Let’s do it!
This NFL picks against the point spread column has been far too long in the making, and it has some big shoes to fill – inflated by expectations. With that, it is the article with which I have the most anticipation to write. The one that will probably type itself faster than I can think. The one that honestly and truly brings me joy. The first picks article of the season is here, and it couldn’t have arrived fast enough.
Years ago, the Mets and Yankees were playing their annual ‘Subway Series.’ The Mets entered the ninth inning with the lead. Closer Francisco Rodriguez – nicknamed “K-Rod” – was facing the Yankees’ power hitting third baseman, Alex Rodriguez – nicknamed “A-Rod” – with two outs and two men on base. The Mets needed one more out. And they got it. Almost.
K-Rod forced A-Rod to hit a pop up to the second baseman that is caught, unofficially, infinity-out-of-infinity-plus-one times. Naturally, as the story needs its dramatic twist, it was dropped. Luis Castillo, a World Series winner with the Marlins – whose Google search first produces the pitcher on the Reds, followed by “Luis Castillo drop” – failed to make the catch. Two runs scored. A sure-win turned into a loss. And vice versa.
Buried within this story are a number of subplots – from the reality that K-Rod did, indeed, do his job, only to lose to the unfortunate role luck plays in sports – but the real trip down memory lane has only just begun. Castillo’s drop and the Mets’ loss is not where the story ends.
The Mets just suffered a heartbreaking defeat. They had the game won, only to head home as losers. The next day, they would be right back at it again, playing against the same opponent in the same ballpark with the same goal and same obstacles. Only there would be one more weight added to the team’s collective shoulders: the memory of embarrassment.
Making matters worse, the Mets were sending a pitcher to the mound – Fernando Nieve – who had not started a game in the previous two seasons, pitched only once for the Mets, and was making his first start of the year. It was June 13th.
[Read More: Week 1 Fantasy Football Player Rankings]
Everything was stacked against Nieve and the Mets. Physically, the pitcher was over-matched. Mentally, the Mets were spent. But, of course, sports rarely follow a script.
The Mets would jump out to a 2-0 lead in the second inning and never look back. Nieve went 6-and-two-third-innings, allowing two earned runs en route to a 6-2 Mets victory behind 15 hits. How did this happen?
Actually, the answer is quite simple.
The New York Mets are a professional baseball team – all jokes aside, since there can be many made at the Mets’ expense. This is what they do. They lose. They win. It hurts – and some do hurt more than the rest – but it’s unavoidable. There are good days and bad days. Stay the course.
Luis Castillo batted first in the lineup the day after his infamous error. He hit two singles. His team won.
The comparisons between Castillo’s drop and my last year of picks can be boiled down to a single word written earlier: embarrassment. It was embarrassing to lose after so much success. But, it happens. We all drop the ball.
The difference is that Castillo and the Mets had the ability to get right back into action the following day – this is one of the beautiful elements of the mental sport of baseball – where I have had to sit-and-wait for this to arrive. Were it up to me, I would have had the season start the week after the Super Bowl. So, too, would the Atlanta Falcons.
Moving back to football, my own long layoff between action pales in comparison to that of the Falcons. What they experienced – blowing a 28-3 lead in the third quarter of the Super Bowl – is easily the most difficult pill to swallow out of all the examples already given. Yet, as professionals, they must put it behind them, show up, and deliver. Last year was exactly that – last year. It’s over. And a new season brings a new set of expectations. Of hope. And, for us, the fun of picking every single game against-the-spread throughout the year. Here’s to a great season!
Below are predictions for each game against the spread. Spreads have been taken from various websites and are subject to change. The spread in parenthesis denotes the selected team. An asterisk denotes a confidence pick.
*Confidence Picks – 2017 Season: — (Last Week: —)
(2016 Season: 53-67-3) (2015 Season: 69-45-2) (2014 Season: 61-46-2) (3-Year Total: 183-158-7)
All Picks Against Spread – 2017 Season: — (Last Week: —)
(2016 Season: 123-136-8) (2015 Season: 143-117-7) (2014 Season: 149-114-4) (3-Year Total: 415-367-19)
Arizona Cardinals (-1)* at Detroit Lions
Remember all those statistics I shared in my NFC prediction column about the Cardinals and Lions? Of course, you do. You read it, right? Well, just in case a refresher is needed, I’ll list them here, as well.
The Detroit Lions played thirteen games decided by a touchdown or less. They won eight of them. In the final three weeks of the season and the team’s singular playoff game, Detroit went a combined 0-4. Three of these games were decided by at least nine points. The Lions lived on the edge, and ultimately fell.
Arizona took the opposite route in 2016, ending the season at 7-8-1, but with a point differential of 56. To reiterate, the Cardinals scored 56 more points than they allowed over the course of the season, but lost more games than they won. That’s hard to do. It was also hard to research. It took another twenty more searches – and I feared it would be many more – before I found another team with a losing record and a point differential of at least 56. The Phoenix Cardinals were the winner. In 1993. Their following season was only moderately better, but the more recent examples of Green Bay in 2008 and Kansas City in 2004 – both with point differentials of at least 35, but losing records – won 11 and 10 games, respectively.
Like so many other teams playing in Week 1, the matchup between two teams heading in opposite directions from last year’s records provides a great buying opportunity to start the season. For an Arizona team that loves to pile on points – four of its seven wins in 2016 were by double digits – the spread could have been much higher, and I would still be content.
The Cardinals win by ten and cover easily.
Atlanta Falcons at Chicago Bears (+7)
There really is no rest for the weary.
After a season of ‘easy picks’ and hot teams coasting against-the-spread on a weekly basis, an entire offseason acts as a reset button. A fresh start. Not only will the teams get to review and reassess where they stand, but so will the spreads. Any number is acceptable to start the year. A ‘trap’ isn’t even necessary. But, of course, one is laid on Opening Day.
There is no reasonable explanation for why the Atlanta Falcons – reigning NFC champions who led the mighty Patriots by 25 points late in the Super Bowl – are only giving a touchdown worth of points to the lowly Bears. And, whenever we cannot find an explanation, we know something odd is afoot.
Argue if you must, but we are faced with the first true test of the season, right away. It is the second-most unbalanced spread of the week in terms of perception – you’ll read about the other one later – and it’s why we can’t ignore it. Certainly, backup-turned-starting-quarterback Mike Glennon might have some insight about the Falcons from his days in Tampa Bay. Or the devastating loss in the Super Bowl might weigh down Atlanta. There are theories, but not a single viable explanation for the tempting spread. That is, other than “tempting” people to pick Atlanta.
And, what’s more tempting than a seven-point spread between these two obscenely different teams? A spread that was seven-and-a-half and is now seven points! That’s right, the number got smaller.
Let’s start the year off with the type of risk that often brings great rewards and, if we lose, we try again in Week 2. It’s a long season.
Atlanta wins by six, but Chicago beats the spread.
Click here to sign up for Sporfolio to see the rest of Mario Mergola’s NFL picks against the point spread. Mergola finished with the highest total of correct NFL picks against the spread for 2015 and 2016 – tracked by NFLPickwatch, and finished 2015 with an accuracy of 60.53% for his confidence picks.
Photo Credit: Keith Allison/Flickr CC 2.0