Rusty Ryan’s and Trent Walker’s Las Vegas Hilton Super Contest Picks and Week 1 NFL Preview
Rusty Ryan’s Picks
49ers at Packers (-5)
The 49ers were one of the surprise teams from last season as a “worst to first” team. They improved dramatically and most of the credit goes to now second year head coach Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh simplified the offense, leaned on the run game, and maximized what Alex Smith can produce while minimizing Smith’s weaknesses. The 49ers spent a lot of money on upgrading receivers, which may simply serve as a way to distract and threaten defenses to not stack the box against the run as the San Francisco line sometimes plodded down the field rather than punished. The defense returns intact but as Bill Barnwell point out, defense and special teams, two things the 49ers excelled in, are variable and change greatly year to year. The turnover ratio benefited San Francisco last year so extremely that there has to be a regression this year.
The Packers are mystifying because of how the offense can make up for how bad the defense was last year. The secondary had to defend receivers for over 4 seconds a fair amount of the time. Those problems have hopefully been fixed with a few additions on defense, none more notable than pass rush specialist Nick Perry who was drafted in the first round out of USC. Aaron Rodgers will continue to be amazing but the lack of a solid running back may rear its ugly head against the 49ers when in pass protection. The home field advantage will pay off and I like the Packers to win by a touchdown.
Redskins at Saints (-7)
I think people are overreacting a little in terms of the Bounty suspensions. Vilma will soon be returning to the team, although he may not play this Sunday. Most of the assistants with the Saints have been with the team for many years and Brees has been a big part of planning for opponents. An elite quarterback can make up for a lot of things, sometimes even average coaching. The biggest thing hurt by the Sean Payton suspension is Drew Brees’ fantasy stats as both the quarterback and the coach clearly loved chasing records.
The Redskins are starting hotshot rookie Robert Griffin III who has done nothing but amaze in the preseason. He hit Pierre Garcon regularly and was incredibly efficient marching the ‘Skins up and down the field. However, there is a big difference between preseason and regular season football. A rookie quarterback is making his first start on the road, which is never a great experience. Washington has serious questions in the secondary. The pass rush is not something to mess with, as Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan are some of the scariest rushing linebackers in the league. If anybody can neutralize a blitz and pick apart a defense though, it is Drew Brees.
Patriots (-5.5) at Titans
Am I the only one who remembers how bad Jake Locker was at throwing the football last year? Locker still appears to be an athlete playing the quarterback position. He went 31/60 in the preseason for 316 yards while also rushing for 57 yards. He is a quarterback that hasn’t appeared to improve his accuracy from his college days. Locker has the benefits of a strong rushing attack led by Chris Johnson. However, he has to face a defense that improved the pass rush and could force Locker to pass while running, which is a problem because Locker has troubles passing when firmly planted in the pocket.
On the flip side, does anyone think that the Patriots won’t drop more than 35? The Patriots this year are absolutely loaded on offense. The only real concern is if Brady can hold up at the age of 35 and if the offensive line can protect him well enough. Otherwise he has on offense with Welker, Gronkowski, Hernandez, and Lloyd. The Titans defense isn’t strong enough to slow the Patriots nor can the Titan’s offense keep pace.
Rams at Lions (-7)
The Lions are favorites at home against a team that went 2-14, had a league worst Pythagorean win number (Football Outsiders) of 2.3, and has a new coach with a virtually new roster. I don’t think the Lions will win more than 9 games because of a lack of any rushing attack whatsoever, I think the Lions can handle a team that is overmatched at most positions.
The Rams defensive secondary was wrecked by injuries last year and is average at the position and probably can’t match up against the Lion’s if they use a lot of three receiver sets. The defensive line and linebackers though for the Rams are talented and young. Jeff Fisher teams always get good pressure on quarterbacks, and knowing that the Lion’s can’t run effectively could open up ways for the Rams to disrupt Detroit’s passing attack.
Seattle (-2.5) at Arizona
Great work by me, picking five favorites. Way to get out on a ledge. I really like Russell Wilson. He surpassed Matt Flynn who the franchise put millions in to and who had some great starts in meaningful games while in Green Bay. His preseason stats feature a completion percentage of 67.3% for 464 yards and 5 touchdowns to only 1 interception.
John Skelton who won the quarterback job in Arizona after Kevin Kolb got injured and his preseason stats read 56% completion rate, 1 touchdown, and 2 interceptions. A disparity for sure. Michael Floyd was added to play opposite Larry Fitzgerald but I don’t think the Arizona quarterback can hit his targets. Seattle’s defense has also been sneaky good since Carroll got to Seattle.
Trent Walker’s Picks
San Francisco (+5) at Green Bay
The 49ers will go as far as Alex Smith can take them, and I believe Smith continues his momentum from a great playoff run and at least covers the spread against Green Bay in Lambeau. The 49ers defense is without a doubt one of the best in the league, and if they can keep the game between the tackles as much as possible they can slow GB enough to keep this one close. Coached by Harbaugh this team doesn’t commit penalties and doesn’t turn the ball over. Frank Gore on the ground and new additions to the passing game with Mario Manningham and the unkown X factor with Randy Moss, will help swing this game in favor of San Francisco.
Seattle (-2.5) at Cardinals
I cannot wait to watch the Seattle Seahawks this season. Some experts are beginning to throw their name around in playoff conversations. While this may be a bit premature, behind rookie quarterback Russell Wilson the Seahawks have the potential to turn some heads. For my confidence in the Seahawks this weekend to be complete, I am making the assumption Marshawn Lynch will be ready to play this Sunday. It will be important that Lynch’s run game keeps the Cardinal defense honest enough for Wilson to stretch the field. We were all impressed by Wilson during the preseason. Now that the regular season has started he will face a new set of challenges, but groomed by head coach Pete Carroll this offense could becoming powerful.
Steelers at Broncos (-1.5)
Peyton Manning is back, and with targets like Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker I look for him to have a hot debut wearing a Denver Uniform. Backed up by a raucous crowd a mile high, I believe Peyton will play like he has something to prove to his new fans. Pittsburg will also likely miss the defensive presence of James Harrison. With this pick I am putting a lot of confidence in Manning to excel against an aging Steelers defense. In the past, Manning has not disappointed. With his leadership and ability to pick apart defenses this Denver team will reveal more potential than we have seen in years past.
Eagles (-8.5) at Browns
Only a few weeks ago in the preseason, Philadelphia beat Cleveland 27-10 in Cleveland. I see Philadelphia marching back to Cleveland and beating the Browns big in week 1. In their preseason matchup Philadelphia’s two stars Michael Vick and Lesean McCoy hardly saw any action at all. Against Philadelphia’s stout pass rush with an ailing rookie Trent Richardson and a rook QB as well, I see Cleveland fans heading toward the parking lot early this Sunday.
Buffalo (+2.5) at Jets
The NY Jets are one of the most talked about teams in the NFL, mostly for the wrong reasons. I think Buffalo is a smart pick week 1 against the Jets. The Buffalo defensive received a serious upgrade over the offseason. Buffalo now sports one of the best defensive lines in the league. I think this pass rush will get to Sanchez and fluster the quarterback already under increased scrutiny with the trade for Tim Tebow. We have heard, week in and week out, Rex Ryan stand behind Sanchez, but I am not convinced. I see the Jets offense getting shut down, with no answer from Sanchez or Tebow, and the Bills coming up with just enough offense to pass the floundering Jets.