Another NFL season is upon us. Ya gotta love it. This is the most exciting time of year, because every NFL fan can dream of a Super Bowl (well, almost every fan), and literally millions of fantasy football enthusiasts are busy picturing their own postseason trophy ceremonies.
Optimism reigns. Heck, I even believe I can perform pretty well picking NFL games. Last season was a respectable one – 56 percent against the spread when prognosticating every game is acceptable, but not outstanding. Sixty percent is the high-water mark, with about 70 percent success straight-up being the reasonable target.
As you’ll see below, my weekly summary has changed just a little bit. Much of the same type of information and analysis, organized a little differently with a bit of an adjustment on the focus. I hope you enjoy, as I endeavor to assist you whenever and wherever I can.
Let’s get it on with the 2006 season openers…
Miami (9-7 in 2005) at Pittsburgh (15-5, Super Bowl XL champs)
Line: Steelers favored by 1 (total points line is 38)
2005 Records Against-The-Spread: Dolphins 7-9, Steelers 13-7
Strongest Trend: The last five meetings between these two have all gone under the point total.
Last Meeting: The Steelers won at Miami, 13-3, in 2004. It was QB Ben Roethlisberger’s first career start.
Dolphins Status/Injury Report: Miami comes into the game healthy, and coming off a solid preseason during which the defense allowing a total of just 69 points in four games.
Steelers Status/Injury Report: The champs, who posted a surprising 0-4 mark in the preseason, will be without Roethlisberger, who underwent an emergency appendectomy late last week. Charlie Batch will start in his place. Also, leading WR Hines Ward is slowed with leg ailments but is expected to start.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR MIAMI – RB Ronnie Brown, WR Chris Chambers, TE Randy McMichael, Dolphins defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR MIAMI – QB Daunte Culpepper, K Olindo Mare. QUALITY STARTERS FOR PITTSBURGH – RB Willie Parker, TE Heath Miller, Steelers defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR PITTSBURGH – WR Hines Ward, K Jeff Reed.
Game Summary: Without Roethlisberger, the Steelers are more vulnerable in this game. But as defending champs, on national TV, at home… I like them to secure a plodding victory.
Prediction: STEELERS, 17-10
Buffalo (5-11) at New England (11-7)
Line: Patriots favored by 9 (total points line is 41½)
2005 Records Against-The-Spread: Bills 7-9, Patriots 9-9
Strongest Trend: Patriots are 10-1 straight-up in last 11 meetings in this series.
Last Meeting: New England won at Buffalo, 35-7, in Week 14 of last season.
Bills Status/Injury Report: The Bills were 1-3 in the preseason. Virtually all key players are healthy.
Patriots Status/Injury Report: New England was 2-2, but outscored the opposition a cumulative 117-60. The Patriots will be without holdout WR Deion Branch.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR BUFFALO – RB Willis McGahee. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR BUFFALO – WR Lee Evans. QUALITY STARTERS FOR NEW ENGLAND – QB Tom Brady, RB Corey Dillon, TE Ben Watson, Patriots defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR NEW ENGLAND – K Steven Gostkowski.
Game Summary: The Bills aren’t expected to accomplish a lot this season, and I’m forecasting even less than many. The Patriots struggled against the Bills at home a year ago, winning by only five points on a late score, and another close win is in store.
Prediction: PATRIOTS, 20-13
New York Jets (4-12) at Tennessee (4-12)
Line: Titans favored by 3 (total points line is 40)
2005 Records Against-The-Spread: Jets 6-10, Titans 6-10
Strongest Trend: Titans are 4-11-1 ATS last 16 games as favorites.
Last Meeting: The Jets defeated visiting Tennessee, 24-17, on a Monday night in December of 2003.
Jets Status/Injury Report: The Jets were 2-2 in the preseason. They will be without veteran RB Curtis Martin. Derrick Blaylock is likely to start in his place with recently-obtained Kevan Barlow also getting ample work.
Titans Status/Injury Report: The Titans were 1-3 in the preseason. Billy Volek is the more likely to start at QB, but veteran Kerry Collins could still get the call. The featured RB slot is also in some doubt, between Chris Brown and Travis Henry.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR NY JETS – none. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR NY JETS – QB Chad Pennington, WR Laveranues Coles. QUALITY STARTERS FOR TENNESSEE – none. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR TENNESSEE – WR David Givens, Titans teams.
