The 2013 NFL Season is finally here, football is back, and we here at SportSmasher.com could not be more excited. As we did last year, the staff at SportSmasher.com will guide you through every game of the 2013 season, picking the final score and against the spread for every game on the schedule. We struggled during the 2012 NFL Season, finishing with a (134-127-6) record, including the post-season, but were able to stay above (.500). We intend on doing much better this season, during our second go at picking every game on the NFL slate, and I have a unrealistic goal of picking (.700) for the season going in. After a long offseason, meaningful professional football is finally back, let’s get to this picks:
Baltimore Ravens @ Denver Broncos (-9) On Thursday Night Football, the Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens open the season on the road, due to a scheduling conflict with the Baltimore Orioles. I was shocked when I saw this line, sure the Broncos have Peyton Manning and his excellent set of wide receivers in the passing game, but the defending champions are getting NINE points against the team they beat in double overtime the AFC Divisional Round of the playoffs last year? Both teams enter the 2013 season with questions, Denver needs to prove they can generate a pass rush without Elvis Dumervil (who now plays for the Ravens) and Von Miller (suspended), and that their young running backs can step up without veteran Willis McGahee. The Baltimore Ravens lost the face of the franchise, linebacker Ray Lewis, to retirement along with several other key players. Safety Ed Reed (Texans), receiver Anquan Boldin (49ers), center Matt Birk (retirement), linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (Dolphins), safety Bernard Pollard (Titans) and linebacker Paul Kruger (Browns) are some of the players who the Ravens lost this offseason, but I think they did an excellent job of finding replacements through free agency and the draft. To make matters worse they lost tight end Dennis Pitta for (at least most of) the season due to a hip injury during the preseason. However, the Ravens will still be a formidable team, and I think that the season opener will be much closer than a nine point game. I’m taking the points. I think that the lack of the pass rush in Denver will hurt them early in the season, they will still be very good due in part to an easy schedule, and will get better as the year goes on and Von Miller returns from his suspension. Denver still wins double digit games.
THE PICK: Ravens (+9) FINAL SCORE: Ravens 27 Broncos 24
***SPORTSMASHER BEST BET: RAVENS (+9)***
NOTE: I personally took the Ravens (+9) earlier in the week, since then the line has dropped to (+7.5) and the Broncos have announced that their best cornerback Champ Bailey will not play. I’m glad I took the points at (+9) when I did. Obviously, I’m picking the Ravens to win, so I still like the Ravens.
New England Patriots @ Buffalo Bills (+10.5) Obviously the Patriots are huge favorites to win the AFC East this year, and there was a lot of action on them in this game early in the week, but things changed when Buffalo named rookie EJ Manuel their starting quarterback. Manuel is the Bills rookie first round pick out of Florida State, he was sidelined after undergoing a minor knee procedure a few weeks ago, and his availability for the opener was in doubt. The Patriots are going to win this game, but after losing tight ends Rob Gronkowski for the early part of the season and Aaron Hernandez for good, and other receivers (Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd and Danny Woodhead) I wonder if they will be lighting up the scoreboard early. I think that the Patriots offense will be more focused on the running game and the short passing game than in previous years, as Tom Brady will be passing to targets such as Kembrell Tompkins, Shane Vereen, Zach Sudfield and Danny Amendola. The Bills will be a little feisty with a quarterback who has the ability to run and star running back C.J. Spiller, at home, I think they hang close with the Pats in a losing effort. T
THE PICK: Bills (+10.5) FINAL SCORE Patriots 27 Bills 17
Tennessee Titans @ Pittsburgh Steelers (-7) I do not expect a ton of offense in this game, so I am surprised that the line was so high. The Steelers defense will once again be excellent and should make it tough for the Chris Johnson and the Titans offense to run the ball, which will force Jake Locker to throw the football, which usually means a bad outcome for the Titans. When the Pittsburgh Steelers have the ball, they will need to rely on the improvement of their young offensive line, which needs to protect Ben Roethlisberger and open holes for the running game. The starting running back in Pittsburgh is Isaac Redman, and while he is a tough inside runner, he is not a big play threat. The Steelers lost Mike Wallace in free agency to the Dolphins this offseason, and will count on Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and rookie Markus Wheaton to make plays in the passing game. I think that this will be a close, low scoring contest, and one big mistake by Locker or big play from Brown or Wheaton will be the difference as the star of the game is the Steelers defense.
