some dickpics of his own). It’s a “make or break year” for a handful of young quarterbacks, guys who haven’t impressed the way last year’s youngsters have: St. Louis Ram Bradford, Andy “Red Rifle” Dalton, Josh Freeman and, only a year removed from a record-setting season, Duel Overhead Cam Newton. The NFC West has gone from the worst division in the NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE a few short years ago to the best. Chip Kelly has brought his hyperspeed Oregon offense to the NFL in Philadelphia, where Michael Vick will have yet another disappointing year at quarterback. And yes, there’s a former CFL coach in the NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE, that being Mark Trestman, Jay Cutler’s new wrangler.
That’s all the big storylines, so on to the picks after the jump.
Also, Aaron Hernandez is most likely a murderer, but most definitely one of the stupidest criminals on the planet.
There we go.
(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 (9/5 8:30PM ET)
Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos (-9)
Last year’s Super Bowl-winning team normally gets to open up the season at home in the first game of the year, the Sunday Night Football showcase on Thursday Night (the NFL: where days aren’t the days they are!). Instead, because the Baltimore Orioles are playing at home, and Bud Selig would not alter his league’s schedule because he is both a relic and a dick, the Ravens have to travel to the home of one of this year’s Super Bowl favorites, the Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos. Peyton was the Comeback Player of the Year last year (though that title should have gone to Adrian Peterson), but his arm looks even better now, and now he has the ultimate scrappy white possession receiver, Wes Welker, at his disposal. The Denver defense will be hurt by the losses of Elvis Dumervil (gone to the Ravens after a strange fax miscue—the NFL: where Office Space-like bureaucratic errors determine teams’ fates!) and Von Miller (suspended six games for substancing abuse). That might hurt them in the long run, but Baltimore’s offense will take a step back after last year, since highly paid and now be-ringed (and thus, elite) quarterback Joe Flacco doesn’t really have anyone to throw to. Who will take the opening game? Will it be last year’s Super Bowl winner, or the team people will pick to go to the Super Bowl but will lose in the playoffs before then after posting a great regular season record? I say the Broncos take this one, but by fewer than the nine points of the spread.
My Pick: Ravens +9
Sunday Early Games (9/8 1PM ET)
New England Patriots (-10.5) at Buffalo Bills
The New England Patriots have had quite the offseason. Tom Brady lost his favorite target, Wes Welker, who defected to the Denver Broncos to catch passes from Brady’s biggest rival, and one of his two great tight ends, Aaron Hernandez, to the Massachusetts Department of Corrections, who will have a heck of a player if some sort of Longest Yard scenario is ever to occur in real life. No one knows if Rob Gronkowski will be effective this year if and when he does play (he’s on the 53-man roster instead of the Physically Unable to Perform, a.k.a. PUP or Goodoggie list, which makes it seem like he’ll play at some point). Could this be the year the Patriots finally fall off, with an aging Brady and a Belichick who hasn’t auteured a genius defense in going on a decade? And how bad must the Bills be if the Patriots are favored by ten-and-the-hook playing IN Buffalo? Pretty bad; their preseason has been “quite the preseason” the same way the Patriots’ was “quite the offseason,” with potential starting quarterback EJ Manuel injured and unlikely to play in the opener, backup Kevin Kolb out for maybe forever with a concussion, and an undrafted rookie named Jeff Tuel likely to begin the season under center. Who is Jeff Tuel? I don’t know, and neither does anyone else, but I have decided to Spoonerize his name into Teff Jewell and turn him into a second-tier henchman in a 1980s action movie. He will be played by Tracey Walter.
My Pick: Patriots +10.5
Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh Steelers (-7)
The Steelers are coming off of a disappointing year, and though they are one of the most consistently successful franchises in the history of American professional sports, and have a head coach who’s already won one Super Bowl and been to another, their insufferable “Nation” is already calling for change, questioning Ben Roethlisberger (a questionable human being but not a questionable quarterback) and Mike Tomlin (who just about any other fanbase would trade its coach for in a second). The Titans are predicted to end up near the bottom of the NFL, with only the presence of the Jacksonville Jaguars twice on their schedule to see them favored. While the Steelers probably won’t take their division this year with the Bengals and Ravens looking a little better, they’ll still fight for a playoff spot while the Titans will be fighting to draft Jadeveon Clowney.
