NFL 2012: Week 1 Hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things.

Ok, new plan.  I was very concerned coming into the season that I was getting a little stat heavy.  Basically every week I was telling you what the spread should be based on their point differentials and comparing it to the actual spread and looking for value.  That's right, my entertaining, free, widely-read NFL column degenerated to reading numbers off a spreadsheet.  I didn't like it either.  But alas, Grantland has provided new inspiration.  I applied to be one of their fantasy writers so that I could quit what I am paid to do, to focus on what I actually spend my day doing.  I wasn't accepted.  Then I read their collective Week 1 preview and was sorely disappointed.  So my new goal is to quickly give you the numbers (which will be very inaccurate in the first several weeks), then get to my fantasy analysis for each game.  I will then email this post to  Every week.  If Bill Simmons doesn't appreciate the Shawshank Redemption parallel, I wasn't meant to write for Grantland.

Just this once, I'm going to show you an example of the spreadsheet I put together every week.  Because the only thing more boring than reading numbers off a spreadsheet is to show you the actual spreadsheet and teach you how to read it yourself.  This is going into the final week of the regular season, so everyone has played 15 games.

Team W L PCT Pyth % PF PA DIFF Pyth W Pyth L
Green Bay 14 1 0.933 0.755 515 318 197 12.1 2.9
New England 12 3 0.800 0.702 464 321 143 11.2 3.8
San Francisco 12 3 0.800 0.778 346 202 144 12.4 2.6
New Orleans 12 3 0.800 0.738 502 322 180 11.8 3.2
Baltimore 11 4 0.733 0.692 354 250 104 11.1 3.9
Pittsburgh 11 4 0.733 0.697 312 218 94 11.2 3.8
Houston 10 5 0.667 0.689 359 255 104 11.0 4.0
Detroit 10 5 0.667 0.634 433 342 91 10.1 4.9
Atlanta 9 6 0.600 0.553 357 326 31 8.8 6.2
Cincinnati 9 6 0.600 0.554 328 299 29 8.9 6.1
Tennessee 8 7 0.533 0.514 302 295 7 8.2 6.8
NY Giants 8 7 0.533 0.464 363 386 -23 7.4 7.6
Oakland 8 7 0.533 0.402 333 395 -62 6.4 8.6
Dallas 8 7 0.533 0.567 355 316 39 9.1 5.9
Denver 8 7 0.533 0.372 306 383 -77 6.0 9.0
NY Jets 8 7 0.533 0.526 360 344 16 8.4 6.6
Seattle 7 8 0.467 0.518 301 292 9 8.3 6.7
Arizona 7 8 0.467 0.427 289 328 -39 6.8 8.2
San Diego 7 8 0.467 0.528 368 351 17 8.4 6.6
Chicago 7 8 0.467 0.514 336 328 8 8.2 6.8
Philadelphia 7 8 0.467 0.575 362 318 44 9.2 5.8
Buffalo 6 9 0.400 0.446 351 385 -34 7.1 7.9
Carolina 6 9 0.400 0.508 389 384 5 8.1 6.9
Kansas City 6 9 0.400 0.242 205 335 -130 3.9 11.1
Washington 5 10 0.333 0.396 278 333 -55 6.3 8.7
Miami 5 10 0.333 0.527 310 296 14 8.4 6.6
Tampa Bay 4 11 0.267 0.223 263 449 -186 3.6 11.4
Cleveland 4 11 0.267 0.311 209 294 -85 5.0 10.0
Jacksonville 4 11 0.267 0.310 224 316 -92 5.0 10.0
Minnesota 3 12 0.200 0.343 327 432 -105 5.5 9.5
Indianapolis 2 13 0.133 0.205 230 411 -181 3.3 11.7
St. Louis 2 13 0.133 0.132 166 373 -207 2.1 11.9

