The NFL is back and we get a healthy plate of games to dig into right at the opening gun! On Thursday night we have a match-up between two of the best teams in the NFC up in Seattle as the Seahawks look to defend their first ever Super Bowl championship at Century Link Field against a hungry Packers squad. On Sunday night we get to witness Andrew Luck vs. Peyton Manning II in what should be an exciting shootout in the thin Denver air. We also have five divisional battles scattered throughout the schedule as well as intriguing bouts between San Fran and Dallas, New York and Detroit, and San Diego and Arizona. Yup, Week 1 is here and it is about time! Let’s start the season right with some solid predictions. Feel free to let me know what you think about these games by leaving me a comment below. Here we go.
Thursday, September 4th, 8:30 e.t.
Green Bay Packers @ Seattle Seahawks
Everybody remembers the last time these two teams hooked horns in the regular season. It was the infamous “Fail Mary” game, one in which the Hawks stole a 14-12 win away from a frustrated Green Bay group. Well here we are nearly two years later and the Pack has a chance to seek some revenge by downing the Super Bowl champs in front of another national TV audience. Seattle, on paper, may be the better all around team as their defense is superior and their offense is steadily climbing the ranks towards being elite. With that being said I am going to take a chance out of the gates and select Aaron Rodgers and the Packers to notch a huge win on the road. Super Bowl champs have not fared well on opening night over the last two seasons and I am banking on this trend continuing. If the Green Bay offensive line can keep their star QB upright they have a great chance on the road. A lot of up-tempo should be incorporated by Mike McCarthy and company as the Pack looks to neutralize the crowd noise. It is going to be rocking at Century Link on opening night and this makes for a great game, but I’m thinking upset right out of the gates here.
Green Bay 24, Seattle 21
Sunday, September 7th, 1:00 e.t.
Washington Redskins @ Houston Texans
This one is a tough one to call. Each team is hoping to rebound from a terrible ’13 campaign with new head coaches and splash players on both offense and defense. What kind of an impact will DeSean Jackson have with his new team in Washington? How much pressure will rookie Jadaveon Clowney be able to get on Robert Griffin III in this game? Which running game is going to gain better traction on the natural grass surface here at Reliant Stadium? Having all of these questions and no answers is what makes this one so tough to decide upon. Ultimately though, I think the winner of this game is the team that protects their quarterback the best and does not turn it over. The Redskins’ offensive line worries me a bit in this one, especially against one of the best front fours in the league. Also, Washington’s offense has looked quite spastic during the preseason. Therefore I like Houston to grab the “W” at home. They seem like the more complete team and since this is Week 1, there is a lot of guess work involved. Call this my “safe pick”.
Houston 23, Washington 13
Oakland Raiders @ New York Jets
The Jets are 4-1 in season openers under Rex Ryan and I like them to improve to 5-1 with a win here. I think that Gang Green has a shot to surprise a lot of people this season and they will start by whupping up on the Raiders at home. Rookie Derek Carr, who tore it up in the preseason, will have his hands full with a front seven that is going to lay a few licks on him. I see Oakland having trouble mounting a running game here forcing Carr to carry the team with his right arm. For a rook in his first ever NFL start, that is a tall task. Give me New York here.
New York 17, Oakland 9
Tennessee Titans @ Kansas City Chiefs
Arrowhead will be raucous from the opening whistle in this one. The Chiefs and their fans have to be frustrated with the way last season ended in the playoffs and are looking to rebound early in 2014. Jamaal Charles will be featured early and often in this one and he could be prime for a big game out of the gates. Last season and during this preseason the Titans have shown that they can be run against. Over time their rush “D” will shore up, but it is going to take some time for that unit to gel. Until it does I am going to have a tough time picking them when faced with one of the game’s elite running backs. Alex Smith will likely feel motivated in this game as well having just struck a lucrative four year deal. I like the Kansas City offense to let their 30 year old signal caller sling it all over the yard on Sunday. Offense will be the key in this game as the Chiefs impress at home over an up and coming Titan team.
Kansas City 34, Tennessee 20
New England Patriots @ Miami Dolphins
New England seeks its sixth straight AFC East championship and they will start that quest down in Miami Gardens against a talented Dolphins team. Will Gronk be healthy for this game? All early indications show that the big tight end will be suiting up for the Pats in this one and if that is the case then I really like the Patriots’ chances on the road. Actually, I like their odds anyways. Its Week 1 and I like to play things close to the best with my picks. That’s why picking the road team here seems appropriate. I think the Dolphins will play them pretty tough into the second half, but in the end Tom Brady will build an insurmountable lead. Look for the game to stay close until the fourth quarter and then watch as New England pulls away with a defense touchdown. You heard it here first.
