As always, it’s important to take the first games of the season with a grain of salt. While teams that start the season on the losing end tend to miss the postseason, teams’ true identities usually don’t reveal themselves until later in the season.
During Week 1 of the 2013 season, both Carolina and San Diego began the season on the losing end. San Diego’s came at the hands of Houston, no less. And Houston? They began the season 2-0. New England and Indianapolis needed all 60 minutes to knock off Buffalo and Oakland. Meanwhile, rookie quarterback Geno Smith led a gutsy game-winning drive to help the Jets knock off Tampa Bay.
All of these teams would reverse fortunes by the end of the season. Carolina would win 11 of their last 12 to earn a first-round bye. San Diego won their last four to earn a Wild Card spot. Houston would lose their final 14 games to earn the first overall pick in 2014. New England and Indianapolis both won playoff games. The Jets failed to make the postseason.
So instead of pondering what the Week 1 results mean for each team, just enjoy the fact that football is back. Now let’s pick.
Seattle over Green Bay
Reigning Super Bowl champions. Home opener. Thursday night. I’m not picking against Seattle here.
New Orleans over Atlanta
NFC South opponents open against one another for a second straight season. This year, the Falcons host the Saints, but I don’t see the result being any different.
The Saints are coming off an 11-5 season and have added more talent on both sides of the ball. On offense, they drafted speedy wide receiver Brandin Cooks and on defense, they signed top free agent safety Jairus Byrd. The Falcons will be better by default, considering the injury problems they had on offense and defense. Notably, Julio Jones and Roddy White are both back for Matt Ryan.
The difference will likely be on defense, as the Falcons try to slow down a still-potent Saints offense. After four quarters, Drew Brees and company should come out on top.
St. Louis over Minnesota
Once we found out the severity of Sam Bradford‘s injury, the “St. Louis could surprise in the NFC West” narrative ceased to exist. It doesn’t render them completely useless, however. They’ve certainly been without Bradford before and they have perhaps the best defensive line in the league to boost their defense. So all they really need at quarterback is stability, which is why they brought in Shaun Hill. While he certainly isn’t a game-changer, he doesn’t turn the ball over much.
Outside of Adrian Peterson, there isn’t reason to fear the Vikings on either side of the ball. I think the Rams sneak by.
Cleveland over Pittsburgh
This isn’t so much a vote of confidence for the Browns as it is a vote of ambivalence on the Steelers. They’ve trended in the wrong direction the past two seasons and are a far cry from the early squads of the Mike Tomlin era. In fact, the biggest thing each of these two teams have going for them in the AFC North is that none of the four teams are head and shoulders above the rest.
While I’m not crazy about the decision to start Brian Hoyer over Johnny Manziel, I do favor the Browns on defense. If Hoyer and newly-signed Ben Tate lead the offense to two touchdowns and tack on a field goal or two, it may be enough in this one.
Philadelphia over Jacksonville
Speaking of adding talent on offense and not starting the rookie quarterback, let’s talk about Jacksonville. Chad Henne will start under center, instead of third overall pick Blake Bortles and will have a number of new options at his disposal (rookie receivers Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson, running back Toby Gerhart). Why not just throw Bortles in there and let him grow with the offense early on? Do they truly believe in their postseason chances?
Philadelphia lost DeSean Jackson at receiver, but added two rookie receivers of their own. They remain a better offensive team, but their defense shouldn’t have much trouble stopping the Jaguars.
New York Jets over Oakland
The Oakland Raiders, of all teams, are the only ones opting for a rookie under center Week 1. Whether that’s due to Derek Carr impressing them or Matt Schaub failing to, I’m not sure. I’m also unsure of what we’ll get from Rex Ryan’s New York Jets as he continues to sit on the coaching hot seat. Their biggest weapons is still their defense, and if they can slow down a seemingly healthy combo of Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden, it may be enough to earn another 1-0 start.
Cincinnati over Baltimore
Andy Dalton and Joe Flacco are two big-contract quarterbacks that people expected more from last season. Granted, Dalton just got his extension, but the story is still the same. They have to show up this season. Dalton has the receivers and the defense to make it back to the postseason.
Chicago over Buffalo
Right when the Bears finally get a top-ranked offense, their defense goes down the tube. Leaders Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman are past their primes. Free agent signing Jared Allen isn’t any younger. Still, I like their offense to prevail over Buffalo.
Houston over Washington
On paper, Washington looks like the better team, but I’m not quite sold on them.
Robert Griffin III has a bevy of receivers. DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, and Jordan Reed all look like viable options. On defense, they are led by Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan. They added Jason Hatcher from Dallas. Perry Riley‘s talent at inside linebacker could make fans forget about London Fletcher sooner rather than later.
But it’s still Washington. Even when things go right, they quickly turn for the worse (2012). Houston is a much better team than their 2-14 record last season indicated. Somehow, I believe in them more than I do Dan Snyder’s bunch.
Tennessee over Kansas City
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m still hopelessly optimistic in Jake Locker. But he has capable players around him, right? And if the Chiefs don’t flatten him, the Titans defense could keep this a low-scoring affair.
Right? Maybe? No? Well, I’m picking them anyway.
Miami over New England
Is Rob Gronkowski playing? He says yes, Belichick says “not so fast”.
It matters. The Patriots are a much different team on offense when he plays. Couple that with my belief that Ryan Tannehill is better than people think, and I’m picking the upset.
Tampa Bay over Carolina
Too many unknowns for Carolina here on offense. How’s Cam Newton‘s back? If it’s ok, will the offensive line buy him enough time to throw? With time, can he connect with a brand new cast of receivers? Tampa Bay may miss the postseason again, but they have a number of talented players, especially on defense. For the Panthers, it will be five straight 0-1 starts.
San Francisco over Dallas
The 49ers are in a bit of disarray coming into this one, so if Dallas wants an early win over an NFC West opponent, this could be it. Much has been said about the sad state of the Cowboys defense this offseason, with the injury to linebacker Sean Lee among other things. There are certainly reason to go for and against each team, but so many more things have to fall in favor of Dallas for them to win here.
Denver over Indianapolis
It’s universally agreed than Andrew Luck is the “next big thing” at quarterback. Whether he’s arrived there yet, is still up for debate. He certainly has flashes of greatness (see last year’s Wild Card finish against Kansas City), but he’s still pretty prone to play like he did in the first half of the KC game. The Broncos offense is a little less whole without Eric Decker (now a Jet) and Wes Welker (injury/suspension), but the additions of DeMarcus Ware and T.J. Ward on defense still make them one of the league’s most balanced teams.
Detroit over New York Giants
This game could be a beautiful mess from a quarterback standpoint. Matthew Stafford and Eli Manning lead the league in “polarizing” passes. But with even more targets for Stafford (Golden Tate and rookie Eric Ebron) and a slightly above average defense, they have the edge over New York.
San Diego over Arizona
After being derided for a few years, Philip Rivers has somehow been anointed as an “elite” quarterback. I always thought he was in the upper tier, but the reversal that most have done on him is shocking. Either way, I think he deserves it. And with so many question marks on the Arizona defense, he could pick up right where he left off.
Record (Week): 10-6