Thank the sports gods, football is back baby. As much as baseball tried to entertain us there is simply no replacing NFL Sundays. Waking up to ten straight hours of football is the closest thing I have to a religion. For others NFL Sundays are what gets them through the week. It’s the light at the end of the tunnel. The reason Wednesday is a little easier to get through.
Sundays are fun again and for that we should all be grateful. But its not all fun and games. There is money to be made here so let’s get down to business. The Patriots put some of us behind the 8 ball but that minor setback can be undone with so crafty maneuvers Sunday and Monday.
So without further delay let’s break down the opening week and find some lock. Home teams are in CAPS.
BILLS (-8.5) over Jets
Taking the home team in Week 1 is never a terrible idea–especially when the visiting team has zero interest in winning. Jets GM Mike Maccagnan has made his message for this season loud and clear, bottom out and draft a quarterback (again). This summer Maccagnan purged the roster of all its vets and talented players. Outside of Mo Wilkerson and Matt Forte the Jets roster is full of youth.
The Bills are also in a rebuild of their own, but they managed to do it without sacrificing this season. They shipped Sammy Watkins to LA for a second round pick, but also snagged Jordan Matthews from the Eagles. LeSean McCoy is still the lead, but Tyrod Taylor is still good enough to make plays. New head coach Sean McDermott figures to keep the same philosophy of recently fired Rex Ryan. If McDermott can accomplish that and figure out how to manage the clock and his timeouts then the future is not so bleak in Buffalo.
Sunday should be a blowout. As mentioned the Jets are not very good, nor do they want to be. They hopefully have their eyes on Josh Rosen. To get a guy like Rosen they will have to lose a lot of games. The Bills win the talent battle in a landslide and early in the season that is typically good enough to get a nice win at home.
Prediction: Jets 17, Bills 28
TITANS (-2.5) over Raiders
This opening week showdown features two of the trendy teams in the league. The Raiders have received the most bets to win the Super Bowl this year. I would love to see that happen, but before that happens we need to see some things.
First, is Derek Carr’s knee good? Carr suffered a horrific knee injury late last season, spoiling a season that easily could have gone on to the conference final. Second, how much rust does Marshawn Lynch have? Sitting out a whole season is refreshing but can also lead to serious rust. There is no way to simulate what an NFL game is like and Lynch has not played one in quite some time. Finally, is this defense good yet? Khalil Mack is a superstar android. After that however, what are we looking at? They ranked 26th in total defense last season which is an ode to how good the offense was last season.
Don’t worry the Titans are not exempt from scrutiny. They too are being given a lot of praise for a team that had a losing season. Marcus Mariota is a main reason for that as is the resurgence of DeMarco Murray. Last season the Titans were feisty but ultimately lost in close games. This year the AFC South is open for reign with each team equally as mediocre to the others.
These two played a close game last year in Tennessee, with the Raiders getting the 17-10 win. Mariota and company will get something most of us are not given in life, a second chance. With more weapons around Mariota this time around (Eric Decker and Corey Davis in addition to Murray, Delanie Walker and Rishard Matthews) which could give the Titans a slight edge. Toss in some rust worries for both Carr and Lynch and I’m taking the Titans to pull out a close one.
Prediction: Raiders 27, Titans 30
Eagles (-1.5) over REDSKINS
The smallest line this week is unsurprisingly in the NFC East. No, not Giants vs. Cowboys (we’ll get to that later) but the Eagles visiting D.C. (via Landover, MD) to take on the Redskins.
There has been a bit of turnover for the Redskins as they still have not committed to Kirk Cousins long term. DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon took a powder, while Terrelle Pryor signed a one-year flier. Despite the uncertainty that exists beyond this season the Skins are still solid enough to make some noise in the NFC East where all four teams are essentially on the same level.
