We’re back! Another NFL season is here, and that means it’s time for the first weekly forecast for the slate of games.
Now in the 13th season, Football Meteorology combined my two passions. Both involve a lot of educated guesswork and data interpretation. Sometimes it’s easier to predict the weather than it is the NFL docket. That tends to be most true for Week 1, where there is no real baseline for so many teams.
Week 1 is rife with peril in predictions. Take last year’s first week, when the Jacksonville Jaguars beat the Miami Dolphins. It would be the only game the Jaguars won all season, and the loss helped keep the Dolphins out of the postseason.
With that in mind, the commentary on Week 1 games is fairly light. Enjoy the forecast and especially enjoy the return of the NFL to our lives this weekend!
All lines are from BetOnline as of 9/8 at 6:45 p.m.
- Dallas Cowboys at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-9.5): The Buccaneers bring every starter back from the squad that won the Super Bowl. Aside from the obvious talent and success factor, the intact starting group also equates to continuity heading into the season. That’s critical for Week 1 and it’s something the Cowboys can’t match. Losing Pro Bowl RG Zack Martin to COVID protocols is a massive blow for the Dallas offense facing off against Vita Vea, Ndamukong Suh & Co.
Buccaneers 24, Cowboys 14
- Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills (-6.5): Since the Steelers opened 11-0 last season, they’ve lost five of six (including postseason). The second of those losses came to this Buffalo team, a game dominated by the Bills defense. Based on the offensive line in Pittsburgh and the Bills’ energetic defensive front, I see no reason why this outcome will be any different.
Bills 20, Steelers 9
- San Francisco 49ers at Detroit Lions (+7.5): Detroit will be fired up and ready to roll in Dan Campbell’s coaching debut. The national focus is on Campbell’s enthusiastic press conferences or perhaps Jared Goff’s shot at redemption while being saddled with the NFL’s worst receiving corps, but the Lions invigorated defense could be a legit problem for the 49ers. If the impossibly good-looking Jimmy Garoppolo isn’t sharp, Detroit will make him pay. Upset alert? Upset alert!
Lions 22, 49ers 20
- Minnesota Vikings at Cincinnati Bengals (+3.5): As bullish as I still am on Joe Burrow, opening against a revamped Vikings defense is a tough way to return from a devastating injury. The pressure is on rookie WR Ja’Marr Chase after his bad case of the yips in preseason, too. The Vikings offense should be one of the NFL’s best, and asking Burrow, Chase and the iffy OL to keep pace right off the bat is a tall order.
Vikings 31, Bengals 21
- New York Jets at Carolina Panthers (-5): The Sam Darnold grudge game comes early, with the new Panthers QB facing his old Jets squad. I’d like it better for Darnold if he had a week or two to get more comfortable with his Carolina teammates. Then again, he might not see a lesser group of cornerbacks all year than the collection of naifs the Jets will trot out. Darnold gets a big day in the sun. Carolina is this week’s survivor fantasy game pick.
Panthers 33, Jets 21
- Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans (+3): Trevor Lawrence leads the Jaguars into Houston in Urban Meyer’s NFL coaching debut. The Texans are a mismatched hodgepodge of past-their-prime vets and not-ready-for-primetime youngsters, an optimal foe for the new-look Jaguars to operate against. This might not be a pretty game by football standards. I’m curious if Meyer’s Jaguars can “win ugly”, something that franchise has not been able to lately. Good opportunity for the bold to use the Jaguars in the survivor fantasy games, though I’m not that bold on Jacksonville.
Jaguars 17, Texans 15
- Arizona Cardinals at Tennessee Titans (-3): Watching the Cardinals and not seeing Larry Fitzgerald at wide receiver is going to take some getting used to. Fitzgerald was out there thriving for all but nine games over the last 17 seasons in Arizona. Only Jerry Rice caught more passes or posted more receiving yards than Fitzgerald in NFL history. Seeing Julio Jones, who could someday threaten Fitzgerald’s legendary productivity if he can stay healthy, in a Titans uniform instead of the Falcons duds will also take some adjustment. I like Julio to catch six passes for 88 yards and a TD in his Nashville debut.