Game Summary: These teams come in under very similar circumstances, with mirroring personnel questions. And that’s the earmarks for an upset pick. I’m a fan of Pennington’s – he’s a winner but he’s injury-prone. So the visitors from Noo Yawk get the mild stunner.
Prediction: JETS, 19-17
Cincinnati (11-6) at Kansas City (10-6)
Line: Chiefs favored by 3 (total points line is 49)
2005 Records Against-The-Spread: Bengals 8-8-1, Chiefs 10-5-1
Strongest Trend: The Chiefs are 8-1 ATS in their last nine as favorites.
Last Meeting: The Chiefs routed the Bengals at home, 37-3, in last year’s regular season finale.
Bengals Status/Injury Report: Cincinnati QB Carson Palmer will start after an effective preseason stint the last two weeks. The Bengals were a perfect 4-0 in the preseason and scored 131 points.
Chiefs Status/Injury Report: Kansas City is healthy, but managed only 40 points in its four preseason games, splitting them.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR CINCINNATI – QB Carson Palmer, RB Rudi Johnson, WR Chad Johnson, K Shayne Graham. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR CINCINNATI – WR T.J. Houshmanzadeh. QUALITY STARTERS FOR KANSAS CITY – QB Trent Green, RB Larry Johnson, WR Eddie Kennison, TE Tony Gonzalez, K Lawrence Tynes.
Game Summary: Many pundits believe this will be a shootout, and if it had been scheduled a month or so down the road, I’d be inclined to agree. But both teams are better on defense than they’re typically given credit for, and Chiefs coach Herman Edwards knows how to slow a game down.
Prediction: CHIEFS, 27-20
Baltimore (6-10) at Tampa Bay (11-6)
Line: Buccaneers favored by 3 (total points line is 35½)
2005 Records Against-The-Spread: Ravens 7-9, Bucs 8-9
Strongest Trend: Tampa Bay is 4-8 ATS in its last dozen games as favorite.
Last Meeting: Tampa Bay won at Baltimore, 25-0, in September of 2002. The teams have only met twice overall (since Baltimore moved from Cleveland), and the Bucs have outscored the Ravens by a combined 47-10 to win both.
Ravens Status/Injury Report: Baltimore was 2-2 in the preseason, and all key players are ready to go.
Bucs Status/Injury Report: Tampa Bay struggled to a 1-3 preseason mark. All key players are slated to play.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR BALTIMORE – TE Todd Heap. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR BALTIMORE – QB Steve McNair, RB Jamal Lewis, WR Derrick Mason, Ravens defense. QUALITY STARTERS FOR TAMPA BAY – RB Carnell Williams, Bucs defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR TAMPA BAY – QB Chris Simms, WRs Joey Galloway and Michael Clayton.
Game Summary: Many pundits believe this will be a game ruled by the defenses… and they’re right. Tampa Bay gets the edge at home, but Baltimore is one of my darkhorses this season and an upset here wouldn’t be all that shocking.
Prediction: BUCCANEERS, 20-13
New Orleans (3-13) at Cleveland (6-10)
Line: Browns favored by 3 (total points line is 40)
2005 Records Against-The-Spread: Saints 5-10-1, Browns 8-8
Strongest Trend: The Saints are 3-8 ATS in September the last three years.
Last Meeting: Cleveland triumphed at New Orleans, 24-15, in 2002 and has won the last three meetings.
Saints Status/Injury Report: New Orleans was 1-3 in the preseason and managed only 49 points. No significant injuries to report.
Browns Status/Injury Report: Cleveland was 2-2 in the preseason. All key players are slated to play.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR NEW ORLEANS – WR Joe Horn. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR NEW ORLEANS – QB Drew Brees, RBs Deuce McAlister and Reggie Bush, K John Carney. QUALITY STARTERS FOR CLEVELAND – RB Reuben Droughns, Browns defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR CLEVELAND – WR Joe Jurevicius, TE Kellen Winslow.
Game Summary: Look out… here comes another of my mild upset picks. I like the Saints here because of the emotional optimism that comes with putting 2005 behind them, and with their chances of significantly improved offensive output led by QB Drew Brees. The Browns simply don’t impress me much on either side of the ball. Sidenote: Wouldn’t you think the NFL would be kind enough to schedule the Saints at home the first week after having to travel every week in ’05? Jugheads.
