Football is back! It’s been a very long offseason for football fans, and with no preseason and very limited access to training camps, it feels even longer and more mysterious than ever before.
The time off and lack of preseason views of the teams also makes forecasting the first few weeks more difficult than normal. Every team is shrouded in cloudy mystique, and it’s tough to judge the validity of the brief glimpses of light shone on the 32 clubs from the local media access.
Enjoy the football weekend!
All lines are courtesy of BetOnline and are accurate as of 4 p.m. ET Wednesday
- Houston Texans at Kansas City Chiefs (-9): When we last saw these two teams play in the AFC Divisional Round, the Texans raced out to 24-0 lead minutes into the second quarter. The Chiefs then won the rest of the AFC Divisional Round game 51-7.
Since then, the Texans traded away their best player, WR DeAndre Hopkins, as the war between Bill O’Brien the head coach and Bill O’Brien the GM wages on. Deshaun Watson still has a lot of weaponry to try and match wits with Patrick Mahomes. If anyone can do it, it’s Watson. But not on opening night without his proven security blanket. The forecast calls for a lot of points. Maybe not the 81 from the January meeting, but expect both teams to score at least five times.
Chiefs 38, Texans 31
- Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons (+2): The Falcons are one of the teams I think is better than generally advertised. Much of that is rooted in a belief in Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and a very savvy offensive attack. Their matchup against the new-look Seattle secondary figures to be one of the best physical chess matches of the opening weekend. What Atlanta does well seems to square nicely with where the Seahawks might be most vulnerable. Seattle is the better team, but the better team doesn’t always win.
Falcons 32, Seahawks 25
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints (-3.5): Tom Brady in Tampa Bay is going to look weird. Gronk too. It’s a lot of change for the visitors, and playing the same old Saints is a tough draw for a debut. Drew Brees throwing to Michael Thomas, handing to Alvin Kamara, setting up behind a good line loaded with returning starters, it’s a huge asset for Sean Payton’s Saints. Their defense is no joke either. I sense a little cold rain on the Buccaneers buzz to start the season.
Saints 30, Buccaneers 24
- Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings (-2.5): Expect this line to slide more in Green Bay’s favor with the news that the Vikings will be without exceptional pass rushing EDGE Danielle Hunter for at least the first three weeks. With Hunter out and Yannick Ngakoue in town for less than a fortnight, the Vikings defense will not be as toothy as the one that has given Aaron Rodgers problems lately. That same Vikings defense has been no problem for Aaron Jones and the Packers run game either. Minnesota’s new-look CB group gets trial by fire, too.. Unless Kirk Cousins is on fire--and given Green Bay’s middle-of-field LB/S package he can certainly ignite quickly--the Packers roll on the road.
Packers 36, Vikings 21
- Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots (-6.5): The Cam Newton era begins in New England. I know, it’s as weird for me to write it out as it is for you to see in print. It’s impossible to know exactly what we’re going to get from these Patriots with the radical changes they’ve undergone, from Tom Brady leaving to several key opt-outs and losing four defensive starters to other teams. One of those, LB Kyle Van Noy, can help the Dolphins bolster an anemic pass rush and maybe bother Newton into a mistake or two. They’ll need them because the Miami offense is a work in progress, and it needs a great deal of progress before it’s winning games against well-coached teams.
Patriots 18, Dolphins 13
- Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens (-8): The odds are really stacked against the Browns here. Rookie head coach, two new offensive tackles, new defensive scheme that will be missing at least two of its top four CBs with injury. Oh yeah, Baltimore is one of the best teams in the league, too.
Picking against the Browns in Week 1 is the safest survivor fantasy pick you can possibly make. It’s as sure of a thing as a LeBron James-led team winning in the first round of the playoffs. Sorry, Cleveland; better days are coming very soon for the Browns, but this might be the worst possible draw for Kevin Stefanski’s debut as coach.
Ravens 36, Browns 27
- New York Jets at Buffalo Bills (-6.5): We’ll get a quick gauge on how well the Bills handle being the front-runner in the AFC East for the first time since Flutie Flakes were flying off the shelves in Western New York. The Jets will not win this game unless the Bills are complicit in making it happen. Expect a big game from Buffalo’s defensive front, perhaps even a defensive TD.
Bills 27, Jets 10
- Las Vegas Raiders at Carolina Panthers (+3): The Panthers are new at so many key spots, including head coach, quarterback and middle linebacker. They haven’t all taken the field together yet in a competitive situation against another team. I suspect they will come out with energy and confidence, and Carolina will probably lead at halftime. But the Raiders’ continuity and experience will help them weather the storm and come from behind. Could be a very strong fantasy debut for Josh Jacobs.
