NFL Week 1 Picks

New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys

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I hate the end of summer. I have seasonal depression, or at least I think I have seasonal depression and post-Labor Day means the days are only going to get shorter and the weather is only going to get colder and soon enough you won’t want to go outside. But I love that football is back tonight, the Giants begin their season in three days, the Yankees are headed to the postseason in some form and the Rangers’ season begins in 27 days. I guess there are some positives to fall.

The beginning of the football season gives every team and every fan a chance to believe in their team and in moments like this happening (that’s me in Boston after the Giants beat the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. I might have had a few beers). That night I drank in celebration at a bar in Faneuil Hall in the heart of Boston watching the highlights of the game over and over and over and over until the bar kicked us out.

The next morning I woke up without any traces of a hangover and walked out onto Hanover Street, which looked like the opening scenes of Vanilla Sky or I Am Legend. There was hardly any people around and the handful of people I did see had a look of complete devastation across their face. I couldn’t have been happier. That’s what football can do.

I haven’t liked football for a while. The last time I enjoyed football was the second before Russell Wilson threw a pass intended for Ricardo Lockette that was intercepted by Malcolm Butler. Actually, the last time I liked football was the second before Pete Carroll decided to throw the ball on the goal line with the Super Bowl at stake and the best running back in the league on his team. The second before Carroll opened his mouth and suggested that play or agreed to that play was the last time I liked football.

Since that second, the Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl, ending a nine-season drought without a championship, Tom Brady became a four-time Super Bowl champion, Boston sports fans argued that Marshawn Lynch might have not gotten in the end zone from the 1, Darrelle Revis became a champion and the worst thing in the history of sports happened: Deflategate. If Carroll gives the ball to Lynch there, the Seahawks win the Super Bowl, the Patriots are once again losers on the biggest stage, Jermaine Kearse’s catch unseats David Tyree’s catch as the most improbable Super Bowl catch of all time and Deflategate doesn’t spiral out of control because no one cares if a non-championship team may or may not have altered the footballs. But none of that happened and instead for nearly eight months at one point of every day I saw or heard the word “Deflategate” some place.

I was in Seattle for the NFC Championship Game and I saw about two seconds of the AFC Championship Game. I had heard the score and didn’t need to witness the Patriots embarrassing the Colts a week after the Ravens couldn’t close them out. Later that night in the hotel room, my girlfriend showed me a tweet that the Patriots supposedly played with underinflated footballs. My first thought was, “I don’t even know what that means” since I simply didn’t understand if that was good or bad or how that could be an issue. I thought it was just some nonsensical report that would either be laughed at or forgotten. I went to sleep on Jan. 18 not knowing about how footballs are handled before each game, what the proper PSI levels are for footballs or that quarterbacks got to use their own personal footballs in a game. When I woke up on Jan. 19, that nonsensical report hadn’t been forgotten.

I still can’t believe that for nearly all of the 2015 calendar year (minus the 17 days before the AFC Championship Game), Deflategate has pretty much controlled the headlines. The idea that people could spend so much time talking about the air pressure in footballs, reading every piece of information from the investigation and suspension and appeal and listening to sports radio recycle the same mind-blowing opinions on the topic is actually insane. Trying to understand how this much time, attention, money and resources were used on trying to figure out how footballs were lacking the necessary air is like trying to understand why Joe Girardi will use Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller in a game the Yankees are winning by five runs, but not in a game they’re losing by one run or why How to Make it in America was cancelled after two seasons or trying to grasp something as complex as the universe. Deflategate makes my head hurt to think about.

Unfortunately, Deflategate will never go away. The word will always follow Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the Patriots around just like Spygate has. The Brady/Belichick Patriots will always be the victims of a witch hunt to Patriots fans and cheaters to non-Patriots fans. Even though the D-word is here to say just like the S-word has stayed alive for the last eight years, on Thursday night we will all finally have something else to talk about: a real-life football game. That is, until the Patriots beat the Steelers, like they always do at Gillette Stadium. Then, we will all have to hear about how they cheated to win the season opener too.

Tonight begins a new NFL season and with that comes a new picks season and another 263 games to pick. Last season, I finished 129-130-4, losing the final game of the season, the Super Bowl, on the play that should have gotten Pete Carroll fired. That play motivated me to work hard this offseason and get in the best shape of my life and make sure this picks season doesn’t end the way the last one did.

So here we go. For the next 22 weeks, there’s football.

(Home team in caps)

NEW ENGLAND -7 over Pittsburgh
As a Giants fan, I have to question the Patriots’ so-called cheating tactics. Either they lost on purpose a few times to make it seem like they weren’t cheating the way you might get a few questions wrong on a test on purpose to not make it obvious. Or they are just the worst cheaters of all time.

