Will 49ers be able to cover spread in opener against Green Bay?

Sep 7, 2013 10:08 PM

The first week of the NFL season, as usual, is full of questions.

For instance, will the 49ers be able to overcome the powerful Week 1 Super Bowl loser’s funk and cover the spread in its opener against Green Bay?

How long will Eagles QB Michael Vick last before leaving the field on a gurney? Last year at this time, he already had busted ribs and an injured thumb. And that was after only 12 plays in exhibition games.

And has there ever been a worse matchup than the Chiefs-Jaguars to open a season?

Anyway, now for a closer look at Week 1 games:

PRO FOOTBALL – SUNDAY, SEPT. 8

New England Patriots (0-0) at Buffalo Bills (0-0)

Time: 10 a.m. PDT

Line: Patriots by 10 (51 total)

Facts: Rookie EJ Manuel of Buffalo sat out the second half of camp after knee surgery but will start … For what it’s worth: NE’s Tom Brady was the NFL’s second-most accurate passer this summer (at least 30 passes) at 77.3 percent while breaking in a new receiving corps. Manuel was No. 1 (78.8) … Buffalo blew a 14-point third-quarter lead at home to the Pats last year in a 52-28 loss … These teams have flown past the “over” by at least 10 points their past four meetings.

Analysis: It’s apparent the Bills already are in trouble under center because of the inexperience of Manuel, who will be attempting to match wits with the Patriots boss Bill Belichick. But, FYI, the Patriots were only 2-2 ATS (3-1 SU) against rookie QB starters last year. What could be extra difficult for Buffalo will be foiling Brady, for the Bills likely will be without standout CB Stephon Gilmore (out, wrist) and safety Jairus Byrd (doubtful, foot/pouting over contract).

Forecast: Patriots 45, Bills 21

Cincinnati Bengals (0-0) at Chicago Bears (0-0)

Time: 10 a.m. PDT

Line: Bears by 3 (41½)

Facts: Bears WR Brandon Marshall, who had 118 catches for 1,509 yards last year, has fussed with a hip ailment all summer but vows to play … Cincinnati, which bolstered its run game with second-round pick RB Giovani Bernard, averaged a league-best 5.4 yards on the ground this summer … Cutler targeted Marshall 194 times last season, 134 more than any other receiver (RB Matt Forte. 60) … The Bengals are 12-5-2 ATS on the road dating to late 2011 under QB Andy Dalton.

Analysis: Ever since Cutler bemoaned the fact that the offense being introduced by first-year coach Marc Trestman was too much to digest in short order, it’s probably safe to assume the Bears will have a vanilla look in the early going. Of course, their offensive line has been notoriously awful the past few seasons, so that doesn’t bode well no matter how Chicago tries to work against the fierce pass-rush unit led by Geno Atkins. The Bengals, meanwhile, have a better and more balanced attack.

Forecast: Bengals 21, Bears 16

Miami Dolphins (0-0) at Cleveland Browns (0-0)

Time: 10 a.m. PDT

Line: Browns by 1 (41)

Facts: The 5.1 passer rating for Cleveland’s Brandon Weeden in last year’s opener against Philadelphia was the worst for any starter in a game last year. And that Eagles unit wound up 31st in the league … Miami QB Ryan Tannehill wasn’t much better in his Week 1 rookie debut, when six of his passes were batted down … The Browns are 1-13 in openers since being reborn in 1999 … Puzzling: Last season, Weeden had 5 TDs and 12 INTs in home games, but it was 9-5 on the road.

Analysis: Cleveland RB Trent Richardson played half of last season with broken ribs, but now he’s healthy and ready to trample folks. But will new Browns coach Rob Chudzinski allow him to do much damage? There apparently weren’t too many tears in Carolina when “Chud” left his offensive coordinator job with the Panthers to head north because of his play-calling. But maybe he learned his lesson and will let a team play to its strength.

Forecast: Browns 20, Dolphins 16

Atlanta Falcons (0-0) at New Orleans Saints (0-0)

Time: 10 a.m. PDT

Line: Saints by 3 (54½)

Facts: From 1984-1999, Atlanta was 16-0 ATS in the Superdome (11-5 SU). But in recent years, Saints coach Sean Payton, who returns to the sideline after his BountyGate suspension, is 6-2 overall vs. Falcons boss Mike Smith (4-4 ATS) … The Falcons held four of the league’s top-rated passers to their worst game of the season in 2012 (based on passer rating). Included was Saints QB Drew Brees, who had a 37.6 reading in a 23-13 loss in Atlanta in Week 13. 

