We’re back with the weekly forecast for another season of the NFL! Last year’s picks finished with a 167-89 mark straight up.
The meteorology format is especially pertinent this week as Hurricane Irma bears down on Florida. Miami’s opener with Tampa Bay has already been moved to Week 11, and with good reason. Irma is a monster of a storm.
The Texans game will be played in Houston as the city ramps up the recovery process from Hurricane Harvey. As a former Houstonian, I want to personally thank you if you donated to relief efforts. Many people I care about lost a lot in the flooding and the gestures really do mean something to the people impacted.
- Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots (-9): The season kicks off with the defending champion Patriots hosting a strong, balanced Chiefs team. Tom Brady looked fantastic in the preseason. Even with losing Julian Edelman, the Patriots offense appears diverse and potent. Nobody adapts to adversity better than Bill Belichick and Brady, either.
Kansas City has enough offensive firepower to keep up. Running back Kareem Hunt is my pick to win Offensive Rookie of the Year, and Tyreek Hill’s playmaking he showed last year was no fluke. My concerns about Kansas City’s middle-of-field defense keep me from forecasting the upset, though it’s tempting.
Patriots 32, Chiefs 24
- New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys (-3.5): Getting Zeke Elliott back on the field following the legal kerfuffle with the league is a huge boost for Dallas. His presence means enough that I flopped my selection on this game.
I initially went with the Giants, who have what looks to be a fantastic passing offense and one of the best pass defenses, too. Dallas has real questions about both the pass rush and the secondary, a very motley mix against Eli Manning, Odell Beckham and friends. But I believe in the emotional lift of Elliott’s presence, and the Dallas offensive line will help Dak Prescott create just enough offense to eke out a home win. This should be one of the most entertaining games on the slate.
Cowboys 29, Giants 27
- Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers (-3): One of the league’s more heated rivalries, these games always seem to end with bluster and controversy. Seattle is built almost specifically to slow down Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, but Green Bay’s defensive front is quietly improved and the Seahawks OL most certainly is not. That’s what tips the game to the home team.
Packers 31, Seahawks 27
- New York Jets at Buffalo Bills (-9): The loser here is the real winner as these two AFC East foes race to the bottom of the NFL standings. Both teams appear hell bent on not winning this year, dumping key players and rolling with inexperience and a startling lack of depth. The Bills have the better QB in Tyrod Taylor, who is expected to play after suffering a concussion. The Jets defensive front and run game are the two biggest advantages in this game, however, and Josh McCown at QB for New York is gritty enough to pull it off.
Jets 17, Bills 14
- Atlanta Falcons at Chicago Bears (+7): Bears faithful start cascading the chants for John Fox to replace quarterback Mike Glennon with rookie Mitchell Trubisky by halftime, even though the Chicago wide receivers are probably the thinnest position group of any unit on any team. Not gonna beat the defending NFC champs that way, even if the Falcons offense might sputter a little. The mild forecast (70 and sunny) helps the indoor Falcons on the shores of Lake Michigan.
Falcons 24, Bears 10
- Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals (-3): The Bengals strike me as one of the more underrated teams entering the season. The injury-ravaged Ravens strike me as one of the more overrated teams. I think both teams start down those progressive tracks in this meeting in The Jungle.
Bengals 27, Ravens 20
- Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns (+9): No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett and the youthful Browns look to stop the extended bleeding at the hands of the Steelers. Cleveland’s defense, now headed by Gregg Williams, has a chance to be very good. They’ll present a firm test for Le’Veon Bell, who missed all summer sitting out with his contractual displeasure. This Browns D is no joke.
Unfortunately for Cleveland, Pittsburgh’s defense is also stocked with a lot of youthful talent. The Steelers are quite vulnerable in the secondary, but rookie DeShone Kizer and one of the league’s weakest overall WR corps won’t be able to take advantage enough to pull off the upset.