New England 34, Miami 17
Buffalo Bills @ Chicago Bears
The Bears need to be cautious of the Buffalo ground game on Sunday afternoon. Chicago was downright awful when trying to defend the run last season and the Bills like to cram the ball down its opponent’s throats. C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson should be busy men early on in this contest. Even though I really like the Buffalo running attack on the road here, I don’t see them stealing a win in the Windy City because their pass offense seems too shaky. Jay Cutler has a plethora of weapons to dump the ball off to in this contest and should this game turn into an offensive shootout, I do not like E.J. Manuel’s odds at hanging points with Chicago (especially with future star rookie wide out Sammy Watkins hurting). Simply put, the Bills will not have the horses to run with the Bears on the road here.
Chicago 33, Buffalo 21
Minnesota Vikings @ St. Louis Rams
The Rams will have to endure an entire season without Sam Bradford under center, and I think that is really going to hurt them early on in the season. Shaun Hill has not played in this league since 2010 and betting on him to lead St. Louis to a win in Week 1 is probably not very smart. Adrian Peterson and Cordarrelle Patterson are the play-makers for the Vikings and they serve as heavy artillery in a game that will be played primarily on the ground. Quick screens and end-arounds are in the forecast for Patterson in this one while A.P. will likely get 25-30 touches on the ground. Minnesota should be vastly improved on offense this season and they will show it Week 1, riding that unit for the win.
Minnesota 16, St. Louis 7
Cincinnati Bengals @ Baltimore Ravens
The Bengals seem like the sexy pick here, but keep in mind this: they have not won in Baltimore since 2009 and Andy Dalton has been a turnover machine in his three career starts at M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens defense will be playing with a chip on its shoulder in this game seeing as how these same Bengals were the team that put an end to Baltimore’s 2013 season. Offensively the Ravens will come at Cincy with quite a few weapons including the newly added Steve Smith. It should be interesting to see how he factors in to this offensive scheme under new coordinator, Gary Kubiak. I see the Bengals having a tough time running the ball in this one and Dalton making a couple of mistakes helping the Ravens pick up a big win at home.
Baltimore 23, Cincinnati 20
Cleveland Browns @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Brian Hoyer gets the nod for this Week 1 divisional tilt in Pittsburgh and I am not liking his chances. Josh Gordon, Cleveland’s #1 target last season, will not be suiting up for this game (or the other 15 games) as he is serving a one year suspension. Outside of him, the Browns don’t present much to get excited over as far as offensive weapons go. On the defensive side however, I think that Ray Horton is represented by a very solid unit. This group could give Ben Roethlisberger fits on the afternoon. With that being said, I don’t think they will be able to score enough points to take down the Steelers in Pittsburgh. This should be a defensive battle that goes the way of Mike Tomlin and Dick LeBeau. The Steelers look like they are coming back with a lot of swagger this season and that bodes well for their playoff chances.
Pittsburgh 14, Cleveland 8
New Orleans Saints @ Atlanta Falcons
The Saints have to be on upset alert as the travel to the Georgia Dome to take on Matt Ryan and his Falcons. After going 4-12 last season, the Dirty Birds look to rebound with a titanic 2014 campaign and a win over New Orleans in Week 1 would be quite the statement. With Julio Jones back and Roddy White healthy, I like Atlanta to hang some points on the board in this game. However, I also see the Saints having the league’s best offense this year and Brandin Cooks is going to have a monster game in Atlanta (I can smell it). I’m going with the road team here as it is typical for the road team in a Saints/Falcons match-up to come away with the win.
New Orleans 29, Atlanta 24
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Philadelphia Eagles
Philadelphia opens their season up at home in Week 1 for the first time since 2010 and are looking to go further this year than just the Wild Card round in the playoffs. Laying the beatdown on the Jaguars here may just help the accumulate some style points as this game looks to be a mismatch on paper. The only way I see the Jags winning at the Linc is if Philly is sloppy with the ball on offense and is turning it over with great frequency. Nick Foles typically takes good care of the ball and LeSean McCoy is not a fumbler, therefore a parade of turnovers does not seem likely. I like the Eagles to roll over a Jacksonville team that is still looking for an identity on offense.
Philadelphia 38, Jacksonville 17
Sunday, September 7th, 4:25 e.t.
