Fearless predictions - Week 1 and the season
Sorry no blog yesterday. I flew into Atlanta a day early and encountered some massive travel problems. Sat on an airplane in Detroit for an hour with engine troubles, eventually switched planes and finally got to my hotel a couple hours later than expected. So this will be a combination of what was planned Friday and Saturday. For space reasons, we're no longer running our NFL picks in the paper so every Saturday I'll make my selections against the spread here. I do this for entertainment purposes only (so you can laugh at me), and really if you paid attention to my record last year you'd know why.
But first, we can't start a season without some fearless Lions-related predictions. I wrote in our preview section Thursday that I think the Lions are a better team than they were a year ago. They've made significant upgrades to the secondary, the defensive line, while lacking in star power, has enough depth to be a real strength, and offensively Calvin Johnson and Roy Williams might be the best receiving tandem in the league. There still are a few holes to fill, though. The front seven could use another playmaker, someone opponents have to gameplan for, and the offensive line did not have a great preseason and continues to be the weak link of that side of the ball.
I look at the schedule and see the opportunity for a 3-1 start. Games at Atlanta tomorrow and San Francisco in two weeks are both winnable, and home games against a Green Bay team starting a new quarterback (and coming off a Monday nighter) and then after a bye Chicago are must-wins in my book for any team with playoff aspirations. I say 3-1 just because it's rare teams start 4-0 in the NFL and none of those is an absolute, bet-the-mortgage lock.
The schedule gets progressively tougher and culminates with a difficult December (Minnesota, at Indy, New Orleans, at Green Bay), but the Lions should be in playoff contention throughout. At the end of the day though, I just couldn't put them in the postseason. I don't think they'll have any of the lulls they experienced last year when blowouts to San Diego and Philadelphia and Minnesota were revealing, but I still believe they're a year away from the postseason. I toyed with eight wins as my prediction, considered nine, wouldn't be shocked if it was only six, but at the end of the day I went 7-9 and can't back down from that now.
Now, for my weekly picks. All selections are made against the spread. Home teams in caps.
Home dogs who bite
BALTIMORE plus-2 over Cincinnati: At least one rookie QB wins his opener
SAN FRANCISCO plus-2 1/2 over Arizona: The Mike Martz era starts with a bang
OAKLAND plus-3 over Denver (Monday): Anxious to see JaMarcus Russell
Home covers you can't deny
NEW ENGLAND minus-15 over Kansas City: Pats were 16-0 last year
PITTSBURGH minus-6 1/2 over Houston: Steelers had league's best D in '07
BUFFALO minus-1 over Seattle: Don't sleep on the Bills this year
NEW ORLEANS minus-3 over Tampa Bay: Clash of NFC South contenders
PHILADELPHIA minus-8 over St. Louis: Eagles are making the playoffs this year
SAN DIEGO minus-9 over Carolina: LT for MVP?
INDIANAPOLIS minus-9 1/2 over Chicago: Peyton's still the best
GREEN BAY minus-2 over Minnesota (Monday): But Vikings win the division
Road warriors laying with love
NY Jets minus-3 over MIAMI: Favre can still sling it
Jacksonville minus-3 over TENNESSEE: Not feeling the Titans this year
Detroit minus-3 at ATLANTA: Lions kick things off right
Points only, please
CLEVELAND plus-6 over Dallas: Cowboys are my Super Bowl pick, but this'll be close