Analysis: Payton and the Saints had a special magic in the Dome two seasons ago when they went 9-0 ATS. That crowd could come into play in a big way here as Atlanta’s rebuilt offense line tries to get off on the snap in the din. Plus, there’s a lot of inexperience in the Falcons’ secondary. So, although Atlanta could well become the division’s first repeat champion, on this day it should be all Saints.

Forecast: Saints 38, Falcons 28

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-0) at New York Jets (0-0)

Time: 10 a.m. PDT

Line: Buccaneers by 3½ (39½)

Facts: The Geno Smith era starts for NYJ, one of two rookie QB starters in Week 1 … The Jets are 9-1 overall vs. the Bucs in their history, including 6-0 at home. Included was a 62-28 win in 1985, the most points New York ever scored … Buc alarm bells: Starting QB Josh Freeman threw 26 passes this summer, but was sacked 9 times …Flashback: On opening day 2009, Jets rookie QB Mark Sanchez led NYJ to a 24-7 win at Houston as a 4½-point ’dog. He’s out for this one (shoulder). 

Analysis: The Jets have to pick their poison in attacking Tampa Bay’s defense. They can ease the load on Smith by letting the running game bang heads with a unit that allowed a league-low 3½ yards a rush last year. Or, they can let Smith throw against a beefed-up second that features ex-NYJ standout Darrelle Revis (probable, knee). Yikes! If things turn a sour for Rex Ryan’s team, the Jets will wish they had opened on the road.

Forecast: Bucs 23, Jets 13

Tennessee Titans (0-0) at Pittsburgh Steelers (0-0)

Time: 10 a.m. PDT

Line: Steelers by 7 (42)

Facts: Tennessee beat Pittsburgh 26-23 last season, getting 359 yards against the Steelers’ top-rated defense, its second worst yield of the season. But veteran Matt Hasselback led the victors, not current guy Jake Locker … Ben Roethlisberger had 363 air yards in that meeting, his second-highest total of the season. He’s missing departed WR Mike Wallace, though …Pittsburgh will be without top RB Le’Veon Bell, a 6-foot-1, 244-pound bulldozer. For this week, the start goes to Isaac Redman, who said he thought he might get cut.

Analysis: During summer games, it appeared every time Big Ben dropped back he was in a fire drill. Tennessee, meanwhile, has adopted a more physical persona and finally has its offensive line back intact. Late last year, for instance, the Titans were down to one starter from its opening-day lineup and had dipped to their fourth-string center. Tennessee could be a worthy money-line pick in this one, but here’s a more conservative vote for the Titans. 

Forecast: Steelers 26, Titans 24

Minnesota Vikings (0-0) at Detroit Lions (0-0)

Time: 10 a.m. PDT

Line: Lions by 5 (46½)

Facts: In last year’s meeting in Detroit, the Vikings won 20-13 without scoring an offensive TD – scores instead came off a punt and kickoff … They were two of a league-high 10 return TDs the Lions yielded last season … Vikings RB Adrian Peterson totaled 273 yards and averaged 5.7 a carry in two games against Detroit in 2012. On the whole, though, his norm was 6.0 a carry last year … New Detroit RB Reggie Bush averaged only 1.2 yards a rush this summer, but had 10 catches for 147 yards.

Analysis: Minnesota QB Christian Ponder remains a big question as he enters his third year. Hope was high when he was the league’s eighth rated QB through four games in 2012 and was the only starting passer without an INT. But he tumbled to 21st by year’s end and in one particularly gruesome game averaged 1.7 yards a throw in a loss in noisy Seattle. It’s going to be noisy in Detroit, too, and maybe that’s a hang-up for him, considering his team didn’t get an offensive TD there last year. 

Forecast: Lions 28, Vikings 17

Oakland Raiders (0-0) at Indianapolis Colts (0-0)

Time: 10 a.m. PDT

Line: Colts by 10 (47)

Facts: Terrelle Pryor gets the surprising start for Oakland after Matt Flynn (sacked 7 times on 27 dropbacks this summer) again failed to live up to a big contract and lost the job handed to him in the spring … Oakland is 2-8 ATS in its past 10 jet-lag games (early time slot in ET Sunday games) … … Various stat packages list Andrew Luck as the most battered QB in the league last year with regard to “hits.” ... FYI: Indy QBs had a league-low 5 completions of 20-plus yards in practice games.

