The long wait is almost over! The 2013 NFL season is about to kick off and with that comes another season of game predictions. Last season I finished with a prediction record of 164-91-1. This year I will try to hit on around the 70% mark as this will be my second year doing this. Week 1 is always the hardest week to predict since there really isn’t much indication as to how a team is going to look (preseason can only tell us so much). On top of that there are several quality games this week, which makes predicting them even harder. Anyways, most of us are all chomping at the bit to get the 2013 season started. We do have to wait until September 5th to officially get going, but hopefully this preview article will wet your appetite for now. You can expect a prediction article each and every week all the way through the Super Bowl. So without further adieu, let’s dive into a Week 1 diagnosis!
Thursday September 5th, 8:30 e.t.
Baltimore Ravens @ Denver Broncos
And so the Broncos’ 2013 Season begins where their 2012 one ended: in a home game vs. the Ravens. Denver still has their solid talent to work with on offense with the addition of the slot machine, Wes Welker. Baltimore is arguably a little weaker than they were in January with key losses on each side of the ball. Elvis Dumervill will be making his return to the Mile High City, but he has his work cut out for him trying to sack Peyton Manning, who figures to be in the rocking chair behind a solid offensive line. The Broncos would be the easy pick to pull this one out if it were not for their weak-looking pass rush. The team will be without Von Miller in this game (and Dumervill) and will have to rely on getting pressure with Robert Ayers and Derek Wolfe. Joe Flacco should have time to stand in the pocket and pick apart the Denver secondary much like he did in the divisional round last season. Expect a high scoring game as each of these two defenses attempt to find their bearings minus two of their bigger play-makers from a year ago. It is tempting to go with Broncos here knowing that Peyton Manning has even more toys to play with on offense, but Joe Flacco will probably have more time to dissect the Denver “D” as I predict that the Broncos don’t put much pressure on him. Either way, this game should be entertaining.
Baltimore 34, Denver 28
Sunday September 8th, 1:00 e.t.
Seattle Seahawks @ Carolina Panthers
This Seattle club looks like it has the potential to be one of the best in the league this season, but it is going to be hard for them to travel across the country and take down a Panthers squad that has been known to give some of the better defenses in the league fits. Also, don’t sleep on the Carolina “D”. I still believe they have one of the best front sevens in the game. The key match-up here will be Russell Okung and Brenno Giacomini vs. Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson. If the Panthers’ ends can crash on the corners, they would have a solid shot at taking away the read-option game from Russel Wilson. Stranger things have happened Week 1, and call me crazy but I have the Panthers upsetting the Seahawks in Carolina. It is time to see if Cam Newton can put it all together in is third year and put together a nice start to their season. Mike Shula will certainly want to implement some power running this week and that can set up some hard play-action, which is where Newton could go to town over the middle of the field. Let’s not forget that the Seahawks were only 3-5 away from home last year. They are a much more vulnerable team when you take away the strength of the twelfth man.
Carolina 23, Seattle 16 *UPSET OF THE WEEK*
Miami Dolphins @ Cleveland Browns
The Dolphins and Browns are two teams that are slowly getting better behind second year quarterbacks. I’ll be the first one to admit that I am not super high on the Dolphins for 2013, but I like their chances going on the road vs. the Browns. Cleveland has not won a season opener since 2004, so you are looking at a team that is not used to getting off to a fast start. The Browns have to prove that the switch to the 3-4 on defense under Ray Horton isn’t too much. They did play a 3-4 under Rob Ryan in 2010 so this may not prove to be much of an issue. I can see this one going in Cleveland’s favor but for now I will play it safe and pick Miami if for no other reason than the fact that Mike Wallace has been eating up this defense for the past four years. Perhaps he could provide some extra insight that film studies just won’t uncover.
Miami 20, Cleveland 12
Tennessee Titans @ Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers are in serious need of depth at running back and are lacking their biggest play-maker on offense from a year ago (Mike Wallace). The defense is aging but I still trust it under Dick LeBeau to come at Jake Locker with a ton of exotic looks and pressure filled fronts. It will come as a surprise if they don’t stack the box and show pressure on at least 25% of their plays. Because of this I predict the Steelers forcing a few mistakes from Locker and capitalizing on them to eek out a victory. Don’t expect this one to come easy though as the Titans boast a pretty aggressive defense of their own.
