By Joe Duffy
Joe Duffy's Picks begins year 27 as a full-time professional handicapper, a career that began even before that as a scorephone announcer for Dial Sports.
Saturday, September 6th
UTAH -10 Fresno State
Fresno is greatly overvalued from last year when they were led by QB Derek Carr, who will now start for Dennis Allen's Oakland Raiders. Gone as well are two 1,000-yard receivers and three more 2013 offensive starters. No wonder they were outgained 701-to-317 yards in a slapping at the hands of USC.
Now they face a Utah team that racked up 589 yards in offense in a rout to Idaho State. Oh Fresno State played USC, which is much better than Idaho State, but the two routs are more than indicative enough of how overmatched FSU will be.
Utah gets starters Siaosi Aiono and Justin Thomas back after missing last week. They have a lot of weapons on offense - even its second-stringers should pile up points. The Utes look like their special teams will be vastly improved thanks to their kicker.
Utah did not have many touchbacks last season and finished 94th in the country with an opponent return average of 22.91. With plenty of opportunities, he more than succeeded in the opener. He was 8-for-8 in touchbacks, which greatly masks and improves on a big area that needed improvement.
Fresno State is not a team that can lose so much talent on offense and simply reload. There is not nearly enough time to make adjustments from last week. Now it faces a hostile environment in front of a capacity crowd. Look for a bloodbath in favor of the chalk.
NFL - FACTS & STATS
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 7TH
Seattle is opening up their playbook. With WR Percy Harvin healthy (for now) plus rookie WR Paul Richardson second rounder's great speed, look for Seattle's offensive numbers to increase. Packers starting center JC Tretter is out and they are thinned on the offensive front five. Hence, new center Corey Linsley has never snapped a ball to Aaron Rogers.
Two years ago everything went right for the Falcons and they entered last year overvalued. Last year everything went wrong and may now be undervalued. WRs Julio Jones, Roddy White are back. Devin Hester is the kick returner. Running back Steven Jackson missed a ton of time, but is healthy. Seven of the last 11 games in the series have been decided by four points or less. Nine of them by eight points or less. Saints 13-3 straight up in the series during Sean Payton era.
The Atlanta linebacker corp is especially thin with Sean Weatherspoon out for the season.
Indianapolis Colts center Khaled Holmes is questionable and is part of an offensive line that has struggled during the preseason. Holmes' backup, Jonotthan Harrison, is slowed by a sore thumb. The projected starters on the interior of the offensive line center Khaled Holmes, guards Jack Mewhort Hugh Thornton were only able to play a few snaps together during preseason because of injuries.
Raiders will start rookie QB Derek Carr. Carr sizzled with a 105.2 passer rating on 45 throws during preseason.
Panthers QB Cam Newton is probable but will wear a flap jacket. He is expected to play. Tampa OC Jeff Tedford is questionable with an undisclosed illness.
Superstar Rob Gronkowski will likely start at TE. He has 42 touchdowns in 50 career regular season games. This is huge from a matchup standpoint. The Dolphins' linebackers have struggled both against the run and the pass. The entire Patriots roster practiced.
Good news for the Pokes offense is that 2012 Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton said he's ready for the season opener against San Francisco after not playing in the preseason.
Thanks to various injuries and the release of two veterans over the weekend, the Minnesota Vikings still apparently haven't settled on a starting safety opposite Harrison Smith.
Bears No. 3 WR Marquess Wilson is out. Veteran WR Santonio Holmes bumps up to that spot. The Bears revamped the defensive line by adding Jared Allen, Willie Young and Lamarr Houston in free agency. Also they drafted defensive tackles Will Sutton and Ego Ferguson. But throughout the preseason, the entire group hasn't performed together. This is key because Buffalo Bills wide receiver rookie Sammy Watkins is probable with rib injury.
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 8TH
Under first-year coordinator Ben McAdoo the Giants offense has looked horrible. Giants defensive leader middle linebacker Jon Beason missed the entire preseason but is practicing and should be on the field come gametime.