CINCINNATI BENGALS +1.5 AT BALTIMORE RAVENS
I remember laughing last year when I found out that the Ravens gave a $120.6 million contract to Joe Flacco after an (admittedly great) Super Bowl run. A lot of it was just my belief that Flacco was overrated, but at least he won a Super Bowl, so it was defensible, regardless of my Steeler homer reflexive Raven hatred. The Ravens suffered through the dreaded† Super Bowl hangover in 2013 though, going .500 and losing the spirited pregame speeches of noted prosecution witness Ray Lewis and dealing with a nagging hip injury from their best running back Ray Rice and a mediocre season from Flacco. We aren’t gonna say he got paid and was lazy for some reason because that only applies to some players, I dunno why (it is a mystery). It’s true the supporting cast was not up to par though, due to the aforementioned Rice injury as well as one to tight end Dennis Pitta, and the inexplicable move of trading away Anquan Boldin, one of the toughest receivers in the game, for peanuts. Pitta is back however, the Ravens have shored up their offensive line, and they signed Steve Smith, who is getting up there in years but like, how does adding him NOT improve your team? He still has a lot in the tank and he’s the kind of guy players rally around (you have to, or he will clock you). Garbage man Ray Rice is suspended for this game, we all know why, and his backup Bernard Pierce is serviceable though not as versatile. The defense was still pretty good last year and they have Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil which is a pretty fearsome pair of outside linebackers. They did lose Arthur Jones who was a great run-stopper but aside from that their defense is relatively intact. I think they’ll show that last year’s mediocre season was a fluke, much to my dismay.
Going back to the subject of contracts, Andy Dalton is going to be able to buy an Olympic-sized swimming pool full of SPF 69 million with what he was paid for what was basically great stats in the regular season. Maybe Dalton will take them to a Super Bowl someday but I just doubt it. He’s played like garbage in all 3 of the Bengals’ playoff losses and while there is a certain amount of luck involved and they could get enough breaks to make it, it could be that he’s a choker. But whatever, we’re talking about a regular season game and gambling on same, not playoff predictions. Dalton has one of the best receivers in the league, AJ Green, and a really promising young running back in Gio Bernard. They also drafted Jeremy Hill, another RB who provides a more physical complement to Bernard’s more finesse style, and the Bengals will likely lean on both. Dalton has arm strength limitations but he has more than enough weapons, knows how to use them, and the offense should be solid. There are some questions around the defense, though. If you read my compadre Espo’s Minnesota Vikings pick, you’ll see the video he posted of rookie Vikings HC Mike Zimmer and his motivational skills. The Bengals defense lost that R. Lee Ermey sounding motherfucker! I gotta think thats going to affect them somehow. Personnel-wise though, they didn’t lose much and will be getting back starters Geno Atkins and Leon Hall from injury. The Bengals should continue to be a well-rounded team with a better than average defemse.
Now, who to pick. Of course Week 1 is hard to handicap because you don’t know how a team is gonna look, even if you watch the preseason. On the other hand, Vegas doesn’t know either (but they’re better at guessing than clowns like me) so maybe you get some play in the line that you wouldn’t otherwise. I think the Ravens should be favored by another point, and consequently I’m gonna go with them. I just think that they’re the better team and will want to not lose ground to the Steelers in an important divisional game. Ravens.
THE PICK: RAVENS -1.5
TENNESSEE TITANS +3.5 AT KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
I originally liked this line when I picked it but the more I thought of it, the more unsure I was. I’m not really sure how either of these teams will do this year. The Chiefs just gave Alex Smith a big contract extension, which I don’t really see any problem with. He seemed like a bust for what felt like the better part of the part of the decade, but eventually came into his own, kind of like Bashar Assad. People who say he choked away the playoff game against the Colts by missing one pass at the end are idiots, obviously when you blow a lead that big it’s the defense’s fault. Anyway, the defense did suffer down the stretch due to losing Justin Houston, one of their bookend pass rushers along with Tamba Hali. Both are healthy now, Dontari Poe up in front is a mack truck, and apart from some questions at corner, their defense won’t be too bad. Of course, on offense they have one of the best running backs in the game in Jamaal Charles. Aside from that…I’m not really sure. Dwayne Bowe is suspended for this game (very cool how based on suspension length, getting popped for weed is 50% as bad as brutally beating a woman), so aside from him, there is not much -† Donnie Avery and that’s it. Second year TE Travis Kelce is getting a lot of buzz but is basically rookie after missing all of last season with injury. They also have a shaky situation on their offensive line and really no proven playmakers aside from Charles. KC is an enigma.