This offseason the Eagles tried to separate from the pack. Carson Wentz proved enough his rookie year for the team to invest and invest might be an understatement. Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith were brought in while Jordan Matthews was shipped out. With Alshon now in Philly Wentz should finally have someone that can actually catch the football-something Eagles receivers struggled with a lot last year.
The Eagles dropped both games to their division foe last season, but a renovated supporting cast (LeGarrette Blount joined the backfield) could prove to be the difference. As noted Cousins lost two weapons and brought only one back. Jordan Reed is not on the injury report but has been hobbled with a toe injury. Reed will be Cousins’ guy as will Pryor. I’ll ride with the better defense in this one and fly with the Eagles.
Prediction: Eagles 24, Redskins 20
Cardinals (-2) over LIONS
Last season Matthew Stafford was a revelation. It was his first year without Calvin Johnson yet Stafford improved. The main area of improvement was in the turnover department. He threw a career-low ten interceptions and sprinkled the ball all over with no android to throw it up to. That same cast (sans Anquan Boldin) returns this season and the Lions will hope to replicate their playoff season.
The Cardinals are also returning the same group of guys from last season. Unlike the Lions however, they did not have much success. Carson Palmer was solid last season (4,000 yards throwing, 26 TDs to 14 INTs) but compared to his 2015 it was a decline. David Johnson was phenomenal last season and is expected to be phenomenal again this year. Bruce Arians has been looking for a Jamaal Charles-type guy to carry the offensive load and DJ is Charles on roids.
At full health the Cardinals are the better team. Ole reliable Larry Fitzgerald is still kicking and producing. DJ is rapidly becoming the best back in football this side of Le’Veon Bell. Stafford and the Lions will keep it tight at home but I think the Cardinals offense will make enough plays to get the road win.
Prediction: Cardinals 23, Lions 20
Falcons (-6) over BEARS
Are the Falcons over the Super Bowl yet? They were a quarter and some change away from a world championship, only to see Tom Brady take it away from them. Matt Ryan acknowledged he’ll never get over it but instead learn from it. If the whole team carries that philosophy there is no reason they cannot make another deep run this season. They’re essentially running things back
A deep playoff run is not in the cards for the Bears. They are looking to the future–I think. They drafted Mitchell Trubisky as the QB of the future yet paid a large sum for Mike Glennon during free agency. Second year running back Jordan Howard is currently the only threat on the Bears offense, but behind a solid offensive line could be enough on some weeks. This will not be one of those weeks. Either Kevin White or another Bears receiver will have to have a big day or the defending NFC champs will make game of the Bears at Soldier Field.
Prediction: Falcons 31, Bears 21
Jaguars (+5.5) over TEXANS
If the Texans offense were a car it’d definitely be a mini van. It’s not flashy whatsoever and prioritizes safety above everything else. Tom Savage is the starter despite the team trading up to take Deshaun Watson. Savage getting the nod makes the message clear–they’re playing it safe. Look for a lot of runs, short passes and zero risks. The defense will carry the load, frontlined by the two direwolves–J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney –manning the edge.
The Jaguars will also rely on their defense because what other choice do they have? At this point I have more faith in Donald Trump solving race relations than I trust Blake Bortles to run a high-powered offense. He is on his last chance in Jacksonville (the Jags have yet to extend him) so it is put up or shut up time. Teams will zone in on rookie Leonard Fournette and dare Bortles to beat them.
This game will be a defensive rock fight. The Texans have the greater overall talent, but the Jags might have the better defense. The cornerback duo of second-year corner Jalen Ramsey and former Texan A.J.Bouye might be the best in the league. If the run defense can stuff Lamar Miller then things can get interesting. I believe the Texans, playing with heavy hearts for their city, will put on and get the win without the cover.
Prediction: Jaguars 13, Texans 17
BENGALS (-3) over Ravens
In previous seasons this was a money matchup. This was when the AFC North was one of the best divisions in football. Now? Not so much. Sure, the Bengals still have a plethora of talent on the roster, but what have they done with that? Andy Dalton is solid, A.J. Green is great and Geno Atkins is damn good. After that is a bunch of unknown. What’s going on in the backfield? Can Tyler Eifert stay healthy a full season? Can Vontaze Burfict refrain from doing anything stupid?