Analysis: Oakland doesn’t seem to have a prayer with a third-year QB who’s had only one start (13-for-28, 150 yards) and will be cringing behind a fourth-string left tackle and an undrafted guy playing at guard. RB Darren McFadden might not find any running room either, especially against a revitalized Indy defense that has 5 new starters and a visible swagger. With a year’s experience, Luck should have even more success with a team he led to 11 wins last year.

Forecast: Colts 30, Raiders 9

Seattle Seahawks (0-0) at Carolina Panthers (0-0)

Time: 10 a.m. PDT

Line: Seahawks by 3½ (45)

Facts: Seattle QB Russell Wilson finished with the fourth-best norm of 7.93 yards per throw last season. Through three weeks, though, he was at a league-worst 5.79 … Carolina had as many defensive scores as offensive this summer (four). Its 2.8 yards a rush was worst in the league … Seattle fans, meanwhile, shouldn’t get overheated that the Seahawks went 4-0 this summer and held foes to 36 points, the fewest by anyone the past five summers. After all, the 2008 Lions gave up only 32 points that summer before going 0-16 in real games.

Analysis: Both teams could easily lose. It’s an East Coast jet-lag game for the Seahawks, who could be hurting along the defensive front because of a string of injuries. But the Panthers have what has been described as a patchwork offensive line that struggled to open running lanes. Tipping the scales in Seattle’s favor will be their ball-control offense behind dynamo RBs Marshawn Lynch and rookie Christine Michael from Texas A&M, who averaged 5 yards on 40 carries in the preseason. 

Forecast: Seahawks 27, Panthers 17

Kansas City Chiefs (0-0) at Jacksonville Jaguars (0-0)

Time: 10 a.m. PDT

Line: Chiefs by 4 (42)

Facts: This meeting between two teams that went 2-14 last year incredibly doesn’t qualify as the worst opening matchup in league history. That honor goes to the 1940 showdown between the Chicago Cardinals and Steelers in Pittsburgh, when the teams entered with a cumulative 2-19-1 mark from the previous season. Naturally, they tied 7-7 … There might be good news for Jacksonville if QB Blaine Gabbert (thumb, game-time decision) is replaced by vet Chad Henne.

Analysis: One of the basic tenets learned in forecasting school is to avoid riding the back of a team coming off a 14-loss season, especially when it opens on the road as four-point favorite. The Chiefs didn’t look good this summer in giving up a league-high 21 sacks -- and getting trapped has always been new QB Alex Smith’s Achilles’ heel. So, new Jacksonville coach Gus Bradley just might have his Jags, including RB Maurice Jones-Drew, primed for an upset.

Forecast: Jaguars 21, Chiefs 17

Arizona Cardinals (0-0) at St. Louis Rams (0-0)

Time: 1:25 p.m. PDT

Line: Rams by 4½ (41½)

Facts: Jeff Fisher’s Rams were 11-3 ATS as an underdog last season, but 0-2 as a favorite … The Cardinals were 4-0 when they visited St. Louis last year as a 1-point choice. Their humiliating 17-3 loss, which included 9 sacks, ignited their 1-11 season-ending death spiral. …Arizona, which shuffled in and out four QBs last year, are going with ex-Bengal and Raider Carson Palmer in 2013 … St. Louis had more infractions than any team this summer with 43.

Analysis: Can’t see a Rams offense that’s missing its top two receivers from last year and its linchpin RB (Steven Jackson) after eight straight 1,000-yard seasons, having its sea legs in the first week. Especially considering the team scored more than 20 points only six times last year and will be facing a defense that caused 11 turnovers this summer,.

Forecast: Cardinals 20, Rams 17

Green Bay Packers (0-0) at San Francisco 49ers (0-0)

Time: 1:25 p.m. PDT

Line: 49ers by 4½ (49)

Facts: Since 2000, the loser in the previous season’s Super Bowl (SF in this case) has gone 1-12 ATS in the next campaign’s opener (3-10 SU). But that win came last year when New England routed Tennessee … In last year’s divisional round, the 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick ran for a QB playoff record 181 yards in a 45-31 win. Green Bay, though, was without two of its starting linebackers. San Fran also whipped the Pack in the season opener at Lambeau behind since-departed QB Alex Smith, 30-22.