If the Patriots were videotaping signal givers and stealing playbooks and breaking into hotel rooms for information, did they forget to do these things for some of the biggest games? After their Super Bowl win in 2001, they missed the playoffs in 2002. They won the Super Bowl in 2003 and 2004, but then they lost to Broncos in the playoffs in 2005, blew a 21-6 halftime lead to the Colts in the 2006 AFC Championship Game, blew the perfect season and lost Super Bowl XLII to the Giants, got run out of Gillette by the Ravens in 2010, were embarrassed by the Jets at home in 2011, lost against to the Giants in Super Bowl XLVI, were shut down by the Ravens in 2012 and got dominated by the Broncos in 2013 before winning the Super Bowl this year.

Like I said, the Patriots were either losing on purpose to keep things balanced or they just aren’t very good cheaters given all of the information they supposedly had, taped and stole. Or maybe they just weren’t doing anything that every other team was already doing? No, it can’t be that.

Green Bay -7 over CHICAGO
This season I have made a pledge to myself to go hard after the Bears. I’m not getting suckered into thinking they can or will be good and I’m not changing my mind on them. I don’t care if they start the season 5-0 or or 7-0 or go 10-0 or complete the perfect season. If they do any of those things, good for them, but I’m not changing my mind on the Bears.

HOUSTON -1 over Kansas City
I’m not sure how Bill O’Brien and Rick Smith came to the conclusion that Brian Hoyer should be the Texans’ starting quarterback over Ryan Mallett. To be fair, it’s not like he named Hoyer the starter over a clearly more talented player and the two likely have the same amount of ability. But did they watch Hoyer play for the Browns? If you’re looking for one touchdown, two interceptions and 227 yards then Hoyer is your guy because that’s what he is and because we know what he is, why not start Mallett? At least there is a chance he might be somewhat good or at least better than Hoyer.

NEW YORK JETS -3 over Cleveland
The Jets always seem to get a cupcake game in Week 1 even if there is supposedly no such thing in the NFL. Last season, the Jets opened at home against the Raiders. The year before they opened at home against the Buccaneers. The year before that they opened at home against the Bills. It’s like they are playing the equivalent of Alcorn State, Tennessee-Martin and Arkansas State in Week 1. The Jets seem to always win in Week 1 because they’re at home against a weak opponent, which is once again the case this season, and then the Jets are 1-0 and their fans start mapping out their route to a postseason berth and before you know it they’re 1-3 and trying to keep their season alive.

After this game, the Jets follow with at Indianapolis, home against Philadelphia and at Miami before their Week 5 bye. Todd Bowles better get his first win as Jets head coach against the Browns or he might not be getting it until Oct. 18 and Week 6 against Washington. That’s a long ways away and there’s a lot of time between now and then for Jets fans to buy billboards and fly planes over practice suggesting he be fired.

BUFFALO +3 over Indianapolis
I wouldn’t mind seeing the Bills do well and have a winning season and make the playoffs. The only problem with that is their quarterback is Tyrod Taylor. His backup is Matt Cassell. His back up is EJ Manuel. That’s a big problem to have, but so is not having a run defense, which the Colts still don’t have.

Miami -4 over WASHINGTON
This is the official survivor pool Week 1 pick for just about everyone. In a week in which there are many even-matched and coin-flip games, you can always count on the Redskins to give you a much-needed win to stay alive.

For the last few years, we have been hearing about how the Dolphins will challenge the Patriots in the AFC East and each time they have failed. This year, the Dolphins are supposed to be even better and once again challenge the Patriots and reach the postseason for the first time since 2008. If the Dolphins are as good and reliable as they are being hyped up to be then this line is incredibly low. Even if the Dolphins are an average team, this line is too low. Even if the Dolphins are in the bottom third or bottom fourth of teams in the league, this is line is still too low. That’s how bad the 2015 Redskins are.

JACKSONVILLE +3.5 over Carolina
The Game of the Week. Somewhere someone who isn’t a Jaguars fan or a Panthers fan is going to bet on this game and watch it in its entirety. Thank about that.

Seattle -4.5 over ST. LOUIS
The Seahawks and I are not on good terms. After I became an honorary Seahawks fan and a 12 for the Super Bowl they went on to blow a 10-point lead and blow the game to ruin my Super Bowl Sunday and the days that have followed since. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to forgive them for the loss and I absolutely will never forgive Pete Carroll for his play call. But if the Seahawks (and Pete Carroll isn’t included in this) are going to try to win me back it’s going to be by consistently covering spreads week in and week out. Here’s their first chance at redemption.

ARIZONA -3 over New Orleans
We all know what happens when you take the Saints out of the Superdome. Now take them out of the Superdome without Jimmy Graham.

SAN DIEGO -3 over Detroit
These two teams are the same to me and this is the hardest game of the week to pick. I did trade Matthew Stafford for Eli Manning in fantasy football, so I have to root heavily against Stafford this season.