Then I take all the Pythgorean winning percentages (fifth column) and produce this table for all the matchups:
Home Field Advantage Favorite
Underdog Spread Fav. Pyth Und. Pyth Fav. Odds of winning Home field adjsutment Odds based on spread Point Spread
SU %
0.06 @Arizona vs  Seattle 3 0.427 0.518 0.410 0.470 0.585 -0.5, -1 0.5376
0.06 @Atlanta vs  Tampa Bay 12 0.553 0.223 0.811 0.871 0.828 -1.5, -2 0.5235
0.06 @Cleveland vs  Pittsburgh Off (0) 0.311 0.697 0.164 0.224
-2.5 0.5254
0.06 @Denver vs  Kansas City 3.5 0.372 0.242 0.651 0.711 0.623 -3 0.5848
0.06 @Jacksonville vs  Indianapolis 3.5 0.310 0.205 0.634 0.694 0.623 -3.5 0.6228
0.06 @Miami vs  New York (NYJ) 2.5 0.527 0.526 0.500 0.560 0.525 -4,-5 0.6507
0.06 @Minnesota vs  Chicago 1 0.343 0.514 0.331 0.391 0.538 -5.5 0.6926
0.06 @New England vs  Buffalo 11 0.702 0.446 0.745 0.805 0.828 -6 0.6667
0.06 @New Orleans vs  Carolina 8 0.738 0.508 0.732 0.792 0.774 -6.5 0.6642
0.06 @New York (NYG) vs  Dallas 3 0.464 0.567 0.398 0.458 0.585 -7 0.7224
0.06 @Oakland vs  San Diego 3 0.402 0.528 0.376 0.436 0.585 -7.5 0.7792
0.06 @Philadelphia vs  Washington 8.5 0.575 0.396 0.673 0.733 0.774 -8,-9 0.7744
-0.06 Baltimore vs  @Cincinnati 2 0.692 0.554 0.644 0.584 0.524 -9.5 0.7862
-0.06 Detroit vs  @Green Bay 3.5 0.634 0.755 0.360 0.300 0.623 -10 0.7835
-0.06 San Francisco vs  @St. Louis 10.5 0.778 0.132 0.959 0.899 0.790 -10.5 0.7895
-0.06 Tennessee vs  @Houston 3 0.514 0.689 0.322 0.262 0.585 -11,-12 0.8276

-12.5 0.8043

-13 0.8315

-13.5 0.8118

-14 0.8

-14+ 0.9225

For example, Baltimore was a 2 point favorite on the road against Cincinnati.  Baltimore's 0.692 Pythagorean % against Cincinnati's 0.554 meant Baltimore would win outright 64.4% of the time on a neutral field, but in Cincinnati, Baltimore only wins 58.4% of the time.  A 2 point favorite wins 52.35% of the time, so there spread probably should have been 3.  There was 1 point worth of value on Baltimore.

This is also a good way to point out that we are talking marginal differences.  A professional gambler is trying to win 56% of the time, not 80% or 90%, just 56-60%.  A 7 point favorite wins outright 72% of the time, so don't be surprised when a quarter of the 7 point underdogs win their games straight up.  That's what makes the NFL so amazing.

On to the picks:
In the first week of the season, we obviously don't have a point differential to go by.  So I will be much more subjective.  I'll use Football Outsider's DVOA or AccuScore's odds of winning, last year's Pythagorean % combined with subjective changes over the off-season, and my own God given talent.  Remember, I'm just trying to get 56%.

NYG (-3.5) over Dallas:  I was basically following the Sports Gal's method.  Defending Super Bowl champ in front of the uber-excited home crowd.  Accuscore and DVOA even kind of agreed with me.
Fantasy: Jason Witten should be out with a spleen.  Hakeem Nicks will not be out with a foot.  Huge question marks with Miles Austin's hammy, Dez Bryant's backhand and DeMarco Murray's cartilage.  Murray has the most to prove to justify his second round fantasy status.  It's week 1 and every fantasy player in this game was drafted appropriately.  If you took Miles Austin as your second receiver, you were gambling and you're starting him.  If you took him as your fourth, then you have better options.  Same goes for Eli Manning, Tony Romo, Austin and Dez.  You're starting Nicks and Victor Cruz because you drafted them to be a starter.  Ahmad Bradshaw could get a touchdown.
Not So Bold Prediction: DeMarco Murray has the most touches in this game.
Bold Prediction: Kevin Ogletree has 8 catches for 114 yards and 2 touchdowns.

