Florio usually introduces our weekly picks by coming up with some excuse why he’s trailing in the standings.
Something tells me I won’t be allowed to write the introduction ever again.
Saints at Packers
Florio’s take: The home team has won the regular-season opener since 2003. The Saints will be the first team to play in the Thursday night opener three times. The lockout workouts conducted by the Saints could be the difference against the Packers, who got together as a team during the lockout only to collect their Super Bowl rings.
Florio’s pick: Saints 28, Packers 24.
Rosenthal’s take: These are the two best teams in the NFC. Both boast terrific continuity with their players and scheme, especially on offense. The Saints added bulk to their defensive line, while the Packers welcome injured players back throughout their championship roster. It’s a new year, however. And the Saints are my new conference favorites.
Rosenthal’s pick: Saints 31, Packers 28.
Steelers at Ravens
Florio’s pick: Ravens 16, Steelers 13.
Rosenthal’s take: The Steelers trot out the same old defense, with nine starters over 30 by year’s end. The Ravens look much different, with big changes to the offensive line, wide receiver, and in the secondary. For Week 1, that favors the old guys. Mike Tomlin said he expects “James [Harrison] to be James.” I expect Bryant McKinnie to be Bryant McKinnie.
Rosenthal’s pick: Steelers 20, Ravens 14.
Falcons at Bears
Florio’s take: The top two seeds from the 2010 playoff field meet, with the gap between them seemingly much larger in 2011. But the Falcons could be caught napping with a huge showdown against the Eagles looming, and with even more pressure following a 13-3 regular season that was capped by a one-and-done trip to the postseason. Though the Falcons likely will finish with a much better record than the Bears, this could be one of those quirky Week One aberrations.
Florio’s pick: Bears 23, Falcons 17.
Rosenthal’s take: The Bears could quickly erase all the bad vibes from the last month with a win over a quality team. Unfortunately, they play a Falcons team that is a lot more versatile on offense with Julio Jones and Harry Douglas emerging. Chicago’s so-so secondary held up last year, but it’s overdue to get exposed.
Rosenthal’s pick: Falcons 24, Bears 20.
Bengals at Browns
Florio’s take: Andy Dalton could end up being a great quarterback. But it’s too much to expect him to win on the road in Week One of his rookie year, especially with a mediocre receiving corps and a potentially porous secondary. The Browns quietly are improving, and Colt McCoy could end up being the steal of the 2010 draft.
Florio’s pick: Browns 30, Bengals 20.
Rosenthal’s take: Cleveland’s schedule sets up well for the Browns to be this year’s Tampa Bay. Playing the Bengals twice and the NFC West is a huge bonus. With all the conference realignment talk these days, relegating the Bengals to the NFC West actually makes sense. Perhaps they can be swapped with the Rams if St. Louis climbs above .500 this year.
Rosenthal’s pick: Browns 28, Bengals 13.
Colts at Texans
Florio’s take: Last year, the Colts couldn’t beat the Texans with Peyton Manning. This year, they don’t have Peyton Manning. Sometimes, it’s really that simple.
Florio’s pick: Texans 27, Colts 14.
Rosenthal’s take: I’ve given Bill Polian a lot of love over the years for his drafting prowess. This season will prove if Polian was building a true team, or just a bunch of guys around Peyton Manning. The Patriots won 11 games without Tom Brady. It would be surprising if the Colts won more than six if Manning doesn’t return.
Rosenthal’s pick: Texans 24, Colts 13.
Titans at Jaguars
Florio’s take: Apparently, beating the Titans means less to the Jaguars than pocketing $8 million that otherwise would have been paid to David Garrard. Even with a potentially less-than-top-speed Chris Johnson, the Titans should have enough to sink Luke McCown and company.
Florio’s pick: Titans 17, Jaguars 14.
Rosenthal’s take: The Titans are one of the toughest teams to evaluate. They have new schemes on both sides of the ball, but they also boast a powerful offensive line and Chris Johnson. I’m not sure what the Jaguars do well besides push the pocket with their defensive tackles. Expect the calls for Blaine Gabbert to pick up after this one.
Rosenthal’s pick: Titans 17, Jaguars 13.
Bills at Chiefs
Florio’s take: Former Chiefs offensive coordinator Chan Gailey returns to town as head coach of the Bills. And the Bills could give the Chiefs everything they can handle. And I wish I had the guts to pick the upset here.
Florio’s pick: Chiefs 23, Bills 20.
Rosenthal’s take: Does the preseason matter at all? If so, the Chiefs offense is in huge trouble. No group looked more disjointed. They haven’t solved their receiver issues and the offense line struggled badly. Buffalo’s attempts to improve their rush defense will be tested here. They’ll pass the test.
Rosenthal’s pick: Bills 26, Chiefs 21.
Eagles at Rams
Florio’s take: The Rams have had seven months to come up with a strategy for confounding Mike Vick, who may get frustrated if the offense struggles. With an emotional return to Atlanta coming in Week Two, Vick and the Eagles could stumble. But even if they do, they should be good enough to get off to a 1-0 start.
Florio’s pick: Eagles 29, Rams 23.
Rosenthal’s take: This is a rough first matchup for Philadelphia’s ever-changing offensive line. The Rams pass rush is among the league’s best and will have Michael Vick running for his life. Josh McDaniels started fast in Denver as a head coach and he’ll do it again as an offensive coordinator in St. Louis.