My Pick: Steelers -7
Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints (-3)
The Falcons continued their incremental improvement last year, and were only a quarter away from heading to the Super Bowl, losing by less than a touchdown to the NFC Champion 49ers. Their running game should be better this year with veteran Steven Jackson getting the chance to prove he can do something other than pad fantasy stats with a loser of a team. Matt Ryan is a top-ten quarterback and his receiving corps is among the league’s best. Their only challenge in division will be . . . the New Orleans Saints, who, coming off a lost year with Coach Sean Payton (unjustly, in my opinion) suspended for the entirety of the season. The Saints’ defense was horrible last year, and will likely be horrible again this year, but it wasn’t great when they won the Super Bowl, and Drew Brees is still there, with the offensive mastermind behind his success having returned. With Payton back, and the home dome crowd advantage, I think the Saints will take this one.
My Pick: Saints -3
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-3) at New York Jets
The week’s first truly horrible matchup is between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New York Jets. The Buccaneers have something to prove, with a second-year coach who had some success in Greg Schiano and a young quarterback who needs to prove himself in a “make or break year” in Josh Freeman. The Jets on the other hand have a lame duck coach, multiple lame duck quarterbacks, a defense that hasn’t been as good as it’s supposed to be in quite a while, and they share a stadium with a far more successful Jersey-based franchise, the stadium where the Super Bowl will be played, where everyone says it’s in New York but it’s actually not. Have fun, media and tourists, in the Motor Inn near the Meadowlands where I would consider going to commit suicide if there were not a Red Roof Inn much closer to me. As for this game, I have trouble picking the Jets to do anything right, so I’ll take the $1-per-ears.
My Pick: Buccaneers -3
Kansas City Chiefs (-3.5) at Jacksonville Jaguars
The Kansas City Chiefs are all new at the two most prominent positions in football these days, with Andy Reid taking over for the adorable but ineffective Romeo Crennel as head coach, and Alex Smith stepping in for Matt Cassel and all the other also-rans who’ve played for the Chiefs the past few years. Smith was having a great year for the 49ers before he lost his job to a concussion and the even better play of Colin Kaepernick. The addition of these two should make the Chiefs a better team than they have been the past few years; they won’t challenge the Broncos for the division or anything, but they won’t be seen as a total doormat. Speaking of total doormats, the Jaguars are still a football franchise that exists in the city of Jacksonville, and, for the third year in a row, former Mizzou quarterback Blaine Gabbert will be their starting quarterback. He’s actually looked good this preseason, but come on, it’s time to cut your losses with ol’ Blaine. By the way, the name Blaine always reminds me of Blaine and Antoine of In Living Color’s “Men on Film” sketches. The Chiefs-Jaguars game? Hated it!
My Pick: Chiefs -3.5
Cincinnati Bengals at Chicago Bears (-3)
Last year, when the Miami Dolphins were the showcased team, was the first year I ever watched HBO’s brilliant Hard Knocks series. It’s probably old hat for Bengals fans, since they’ve been on the show before, but as with the Dolphins last year, I find myself hoping the Bengals do well because it feels like, because of the show, I’ve spent time with the team and seen more what they’re like as people. Shit, now I even kind of like Pacman Jones. At the very least, he’s better at getting away with murder than Aaron Hernandez. The Bengals are pretty hyped this year, not only because of Hard Knocks, but because they were a good team last year and only supposed to get better, and the Ravens, their main opponent in the division, have gotten significantly worse. If Andy Dalton can improve from an adequate quarterback to a good one, with the defense they have they’ll be tough to beat. The Bears, on the other hand, are tougher to judge. They’re going a new route with Mark Trestman, an offensive-minded coach coming straight from the Canadian Football League to work with everyone’s least-favorite (or favorite) hangdog, Jay Cutler. If the defense continues to force turnovers like they have been, and the offense improves even incrementally, they should challenge the Packers in the NFC North. These teams must be seen as pretty much even, since the home Bears are favored by three, the number Vegas assigns for home-field advantage. I think it’ll be close, so I’m going with the Bane-gals. Let the games begin!