The questions continue in Baltimore. How will the Ravens score touchdowns this season? Is this defense good enough for a playoff run? Is Joe Flacco elite? The additions of Danny Woodhead and Jeremy Maclin will help a bit but there is still a lack of punch on offense. Maclin and Mike Wallace are the sole guys on the roster I would lean on with the game in the balance. The Bengals aren’t exactly rich in that department either but I trust Green, Eifert or the combo of Gio Bernard/Jeremy Hill/Joe Mixon a little more.
Prediction: Ravens 17, Bengals 24
Steelers (-9.5) over BROWNS
The other AFC North matchup to kick off the season looks a little easier to call. Laying ten points the opening week is rough, but the Steelers are a brand you can trust. And by Steelers I mean Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. You give me those two and I’ll rock against most teams, let alone the Browns. Toss in a little Joe Haden revenge game and you start to feel a lot better about taking the Steelers here.
Not to shit on the Browns but the Steelers are just a cut above. The Browns appear to have finally figured out how to properly rebuild. Rookie DeShone Kizer was good in the preseason and will get the start in Week 1. Around Kizer is a decent cast of Kenny Britt, Isaiah Crowell and Corey Coleman. Even with Haden lining up for the Steelers at corner the rest of that defense is far from the Steelers defenses of old. Odds are Bell gets the ball early and often leaving the Browns in an unenviable position.
Prediction: Steelers 34, Browns 14
Colts (+3.5) over RAMS
Yuck. I’m sorry but what else is there to say about a Jared Goff vs. Scott Tolzien matchup? The late slate on Sundays have become traditionally garbage and this game is the prime example. Goff is only in his second year and can still be a good starter in the NFL. As of now however, he’s not good. Todd Gurley on the other hand is great, Sammy Watkins is good and Tavon Austin could be good. The pieces for a good offense are there but Goff is the key. On defense Aaron Donald is the heart but he will not be on the field as he continues his quest for a big payday.
That leaves the door open for the Colts to cover at the very least. Tolzien starting instead of Andrew Luck simply sucks. Luck is one of the best QBs when he’s right and without him the NFL is less fun. Having said that, Tolzien is not great but he is also not anemic. The Colts will move the ball especially against a Rams defense that will be without it’s heart and soul. Ageless wonder Frank Gore could play a major role as the Colts Plan A should be to run it down the Rams throat and try and escape with a win. It’s an unlikely strategy but could be enough for a cover here.
Prediction: Colts 10, Rams 13
Panthers (-5.5) over 49ERS
Cam Newton has to be pumped to start the new year. Last season was Murphy’s Law for both the star QB and his squad. Newton completed a career-low 52.9 percent of his passes and just looked off when you saw him. His fellow captain Luke Kuechly missed the tail end of the season due to concussions. The best way to get over a nightmare year and prove 2015 was not an outlier is to start 2017 off on the right foot.
There is not much to say about the Panthers’ opponent the 49ers. Carlos Hyde Navorro Bowman and Pierre Garcon are the only guys worth mentioning. Things could be on the upswing with Kyle Shanahan running things but this year figures to be another stinker. The Panthers should gash a 49ers run defense that couldn’t stop a nosebleed last season and blow the doors off this one.
Prediction: Panthers 27, 49ers 10
PACKERS (-3) over Seahawks
Is it me or the Seahawks never seem to start the year off right? Each of the past few seasons they sleepwalk early, peak late and make the playoffs. Maybe that’s just their routine and why would you bother to change it when you make the playoffs doing it. The NFC West belongs to them barring a slew of injuries so frankly they can do whatever the hell they want. The last time they were in Lambeau Field Russell Wilson did his best Ryan Fitzpatrick impression, tossing a five interceptions as the Packers steamrolled the Seahawks.