Tennessee is another team where it’s hard to say what they’ll look like. I didn’t really like Jake Locker at all coming out of college but when he’s not injured he’s looked like a decent QB. New coach Ken Whisenhunt is great with quarterbacks and I think he could really take advantage of Locker’s potential (again, if he avoids injury). He has an OK supporting cast around him, Nate Washington and Delanie Walker are reliable at the WR and TE position, Kendall Wright has been a catch machine (also, the Titans said that they were planning on using him more on deep routes to take advantage of his speed) and Justin Hunter could really blow up in his second year – he’s big, strong, and fast enough to be an elite receiver and was just starting to catch fire at the end of the season. They have Shone Greene at running back, who’s…about as “just OK” as it gets, and drafted Bishop Sankey in the offseason. Everyone is just assuming Sankey will be good and get a lot of carries but reports on him have been mixed, we’ll just have to wait and see. The O-line is mediocre, though Taylor Lewan, who they drafted with the 11th pick, could shore that up at right guard. The defense…ehh. They’re switching to a 3-4 so we have no way of knowing how quickly it’ll take for the players to adapt, and they lost their best cornerback in free agency. Short answer: who the fuck knows.
Two teams with questions at crucial positions, undergoing defensive system changes, new head coaches? I’ll just take the points. Titans.
THE PICK: TITANS +3.5
WASHINGTON CLOWNS IN CONGRESS, WHAT A BUNCH OF CLOWNS +3 AT HOUSTON TEXANS
Dan Snyder is bad, folks. I’d list all the infuriating things he did in the offseason, from trying to bribe an Indian tribe with a free skatepark, to starting a “RedskinsFacts” (think 9/11Truth) campaign, to personally executing hundreds of people on behalf of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, but the owner of this website would go broke from the resultant bandwidth fees. He sucks. Just wanted to get that out of the way. Back to football, the team was not good last year. Mike Shanahan gambling with RGIII’s career to save his own didn’t pay off, he was shit-canned and Griffin sucked all season until he got benched. The team made an effort to turn things around by adding o-linemen in the draft and free agency – if that pans out, it’ll help running back Alfred Morris, who also couldn’t do anything last year. They hired Jay Gruden, who has a reputation for working well with young quarterbacks, so if RGIII keeps from getting injured again he has an opportunity to bounce back. The rest of the pieces around him are good – Pierre Garcon is a quality receiver and Jordan Reed is one of the best young tight ends in the NFL. They also signed DeSean Jackson, and we know what we’ll get from him – a deep threat, big play guy who is prone to injury. A player like that does serve the additional purpose of drawing coverage away from the other players, so he can only help. The [redacted] defense, if I had to guess I’d say it’ll be below average. Though they do have one of my favorite players, DeAngelo Hall, a classy, throwback player to the days of football before “trap hip-hop” and “gold tooth rap grills” and “migos,” and a great pair of pass rushers in Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, but the rest of their defense is old, mediocre, or unproven. The season is going to depend how RGIII does, because I don’t think they’ll be able to rely on their defense.
The [racial slur]s get to play another team that was absolutely god-awful last season in the Houston Texans. The Texans aren’t a bad team though, it was just that Matt Schaub completely forgot how to play football and they were forced to start an undrafted rookie. That said, I don’t really know that they made good moves at QB. They traded away the aforementioned rookie, Case Keenum, who, while he looked every bit the undrafted rookie that he was, showed some potential. They added Ryan Fitzpatrick who should be nothing more than a career backup/stop-gap solution. I guess they figured they can hold out for a QB next year. They also added Ryan Mallett from the Pats, who has a strong arm and is pretty mobile for his size but showed so little in game action that the Pats felt comfortable dealing him and having a rookie back up Brady. The new head coach, Bill O’Brien, does engender confidence though. He made what he could out of an impossible situation at Penn State, in his words “trying to field the most competitive football team I can with near-death penalty fucking sanctions” while dealing with dead-ender insane Paterno loyalists, fixed what he could, and got the fuck out. He somehow made Matt McGloin into a passable NFL QB and if anyone can bring out the best in the Houston QBs, it’s him. Aside from the QBs, they have Arian Foster who by all accounts has looked recovered from injury, and are keeping Andre Johnson around for a while with a new contract. The Texans defense is what everyone wants to see though. In addition to JJ Watt, who we all know and fear, the Texans drafted one of the best defensive prospects in years in Jadaveon Clowney. He got the usual criticism and nitpicking about his work ethic in the run-up to the draft, but once the preseason began he immediately looked like the physical freak that we all expected he’d be. Clowney on the other side of the line from Watt? Griffin’s ACLs have probably started aching already. The rest of the Texan’s defense has some deficiencies at linebacker, but they have a good secondary. Like I said, they weren’t lacking talent at anywhere last year except QB.