Pittsburgh 16, Tennessee 10
Atlanta Falcons @ New Orleans Saints
Points should not be at a premium in this match-up of two high octane offenses. Obviously the Saints should get a positive boost with the return of their head coach Sean Payton after his year long suspension. Look for New Orleans to push the envelope with a lot of deep plays into the heart of the Atlanta secondary. Likewise, Matt Ryan and the Falcons will attempt to increase the tempo and pump out first downs in an attempt to take the crowd out of it early. In the end we should see an abundance of big plays and a lot of scoring. A game like this has to favor the Saints on this day. It is tough to beat Drew Brees and his team down in the Big Easy. Plus the entire organization has a chip on its shoulder after the bounty-gate scandal from a year ago. Expect Sean Payton to hold nothing back as he tries to make his impact felt from Week 1.
New Orleans 35, Atlanta 31
Oakland Raiders @ Indianapolis Colts
The loss of Dwight Freeney may hurt the Colts’ pass-rush in the long run, but for this week Indy fans may not even notice they bring the heat to a flimsy Raider offensive line that was so bad in the preseason that it cost Matt Flynn his starting job. That’s right, Oakland has decided to start Terrell Pryor; the more mobile of the two quarterbacks. It will be up to Pryor to make plays with his legs to give the silver and black a chance in Lucas Oil Stadium. Unfortunately they may have a ghost of a chance since their defense has looked pretty atrocious against the Saints and Bears in the preseason. Andrew Luck is no slouch under center and should have a field day throwing against a re-tooled unit. He has been reunited with his old college offensive coordinator, Pep Hamilton. This hire should work wonders for the youngster as he looks to improve upon his 54.1 completion percentage and 23 turnovers from a season ago This game could get downright ugly if the Raiders are unable to move the ball much on offense. Either way, I expect the Colts to roll here as the team seeks its second straight playoff appearance under Andrew Luck.
Indianapolis 26, Oakland 9
Cincinnati Bengals @ Chicago Bears
This game is one of the many appetizing ones on the menu for Week 1. It pits two teams with solid defenses and improved offenses with two of the best possession receivers in the league. The Bengals really got after opposing QBs last season, dropping them 51 times (which was good for third in the league). The Bears surrendered 44 sacks to their opponents last year, so those numbers appear to be in favor of the Bengals. However what most people don’t know is that Cincinnati gave up even more sacks than Chicago did last year, 46. The Bears offensive line looks to be greatly improved this year with the addition of Jermon Bushrod at left tackle and some impressive rookies in Jordan Mills (RT) and RG Kyle Long. If Long can hold his gaps down against a looping Geno Atkins, the Bears will be golden. Anyways, I have to go with the Bears here due to the fact that they are playing at home with a greatly improved team under a new head coach. The reason for optimism for this team is here. The Bengals did go 6-2 away from home last year so it will certainly be no surprise if the cardiac cats pull this one out.
Chicago 24, Cincinnati 21
Minnesota Vikings @ Detroit Lions
Two of the most dominant players in the league will be featured heavily in this game between Adrian Peterson and Calvin Johnson. Of course that will be the main focus of this game that pits two teams that are worlds apart. The Lions like to spread the ball out and throw it 40+ times per game while the Vikings prefer to power the ball between the tackles with #28. Reggie Bush should be used in a multitude of creative ways by offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, including in five-wide sets. If the the Lions can spread the field through the first half they may create some room to run the ball in the middle of the field during the second half. The only thing that prevents me from picking Detroit in this one is their defense. While they did look improved this preseason, it is still hard to tell how they will perform in a real game. Keep in mind that the Vikings swept the Lions last season and have won five out of the last eight meetings between these two teams. I guess it would be smarter to pick a Viking team that you know will get their beast the ball (talking about Peterson) rather than a team where it is not a guarantee that their best player, Calvin Johnson, will have the ball in their hands close to half of the time. I’ve gotta go Minnesota here as A.P. could run roughshod over the Lions defense.
Minnesota 27, Detroit 17
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ New York Jets
By default Geno Smith will be getting the start for this game. The injuries to Mark Sanchez and Greg McElroy have put Smith in a position to lead this team. Since he won’t be throwing to the most dominating of receivers and the running game is still a work in progress, New York is going to have a tough time winning this game. It is also worth mentioning that the Jets’ best player from a year ago is on the visiting sidelines wearing pewter pants. Of course Darrelle Revis will be foaming at the mouth as he has a great opportunity to make a big play for his new team right away. The Buccaneers are far from a finished product, but luckily they won’t need to be one at the start of this season. All aboard the Doug Martin train! Tampa should ride their young star all the way to an impressive win.
