NFL WEEK ONE: The fact that my first pick is the Rams should make it clear that this isn’t your typical stack of NFL predictions. In honor of the most entertaining football prognosticator of my youth, Leonard Postero, I employ some of the good-old-boy themes from his classic Leonard’s Losers radio show as a springboard for my own column in what we’ll call Woody’s Winners. Enjoy!
Arizona @ St. Louis
It’s always fun when team-stealers (Arizona, which lured the Cardinals from St. Louis) come back to the scene of the crime to play their replacements. Former Rams QB hero Kurt Warner brought Super Bowl championship hopes to our 48th state, but he retired in January. This gave pretty-boy Matt Leinart time to shine, but Paris Hilton’s ex failed to impress and was released. Now at the helm of the Redbirds is ex-Brown Derek Anderson, who’ll face rookie Sam Bradford and the hapless Rams. The Cards have lost a few pieces, and they’ll be surprised in Week 1.
Woody’s Winner: St. Louis.
FACT: The NFL went to a 16-game schedule for 1978. Since then, the Cardinals franchise never won double-digit games until last season, when the team finished 10-6.
Click "more" to see my picks for the other 15 NFL games in Week 1.
Atlanta @ Pittsburgh
The Atlanta Falcons have the offensive tools to compete with any team in the NFL, but their pass defense has been as spotty as a Dalmatian. Luckily, they head into Week 1 against a Roethlisbergerless roster of Steelers. The ‘Burgh knew they’d be without suspended-Ben’s services, but hung their hopes on now-injured Byron Leftwich. The Steelers won’t have enough smelt in their tanks to knock the Birds of Prey off their perch… even at home. Black-and-gold fans, wave your “terrible towels” and try to ward off the smell that may begin your team's 2010 season.
Woody’s Winner: Atlanta.
FACT: The Falcons have never won in Pittsburgh. The last time they visited Heinz Field in 2002, they played the Steelers to a 34-34 draw.
Baltimore @ NY Jets
A Ravens-Jets game in Week 1 means smash-mouth football, so don’t be surprised to see a player or two carted off the field while both teams get to full speed to begin the season. The Jumbos have depth that the Corvus corax lack, however, which means that the Rex Ryan Express will drop its payload all over the team from Baltimore. This coming Monday Night, the New Meadowlands will be filled with passed-out Poe-birds by the time the final whistle blows.
Woody’s Winner: New York.
FACT: Last season, the Jets rushed the ball 607 times, an incredible 82 times more than the next-closest team (the Panthers).
Miami @ Buffalo
Miami’s always been a Jekyll-or-Hyde team, and it’s tough to say whether the Mister or the Doctor will be “in” when the Bills come due in Week 1. Buffalo should be a better team now that they’re not struggling to justify signing Terrell Owens, but the nickelbacks won’t ride the marine-mammals while summer’s still in season. At least a few diehard Bison fans will get to visit the Southern Florida warmth before colder weather arrives.
Woody’s Winner: Miami.
FACT: The Bills beat the Dolphins in their last matchup of the 1960s and their first matchup of the 1980s, but Miami was a perfect 20-0 against Buffalo in the decade of the 1970s.
Carolina @ NY Giants
The Panthers have an NHL twin (in Florida) and the Giants an MLB one (in San Francisco). We’d take the cats in that matchup, since 6 with hockey sticks beat 11 with gloves every time. But on Sunday, we’ll go Gotham, knowing that the “other” Manning is eager to rebound from last year’s lost season. Sweet Carolina has a top-tier rushing attack, but they won’t best the Big Guys at home in Week 1.
Woody’s Winner: New York.
FACT: The Giants and Jets share a stadium, so they rarely play home games in the same week, but the Giants play Sunday afternoon—and the Jets Monday night—to allow both teams to christen the New Meadowlands.
Detroit @ Chicago
These Great Lakes cities have a rivalry of historic importance. Okay, what that really means is that it’s been many years since their match-ups have mattered very much. The Bears have found occasional success in our lifetimes, however, which is more than can be said for the Lions. Detroit’s offense may perform well this season, but their defense tackles like day-old kittens. And until Motown shows some teeth, picking them to win is about as smart as poking at an angry Grizzly with a toothbrush.
Woody’s Winner: Duh. I mean, Chicago
FACT: The lion logo on Detroit’s helmets was updated last season to give him a more “menacing” look. Good for him. And did you know he has a name? Bubbles. Yes, really.
Cincinnati @ New England
In Week 1, we get to find out if Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco can truly fit on the field at the same time. While the Patriots will be ready for the Bengals’ pass bombs, Cincinnati won’t be able to stop New England’s more balanced attack. By the time the Tigers find out if it’s more than a hunch, the Tom Brady bunch will be well on their way to the Week 1 “win” column.
Woody’s Winner: New England
FACT: Despite being members of the AFL and then the AFC, the Bengals and Patriots have never faced one another in a postseason game.
Cleveland @ Tampa Bay
It’s difficult to come up with a less-exciting matchup than mixing Browns with Bucs, but such games often turn out exciting to watch. At least Cleveland seems to be going in the right direction; Tampa Bay might as well switch back to their orange Bucco Bruce logo if they’re going to party like it’s 1976. The Dawg Pound would have more to root for if the Brownie’s weren’t mired in the tough AFC North, but Northeast Ohio will still party down on Dollar Corn Night.