Steelers 23, Browns 16
- Arizona Cardinals at Detroit Lions (+1.5): The last time Matthew Stafford and the Lions played the Cardinals was the low point of Stafford’s career. He was (rightly) benched in a game where many Detroit teammates visibly quit as the score mounted against them. Since then, Stafford has emerged as one of the best leaders in the game. There is a redemptive angle for Detroit in this home opener.
Unfortunately, the Lions might have the weakest pass rush in the league. That’s bad news against a Cardinals offense which loves to take shots down the field. Stafford might have to pull another rabbit out of his hat, something he did better than anyone last year.
Lions 30, Cardinals 28
- Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans (-6): Midway through last year I opined that I would never pick the Jaguars to win as long as Blake Bortles is the starting quarterback. Since that decision I’ve been 9-1 in forecasting Jacksonville.
Blend that with the emotion of the Texans playing at home in Houston. This team has been nothing short of heroic in helping the city recover from Harvey, spearheaded by J.J. Watt and his $27M (and counting) in fundraising. A full 56 members of the team passed out aid on Sunday, including RB Akeem Hunt, who got cut while participating and kept at it. That’s a special group of people.
Even with Houston missing several WRs for new starting QB Tom Savage and the Jaguars pass defense looking very solid, it’s real hard to overlook the intangibles here.
Texans 27, Jaguars 12
- Oakland Raiders at Tennessee Titans (-1.5): Every year there is turnover in playoff teams. One of my predictions for this year is the Titans replacing the Raiders in the AFC playoffs. This game helps start the rise of the Titans, whose biggest weakness (pass offense) is mitigated by Oakland’s still-iffy pass defense.
Titans 33, Raiders 17
- Philadelphia Eagles at Washington (+1): Where Kirk Cousins proves he’s still a much better quarterback than young Carson Wentz. Where Terrelle Pryor proves he was smart to gamble on himself in the long-term, even if he left upwards of $25M on the table from Cleveland. Where Washington’s defense proves they’re still okay even after losing Chris Baker.
Washington 20, Eagles 16
- Indianapolis Colts at Los Angeles Rams (-3.5): The two best players in this matchup will not play. Rams DT Aaron Donald is still holding out, while Colts QB Andrew Luck is out as he recovers from shoulder surgery. The Rams have the better roster surrounding their absent star and the coaching change seems to have helped Jared Goff as the QB enters his second season.
Rams 24, Colts 13
- Carolina Panthers at San Francisco 49ers (+6): Entering last year I was convinced the 49ers were the worst team in the NFC. They were playing the Rams, a team I also knew wasn’t very good but trusted far more than San Francisco. I quickly and confidently made the Rams my pick in the survivor pool…and drowned. The 49ers somehow blanked the Rams, notching the team’s only win until the two met again on Christmas Eve.
San Francisco is better this year, enough that I think they can pull off another improbable opener. The Panthers have offensive firepower with Christian McCaffrey looking dynamic and Kelvin Benjamin impressing, but there’s something about these Niners opening at home. They’ve won seven Week 1 games in a row, four of them over returning playoff teams.
49ers 22, Panthers 20
- New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings (-3.5): The Saints defense looked very impressive in preseason. I know, it’s preseason. But still, their front seven looked both athletic and well-coordinated. Pair that with Minnesota’s still-shaky OL and I smell the upset. Look for Adrian Peterson to score the game-winner…for New Orleans. It’s gonna be weird for the Vikings fans to see him in enemy colors.
Saints 34, Vikings 26
- Los Angeles Chargers at Denver Broncos (-3.5): These Broncos might very well have the league’s best defense. They also might very well have the league’s worst offense. I’ll take the Chargers and their underrated D, as well as Philip Rivers throwing to a healthy Keenan Allen.
Chargers 21, Broncos 17
Back by popular demand!
Louisville 39, North Carolina 28
Ohio State 28, Oklahoma 24
Auburn 20, Clemson 16
TCU 33, Arkansas 30
Georgia 27, Notre Dame 24 in a game I’ll be attending in South Bend
USC 36, Stanford 24
Ohio 28, Purdue 24. Go Bobcats!