THE PICK: Titans (+7) FINAL SCORE: Steelers 20 Titans 16
Atlanta Falcons @ New Orleans Saints (-3) This line surprised me, I am not drinking the New Orleans Saints Kool-Aid, and was surprised that they were favored against one of the favorites to win the NFC in their opening game. I understand that head coach Sean Payton is back after his season-long “Bountygate” suspension, but concerns about the Saints offensive line and defense have me doubting the Saints. They lost longtime starting left tackle Jermon Bushrod in free agency, and Sean Payton admitted this offseason that concerns about left tackle keep him up at night, and clearly keeping Drew Brees upright is a key for their defense. The Saints had a historically bad defense last season, worst in the league by a mile, and they are now switching to a 3-4 scheme under new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. As if a scheme change was not difficult enough, the Saints have already lost three starters in their defensive front seven (Will Smith, Victor Butler, Kenyon Coleman) for the season due to injury. The Falcons added running back Steven Jackson to an already loaded offense, led by quarterback Matt Ryan, and his excellent corps of wide receivers. How are the Saints going to stopt he Falcons offense. I do not think that the Saints will be able to stop the Falcons at home, and although New Orleans will score points, I like the Falcons to win easily.
THE PICK: Falcons (+3) FINAL SCORE: Falcons 41 Saints 27
***SPORTSMASHER BEST BET: FALCONS (+3)***
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ New York Jets (+3) In his first game since being traded by the New York Jets, cornerback Darrell Revis returns to Metlife Stadium with revenge on his mind, to take on the New York Jets. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ secondary was atrocious last season, and they addressed that issue in a big way this offseason, when they signed Revis and safety Dashon Golson and drafted cornerback Jonathan Banks. The Tampa bay offense should be better, as two starting offensive linemen return from injury, which should help open holes for running back Doug Martin and protect quarterback Josh Freeman. The Jets will start rookie quarterback Geno Smith under center, but he does not have a lot to work with offensively, as his offense lacks playmakers. The Jets do not have one player on the offensive side of the ball that defenses have to game plan for, which will make things very difficult for Smith, especially early in his career. The Jets defense will be fantastic and will keep them in games, but I am not sure where the offense comes from, and with Smith facing a dangerous secondary I like the Buccaneers to win in a low scoring affair.
THE PICK: Buccaneers (-3) FINAL SCORE: Buccaneers 23 Jets 10
Kansas City Chiefs @ Jacksonville Jaguars (+3.5)The most obvious team to turn it all around in 2013 is the Kansas City Chiefs, major upgrades at head coach (from Romeo Crennel to Andy Reid) and quarterback (from Matt Cassel to Alex Smith) should be good for a major improvement on their own. The Chiefs also boast a talented young defense, which was upgraded with the additions of cornerbacks Sean Smith and Dunta Robinson, and should boast an excellent pass rush. The Jaguars have improved just by getting star running back Maurice Jones-Drew healthy, plus he is in a contract year, and should be able to take the pressure off of quarterback Blaine Gabbert. The Jaguars top wide receiver Justin Blackmon is suspended for this game, and without him, Jacksonville’s only threat in the passing game is Cecil Shorts. I think that the Chiefs are a little overrated entering this season, as many “experts” are picking them to make the playoffs, but I think they will easily handle the Jaguars in this game. Expect a big game from the Chiefs best offensive players, running back Jamaal Charles and wide receiver Dwayne Bowe.
