Mike Ivcic’s Week 1 NFL Preview and Free Picks

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Mike Ivcic’s Week 1 NFL Preview and Free Picks ]]> include($base_url . “/includes/header.htm”); ?>

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By Mike Ivcic, UltimateCapper Contributing Writer

There’s an old adage for pitchers in baseball, which basically says, “If you’re going to lose, lose with your best pitch.” New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton should spend some time hanging around some spring training sites this March, because it would have helped him tremendously Thursday night.

Twice, Payton faced a crucial play with the game virtually or literally on the line. Both times he took the ball of the hands of his best player, and ultimately it cost him a victory against Green Bay in the season opener. Late in the third quarter, facing a third-and-one deep in Packers territory, Payton handed the ball off and failed to pick up the first down, then decided to go for it on fourth down. While I completely agree with going for it on fourth down in that spot, the coaching staff should have already decided whether or not to go for it on fourth down before the third down play. If the answer is as it was Thursday night, the third down play should then have been a pass play, which would have been much more effective against the stacked front shown by Green Bay. Spread the field and give Drew Brees options to hand the ball off or fire to an open receiver, either on a short crossing pattern or on a route into the end zone. Either way, having the ball in Brees’ hands with multiple options has a much better success rate than a straight, up-the-gut run.

More egregious, especially with the results of the aforementioned play fresh in Payton’s mind, is the final play of the game, another up-the-middle attempt that the Packers linebackers – who, by the way, are widely considered one of the best linebacking units in all of football – promptly shoved right back down the Saints’ throats. For the entire drive, New Orleans had been picking apart the Packers’ soft zone defense with beautiful throws from their best player, Brees. Likewise, in a similar situation during the previous Saints possession, New Orleans converted a “goal-to-go” situation by utilizing not one, but two play-fakes that completely confused the Packers defense. With Payton supposedly being an offensive wizard and having so many plays at his disposal, why select the least effective play as the strategy of choice with, quite literally, zero time on the clock and one shot to get one yard and a touchdown? It was ultimately a poor choice for the second time in the game, and Green Bay hung on for the 42-34 win.

Again, if you’re going to lose, lose with your best, and for the Saints, their best in unquestionably Drew Brees with the ball in his hands looking for one of his trio of very good receivers. If New Orleans winds up standing on that same field in the middle of January with the NFC championship on the line, they’ll remember those plays for two reasons – one, they certainly won’t run them a second time, and two, had they not run them the first time, they might instead be standing in a climate controlled dome in Louisiana instead of a snow-covered, hard-packed “frozen tundra” in Wisconsin.

And now, the rest of the week one picks. For full disclosure, my single best skill set in analyzing games is predicting who will win the actual game itself. Generally speaking I’m somewhere in the 75% range, and have done as well as 83% back in 2007. I’m not nearly as good dealing with Vegas, since their numbers have absolutely no effect on the actual play of the game, so when in doubt, go with the team I pick and check out the rest of this site for a bit more detail and information on the lines.


Atlanta Falcons @ Chicago Bears
Sun, 1pm, FOX
Line: Falcons by 2.5
I’m actually a little surprised at this line considering how good Atlanta was last year and how little homefield means at Soldier Field in September. If this game were being played in December, I’d probably take the Bears outright. Instead, Atlanta will win this one going away.
Pick: Atlanta 31, Chicago 13

Buffalo Bills @ Kansas City Chiefs
Sun, 1pm, CBS
Line: Chiefs by 6
If the Chiefs have any thoughts of repeating as division champs, this one has to be a gimme. A home game against arguably the worst team in football should be much more than a six point win, but for some reason the Bills always seem to at least keep games close. Still, I do usually go by the common thread of, “don’t take a road ‘dog to cover unless you think they can win it outright.” I don’t see Buffalo winning this game, so take the six and thank me later.
Pick: Kansas City 20, Buffalo 10

Cincinnati Bengals @ Cleveland Browns
Sun, 1pm, CBS
Line: Browns by 7
You mean this isn’t the Sunday night game? In all seriousness, expect this game to be somewhat close and competitive while Cleveland learns how to put away bad teams. And yes, Cincinnati is a BAD team.
Pick: Cleveland 21, Cincinnati 7

