Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years are overrated. My favorite holiday - the first NFL Sunday of the year - is finally here. Today, I will be on the couch for 10 straight hours watching Red Zone, checking my Twitter and Fantasy teams, and having a hell of a time.
This season is extra special for me. It's the first year I am competing in the Westgate Supercontest - something I've wanted to do since I first read about it in a Bill Simmons column in 2010. If everything breaks right I will be a millionaire at the end of this season.
To get there I need to pick games correctly at an extraordinarily high rate. Professional gamblers aim for a 55-60% win rate, but last year's contest champion won 72% of their bets. I'll need a few great weeks (5-0) and no terrible weeks (0-5), which makes week one particularly nerve wracking.
My weekly strategy is to pick games where my opinions differ from the general public. But in opening week my opinions - and the public's - are only based on media narrative, not performance. Narrative opinions are less reliable than performance opinions so I'm not 100% confident. I don't need to go 5-0 with these picks, but I'd love to go 3-2.
Without further adieu, here are my Week 1 Supercontest picks. You can see all of the lines for yourself here: https://www.westgateresorts.com/hotels/nevada/las-vegas/westgate-las-vegas-resort-casino/supercontest-weekly-card/
[% ()] = [% picked in the Westgate SuperContest (rank of popularity)]
Vikings* -6.5 over 49ers [27.5% (5)]
The media's expectations - and the public's - for the 49ers are too high. The collective memory is of Jimmy G. turning around a 1-10 team with a 5-0 record down the stretch. That happened, but it was in games not nearly as challenging as this one in Minnesota. Look at the 49ers' opponents and points per game during that stretch:
The only impressive showing there was against the Jaguars, but it wasn't actually that impressive in context. It was an East coast team travelling West, and this was as meaningless as a regular season game can be to the Jags - they were all but locked into the third seed. The legend of Jimmy G. is stronger than the reality.
This Minnesota team is hard to score on at home. Last season they only gave up 12.5 points per game in their stadium leading to a 7-1 record. Their coach, Mike Zimmer, and all of their key contributors return so there is no reason to expect a change in performance this year.
If they hold Jimmy G. to two touchdowns or less it will only take 21 points from the Vikings offense to cover this. I don't expect that to be much trouble against a weak 49ers D. Minnesota had a decent upgrade at quarterback from Case Keenum to Kirk Cousins and I'm not concerned about the loss of offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. His replacement, John DeFillipo, Carson Wentz's QB coach his first two years, is a rockstar and will be a head coach candidate in the next year or two.
Jimmy G. disappoints his horde of new fans and the Vikings play mediocre offense to cover. Min 24 SF 14
Bengals +3 over Colts [39.2% (1)]
The Colts have a new coach and QB Andrew Luck is returning so they are expected to improve after their 4-12 disaster last year. I also expect them to improve, but not in week 1. This is going to be Andrew Luck's first game back in 1.5 seasons. I love their new coach, Frank Reich - I'm an Eagles fan and he helped us win our first Super Bowl last year - but I think Luck's physical limitations are going to hold the team back early on.
The media is not hyping Cincinnati at all this year. They feel like the Cincinnati Bengals core of coach Marvin Lewis and QB Andy Dalton has stagnated. I feel like they are about to take a step forward. Offensive coordinator, Ken Zampese - their coordinator from 2016 and the first two weeks of 2017 - was terrible. Last year, under his leadership, the offense scored only 9 points in the two games before he was fired. They improved immediately under replacement Bill Lazor - leading to a 7-7 record the rest of the way - but I expect a step forward with a full off season to install his system.
I see the Bengals coming out hot and winning outright in Indy against a cold Andrew Luck who will take a few weeks to get going. CIN 24 IND 20
Saints* -9.5 over Buccaneers [16.1% (13)]
I haven't been shy about my expectations for the Buccaneers - they're going to be a disaster this year. And it looks even worse than I expected. Dirk Koetter may have lost the team before the season started. Usually it takes a few losses before a team quits, but look at this Tweet:
After going through the Chip Kelly experience, I've seen first hand what can happen to a team when the coach does not respect the players as human beings. This is not going to end well.
The 9.5 points are a lot to cover against any team. Especially for a team that is only good on offense - like the Saints usually are - because a bad defense always keeps opponents in the game. But last year the Saints showed a new side in the Drew Brees era, a defense that gave up the 10th fewest points in the league. At home I expect them to hold this sad, sad Bucs team to less than 20 points and out of contention.
Saints cover easily and warm up Dirk Koetters soon to be hot seat. Saints 31 Bucs 10
Chiefs +3.5 over Chargers [14.7% (17)]
Vegas expects the Chiefs to win 1.5 less games than last year - probably because they are switching quarterbacks from Alex Smith to first year starter Patrick Mahomes. I don't see it. I expect Patrick Mahomes to excel in his first year as a starter. Andy Reid has the best track record in the league with athletic, strong-armed quarterbacks and Mahomes is as athletic and strong armed as anybody. With awesome skill position players Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt flanking Mahomes, this offense is going to make a lot of explosive plays.
I actually really like the Chargers too. This game is pretty even to me, so I'd expect a line of Chargers -3 since they are at home. The inefficiency is in the Chargers home field advantage - or lack there of. Last year they moved to LA and the new stadium is consistently filled with fans from the visiting foe. Chiefs fans are notorious for their propensity to travel and the stadium is going to be a sea of red.
Mahomes electrifies the faux home crowd and the Chiefs win outright. KC 31 LAC 27
Panthers* -3 over Cowboys [25.0% (8)]
Norv Turner is a beleaguered offensive coordinator returning to the league after a year off of football. Prior to his hiatus he was the offensive coordinator for the Vikings from 2014-2016 and the team never cracked the top half of the league in points per game. His hiring is a driving factor in the Panthers expectation to win two less games this year than last.
But my view is different. Those Vikings offenses were not good, especially for how Norv likes to coach. He runs a bootleg heavy scheme where the quarterback needs to be mobile and have a strong arm to roll out of the pocket and launch bombs off of play action. The team also needs a strong tight end to hit on intermediate routes for first downs between deep attempts. In 2014 Norv had rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater start 12 games, in 2015 Bridgewater took a step forward and the team went 11-5, and then in 2016 Bridgewater got hurt before the year and immobile Sam Bradford came in last minute. That stable of quarterbacks is not Cam Newton. Cam Newton will excel in this system and so will tight end Greg Olsen.
On the other side of the ball, I don't expect the Cowboys to put up many points against the Panthers D. Dak Prescott succeeded in his rookie season when everything around him was perfect - he had amazing blocking, the best running game in the league, and a top 10 receiving corps. Last year he collapsed as the offense experienced adversity with RB Ezekiel Elliot's suspension and the injury to LT Tyron Smith. This game, Pro Bowl Center Travis Frederick is out and RG Zach Matrin is playing with a hyperextended knee. Dak Prescott won't be able to overcome this adversity against Luke Keuchly and gang.
Cam runs for a touchdown and throws for 2 more while the Panthers' defense makes Dak look like how he should have as a rookie. Car 27 Dal 17
Enjoy week 1 everybody. Next week I'll actually get my picks out on Saturday. Thanks!