THE PICK: Chiefs (-3.5) FINAL SCORE: Chiefs 30 Jaguars 13
***REXRATED BEST BET: Chiefs (-3.5)***
Cincinnati Bengals @ Chicago Bears (-3) A tough game to call, I really like each of these teams entering the 2013 season, as I expect the Bears to be one of the league’s most improved teams and the Bengals to win the AFC North. The biggest problem for the Chicago Bears over recent years was their terrible offensive line, which caused quarterback Jay Cutler and running back Matt Forte to get injured numerous times, and cost the Bears a shot at the playoffs. That changed this offseason, as the Bears signed tackle Jermon Bushrod and guard Matt Slauson and drafted guard Kyle Long, totally overhauling and improving the unit. The Bears also added tight end Martellus Bennett, who is an excellent blocker, and will give Cutler another red zone target in the passing game. The Bengals were a playoff team last season, and clearly wanted to upgrade their playmakers around quarterback Andy Dalton, so they drafted tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Giovanni Bernard in the first two rounds of the draft. Both should provide instant impact to a unit that already includes young star receiver A.J. Green, talented receiver Mohammed Sanu and Marvin Jones, tight end Jermaine Gresham and running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis. The Bengals are also excellent defensively, led by Geno Atkins, the best defensive tackle in football. This should be one of the best games of opening weekend, as both teams are playoff hopefuls, but due to continuity from last season I’m giving the Bengals a slight edge.
THE PICK: Bengals (+3) FINAL SCORE: Bengals 24 Bears 21
Miami Dolphins @ Cleveland Browns (-1) Each of these teams have generated considerable sleeper buzz this offseason, and I think both teams have improved, especially on the defensive side of the ball. This matchup comes down to the quarterbacks, as two developing 2012 first round picks square off, the Browns Brandon Weeden and the Dolphins Ryan Tannehill. Brandon Weeden is older than Matt Stafford and Aaron Rogers, so he does not have a lot of time to develop into a great quarterback, however I do expect a major improvement this season as he can get the ball downfield which is a good fit for new offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s offense. The Browns will miss wide receiver Josh Gordon, who is suspended for the first two games of the season, but expect the Browns to be able to move the ball with running back Trent Richardson and tight end Jordan Cameron. The Dolphins have an excellent front seven on defense, but I worry about their secondary, maybe not so much against the Browns but as the season progresses. They got Tanenhill some weapons on offense this season, including wide receiver Mike Wallace, who has big play ability. This will be an interesting game, because I think the winner has a chance to be legitimately good this season, and I expect it to be a close one. At home, I’m taking the Browns.
THE PICK: Browns (-1) FINAL SCORE: Browns 23 Dolphins 20
Seattle Seahawks @ Carolina Panthers (+3.5) The Seahawks are stacked, they have playmakers on both sides of the ball, but everyone knows that they have the best home field advantage in the league and can struggle on the road. I expect that Russell Wilson will be excellent in his second year, however I do not love the Seahawks wide receivers, and either Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin or the often-injured Sidney Rice will really need to step up their game and become a consistent target. Seattle will be excellent on every level of defense, they are stacked on that side of the ball, I love the fact that they improved their pass rush which will make things easier on their all-world secondary. However, Seattle may struggle to get Marshawn Lynch their running game going against Carolina’s excellent front seven, which has improved dramatically over the past few seasons. Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly is the best young player in the league at his position, and the additions of defensive tackles Star Lotuleilei and Kawaan Short in the draft will keep blockers off of him, allowing him to read and react. I do not like the Carolina secondary, however against a team like Seattle who lacks an elite wide receiver, I don’t think they will be tested. Cam Newton will make enough plays to keep the Panthers in this game. I think Seattle wins a close one, due to their excellent defense making a play, but I’m taking the points. I think Seattle, a much better home team as is, might be looking ahead to their showdown with the hated 49ers next Sunday night.
THE PICK: Panthers (+3.5) FINAL SCORE: Seahawks 27 Panthers 24
Minnesota Vikings @ Detroit Lions (-5.5) I am not a fan of the Minnesota Vikings this season, because unless they can get another historical season out of star running back Adrain Peterson, there will be a ton of pressure on quarterback Christian Ponder. The Vikings acquired Greg Jennings and drafted Cordarrelle Patterson, two receivers who excel at making plays downfield, and they should have plenty of opportunities as defenses load up against Adrian Peterson in the running game. Does Ponder have the arm strength to get them the ball downfield? I do not think he does, last season the Vikings closest thing to a deep threat was dump-offs to Percy Harvin with the hope he could turn it into a big play, or short passes to tight end Kyle Rudolph. However, Ponder is historically much better indoors than outdoors, and this line should be an insult to the Vikings. The Lions finally got quarterback Matt Stafford and star wide receiver Calvin Johnson some help when they signed running back Reggie Bush, who I think will catch 90-100 passes in this offense. Defensively, the Lions are as strong as anyone along the line, but I do not love their back seven. I think that Matt Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush will make enough plays to win this game, but I think it will be much closer than the spread indicates, as I see a huge game out of Adrian Peterson.
