The NFL Draft is just a day away, but that hasn’t stopped odds from being released for the first week of games being played in the 2014 season. The league announced the schedule last week, which means odds have already been placed on who’s expected to start the season off 1-0. There is still plenty of offseason to go, but here is a look at how things are standing as of right now.
Green Bay @ Seattle (-5)
The Seattle Seahawks will be looking to defend their Super Bowl and they’ll be favored by five points in their opening game against Green Bay. That spread may seem a bit large, considering Green Bay was able to win the NFC North in 2013. However, it’s important to remember how this game ended up the last time these two teams met to kick off the regular season. It was in that game that the Packers were leading, when the Seahawks scored on the infamous “Fail Mary” that would give the Seahawks the momentum they needed for a huge season, while the Packers struggled out the gate. Green Bay will likely have Aaron Rodgers back healthy for an entire season, but he’ll be tested right away with the best defense in the league from last season. This will be a great game to start off the season and it should be a good gauge to see where both of these teams are at as they look to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
New Orleans @ Atlanta (-2)
The Atlanta Falcons are coming off of one of their most disappointing seasons in franchise history, but that doesn’t stop them from being favored during their opening week against divisional foe New Orleans. The Saints were just barely edged out by Carolina last season, but still represented the NFC South as the Wild Card team. This upcoming season the NFC South should be an interesting one, especially as we look to see if Carolina can follow up their outstanding 2013 campaign. However, an opening week loss for either the Saints or Falcons would certainly put them in a spot they don’t want to be. The Falcons, after their disappointing 4-12 season, will have the sixth overall pick in the draft. The Saints will have the 27th pick, but they’ve already had a good offseason with the signing of Jarius Byrd to help things on the opposite side of the ball as Drew Brees.
Minnesota @ St. Louis (-5)
St. Louis found out for themselves last year just how tough the NFC West was. Despite a 7-9 record, which would be good enough for the third spot in any other division in the NFC, the Rams fell to the back of the NFC West behind Seattle, San Francisco and Arizona. They’ll look to beat Minnesota during opening week, so that they can get off to a good start to keep pace with the rest of these other teams. The Vikings, who were just 5-10 last season, have the eighth overall pick in the NFL Draft. However, they are a team that still has a lot to figure out in the next few months before they matchup against the Rams. Last year they started three different quarterbacks throughout the season and fired their coach in the process. A loss in their first game could be a bad sign of things to come for the Vikings, which they’ll look to avoid.
Cleveland @ Pittsburgh (-5)
There has been a lot of talk about what the Browns will do with the fourth overall pick in the NFL Draft next week. Some people see them trying to move up to get a guy like Johnny Manziel, while others think they could wait and try and get Sammy Watkins to add as a receiver. Whatever they do, they’ll hope it works and works quickly, considering they’ll be playing the Steelers in Week One. Pittsburgh had a pretty atypical season last year, finishing the season at 8-8 after a terrible start. They missed the playoffs and many wondered if Ben Roethlisberger would return. However, things finished better than the started and Steelers fans hope that they’ll pick up where they ended last season (which just happened to be a three-game winning streak). The AFC North was a very interesting division during the first eight weeks of the season. The Steelers are favored by five, but the Browns will look to get some good picks in the draft to help them change those odds before the season begins.
Jacksonville @ Philadelphia (-11)
There is no denying that Jacksonville is an NFL franchise that is struggling to find a way out of their division’s basement. Things might get worse, considering they released Maurice Jones Drew, who was the only effective member on this team for quite some time, and now will look to rebuild completely. They’ll have a chance to rebuild with the third pick in the NFL Draft, a place they’ve been plenty of times before. This time they’ll look to avoid the mistake of drafting a bust, which they’ve done so often before. As for the Eagles, they represented the NFC East in the playoffs last year, which was a surprise with some of the turmoil that happened during the season. The Eagles started off slow under Chip Kelly’s new offensive scheme, until Michael Vick was injured and replaced with Nick Foles. Once Foles came in, the Eagles were able to edge out the Cowboys and get a chance in the playoffs. This offseason the Eagles have been surrounded with controversy after DeSean Jackson left town. They’ll hope that they still have enough weapons to help out Foles, who will be entering his first season as the starting quarterback.
