Thursday Night Football: Steelers at Patriots
No Le’Veon Bell is huge for Pittsburgh. Now they turn to veteran DeAngelo Williams. The fact that Tom Brady is starting this game makes all the difference. Or does it? The Steelers are going to get their fair share of points, regardless of how you feel about New England’s defense. I don’t love it, far from it, honestly.
The Brady Bunch isn’t facing the Steel Curtain. The secondary got shredded last season, and they didn’t look much better in the preseason. Ryan Shazier played well as a rookie in the middle of the D before getting banged up, and they drafted Bud Dupree to apply pressure off the edge. The defense is the key to this game, and to their entire season. We all know Rob Gronkowski is the man. You have to respect Julian Edelman, but the other guys are just whatever. LeGarette Blount, Brandon LaFell, Danny Amendola, they don’t measure up with Pittsburgh’s offense.
In the postseason I’d probably roll with the black and yellow. As for the opener in Foxborough, the Pats should be able to get at least one more stop against Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown. I don’t feel that way about the Steelers getting enough stops for the W, at least not in week 1. Give me the Pats here, but I’m definitely flipping sides if the NFL wins the appeal and Brady misses this one.
Panthers at Jaguars
These teams came into the league during the same year of expansion years ago. Carolina finished with 7 wins, squeaked into the playoffs and beat a battered Cardinals team. They lose Kelvin Benjamin. Not that the Jags are juggernauts, but I do like their young pieces as far as making this a game. Jacksonville can pull off a so-called upset to kick things off.
The Panthers defense is very good and they were smart to bring Charles Tillman into a struggling secondary. Cam Newton has had his superman moments of takeover and you would think this is a golden opportunity for him. Blake Bortles will have his hands full, I just like his passing targets a lot better to keep this game close. They have a good group of weapons even without Julius Thomas. They actually have a trio of capable tight ends and running backs. You know what, Gus Bradley lost first round pick Dante Fowler, but the good thing was that it happened so early in the offseason for them to work around. Give me the Jaguars to start 2015 in the win column.
Chiefs at Texans
These might be the most interesting unknowns in the AFC. Both 9-7 last year, and both are dependent on veteran upgrades, mainly offensively. For Kansas City, Jeremy Maclin reunites with Andy Reid. Travis Kelce is expected to alleviate some box pressure for Jamaal Charles. The Chiefs have an elite pass rush. Nobody wants to see Justin Houston and Tamba Hali.
You get to see Houston on Hard Knocks. J.J. Watt, whether he ever wins it or not, is beyond a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. He’s a MVP candidate with some more help now, with Vince Wilfork and Jadeveon Clowney flanking him. Brian Hoyer led the Browns to a good start in 2014, so maybe he’s just what they need. Greater than that, they need Arian Foster. If he suits up week 1, there’s always that chance that he won’t be able to finish the game, especially with 15 more to go. Give me KC.
Colts at Bills
What a great game that shows the different types of AFC contenders, or at least hopefuls. There are teams like the Colts, Patriots, and Broncos. Then there are teams like the Bills, Bengals, and Texans. Generally, aside from the drastic difference between elite quarterback and QB competition situations, the Bills and company have the recipe for success. This first game will give each team a sense of where they’re at early, and what adjustments to make when it comes to facing similar style opponents down the road with playoff implications.
With that said, Indy is so far ahead of the Bills at this point in time. Possibly no LeSean McCoy. No matter how great your D is, a great quarterback has the ability to score just enough to come out on top. This game is that simple to me.
Seahawks at Rams
St. Louis has turned out to be the toughest rival to Seattle. This game isn’t on the 12th man, but rather, in the dome. The backfield gets a boost, as Tre Mason is joined by Todd Gurley and Nick Foles under center. We all know this defense to be among the most respected, and now they’ve accumulated the best personnel along the D-line.