Analysis: The Packers have famously been studying the read option all summer to prepare to face Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III the first two weeks. That doesn’t mean, though, their personnel will get the job done. What could be of equal concern for Green Bay is its offense. Maybe its league-low two offensive TDs in exhibitions is an aberration. But for sure, their inexperienced tackles will be in over their heads against the 49ers’ ferocious front seven.

Forecast: 49ers 35, Packers 20

New York Giants (0-0) at Dallas Cowboys (0-0)

Time: 5:30 p.m.

Line: Cowboys by 3½ (49½)

Facts: Last season these teams also played in prime time in Week 1, when Dallas won in Jersey 24-17 as a 3½-point underdog, snapping a 12-game winning streak for defending championship teams in openers … Dallas was 0-6 ATS as a home choice last year, losing three of those games outright. Over the past three seasons, that home ATS mark is 3-16 … The Giants, meanwhile, are 4-0 in the JerryDome (4-0 ATS, too) since it opened … In Dallas’ final five games last season, the Cowboys forced foes to zero three-and-outs. In their previous 27, that occurred once. Well, that resulted in DC Rob Ryan getting fired.

Analysis: Although New York has its own injury woes, with WR Victor Cruz nursing an injured heel and RB Andre Brown out with a broken leg, the Cowboys might be in worse shape with NT Jay Ratliff out and DE Anthony Spencer doubtful. Thus, Dallas won’t have its usual pass-rush push. Plus, the Cowboys’ offensive line is a mess, especially with all the injuries and inexperience at guard. 

Forecast: Giants 31, Cowboys 21

PRO FOOTBALL – MONDAY, SEPT. 9

Philadelphia Eagles (0-0) at Washington Redskins (0-0)

Time: 4 p.m. PDT

Line: Redskins by 3½ (52)

Facts: Robert Griffin III gets the start at QB (knee surgery last winter) for the Redskins opposite Michael Vick, who will direct Philly’s rapid-fire attack under Chip Kelly … When the Eagles visited D.C. last year, RG3 had a perfect passer rating – the only one by a starting QB the past two seasons … In 2012, Washington became the second team in history to win a division after four straight last-place finishes. Chicago did in 2001. The next year the Bears dropped to 4-12.

Analysis: There are major concerns for both teams: For Philly, how will the defense adjust to transition to the 3-4. Plus, Vick seems to be turnover waiting to happen. In fact, in last year’s opener, he pitched 4 INTs vs. Browns unit missing four starters. For the Redskins, how will the league’s oldest defense keep up with Kelly’s up-tempo attack? And will Griffin be a watered-down version of his dynamic self. The Eagles warrant an edge with their solid offensive line and RB LeSean McCoy.

Forecast: Eagles 28, Redskins 24

Houston Texans (0-0) at San Diego Chargers (0-0)

Time: 7:15 p.m.

Line: Texans by 3 (46)

Facts: The Texans were already a great defense before getting 2009 Rookie of the Year LB Brian Cushing (knee) back to join pass-rush phenom J.J. Watt (20½) and a stout secondary … San Diego QB Philip Rivers had five games with at least 2 fumbles last year, the most for any QB in the league … More good news for Houston is that star RB Arian Foster, who sat out with summer with calf and back issues, was a full go in practice.

Analysis: The Chargers have been in a steady decline since their four-year reign as AFC West champs ended in 2010. Not coincidentally, Rivers is coming off his worst two seasons and didn’t appear to improve this summer. How rotten was he? His 48.3 rating, which placed him 107th among passers with at least one throw, was only one notch above (gasp!) Tim Tebow. A gigantic dose of blame goes to an offensive line that is among the worst in the league. Chargers fans could be leaving in droves in the third quarter.

Forecast: Texans 31, Chargers 10

Forecast history at Gaming Today:

2012 season: 130-126-6 (.508) ATS; 154-112 SU (.601)

2011 season: 136-121-9 (.531 ATS; 156-110 SU (.609).

“Popular” Bob Christ has been forecasting NFL games for more than 30 years. His work has appeared in newspapers from coast to coast in Canada and the U.S. Contact him at [email protected].

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