Writers everywhere are offering predictions. Many spread their focus across the league and predict all the NFL games. Here, I will concentrate on the AFC North to allow some space for more in depth pre-game thoughts.
Philadelphia at Cleveland (Sun, 1:00pm EDT, FOX)
What Vegas says: Philly by 8 and ½.
What I think: I’m not trying to glamorize gambling, but I’d put my money on Philly in this one; they’ll likely cover the spread. Even though the Browns will be sporting the home field advantage, I don’t think they’ll be able to overcome their injuries and inexperience to pull off an upset over the Eagles. Recent press indicates that Trent Richardson will play in the opener, but a single week of practice after a second knee surgery kept him on the sideline for a month will surely impact his play. Unfortunately for the Browns, they need Richardson establishing a strong running game to take the pressure of rookie QB Weeden. Add this to Philly’s veteran DB crew, and it looks like a long day for the Browns.
Eagles win 27 – 16.
Pittsburg at Denver (Sun, 8:30pm EDT, NBC)
What Vegas says: Denver by 2.
What I think: It’s a gamble, but here again I think Vegas has this one right. While the Steelers have a typically strong squad, aided by the Monday return of WR Mike Wallace, I’m just not convinced they’ll be able to overcome the intangibles of Peyton’s second coming in Denver on Sunday night. Adding to this assessment is the injury status of key members of the Steeler’s LB and offensive line corps. Tomlin listed Harrison (knee) and Worilds (wrist) as day-to-day, so they might play, but this will affect their ability to stop the former Raven RB McGahee and provide the necessary pressure on Manning.
Broncos win 23 – 20.
Cincinnati at Baltimore (Mon, 7:00pm EDT, ESPN)
What Vegas says: Baltimore by 6.
What I think: Take the Ravens and the points. OK, you’re thinking this is a Ravens blog and therefore I am supposed to say that… While it’s true that this is a Ravens blog, I think the available evidence points to this conclusion. First, while past results don’t necessarily guarantee future performance, Coach Harbaugh’s perfect record in season openers is indicative of his ability to prepare a team for the first battle of an annual campaign. Next, hosting the game in the uber friendly confines of M&T Bank Stadium bodes well for the men in purple and black.
Additionally, the Ravens actually have an offense this year. Look for some early connections between Flacco and wide outs Smith and Jones to open up the middle for more hookups with Boldin and plenty of running room for Ray Rice. I expect the Ravens to up the tempo with their new no-huddle plan to put points on the board early and provide their defense some breathing room. On the defensive side of the ball, despite all the talk of Dalton and Green, my biggest concern is the run defense. If the Ravens successfully control the line of scrimmage and stuff the run, a uni-dimensional Cincy passing attack will not be able to sustain a 60-minute effort against the veterans in the Ravens defensive backfield.
Ravens win 34 – 23.
Upset of the week
Just to prove that I don’t always follow the Vegas line… Cowboys upset the defending World Champions tonight in New York! We’ll find out shortly…
These are my predictions. What are yours?