Wade Payne / AP
Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Fret no longer about not being able to find an opinion on a specific NFL game every week in this space.
This season, Talking Points will pick every pro-football matchup against the spread beginning with week 1. The new feature won’t replace the handicapping contest, which will continue to run on Friday, but supplement it before the action kicks off Thursday night weekly.
Picks will be separated into three categories — plays, leans and guesses — and I’ll keep the records for each as well as post the overall number at the top of each entry. It’s not advisable to bet on every NFL game, but it is worthwhile to consider them all.
My hope is this series can help with the analyzing, and perhaps also assist making tough decisions in against the spread pools. Last year, I went a mediocre 55-54-2 on picks posted here including selections on every playoff game.
Find the week 1 pick ’em against the spread below.Plays (0-0)
Tennessee Titans plus-4 at Kansas City Chiefs The Titans are healthy and undervalued; the Chiefs depleted and overrated. New Tennessee coach Ken Whisenhunt always had his teams well prepared in Arizona, where he covered the opening-game spread in five of six years. And the betting line continues to inflate the worth of the Chiefs’ home-field advantage.
New York Giants plus-6 at Detroit Lions The only thing as lousy as Detroit’s 10-12 straight-up, 8-14 against the spread record as a favorite the last two years is Jim Caldwell’s 2-14 straight-up, 6-10 against the spread marks in his most recent season as a head coach. After losing six straight to start last season, including failing to cover in the first five, the Giants will be motivated to avoid a similar trap.
Baltimore Ravens minus-1.5 vs. Cincinnati Bengals An exceptional spot for the Ravens, which are desperate to atone for a lost season in 2013. Don’t forget how generous they’ve been to bettors in the John Harbaugh era, covering 56 percent of their games over the last six years.
Atlanta Falcons plus-3 vs. New Orleans Saints This line opened Atlanta minus-1 over the summer, which makes me inclined to take the four extra points with the home team. Although I’ve picked the Saints to win the Super Bowl for months and dislike the Falcons overall, it’s hard to ignore New Orleans’ 3-5 straight-up, 1-7 against the spread record on the road last season.Leans (0-0)
San Francisco 49ers minus-4.5 at Dallas Cowboys I’d prefer to tread lightly on road favorites, but San Francisco’s 6-0-1 against the spread in the role last season eases my concerns. Also reassuring is Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, of all people, showing little confidence in his team by telling reporters, “I think there is a difference between being optimistic and assessing the odds,” after the final preseason game.
San Diego Chargers plus-3.5 at Arizona Cardinals Looks like a team on the incline vs. a team on the decline. A rash of injuries, including ones to defensive end Darnell Dockett and safety Tyrann Mathieu, won’t make it any easier for Arizona to defend a San Diego offense that was as prolific as Denver and Philadelphia a season ago.
Seattle Seahawks minus-5.5 vs. Green Bay Packers Losses by each of the last two defending champions in their opening game has created a bias asserting that the Super Bowl winner enters the season overvalued. A wider sample digresses, as the 2013 Ravens and 2012 Giants are the only two champions to lose their opener since 2001.
Pittsburgh Steelers minus-7 vs. Cleveland Browns The Steelers have beaten the Browns at home for 10 straight years, going 8-2 against the spread. The inequality of the two franchises remains despite this being the shortest spread at Heinz Field since 2004.
Buffalo Bills plus-7 at Chicago Bears Buffalo unfairly starts the season near the very bottom of oddsmakers’ power ratings. Jump on the Bills now before they make their way to the middle where they belong.
Jacksonville Jaguars plus-11 at Philadelphia Eagles Bet you didn’t realize Jacksonville has covered eight of the last 12 times it stepped onto the field. Sure, three of them came during this preseason but that’s not the kind of team I’m looking to give double digits against an inept defense.
Houston Texans minus-3 vs. Washington Redskins Houston seems to have the exact strengths to attack Washington’s weaknesses. The Texans boast a daunting defensive line to attack the Redskins’ patchwork offensive line, and a physical receiving corps to pick on a soft secondary.Guesses (0-0)
Denver Broncos minus-7.5 vs. Indianapolis Colts The Colts took 6 points on the spread at home in this game last year. Does that one 39-33 win — where Denver outgained Indianapolis by nearly 100 yards, by the way — really mean they’ve closed the gap enough to merit only 1.5 more points on the road 11 months later? I’m skeptical.
Carolina Panthers plus-2 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Carolina brings back one of the NFL’s best defenses a year removed from cashing for bettors at a 9-6-1 against the spread clip. Tampa Bay returns with a lot of unknowns a year after burning gamblers by failing to cover in 10 of 16 games. And the Buccaneers are the more popular preseason bet. Something doesn’t add up.
Minnesota Vikings plus-4 at St. Louis Rams Compelling cases can be made for both sides, but I’m higher on Minnesota for the season. The game is so tight that my choice would be flipped if the spread went to down to St. Louis minus-3.
New York Jets minus-5 vs. Oakland Raiders I want absolutely nothing to do with either of these teams, but suppose it’s the lesser of two evils to pick against the West Coast team traveling east with a rookie quarterback.
New England Patriots minus-4.5 at Miami Dolphins Ninety percent of the tickets will be on the Patriots, which sets up a classic contrarian play on the Dolphins. But it’s just so difficult to pull the trigger when the Dolphins project as objectively awful.