THE PICK: Vikings (+5.5) FINAL SCORE: Lions 34 Vikings 30
Oakland Raiders @ Indianapolis Colts (-10) This might get me killed the next time I’m in Northern California, but I think that the Oakland Raiders will be the worst team in the NFL this coming season, and I do not think it will be close. I am glad that the Raiders decided to start Terrelle Pryor over Matt Flynn at quarterback, at least that makes them interesting, however Pryor does not have a lot of weapons or a decent offensive line. The Raiders will also struggle defensively, as they are young, and do not return many starters. The good news for Raiders fans is the disaster of the Carson Palmer trade is finally in the past, and the Raiders will finally be able to rebuild, with all of their draft picks. I do not like the Indianapolis Colts as much as others do, “ChuckStrong” is over and Bruce Arians is in Arizona, plus I think they overpaid drastically for a few free agents (Erik Walden, LaRon Landry, Gosder Cherilus). However, I do think that Andrew Luck will benefit from the addition of Darius Heyward-Bey in the passing game, plus his young receivers like T.Y Hilton, Dwayne Allen and Colby Fleener no longer rookies and should be better. I do think that Terrelle Pryor is a threat to make some highlight reel plays, but not enough to keep this game close, I think the Colts roll.
THE PICK: Colts (-10) FINAL SCORE: Colts 34 Raiders 17
Arizona Cardinals @ St. Louis Rams (-4.5) Larry Fitzgerald can finally breathe a sigh of relief, he has a quarterback who is at least capable of throwing him the football in a place where he can make a catch, for the first time since Kurt Warner retired in 2009. Carson Palmer may not be the quarterback he once was, but he still threw for over 4,000 yards last season, and is a huge upgrade. The Cardinals also improved a problematic offensive line, however it was dealt a major blow when their seventh overall pick guard John Cooper broke his leg, which will force him to miss the season. I think that the Cardinals will have one of the best defenses in the NFL this season, they are strong on every level, and have playmakers in the secondary. The Rams also had an excellent offseason, they were able to improve quarterback Sam Bradford’s weapons, by drafting wide receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey and signing tight end Jared Cook. The Rams have possibly the best pair of pass rushing defensive ends in the league in Chris Long and Robert Quinn, and expect a breakout season from second year defensive tackle Michael Brockers. In a close game I think that Arizona’s Patrick Peterson, who I consider to be the best cornerback in the NFL, to make one game-changing play on either a punt return or an interception return that will give the Cardinals an advantage.
THE PICK: Cardinals (+4.5) FINAL SCORE: Cardinals 24 Rams 20
Green Bay Packers @ San Francisco 49ers (-4.5) Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rogers may be the best in the NFL, however an already shaky offensive line was crippled this offseason when they lost left tackle Bryan Bulaga to a knee injury, which is not a good thing when opening against the best defense in the league. The Packers will also be without starting cornerback Casey Hayward in this game, who had six interceptions last season, to lead all rookies. The 49ers also have the best offensive line in the NFL, which will allow them to dominate the line of scrimmage, and run the ball with both their running backs and quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Although the 49ers will be without receivers Michael Crabree and Mario Manningham throughout much of the season, I think that some players will step up to fill the void, including veteran Anquan Boldin and rookie Quinton Patton. This is a tough opening game for the Packers, who will be a strong team this season, but I expect the 49ers pass rush to harass Aaron Rogers all game long while the 49ers offensive line allows them to move the ball.