The Seahawks should have repeated, right? Well, the addition of Jimmy Graham gives me the argument as to whether they can flirt with an undefeated campaign. This is a real test on the road. Will Kam Chancellor’s attitude be a distraction and matriculate it’s way onto the field? If Gurley is there to mix in with Mason, we could have an upset. Still unknown, is how the Hawks offense performs with Graham on board. We’ll know more heading into their 2nd matchup, but the early nod goes to the NFC champs.
Browns at Jets
Here’s a sleeper on the surface. Really it’s a defensive battle between a couple of teams that need defense to stay in games. Both units are stout, in the top dozen. Both backfields have a lot of faces, which could mean no one is standing out. The Jets have the better passing targets, led by Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, but there’s no reliable quarterback to mention in this ball game. The Jets have more big play ability with their secondary, so any pick-6 could seal the deal and that’s where I lean.
Packers at Bears
Green Bay is still playoff bound without Jordy Nelson. You still can’t pick at many holes on the Packers. The rival Bears will target one of those, which is stopping the run. You know a John Fox team generally pounds the rock. Jay Cutler is going to get the Tony Romo treatment, less drop backs so hopefully fewer mistakes. Matt Forte is coming off a thousand yard season where he also caught 102 passes. That’s the key to this game and their season. Can they control the ball long enough for Cutler and the defense to play accordingly?
You have to milk the clock against Aaron Rodgers, but the MVP should be salivating at facing this defense early on. Eddie Lacy is shooting for a similar year that Le’Veon Bell had, and they just might need, more opportunities are there it without Nelson. In recent years, when they have split games, the road team has won. That’s if the aren’t hibernating. Cheeseheads are on a mission this season. They’re winning the opener.
Dolphins at Redskins
A new starting QB in D.C. could spell trouble for week 1. But wait a minute, DeSean Jackson was actually used when Kirk Cousins played. It wasn’t always pretty but Cousins takes chances downfield. Maybe Pierre Garcon comes back to relevance. The addition of O-line coach, Bill Callahan, is good news for the rushing attack featuring Alfred Morris.
Miami made an offseason statement by signing Ndamukong Suh as their cornerstone plugging the middle of the D. With Brent Grimes shadowing numbers ones, a good 2014 defense should definitely make its presence felt in the rankings. Ryan Tannehill has a young and capable supporting cast. He will be challenged to go deep, especially by the Redskins. The Skins though, appear to be a few players away defensively. The Dolphins can get enough points and enough stops to come out victorious.
Lions at Chargers
Here is the best inter-conference game of the week. Detroit and San Diego are teams that come into every year with some mystery to them. Are they in contention, .500…you can see the pieces are there despite not being able to put it all together. Whatever we thought we knew about the Lions, we do, they’re just not one of the best defenses anymore. They’re still good. The offense rides and dies with Matthew Stafford. His elite receiver will get the job done every week. Can Stafford or the ground game? Joique Bell can’t shed the injury bug. He is set to split duties with rookie Ameer Abdullah to keep the Chargers honest.
The Bolts look set to have a good season. Both sides of the ball look balanced. The talent isn’t an issue. The weaknesses lie in the trenches. Both lines would have benefited by getting some priority in the offseason. That’s where the Lions have the edge. Stevie Johnson will be a great fit for the Chargers, but can Melvin Gordon take ownership of the backfield from day 1? With Antonio Gates suspended, the Lions have more proven players at the skill position for their quarterback.
Ravens at Broncos
Gary Kubiak’s former team comes to town. Many believe the Ravens’ defense has improved to the point of being elite. I don’t quite agree with that by looking at the secondary, sure they’re top-10 worthy but with a big flaw until proven not to be. It’s worrisome that Steve Smith is the best target entering the season with a bunch of guys for Joe Flacco to try to elevate.
Denver has it all. Both sides, balance, star power, coaching even. The O-line will have to make due, with some chip blocks and success on the ground to keep Peyton Manning upright. This is a game Denver should win. Baltimore plays hard, they have talent, but coming into this matchup they are overmatched.