TAMPA BAY -3 over Tennessee
Jameis Winston vs. Marcus Mariota in Week 1. I’m surprised this hasn’t been sold as the “Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady of the future”. If it were, Winston would be Manning would weapons like Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson and Mariota would be Brady with Kendall Wright and Harry Douglas to throw to. I’m thankful that the NFL Sunday Ticket is available to everyone this year, so that I don’t have to be forced to have the NFL Red Zone get stuck on this game since the only thing I would need or any non-Bucs and non-Titans fan would need from this game is the final score.

OAKLAND +3.5 over Cincinnati
I could care less about the NFL preseason. It’s baseball season until the Yankees either win the World Series or are eliminated and even if you don’t like baseball, there has to be something better to do with your time than watch meaningless preseason football games. The only crazier people in the world than those who watch preseason games are those who attend them. It’s not like spring training where you’re likely getting away from cold weather and enjoying the sun and watching a product that resembles what you see for 162 games in the summer.

The only thing I look for in preseason are finding out which key Giants were injured since it’s inevitable and videos of Andy Dalton throwing interceptions. And there’s only one thing more entertaining than Andy Dalton preseason interceptions and that’s Andy Dalton regular-season interceptions and once again there will be a lot of them.

DENVER -5 over Baltimore
Since I don’t watch preseason football, the last time I watched Peyton Manning play he was throwing wobbly passes as if he were trying to make a Nerf ball without seams spiral and the passes weren’t going to anyone. He finished that home playoff loss against the Colts at 26-of-46 for 211 yards and a touchdown despite coming off a bye, which momentarily made everyone think the Colts had a chance against the Patriots before they were blown out.

I have no idea what Manning will look like this season if he could have looked so bad against a bad defense with a trip to the AFC Championship Game on the line. I don’t think he would have come back if he were going to continue to play like that, so for now, I’m trusting that a healthier, yet older, Peyton Manning came back because he would be good enough to cover spreads once again.

New York Giants +6 over DALLAS
I’m overly confident in the Giants right now. I’m talking high levels of irrational confidence about a team that has gone 13-19 over the last two seasons and hasn’t made the playoffs in the the last three seasons. That could all change in one minute on Sunday night or even one play if Eli Manning opens the season with a first-play interception the way he did against the Cowboys in Week 1 on Sunday Night Football two years ago.

What scares me the most about the 2015 Giants isn’t the absurd amount of preseason injuries for the third straight year or the health of Victor Cruz or the absences of Jason Pierre-Paul or the offensive line or the secondary. What scares me the most is what Prince Amukamara said about this game by calling it a “must-win.”

“I could see everyone’s [butt] getting tight, everyone feeling like they are on the hot seat. You definitely don’t want that feeling around. It’s a bad disease.

“I think that can break the team’s morale, especially with the guys that have already been here and have experienced 0-1, than 0-2 and 0-6 (in 2013). It’s just a bad taste in your mouth. And with this organization, which wants to win now and always has a sense of urgency.”

The idea that a Week 1 loss could cause the team’s butts to “get tight” and “break the team’s morale” isn’t exactly reassuring for the season if they do lose to the Cowboys. Since Amukamara basically called this game the Super Bowl following the most uninspiring preseason from the Giants maybe ever, I’m not scared about this game, I’m petrified.

ATLANTA +3 over Philadelphia
Everywhere I turn I see the Eagles being picked to win the NFC East and be a Super Bowl contender. Is Sam Bradford not the Eagles’ starting quarterback? Has he not missed the last 23 regular-season games? Was the last time he played in an NFL game not Oct. 20, 2013?

In five seasons, Bradford has played 16 games twice and has played in 49 of a possible 80 games (61 percent). If Bradford were to get hurt and miss time, which obviously is a real possibility, then the Eagles would turn to Mark Sanchez once again. If you forgot, the Eagles were 7-2 last season and with Sanchez as the starting quarterback, they went on to miss the playoffs.

The Phillies are fighting to not be the worst team in baseball, the Flyers are horrible and the 76ers haven’t been good since Allen Iverson played for them. If the Eagles aren’t good, the Philadelphia sports landscape will be full of bad teams, which is more incentive to pick against the Eagles.

Minnesota -2.5 over SAN FRANCISCO
I have no idea when I’m going to sleep in the next five days. The Yankees have a four-game series against the Blue Jays beginning on Thursday. The NFL season opens on Thursday. The first NFL Sunday is this Sunday and the Giants play at 8:30 p.m. There is the Week 1 Monday Night Football doubleheader with the second game (this game) starting at 10:15 p.m. Normally this is like Raiders-Chargers and I could watch it while falling asleep, but my girlfriend is a Vikings fan, so I will be awake and invested in this game. Since I will be watching intently with a crazed Vikings fan next to me, I have to go with the Vikings here otherwise the next time I will be able to get a good night’s sleep won’t be as early as Tuesday.

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