Welcome back for another season of the weekly NFL Cheat Sheet on FOXSports.com. If you’re a returning customer, you know this column is good for a few “Big Ang” references this season, a handful of Jim Fassel and Rich Kotite mentions, and more than a fair share of quirky stats and NFL factoids that will make you seem like the weirdo at your dinner party this weekend. Dinner party! I’ve never been invited to one, but they sound wonderful. Elegant. Classy. And that’s what the Cheat Sheet is all about — elegance and class.
Occasionally — very occasionally — we’ll provide accurate predictions, too. We pick winners each week, share your best emails, and do some trivia.
It’s fun. It's glorious, and it’s free, so it’s worth the price of admission.
Last year, we went 169-87 during the regular season, good for a 66-percent success rate.
In the playoffs, we accurately predicted five different upsets: Denver beating Pittsburgh, New York beating Green Bay, San Francisco beating New Orleans, New York beating San Francisco, and New York beating the Patriots.
We don’t do spreads and we don’t pick with our heart. We’re all business. Dinner parties!
Let’s dig into Week 1.
TRIVIA QUESTION OF THE WEEK
Of the 32 Week 1 NFL starting quarterbacks, 23 are former first-round picks. Nine of those 23 were the first overall picks in their respective NFL Drafts. One of the 32 starting quarterbacks went undrafted and two were taken in the seventh round. Who are those three quarterbacks? (See below for answer.)
Atlanta at Kansas City: There’s a ton of history between the two GMs in this one. Scott Pioli and Thomas Dimitroff worked together for years in New England, and long before that, it was Pioli who shuttled Dimitroff’s ill father to and from the hospital when Pioli worked as a low-level scout in Cleveland during the mid-'90s. This one will also be Tony Gonzalez’s return to Kansas City. The Falcons will win this game and a whole bunch more this season. Wake me when they win one in January. Atlanta’s 0-3 in playoff games under Mike Smith. It’s about time they put their Big Boy Pants on in a game that matters.
The pick: Falcons 31, Chiefs 17
Philadelphia at Cleveland: I interviewed Brandon Weeden, the Browns’ 28-year-old rookie quarterback, for GQ last year. He told me that one day in 2003, when he was an up-and-coming farmhand in the New York Yankees’ system, he walked outside the team’s Spring Training facilities in Tampa with Derek Jeter. He was feeling pretty good. He was a second-round pick, he had some money in his pocket, and he was walking side by side with Derek Jeter. Weeden strolled to his brand new Hummer and hopped in, feeling like a big shot. Jeter politely nodded his head, said goodbye, and hopped into his baby blue Ferrari. Now, nine years later, Weeden starts his first NFL game. I think the Browns are competitive on Sunday, but fall short in the end.
The pick: Eagles 30, Browns 24
Washington at New Orleans: In addition to losing Sean Payton and Jonathan Vilma for the year to suspensions, the Saints also lost All-Pro offensive guard Carl Nicks in free agency. There’s been a lot of press about the first two this offseason, but I think New Orleans might miss the third — the mauling big fella — most of all. Brees will be fine and there’s no way RG3 strolls into the Superdome and wins his first NFL start. But don’t expect the Saints offense to be the same in 2012. Not without Nicks.
The pick: Saints 34, Redskins 23
St. Louis at Detroit: The back of Steven Jackson’s football card reads like a Shakesperean tragedy. The heart and soul of the Rams offense has rushed for 1,000 yards or more in each of the past seven seasons. In that time span, the Rams have gone a combined 29-83. One of the game’s great running backs has had his career pretty much wasted behind terrible offensive lines and in awful locker rooms. It’d be nice if he could get a few winning seasons in before calling it quits (or the league calls it quits on him). I don’t see it happening this year, though, and I don’t see St. Louis beating Detroit on the road on Sunday.