CHICAGO (-9.5) over Indianapolis:  I agree with DVOA and myself.  Accuscore says the spread is too high.
Fantasy: You're definitely starting Matt Forte and Brandon Marshall.  I hope Jay "I-don't-care-if-I-just-threw-another-interception" Cutler isn't your best quarterback.  Michael Bush is more likely to score a touchdown than anyone in this game, but will finish with single digit fantasy points.  Do you want safe and boring?  You shouldn't be starting anyone on the Colts.  You may have drafted Donald Brown and Austin Collie, or even Andrew Luck, but in week 1, especially against Bears, you are sitting them until you have a better idea of what this team looks like.
Not So Bold Prediction: Matt Forte leads non-quarterbacks in fantasy points.
Bold Prediction: Brandon Marshall scores 15 fantasy points.

Sorry.  I had to take a break to put Violet to bed and pour myself a Stone Ruination IPA.

Philadelphia (-8.5) over CLEVELAND: Everyone's on board.  Hard to see the Browns making much of a game.  I like this 8.5 point line much more than Chicago's 9.5 point line above.
Fantasy: My ongoing joke this preseason has been that Michael Vick is going to play 8 complete games and 3 half games.  I don't think anyone has laughed.  Michael Vick plays this entire game because he doesn't need to run the ball; LeSean McCoy will more than take care of that.  DeSean Jackson is going to have more fantasy points than Jeremy Maclin.  Michael Vick told me.  Hope you picked him three rounds after Maclin.  No one on Cleveland is worth starting.  Not even Trent Richardson.  He's a rookie running back coming off two recent knee surgeries going against a good Eagles defense.
Not So Bold Prediction: LeSean McCoy scores a touchdown. (Remember, in general, picking a guy to score a touchdown in an individual game should be a bold prediction, because it really is that hard to guess correctly.  And that is how much I like this matchup for McCoy against the Browns.)
Bold Prediction: The Eagles have five of the six highest fantasy scores in this game.

DETROIT (-7) over St. Louis:  St. Louis isn't as bad as you think.  But I don't expect Detroit to regress.  The Lions haven't improved much though, so I expect 9-11 wins.  And they will easily cover 7 points.  This is the best value in terms of the line so far.
Fantasy: This game is surprisingly full of goodness.  Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson are obvious, but I bet Steven Jackson scores more fantasy points than Calvin Johnson.  Nate Burleson, Danny Amendola, Titus Young, and Brandon Pettigrew are all decent options.  You might have a better option, but you won't be disappointed with these four guys.  In PPR, Amendola is a top 20 WR. And if for some reason you drafted Sam Bradford, maybe a 2 QB league, this will be one of his better games of the year.
Not So Bold Prediction: Matthew Stafford leads the game in fantasy points.
Bold Prediction: In PPR, Danny Amendola outscores Calvin Johnson.

New England (-5.5) over TENNESSEE: Correction.  I like this line more than Detroit's line.  It probably should be double digits.
Fantasy: Oh Patriots offense, how do I love thee?  Let me count the ways.  Aaron Hernandez outscores Rob Gronkowski.  Brandon Lloyd outscores every Titans receiver.  Tom Brady is a See's truffle of fantasy goodness.  He looks tasty, but once you get inside its even better.  Tom Brady always exceeds expectations.  The only thing I like more than Tom 'truffle' Brady in this game?  Chris Johnson going against the Patriots defense.  Kendall Wright could also be a decent flex play, but I'd rather wait to see him play before I start him.  Nate Washington is a poor man's Nate Burleson.  Jared Cook is an amazing athlete and will look like Jimmy Graham or Jermichael Finley.  Great pick very late in fantasy drafts, but low expectations.
Not So Bold Prediction: You see a Tom Brady Uggs commercial or magazine ad before the end of the game.
Bold Prediction: Chris Johnson score 20 fantasy points.

It's 10:43pm on Friday night.  Seriously considering cracking open a Sam Adams Latitude 48 IPA.  We'll have to see how the evening pans out.

