By Doug Halberstadt
For the past several NFL seasons, I have written a weekly column featuring my picks for that week’s games. My intentions are to keep the tradition alive and continue the practice this season.
Each year, I set a goal of getting at least 75 percent of my picks right for the entire season. I think the best I’ve ever done was right around the 70 percent mark. So, once again, I will start out the year with the best intentions, which translates to not letting my heart overrule my brain when it comes to picking the Bears’ and Packers’ games.
One other thing that will be different this season is at around 7:35 a.m. each Friday I will be joining WNTA 1330 AM radio hosts Doug McDuff and Ken DeCoster on the air to make our “Fearless NFL Picks.” Each week, we will face off against each other for the best record. The competition is friendly, and I’ll be focused on not only trying to beat those two radio guys, but also making the print media proud in doing so. I hope you’ll tune in each week.
Let’s get things started for week one! The first game of the season features the past two Super Bowl winners squaring off against one another in a nationally-televised game tomorrow night (Thursday, Sept. 8). The Green Bay Packers are in Lambeau hosting the New Orleans Saints. Green Bay beat Pittsburgh in last year’s Super Bowl 31-25. The Saints lost to Seattle in the wild card game 41-36.
The last time these two teams played one another was in another nationally-televised game on Monday night back in November 2008. The Saints embarrassed the Pack in that game 51-29. Drew Brees threw for four touchdowns; Aaron Rodgers had two touchdowns and three interceptions. I don’t look for anywhere near 80 points to be scored in the game this year. Look for Green Bay to come out on top in a much closer contest.
The Bears begin their 2012 season at home against the Atlanta Falcons. These two teams have played one another 25 times. The Bears have won 12 and lost 13. The last time they met up, Chicago lost 21-14 in October 2009. Atlanta was 13-3 last year and lost 48-21 to the Pack in the playoffs. The Bears were 11-5 in 2010 and also had their year ended by Green Bay. Last week in Sports Illustrated, senior writer Peter King picked the Falcons to defeat the Chargers in this year’s Super Bowl. King correctly predicted last year’s Super Bowl game. As much as it pains me to write this, I think the Bears will drop their home opener.
Houston is at home against Indianapolis. The question mark at press time is whether Peyton Manning will be available at game time. He is recovering from a neck injury. Last year, Houston beat the Colts in the season-opener 34-24. I don’t think that will happen two years in a row, with or without Manning. I like the Colts on the road.
Kansas City hosts Buffalo. KC was 10-6 last season and won their division. Buffalo went 4-12 last year. I’m taking KC at home.
The Tennessee Titans travel south to Jacksonville to play the Jaguars. The Titans were 3-1 in the preseason, and the Jaguars will be without recently-retired running back Fred Taylor. The two teams split their series last season, both winning in the other’s home. I’m going with Tennessee to keep that streak alive.
The worst game of the week is Cincinnati at Cleveland. These two teams combined only had nine wins in 2010. They split the series last year. This is the first season-opener since 2003 that the Bengals will be without Carson Palmer. Andy Dalton will be under center for the Bengals to start this year. That’s one of the reasons I say Cleveland will prevail.
The St. Louis Rams were 4-0 in the preseason for the first time since I was a senior in high school, 1979. They have a tough first regular-season game against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles have Michael Vick at QB, and if he’s having any issues, Vince Young will be waiting in the wings. I think this will be the first of many wins for the Eagles this season.
The best game of the week may be the Steelers at the Ravens. This is the top rivalry for both clubs. Pittsburgh leads the series 21-12. However, they are only 8-7 at Baltimore. The last time they faced one another was Jan. 15. Pittsburgh won 31-24 on their way to the Super Bowl. I think the Steelers will make it two in a row.
Tampa Bay is hosting Detroit. These two teams had opposite records last year. The Buccaneers were 10-6 and missed the playoffs by a tiebreaker. The Lions were 6-10. Many people around the league view Tampa Bay as a team on the rise. I think they’ll defeat the Lions with little or no trouble at all.
Minnesota will be in sunny southern California to take on the Chargers. These two teams have met 10 previous times in their history. The series is tied at five games apiece. The Vikings will be led by their new QB, Donovan McNabb. The Chargers will be relying on Philip Rivers to get the job done for them again this season. I like the Chargers on their home turf.
In another huge rivalry in the NFC East, the Giants will be in our nation’s capital to face the Redskins for the 151st time. The Giants lead the all-time series 89-61. Head Coach Tom Coughlin and QB Eli Manning are the two reasons the Giants will win this game.
Former Chicago Bears linebacker and now head coach of the Panthers, Ron Rivera, has named Cam Newton to be his starting QB when Carolina takes on the Cardinals in Arizona. It’s tough for any rookie QB to win his debut in the NFL. Granted, Newton is not just any QB, but I’m still taking the Cardinals.
On the West Coast, San Francisco will host the Seahawks. The 49ers were 6-10 last year, and the Seahawks were only a game better at 7-9. I think the Seahawks are the better team and will have enough firepower with Tarvaris Jackson at QB to get the job done.
The team with the best overall record last year (14-2), the New England Patriots, open up the road in Miami. That spells doom for the fish. I like New England by at least 10 points.
In another nice AFC matchup, the Raiders are in Denver. Last October, Oakland scored 38 points in the first half at Denver and went on to win that game 59-14. The Raiders were a perfect 6-0 against division opponents in 2010. The Broncos were only 1-5. That tells me to take Oakland. I’m listening.
Once considered “America’s Team,” the Dallas Cowboys have fallen from glory. They were a huge disappointment last season at 6-10. They will be in the Big Apple to take on the New York Jets. The Jets were a very respectable 11-5 and have proven they have what it takes to win with Mark Sanchez at QB. I think Dallas will continue to disappoint and lose another one.
There you have it, my picks for week No. 1 of the NFL season. Whether you agree or disagree with my choices, I’m sure there is one thing we as football fans will definitely agree on: we are ecstatic the season is finally starting!
Doug Halberstadt can be reached via e-mail at Dougster61@aol.com.
From the Sept. 7-13, 2011, issue