Titans 32, Cardinals 24
- Los Angeles Chargers at Washington Football Team (NL): This game is a pick’em from the sportsbooks. If the professionals don’t have any idea who is going to win, you probably shouldn’t have a lot of confidence in your pick, either. I lean to the Football Team because of their defense, which could be the NFL’s best. In confidence pools this is the game valued No. 16.
Football Team 23, Chargers 20
- Philadelphia Eagles at Atlanta Falcons (-3.5): Bird fight! Don’t stand below this game out of fear of being bombed. Atlanta’s healthy defense is too much for the debut of the Nick Sirianni/Jalen Hurts Eagles.
Falcons 27, Eagles 14
- Seattle Seahawks at Indianapolis Colts (+3): It’s been an oddly quiet offseason in Seattle. I expect them to announce their presence with authority, Nuke Laloosh-style. The rose goes in the front, big guy…
Seahawks 31, Colts 13
- Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs (-6.5): Two of the NFL’s top rosters meet in Kansas City. It’s a tough spot for the Browns to start, though their impressive continuity on offense and radically upgraded middle-of-field defense (John Johnson, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Grant Delpit) certainly gives them a chance. It’s hard to ignore that Andy Reid has never lost to the Browns, or that he’s 7-1 in Week 1 as head coach of the Chiefs, or that Patrick Mahomes has never lost in September. This should be the most entertaining game of the weekend even if it doesn’t go the way of my hometown Browns.
Chiefs 28, Browns 24
- Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots (-2.5): It’s the only divisional matchup on the entire slate, and the stakes are unusually high. The loser here is already looking up at the winner, and both teams figure to be chasing the Bills all year in the AFC East. The Mac Jones vs. Tua Tagovailoa hype is a fun setup, but don’t sleep on the mirror-image defenses. Both New England and Miami are built with the defensive strength in the back, not the front.
Patriots 24, Dolphins 21
- Denver Broncos at New York Giants (+3): Denver’s defense figures to be a real problem for a lot of teams, but one like the Giants and New York’s OL woes will really feel the pain. Saquon Barkley might want to wait a week to come back from his injury…
Broncos 20, Giants 13
- Green Bay Packers at New Orleans Saints (+4): New Orleans is still dealing with the aftereffects of Hurricane Ida, so the vagabond Saints will host Green Bay in Jacksonville. The Saints have been practicing in Dallas. I like the concept of rallying around one another in a time of adversity, especially for one week and one game. I don’t like that concept for a team that had QB uncertainty this summer, and I really don’t like it against the loaded Packers. Green Bay brings back a lot of critical pieces from the team that appeared in the NFC Championship after each of the last two seasons. Tough draw at a tough time for the Saints.
Packers 29, Saints 17
- Chicago Bears at Los Angeles Rams (-9): The anxiously anticipated debut of Matthew Stafford with the Rams gets the national broadcast treatment. I’d feel better about the Bears chances if they matched L.A. and started Justin Fields for his debut, but Chicago is rolling with Andy Dalton. I appreciate Dalton. I think his career has been underrated and his skills overly criticized. But when the Bears have such a precocious talent in Fields waiting, and the opponent has Aaron Donald to flush the pocket, it’s deflating to see Dalton thrown to the wolves, err, Rams…
Rams 26, Bears 16
- Baltimore Ravens at Las Vegas Raiders (+4.5): The Raiders opening on Monday Night Football seems to be emerging as an odd tradition. This is the third time in the last four years. The underappreciated Raiders defense has the speed to contain Lamar Jackson, and I think this is one of the matchups where the Ravens really miss RB J.K. Dobbins.
Raiders 24, Ravens 20
Ohio State 36, Oregon 27
Iowa 25, Iowa State 24
Notre Dame 34, Toledo 20
Michigan 20, Washington 14
Utah 31, BYU 28
Alabama 76, Mercer 6