Prediction: SAINTS, 24-20
Philadelphia (6-10) at Houston (2-14)
Line: Eagles favored by 4 (total points line is 41½)
2005 Records Against-The-Spread: Eagles 5-11, Texans 7-9
Strongest Trend: Philadelphia is 7-2 ATS on the road last nine September games.
Last Meeting: Philadelphia won at home over Houston, 35-17, in 2002.
Eagles Status/Injury Report: Philadelphia was 2-3 during the exhibition season. All key players are reportedly ready to start.
Texans Status/Injury Report: Houston was 3-1 in the preseason. RB Domanick Davis is sidelined for the season – rookie Wali Lundy is expected to start.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR PHILADELPHIA – QB Donovan McNabb, RB Brian Westbrook, K David Akers, Eagles defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR PHILADELPHIA – WRs Reggie Brown and Donte’ Stallworth, and TE L.J. Smith. QUALITY STARTERS FOR HOUSTON – WR Andre Johnson. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR HOUSTON –
QB David Carr.
Game Summary: As I’ve indicated, I believe the Texans will be significantly improved from last year… but they can’t handle the Eagles just yet.
Prediction: EAGLES, 27-17
Denver (14-4) at St. Louis (6-10)
Line: Broncos favored by 3½ (total points line is 45½)
2005 Records Against-The-Spread: Broncos 12-5-1, Rams 5-11
Strongest Trend: The Rams are 3-10-1 ATS in their last 14 September contests.
Last Meeting: The Broncos downed the Rams at home, 23-16, in 2002.
Broncos Status/Injury Report: No key injuries. Denver was 3-1 in the preseason.
Rams Status/Injury Report: WR Torry Holt is probable after being sidelined with a hip flexor early in the preseason. St. Louis was 1-3 in the preseason.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR DENVER – QB Jake Plummer, K Jason Elam. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR DENVER – RBs Mike Bell and Tatum Bell, WRs Javon Walker and Rod Smith. QUALITY STARTERS FOR ST. LOUIS – QB Marc Bulger, RB Stephen Jackson, WR Torry Holt, K Jeff Wilkins. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR ST. LOUIS – WRs Isaac Bruce and Kevin Curtis.
Game Summary: The Broncos’ superior defense should be the difference in what boils down to be a close contest. The new-look Rams are still shy enough defense at this point to beat the league’s better teams.
Prediction: BRONCOS, 28-20
Seattle (15-4, NFC champs) at Detroit (5-11)
Line: Seahawks favored by 6 (total points line is 44)
2005 Records Against-The-Spread: Seahawks 11-7-1, Lions 9-7
Strongest Trend: Seahawks are 9-2 ATS past 11 during September.
Last Meeting: Seattle beat Detroit, 35-14, at Seattle in 2003.
Seahawks Status/Injury Report: WR Darrell Jackson is a tentative start for Week 1, but may see limited action. The Seahawks were 2-2 in the preseason.
Lions Status/Injury Report: Detroit’s key players are healthy. The Lions were 1-3 in the preseason.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR SEATTLE – QB Matt Hasselbeck, RB Shaun Alexander, K Josh Brown, Seahawks defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR SEATTLE – WRs Nate Burleson and Bobby Engram. QUALITY STARTERS FOR DETROIT – RB Kevin Jones, WR Roy Williams, K Jason Hanson. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR DETROIT – QB Jon Kitna, TE Marcus Pollard.
Game Summary: Will the defending NFC champs be the fifth straight Super Bowl loser to endure a losing record the following season? If so, there’s a chance the negative trend will start here. The Lions are a bit snippy at home on occasion. Instead, however, I forecast a tight defeat for the host Cats.
Prediction: SEAHAWKS, 23-19
Atlanta (8-8) at Carolina (13-6)
Line: Panthers favored by 6 (total points line is 41)
2005 Records Against-The-Spread: Falcons 8-8, Panthers 11-8
Strongest Trend: Atlanta has won 12 of the last 16 meetings in this series…
Last Meeting: … But the Panthers dominated the two meetings last year, wrapping up the regular season with a 44-11 rout at the Georgia Dome. Carolina also won at home a month earlier, 24-6
Falcons Status/Injury Report: All key players are a go. Atlanta was 2-2 in the preseason.