I like the Texans in this game. Fitzpatrick isn’t a long-term solution but I’d take him to win one game with a solid team around him. He should be able to move the ball on the Washington’s suspect defense. We’ll quickly find out if they’ve solved their protection woes if Watt and Clowney meet at RGIII on the first play. I like Griffin and I hope he bounces back but I wouldn’t bet on him until I’ve seen him in action. I’ll take the better defense and QB in this one.
THE PICK: TEXANS -3
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS -4.5 AT MIAMI DOLPHINS
THE PICK: PATS -4
OAKLAND RAIDERS +5.5 AT NEW YORK JORTS
SAN FRANCISCO 49ers -4.5 AT DALLAS COWBOYS
Oh God, I have no idea what Iím doing. †The boys were kind enough to invite me to do these picks because they know Iíve been betting baseball every day for the last few months and am about to have that cruelly pulled out from under me, and what am I supposed to do during the offseason, not bet on stuff? That would be absurd. †Look, most girls I know know more about football than me. †I read Dank, Dick and Espoís win total predictions, was filled with anxiety and immediately considered backing out as allowing a man of my football ignorance to participate would make a mockery of everything the Ruthless Pick ĎEm League stands for. But then I realized something: if I can amass a better record than at least one of these guys knowing fuck-all about any of the 32 teams, especially Dick as heís actually written about this shit for a living, it would be extremely funny. †Iíd be like the kid who beats everybody at Mortal Kombat by showing up to the arcade and just mashing the buttons for two hours. †So there you have it: my purpose for being here, as anyoneís purpose for being anywhere should be, is first and foremost for the lulz. †And look, itís entirely possible by the end of the season I will begin to vaguely resemble someone who sort of knows what heís talking about. If thereís one way to motivate oneself to learn about something itís to put a few bucks on it. †I didnít know dick about baseball in April but now I am the proud owner of like eight Excel spreadsheets converting sabermetric pitcher stats into win probabilities in order to inform my dirty, dirty gambling habit. †Anyway, I try to listen to a couple football podcasts in my car and look at a few websites just so I do not look like a total ignoramus when Iím typing these picks and it seems to be the consensus that while the Vikings suck, they are supposed to suck less this year. †Also, if thereís anything Iíve learned making several hundred sports bets itís that no one knows what the fuck is going to happen so you may as well find an underdog you like.
THE PICK: VIKINGS +3
At the very least I can assure you I am Googling these picks to make sure my predictions are shared by actual people who are paid to pay attention to this shit. †In keeping with my ďFind underdogs who have the best chance to coverĒ theme, there seems to be a lot of support for San Diego. They finished last season hot, folks! They are a football squadron that has exhibited a proclivity for scoring points on the football field! This is actually a pretty interesting writing exercise, being asked to write about a topic about which one is defiantly uninformed. You know, what it reminds me of is how in 12th grade I gave a 20-minute book report on a book that I had neither read nor had it ever actually been written. †I wish I had a video of it to embed here because it was masterful. †I even saw clear signs of emotion on my teacherís face as I talked about the chapter where the protagonistís beloved pet cow died in a flood. †Later on in that same class I got a B+ on a paper by copy and pasting the same three paragraphs several times so as to create the illusion Iíd written five pages. †Come to think of it I donít think that teacher really gave much of a fuck about that class actually.
