Week 1 games are always tough to gauge in the NFL – witness my 5-10 record against the spread last week as evidence.
Given the way so many teams hold key players out of the preseason, it’s not surprising the opening week of the regular season looks a little like the fifth preseason game for many teams.
You can count the Steelers among those.
The Steelers got off to a sluggish start last week in Cleveland, particularly with penalties. Pittsburgh had seven offensive penalties against the Browns, nearly all of which were by players seeing their first extended playing time.
Outside of a holding penalty on wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, the rest of the players who committed infractions – Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Maurkice Pouncey, Vance McDonald and JuJu Smith-Shuster (twice) – were by guys who hadn’t played a lot in the preseason.
Cleveland, meanwhile, played its starters extensively throughout the preseason because its roster is comprised of young players who need the seasoning.
The Browns are getting better, but the Steelers didn’t play close to a good offensive game. They need to be better today against the Minnesota Vikings, a team that finished third in the league in total defense in 2016 and had five Pro Bowl defenders.
With that first game out of the way, expect Pittsburgh’s offense to be better.
The question then turns to if the Steelers defense can control Minnesota’s offense.
Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford set an NFL record for completion percentage last season at better than 70 percent, then was 27 of 32 Monday against New Orleans
Rookie running back Dalvin Cook got rolling, rushing for 127 yards as the Vikings had 470 total yards.
But that was against the Saints.
As lackluster a performance as the offense had last week, scoring only 14 points in a 21-18 win, the defense was stout. It could be the difference this week. Cook isn’t going to find a lot of running room in this one.
The Steelers are 5 1/2-point favorites to improve to 10-1 in home openers under head coach Mike Tomlin. They should win the game, but it will be close.
Take Vikings to cover in a 27-23 Pittsburgh win.
Cleveland (plus 7 1/2) at Baltimore
Deshone Kizer looked comfortable at home in his first NFL start last week. He won’t be so comfortable at Baltimore.
Take Baltimore, 20-10
N.Y. Jets (plus 13 1/2) at Oakland
J-E-T-S stink, stink, stink.
Take Oakland, 31-10
Washington (plus 2 1/2) at Los Angeles Rams
The Rams aren’t playing the Colts.
Take the Redskins, 24-20
New England (minus 4 1/2) at New Orleans
The Patriots should be plenty salty after losing last week but they have defensive issues.
Take New England, 37-27
Dallas (minus 1 1/2) at Denver
Denver has issues stopping the run. That could be a problem. The Cowboys could have a letdown after beating the Giants.
Take Denver, 23-21
Tennessee (minus 1) at Jacksonville
The Jaguars will find Tennessee’s offensive line is much better than the one they had 10 sacks against last week in Houston.
Take Tennessee, 21-17
Philadelphia (plus 4 1/2) at Kansas City
You better believe Chiefs coach Andy Reid had this one circled on his calendar.
Take Kansas City, 26-20
Green Bay (plus 3) at Atlanta
This has all the look of a Big 12 game. Lots of offense.
Take Atlanta, 37-31
Buffalo (plus 7) at Carolina
The Bills beat up on the Jets last week. Carolina is a tad better.
Take Carolina, 24-14
Arizona (minus 7 1/2) at Indianapolis
No David Johnson for Arizona. No Andrew Luck for Indianapolis. Luck is a bigger deal.
Take Arizona, 27-13
Chicago (plus 6) at Tampa Bay
Bucs could be a little rusty after being off in Week 1.
Take Chicago to cover in a 23-20 loss
Miami (plus 4) at L. A. Chargers
The Dolphins also could have issues after being off and spending the past two weeks in California.
Take the Chargers, 27-21
San Francisco (plus 12 1/2) at Seattle
The Seattle defense looked imposing in a loss at Green Bay. The 49ers don’t have Aaron Rodgers.
Take Seattle, 31-13
Detroit (plus 5) at New York Giants
The Giants offense struggled without Odell Beckham. He’s back, but they have other issues.
Take Detroit, 23-20
Last Week: 5-10 ATS; 10-5 Straight up
Dale Lolley can be reached at email@example.com.