The pick: Lions 28, Rams 14
New England at Tennessee: I’m fascinated by Wes Welker’s offseason. In February, he dropped a pass that could have put the Super Bowl on ice. In May, he lashed out about not getting a long-term deal from management. In June, he and his buddies got booted from a fancy restaurant while trying to crash a party in Aspen, Colorado. Oh, and he got married in July. That’s a busy few months, no? In related news, I didn’t take Welker in my fantasy football draft last weekend.
The pick: Patriots 34, Titans 20
Miami at Houston: I was all about Ryan Tannehill on Draft Day, thought he looked good in Miami’s first two preseason games and felt as though he was handling his first summer as an NFL starter quite well. And then it happened. He couldn’t name which teams were in what NFL division. That was it. He thought the Chiefs were in the NFC North? That was all I needed. Miami doesn’t have a chance this season.
Buffalo at New York Jets: How’s this for bulletin board material? After the Jets announced the demotion of now ex-right tackle Wayne Hunter following their second preseason game, the Bills’ official Twitter account, @BuffaloBills, tweeted the following: “#Bills DE Mario Williams to face the Jets OL in wk1.” I’m always leery of August media darlings and that’s what the Bills are. I think the Jets — with a little Tebow Wildcat magic and a few points off turnovers — defend their home turf and find a way on Sunday.
Jacksonville at Minnesota: Over the course of the past 10 years of my life, I have spent many a Sunday at various sports bars around New York City. There are always six to seven games on the 1 p.m. slate on flat screen televisions around the pub, regardless of borough, regardless of week. And then there’s the game that the bartender just won’t put on. “Nah,” will be the response when you ask for it. It’s the game that’s so bad, the one that has such little national appeal, that it will literally cause customers to leave the establishment. That game this week? This one.
The pick: Vikings 23, Jaguars 17
Indianapolis at Chicago: It’s amazing to consider that Rex Grossman — just five years ago — started a Super Bowl between these two teams. A lot has changed in those five years. Mike Martz came and went, Peyton Manning left for Denver, and Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall found themselves reunited. I like Indy this year. Spunky team. They looked great in preseason. But that offensive line isn’t ready for Peppers, Melton, and rookie Shea McClellin. Andrew Luck’s going to win some games. Just not this one.
Carolina at Tampa Bay: The Baby Bucs quit on Raheem Morris last year, and that was never more evident than in their two games versus Carolina. The Panthers — a team that went 6-10 and didn’t exactly take the league by storm — outscored the Bucs 86-37 in 2011, with Cam Newton scoring eight touchdowns in those two meetings. New coach Greg Schiano knows that. He’s been drilling that combined score into his team’s head all summer. Three rookies are starting, my guy Carl Nicks is starting at guard, and Vincent Jackson’s been looking forward to wearing a new uniform for years. Gimme Tampa at home in a close one.
San Francisco at Green Bay: The 49ers went 13-3 and return 11 defensive starters from the top D in the league a season ago. Then, why am I having my doubts on San Francisco this season? Ah, that schedule. It’s a tough S.O.B. It’s a slate that includes this trip to Lambeau, a game at the Superdome, and one in Foxborough. They also play the Giants, Bears, Bills, and have a rematch with the Lions. If the 49ers win the NFC this season, they’ll have earned it. I wouldn’t be shocked if San Francisco backup Colin Kaepernick came in and did something special on Sunday. I would be surprised if the 49ers came out on top.
The pick: Packers 30, 49ers 17
Seattle at Arizona: John Skelton vs. Russell Wilson! Who saw that starting quarterback battle coming when the schedules came out in April? Though the offenses, and especially these quarterbacks, seem to be getting the most attention, it’s the defenses I’m most intrigued by. Arizona boasts one of the best young D's in the game, with three guys — Patrick Peterson, Daryl Washington, and Calais Campbell — who are among the game’s top defenders under the age of 27. Seattle has my No. 1-rated defensive backfield in the sport, and they’re all under the age of 30. This final score may look ugly, but don’t blame the quarterbacks. The D’s are very good.