Tampa Bay 34, New York 10
New England Patriots @ Buffalo Bills
At least one of the Pats/Bills match-ups over the past four years has produced a memorable game. Not to mention, the Patriots have averaged 35.4 points/game against Buffalo since 2009 and the Bills have averaged 22.6 points/game vs. the New England (keep in mind that their outputs of 3 in 2010 and 10 in 2009 weigh their average down). The point I am trying to make is that this game annually features a lot of scoring. It will be easy to believe that the Patriots can put up over 30 points on the Bills’ porous “D” but it remains to be seen whether or not E.J. Manuel can do it. Oh yeah, this will be the rookie’s first ever start and he is being thrown into the fire by going up against the kings of the AFC East. Anyways, it is almost a sure thing that Tom Brady will lead his team to at least four touchdowns (despite the youth surrounding him at receiver). The question is, can Manuel match Brady? At this point in is career it is absurd to think that the rookie can trade scores with one of the best to ever play the game. Week 1, advantage Patriots.
New England 36, Buffalo 22
Kansas City Chiefs @ Jacksonville Jaguars
Last year this game would not have been a draw at all. It pits two of the worst teams with the worst offenses in the league from 2012. But as we all know, 2013 is a new year and thus a new outlook for both franchises who hope to take the first step under their new head coaches. From a talent standpoint, the Chiefs are far superior to the Jags. Many household names have been making their mark in KC for a while as opposed to a franchise that has had little to offer outside of Maurice Jones-Drew. Again, it is a new year, and with that comes a chance for change. Yes, “change” is the operative word for this game. The Jaguars on offense look to adopt an entirely new offensive mentality under new OC Jedd Fisch. They will run a lot of no huddle and probably throw early to get Blaine Gabbert in a rhythm. However, over the course of a four quarter game the Chiefs should be able to outlast them. For starters, they have a very successful head coach calling the shots in Andy Reid as opposed to the unproven Gus Bradley. In addition, I like Alex Smith a whole lot more than I like Blaine Gabbert. The Chiefs should do a much better job holding onto the ball this year and not turning it over so much. Unfortunately the same cannot be said about a Jaguars team that gave the ball away an eye-popping eleven times in four preseason games. Extrapolate those numbers and you have 44 over the course of a 16 game season. Not good.
Kansas City 20, Jacksonville 6
Sunday, September 8th, 4:25 e.t.
Arizona Cardinals @ St. Louis Rams
Most people will be clamoring about the NFC west match-ups between the Seahawks and 49ers this season, but if you are a fan of physical football and tight games, then the Rams and Cardinals games this year are for you. What you have here are two teams who may end up competing against one another to avoid finishing last in one of the toughest divisions in football. The Rams played their division tough last year, finishing with a record of 4-1-1. They had a relatively easy time blowing by Arizona last year, but the Cards are a changed team. Heading the new year advancements is the combo of new head coach Bruce Arians and an improvement at quarterback with Carson Palmer. Arians has already dropped hints that his team will be swinging for the fences multiple times per game, so you can expect them to attack the Rams vertically. This could be a problem since St. Louis is without their two safeties from a year ago in Craig Dahl and Quintin Mikell. Stepping in their place will be Darian Stewart and the team’s third round draft pick T.J. McDonald. If Arains has his way, these two youngsters will be under fire for a whole game. But Jeff Fisher is a sharp coach and he knows his young secondary will be attacked if he doesn’t work with defensive coordinator Tim Walton to devise a way to get pressure on Carson Palmer. Luckily for the Rams, the Arizona O-line still looks to be a major weakness, and that will serve as the downfall of the Cards on this Sunday. A pressured Palmer is an erratic Palmer, and Jeff Fisher’s team will use that to their advantage en route to a hard fought win in a defensive game.
St. Louis 14, Arizona 9
Green Bay Packers @ San Francisco 49ers
This game serves as the second 2012 divisional round match-up as the Packers look to get revenge after their crippling 45-31 loss at the hands of Colin Kaepernick and the Niners. Clearly Kaepernick torched the Green Bay defense last year in the playoffs, rushing for an NFL QB record 181 yards with two touchdowns (as well as two passing touchdowns to Michael Crabtree). Looking at game tape from last year’s game, it was obvious to tell that the Packers were playing a lot of man coverage on the San Fran wide-outs. This forced the defenders to have their backs turned on the athletic QB, and he proceeded to run wild all over Green Bay. This year, look for Dom Capers to call for a lot of zone blitzes and leave a spy on the occasional passing down. The Packers are a year wiser in the field of defending the read-option. They were tested in Week 3 of the preseason against Russel Wilson and the Seahawks and looked a whole lot better. This bodes well for them as they travel on the road this week. Additionally Kaepernick really only has two established receivers to throw to: Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis. Meanwhile Aaron Rodger will enjoy the likes of Randall Cobb, James Jones, and Jordy Nelson as well as tight end Jermichael Finley. Simply put, the Packers have more weapons on offense than do the 49ers and they already know what to expect from Kaepernick in terms of play-making ability. Look for Green Bay to use their off-season preparations to win them this game in hostile territory.
