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Pittsburgh Steelers +9 & San Diego Chargers -2.5
This game doesn't require a lot of analysis as most people know what to expect in this one. BAL did have more changes than PIT though. They do return the same coaching staff and most of the core pieces, but guys like Landry, Wilson, McGahee, Heap, Mason, Gregg, Washington, and Chester are gone. BAL need Flacco to step up as a leader more than ever. Acquiring Leach and Evans were good moves, but this show still revolves around Flacco. Yes they still have Lewis and Reed on defense, but how much are you expecting out of them this year? Don't be shocked if one, if not both, spend a lot of time on the sidelines nursing injuries.
BAL have big questions on both the O and D lines and I'm fully expecting them to come up short this year. Home field advantage will help a lot, but PIT are primed to have at least one more dominant season from their veteran-laden lineup. BAL are vulnerable in their secondary and this could lead to them playing catchup. CB Carr and Foxworth are both dealing with lingering injuries. With questionable pass protection from the O-line, this is not a good set of factors to have to open the season. In fact, BAL's starting O-line practiced together this week for just the 2nd time (McKinnie weight issues, Birk wonky knee, Yanda back spasms, Oher changing positions).
PIT have their own concerns on their O-line, too. Starks and Adams are out and no one is sure who or how they will protect Ben's blind side. Lebeau should be able to do enough to cover up the lack of depth in the secondary and those holes won't hurt them until they face a tougher passing team. PIT have won 7 of the last 10 meetings and I don't see the script changing to kickoff 2011.
Norv Turner has a well-known reputation of starting the season slow and each year they say it will be different. The case they do have going for them is things are a lot more stable this year than last year. In 2010 they were facing suspension/holdout questions and it bled onto the field in September. I don't share the same concerns now. In the preseason Turner focused on reducing turnovers and improving special teams. There is no indication that either will be a problem to start the year. Gates is moving at full speed and Mathews is looking strong and explosive. Phillips, English, and Leboy should all be back for the opener.
Mcnabb isn't what he used to be, but he's far from washed up either. He should be able to run the offense and defer to Peterson with decent success. Not having Rice hurts, but they still have Harvin. Mcnabb also won't face the same kind of learning curve that other new quarterbacks are facing this offseason. He does need to be worried about his offensive line though. SD will test their protection schemes and ability to adjust on the fly. Look for MIN to rely heavily on Peterson and work the underneath/short passing game to alleviate the pressure.
Opening up at SD is a tall task and MIN have too many holes/questions on defense to keep up with Rivers. Prediction: Bank PIT +9 and SD -2.5.
Houston Texans -2.5 & San Diego Chargers -2.5
For those of you that might have missed out on the earlier HOU lines you still have a chance to put them in a teaser. For my outlook of the game you can read here. SD is my favorite teaser choice of the week so I'm taking a chance and doubling up on them this week. Teasing both of these games down under -3 just makes too much sense. Prediction: Bank HOU -2.5 and SD -2.5.
Houston Texans -2.5 & New England Patriots -1
If you are in a survivor pool, you could flip a coin between HOU or SD to win straight up this week. It's not very often that IND enter a season without Peyton and now they hope a retired and old Kerry Collins can transform the offense and pull out a week 1 win. If they had a strong running game to lean on, I'd give them a fighting chance, but this game could get ugly.
NE is the universal favorite for sharps and squares alike. The public love to bet big name QB's and sharps love value. NE delivers on both accounts. No team covers more inflated point spreads than the Pats. This would explain why 89% of the early action was on them for week 1, and it's only dropped to 82% after the line movement.
So does MIA have any chance for the cover? Their defense has the potential to be a top 5 unit in 2011 and upgraded with Burnett at LB. The special teams should be improved under Rizzi and Carpenter can't possibly miss as many key kicks as he did last year can he?
However, that's where the good news stops. Henne shows us that he can be an effective QB sometimes, but the rest of the time he is nothing more than a glorified backup. Bush is a "name" player and is a very overrated addition. He excels as a complimentary piece, but Henne isn't the type of guy who can utilize him to the fullest. Marshall seems a lot more under control now that he's confronting his personal issues and MIA is hoping that translates onto the field. They need him to because new offensive coordinator Daboll is spreading them out and turning this into a pass-first team. That's a brave approach when you look at the weapons (or lack thereof) they have. Will it work week 1 against the biggest fish in the pond?
NE could be an even better team in 2011 even if it doesn't show in their record. The defense is continuing to mature and they hope to get Haynseworth on track in the middle. That is far from a sure thing despite Belichick's track record. In reality, they will likely need to manufacture a pass-rush again. But there is strong reason to believe they will play a lot more 4-3 this year. Lining up Haynseworth and Wilfork in the middle would ensure beyond a shadow of a doubt that Bush won't be running through the tackles to start the season.
On offense Ochocinco gives Brady another weapon and they retained Mankins and Light to solidify the line. The challenge for NE is that they need to find an identity for their offense. Ocho could break out and have a career year, but he is more likely to have an up and down season. Some games he will have a multiple-TD performance, other games he'll have 0 catches and seem in danger of being cut. The perennial questions remains at running back, but NE usually find a way to make it work.
This matchup opened at -3.5 and -4 but was quickly bet up to -7 and I won't be surprised if it rises higher than that before kickoff. I love teasing down touchdown favorites to make it basically a pick em. MIA can make a good fight out of this considering their motivation will be sky high opening the season on Monday Night against their division rivals, but when you break it down into the nuts and bolts it's asking a bit too much for an offense that is in a big transition. Defense along won't be enough. Prediction: Bank HOU -2.5 & NE -1.