Panthers Status/Injury Report: WR Steve Smith is now listed as questionable after reportedly tweaking his other hamstring – not the one that was sore earlier in camp – during practice Tuesday. The Panthers enjoyed a perfect 4-0 preseason.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR ATLANTA – RB Warrick Dunn, TE Alge Crumpler. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR ATLANTA – QB Michael Vick. QUALITY STARTERS FOR CAROLINA – QB Jake Delhomme, WR Keyshawn Johnson, K John Kasay, Panthers defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR CAROLINA – RB DeShaun Foster, WR Steve Smith.
Game Summary: The Panthers will ride their momentum of a perfect preseason, combined with the knowledge and reflections of last year’s impressive sweep of the Falcons, to a rousing season-opening victory – even if Smith sits.
Prediction: PANTHERS, 30-14
Dallas (9-7) at Jacksonville (12-5)
Line: Jaguars favored by 2 1/2 (total points line is 40)
2005 Records Against-The-Spread: Cowboys 7-7-2, Jaguars 10-6-1
Strongest Trend: Jacksonville is 6-2 ATS in its last 8 home September games.
Last Meeting: Dallas edged the Jaguars at home in 2002, 21-19.
Cowboys Status/Injury Report: WR Terrell Owens appears healthy enough to start but it is unknown whether he can withstand an entire game’s worth of running and contact. K Mike Vanderjagt is listed as questionable on the injury report. Dallas was 3-0-1 in the preseason.
Jaguars Status/Injury Report: No key injuries. The Jags were 3-1 in the preseason.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR DALLAS – QB Drew Bledsoe, WR Terrell Owens, WR Terry Glenn, TE Jason Witten, Cowboys teams. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR DALLAS – RB Julius Jones. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR JACKSONVILLE – QB Byron Leftwich, RB Fred Taylor, WR Matt Jones, K Josh Scobee, Jaguars defense.
Game Summary: While I like Matt Jones’ upside potential, the Jaguars are going to miss Jimmy Smith more than even they know, especially out of the gate. The Cowboys are traditionally a successful first-week team, and I will stick with that trend against a Jaguars squad that I don’t believe is as good as last year’s regular season record would suggest.
Prediction: COWBOYS, 23-13
Chicago (11-6) at Green Bay (4-12)
Line: Bears favored by 3½ (total points line is 39)
2005 Records Against-The-Spread: Bears 9-6-2, Packers 5-9-2
Strongest Trend: Green Bay is 8-2-1 ATS in last 11 vs. Chicago.
Last Meeting: The Bears won at Green Bay last December, 24-17, to sweep the season series for only the second time in 20 years.
Bears Status/Injury Report: All key players are healthy. Chicago was 2-2 during the preseason.
Packers Status/Injury Report: The starting RB slot for the opener is still up in the air, between Ahman Green and Sam Gado, although Green is the more likely of the two to get the nod. The Packers were 1-3 in the preseason.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR CHICAGO – RB Thomas Jones, WR Muhsin Muhammad, Bears defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR CHICAGO – K Robbie Gould. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR GREEN BAY – QB Brett Favre, WR Donald Driver, TE Bubba Franks.
Game Summary: As much as I’d like to pick the Pack at home, the Chicago defense is just too good… and the Green Bay attack is too error-prone. On the other hand, it wouldn’t be a shocker if it did happen because Chicago’s offense is very second-rate.
Prediction: BEARS, 16-10
San Francisco (4-12) at Arizona (5-11)
Line: Cardinals favored by 7½ (total points line is 42)
2005 Records Against-The-Spread: 49ers 8-8, Cardinals 6-10
Strongest Trend: The 49ers have won 8 of the last 11 meetings, straight-up.
Last Meeting: The Cardinals won at San Francisco, 17-10, in early December to complete a season sweep.
49ers Status/Injury Report: No significant injuries. San Francisco was 2-2 in the preseason.
Cardinals Status/Injury Report: No key injuries. Arizona was 2-2 in the preseason.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR SAN FRANCISCO – RB Frank Gore. QUALITY STARTERS FOR ARIZONA – QB Kurt Warner, RB Edgerrin James, WRs Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, K Neil Rackers. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR ARIZONA – Cardinals defense.
Game Summary: Blowout City. The Cardinals are too potentially explosive on offense, and the defense doesn’t have very much to be worried about on the other side of the ball. Combined with the first game in a brand new stadium… Arizona starts off big.
