I already talked a little about what happened last weekend (at least for the Lions), but I wanted to take a look at my predictions for the games. Just a reminder: picking games in the NFL is always hard, but especially so in week 1. The people who entered the Hilton SuperContest didn’t do very well (Insider access required), Brian Burke has demonstrated that no one knows how a season will turn out based on last season, and I showed that you can do a tiny bit better by using point differential but predictions still suck. It is possible to guess winners at above-chance levels though; last year I went 11-5 using a model based on the previous season’s performance, which is a little better than you would do if you just picked the home team every time (in my data set, the home team wins 59% of week 1 games). Of course, the Hilton people are picking against the spread.
With all that background, here are the picks I made last week. They’re just for the winner, but I can pretend that they’re also against the spread so I can have a better comparison to Bill Simmons’ picks. Here’s the breakdown.
Packers-Saints: me Packers, Bill Packers -4.5. Result: Packers win and cover, 42-34. The first game of the season was an exciting game, pretty much all offense. The only bad thing to come out of it is that the one guy I have on all three of my fantasy teams, Marques Colston, broke his collarbone. Crap. Bill and I are both 1-0.
Bears-Falcons: me Bears, Bill Bears +3. Result: Bears win and cover, 30-12. I didn’t watch this one, but the Bears made it look easy. On the other hand, the Bears might have been a little lucky; they fumbled three times but didn’t lose any of them, whereas they recovered both of the Falcons’ fumbles (one returned for a touchdown). At any rate, Bill and I are both 2-0.
Browns-Bengals: me Browns, Bill Browns -6.5. Result: Bengals win and cover, 27-17. I can’t say I’m excited about an Ohio showdown in any way or form. Apparently the game changed when the Bengals quick-snapped while the Browns were still in a defensive huddle and threw a wide-open touchdown pass to take the lead. Sounds about right. Bill and I are 2-1.
Chiefs-Bills: me Chiefs, Bill Bills +6. Result: Bills win and cover, 41-7. The Bills were on the good end of three turnovers, including a fumbled opening kick-off, but the stats all say they did pretty well anyway. Time will tell if the Bills have turned the corner (and the Chiefs turned the wrong corner) or if this was a fluke. Bill is 3-1, I’m 2-2.
Rams-Eagles: me Rams, Bill Rams +4.5. Result: Eagles win and cover, 31-13. This is a game I would have dearly wanted to go away from the model, especially if I had known that the Rams would lose 4 players to injury. I do love the new Steven Jackson commercial though. Bill is 3-2, I’m 2-3.
Bucs-Lions: me Bucs, Bill Bucs -1.5 Result: Lions win and cover, 27-20. I was happy to see the Lions win, and you can check the link above for my earlier post on the appropriate amount of optimism to have going forward. My ridiculously premature power rankings predict that the Lions will go 10-6 this season; we’ll see if it turns out. Bill is 3-3, I’m 2-4.
Jaguars-Titans: me Jaguars, Bill Titans +2.5. Result: Jaguars win but Titans cover, 16-14. Jacksonville won despite firing their starting quarterback the week before the game and letting their back-up running back take over in the second half when he ran like crap and they have Maurice Jones-Drew as a starter. But, Bill gets the nod since the Titans got it under a field goal late in the game. Bill is 4-3, I’m 2-5.
Ravens-Steelers: me Ravens, Bill Steelers +1.5. Result: Ravens win and cover, 35-7. Yet another game I didn’t see, but I have to say I’m happy the Ravens won. I’m tired of Pittsburgh. But it seems unlikely that the Steelers will fumble four times and lose all of them or throw three interceptions in a single game again. They’ll recover. The Ravens also got 4 sacks and ran and threw effectively, so they could be good again this year. Bill is 4-4 and I’m 3-5.
Texans-Colts: me Texans, Bill Texans -9. Result: Texans win and cover, 34-7. I knew the Colts would have trouble without Peyton (who didn’t?), but I didn’t expect it to be quite this embarrassing. The Colts actually ran the ball ok, if not very much, but Collins wasn’t very effective (even ignoring his three fumbles, two of which were lost). The Texans were very efficient on offense, although Schaub threw two interceptions. I didn’t see the game, but I’m going to assume it’s because he was drunk on what would have otherwise been a 10 yards per attempt average. Bill is 5-4 and I’m 4-5.