Raiders 31, Panthers 26
- Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Football Team (+6): Not gonna lie, the Football Team moniker is really starting to grow on me. It’s like non-dairy cheese spread. At first it’s disgusting and represents all things unholy and inhumane about the crazy world we live in. Then you have your second or third helping of it on nachos or homemade mac and “cheese” and soon you’re sneaking spoonfuls of the yellowish glop out of the refrigerator...where it doesn’t need to be stored because it’s not an actual cheese product. Now the Football Team uses that cheesy substance as the base color for the numbers on the side of the new-look helmets, which are admittedly sweet. It won’t help them beat the Eagles, finally looking like a team with more than 8 healthy bodies on defense. But at least Washington will look good.
Eagles 20, Football Team 13
- Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions (-3): The concept of a “must-win” game is dramatically overstated until actual playoff status is on the line. However, this game is as much of a must-win for the Lions and embattled coach Matt Patricia as one could possibly be in Week 1. If Patricia’s Lions get rolled by Mitchell Trubisky and the Bears once again--Trubisky is 3-0 with three of his five best career games against Patricia’s defense--the home fan base in Detroit is going to turn on the coach again. All the progress, all the offensive potential, all the personal growth by Patricia won’t mean a thing if the Bears head into Ford Field and hang a bad loss on the Lions. I’d give the Bears a better chance at pulling it off if I had any faith at all in their offensive skill positions outside of WR Allen Robinson. That lack of notable skill on offense is precisely why the Lions losing to them would be so catastrophic for alleged defensive mastermind Patricia…
Lions 23, Bears 21
- Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars (+9.5): About the only question here is, will this be the last game all year where the Jaguars are not double-digit underdogs? The systematic dismantling and Escape From New York vibe from guys like Leonard Fournette and Ronnie Harrison who mercifully fled Jacksonville makes one wonder. As I noted in the season preview, they’re bound to stumble into a win or two. Don’t expect it to be the visiting Colts in Philip Rivers’ debut, but also don’t get too overconfident in the new-look Colts gelling early on.
Colts 27, Jaguars 20
- Los Angeles Chargers at Cincinnati Bengals (+3): The anxiously awaited debut of Joe Burrow in Cincinnati makes this a more appealing game than it might first appear. I’m a Burrow believer, and playing the Chargers is a decent foe to face in a debut. The LA defense has very sharp fangs up fon the front with Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram and friends, but they’re vulnerable behind it. Tyrod Taylor isn’t the type of QB who is going to mount a comeback for the mismatched Chargers offense, either. Cincinnati gets a win at home to kick off the new season on a positive note.
Bengals 24, Chargers 21
- Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers (-7): I smell an upset from the upstart Cardinals here. The 49ers will be without WR Deebo Samuel and likely without rookie Brandon Aiyuk, too. Those are the two best WRs on the roster. George Kittle is a fantastic beast of mythical proportions, but he can’t do it by himself. I like Arizona QB Kyler Murray to give fits to the San Francisco defensive front and questionable cornerback group around Richard Sherman. Without his outside weapons, I don’t think San Francisco QB Jimmy Garoppolo can keep up, no matter how good looking he might be.
Cardinals 29, 49ers 22
- Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams (+3): Perhaps no team is better equipped to handle the Aaron Donald attack than Dallas. The Cowboys have a strong offensive line, a committed running game and multiple pass-catching options for Dak Prescott who can get open quickly. Donald will win some battles, but the Cowboys will win the war unless Jared Goff emphatically outplays Prescott. This is one of those “30 percent chance of rain” forecasts from your local morning meteorologist, the default setting when they know it’s not going to actually rain but can’t guarantee that the extreme edge of the viewing area won’t get a few drops from a rogue shower.
Cowboys 30, Rams 20
We’re treated to two Monday Night Football games in Week 1, an annual tradition that needs to become a permanent weekly fixture. Two Monday night games are better than one Monday and one Thursday.
- Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Giants (+6): Ben Roethlisberger returns for Pittsburgh and he’s got a lot of speed to work with at receiver. That’s a problem for the Giants defense that is thin at corner and thinner at LB for when Pittsburgh opts to ride James Conner behind one fo the league’s most physical offensive lines.
Daniel Jones, Saquon Barkley and the Giants offense should keep this close. If Jones can withstand the pass rush, he’ll find some wins down the field in his own right. Pittsburgh lacks the depth of talent on the back end to handle Golden Tate, Even Engram, Darius Slayton and Barkley out of the backfield. I expect this to be a more entertaining game to watch than you might think.
Steelers 33, Giants 30
- Tennessee Titans at Denver Broncos (+2.5): Imagine the sphincter tightening in Denver when the Titans added Jadeveon Clowney to attack human penalty machine/left tackle Garrett Bolles. It’s not nearly as bad as the Broncos losing Von Miller to a torn Achilles this week, but the Titans adding the top remaining free agent on the market just in time to attack the Broncos’ weak point is disconcerting for the home team. Clowney isn’t a dominant sack master but he does help those around him get much better paths to the QB. I suspect the Denver defense might rally around itself to cover for the fallen All-Pro for a week, but even that might not be enough.
Titans 26, Broncos 14