Rick Weegman column: New picker with same old problem
A new Rick steps into the Pigskin Picks column this year, but rest assured he has the same demons haunting him as the old Rick. While new editor-in-chief and former sports editor Rick Lubbers lives through a perpetual "Groundhog Day" of waking up...
A new Rick steps into the Pigskin Picks column this year, but rest assured he has the same demons haunting him as the old Rick.
While new editor-in-chief and former sports editor Rick Lubbers lives through a perpetual “Groundhog Day” of waking up to the same theme of his Detroit Lions failing to fulfill their promise every year, I’m stuck with being a Minnesota Vikings fan the past 40-plus years and watching them put my heart through a meat-grinder.
To make matters worse, we’ve both had to watch division rivals Green Bay and Chicago achieve success at our teams’ cost, and there’s no indication that things will change this year. But here’s to hoping.
Hope is the optimum word for the Week 1 selections:
Green Bay (8-7-1 last season) at Seattle (13-3): The last time these teams met, the “Immaculate Deception” occurred, with Golden Tate hoodwinking replacement referees into thinking he scored a legitimate TD. Tate isn’t around Seattle anymore and neither are the scabs. Don’t be surprised if these teams meet again in January and this game could help decide if it’s played on a frozen tundra. A healthy Aaron Rodgers has Eddie Lacy and Jordy Nelson to turn to against the league’s top defense. Super Bowl champions usually find it difficult to repeat and Russell Wilson’s luck might finally run low, though he has Marshawn Lynch, Percy Harvin, Richard Sherman and others to help him out. Expect a thrilling finish, with Rodgers throwing Sherman’s way in the final seconds.
Line: Seahawks by 6
Rick’s Pick: Packers 24, Seahawks 21
Minnesota (5-10-1) at St. Louis (7-9): The Vikings addressed their most serious needs in the offseason when they hired defensive-minded Mike Zimmer as coach and drafted Teddy Bridgewater at QB. Zimmer will turn around a leaky stop unit that allowed nearly 400 yards per game a season ago. If Adrian Peterson stays healthy and Matt Cassel isn’t Christian Ponder revisited, Minnesota will surprise fellow NFC playoff contenders. With QB Sam Bradford on the shelf again, St. Louis turns to Shaun Hill (really?) to lead them. Jeff Fisher, one of the best coaches in the league, will need to find a running game with Zac Stacy and hope rookie DT Aaron Donald helps plug the holes.
Line: Rams by 4
Rick’s Pick: Vikings 24, Rams 17
New Orleans (11-5) at Atlanta (4-12): Are the Saints turning into a defensive team? With the offense slipping 75 yards and 10 points per game from a couple years ago, it’s a good thing they brought in Rob Ryan last year to transform a leaky defense into a top-flight unit. No opponents recorded a
season-high in yards last year compared to 11 times in 2012, which is key with QB Drew Brees not getting any younger. No team slipped as far as the Falcons did, winning 10 fewer games than the year before. But the NFL has a way of evening out injuries and turnovers so expect a return to glory in the Deep South. The turnaround will have to start somewhere else, however, as the Saints have won four out of their last five trips to the Georgia Dome.
Line: Saints by 2½
Rick’s Pick: Saints 23, Falcons 20
Jacksonville (4-12) at Philadelphia (10-6): Eagles coach Chip Kelly made an immediate impact on the NFL with his fast-paced offensive attack and Year 2 should bring more of the same. QB Nick Foles (29 TDs, 2 interceptions) transformed a lackluster 3-5 team into a 7-1 team down the stretch and brings back the league’s leading rusher in LeSean McCoy, a healthy WR Jeremy Maclin and dynamic third-down back/return man Darren Sproles. The Jaguars morphed from a winless joke the first half of the season into a legitimate opponent the second half in Gus Bradley’s first season as coach. Improvement is tied to the development of rookie QB Blake Bortles and Adrian Peterson’s former backup, Toby Gerhart. Closer than the experts think.