Atlanta (-3) over KANSAS CITY: This really feels like a Chargers fan hoping the Chiefs lose their first game.  The Chiefs are the hardest team for me to project.  Is Jamaal Charles back from an ACL tear?  Eric Berry? Tony Moeaki?  This could be a decent team... but Matt Cassell is the QB and Romeo Crennel is the head coach.
Fantasy: My fourth or fifth rule in fantasy drafts is to avoid guys who tore their ACL the year before.  I do not own Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson, Rashard Mendenhall or Fred Jackson in any league this year.  Wait, did Fred Jackson tear his ACL?...checking... Nope, he just broke his leg and turned 31.  I did draft Peyton Hillis, Toby Gerhart and CJ Spiller late in a variety of drafts.  Matt Ryan is going to be a good fantasy QB.  He'll probably finish in the 4-7 range among QBs and he starts this week.  Julio Jones and Roddy White are going to take turns getting big numbers and both will finish as top ten WR.  I think this week is Julio's turn.  Don't worry about Michael Turner, Peyton Hillis, or Tony Gonzalez.  They will exactly meet their expectations based on where you drafted them, so you're starting Turner and Gonzalez and Peyton is a flex or good fill-in if you drafted MJD or Ryan Mathews high.
Not So Bold Prediction: Matt Ryan throws a touchdown pass.
Bold Prediction: Dwayne Bowe scores a touchdown.

JACKSONVILLE (+4) over Minnesota: This line should be under 3, I'll take the extra point.
Fantasy: It's hard to start Rashad Jennings or Maurice Jones-Drew, with the announcement that Jennings would be playing 1st and 2nd downs and MJD gets 3rd down duty.  Jennings is the better option of the two if you need it.  DO NOT START ADRIAN PETERSON! Toby Gerhart will get the majority of the work.  You don't start AP (AD? AP?) until you see him look good in live action.  I wanted Percy Harvin, but wasn't able to get him in any draft.  He kept going in the 4th round and I wanted him in the 5th.  You're starting him every week he doesn't have a migraine.  You're never starting Blaine Gabbert or Christian Ponder.  Justin Blackmon might break out as a rookie, but not in week 1.
Not So Bold Prediction: Adrian Peterson's knee gets more attention than both starting quarterbacks combined.
Bold Prediction: Toby Gerhart is the leading non-QB fantasy scorer.

NEW ORLEANS (-7) over Washington: This should be a double digit line.
Fantasy: You shouldn't be starting any Redskin in this game.  If you made the emotional decision to draft Robert Griffin III, you may be stuck.  And I guess you could have drafted Fred Davis as you're starting TE, but that's a mistake you can fix later.  After Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham, it might be hard to start any other Saint.  Maybe Darren Sproles in a PPR, but Brees spreads the ball around too much and they use all three (four?) running backs.
Not So Bold Prediction: Brees throws the ball 40 times.
Bold Prediction: Six different players score touchdowns in this game.

BUFFALO (+2.5) over Nyj: This is more of a gut call than Accuscore or DVOA would like.  I think these teams are really close, the Bills are at home, and I think it's more likely the Bills offense scores on the Jets defense than the Jets offense scoring on the Bills defense.
Fantasy:  Running backs...even if you incorrectly drafted Fred Jackson, do you want to start him against a Rex Ryan defense?  Wide, Stevie Johnson against Darelle Revis?  I think the only guys worth starting are both Defenses.  I like the under a lot more than I like either team in this game.
Not So Bold Prediction: The name Tebow is said aloud more times than the number of yards he produces.
Bold Prediction: There is a defensive or special teams touchdown.

HOUSTON (-12) over Miami:  Everything tells me this spread is too high.  It should be closer to 7.  But I just can't take Ryan Tannehill on the road in his first game against a good defense.  I can't bring myself to do it.
Fantasy: I will be paying a lot of attention to Arian Foster's status, because if there is any question mark, Ben Tate will be a GREAT option.  Like top five running back for the week kind of great option.  Andre Johnson will be good, but not great...something in the range of 9-16 points.  In a standard, 10 team league, you shouldn't be starting anyone else in this game.
Not So Bold Prediction: Ryan Tannehill throws an interception.
Bold Prediction: Arian Foster and Ben Tate both score at least 10 points.
**Changed this pick to Miami (+12) after writing the Panthers-Bucs section below.

