EDITOR’S NOTE: The Front Row takes a back seat this week to protect the guilty – UNLV football – for being the largest pointspread favorite (45 points) to ever lose outright.
On Thursday the New England Patriots will host the Kansas City Chiefs in the first of 256 regular season games spread out over 17 weeks to begin what is the long journey to the Playoffs that will culminate with the crowning of this season’s NFL Champion next Feb. 4 in Minneapolis, Minnesota in Super Bowl 52.
In the AFC the predicted Division winners are New England, Pittsburgh, Houston and Kansas City with Tennessee and Oakland earning Wild Cards.
In NFC the New York Giants, Green Bay, Carolina and Seattle are predicted to win their Divisions with Arizona and Minnesota claiming Wild Cards.
It’s tough to repeat as Conference Champions much less Super Bowl Champions and the call here is for that to not happen this season as Houston upsets New England to win the AFC Title and a trip to their first Super Bowl.
Their opponent is predicted to be determined in an NFC Championship game between Seattle and the New York Giants.
Both quarterbacks, the Giants’ Eli Manning and Seattle’s Russell Wilson have each been to a pair of Super Bowls with three wins between them. The forecast is for the Giants to defeat Seattle and reach their third Super Bowl in the past 11 seasons but the first of the three in which they will not have to face New England.
In a matchup of two of the NFL’s top defenses the experience of Eli Manning leads the Giants to his third Super Bowl title with a projected score of Giants 23, Texans 20. If this sounds plausible you might consider an early play on the UNDER 54 currently being offered for Super Bowl 52.
Let’s enjoy the next five months with best of luck to us all!
Here is a look at the 16 games that comprise the opening week’s schedule.
Kansas City Chiefs +9 at New England Patriots (48.5): The Chiefs are usually competitive because they also do not make many mistakes and excel in avoiding and creating turnovers. As such this is a reasonable number to support a play on the Chiefs who figure to utilize a conservative game plan that features plenty of running and the short passing game to control the clock and keep their defense fresh. KANSAS CITY
New York Jets +9 at Buffalo Bills (40.5): The Jets will struggle to reach their historically low Season Wins Total of 4. Both teams’ defensive units figure to be their strongest units so in what handicaps as a lower than average scoring game the points loom even larger. The Jets do have a decent running game. NY JETS
Atlanta Falcons -7 at Chicago Bears (51): The Falcons are still talented but will face a Bears team that may have bottomed out last season, winning just 3 games. John Fox is a proven head coach as he begins just his third season with Chicago and his defensive background suggests his Bears will be capable of forcing the Falcons into some uncomfortable situations. CHICAGO
Jacksonville Jaguars +5 at Houston Texans (39.5): Houston addressed its own QB issues in the draft and will have one of the NFL’s best defensive linemen, J J Watt, who missed all but 3 games last season. The Texans may be the team best equipped to challenge the Patriots although that remains a daunting challenge indeed. HOUSTON
Philadelphia Eagles -1 at Washington Redskins (48): The Eagles showed promise last season behind then rookie QB Carson Wentz. The Redskins do not appear much better talent-wise entering this season and they are picked to finish last in the NFC East by most pundits. This is a small price to lay with arguably the better team, even if on the road. PHILADELPHIA
Arizona Cardinals -1.5 at Detroit Tigers (48): While Matthew Stafford has been a solid QB, the Lions have a miserable record in games against winning foes. Detroit has had one of the league’s worst running games in each of the past three seasons and the defense has also been below average. The Cardinals have the brighter prospects for this season and should get off to a winning start. ARIZONA
Oakland Raiders +2 at Tennessee Titans (51.5): Oakland won here 17-10 early last season favored by 1.5. Since the lines came out several months ago the public has been all over the high profile Raiders whereas the ‘sharps’ have been more inclined to back the hosts. Considering how even these teams were last season there is still a bit of value in backing the Titans laying under a field goal. TENNESSEE
Tampa Bay Buccaneers -2.5 at Miami Dolphins (45): Adam Gase started his Miami career 1-4 before going 9-2 to end the regular season, including winning 4 of 5 on the road. Tampa went 9-7 last season, Dirk Koetter’s first season as head coach. I will be looking to play ON both teams this season which makes taking the Dolphins as home dogs, with the line potentially hitting 3, an attractive take. MIAMI
Baltimore Ravens +3 at Cincinnati Bengals (42.5): The spot favors Cincy here against a Baltimore team that was already talent thin in several areas before significant injuries took an additional toll over the spring and summer. Baltimore appeared to bottom out two seasons ago (5-11) following an improvement to 8-8 last season. But those injuries might delay Baltimore’s return to Playoff contender status for one more season. CINCINNATI
Pittsburgh Steelers -8.5 at Cleveland Browns (46.5): Cleveland should show improvement as the season progresses with some nice young talent on both sides of the football. The Steelers have won in 3 of their last 4 trips to Cleveland, each of those wins has been by more than 14 points. The Steelers enjoy a huge QB edge with Ben Roethlisberger as well as significant edges at most other positions across the board. PITTSBURGH
Indianapolis Colts +3 at Los Angeles Rams (44.5): Even with a healthy Andrew Luck the Colts had a poor running game and that facet of their game should still be a weakness at least until Luck returns. It’s hard to envision either offense sustaining drives or having much success in big plays. Hence, the preferred play would appear to be going against both offenses. UNDER
Seattle Seahawks +3 at Green Bay Packers(50): Seattle has the better defense but the Packers have had success against that unit the past two seasons with QB Aaron Rodgers in the prime of his career. Seattle is positioned to be a leading player in the chase for the NFC Title and this game could have home field implications. Considering the venue and the caliber of both QBs the preferred play in this game would be the Total. OVER
Carolina Panthers -5.5 at San Francisco 49ers (48): The hiring of John Lynch to run football operations for the 49ers was a smart decision but one that may not translate to improved play on the field for a few seasons. Carolina rookie Christian McCaffrey should have an immediate positive impact out of the backfield with QB Cam Newton. The Panthers are poised to start this season building momentum with their favorable schedule over the first three weeks prior to their game in New England on Oct. 1. CAROLINA
New York Giants +3.5 at Dallas Cowboys (48): The major question surrounding this game is the status of Dallas RB Ezekiel Elliott. His appeal of his 6 game suspension was expected to be ruled upon early this week but the threat of court action should he not win his appeal could mean he sees action in this game. The G-men have a big edge on defense which means a matchup of strength vs. strength and weakness vs. weakness. That could present the possibility of a correlated parlay of Giants to the UNDER or the Cowboys to the UNDER. Last season saw the former cash twice. DALLAS
New Orleans Saints +3.5 at Minnesota Vikings (47.5): Saints QB Drew Brees still has some football left in him and he will be supported by solid receivers. With Sam Bradford acquired by the Vikings late last summer he did not have the proper amount of time to get fully comfortable with the Vikings’ offense of last season. He still had a fine season and should fare well here against a porous Saints defense. At a FG or more let’s march with the Saints. NEW ORLEANS
Los Angeles Chargers +3.5 at Denver Broncos (43.5): Both teams have new head coaches and if there is a hidden edge in this game it might belong to Denver whose offensive coordinator, Mike McCoy, was head coach of the Chargers for the past 4 seasons. The Chargers may end up with the better record but the edges in this season opener tend to favor the hosts. DENVER