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NFL: Game Previews and Selections

In this weekly feature, we will look at five of the best and most attractive games on the NFL schedule and try to point you in the right direction as far as the number is concerned.

The biggest single reason the NFL is the most popular sport in the world is television.

The second-biggest reason is gambling. When handicapping a game, there are many technical factors to consider, but talent, gameplanning and motivation tend to mean the most when it comes to betting against the spread.

Injuries are usually less of a factor early in the season, but they will have  huge impact later on.

Here’s the roadmap we suggest you take in the first week of the season.


New Orleans (-2.5) at Atlanta

While the Saints rate an edge at the quarterback position with Drew Brees over Matt Ryan, it’s just a small one. The Falcons were humiliated by their miserable showing last year, and they have a chance to begin their long climb back to respectability – and possible contention in the NFC South – with this home game against their longtime rivals.

If Ryan can come close to matching what Brees does, the Falcons certainly have the weapons to win this home game. Julio Jones is motivated to return after injuries ruined his 2013 season, and the same is true of Roddy White.

The Falcons have never been known for their overpowering defense, but that unit is bigger and stronger than it was a year ago. Head coach Mike Smith has emphasized toughness and strength throughout the offseason after the Falcons got pushed around in 2013.

There’s little doubt that the Saints are a formidable team and capable of going to Atlanta and pull out the decisive win. But the winds of desperation are blowing in Atlanta, where the team must get off to a good start to put the taste of last year’s disaster out of their mouths.

Ryan and the Falcons find a way to pull out a 24-23 victory. Take Atlanta to get the cover.


Cincinnati at Baltimore (Even)

The Bengals have shown that they are a talented and consistent team when it comes to regular-season football, but they have had their issues in the postseason. They begin the 2014 season with aspirations that quarterback Andy Dalton and head coach Marvin Lewis can turn it around and play their best football in the postseason.

Those championship aspirations are in the Bengals’ collective psyche right now, but they have a long way to go before they prove worthy of a spot in the postseason. They open the year by going on the road to play a Ravens team that won the Super Bowl two years ago.

While the 2013 season was not as sweet for Baltimore, they still have that championship pedigree and they are looking to get started with a quarterback in Joe Flacco who has shown he can make the biggest throws at the most important moments.

Head coach John Harbaugh rates an edge over Lewis, because his team is almost always prepared for the battle. The Bengals tend to have a much more up-and-down approach.

Look for Bernard Pierce to take advantage of his opportunity and give the Ravens a solid running game. On the other hand, Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata is not about to let Giovanni Bernard breakthrough.

The Ravens have more intensity and are better prepared, and they come away with the Week One 31-20 victory.


New England (-1.5) at Miami


There’s only one outcome that will make the 2014 season a success in New England, and that’s a Super Bowl victory.

While the combination of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have been among the most successful coach-quarterback partnerships in NFL history, it’s been 10 years since those two picked up the Lombardi Trophy.

The Patriots believe they are better prepared for a serious title run this year, and one of the primary reasons is a return to full health of tight end Rob Gronkowski. When Gronkowski is at his best, he is among the top two at his position because he has the speed and athleticism to get deep and the toughness to make the clutch catch in traffic.

New England features an improved defense with the return of defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and the superb coverage skills of cornerback Darrelle Revis.

Miami lacks consistency under head coach Joe Philbin. While he is a smart leader capable of coming up with a sharp gameplan, he’s better suited to being an offensive coordinator than a head coach.

Ryan Tannehill is a talented quarterback with a plus arm, but he is inconsistent in his execution. Former Broncos Knowshon Moreno will have a decent year, but he will struggle in this game.

The Dolphins will come out with a great effort in the season opener, but they won’t be able to compete for 60 minutes. New England takes charge in the fourth quarter and comes away with a 27-17 victory. They easily cover the short spread.



San Francisco (-2.5) at Dallas


It’s no secret that the Dallas Cowboys go into the season with a defense that is likely to rank among the worst in football. The season-ending injury suffered by Sean Lee and the ill-fated decision to let DeMarcus Ware go will cost this team throughout the season.

Dallas head coach Jason Garrett knows that his team has a weakness, but he also knows that it has the skill-position strength to stay competitive most weeks. DeMarco Murray is one of the better running backs in the game, while Dez Bryant has aspirations of becoming the best receiver in the NFL this year.

The much-maligned Tony Romo will make some ill-advised throws, but when he is on his came he throws one of the most catchable balls in the game.

Look for the Cowboys to score against the 49ers, but it won’t be enough. San Francisco is much to athletic and nasty for the Cowboys. Colin Kaepernick should be able to make plays with his feet and his arm in this game. Frank Gore is one of the most underrated and toughest players in the game.

The Niners will not be at their best on defense until midseason at the earliest, but they will find a way to win this road opener. Lay the points on the road and look for San Francisco to outscore Dallas 35-24.


Indianapolis at Denver (-6)


Another quarterback besides Peyton Manning would look at a game against his old team as a chance for revenge. While Manning is human and he may have a shred of that thought in the back of his mind, he is only thinking of the long journey he is starting right now and whether he can lead the Broncos back to the Super Bowl.

This is a tough test, because the Colts are one of the up-and-coming teams in the league thanks to the presence of the supremely gifted Andrew Luck. The former No. 1 draft pick has led the Colts to the playoffs each of his first two seasons, and there’s no reason he can’t do it for a third straight year.

However, it’s one thing to make the playoffs, it’s quite another to show that he can lead his team to wins over the iron teams of the conference like the Broncos and Patriots. This is where Luck has to step up, and that means this game should mean quite a bit to him.

The Colts are going to have to show a much-improved defense this season. They gave up 38 points or more in five of their last 10 games, and if there is any quarterback who knows how to take advantage of a weakness, it’s Manning.

He will keep steady pressure on the Colts and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas should both have big games.

The Broncos will take advantage of the mistake-prone Indianapolis defense and roll to a 38-20 victory.

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