Pittsburgh at Denver: This is supposed to be Peyton Manning’s big unveiling. He’s supposed to throw for 300 yards, Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas are supposed to look like Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne on their worst days, and John Elway’s supposed to be beaming with pride from a luxury box way up in the sky. I don’t know. I just don’t see it. LaMarr Woodley and Troy Polamalu are going to be coming, Ben Roethlisberger’s not some rookie, and Todd Haley is no stranger to the Denver defense. Steelers take this one. And everyone freaks out on Monday morning about Manning not being the same guy he once was. Buckle up.
Cincinnati at Baltimore: The looming question around the Ravens all summer has been whether Paul Kruger is capable of filling in for Terrell Suggs or not. He won’t be Suggs. No one can be. But Kruger’s been through some stuff in his life. In 2007, while breaking up a fight in college, Kruger was jumped and stabbed two times. Fifty stitches. They weren’t sure he’d live. He did, and he thrived, and he’s had a nice four-year NFL career. He may not break the NFL sack record, but he’ll be fine. So will the Ravens.
The pick: Ravens 31, Bengals 21
San Diego at Oakland: Get ready for some Chris Berman schtick in this one. You know, “DAH RAIDAAAAHS”. “rumblin’, bumblin’, stumblin’”, an “Autumn Wind” reference or seven. But that’s fine. It’s football season. It’s good to be back, and I think even that stuff will sound somewhat comforting after eight months away from the sport. The Chargers lost their last Week 1 Monday night affair two years ago against the Chiefs, but I think Philip Rivers will find a way on that hideous baseball infield in Oakland on Monday. Eddie Royal — a guy three percent of owners own in CBS Sports fantasy football leagues — will be the difference.
The pick: Chargers 27, Raiders 24
READER EMAIL OF THE WEEK
I’ve enjoyed your stuff over the years, but I feel as though you’re waaaaaaaay to into Tony Romo. You realize that he’s never won a playoff game, right? Please explain your blatant man crush on a guy who tends to fold whenever the pressure’s on him, hasn’t done anything in the postseason, and is kind of injury-prone.
--Ted, Huntington, New York
Tony Romo won a playoff game a few years back over the Eagles. Sure, the Cowboys got the doors blown off them by Brett Favre and the Vikings a week later, but he does have one postseason victory on his resume. Let’s not act like he’s Matt “allergic to January” Ryan or something, here. As for this “man crush” you speak of, I don’t know what you’d like me to say. Romo’s numbers last year — he threw for more than 4,000 yards, had 31 touchdowns to just 10 interceptions, and his 102.5 passer rating was a career high — were fantastic. He did that after breaking his ribs and losing his top two wideouts. Is he a great-looking man? Sure. Is he a wonderful golfer? Yes. Do I find him charming any time I interview him? Perhaps. Would I love for him to ask me and my fiancee to join him and his wife on a trip to Cabo? I’m not saying no. If that’s a “man crush”, then I suppose I’m guilty.
OH, AND BY THE WAY …
1. Serena Williams is doing some incredible things on the tennis court. Dating back to Wimbledon, she’s on a run like she’s never been on before. We’ve never seen dominance — perhaps in any sport — quite like this.
2. I wasn’t all that surprised to see Prince Harry going wild in Las Vegas this summer. But I was surprised to see him do it at the MGM Grand. It’s probably the eighth-coolest hotel on the strip. What gives, Harry?
3. Big fan of Jay-Z. Big fan of Pearl Jam. Great to see them perform together in Philadelphia last Sunday night. Here’s a clip of them doing "99 Problems."
4. There was a five-minute window to make Clint Eastwood/chair jokes in sports-related tweets. Why am I still seeing them a week later? One of the negatives of Twitter — everyone thinks they’re Jon Stewart.
5. Fun Fact: Dez Bryant was the first of 27 receivers drafted in 2010. Victor Cruz was not one of those 27.