By Doug Halberstadt
This is the time of year I live for. The next 17 weeks of the regular National Football League season, followed by the playoffs and the Super Bowl are undoubtedly my favorite time of the year. It also means the return of my weekly pro football picks column. Let’s not wait another minute!
The 2013 NFL regular season kicks off tomorrow night (Thursday, Sept. 5) with a re-match of last year’s AFC playoff game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Denver Broncos. Both teams have their starting quarterbacks back for another season — Peyton Manning for the Broncos and Joe Flacco for the Ravens. Baltimore will be missing a total of nine starters from their team that won last year’s Super Bowl. Among those nine are Ray Lewis and Ed Reed on defense and three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Anquan Boldin on offense. That’s a ton of talent to try to replace. Combine that with the fact that the Broncos are at home, and that’s the reason I’m taking Denver to start the season 1-0.
Sunday’s (Sept. 8) action features 13 games, including local favorites the Bears and the Packers. Chicago is at home to face the Cincinnati Bengals at noon, and Green Bay has a late afternoon game with the 49ers in San Francisco.
This will be Marc Trestman’s debut as the head coach of the Chicago Bears. From everything I’ve seen, heard and absorbed during the preseason, it appears he’s instilled some new life into the Bears’ offense, and the players believe in his new system. Their defense looked stellar in the preseason, and should be able to pick up right where they left off from last year. Their ability to force fumbles and pick off opposing quarterbacks should translate into more offensive points this season. I’m taking Chicago over Cincinnati.
Granted, Green Bay has Aaron Rodgers, and he alone can win games for them. The problem for the Packers is they’re going to need more than just him this week. They’ve got a tough opener on the road against San Francisco. I don’t think the Packers have all of their ducks in a row just yet, and that will translate to an opening-day loss for them.
A few games look like easy picks. Pittsburgh at home against the Titans sounds like a lock to me. I like New England on the road over Buffalo. Cleveland should prevail at home over Miami. Indianapolis opens at home against Oakland and could win by as many as double digits. Seattle is another team that could put up big numbers on their way to a victory when they pay a visit to the Carolina Panthers.
Kansas City should be much improved with the addition of Alex Smith at quarterback. I also look for another big year from their running back, Jamaal Charles. I think they’ll easily dispatch the Jacksonville Jaguars in Florida. The final game that I don’t foresee as much of a contest is the second game on Monday night (Sept. 9). The Houston Texans are in San Diego to meet the Chargers. I don’t see San Diego surviving the dual-edged attack of the Texans’ offense and their unrelenting defense. Houston should come away with an easy win.
Now come the tough ones. In what could be the game of the week, the Atlanta Falcons are in New Orleans to take on the Saints. Both teams have great top-tier quarterbacks who are no strangers to putting up huge offensive numbers. Both defenses are going to have to try to find a way to limit Drew Brees and Matt Ryan to average days. I think New Orleans stands the better chance of getting that done. I’m taking the Saints at home in a thriller.
In the NFC North, the Minnesota Vikings head over to Ford Field to play the Detroit Lions. The Vikings have Adrian “All Day” Peterson at running back. The Lions have quarterback Matthew Stafford throwing the ball to wide receiver Calvin “Megaton” Johnson Jr. I think this game could go either way, but I’m giving the nod to the Vikings.
In the next two games, I’m not sure any of the teams can win. Tampa Bay has to go on the road to play the New York Jets. In the other game, the St. Louis Rams welcome the Arizona Cardinals to town. Since I have to pick a winner, I’ll take Tampa Bay and St. Louis.
My two toss-up games of the week are both in the NFC East. The first one is the Sunday night game in Dallas. Eli Manning and his Giants come calling on Tony Romo’s Cowboys. The second one is the early Monday night game. It features the Philadelphia Eagles against the Washington Redskins in D.C. Historically, I’ve had troubles picking this division. It seems like I can never predict which team will be the most consistent. I think any one of the four teams could get hot at some point during the season and win this division. During this opening week, I’m going with both home teams. I’ll take Dallas and Washington, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the visitors end up prevailing.
There you have it, all 16 of my week one predictions. I invite all the readers of this column to tune in to NTA 100.5 FM each Friday morning at 7:30 a.m. when I will once again join Doug McDuff, Ken DeCoster, Howard Bailey-Murray and Tim Edwards for our “Fearless NFL Picks” program. All season long, I’ll match wits with the guys from the radio station to see who the better pigskin prognosticator is.
Doug Halberstadt can be reached via e-mail at Dougster61@aol.com.
From the Sept. 4-10, 2013, issue