THE PICK: CHARGERS +3
I can give you the same guarantee with this pick as I did with the last which is I spent eight minutes searching the internet and lots of football-talking guys think Cincinnati has a legitimate chance of winning. †Hey, I actually know a thing about this game, too! †Baltimore is at a disadvantage because Ray Rice is suspended for violating the league rule that says you are not allowed to beat Ray Riceís girlfriend. †††Look, Dank, Dick and Espo are cool dudes to ask me to join this thing as a kind of detox program for my baseball betting habit, and to repay them I pledge to talk as much shit as possible if I manage to correctly pick more games than any of them despite only knowing which players play which position if theyíve yelled it in a postgame interview ala Richard Sherman. †Jesus, I donít even know if I can bring myself to put any of my actual money on this ill-informed malarkey of mine. †Ahh, who am I kidding, arenít we all here to make Sundays more exciting? †Go Fightiní Bengalis!
THE PICK: BENGALS +1
The Saints have one of the best offenses in football and the Falcons are porous and getting older. The Saints are also 13-3 against Atlanta since Sean Payton took over the show and Drew Brees has no less than nine viable weapons he can deploy including five interchangeable receivers and three running backs. Oh, and Jimmy Graham is officially the best tight end in football. It doesn’t hurt that Atlanta is, well, not good. Injuries aside, that little trip to the NFC title game a couple years back is illustrative of where they may stand in the grand scheme of things. Sure, Matt Ryan is solid, but do you look at him and think, ďnow, THAT’S a Super Bowl quarterbackĒ? Does their running game make you feel like they can control the tempo when it’s Stephen Jackson’s creaky legs and Jacquizz Rodgers and his gaudy career 3.6 YPC? Oh, did we mention their offensive line is already getting hit with injuries? Never mind that the only good news is that they get Julio Jones back? Not good omens at all. Besides, can you honestly see the Saints not being able to pick apart the Falcons all day and hang 30 points on them with relative ease? Sure, the public is probably going to end up being around 75-80 percent on them, but the Saints are the play every time.
THE PICK: SAINTS -3
Here’s your new look Lions! They have a new head coach! They have a two-headed monster in the backfield! Speaking of which Joique Bell could take over the show around week four if he can really bang between the tackles, catch some passes, and steal most or all of Reggie Bush’s thunder. They still have Megatron! Golden Tate got paid! The defense is still staffed by guys who are head hunters and cheap shot artists, but if the NFL’s little meetings with Ndamukong Suh about his, ahem, ďstyle of playĒ had any effect on his habit of trying to break people’s legs, these guys could win between 11-13 games if and only if Jim Caldwell can get them to cut the penalties and turnovers. The Giants have been a mess for the better part of the last five years. There was massive turnover on the offensive line and Ben McAdoo came over from Green Bay to install a new offense. The defense is still mediocre if not just plain bad, but if Eli and company can score points, they’ll keep a lot of games close. Speaking of which, I’m alright with Detroit being favored at home, but they feel more like a three-point favorite. But if it really is 70-percent of the public taking the Lions in their home opener, I’m zigging where they zag and taking the Giants at almost a touchdown on the road because it just seems like it’s too easy and dumb. Pay attention people, Vegas knows that tons of casual gamblers (and we are just barely a tiny half notch above the public) will go heavy on home favorites in the first week. Don’t be one of those guys and take the Giants.
THE PICK: GIANTS +5.5
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS +10.5 AT PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
There’s always danger in laying a touchdown or more against anyone in the NFL. It’s not like the Jaguars aren’t deserving of some skepticism considering they were all-time awful for the first 11 games last season, but after they had some massive spreads laid on them and every sports writer in America started pig piling on them they showed a ton of sack and covered spreads and won a few games even though they were showcasing Chad Henne at quarterback. Now they have traded MJD for Toby Gerhart and their defense has some decent players, but they get to face Chip Kelly’s pinball offense that sometimes flails and sometimes looks downright transformative. I really don’t know which offense shows up, but I expect Jacksonville to be game. I wouldn’t be too worried about Shady’s turf toe or busted thumb, but I would watch out for Folk having a potential sophomore slump after putting up an all-time level TD-INT ration last year. None of that really scares me, but knowing that it’s the first week of the season and the bookmakers are already getting so much action on the Eagles that they have to boost the spread to draw money to the Jags makes me think the public is doing its usual GO HEAVY ON THE FAVORITES bullshit that happens at the start of every season. Fuck that, my gut, heart, and brain all say to avoid that big spread (same thing in Denver, by the way) and bet that the Jags show up and keep it close enough to give the public a nice square kick in the pants.
THE PICK: JAGUARS +10.5