THE PICK: 49ers (-4.5) FINAL SCORE: 49ers 31 Packers 20
***SPORTSMASHER BEST BET: 49ERS (-4.5)***
New York Giants @ Dallas Cowboys (-3.5) The New York Giants have won all four times that they visited the Cowboys new stadium, which is a fact that drives Dallas fans absolutely crazy, and on Sunday night football they look to end that streak. The Cowboys are switching defensively from a 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 scheme, after hiring defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, who helped create the heralded Tampa-2 defense. I think that the Cowboys personnel fit much better in the 3-4 scheme, and it seems strange to me to have multiple time All-Pro linebacker Demarcus Ware put his hand in the dirt, after all of the success that he had standing up. The Cowboys have players that can make this defense successful, but it may take some time for the new defense to solidify. The major advantage that I see the Giants having is their excellent defensive line matching up against the weak Dallas offensive line, especially the interior line, where tackles Linval Joseph and Cullen Jenkins should get a push up the middle all day and send Tony Romo scrambling towards the Giants star defensive ends. However, if Tony Romo has time to throw, he should be able to pick apart a weak Giants back seven, and expect big games from wide receiver Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten. The Giants have an excellent stable of wide receivers with Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Reuben Randle, along with big play running back David Wilson. If the Giants offensive line, which is dealing with injuries to starting tackle David Diehl and center David Bass can open holes for Wilson and give Eli Manning time, the Giants should have success. I think this game comes down to the trenches, where I think the Giants are the better team on both sides of the ball, and I expect them to force Romo into a few typical Romo mistakes. Although Dez Bryant will have a huge game, I think the Eli Manning will make plays down the stretch, and the Giants will extend their winning streak in Dallas.
THE PICK: Giants (+3.5) FINAL SCORE: Giants 34 Cowboys 31
***REXRATED BEST BET: Cowboys (+3.5)***
Philadelphia Eagles @ Washington Redskins (-3.5) Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III will start, after suffering a serious knee injury in the playoffs last year, and not taking a single snap in the preseason as they take on the divisional rival Philadelphia Eagles. There has been major turnover in Philly, as new head coach Chip Kelly has installed an up-tempo offense, and the Eagles are switching to a 3-4 defensive scheme. The Eagles say they are planning on running the most plays-per-minute in NFL history, but with Michael Vick and his questionable decision making as your starting quarterback, I am not sure if that is a good thing. Chip Kelly will make the Eagles a good team, but I do not think the players are in place for this to happen yet, and the Eagles need to find the right quarterback and defensive personnel to succeed. Defensively, the Redskins get pass rusher Brian Orakpo back from injury, and he and Ryan Kerrigan should provide a ferocious pass rush that should have Michael Vick panicked all game long. I think that the Redskins will succeed in running the football with Alfred Morris, which will allow RGIII to make some throws downfield, and the Redskins will open the season with a win.
THE PICK: Redskins (-3.5) FINAL SCORE: Redskins 27 Eagles 17
Houston Texans @ San Diego Chargers (+3.5) The Chargers were actually a (7-9) football team last season, which is surprising, considering how bad Philip Rivers and their offensive line were last season. They were just a 4th-and-27 away from beating the Ravens and finishing (8-8) until that famous Ray Rice play allowed the Ravens to win. However few teams have lost as many key players to injuries this offseason as the Chargers, as 2012 first round pick linebacker Melvin Ingram and their best receiver from 2012, Danario Alexander will both miss the season with knee injuries. The offensive line should be better, after drafting massive offensive tackle D.J. Fluker in the first round, and the Chargers have some nice young cornerstones on defense (Corey Liuget, Kendall Reyes) to build upon. I think they will improve, and are starting to head in the right direction, but they are not there yet. The Houston Texans enter the 2013 season with an absolutely loaded defense, which is led by superstar defensive end J.J. Watt, and gets linebacker Brian Cushing back from injury. New additions to the unit include future Hall-of-Famer Ed Reed and hard hitting rookie safety D.J. Swearinger. On the offensive side of the ball, the Texans will look to run the ball early and often with Arian Foster, who will find success behind a sturdy offensive line. Andre Johnson is still the team’s top receiver, but the Texans finally got him some help, when they drafted big play receiver DeAndre Hopkins in the first round of the draft. I expect the Texans to be one of the league’s best teams this season, and I do not see how the Chargers will be able to move the ball on their excellent defense on Monday Night.
THE PICK: Texans (-3.5) FINAL SCORE: Texans 31 Chargers 13
***REXRATED BEST BET: Texans (-3.5)***