Aaron Rodgers was as hot as you can be at the time but the Seahawks know better than anyone else, A-Rod is always prone for explosions. The Packers are healthy for the first time since Week 1 of last year (health is a common theme in the NFL in case you hadn’t noticed) which is good. Honestly, as long as Rodgers is healthy that’s all that matters especially at Lambeau. This should be the best game of the late slate and will hopefully provide us with enough entertainment to hold us over to the night game.
Prediction: Seahawks 16, Packers 27
Giants (+4) over COWBOYS
No Week 1 is complete without the Giants versus the Cowboys. This game almost always lives up to the hype and there’s a lot to unpack here. Let’s start in Dallas. Ezekiel Elliott will suit up for this game as well as the remaining 15 games. I’m not a lawyer so here’s the legal stuff for you to digest. The main takeaway is Zeke will be on the field which is good for the Cowboys.
Giants head coach Ben McAdoo isn’t fazed about facing Zeke. When asked how it will change things on Sunday night he said “all backs run the same when there’s nowhere to run,”. You gotta love that if you’re a Big Blue fan. The reason McAdoo is so confident is because he knows he has the better team. Sure the Cowboys have a good o-line but what else is elite? Their defense is suspect and could be catching a break if Odell Beckham Jr., does not suit up.
Even without Odell the Giants could muster out 20 points which could be enough as their defense led by Landon Collins will look to put the clamps on the big three of Zeke, Dez Bryant and Dak Prescott.
Prediction: Giants 23, Cowboys 20
Saints (+3) over VIKINGS
Adrian Peterson will be making his return to Minnesota a lot sooner than Vikings fans probably would have hoped. Outside of Randy Moss, Peterson is the greatest Viking of the past 20 years. In his prime few hold a candle to him and that will not be lost on Vikings fans Monday night. Drew Brees will do everything in his power to make sure Peterson’s return is a good one.
Facing a tough Vikings defense led by shutdown corner Xavier Rhodes, Brees will look to spread the wealth. Michael Thomas is at the top of the food chain in the receiving game with Brandin Cooks now in New England. If Rhodes is able to remove Thomas from the game Brees will do what he does best–spread the wealth. Peterson and Mark Ingram will be a handful to handle on the ground too, making it a hard day at work for the Vikings defense.
That means Sam Bradford and the offense better bring their A-game. Bradford led the Vikings to a 6-0 record before nosediving 2-8 the rest of the way. A key reason for the fall from grace was the offense. Due to their anemic performances the defense was on the field way too much which made them susceptible to getting tired. That cannot happen this year if playoff football is a goal in Minnesota this season. Rookie running back Dalvin Cook will be a nice jolt to the offense, but it will come down to Bradford doing his job.
Prediction: Saints 28, Vikings 24
Chargers (+3) over BRONCOS
What is so appealing about the Broncos here? Von Miller and the defense are great. After that? What are we really betting on here, Trevor Siemian and C.J. Anderson? I’m not entirely sure about the Broncos. Sure they will be good because of that defense but that offense is a major question mark. They have the receiving talent in DeMaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, but Siemian is just not consistently good enough to take advantage.
If the Broncos had someone like Philip Rivers they’d be Super Bowl contenders. Rivers religiously makes fine wine out of tap water year in and year out. Whether it is karma or just bad luck the Chargers always seem to get chewed out by the injury bug. Keenan Allen went down in Week 1 last season but will be back and ready to roll. Melvin Gordon broke out last season as one of the few bright spots from the 5-11 season. If he can replicate that type of season the Chargers could compete.
As far as Monday is concerned the Chargers get my pick for two reasons, both dealing with Rivers. First, Rivers is like the Terminator when you pick against him. He never seems to go away until the bitter end. Second, he is leaps and bounds better than Siemian.
Prediction: Chargers 20, Broncos 21