Week 1 Predictions

Posted Aug 1, 2017

Who are you picking to win the week 1 games?

Welcome back to year 13 of my column picking all the week's games. It seems every year the picks get tougher and tougher, though I'm coming off a decent season, touch wood, and this year the reason they're tough is the way the league has shifted into a sort of parody of parity. There is a small group of teams you might call 'elite', a few knocking on that door, and a few who appear to be no-hopers. Then there's about half the league where anything could happen, and something always does. It's one of the reasons we love the game.

The change in preseason doesn't help. Restrictions on contact in practice and the growing

propensity for resting starters rather than risk injury means we actually know less than ever about the way teams will show up for real. The massive single cutdown from 90 to 53 players also meant a flurry of late deals, waiver claims, and practice squad manipulation. But you'll notice it was three of the elite group, Seattle, Pittsburgh and New England who seemed to be most active, all still trying to improve their teams just a week before it all starts for real. Appropriately enough, in New England...

Thursday Night Kickoff: Kansas City at New England: Talk of the Pats going 16-0 this year is uninformed, and was before Ninkovich, Edleman and Rivers were all lost in preseason. The Chiefs will miss Spencer Ware somewhat less, especially if rookie Kareem Hunt plays as advertised, and will miss Tamba Hali somewhat more (he starts the year on PUP), if only because their rush rotation keeps guys fresher. The Chiefs have looked good in preseason, the Pats have looked like they're keeping their cards close to their chest, apart from auditioning Jacoby Brissett, who brought in Phillip Dorsett in trade. If Dorsett catches just one Brady Bomb, we'll be hearing about Belichick's roster genius for two months. Pick: Pats


New York Jets at Buffalo: Rex Ryan Bowl! Tyrod Taylor has passed his concussion protocol, answering correctly 'what is the Bills' nickname'? That spares us the marquee matchup of quarterbacks Josh McCown, as old as Venus Williams but with fewer trophies, against Nathan Peterman, not so late of Pittsburgh. The Bills signed Joe Webb as a backup QB. In case you're wondering about Colin Kaepernick, Joe Webb is a poor man's version of CK, a very poor man's version. New coach Sean McDermott has been all about getting rid of the previous regime's players; Rex Ryan coached both these teams. He is the Donald Trump of NFL coaches, but Trump's only going to be president of one country. Pick: Bills

Atlanta at Chicago: Another fascinating match-up, to see if the speed of the Falcons' D can overcome the power of the Bears offense. We'll also want to know if Atlanta's offense will continue to be as multi-faceted with Kyle Shanahan gone. Will Matt Ryan be able to audible more? Will they maintain the mesh between run and pass? They're a test for the middle of any D, and the Bears are pretty strong up the middle. But can Mike Glennon do the business, or does Mitch Trubisky appear before week three? Pick: Falcons

Baltimore at Cincinnati: AFC North gets down to business on day one. We know nothing about the status of Joe Flacco; if he doesn't start we know a lot about Ryan Mallett. This is a typical Baltimore team: a defense that looks solid even as players get replaced. In fact, if the secondary stays healthy it could be their best in years. But the O line is, shall we say, in flux, the receiving corps is threadbare, as it has been for a few years now, and the run game may be counting on Danny Woodhead. The Bengals, meanwhile, will be looking to rookie Jordan Willis to energize their pass rush, and rookie Joe Mixon to ditto the run game. Normally cautious bringing rookies along, I get the sense the Bengals are all-in for this season. But they'll start the year without Pacman Jones and Vontaze Burfict, the latter turning into the poster boy/pinada for the NFL's policy on hits. The O line had questions but AJ Green is back after missing the last five weeks of what was a great 2016. This series often goes against home field bias, but Pick: Bengals

Pittsburgh at Cleveland: Joe Haden Bowl! Note that the best teams in the league: the Steelers, Seahawks and Patriots, were all active in the massive Cutdown Warehouse! Which next year will either be a live event presented by the Comish or a 'reality' TV special a la Hard Knocks. Last Knocks, maybe. Even the usually about as active as a potted plant Packers added Ahmad Brooks, who's going to help them a lot. Cleveland were clearing the decks, and with Haden didn't add picks, just saved cap space. The open question is, for what? Rookie DeShone Kizer becomes the first of his class to start an NFL game, and he could have picked an easier team. Pick: Steelers

Arizona at Detroit: Money Matt Stafford is now the highest paid player in the NFL. When you look up the word anomaly in the dictionary, you'll find his picture. I have the feeling the Cards are slow starters, especially on the road in the eastern time zone, but I'm thinking more of their opening week loss at home to New England last year. Pick: Cardinals

YOUR Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston: If they'd moved the game out of Houston in the aftermath of Harvey, they'd have moved it right into the path of Harvey's angrier younger sister, Irma. At least then when a Blake Bortles pass sailed ten feet over the head of one of the Allens, they could blame it on the 175mph winds. Bortles vs Tom Savage is a match-up of Tolzien v Goff proportions. But the Houston D has JJ Watt back, which promises to be Bad News for Bortles. Pick: Texans