Oakland @ New York Jets (-4.5)
This game could certainly be one that is fun to watch, even though neither of these teams particularly lit things up last year. However, both teams are going to look completely different, which means that they could have a chance at making a move in their respective divisions this offseason. Michael Vick, who left Philly this offseason, now finds himself on the Jets and will likely compete with Geno Smith for the starting quarterback spot. Whoever wins out will have new target Eric Decker to throw to, who had 11 touchdowns and 1,288 yards last season with Denver. The Jets will also have Chris Johnson in the backfield as well. As for Oakland, it was already mentioned that they picked up Jones Drew from the Jaguars, and they also have the fifth pick in the draft. As for who will be in the backfield with MJD, that is yet to be seen. They’ll have Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin battling it out for the starting nod. The Raiders have not made the playoffs in 11-seasons and last year they were the only team from the AFC West to miss out last year. They’ll hope to get off on the right track with an upset against New York, who is currently favored by 4.5.
Cincinnati @ Baltimore (-2.5)
Despite winning the AFC North last season, the Bengals will head into Week One as underdogs against the Ravens. Baltimore was one of the leagues most unpredictable teams last season, going on a variety of hot and cold streaks that resulted in an 8-8 season after their Super Bowl win in the previous year. Baltimore is expected to be back in the picture and are favored by 2.5 to win in Week One. That would be a huge boost in momentum for Joe Flacco and company, especially since the Bengals were the only team in the division to make the playoffs last year. Keep in mind that Cincinnati was a perfect 8-0 last season at home, though they were just 3-5 on the road. And, oh yeah, one of those losses was at Baltimore in a 20-17 overtime loss in Week 10.
Buffalo @ Chicago (-6.5)
Buffalo finished the season at the bottom of the AFC East at 6-10. The Chicago Bears missed the NFC North in due to losing two games at the end of the season, which allowed the Packers to just barely edge them out. This year, both teams will hope to get off on the right foot and make a playoff push. The Bears will hope that this is the year Jay Cutler can stay healthy and maximize his offensive efforts. After getting hurt last season, Cutler was replaced by Josh McCown, who then had a surprisingly good season and made it difficult to transition back to Cutler. Now that McCown is in Tampa, Cutler will need to prove that he was the right decision for the Bears to go with. As for the Bills, they lost Jarius Byrd to New Orleans, but they picked up Brandon Spikes from divisional New England. Buffalo also has to determine whether or not they want to stick with EJ Manuel or pickup another quarterback with the ninth pick in the NFL Draft. The way things stand now, the Bears are favored to win by 6.5.
Washington @ Houston (-2.5)
This time last year, both the Redskins and Texans were thought to be in contention for last years Super Bowl. However, after disastrous seasons for both of them, neither even made the playoffs and instead they ended up at the bottom of their respective division. When you add up the records for Washington and Houston, you get a 5-27 mark, in case you still needed evidence of how bad things went. Luckily, there is a bit of silver lining for both teams here. For the Texans, they’ll have the first pick in the NFL Draft. The bad news is that it looks like they have no idea who they want to go with, considering the amount of pressure to get Johnny Manziel or go with Jadeveon Clowney. As for the Redskins, they would’ve had the second overall pick, but that instead goes to the Rams. However, Washington will have newly acquired DeSean Jackson, who will look to help out RGIII on offense. Maybe a bit surprising, but the Texans are favored by 2.5 in this one. You can keep up with sportspicks.com handicappers to see if this is an advantage that continues as we get further into the offseason.
Tennessee @ Kansas City (-5.5)
Kansas City showed teams like Washington and Houston to not give up, no matter how bad you were the previous season. Two seasons ago, the Chiefs were one of the worst teams in football and at the bottom of the AFC West. Last year they were the last team in the league to lose and they challenge the Broncos for the AFC West crown. KC will look to avoid slipping into a season more reminiscent of two seasons ago, now that Andy Reid will have more time to work with Alex Smith and the rest of the Chiefs. As for the Titans, they finished second in the AFC South, but that’s not saying much considering it was the worst division in football. The Titans will hope that Jake Locker can return healthy, especially now that Chris Johnson is in New York. The Titans have the eleventh pick in the draft and they have a whole bunch of needs that they have to address if they want to compete with Indy in the AFC South.