Woody’s Winner: Cleveland
FACT: This game is one of only two inter-conference match-ups in Week 1 (the other is Atlanta @ Pittsburgh).
Dallas @ Washington
Last year, Dallas’ new giant overhanging video screen doubled as a punting target. For 2010, the Redskins installed new end-zone screens at FedEx Field, and proclaimed them “punter-proof” in an obvious jab to the Cowboys. Washington should find out quickly if they’re really immune to punts, since they’ll be turning the ball over to Big D all night long. New Capital City QB Donovan McNabb will quickly learn to miss the prowess of the Philly team that once surrounded him, and D.C. will need some Romo-Seltzer before the Sunday-night game ends.
Woody’s Winner: Dallas
FACT: Weekly Sunday-night games were introduced on ESPN in 1987, and moved to NBC in 2006 when ESPN took over Monday Night Football.
Denver @ Jacksonville
A Jaguar will beat a Bronco on the open road, but in the four-wheel-drive land of professional football, it’s nice to have ground clearance. Denver is still finding itself under QB Kyle Orton, and injuries to most of the running backs on their roster will reduce their ability to mix things up. Some fans feel that Tim Tebow could be the next John Elway, but that’s just the mile-high air making them lightheaded. Still, they’re playing in a city that has made it clear they’re bored with their NFL team, so enjoy the Jags before they head to Los Angeles.
Woody’s Winner: Denver
FACT: Forbes magazine recently labeled the Jags the least-valuable franchise in the NFL, worth $725 million when the league average is in excess of $1 billion.
Green Bay @ Philadelphia
Kevin Kolb has a chance to pull an Aaron Rodgers by taking over the Eagles after long-serving QB Donovan McNabb left to serve our nation’s capital. If he proves half as successful, the Feathered Faithful will celebrate with cheesesteaks all around (but no bell-ringing). This time around, however, the Packers’ relentless sack machine will make cheddar at Lincoln Financial Field, with Kolb Salad on the side. Say cheese!
Woody’s Winner: Green Bay
FACT: If a Packers-Eagles game without Favre and McNabb seems foreign to you, you can watch those two face-off Thanksgiving weekend when Minnesota visits Washington.
Indianapolis @ Houston
Like the Colts suffered in Indy until King Manning arrived, the Texans struggled before Prince Schaub came to town. This season might see a changing of the guard as people begin to realize that, hey, no team in a state that borders Lake Michigan should be a member of the AFC South. If Houston’s once-promising running game can get moooving, the Steers could become the toast of Texas this season.
Woody’s Winner: Houston
FACT: The Bizarro anti-version of this game would pit the Ravens (the team that replaced the Colts in Baltimore) against the Titans (the team that abandoned Houston before the Texans arrived.)
San Diego @ Kansas City
All arrows point to the Kansas City Chiefs, a team that hasn’t been to the Super Bowl in 40 years. Don’t expect that to change anytime soon. Beginning the KC beatdown is a San Diego team that hopes that rookie RB Ryan Mathews can be the success that Ladanian Tomlinson once was. Expect the Chargers’ lightning to be very, very frightening to the Red & Gold. Len Dawson, where are you?
Woody’s Winner: San Diego
FACT: Ryan Mathews’ potential, along with his strong showing in preseason, has catapulted him to a first-round pick in most fantasy football leagues, a rare showing for a rookie.
Minnesota @ New Orleans (Thu night)
This rematch of last season’s thrilling overtime NFC Championship will undoubtedly be the most-watched game of Week 1. Like that matchup, this one will occur in Louisiana, giving the Old Gold the home-field advantage. It remains to be seen whether Brett Favre has anything left in the tank, but even if he falters, there are worse options than handing the ball off to Adrian Peterson. Since opponents will be gunning for the Super Bowl Champs, the Saints will find it difficult to match last season’s level of success. At least for Week 1, however, they’ll hold their own against a top-tier team.
Woody’s Winner: New Orleans
FACT: The Men in Purple have defeated the Holy Ones in 7 of their last 8 regular-season meetings.
Oakland @ Tennessee
Both the Raiders’ and the Titans’ logos incorporate blades, but it remains to see if Oakland can regain their once-sharp edge. JaMarcus Russell is history, but the Silver-and-Black inexplicably replaced him with another heralded underachiever, Jason Campbell. The new quarterback will quickly begin to miss the capable targets he had in D.C., especially when the Titans defense forces him into an impromptu audition for Dancing with the Stars. Oakland fans might want to wear patches over both eyes.
Woody’s Winner: Tennessee
FACT: With a stellar 13-3 record in 2010, Tennessee could bring the franchise to an overall winning record. Since 1960, the Oilers/Titans have gone 371-379-6.
San Francisco @ Seattle
The Seahawks lost their top two WRs from last season, meaning the chemistry between QB Matt Hasselbeck and his new wideouts isn’t quite there yet. Enter Mike Singletary’s tough 49ers defense, and Monday morning’s $3 coffee won’t taste very good in Seattle. A good dose of Frank Gore will likely make this a low-scoring affair, and expect ‘Frisco to come out on top on the road.
Woody’s Winner: San Francisco
FACT: The 49ers made the playoffs 17 times from 1982-2002, but have not returned since.
Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below, but please be cordial to others; this is all in good fun. Thanks!