Prediction: CARDINALS, 31-13
Indianapolis (14-3) at New York Giants (11-6)
Line: Colts favored by 3½ (total points line is 47)
2005 Records Against-The-Spread: Colts 9-8, Giants 10-6-1
Strongest Trend: The Giants have won three of the last four meetings.
Last Meeting: The Giants rolled at Indianapolis, 44-27, in December of 2002.
Colts Status/Injury Report: K Adam Vinatieri has a mild fracture in his non-kicking foot, but the latest report has him starting and assuming full duties on Sunday night. The Colts were 1-3 in the preseason.
Giants Status/Injury Report: No key injuries, although rookie WR Santorice Moss is unlikely to be a factor. The Giants were a flawless 4-0 in the preseason. The last time they did that, they went on to win the Super Bowl (1990).
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR INDIANAPOLIS – QB Peyton Manning, WRs Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR INDIANAPOLIS – RB Dominic Rhodes, TE Dallas Clark, WR Brandon Stokley, K Adam Vinatieri. QUALITY STARTERS FOR NY GIANTS – QB Eli Manning, RB Tiki Barber, WR Plaxico Burress, TE Jeremy Shockey, K Jay Feely. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR NY GIANTS – WR Amani Toomer.
Game Summary: It’s not often that a defending division champ starts off a season as a home underdog, but that’s the case here. In the Battle of Brothers Manning, Peyton will have the better numbers… but Eli will have the win because of Tiki Barber.
Prediction: GIANTS, 27-24
Minnesota (9-7) at Washington (11-7)
Line: Redskins favored by 4½ (total points line is 41½)
2005 Records Against-The-Spread: Vikings 9-7, Redskins 11-7
Strongest Trend: The Redskins have won seven of the last nine meetings.
Last Meeting: Washington edged Minnesota at home, 21-18, in the 2004 regular season finale.
Vikings Status/Injury Report: No key injuries to report. Minnesota was 2-1-1 in the preseason.
Redskins Status/Injury Report: WR Santana Moss is listed as probable, and reportedly is ready to go. RB Clinton Portis is questionable. Washington was an ugly 0-4 in the preseason and managed only 27 points including no touchdowns from the first team offense.
Fantasy Summary: MARGINAL STARTERS FOR MINNESOTA – QB Brad Johnson, RB Chester Taylor, WRs Troy Williamson and Travis Taylor, TE Jermaine Wiggins, K Ryan Longwell, Vikings defense. QUALITY STARTERS FOR WASHINGTON – WR Santana Moss, TE Chris Cooley. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR WASHINGTON – QB Mark Brunell, WR Brandon Lloyd, K John Hall, Redskins defense.
Game Summary: I’ve never put a lot of stock in preseason results, although the Redskins’ complete ineffectiveness on offense has to be a concern for head coach Joe Gibbs. Still, Gibbs has never lost to the Vikings – he’s 8-0 lifetime – and I see no real reason to believe that trend is going to change.
Prediction: REDSKINS, 20-17
San Diego (9-7) at Oakland (4-12)
Line: Chargers favored by 3 (total points line is 42)
2005 Records Against-The-Spread: Chargers 9-6-1, Raiders 5-11
Strongest Trend: San Diego is 12-5-1 ATS as a favorite last two years.
Last Meeting: The Charger won in a home romp, 34-10, last November to sweep the season series by a combined score of 61-24.
Chargers Status/Injury Report: No key injuries. San Diego was 2-2 in the preseason.
Raiders Status/Injury Report: No key injuries. The Raiders were 4-1 during the preseason.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR SAN DIEGO – RB LaDainian Tomlinson, TE Antonio Gates, K Nate Kaeding, Chargers defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR SAN DIEGO – QB Phillip Rivers, WRs Keenan McCardell and Eric Parker. QUALITY STARTERS FOR OAKLAND – RB Lamont Jordan, WR Randy Moss. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR OAKLAND – K Sebastian Janikowski, Raiders defense.
Game Summary: The Chargers have owned this series recently, particularly at Oakland. They will unquestionably miss QB Drew Brees, who has enjoyed some of his biggest games as a pro against the Raiders, but the other elements for a successful evening are in place (namely, LT).
Prediction: CHARGERS, 24-14