We’ve Got Your Numbers: A Matter of Facts…Plus

(Week 1, 2014)

By Russell S. Baxter

Pro Football Guru

We are back with a new look…and a little surprise

Welcome to the 2014 NFL season, highlighted by Thursday night’s kickoff extravaganza as the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks play host to the Green Bay Packers.

However, let’s look at the ramifications of the game. The team that eventually wins the covered Lombardi Trophy is a gaudy 39-8-1 in its first game of the season. But that has changed a bit in recent seasons. It’s worth noting that five of the last 13 Super Bowl champions came up short in Week 1. The 2001 Patriots (XXXVI), ’02 Buccaneers (XXXVII), ’03 Patriots (XXXVIII), ’07 Giants (XLII) and the 2011 G-Men (XLVI) all lost their first game and would go onto win that final postseason contest of the season. And the ’01 Patriots and ’07 Giants actually started 0-2 on their way to a title.

It’s also worth noting that the last two defending Super Bowl champions kicked off defense of that title with losses, the Giants in 2012 and the Baltimore Ravens a year ago.

So how crucial is the opener between these clubs? We won’t know the answer to that for quite a few months.

What we do know is that there are plenty of numbers ahead…including a game prediction for each contest.

It’s a little curveball courtesy of yours truly. I hope you enjoy.

In case you’re wondering, last season’s win-loss records are included below…

Thursday, Sept. 4

Green Bay (8-7-1) at Seattle (13-3): How about the franchise that won the very first Super Bowl meeting the most recent Lombardi Trophy winner? Kudos to Mike McCarthy and company last season as the Pack went through four different starting quarterbacks, still owned the NFL’s third-ranked offense and went to the playoffs for a fifth straight year. Of course, it’s also worth noting that Green Bay allowed 197 more points than the current defending champion Seahawks gave up in 2013. Marshawn Lynch will test Dom Capers’ defensive unit early and quite often…

Prediction: Seattle 20, Green Bay 16

Sunday, Sept. 7

Buffalo (6-10) at Chicago (8-8): Doug Marrone’s club heads to the Windy City and one of the league’s best pass rushes from a season ago will have to be on its game as the Bears offense can light up just about any defensive unit. It will be interesting to see if the Buffalo secondary has enough to cover the likes of Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett and more. The Bills’ attack was sluggish for the majority of the preseason and there is suddenly some concern about second-year quarterback EJ Manuel. But this is a tall order for any visiting club…

Prediction: Chicago 31, Buffalo 20

Carolina (12-4) at Tampa Bay (4-12): First place meets last place as the Panthers look to become the first team to win two straight NFC South titles while the Bucs look to end their three-year stay in the divisional basement. Points may be hard to come by for Ron Rivera’s team and quarterback Cam Newton may not be quite 100 percent for this tilt. There is plenty of defensive talent on both of these clubs and while Carolina showed it last season, Tampa’s defense may be primed for a breakout year. But this week, Rivera and company will makes the game’s key plays…

Prediction: Carolina 16, Tampa Bay 14

Cincinnati (11-5) at Baltimore (8-8): We will find out very quickly how much of a factor John Harbaugh’s club will be in the AFC North in 2014 considering the Ravens play their first three games and five of their first eight contests within the division. Still, Baltimore’s running game once again looks like a factor, even with Ray Rice suspended the first two weeks. However, the Bengals haven’t been to the playoffs each of the last three seasons based on luck and on this Sunday at least, Andy Dalton and company will show why they are the defending division champions…

Prediction: Cincinnati 26, Baltimore 21

Cleveland (4-12) at Pittsburgh (8-8): Has any quarterback in the league looked more forward to a road trip than Brian Hoyer? Cleveland has dropped 10 straight games in the Steel City but at least the Pittsburgh faithful won’t be chanting for Johnny Manziel. Mike Tomlin’s club comes off an uneven preseason but there are those with high expectations for a club that finished 6-2 after a 2-6 start a year ago. Still, the Steelers offense will have to deal with an improving defense, while Browns’ running back Ben Tate could give Dick LeBeau’s defenders some fits…

Prediction: Pittsburgh 22, Cleveland 17

Jacksonville (4-12) at Philadelphia (10-6): Could the cat actually eat the canary here? In other words, is there any possibility of an upset via Gus Bradley’s club, who did play much better following a horrific 0-8 start a year ago? The Jaguars are certainly on the rise but the Eagles may already be there as Chip Kelly’s club closed 2013 with seven wins in their final eight regular-season outings after their own rough start. Jacksonville’s defensive front looks improved but must deal with the likes of LeSean McCoy and the league’s No. 1 running game of a year ago…

Prediction: Philadelphia 35, Jacksonville 17

Minnesota (5-10-1) at St. Louis (7-9): New Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer certainly appreciates defense. And for his sake, he’s hoping he doesn’t get to see a lot of St. Louis’ front that has helped the team produce a combined 105 sacks the last two seasons. Of course, that Rams’ defense will have to deal with running back Adrian Peterson and a Minnesota passing game that could be primed for a big year via versatile and talented wideout Cordarrelle Patterson. It may take time for Jeff Fisher to get his offense, now with quarterback Shaun Hill, up to speed…

