It’s here. Week 1 of the National Football League. If it feels earlier than usual, it probably is. The season is a week longer this year. We’ve broken down the entire slate of games with our picks and odds. It’s all wild speculation but, hey, that’s the fun of it.
DALLAS COWBOYS (-110) VS. TAMPA BAY BUCANEERS (+100)
America’s team takes on the reigning Super Bowl champs. Not bad for the season opener. Starting with the most obvious, the matchup is a question of quarterbacks. Everything else flows from there. It has been a waste of breath and brain power to speculate on Tom Brady’s imminent demise so we won’t do it here. He is close to the downhill side of his 40s but with good protection and a willingness to throw out of bounds to avoid getting hit, he should be fairly okay this season. He’s surrounded by a talented squad all of whom have returned from last season. That’s almost unheard of these days. They may be suffering from a post-Super Bowls hangover, though. They may be suffering from a post-Super Bowls hangover, though. While, the folks over at Sports Betting Dime are siding with The Bucs, with a predicted score of 17.6 to 35.1 in favor of last year’s finalists.
On the other side, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott has a lot to prove, coming off a 2020 season torpedoed by an ankle injury. He needs to show he’s worth that worth the massive contract he signed right before being carted off the field. He’ll need two things. The Cowboys’ ground game must be in mid-season form to ease him back and also take some pressure off his throws. Also, his aging offensive line needs to do their thing. Good thing, it’s early in the season and the Cowboys can run the ball well.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (-110) VS. HOUSTON TEXANS (+100)
All hail the Trevor Lawrence Era in Jacksonville. The No. 1 pick has shown flashes of brilliance in the pre-season but that’s the pre-season. Let’s see how things go. He will need his offensive line to protect him and give him time in the pocket. Opening his ledger against a Houston Texans team that looks like a shoe-in for the upcoming draft’s No. 1 pick is like Christmas come early.
As for the Texans… oh the Texans… The year will be a struggle. They’ve got an unbelievable quarterback in Deshaun Watson, but he’s proved more a distraction of late than an asset. Offensively, they were middle of the pack last season in passing and rushing. Unfortunately, their secondary was third worst in passing and rushing yards allowed, after the Minnesota Vikings and Tenessee Titans.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (-105) VS. WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM (-105)
The LA Chargers come into the season on solid ground with a new coach, Brandon Staley, and a new system. Their new offensive line is also untested. They are sporting four new linemen that will improve the worst rated offensive line according to PFF. QB Justin Herbert will be one of the people hoping for a change. Given time in the pocket, he has potential to really get the offense humming. He’s got options in Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. He’ll be supported by a solid secondary.
The Washington Football team hopes to build on a solid 2020 season, particularly their front line. Chase Young and Montez Sweat will give play-callers headaches and a few bruises. They’re very very good defensively. The Football Team will be hoping veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick can provide a spark. He had a humdrum performance last season, throwing for 2091 yards. No reason to think he’ll suddenly be transformed into the second coming of Johnny Unitas.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (+100) VS INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (-110)
The Seahawks are a team that can get things done, especially when Russel Wilson is pulling the strings. Unfortunately, he’s been uneven in the past. Last season, he threw for a very solid 4,212 yards. When he was on, the Seahawks averaged 34 ppg; when he was off, his team averaged 22.3 ppg. That’s some difference. Add running back Chris Carson to the mix and Seattle can potentially defeat any given team on any given day.
The Colts are sporting a new look at quarterback. They’re banking on Carson Wentz to show his 2019 peak-Eagles form when he passed for 4,039 yards. Last season, his output was significantly diminished, throwing for 2,620 yards. His interceptions increased, however, jumping from 7 in 2019 to 15 last season. They’ve been hit by injuries and it may take a few weeks for their offense to click.
NEW YORK JETS (-105) VS CAROLINA PANTHERS (-105)
The Revenge Game. The New York Jets will hope their No. 2 pick, QB Zack Wilson, will be the player advertised. They will need it. It’s hard to extrapolate his pre-season performance into regualr season game. The loss of defensive end Carl Lawson was a major hit for Gang Green. They’re not expected to do much and their shaky new offensive line won’t help.
Carolina Panthers’ new quarterback, Sam Darnold, hopes to put a smackdown on his former team. The former USC star certainly has it in him. However, the bottom line will be whether he can keep his interceptions down. Getting picked off has been his downfall during his pro career.
MINESOTTA VIKINGS (-110) VS. CINCINNATI BENGALS (+100)
The Vikings Kirk Cousins returns for another solid year. Their passing game should be humming along. Justin Jefferson caught for 1400 yards alone last season. RB Dalvin Cook ran for a gaudy 1,577 yards and 16 TD last season.They won’tbe facing much resistance from the Bengals. Offense won’t be the Vikings’ problem; their secondary will.