Line: Eagles by 10½
Rick’s Pick: Eagles 27, Jaguars 20
Cleveland (4-12) at Pittsburgh (8-8): Unfortunately the most dynamic college player to hit the NFL in a generation, Johnny Manziel, is with the least-dynamic team in the league. Manziel is star material, but only on another team. Plus, he’s backing up Brian Hoyer, which will make him the most popular man in Cleveland once the Browns head toward another losing season. Starting in the Steel City, where they never win, isn’t doing them any favors. The Steelers are coming off back-to-back .500 seasons and need to open up more holes for their RBs and block better for longtime QB Ben Roethlisberger. They will do both against the inept Browns.
Line: Steelers by 6½
Rick’s Pick: Steelers 24, Browns 10
Oakland (4-12) at N.Y. Jets (8-8): Similarly underperforming teams with quarterback controversies brewing and coaches on the hot seat meet in Week 1. The Raiders’ Dennis Allen is an underwhelming 8-24 in two years - more than enough to get fired if Al Davis were still around - and that .250 win percentage could get worse with rookie Derek Carr battling the human turnover machine, Matt Schaub, at QB and a host of washed-up players joining the roster. Jets coach Rex Ryan barely made it through a third consecutive non-winning campaign and has his own troubles at QB deciding between Geno Smith and Michael Vick. The Jets add in better talent with Eric Decker and Chris Johnson, plus the Raiders have to deal with an early kickoff on the East Coast.
Line: Jets by 4½
Rick’s Pick: Jets 30, Raiders 17
Cincinnati (11-5) at Baltimore (8-8): Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, Giovani Bernard. The Bengals’ roster is talented enough to contend for a Super Bowl berth, but the team made it 23 straight years without a playoff win by falling at home to San Diego. That talent, plus a solid draft means it’s a make-or-break year for 12th-year head coach Marvin Lewis. Starting out at a site where they haven’t won since 2009 doesn’t make it any easier. The Ravens went from champs to chumps and need Joe Flacco to play like a $120 million QB and RB Ray Rice to stay out of trouble. The suspended Rice won’t be here for this one so the defense needs to step up. Baltimore played nine games decided by a field goal or less in 2013 and survives here.
Line: Ravens by 1½
Rick’s Pick: Ravens 20, Bengals 17
Buffalo (6-10) at Chicago (8-8): The Bills drafted speedster Sammy Watkins, giving them one of the league’s top young receiving corps. Now will E.J. Manuel be able to hit them? If not, expect a good dose of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson if Buffalo expects to top six wins for the first time since 2008. The Bears have no trouble winning early in the season, it’s in crunch time when they fold their tents. Jay Cutler and Matt Forte are healthy - for now - but the defense needs to improve under offensive-minded coach Marc Trestman if Chicago is to better a .333 winning percentage the last three years down the stretch.
Line: Bears by 6½
Rick’s Pick: Bears 31, Bills 20
Washington (3-13) at Houston (2-14): Neither team was as bad as their record suggests so this game could go a long way in determining who contends in their division. The running game behind Alfred Morris averaged 4.7 yards per carry for the team whose nickname shall remain nameless. The problem was RGIII’s surgically repaired knee. Kirk Cousins still might be a better option as the betting line suggests. Speaking of QB problems, no team suffered more than the Texans last year. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tom Savage and Ryan Mallett don’t bode much better, but expect $100 million man J.J. Watt, top draft pick Jadaveon Clowney and a healthy Brian Cushing to make the difference on defense.
Line: Texans by 2½
Rick’s Pick: Texans 23, Washington 17
Tennessee (7-9) at Kansas City (11-5): First-year coach Ken Whisenhunt once took Arizona to a Super Bowl so this reclamation project shouldn’t be as difficult in a weak division. While Jake Locker and his receiving targets are iffy at best, he should stand behind an improved line and hand off to RBs with more youthful legs like Bishop Sankey. Are the Chiefs the team that opened 9-0 or the one that choked by blowing a 28-point playoff lead? Probably somewhere in between. Is Alex Smith worth the pay increase? The Chiefs’ win-loss total will tell the tale. This one will come down to the finish.