Cardinals-Panthers: me Cardinals, Bill Panthers +7. Result: Cardinals win but push, 28-21. Everyone glowed over Cam Newton’s pro debut, with three touchdowns (one rushing) and over 400 passing yards. A few others were quick to note that the Panthers still lost and the Cardinals are supposed to be terrible, so maybe we should hold our horses. I recommend always holding your horses. Bill is 5-4-1 and I’m 4-5-1.
Chargers-Vikings: me Chargers, Bill Vikings +8.5. Result: Chargers win but Vikings cover, 24-17. Phil Rivers threw two picks and Percy Harvin returned the opening kick-off for a touchdown to keep the Vikings close in this one. The Vikings were very effective running the ball, but McNabb threw for 39 yards, which seems like a misprint. The Vikings will not do well if this continues. On the other hand, the Chargers passed well (assuming they don’t throw two picks a game) but ran poorly; that’s usually a better combination if you have to be bad at something. Bill is 6-4-1, I’m 4-6-1.
49ers-Seahawks: me 49ers, Bill Seahawks +5.5. Result: 49ers win and cover, 33-17. To be fair to Bill, it looked like he made the right choice until Ted Ginn returned two kicks for touchdowns a minute apart within the last four minutes of the game. On the other hand, the 49ers still would have had the ball and a two point lead; they might have come up with a touchdown anyway. This wasn’t an inspiring game for either team, as Seattle looked as awful as you would expect given that their QB is Tarvaris Jackson and the 49ers kicked four field goals, the longest of which was 31 yards. Settling for field goals in the red zone that often is going to kill them. Bill is 6-5-1 and I’m 5-6-1.
Redskins- Giants: me Redskins, Bill Redskins +3. Result: Redskins win and cover, 28-14. The Giants were actually in ok shape statistically, but Eli threw a pick-six in a tie game and the Giants defense is pretty beat up. If you give up over 9 yards per attempt to Rex Grossman, things have gone terribly wrong. Bill is 7-5-1 and I’m 6-6-1.
Jets-Cowboys: me Jets, Bill Cowboys +4. Result: Jets win but Cowboys cover, 27-24. The Jets managed to win by returning a punt for a touchdown with five minutes left and intercepting Tony Romo with a minute left when the Cowboys were on their own 41. According to Brian Burke’s win probability calculator, the Cowboys win two-thirds of the time in that situation; they probably need to get about 30 yards and kick a field goal, or if they do nothing they still have a 50/50 chance in overtime. Romo also had a fumble earlier in the game in the red zone. So the Cowboys might be the better team overall, but poorly timed turnovers did them in. Bill is 8-5-1 and I’m 6-7-1.
Dolphins-Patriots: me Patriots, Bill Patriots -7. Result: Patriots win and cover 38-24. Tom Brady had a heck of a night, throwing for over 500 yards. Nearly as impressive is that the Pats got nearly 5 yards a carry in the running game. What should worry the Pats is that Miami was nearly as efficient, getting the same running efficiency and over 8 yards per pass attempt. If they give that up every week, Brady is going to have to throw for 500 yards. Bill is 9-5-1 and I’m 7-7-1.
Broncos- Raiders: me Raiders, Bill Broncos -3. Result: Raiders win and cover, 23-20. I had this game on but it was ugly enough that I didn’t pay much attention. Kyle Orton looked ineffective, which is only going to make the calls for Brady Quinn or Tim Tebow louder. I happen to like Orton, so I think it would be a mistake to pull him. Oakland looked somewhat competent, but they aren’t going to win if Campbell throws for less than 5 yards a completion. Hopefully it isn’t raining when these teams play the second time; it’ll be too much to bear. Bill finishes at 9-6-1 and I finish at 8-7-1.
Bill came out one game ahead, but last year I was two ahead so we’re more or less square. One thing you can note is that in 12 games the winning team also covered; that’s pretty much square-on with the historical average of 80% (it’s exactly right if you toss out the game that ended in a push). Also, as should be obvious, it’s harder to pick against the spread than to simply pick a winner. While I went 8-7-1 against the spread with my winner picks, I was 12-4 picking the outright winner. In two seasons that’s 25-9 overall, which isn’t too bad if I say so myself. So it might be hard to say how many games each team will win by the end of this season, but you can certainly do an ok job deciding who will win in week 1 at least.