GREEN BAY (-5) over San Francisco: One of my favorite narratives in the past, was that when you have a great offense against a great defense, you look the other way.  How the 49ers offense does against the Packers defense will determine the winner of this game.  This really should be a 7 point spread in Green Bay.
Fantasy: Don't worry about Aaron Rodgers, he'll be fine against the 49ers defense.  But do worry about everyone else in this game.  Frank Gore is probably the second best option, start him while you can.  Vernon Davis will be a 5-10 TE.  You're definitely starting Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, but lower your expectations.
Not So Bold Prediction: State Farm comes out with a new Packers 'Discount Double Check' dance.
Bold Prediction: Randy Moss gets 5 catches.

Seattle (-2.5) over ARIZONA: I like Seattle this year, but apparently not as much as the Sports Guy. And my negative feelings towards Arizona are subjective and entirely due to Jovin Skolb.  I think the Seahawks finish with 9 wins and the 49ers finish with 9 or 10 wins.  The Seahawks and 49ers both have a 50% chance of winning the division.  Despite my love of the Seahawks and disdain for the Cardinals, this isn't more than a 3 point spread in Arizona.
Fantasy: I keep hearing that if Marshawn "Skittles" Lynch is out with a back, then Robert Turbin would be a getting all the carries and a good start, but I'm not buying it.  This isn't Ben Tate or Rashad Jennings or Toby Gerhart; backups we've seen have some limited success in the NFL.  If you wanted a safe player when you drafted Sidney Rice, you're playing him.  But I know you're a smart, confident, handsome fantasy footballer and you avoided Rice and drafted Russell Wilson five rounds later in your keeper league.  Other than Larry Fitzgerald, I'm not starting any Cardinals, but paying a lot of attention to Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams.  I've drafted both in various leagues and want to drop one as soon as possible.  I don't even care which one emerges, just that we get some clarity.
Not So Bold Prediction: Larry Fitzgerald scores at least 6 points.
Bold Prediction: Larry Fitzgerald scores 15 points.

Carolina (-2.5) over TAMPA BAY:  Man, I'm picking way too many favorites.  But this spread should be 3.5.  I'm going back and changing my Texans-Dolphins pick to Dolphins +12.
Fantasy: Expect a regression from Cam Newton.  He'll still be a great player, but he'll score like Tony Romo, Eli Manning, and Philip Rivers, not like Matthew Stafford where you had to draft him.  Follow Twitter and other pre-game reports because if Jonathan Stewart is out, DeAngelo Williams is a definite starter, if not a top 5 RB.  Vincent Jackson will either finish with 3 or 18 points (with an expected value of 6.75) and I'm betting it's only 3 this week, but you'll start him hoping for 18.  Once Doug Martin was announced as the started, you couldn't get any more value in fantasy drafts.
Not So Bold Prediction: Cam Newton, DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart or Mike Tolbert will have a rushing touchdown.
Bold Prediction: DeAngelo Williams is the only one of the four to get a touchdown.

Pittsburgh (+1.5) over DENVER: As a football fan I want Peyton Manning to do well.  As a Chargers fan, I don't want the Broncos to do too well.  The Steelers win this game 51% of the time in Denver.  Not a ton of value, but a couple points or so.
Fantasy: Isaac Redman is the guy because Rashard Mendenhall is on the PUP list coming off an ACL tear.  Wait, no, Redman's hip is bothering him, so we're taking Mendenhall off the PUP list to be available for week 1.  Wait, no, Mendenhall is still recovering from knee surgery and may not be available (shocker!), so it's going to be Jonathan Dwyer.  You know, the guy who has 25 carries in only 8 games played in the last two years combined.  Antonio Brown will have more fantasy points than Mike Wallace. Demaryius Thomas will have more points than Eric Decker is standard scoring, but not PPR.  The biggest beneficiary of Peyton's wild gesticulating will be Willis McGahee.  Peyton Manning will have more points than Ben Roethlisberger, but the Steelers win.
Not So Bold Prediction: Peyton audibly audibles.
Bold Prediction: I don't make that joke again for the rest of the season.