Tampa Bay at Miami: This cross-conference Florida Derby was postponed until both teams' bye week, week 11, due to Hurricane Irma. I wonder if a lack of broadcasting opportunities prevented it being moved to Friday night, which would have made some sense. A neutral site was apparently never an issue. Pick: Irma

Oakland at Tennessee: Fascinating match-up. Is Marcus Mariota back to form and are his new weapons something Mike Mularkey can use effectively? Is Oakland's pass defense really as bad as it has looked? They spent their first two draft picks on the secondary and thus far haven't had much return. Marshawn Lynch behind Oakland's line and DeMarco Murray behind Tennessee's is a tremendous match-up, and a home win here could send a message in two AFC divisions. Pick: Titans

Philadelphia at Washington: The NFC East repechage. The Skins dumping GM Scott McCloughlan a month before the draft is symbolic of my fears about Washington's quality. I liked the way they acquired and drafted players who will make Greg Manusky's D, on paper, better. But I don't see such improvement at the skill positions, and it's hard not to think their indecision with Kirk Cousins is their idea of providing him with motivation to play harder. But the Eagles are a team in flux too. If their O line can stay healthy it will be a chance for Carson Wentz to take a step forward, but his receiving corps hasn't really stepped up from last year and whether the runners are better remains in doubt. Pick: Skins

Indianapolis at LA Rams: Andrew Luck won't be playing, but the team didn't put him on PUP which means they expect him back before 6 weeks. In the meantime Scott Tolzien and newly-acquired Jacoby Brissett (whom the Pats auditioned by playing him through all the final exhibition game) are the QBs. That's no worse than Jared Goff. In fact Goff vs Tolzien has the makings of a legendary clash. The Colts don't do much D, while the Rams, so supposedly strong on D during the Jeff Foster era, will be much better with Wade Phillips coordinating, even with Aaron Donald holding out. They say timing is everything. Johnny Hekker is likely to be the guy who misses Fisher most, as Jeff's idea of offense was a fake punt every week or so. Pick: Rams

Seattle at Green Bay: Eddie Lacy (empty) Bowl! Shots of Lacy apparently chomping a hot dog on the sidelines must've made Packer fans feel good. Bryan Bulaga's fitness is a big question for the Pack, who improved themselves late in pre-season by adding Ahmad Brooks, a veteran pass-rushing outside linebacker. The Seahawks have rejigged their secondary, and the addition of Sheldon Richardson is massive, literally: in the Seahawks locker room, Richardson is going to have to prove himself, and that's bad news for the Packers' interior line, which has let good guards go and now starts Lane Taylor and Jhari Evans. Pick: Pack

Carolina at San Francisco: Carolina is another team who fired their GM in mid-stream; Marty Hurley, who put them in salary-cap hell a few years ago, is back and made a splash in the draft adding Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel to try to make the offense multi-dimensional. But it still depends on Cam Newton to be effective, and their line to come through. The Niners are in rebuild mode under Kyle Shanahan, and their biggest strength may be their front four. Brian Hoyer is the QB, and though he's looked good in preseason, the Panthers may make life tough for him On the road it's a big ask, but Pick@ Panthers

Sunday Night Football: New Jersey Giants at Dallas: Of course the game that will pull the most viewers goes to NBC in prime time, and what we will see is a game of two halves. Dallas has a strong O line, good position players, and a D full of holes. The Giants have a fine front four (JPP is looking better this year) and secondary, but questionable linebacking, like a spam sandwich made with two slices of artisan whole meal bread. But their O has its own holes, mostly an O line that's closer to Swiss cheese than anyone's east of Seattle. Is it my imagination or is OBJ starting to resemble the very petulant Randy Moss who took himself out of a playoff game against the Giants? He apparently has a high ankle sprain, and it would be risky to rush him back. The big news in Big D is that Ezekiel Elliott is suspended for six games, but it won't start until week 2 (pending appeal, of course). Pick: Cowboys

Monday Night Football Doubleheader: New Orleans at Minnesota: Adrian Peterson Bowl!

The more interesting acquisition by the Saints might be undrafted WR Austin Reed, the star of preseason, from the Pats. Reed doesn't have the quicks the Pats want in the slot, but he catches everything thrown near him, and with Willie Snead out he might find a place sooner than you'd expect. The Saints should be able to run the ball, even though AP doesn't appear to have much gas in the tank, but being in Minneapolis might refuel him. It is a tactical dream, as the Vikes pass rush will be countered by Drew Brees' quick-release pass game. Pick: Saints

Los Angeles Chargers at Denver: Brock 'The Heist' Osweiler is back in Denver, but Kyle Sloter was cut and claimed by the Vikings. The Passing Primate, Trevor Siemian, starts for Denver, whose O line is still in flux, and whose D, without DeMarcus Ware suddenly seems a little bit, well, human. Meanwhile the Chargers are healthy-ish, which never lasts long, and their D returns a fabulous front seven. This could be an upset, though the Broncos are tough at home. Pick: Chargers

LAST SEASON: 168-86-2 PLAYOFFS 9-1 SUPERBOWL 1-0: TOTAL: 178-87-2 (67.2%)

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