This matchup gives the Bengals’ former No.1 pick Joe Burrow a chance to shine. An injury cut his rookie season short. Still, he threw for 2,688 yards. He’ll be sharing the spotlight with the Bengals’ No. 5 pick WR Ja’Marr Chase.Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins caught for almost 2000 yards combined in 2020, so Burrow definitely has options. Their offensive line is a mix of old veterans and reserves with little to no professional experience. That’s not really a great combination. Burrow will be getting hit throughout the season.
ARIZONA CARDINALS (-110) VS TENESSEE TITANS (+100)
A lot of the Cardinals’ season hinges on QB Kyler Murray since their secondary is a big question mark. Last season, there were some soft patches despite being 4th in the league in sacks. This season’s addition of Defensive End JJ Watt should shore up their defense.
The big story going into the season for the Tenessee Titans is whether Julio Jones comes back from a miserable 2020 season. He’ll be eager to show last season was a blip and get back to the All-Star form he showed for so long in Atlanta. He’ll have A.J. Brown to lighten his load if needed.Brown caught for 1,075 yards last season and 11 TDs. QB Ryan Tannehill will have a solid offensive line in front of him but that line will be spending a lot of time making space for Derrick Henry and the Titans’ ground game. Henry ran for a ridiculous 2027 yards and 17 TD.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (+100) VS DETROIT LIONS (-110)
The San Francisco 49ers come into the season with a serious quarterback competition between veteran Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance. Garoppolo is going to have significant pressure on him to perform well enough to keep the youngster at bay. Their secondary is a bit weaker than last season, especially at the cornerback position. The Niners will be running the ball a lot, putting the rock in the hands of raheem Mostart.
On the other side, the Detroit Lions hope to catch lightning in a bottle with new signing Jared Goff. The quarterback had a middling performance last season with the Rams throwing for almost as many picks as TDs (13 and 20 for those of you keeping count). Tight End T.J. Hockenseon is an obvious choice as far as targets go. He caught for 723 yards last season and 6 TD. Other options include Tyrell Williams, Quintez Cephus, and Kalif Raymond. It won’t be enough and the Lions should not only lose this game but also many more over the course of the season. At least they aren’t the Titans.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS (-105) VS BUFALLO BILLS (-105)
The Steelers come into the game with an aging Ben Roethlisberger and an offense that utterly crumbled during the second half of last season. They got off to a super hot start then cooled off like last night’s soup. Big Ben is a shell of the gunslinger he was during his prime. The team has two good things going for them, though. They have a secondary that can make any quarterback uncomfortable. Also, it’s early in the season and they won’t be as banged up. They can turn this into a potentially saucy matchup.
The Bufallo Bills should be considered a favorite to make a deep playoff run this season. Josh Allen had a breakout season in 2020, passing for 37 TD and a 107.2 passer rating. He’ll undoubtedly be spotting Stefon Diggs who caught for an eye watering 1,535 yards, 127 receptions, and 8 TD. The Bills are sporting a younger defensive line this season, but they are a talented bunch.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (-115) VS ATLANTA FALCONS (+105)
It’s a new era in Philly and in Atlanta. The Falcons come into the 2021 season without longtime QB Crason Wentz. In his place, Jalen Hurts will shoulder the significant play-caller burden. He beat out Joe Flacco and Garnder Minshew for the position. Let it be said, the acquisition of Minshew was a bit of a head-scratcher since there’s an outside possibility he can make things uncomfortable for Hurts. Luckily, the Falcons are a favorable matchup for Hurts.
For the Atlanta Falcons, this is the first season they’ll be without the very considerable talents of Julio Jones. Offensively, they should be fine. QB Matt Ryan has proven he can target players not named Jones. Last season, he threw to Calvin Ridley for 90 receptions, 1,374 yards and 9TD. Ridley picked up considerable slack after Jones went down with an injury. It’s Atlanta’s defense that leaves much to be desired. But what else is new?
CLEVELAND BROWNS (-110) VS KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (+100)
Talk about bad luck for the Browns. They pull the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 1. It’s arguably the toughest matchup possible. That said, don’t look for them to be rolling over in the least. The Browns played the Chiefs closely during the playoffs last season. They’ve shored up their defense with new cornerbacks and a defensive end. Their running game, consisting of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, will keep KC honest. FWIW, the Chiefs had a top D-line last season. If the Browns get their run game on, look for Baker Mayfield to take advantage. It’s usually a good sign for him when Chubb and Hunt are pounding. The addition of Odel Beckham Jr. potentially makes their offense more potent. Key word “potentially.” His presence seemed thow Baker Mayfield off last season.