My Pick: Bengals +3
Miami Dolphins at Cleveland Browns (PK)
Like the Bengals this year, because of Hard Knocks last year I became way more interested in what the Dolphins would do, and they were better than many figured they’d be. Now some pundits are considering them a challenger to the Patriots for the division. Somehow the Patriots will probably figure something out for massive regular season success, but I can see how the Dolphins could challenge them. The Browns will surprise this year by being better than they should be with a 900-year-old second year quarterback, but have the misfortune to play in a division with three stronger teams ahead of them. The Browns, even though they’re playing at home, are not favored, which leads me to think the Dolphins will take this opening matchup.
My Pick: Dolphins PK
Seattle Seahawks (-3) at Carolina Panthers
The Seahawks were the major surprise team of the 2012 season. After overpaying former Green Bay backup Matt Flynn, intending for him to be the starting quarterback, Russell Wilson, an undersized rookie, won the starting job and now people are wondering who’ll have the best career overall between Wilson, Andrew Luck, and Robert Griffin III. The defense is fierce, led by likable (to me, anyway) asshole Richard Sherman at cornerback. Marshawn Lynch is still a beast (mode) at the running back position. They acquired Percy Harvin to be their number one wideout, but he’s again lost to injury—that shouldn’t hurt them too much except in tough in-division games. They’ll challenge the 49ers for the division crown again, and are a very likely playoff team. The Panthers are still in rebuild mode, no matter how much they might like to say otherwise. Cam Newton rebounded from a poor start at the end of the year, returning to rookie year form, but was still overshadowed by the rookies last year, including Wilson, and Colin Kaepernick, who is threatening to be basically the same quarterback as Newton, but possibly better. My prediction? Newton will again be a great fantasy quarterback, piling up numbers in meaningless fourth quarters, and the Seahawks will win this game by a touchdown or more.
My Pick: Seahawks -3
Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions (-4.5)
The Lions had a terrible year last year after finally making progress. Calvin Johnson had a number of potential touchdowns stopped at the one yard line, the defense was terrible, and though Matthew Stafford threw for more than 4,000 yards, he was ineffective when it matters. Many pundits are predicting them to perform closer to their potential this year, but I just don’t see it. The Vikings surprised by making the playoffs, mostly on the back of Adrian Peterson, who made what should have been recognized as the Comeback of the Year in coming close to breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record after returning from an ACL tear. I don’t expect either of these teams to make the playoffs this year, with the Packers (always a threat due to Aaron Rodgers) and the Bears fighting at the top of the division while these teams provide in-division wins for them. I say both teams pick up where they ended last year, for the purpose of this game’s prediction, and the Lions continue to be the Lions.
My Pick: Vikings +4.5
Oakland Raiders at Indianapolis Colts (-9.5)
The Raiders are the latest team to overpay Matt Flynn for his one great game as Aaron Rodgers’ backup with the Packers. A truly terrible team last year, it doesn’t really look like they’re going to be any better this year, with Ohio State tattoo aficionado Terrelle Pryor likely to get just as much time as Flynn, if not more, at the QB position. What? The Colts made the playoffs last year in Andrew Luck’s rookie year. He was outperformed by Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III, mostly due to the little-reported fact that the player who committed the most turnovers in the entire NFL last year was the talented Mr. Luck. He’s still a young QB that just about every franchise would kill to have, and there’s plenty of reason to believe he’ll be better this year and continue to grow into the franchise role expected of him since he was pretending to study something really smart at Stanford. The Colts will be better too, though their record might not wind up showing it; they’re playing a much tougher schedule this year. This game, though, will be a bloodbath.