BALTIMORE (-6) over Cincinnati: I thought I remember the Ravens being my Pythagorean darling last year, but a quick check tells me they actually overperformed slightly.  I'm really curious how the no-huddle will affect them.  I'm sure more plays will lead to better numbers for the offense, but will it tire out an aging defense?  This spread should be 7, I'll take the extra point.
Fantasy:  Tons of hope and optimism here.  Ray Rice, Torrey Smith, Joe Flacco, AJ Green, BenJarvus Green-Ellis; I expect all these guys to outperform their draft round.  Yes, even Ray Rice will outperform his #3 ADP.  You'll wish you took him first overall.  I'm especially excited to have the Law Firm in the 7th round and Joe Flacco in a 2 QB league.  Well, except for this week...temper your expectations for all these guys with two pretty good defenses going.
Not So Bold Prediction: Ray Rice leads the game in touches.
Bold Prediction: There are at least 4 plays of 40+ yards.

San Diego (-1? +1?) over Oakland: I wonder how much better my ATS record would be if I was capable of picking against the Chargers?  The Chargers win this game 51% of the time in Oakland.  I'm taking the Chargers regardless if they end up as a one point favorite or underdog.
Fantasy: Philip Rivers will be a top 5 fantasy quarterback this year.  With a healthy Antonio Gates and four good targets to spread the ball around, he is going to have the most passing yards of his career.  And it starts this week.  Unfortunately, with him spreading the ball around so much Gates is the only other viable fantasy starter for the Chargers.  Ronnie Brown's ceiling is 10 points.  For the Raiders it's Darren McFadden superstar and not much else.  Darrius Heyward-Bey and Denarius Moore could be bye week fill-ins or flex players in super deep leagues, but you don't want to depend on them or the interception machine throwing them the ball.  Darren McFadden is healthy this week and you get to reap the rewards.
Not So Bold Prediction: Darren McFadden leads this game in touches and rushing yards.
Bold Prediction: Philip Rivers throws for 400 yards.


  1. Everyone starts with $1000.

    $20 on Philly (-8.5), Detroit (-7), New England (-5.5), Jacksonville (+4), Buffalo (+2.5), New Orleans (-7), Seattle (-2.5).

  2. I LOVE the NFL!! It's only been one day and I have absolutely no idea how the season will play out.

    Do the 49ers trade places with the Packers in my season preview? Is Atlanta's offense that good or are the Chiefs already out of the AFC West race? Is the Jets offense going to carry their defense? Is Tampa Bay's run defense that good or is Carolina's four-headed attack that bad? The defending Super Bowl champs are already a game behind everyone else in the division. Houston is already a game ahead of everyone in the division.

  3. Can I bet my entire $1000 that you definitely make the "Peyton audibly audibles" joke at least one more time this season? That is a mortal lock.

    I didn't have the patience to type in picks on my phone before the game, which is probably good because my ATS picks on Yahoo sucked the big one. I got only 5 right. Also I lost in week 1 of my survivor pool - I picked New Orleans. So lesson learned, never bet against RG3, the second coming of Tim Tebow. Or something.

    I never bet against the Chargers, but in the case of Monday night's game I think they are being seriously lowballed by the spread. Do I read it correctly that it's Chargers +1? I take SD for 50 jermajesties.

  4. A couple other things:

    I LOVE the Fantasy note on each game now. I HATE that your NFL columns are approximately 8x better done than my EPL columns. I need to step it up.

    I need help framing the performance of RG3 against the Saints. I know they are a bad defense, and he probably got away with some rookie moves, but is it a sign that he's actually amazing that he played so well? Are the Saints just really cursed this year like Simmons thinks? Should we all just chill out after a sample size of one game? Help me out here.

  5. College quarterbacks are just that much better and translate to the faster game well. The better college quarterbacks make the better NFL rookies. We should try to properly analyze each individual quarterback and determine if they are ready, not just disregard them or penalize them for being a rookie. It is very likely that Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III finish the season as the best rookie quarterbacks along with the possibility of Russell Wilson. Brandon Weeden and Ryan Tannehill were already question marks (along with Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder and Jake Locker) and they performed like question marks.

  6. ...and I may switch up the adverb and go with "Peyton audibles audibly."

    Would that count?

  7. I won the Chargers line and am up to $1050. What about you losers. I deduct $50 from Scooter for being too lazy to make any picks.

  8. I went 2-5, lost $60, down to $940.

  9. Wait - you posted this?!?

    I deduct $50 myself!