What’s left to be said about the Chiefs. Seriously. QB Patrick Mahomes is expected to lead the team to another AFC Championship and will. He threw for 38 TD with 5 picks last season. He was arguably the best player in his position. Look for Mahomes and Travis Kelce to pick up where they left off. Kelce caught 105 passes for 1,416 yards and 11 TD. Same goes for Tyreke Hill. If the past is any indication of what’s in store for this season, look for head coach Andy Reid to talk away with a win. He’s been Mr. September for much of his career.
GREEN BAY PACKERS (-105) VS NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (-105)
This is it for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. After a soap opera of an off-season, it’s all or nothing for them. They’ll be without their star left tackle David Backtiari as he continues to recover froma torn ACL. What does that mean for Rodgers? Will he get tagged more? Not if Elgton Jenkins has any say in the matter. He had a Pro Bowl season in 2020 so maybe Rodgers won’t have to worry too much. That will let Rodgers do Rodgers things. He threw 48 TD last season, so yeah.
The Saints without Drew Brees is weird. Let’s be honest. There’s a lot of pressure on Jameis Winston. His receiver options are a little limited. That said, Alvin Kamara in the backfield will be a constant threat. He pulled double duty last season The Saints offensive line will make the difference for Winston and Kamara.
DENVER BRONCOS (+100) VS NEW YORK GIANTS (-110)
Teddy Bridgwater has a lot to prove in Denver. After seven seasons, he still hasn’t made it over the hump into elite territory. He takes over for Drew Lock. He has young talented receivers as targets including Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick, and Courtland Sutton.
The Giants have Saquon Barkley back so the team has definite upside compared with last season. He should have his way with Denver’s rush defense which was almost the worst in the league. This should relieve some pressure from QB Daniel Jones. Too bad, the Giants’ offensive line hasn’t changed much compared with last season when they were among the worst in the league.
MIAMI DOLPHINS (+105) VS NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (-115)
The enduring question for the Miami Dolphins is whether Tua Tagovailoa has the arm strength to succeed in the NFL. (There were rumors Miami were interested in Deshaun Watson.) Needless to say, it’s an important year for him. Defensively, the Dolphins have the top cornerback in Xavien Howard who had 10 INT last season and their pass rush is among the league’s best. They’re a little weak against the run and should see a lot of Patriot running backs.
The Patriots also have quarterback questions. Namely, did Bill Belichik make a mistake releasing Cam Newton and is Mac Jones ready to carry the distribution responsiblities for the New England Patriots? He performed well in pre-season but that’s pre-season. The Pats have new faces in the Wide Receiver department with Nelson Agholor, Jonnu Smith, Kendrick Bourne, and Hunter Henry.
CHICAGO BEARS (-105) VS LOS ANGELES RAMS (-105)
QB Andy Dalton takes the helm for the Chicago Bears, taking over for Mitch Trubisky who was inconsistent at best. He’ll need to be the anti-Mitch because Justin Fields is right behind him ready to play. He’ll be relying on the talents of Allen Robinson who had 102 catches for 1,250 yards and 6 TDs. The Bears defense has a lot of room for improvement.
The Los Angeles Rams arrive with a new look at quarterback as well. Rams fans will be looking to Matthew Stafford to bring them back to the Promised Land. Last season, he threw for 26 TD and 10 INT. Respectable but far from gobsmackingly good. He’ll be looking for Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp downfield. The Rams have one of the best O-Lines in the game.
LAS VEGAS RAIDERS (-105) VS BALTIMORE RAVENS (-105)
It’s Year 4 of Jon Gruden’s reign with the Raiders. Their defense continues to let them down and it’s a big question whether this year’s additions such as Yannick Ngakoue addresses their problems. Derek Carr needs to build on last season’s solid performance where he threw 27 TD and 9 INT. He’ll be relying on Henry Ruggs III who will be replacing the explosive Nelson Agholor as Carr’s primary target. It’s not like-for-like but it gives Ruggs a chance to shine.
The Ravens have one of the best, if not the best, quarterback in the league. So long as they have Lamar Jackson running the show, they need to be taken seriously. They’ll be without J.K. Dobbins’ running ability thanks to the RB tearing his ACL during the pre-season finale against Washington. That’s a tough one. In his place, Gus Edwards will have to do the running. That said, the lead rusher on the Ravens last season was also their quarterback.
WORDS: Marc Landas.
IMAGE CREDIT: (ENTER NAMES)