Titans at Buccaneers
The top 2 picks in the draft will be calling the shots and throwing the passes. Jameis Winston has the better offense. The defenses don’t really stand a part from one another. The coaching matchup is interesting. Tampa Bay has Lovie Smith and Dirk Koetter, formerly the Falcons offensive coordinator. Tennessee has Ken Whisenhunt and Dick LaBeau, the long-time defensive coordinator for the Steelers. The Buccaneers simply have the clear advantage in talent.
Bengals at Raiders
Cincinnati is always full of talent. Andy Dalton didn’t necessarily have his starting receivers last season. The defense is always in the top-10. Led by Jeremy Hill, Gio Bernard, and A.J. Green, the Bengals are ready for the season. Oakland believes that the defensive changes will keep them in games and that Derek Carr will take a step forward, as do I. Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, and Latavius Murray form a young core that we will get to see grow together.
Cincy is a better team heading into the Black Hole, but the Silver and Black can play that style football. In midseason form Cincy would likely be the favorite every single time. Week 1 is Oakland’s chance to snatch the upset. Having said that, the Bengals are going to get a lot of stops that lead them to 1-0.
Saints at Cardinals
Arizona looks balanced on both sides of the ball, New Orleans not so much. Carson Palmer is healthy and Bruce Arians continues to press all the right buttons. They have a great blend of veterans and youth. The Saints aren’t reliable on the road, the defense isn’t something to be proud of, and the only good target that Drew Brees has is Brandin Cooks. All signs point towards the Cards.
Sunday Night Football: Giants at Cowboys
Surprise, surprise, the NFC East is in prime time action. This is where Dallas gets to prove to everyone that winning a dozen games and a playoff win is something they can live up to. That they won’t drop back own to those sub-.500 seasons again. Tony Romo will surely drop back more but I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. Actually I am sure, it’s usually not a positive thing.
The G-Men are hyped up for what the offense has in store. That is if Odell Beckham doesn’t miss time like he did last season. That is if Victor Cruz can suit up and be productive again. That is Rashad Jennings is their feature back, not on the sidelines. As for this game only Cruz is in question. The secondary is the strength of the D. I just can’t buy into the linebackers. That may not be a problem as Dallas has questions about the running backs. Who will take care of the ball, Romo or Eli Manning? Recent history suggests Romo. But what if the Dallas defense regresses? Giants/Cowboys looks like a toss-up. If I had to pick, I’ll side with what I perceive as the better running game and that’s the Giants.
Monday Night Football: Eagles at Falcons
Part 1 of Monday Night Football features the birds of the NFC. Philly is the heavy favorite and it was only preseason, but Sam Bradford looked accurate and that’s mainly what the Eagles need. The best backfield in the league with a good front 7 is a way for them to jump out on the Falcons early.
Atlanta may face the easiest schedule in the league but this game is far from desirable. The thing that both teams have is special teams. Can Atlanta protect Matt Ryan? Will the young backs be able to move the chains? Heck, that side of the ball might not matter as much if they can’t slow down Philly and they don’t have the talent on paper to do so.
Monday Night Football: Vikings at 49ers
Part 2 also features the NFC. The Vikings have been infused with some key talent: Adrian Peterson, Mike Wallace, Eric Kendricks at linebacker from the draft. Teddy Bridgewater gets an early test against a different look, 49ers defense. The different from last season, A.P. will be on the field. San Fran is looking to rekindle success through the air between Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith, both former Ravens. Hopefully they start using Vernon Davis. Carlos Hyde and Reggie Bush should be productive.
Both teams have the potential for balance, and that goes for both sides. I don’t love anything about the Niners right now. I do love the fact that Peterson will get back to his ways, and that Mike Zimmer always coaches up a good defense. There’s a lot I like about Minny and that includes picking them on Monday Night.