Prediction: Minnesota 20, St. Louis 10

New England (12-4) at Miami (8-8): The resume speaks for itself. The Pats have posted 13 straight winning seasons (tied for sixth in NFL history) and 11 consecutive campaigns of 10 or more wins. Add in five straight AFC East titles and dethroning Bill Belichick’s club is a tall order. Still, the Dolphins got the best of Tom Brady and company last year in Miami and they are certainly capable of doing it again, especially is the pass rush is up to snuff. But keep in mind that Joe Philbin’s team has a new offensive line that may not quite be ready for Chandler Jones and friends…

Prediction: New England 26, Miami 20

New Orleans (11-5) at Atlanta (4-12): A year ago in Week 1, the Falcons opened up a 10-0 first-quarter lead against Sean Payton’s club…and never recovered the remainder of the season. Mike Smith’s club went from the NFC’s No. 1 seed to looking like number two for most of 2013. Add in the fact that Saints quarterback Drew Brees has beaten Atlanta 13 times in 16 tries while with New Orleans and it doesn’t look good for the home team. Still, let’s see if the Falcons opt to test the Saints run defense with both Steven Jackson and rookie Devonta Freeman…

Prediction: Atlanta 28, New Orleans 23

Oakland (4-12) at N.Y. Jets (8-8): Shades of “Die Hard: With a Vengeance.” Years after quarterback Matt Schaub supplanted David Carr in Houston, younger brother Derek Carr takes over for Schaub with the Raiders, who look to snap an 11-year strike of non-winning seasons. Now Dennis Allen is hoping the rookie’s new Carr smell is pleasant. But his first start could be a lemon if the Jets’ defense performs as advertised. And it will be interesting to see how far New York’s Geno Smith has progressed—especially that he now has a few more weapons at his disposal…

Prediction: N.Y. Jets 19, Oakland 7

San Francisco (12-4) at Dallas (8-8): Here’s something to think about. The Cowboys’ defense was the NFL’s worst a year ago in terms of total yards allowed. Meanwhile, only four teams in the NFL allowed fewer yards than Jim Harbaugh’s club in 2013. Of course, how will this unit fare this week minus the likes of linebackers NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith and nose tackle Glenn Dorsey, the latter out for the season. So, while we assume that the 49ers’ offense will have its way, could quarterback Tony Romo be primed for a big afternoon as well…

Prediction: Dallas 31, San Francisco 24

Tennessee (7-9) at Kansas City (11-5): Some will recall that the last time the Titans reached the playoffs (2008), new sideline leader Ken Whisenhunt was getting ready to lead the Arizona Cardinals to Super Bowl XLIII. And it was none other than Andy Reid’s Philadelphia Eagles that the Cards defeated in the NFC title game that year. Now Whiz hopes to get his new team back on track in terms of the postseason. Having to face running back Jamaal Charles is a very tall order but don’t be shocked if Dexter McCluster’s return to Kansas City has a very happy ending…

Prediction: Tennessee 21, Kansas City 13

Washington (3-13) at Houston (2-14): Well, barring a tie, one of these teams is getting ready to snap a long losing streak. While the Redskins closed 2013 with eight straight losses, the Texans dropped their final 14 games following a 2-0 start. Both clubs had their quarterback issues during the preseason but both teams also have tough running backs in Alfred Morris and Arian Foster. While we are all curious to see how No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney and a certain $100M Watt fare Sunday, Houston’s defenders may be awfully busy trying to stop the run…

Prediction: Washington 23, Houston 20

Sunday Night

Indianapolis (11-5) at Denver (13-3):  A little less than a year ago, the then 6-0 Broncos traveled to Indianapolis and the Colts and their fans gave Peyton Manning a lousy welcome back present—Denver’s first loss of 2013. Now Chuck Pagano’s team heads to the Mile High City and the Broncos are lying in wait, now less suspended wide receiver Wes Welker. Manning comes off a year in which he threw 55 touchdown passes but don’t be surprised to see the ball in the hands of…Ball. And that suspect Indy defense will be getting their share of the full Montee…

Prediction: Denver 33, Indianapolis 21

Monday Night, Sept. 8

N.Y. Giants (7-9) at Detroit (7-9): The Giants come off a 5-0 preseason, mystifying considering the way they played this summer. Then again, the Lions came tell you a little something about what an unbeaten record when it doesn’t count means. After all, Detroit was 4-0 during the 2008 preseason and used that “momentum” to finish 0-16 four-plus months later. New York’s offense has been in disarray this offseason and if there was ever a time for the Lions defense to build its confidence, it would be now. Jim Caldwell gets off to a good start in the Motor City…

Prediction: Detroit 33, N.Y. Giants 19

San Diego (9-7) at Arizona (10-6): Let us flashback to a year ago as third place can mean different things to different teams. The Bolts won their final four games, finished behind both the Broncos and Chiefs and still managed to reach the playoffs. Bruce Arians’ club won seven of its final nine contests and despite 10 wins, couldn’t get to the postseason. Arizona’s much-improved attack is keyed by veteran Carson Palmer, who was hot after a sluggish start a year ago. But the league’s top-ranked run defense from 2013 looks like a shell of its former self and you can bet that Mike McCoy, Philip Rivers and running back Ryan Mathews will be ready to take advantage…

Prediction: San Diego 30, Arizona 28