At long last, the NFL season is here.. well, almost. We are four days away from the official start of the season, and before we know it, it’ll be Super Bowl Sunday again.
A lot of people enjoy picking with or against the spread, but I happen to find regular picks far more convivial. Every week, I will post my picks, with some brief notes regarding every game.
With that, here are my picks for Week 1 of the 2018 NFL season.
Falcons vs Eagles: The last time these two met, the Eagles made a defensive stand in the red zone that eventually resulted in their first Super Bowl victory a month later. Neither team underwent any significant changes during the off-season and remain essentially the same teams. But the Eagles are superior in the trenches on both sides of the ball, and that represents the difference in this game. The defending Super Bowl champions will begin their season flying high at home in front of perhaps the most boisterous crowd in the NFL.
Packers vs Bears: The Bears hired Andy Reid disciple Matt Nagy, and GM Ryan Pace provided Mitch Trubisky with new weapons in Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, and Trey Burton to complement the dynamic backfield tandem of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. Then, they traded for Khalil Mack and then made him the highest-paid defensive player in league history. But Aaron Rodgers is back, and Mike Pettine will revamp a defense that had to move on from Dom Capers eventually. The Packers have won 12 of 14 against their century-old rivals, dating back to 2011, and in games against the Bears, Rodgers (now the highest-paid player in league history) owns a 107.2 passer rating. Look for history to repeat itself, as I’m taking the Packers in the 195th edition of the battle against the Bears.
Bills vs Ravens: The Bills got to the playoffs last year through utter serendipity, and the Ravens may have additional motivation as a result. Nathan Peterman was just named the starting QB for the Bills, and with arguably the weakest skill position corps in the league going up against Baltimore’s defense, this one could be a blowout win for the Ravens. Unless Buffalo’s rush defense can stop Alex Collins, then this game will be over shortly, and I’ll take the Ravens.
Steelers vs Browns: I have already mentioned the numerous improvements the Browns have made, and they have narrowed the gap between themselves and rest of the NFL. But, that does not change the fact that the Steelers are still better at every position, other than running back, as Le’Veon Bell continues his holdout. This game will be close, but the Steelers will come out on top.
Bengals vs Colts: The Colts begin the era of Frank Reich, and Andrew Luck is reportedly 100% ready to play. Outside of T.Y. Hilton and Jack Doyle, Luck has a mediocre supporting cast, although GM Chris Ballard did retool the offensive line. It seems the Bengals are at the proverbial crossroads every single season, but Andy Dalton has far more weapons at his disposal, and the aforementioned Colts O-line, while better, could be in for a long day against Geno Atkins and Co. Bengals take this one.
Titans vs Dolphins: The Titans notched their first playoff win since 2003 back in January, and added former Patriots Malcolm Butler (whose Super Bowl benching is still a mystery) and Dion Lewis, in addition to having one of the best offensive lines in football. Jurrell Casey spearheads an underrated defensive front. Whether the Dolphins actually improved during the off-season is up for debate, but at least Ryan Tannehill has returned, right? In a battle of inept QBs, the Titans will win this one.
49ers vs Vikings: The 49ers made it clear that Jimmy G is their main man under center, and the Vikings did the same with Kirk Cousins. I don’t buy the narrative that the 49ers are a dark horse playoff team in a conference that is more loaded than ever, and the Vikings, especially with a healthy Dalvin Cook, won’t have to do too much gold mining to win this game.
Texans vs Patriots: In what was by far the most tempestuous off-season in the Brady-Belichick era (and easily for any team), the Patriots departures included Malcolm Butler, Dion Lewis, Danny Amendola, Brandin Cooks, and Nate Solder, and yet they will remain a force for at least another season. For the Texans, their greatest weakness has been health, bar none. If Deshaun Watson, J.J. Watt, Jadaveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus can remain on the field, Houston may not have too many problems. This game could end up being one of the best of the season despite it being Week 1, but the X-factors of Brady and Belichick are ultimately the constants that give the Patriots an edge, and that edge will be enough to eek out a win.
Buccaneers vs Saints: The Saints were a miracle away from being in the NFC Championship game back in January, and virtually the same exact team is intact, save for Mark Ingram, due to a suspension. The Bucs will be without Jameis Winston, and I need not go on. The Saints will have one of their easiest wins of the season.
Jaguars vs Giants: The Giants drafted Saquon Barkley in hopes of having the team’s first true franchise ball carrier since Tiki Barber, and Pat Shurmur could revitalize the offense. All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey is making a name for himself off of the field, and “Sacksonville” still boasts the best defense in football at every level. Bortles will likely struggle without the Allen Bros. and Marquise Lee, but his deficiencies can be concealed by a healthy Leonard Fournette and an offensive line that got even better with the signing of All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell. The Jaguars will roar their way to a win at MetLife.
Chiefs vs Chargers: Andy Reid has invested his faith in Patrick Mahomes, and his supporting cast of Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Kareem Hunt, and Sammy Watkins is up for debate as the best in football. But their offensive line will look like a JV team against Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, and after eight straight losses against their division rivals, Philip Rivers and the Chargers will finally beat the Chiefs.
Redskins vs Cardinals: Both teams begin the season with new faces under center. It remains to be seen whether Sam Bradford or Josh Allen will be starting for the Cardinals, and Alex Smith will be entrenched as the starter for the Redskins. Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis appear to be healthy, but the receiving corps ranks near the bottom of the league, and out of desperation, the team agreed to a 5 year, $40 million deal with Paul Richardson. Jamison Crowder is more of a return specialist, and I see Smith’s supporting cast being shut down by Patrick Peterson and ‘Zona’s secondary. The Cardinals will see plenty of sunshine to fly into with an open roof on Sunday.
Cowboys vs Panthers: Cam Newton probably won’t have to watch too much film this time. The front seven of Carolina is probably the best in football, and loading the box to neutralize Ezekiel Elliott will force Prescott into making mistakes. The Panthers will send the Cowboys riding out of Bank of America Stadium with a loss.
Seahawks vs Broncos: As Helmut Zemo said in “Captain America: Civil War”, “An empire toppled by its enemies can rise again. But one that crumbles from within, that’s dead. Forever.” That describes the Seahawks perfectly, as they have gone from Legion of Boom to Legion of Doom, as Richard Sherman and Michael Bennett are gone, Kam Chancellor retired, and Earl Thomas continues to hold out. The quote also describes the Broncos, but at least most of their corps from Super Bowl 50 remains, and look for them to beat the Seahawks in a not-so-real rematch of Super Bowl 48.
Jets vs Lions: Is Sam Darnold the franchise passer the Jets have been searching for? The Lions have had theirs since 2009, and also have one of the league’s top receiving corps, and Darius Slay, who could make the youngest starting quarterback since the merger feel like an old man. The Lions will dispatch the Jets and make them have a long flight back home.
Rams vs Raiders: Talk about a tale of two cities. The Rams made all of the improvements they needed to become a Super Bowl-caliber team, and the Raiders, as if their off-season wasn’t peculiar enough, lost Khalil Mack. Gruden’s first game on a Raiders sideline in over 16 years will feel similar to his previous one.