NFL Match Predictions: Weeks 1-2
Brace yourselves, loyal readers (yes, all three of you): I’m trying to show I know things about another sport. Emphasis on “trying” – it’s my first “proper” season of following the NFL so expect many of these predictions to be wildly inaccurate. I’m getting the first two weeks out of the way in one go and at least two weeks before most of the games even take place because I feel like it. To the seasoned American football analyst, these probably appear the equivalent of Mark Lawrenson’s Premier League predictions, but I don’t care.
Baltimore at Denver
Ah, the first Thursday night game, a rematch of last year’s classic play-off game, etc. My gut feeling on this is that the Ravens are weaker having lost so many personnel from last year – even though the actual ability of the squad may not have dropped (especially factoring in the return to full fitness of the likes of Ngata and Webb), the unity of the squad will have been disrupted and they won’t be on the same psychological high that they were during the play-offs when they had momentum and had Ray Lewis barking them on. So I fancy Denver to win this comfortably.
New England at Buffalo
Insert bland platitudes about the Patriots’ tight end situation here. But even though Tom Brady doesn’t have many targets to throw to, Buffalo currently have doubts about who is supposed to be doing their throwing to begin with, with EJ Manuel having a “minor knee procedure” and Kevin Kolb out with “concussion-like symptoms”. This is only going one way – I’m going for the easy prediction and saying New England will batter the Bills.
Seattle at Carolina
My season preview tells me the Panthers are projected to finish 4th in NFC South, and comfortably so at that. I think that’s a bit harsh, though admittedly I’m having a hard time working out who they could finish above. It could be quite a competitive division. The Seahawks, on the other hand…well, so much has been said about how wonderful they are going to be. We’ll see. But I’ll go with Seattle here, though it won’t be a total rout.
Cincinnati at Chicago
Said season preview reckons the Bears will finish 3rd again in NFC North. Again, I think the criticism within it is a bit harsh – they collapsed last year but still looked to be a good team overall, and 10-6 isn’t a dreadful record. I detect a certain amount of cynicism about Marc Trestman, which you can neither prove nor disprove at this stage. As for Cincinnati, I think they could potentially edge out the Ravens to win their division. But despite that, it’s at Soldier Field, so I’m going for a marginal Chicago win here.
Miami at Cleveland
That season preview thinks Miami will finish behind Buffalo. I found that a bit amusing. I fancy the Dolphins for a wildcard spot this year. Yes, I know, you shouldn’t read much into the free agency haul, but they are a team on the up (even if it’s gradual). I think they could surprise this year. As for the Browns, they seem to be making small improvements to the team but I’m not sure it’s enough of a step forward in a tough division. And I think they’ll lose this one too – going for Miami to start strongly with the benefit from the new signings.
Minnesota at Detroit
NFC North is such a good division this year. Any of the four teams could conceivably be in the play-offs come January. I think this will be a close contest. Detroit seem to be making some effort to cure their issues of last year, and even then they weren’t too far off the pace. Minnesota ended last season well, and Adrian Peterson and all that, but there are still doubts about Ponder. I’m going for a slightly surprising win for Detroit.
Oakland at Indianapolis
The Raiders are a mess. The Colts aren’t. Indianapolis will win easily.
Kansas City at Jacksonville
I like where the Chiefs are going. They already had half a good team last year. They were just lacking the half that would stop them losing 14 matches. And they had other issues as well… Jacksonville were pretty woeful too but there is less cause for hope there than in Missouri. Kansas City to win comfortably in their first game under Andy Reid.
Atlanta at New Orleans
I can’t really talk about Bountygate and Sean Payton and all that. So I’ll just say this – New Orleans will be better this year, and Atlanta may not be. The component parts may be there for the Falcons but they had such momentum last year it might prove tough to replicate their form, especially with such a tough schedule this time. As it’s in the Superdome, I’m going for New Orleans.
Tampa Bay at New York Jets
Oh come off it, you know what’s going to happen here. Tampa Bay.
Tennessee at Pittsburgh
This is an intriguing one. The Titans may be a bit more competitive this year, while the Steelers are a team on the decline with their key players of their previous generation now likely to be past their peak. I’m going for Tennessee, which might shock those American pundits who talk up the big teams all the time.
Green Bay at San Francisco
I don’t want to have to predict a Packers defeat, but this isn’t too far removed from the situation at this point last year. Green Bay have tried to fill some of the holes in their game from last year, but the 49ers could equally claim to have improved. All rests on Kaepernick… I think San Francisco will win this by a similar margin to the first game last year.
Arizona at St Louis
The Cardinals are my dark horse shout to be picking first in the 2014 Draft. They’re in a very tough division and I’m not convinced by their roster – having an ageing Carson Palmer at the helm of the offense wouldn’t fill me with confidence if I was a fan. Meanwhile, the Rams enter their second season under Jeff Fisher after being more competitive than perhaps expected in his first there. St Louis at home should take this with room to spare.
New York Giants at Dallas
The Giants, like the Steelers, are probably past their peak, and they have begun to shed some of their successful generation. I think they’ll continue to slip this year. As for Dallas, I’d be surprised if they don’t finish at least 2nd with the Giants and the Eagles struggling, and I’d be surprised if they didn’t win this too.
Philadelphia at Washington
Pundits have said this depends on whether Robert Griffin III is back. If he is, Washington will win comfortably. If he isn’t, Washington will win by a small amount. So Washington, obviously.
Houston at San Diego
The second Monday night game starts at 03:20 on Tuesday morning here. So I guess I’ll miss another Houston win. The Chargers are another team in decline and it’ll take another couple of years to turn them around, while the Texans aren’t too far from a first Super Bowl appearance, especially in a weak AFC.
New York Jets at New England: New England easily
St Louis at Atlanta: Atlanta but it’ll be close
Cleveland at Baltimore: Baltimore but they’ll have to work quite hard for it
Carolina at Buffalo: Carolina comfortably
Minnesota at Chicago: Chicago marginally
Washington at Green Bay: Green Bay, the margin depending on the Redskins QB
Tennessee at Houston: Houston by a healthy margin
Miami at Indianapolis: Indianapolis but not by much
Dallas at Kansas City: Kansas City but another close game
San Diego at Philadelphia: San Diego but could go either way
Detroit at Arizona: Detroit by a single figure margin
New Orleans at Tampa Bay: New Orleans comfortably
Denver at New York Giants: Denver with ease
Jacksonville at Oakland: Jacksonville because they are slightly less bad
San Francisco at Seattle: Seattle but much closer than last year
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati: Cincinnati with a narrow win