New England (-3.5) @ Miami
One of just three road teams to be favored during Week One, the Patriots head to Miami to start the season. Keep in mind that while New England was perfect at home last year, going 8-0. However, they were 4-4 on the road, including a 24-20 loss to Miami in Week 14. The Dolphins would love to get off to a new season with a win, especially as they hope to continue to get past the Bounty-Gate controversy that followed them last year. The Dolphins will hope to get success from Ryan Tannehill, who did have bright spots of success last season. However, they’ll need to get a few extra weapons with the 19th pick in the draft.
Carolina (-2.5) @ Tampa Bay
Another team that is also favored, despite being on the road, in Week One will be the defending NFC South winners, the Carolina Panthers. As for the Bucs, well they finished at the bottom of that same division, tied with Atlanta at 4-12. Both teams struggled earlier last year. However, while the Panthers were able to steady things out and win nine in a row, the Bucs kept falling and ended up trading quarterback Josh Freeman. Now the Bucs have a new Josh, this time it’s McCown, who will look to help out and potentially act as a mentor to Mike Glennon. That is, unless they bring in a new quarterback with the seventh pick in the draft. In Cam Newton’s first year, the Panthers saw some success before falling apart in his second. With last year being a successful third year, he’ll hope to avoid any type of setback as he looks to be one of the more dominant dual-threat quarterbacks in the league. Panthers are favored by just 2.5, but they’ll hope to go for a much bigger margin to get the season off on the right foot.
San Francisco (-3.5) @ Dallas
The final road team to be favored in Week One will be the 49ers over Dallas. The Cowboys will be missing out on DeMarcus Ware, who signed with Denver in the offseason. The 49ers are having their own troubles with defensive stars, as Alden Smith found himself making headlines for the wrong reasons in the last few weeks. Dallas just barely missed out on the playoffs last season, but it seems like we say that year after year. As for the 49ers, they’ll look to make a run at making the playoffs for a third straight year, despite being in one of the toughest divisions in the league.
Indianapolis @ Denver (-7)
Despite the Colts handing the Broncos the first loss of their season last year in an emotional return for Peyton Manning, Denver is favored when as Indy will come to town in Week One of this season. The Broncos lost Eric Decker in the offseason, but they gained a bunch of defensive studs including Ware, Aquib Talib and TJ Ward. The Broncos were known for offensive firepower last season, which they’ll look to contribute with lockdown defense this season. As for the Colts, Andrew Luck only gets better with time as he enters his third season in the NFL. He led the Colts to an 11-5 mark last season and they even beat Kansas City in the Wild Card round. The Colts were able to pull off a huge upset over the Broncos last season, but this year Denver will have an entire offseason to prepare and come out ready to defend their AFC West title.
New York Giants @ Detroit (-4)
Add both of these teams to the list of those that had incredibly disappointing campaigns last season. Both teams missed the playoffs and finished with equal 7-9 records. The Lions now have a coaching staff and luckily they still have Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson. Anytime those two guys are on the field, you have a legit chance at winning. As for Eli, he’ll hope that newly added Rashard Jennings will help him out on offense. The Lions have 10th pick in the draft and the Giants will pick two spots behind at 12. Both teams will hope to find keys to implement into their roster, so that they can avoid missing the playoffs yet again.
San Diego @ Arizona (-3.5)
The Chargers were able to finish strong last year and sneak into the playoffs one of three teams from the AFC West. The Cardinals finished with a better record, 10-6, than the Chargers, but found themselves in an equally difficult division. The Cardinals did start the season slow last year, but their defense was ranked first in rushing yards allowed, which gave them the chance to finish strong and have a chance for the playoffs. As for the Chargers, they were pretty typical last year, starting slow as well and finishing strong to sneak into the playoffs. They still have Phillip Rivers, who really showed a lot of people what he was able to do last season. Arizona is favored by 3.5 in this one, as both teams will look to avoid slow starts, considering how difficult each of their respective divisions will likely be.