Line: Chiefs by 4½
Rick’s Pick: Chiefs 21, Titans 20
New England (12-4) at Miami (8-8): Patriots QB Tom Brady is getting long in the tooth but the three-time Super Bowl champ has bad news for his opponents: “When I suck, I’ll retire. I don’t plan on sucking for a long time,” he told profootballtalk.com. Don’t bet against Brady even if his go-to-receiver, Julian Edelman, is a former Kent State QB. With the addition of CB Darrelle Revis, expect a big improvement from the defense. Joe Philbin squeezed a .500 record out of a untalented team and needs to keep QB Ryan Tannehill on his feet (58 sacks last season) to do so again. Where the rest of the offense is coming from is a mystery.
Line: Patriots by 4½
Rick’s Pick: Patriots 31, Dolphins 17
Carolina (12-4) at Tampa Bay (4-12): So a four-game winner is favored to beat a 12-game winner? Such is life in the NFC South, which has never seen a repeat winner. The Panthers, home to an aging backfield and untested receivers and linemen, will need to rely more on QB Cam Newton. That could mean trouble. Still, the defense ranked second in scoring last season and manhandled Tampa Bay. Optimism abounds for the Buccaneers, who bring in new coach Lovie Smith and the best potential WR-TE combo in the draft (Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins). But will journeyman Josh McCown be responsible for getting them the ball?
Line: Buccaneers by 2½
Rick’s Pick: Panthers 17, Bucs 16
San Francisco (12-4) at Dallas (8-8): Love him or hate him, there’s no better coach in the league than Jim Harbaugh. He transformed mediocre college and pro teams in the Bay Area into winners, and might have a Super Bowl winner on his hands this year. Colin Kaepernick has a bevy of receivers to throw to and if Frank Gore is getting old, rookie Carlos Hyde can spell him. A defense headed by Patrick Willis and Justin Smith might be the best south of Seattle. Mediocrity? The Cowboys define it after back-to-back-to-back 8-8 seasons. Tony Romo receives most of the blame, but the worst defense in the league doesn’t help. The Cowboys won’t roll over as a home underdog, however, as they specialize in heartbreak.
Line: 49ers by 5½
Rick’s Pick: 49ers 27, Cowboys 24
Indianapolis (11-5) at Denver (13-3): The NFL did NBC more favors in serving up this Peyton Manning-Andrew Luck prime-time smorgasbord. The teams played a 39-33 thriller a year ago - Luck’s Colts beating Manning’s Broncos - but now the site shifts to the Mile High City. The Colts return WR Reggie Wayne but lose sack-leader Robert Mathis to suspension. Speaking of suspensions, the Broncos lose WR Wes Welker but Manning has plenty of options in Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas and RB Montee Ball. But it’s on defense (free agents DeMarcus Ware and Aqib Talib) where the Broncos improved the most. It’s Super Bowl or bust for last year’s runners-up.
Line: Broncos by 7½
Rick’s Pick: Broncos 34, Colts 31
N.Y. Giants (7-9) at Detroit (7-9): Giants coach Tom Coughlin survived an 0-6 start to finish 7-3, but who is going to keep that momentum going? Eli Manning is a guaranteed two-interception-per-game QB and who is he going to hand off to that will gain more than 3 yards? The only saving grace is they always seem to have Detroit’s number. But then again, who doesn’t? Before he was shown the door, Jim Schwartz proved the old adage that stats don’t win games. In comes quarterback guru Jim Caldwell, who has lots of talent to work with in QB Matthew Stafford, WR Calvin Johnson, rookie TE Eric Ebron and what should be on the best DLs in the league.
Line: Lions by 5
Rick’s Pick: Lions 28, Giants 20
San Diego (9-7) at Arizona (10-6): Both first-year coaches, the Chargers’ Mike McCoy and the Cardinals’ Bruce Arians surprised pundits with double-digit win seasons - San Diego even won a playoff game. Now comes the hard part: doing it again. Despite their winning records, not a lot stands out for either team as the Chargers are led by Philip Rivers and the Cardinals by Carson Palmer, two past-their-time QBs who had renaissance years in 2013. Odds are San Diego will have a shorter fall from grace this year.
Line: Cardinals by 3
Rick’s Pick: Chargers 27, Cardinals 20