Carolina Panthers @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Panthers, who finished last year with an impressive mark of 12-4, will run into some trouble down in Tampa Bay this weekend. Lovie Smith makes his return to the gridiron and he will have these Bucs coached up. Discipline was a huge team issue all of last year and with a good leader in Smith, I see this area improving immensely for these guys. Defensively they are pretty stacked and have a ton of guys who can put a lot of pressure on Cam Newton. Newton is going to be throwing the ball to an entirely new cast of wide receivers this year and I think it is going to take some time for him to establish a rapport with them. Picking Tampa Bay to win at home seems right.
Tampa Bay 21, Carolina 13
San Francisco 49ers @ Dallas Cowboys
After watching the preseason games, you might say that the 49ers are in trouble on defense compared to the past few years. However, their issues on that side of the ball don’t hold a candle to the problems that the Dallas Cowboys will have to cope with over this season. Dallas’s “D” is going to be a huge weakness for this team and it is going to be on Tony Romo to help the team overcome it. At home during Week 1, I can see #9 throwing up some big numbers. Look for him to throw for 340 yards and three scores against Vic Fangio’s unit. These numbers may seem gaudy, but they will not be enough. I think San Fran is going to have its way on the ground in this contest and they will literally run the Cowboys out of the gym. This game may be the highest scoring game of the week, and in the end I like the 49ers to win it thanks to a late field goal from Phil Dawson.
San Francisco 35, Dallas 33
Sunday, September 7th, 8:30 e.t.
Indianapolis Colts @ Denver Broncos
Last year in the Colts’ 39-33 win over Denver, Indianapolis was able to get a boatload of pressure on Peyton Manning. In this game, I do not see this being the case. Manning will have the support of his home stadium as well as better protection and that will help the Broncos take down the Colts. I love Andrew Luck, but his receivers are not as nice as the receivers that Peyton will be throwing to. Sure, Wes Welker will be out for the first four games, but he still has Demariyus Thomas, Julius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, and Andre Caldwell to throw the ball to. There are plenty of mouths to feed in Denver and the process starts in this game. The Colts defense is probably going to get gashed and their offense won’t be able to keep up with the Broncos’.
Denver 41, Indianapolis 24
Monday, September 8th, 7:10 e.t.
New York Giants @ Detroit Lions
Avoid turnovers. Yes, this is certainly going to be the mantra for each of these two teams heading into this game as they were very generous with the football a year ago. Matthew Stafford and Eli Manning are both quarterbacks who can play at a very high level as long as they are not so careless with the ball. That is what makes this game so interesting. You have two teams looking to right the ship in the very tough NFC. Each defense has their high points and I wouldn’t give the edge to either team on that side of the ball. This game will probably come down to the offenses and how each one executes. The Giants really did not show much for their fans to be excited about in the preseason. The offensive line still appears to be in shambles and that spells good news for the ferocious Detroit front-four. Look for those guys to really get after Eli Manning and drag him down four or five times. The pressure is going to cause a couple of mistakes that I think the Lions will be able to take advantage of. I like the home team here.
Detroit 28, New York 21
Monday, September 8th, 10:20 e.t.
San Diego Chargers @ Arizona Cardinals
The final game on the Week 1 docket is a good one as the Chargers head to Glendale to take on the Cardinals. Arizona, at times, looked unstoppable in the preseason. This is a team that has the chance to be very good and actually compete in the rough and tough NFC West. For the Chargers, things could have gone better in August, but this is a team that looks like it could light it up on offense again this year. However, going into the desert and hanging points on the Cardinals is something that is really tough to do. It will be interesting to see where Patrick Peterson lines up in this game. San Diego’s #1 receiver is clearly Keenan Allen, but P.P.’s coverage skills may be better suited for him to shadow Malcolm Floyd. Philip Rivers is going to have to pick his poison in that situation while trying to navigate by a swarming pass rush. That is a tall task. At home, these Cards are tough to beat and that is why they get my vote here.
Arizona 26, San Diego 20
Week 1 Bonus Predictions
Upset of the Week: Green Bay over Seattle
Sure Bet of the Week: Philadelphia over Jacksonville
Rookie of the Week: Brandin Cooks
Offensive Player of the Week: Jamaal Charles
Defensive Player of the Week: Lavonte David
Best Overall Offense: Denver Broncos
Best Overall Defense: Pittsburgh Steelers
This should be a great week of NFL action. I cannot wait to see how this season plays out! Make sure to check in next week for my Week 2 predictions. We will be at it again this year as I hope to hit on over 70% of these games.