Green Bay 28, San Francisco 20
Sunday September 8th, 8:30 e.t.
New York Giants @ Dallas Cowboys
Many speculate that these two teams are the favorites to win the NFC East. Of course this division will be close all year round, so that puts greater importance on the head-to-head match-ups. The first divisional tilt of the weekend should feature more of a pro-style game (more on that as we push ahead to the Monday Night game). Eli Manning and the Giants have not yet lost in the new Cowboys (now AT&T) Stadium. The Cowboys have a much greater chance of winning this year behind an improved defense and an offense that has some potential with rising star Dez Bryant and occasionally brilliant Tony Romo. The only problem with Dallas is the fact that they can never seem to win big games. As everybody knows, last year they conquered the Giants on the road in the season opener, but it took a near perfect game for them to do so. The ‘Boys have shown a tendency to be sloppy with the football this preseason (take their 6-turnover game vs. Arizona). New York feeds off of teams that like to give away free gifts over the course of a game. I look for this game to be back and forth all night with a big play here or there. In the end though, expect the Giants to force a mistake that costs Dallas the game. Even though injury riddled, this is a New York defense that is capable of making a big play at any given moment in a game. This one will be yet another New York/Dallas nail-biter, and in recent history it is the Giants who come out on top in those situations.
New York 29, Dallas 27
Monday September 9th, 7:10 e.t.
Philadelphia Eagles @ Washington Redskins
No game this week is shrouded by more mystery than first of the two Monday Night-ers. It may be a bit of a bold statement to say that Chip Kelly’s offensive ideas will work right off the bat in the NFL, but if there is a team that could be exploited early on in the season, it is the Redskins with their less than average defense. Unlike the Giants and Cowboys game, this bout is primed to be a college-style shootout that features two athletic quarterbacks in Robert Griffin III and Michael Vick. RGIII’s knee is going to be the big story of this game as he probably won’t be running nearly as much early on this year as he did last year. It is a good thing that he is going up against an Eagles defense that is in transition; one where the secondary has looked listless at times in the preseason. If you are a fan of offense there there will be no disappointments here. I find it very likely that each team will put up over 400 yards each and the two teams could combine for over 45 first downs. Since it is early in the year I am going to play it safe and take the Redskins. Although it will not be surprising to see Philly down the ‘Skins. After all Vick did piece together a legendary performance the last time he played at FedEx Field on a Monday night. The one thing that works against the Eagles, however, is the fact that they have been had on more than a couple of occasions in the preseason vs. the running game. They surrendered three 50+ yard gains and looked overpowered at times. Plus there is no indication that they have been able to shake the turnover bug that constantly bit them last year. I expect the Redskins to play a cleaner game and pull one out vs. Philly.
Washington 37, Philadelphia 33
Monday September 9th, 10:20 e.t.
Houston Texans @ San Diego Chargers
The traditional Monday Night Football double-header will be capped with a rather intriguing game. The Texans are a team that has the ability to hold the ball for 35+ minutes of the game and dominate the line of scrimmage. On the other side you have the Chargers who still have Philip Rivers, which means they have the potential to hit a big play out of nowhere. If this game were to take place later in the season, it would have been much tougher to chose. Since it takes place Week 1 of the 2013 season, the clear cut favorite to win has to be the Texans. The bolts were notorious for getting off to slow starts under Norv Turner. Even though they have a new head coach in Mike McCoy, it is still yet to be seen whether or not they can get off to a quick start. Also, the San Diego offensive line still seems to be in shambles and the Texans will look to exploit this weakness. J.J. Watt may not have a direct impact on this game, but his presence will be felt when the Chargers attempt to double team him with Jeremy Clary and D.J. Fluker. This can open the A-gap for a green dog blitz or a looping stunt via Brooks Reed or Whitney Mercilus. The return of Brian Cushing will also be felt in this game as the Texans should win it with their defense.
Houston 20, San Diego 14
Thank you for taking the time to read my article. I will be back after the Thursday night game to recap the Ravens and Broncos. I will also be posting in-depth breakdowns of some games on Sunday as well as both Monday night games. I will have something written for all 32 teams, so be sure to check back after this weeks games have gone final. Until then, enjoy what looks to be an exciting opening week to the season!