All offseason, the NFL world focused on Tom Brady and the “DeflateGate” saga. When the dust settled, Brady’s four-game suspension was nullified by a federal judge, again calling the commissioner’s uneven punishments and disciplinary power into question.
The NFL will likely appeal Judge Berman’s ruling, but Goodell is ready to put it behind him. “I want to get back to football,” he told Mike & Mike.
But reminders of Goodell and the leagues’ missteps are all over this week’s primetime slate. When the Cowboys hosts the Giants tomorrow night, Greg Hardy will be on the Dallas sidelines serving the first game of his four-game suspension for domestic violence. Monday night features the Atlanta Falcons — who committed a penalty of similar size to New England’s, but with much less fanfare — as well as Adrian Peterson making his return to the Vikings after a child abuse scandal.
And let’s not forget the biggest on-the-field issue: player health and safety, specifically concussions.
Minnesota’s opening opponent is San Francisco, a team which suffered a surprising number of retirements this offseason due to health issues. Patrick Willis is gone. Rookie linebacker Chris Borland hung it up after a great first season, saying it wasn’t worth the risk of injury. Tackle Anthony Davis cited similar issues in his decision:
<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>I’ll be back in a year or so.. I’ll be 26 or 27 years old. Im taking this time to allow my Brain and Body time to heal and recoup.</p>— Anthony Davis (@BamDavis_) <a href=”https://twitter.com/BamDavis_/status/606933460557504512″>June 5, 2015</a></blockquote>
These issues may temporarily take a backseat once tomorrow’s 1:00 p.m. games kick off. But the NFL hasn’t eradicated domestic violence, nor have they adequately addressed concerns about concussions at all levels of football. Goodell may survive the week, but when these issues reoccur, the spotlight will shift right back to him.
Broadcast Maps (courtesy of 506 Sports)
CBS has the national doubleheader this week and most of the country will see Denver-Baltimore as the late game. Hampton Roads will get Miami-Washington on CBS and Green Bay-Chicago on Fox for the early games.
Now let’s pick. Last season, I started off the season 10-6, which seems pretty high for Week 1. It’s tough to predict how teams will open a season, but we’ll take a stab at it anyway.
New England over Pittsburgh
Patriots face adversity, emerge unscathed, Brady goes on a rampage. Rinse, repeat.
Green Bay over Chicago
Both teams will be depleted at wide receiver. The Bears traded Brandon Marshall in the offseason, lost rookie Kevin White to injury, and No. 1 Alshon Jeffery will play with a calf injury. Meanwhile, Aaron Rodgers is without Jordy Nelson for the season and has a banged up Randall Cobb. But Green Bay is much better suited to overcome deficiencies.
Kansas City over Houston
Houston has to bring their best to stand a chance here. They’ll start Brian Hoyer under center and have Alfred Blue in the backfield, starting in place of the injured Arian Foster. Kansas City could play pretty conservative on offense and win, which is music to Alex Smith‘s ears.
New York Jets over Cleveland
Fun fact heard on The Dan LeBatard Show: Cleveland currently has a member of the team (WR Josh Gordon), coaching staff (OL coach Andy Moeller), and the front office (GM Ray Farmer) serving suspension. Expect them to challenge Washington for the “Dysfunctional Franchise of the Year” award.
Indianapolis over Buffalo
This has all the makings of a classic Andrew Luck performance: some great plays, mixed in with some devastatingly bad decisions, and capped off with a game-winning drive late in the 4th quarter. This of course depends on the quality of Bills defense — which was one of the league’s best last year — and a slightly above average performance from Tyrod Taylor.
Miami over Washington
Seattle over St. Louis
The Rams usually play Seattle close at home and I expect the same thing to happen this time around. Whether they can get to Russell Wilson early and often enough to force turnovers, I’m not so sure about. Kam Chancellor‘s absence could seriously impact the Seattle secondary, but not enough to allow Nick Foles and the Rams offense to march up and down the field.
Carolina over Jacksonville
The Panthers defense may not be as great as people expect them to be this season, but this is one they should control from the start. If the offense can muster a few scores (which is a big “if”), this should be a boring, yet clear win.
Arizona over New Orleans
The consensus on Arizona of may be a little off. I don’t see them matching their 11-5 mark from last season. On the other hand, New Orleans may be closer to their 7-9 record in 2014 than people realize. Their secondary needs to be better this year and without Jairus Byrd for the opener, Carson Palmer should breathe a little easier.
San Diego over Detroit
It’ll be a new-look defensive line for the Lions after losing Ndamakong Suh and Nick Fairley to free agency. Adding Haloti Ngata may fill the void in a physical sense, but not from a talent standpoint.
Tampa Bay over Tennessee
This one comes down to which team can better overcome the struggles of their rookie quarterback to win a game. The Tampa Bay offensive line may not do Jameis Winston any favors, but if he can take care of the ball, I like their chances again Marcus Mariota and company.
Cincinnati over Oakland
Oakland could be a pretty tough out a year or two from now, expect much of the same in 2015. Andy Dalton has to deliver something better this season to keep his job and this could be a great starting point.
Denver over Baltimore
Peyton Manning‘s passes were extra duck-like from December on last season. This December may bring more of the same for the 39 year old, but his arm should be acceptable to start the season. Whether his offensive line can keep him upright is a different story.
Dallas over New York Giants
Atlanta over Philadelphia
Minnesota over San Francisco
As mentioned in the open, San Francisco lost an unspeakable amount of personnel this offseason. Still, this is a great road test for Minnesota — a team I expect to contend for the playoffs. They have a surprising amount of talent, especially on defense. They just need to put it all together on a more consistent basis.