My Pick: Colts -9.5
Sunday Late Games (9/8 4:15PM ET)
Arizona Cardinals at St. Louis Rams (-5)
The latest entry into the Cardinals’ QB abattoir following Kurt Warner’s retirement is Carson Palmer, who could have had a great career had he not lost a knee and a playoff game to a Steeler cheap shot going on ten years ago. The Cards’ defense is fierce and will probably win them a few games they don’t deserve to win due to turnovers, but their offense has been a joke and will continue to be unless Palmer miraculously regains his 2005 form. As for the Rams, I’m the wrong person to judge, because as a hometown fan I’m either way too pessimistic or way too optimistic depending upon the year. This year is one of those way too optimistic years, because the team played great in the “dress rehearsal” third preseason game, beating the Broncos starters 20-10, with new offensive firebrand Tavon Austin showing his speed and elusiveness on a great return that would have been a touchdown had his blocker not gotten in his way, new tight end Jared Cook showing his jumping ability and hands on a great touchdown catch from Sam Bradford, who looks a lot more confident now that he has Cook to throw to, and the defense hitting hard, bending but not breaking, and looking like the type of group that forces turnovers Lovie Smith style, with rookie linebacker Alec Ogletree leading the way. The Rams play in the best division in the league and so will probably not make the playoffs, but I see them going 8-8 or 9-7, and two of those wins coming at the expense of the Cardinals, who aren’t there yet.
My Pick: Rams -5
Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers (-4.5)
People seem to be counting the Packers out this year, and former Green Bay wideout Greg Jennings has criticized Aaron Rodgers’ leadership abilities. Greg Jennings will probably shut up when he realizes the difference in his numbers that will result from having Christian Ponder, who is below average in every statistical category other than BWAR (Beauty of Wife Above Replacement), throwing to him instead of the guy who is by leaps and bounds the best quarterback in the NFL. The Packers do have their weaknesses, but it sure isn’t at THE QUARTERBACK POSITION. I think they’ll be 9-7 or 10-6, fight for their division with the Bears, and at the very least make the playoffs, which is better than the Vikings, surprising no one this year, will do. One of those wins will not be coming this week, though, in their featured national late game matchup with the San Frantastic 49ers, led by Jim Squarejaw and Colin Kaepernick, who will be looking to prove himself not just a fluke with a last name that sounds like a type of artisan bread (should I get the marbled rye, the ciabatta or the Kaepernickel?). The 49ers destroyed the Packers in the playoffs last year and that could happen again in this season opener.
My Pick: 49ers -4.5
Sunday Night Game (9/8 8:25PM ET)
New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys (-3)
Hey, the first Sunday Night game is between the Cowboys and the Giants? How unusual! Glad to see some new blood in the nationally-televised, high-profile games. The NFC East never gets enough coverage.
My Pick: Giants +3
Monday Night Football Early Game (9/9 7PM ET)
Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins (-3.5)
The first Monday Night game is between two NFC East teams also? It’s crazy that they’re getting coverage this year. It’s like I can’t even remember who the Redskins’ quarterback is, so little sports media attention is devoted to him. Also, there wasn’t too big a deal made when a white Eagles receiver said the N-word, which is definitely worse than murdering animals or people.
My Pick: Redskins -3.5
Monday Night Football Late Game (9/10 10:15PM ET)
Houston Texans (-3.5) at San Diego Chargers
I remember a time, not long ago, when the Houston Texans were the team that could never top the division because Peyton Manning was always there to keep them down, no matter how much they improved. Now the San Diego Chargers sit in that role, with Philip Rivers seeming to regress a little bit each year, his massive talent obscured by fumbled snaps in key situations, ill-advised chucks downfield resulting in interceptions, and the fact that he hasn’t had a decent head coach in forever. The Texans are the favorite to take the AFC South, and they should be—they’re one of the best defensive teams in the league, they have one of the best wide receivers, the best running back tandem, and a quarterback who doesn’t do anything to screw any of that up. The final game of the season will be one you can feel free to turn off early in order to get to bed, as it’ll be decided before the first half has concluded.
My Pick: Texans -3.5
After all that, I don’t have much left to say in conclusion, other than that I’m glad football is back. See you all, loyal readers, next week, when I’ve gone 6-10 and I’m entirely confused about just about every team. It happens every year, and God Bless the NFL for it.