Rosenthal’s pick: Rams 24, Eagles 21.
Lions at Buccaneers
Florio’s take: The game that possibly will be the only Week One non-sellout possibly could be the best game of Week One. And given that the Lions beat the Bucs in their own non-sold-out building last year without Matthew Stafford at quarterback, the Lions should be able to do it again with Stafford on the field.
Florio’s pick: Lions 28, Bucs 27.
Rosenthal’s take: Fun game. Everyone is on the Lions bandwagon and this is the type of game a young improving team should win. Tampa is youngrier. The Bucs are the rare team that has someone to cover Calvin Johnson (Aqib Talib) and a young quarterback with as much potential as Matthew Stafford (Josh Freeman). Plus I know Florio will pick Detroit.
Rosenthal’s pick: Bucs 31, Lions 27.
Panthers at Cardinals
Florio’s pick: Cardinals 35, Panthers 24.
Rosenthal’s take: The Cardinals are favored by a touchdown, which is a little crazy for one of the worst teams in football from 2010 breaking in a new quarterback. Especially when they are starting outside linebackers (Joey Porter and Clark Haggans) that Pittsburgh gave up half a decade ago. DeAngelo Williams will do enough to keep this game close.
Rosenthal’s pick: Cardinals 17, Panthers 14.
Vikings at Chargers
Florio’s take: Someday, this could be the next Jets-Giants rivalry. As of right now, it wouldn’t be much of a rivalry.
Florio’s take: Chargers 31, Vikings 17.
Rosenthal’s take: Florio thinks the Vikings will be frisky this year. This is a great chance to prove it. Minnesota’s secondary looks shakier than ever and the defensive line no long looks dominant. It’s hard to see Minnesota slowing Philip Rivers down.
Rosenthal’s pick: Chargers 35, Vikings 24.
Seahawks at 49ers
Florio’s take: Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll renew their USC-Stanford acquaintances at a higher level but, for now, on one of the smaller stages. That could change if Harbaugh can do for the Niners in 2011 what Carroll did for the Seahawks in 2010. The process begins with the Niners holding serve at home.
Florio’s pick: 49ers 24, Seahawks 20.
Rosenthal’s take: A lot of fantasy owners picked up the 49ers defense this week because it faces Tarvaris Jackson. Just as many owners picked up the Seattle defense because it faces Alex Smith. The 2011 NFC West everyone! (I’ll take the 49ers because they are home and the running game looks good.)
Rosenthal’s pick: 49ers 16, Seahawks 14.
Giants at Redskins
Florio’s take: Eli Manning may not be a top-five quarterback, but I’ll take him any day against a bottom-five quarterback. Injuries to the Giants defense and improvements to the rest of the Redskins roster should keep it close, but close won’t matter when it’s time to put this one in the official standings. (As if it ever does.)
Florio’s pick: Giants 17, Redskins 10.
Rosenthal’s take: I picked the Giants to win the NFC East in July, and was too stubborn to change it when they started losing defensive players every week to injury. Washington’s strong preseason has Redskins fans wildly optimistic despite the strong presence of Rex Grossman. Something has to give here. I’ll say its Grossman giving the Giants turnovers and sacks.
Rosenthal’s pick: Giants 19, Redskins 10.
Cowboys at Jets
Florio’s take: The Jets christened their new stadium in 2010 with a prime-time loss to the Ravens. The home team faces even more pressure this year, with a visit from the Cowboys on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Look for the Jets to deliver, thanks to a maturing Mark Sanchez and a Dallas defensive secondary with some holes. Besides, coach Rex Ryan surely will want to stick it to his twin brother, Rob, even more than usual, given Rob’s recent foot-fetish indiscretion.
Florio’s pick: Jets 24, Cowboys 20.
Rosenthal’s take: The Cowboys may have endured the worst Wednesday practice to start the season of all time. They lost tackle Tyron Smith and cornerback Mike Jenkins came up limping. Dallas is going to regret paying Terence Newman $8 million instead of going harder after Nnamdi Asomugha. Take the Jets going away on what is sure to be an emotional night.
Rosenthal’s pick: Jets 37, Cowboys 23.
Patriots at Dolphins
Florio’s take: This is a no-lose situation for the Dolphins. After losing seven of eight games at home in 2010 and with the Pats winning all but two when playing both at home and away, no one expects Miami to prevail. That dynamic could make the Dolphins a little looser and relaxed. But loose and relaxed likely won’t be enough to overcome the talent gap.
Florio’s pick: Patriots 33, Dolphins 21.
Rosenthal’s take: Florio ranked Miami low in the power rankings, but I think they’ll finish with a winning record, for what it’s worth. (Basically nothing.) Their young defense can be one of the best in the league and will give New England’s offensive line fits in a low scoring game.
Rosenthal’s pick: New England 20, Dolphins 17.
Raiders at Broncos
Florio’s take:The Raiders swept the AFC West in 2010, otherwise losing eight of 10. This year, the Raiders likely will be better beyond the borders of their division, but it’s too much to expect them to win in Denver against a Broncos team that, while not playoff-ready, quietly is improving.
Florio’s pick: Broncos 26, Raiders 21.
Rosenthal’s take: The Broncos defense can be a lot better right away with Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil rushing the passer. Their defensive tackles may get run over on the ground, but that weakness won’t show up as much if they play with the lead. The John Fox/John Elway honeymoon will have legs.
Rosenthal’s pick: Broncos 27, Raiders 17.