Detroit Lions @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Sun, 1pm, FOX
Line: Buccaneers by 1.5
The challenge comes early for the Lions, who will get a quick look at how ready they are to contend for a playoff spot. This isn’t a good matchup for Detroit’s offense, but I don’t think Tampa will really be able to move the ball either. Expect a low-scoring affair, perfect for the sub-field goal line.
Pick: Detroit 15, Tampa Bay 13


Indianapolis Colts @ Houston Texans
Sun, 1pm, CBS
Line: Texans by 9
Clearly by looking at this line, this is a post-Manning surgery line, but in my opinion it’s not nearly high enough. This is a Texans team that probably would have been favored even with Peyton in the lineup, but now that suspect defense will get to tee off against whichever deer-in-the-headlights QB gets to be the one that breaks Manning’s starting streak.
Pick: Houston 27, Indianapolis 9

Philadelphia Eagles @ St. Louis Rams
Sun, 1pm, FOX
Line: Eagles by 4
This is a somewhat dangerous opener for the Eagles. The Edward Jones Dome is loud, and this is a Rams team that thinks it can win the NFC West after coming so close last year. They’ll be out to prove it early, so Philly’s revamped defense better be up to the task.
Pick: Philadelphia 23, St. Louis 20

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Baltimore Ravens
Sun, 1pm, CBS
Line: Ravens by 2
This is the best game on the docket, and remember that rule a couple picks up? “Never take a road dog to cover unless you think they can win outright.” Well, no need for a cover here – Pittsburgh’s got the Ravens number, and beat them for the fifth straight time.
Pick: Pittsburgh 17, Baltimore 13

Tennessee Titans @ Jacksonville Jaguars
Sun, 1pm, CBS
Line: Jaguars by 2
Matt Hasselbeck or Luke McCown? Matt Hasselbeck or Luke McCown? Matt Hasselbeck or Luke McCown…
Pick: Tennessee 28, Jacksonville 14

Carolina Panthers @ Arizona Cardinals
Sun, 4:15pm, FOX
Line: Cardinals by 7
Two quarterbacks make their debuts with their respective teams. Unfortunately, Arizona has a whole lot more surrounding Kevin Kolb than Carolina does surrounding Cam Newton.
Pick: Arizona 22, Carolina 6

Minnesota Vikings @ San Diego Chargers
Sun, 4:15pm, FOX
Line: Chargers by 8.5
I don’t think Donovan McNabb has too much left, but he’s still a serviceable quarterback. I don’t like the 8.5 line, but we’ll be consistent and take the home favorite since I would be stunned to see the Vikings win this game.
Pick: San Diego 34, Minnesota 16

New York Giants @ Washington Redskins
Sun, 4:15pm, FOX
Line: Giants by 3
I’m hoping this line moves to Giants by 2.5, because my original thought was to take the visitors by a field goal. Instead, I’ll take them by four and hope that the healthy Manning can find the end zone enough times.
Pick: New York 24, Washington 20


Seattle Seahawks @ San Francisco 49’ers
Sun, 4:15pm, FOX
Line: 49’ers by 5
Another classic NFC west showdown. Tavaris Jackson! Alex Smith! Next on FOX! In the interest of everyone watching, the team that turns the ball over first automatically loses and the game ends right there. Send every home by 5:00 p.m. eastern and they can watch real football on TV instead of these clowns.
Pick: San Francisco 16, Seattle 10

Dallas Cowboys @ New York Jets
Sun, 8:20pm, NBC
Line: Jets by 5
Homer or not, there’s simply no way I can pick against a New York team playing a home game on the tenth anniversary of September 11. Five points might seem a bit high, but I think adrenaline power the Jets to a convincing win in this one.
Pick: New York 24, Dallas 10

New England Patriots @ Miami Dolphins
Mon, 7:00pm, ESPN
Line: Patriots by 7
Believe it or not, I actually think Miami can win this game, because I’m still not impressed with the Patriots as a team. I think they’ll take a while to hit their stride, but I just don’t think the Dolphins have enough to pull it off entirely.
Pick: New England 24, Miami 21

Oakland Raiders @ Denver Broncos
Mon, 10:15pm, ESPN
Line: Broncos by 3
Oakland swept the division last year and didn’t make the playoffs. Denver had the biggest quarterback controversy in the league and never actually changed quarterbacks, even for one preseason game. I think the better question is, “who cares?”
Pick: Oakland 23, Denver 17

Straight-Up: 1-0
Against Spread: 0-1

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