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2022 NFL Game Picks: Week 1

Last year: 182-102-1



Thursday, September 8 | 8:20 PM ET | NBC


The Rams are obviously the defending Super Bowl champions, but I think it was a very smart move by Sean McVay to get all the ceremonial stuff out of the way in the offseason—allowing the team to fully focus on beating the Bills to open the 2022 campaign. In turn, the pressure is arguably on Buffalo as the overwhelming Super Bowl favorite (everyone on NFL Network picked them for example) in addition to being the road favorite tonight. Both sides will have had maximum preparation time for this heavyweight battle, but Tre’Davious White (knee) not being available makes it a significant challenge to contain Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson for 60 minutes. That said, Josh Allen played out of his mind in the postseason, has already proven he can torch the Los Angeles defense (five total touchdowns in a 2020 victory), and won’t be deterred by a big stage. With two-time Super Bowl champion Von Miller switching sides to close games for the Bills in the fourth quarter, I like them to start 1-0 for what could be the start of a special season.


Winner: Buffalo Bills



Sunday, September 11 | 1:00 PM ET | FOX


Matt Ryan has been Atlanta’s starting quarterback in the opener for each of the past 14 seasons (not a surprise with just three missed games in his career), so this weekend will be the start of a new era with Marcus Mariota under center in an NFC South clash. The way Mariota ran in the preseason—almost as if to show he has no intentions of ever being a backup quarterback again—has me thinking the Falcons can be a dangerous, under-the-radar team in a top-heavy conference. On defense, veteran cornerback Casey Hayward was a great addition to pair with A.J. Terrell, and they will be tested early versus Michael Thomas, Chris Olave, and Jarvis Landry. For the secondary of the Saints, they need to adjust to not having safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, but Marshon Lattimore, Paulson Adebo, Bradley Roby, Tyrann Mathieu, Marcus Maye, and P.J. Williams gives them one of the NFL’s best groups on the backend. Overall, New Orleans seems to match up well with Atlanta because of their ability to contain Kyle Pitts (held to a combined five receptions for 70 scoreless yards in last year’s matchups)—but they need to make sure Mariota doesn’t beat them with his legs.


Winner: New Orleans Saints



Sunday, September 11 | 1:00 PM ET | CBS


Baker Mayfield taking on his former team makes this one of the week’s most anticipated games, and it will be interesting to see how Carolina’s starter interacts with his former teammates before and during the game (Mayfield had funny comments about Nick Chubb in particular). On the field, the Panthers have an excellent collection of run-after-catch options for Mayfield to target—including a healthy Christian McCaffrey—so he needs to keep his emotions in check and not overshoot his pass-catchers. My primary concern for Carolina this week is rookie left tackle Ikem Ekwonu not being able to slow down Myles Garrett, but head coach Matt Rhule is at least aware of the potential mismatch by saying he expects the Browns to try to take advantage of it (while adding they can’t simply give Ekwonu help all game). I’ve gone back and forth with this pick, so I’ll lean towards revenge winning the day as Mayfield gets the ball out of his hands to avoid disaster and help his offensive line.


Winner: Carolina Panthers



Sunday, September 11 | 1:00 PM ET | FOX


This is another potential revenge game as Justin Fields—who got a shot at San Francisco last season (33-22 loss)—tries to make a Year 2 leap and prove they made a mistake in taking Trey Lance over him in the 2021 NFL Draft. The offensive line for the 49ers was a concern over the summer, but maybe getting All-Pro Trent Williams in the lineup after he was understandably put on ice in the preseason will elevate the entire unit, and Lance’s mobility is the one clear advantage he has over Jimmy Garoppolo if the pass protection breaks down. The status of George Kittle (groin) is extremely important for what could be a low-scoring affair, but as long as Lance doesn’t make any major mistakes, I’d imagine DeMeco Ryans’ defense will get to Fields enough to win the field position battle and come away with a Week 1 victory.


Winner: San Francisco 49ers



Sunday, September 11 | 1:00 PM ET | CBS


Joe Burrow and the defending AFC champion Bengals were able to get the better of Pittsburgh in both matchups last season by a combined score of 65-20—but you know Mike Tomlin has been reminding his guys of those results to make sure they are ready to play. Mitchell Trubisky was on the other end of the Steelers pulling off a Week 1 upset in 2021 (backing up Josh Allen in a 23-16 loss for Buffalo), and he was very sharp in the preseason, which might have gone overlooked based on how first-round pick Kenny Pickett played. The other major offensive additions for Pittsburgh this offseason were right guard James Daniels and rookie wideout George Pickens, and Pickens could make a quick impact with the skillset to take advantage of Eli Apple on the outside. Also, Chase Claypool playing more in the slot could be advantageous versus five-foot-nine Mike Hilton, and the defense can be suffocating after knocking the rust off in the third exhibition. All that said, the Bengals made impact additions of their own to prevent a Super Bowl hangover, and I’d keep an eye on Hayden Hurst if the Steelers are overly focused on stopping Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins.


Winner: Cincinnati Bengals



Sunday, September 11 | 1:00 PM ET | FOX


They are coming into the season on different levels as organizations—Philadelphia having made the playoffs and Detroit fighting to reach three wins last year—but the arrow is pointing up for both the Eagles and Lions in 2022. Jalen Hurts will only continue to improve as a passer with more experience, and the receiving duo of A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith could quickly make a case for the best in football if they play up to their respective ceilings. Detroit has similarly stocked up with playmakers compared to a season ago, but No. 12 overall pick Jameson Williams (knee) might not make his debut until midseason, and Jared Goff won’t have an easy time on Sunday trying to attack Darius Slay and James Bradberry. Hard Knocks and the belief in the Lions in general makes it a difficult choice, but the Eagles have more talent—and it matches up well versus the identity Detroit wants to have.


Winner: Philadelphia Eagles



Sunday, September 11 | 1:00 PM ET | CBS


The Texans did not have fun facing Indianapolis last season—losing 31-3 and then 31-0 while allowing Jonathan Taylor to rush for 143+ yards and multiple scores in both games. It’s a curious move for Houston to not have No. 15 overall pick Kenyon Green in the starting lineup yet, but he and Laremy Tunsil can eventually form a dominant left side of the line to open holes for fourth-round runner Dameon Pierce, and controlling the clock with the running game is the best way to combat Taylor’s ability to takeover for Indy. At quarterback, Davis Mills is fortunate to have the stability of offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton staying with the team (promoted to the role under Lovie Smith), and he’s playing to prove himself as the clear long-term answer with general manager Nick Caserio likely having one eye on the 2023 draft class. Although the puzzle pieces are starting to come together for the Texans, it might take some time to consistently knock off teams led by steady veterans like Matt Ryan.


Winner: Indianapolis Colts



Sunday, September 11 | 1:00 PM ET | CBS


The rivalry between New England and Miami gets some new blood with the young, eccentric Mike McDaniel being hired as the Dolphins head coach this offseason—but I think the Patriots are simply happy they won’t have to deal with former Bill Belichick pupil Brian Flores anymore after he won four of the five past matchups. McDaniel has never-before-seen speed on offense with Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, and Raheem Mostert on the roster, though, and his creativity getting the better of the first battle with Belichick is possible. However, the overlooked storyline for this game and the early-season outlook for Miami in general is Byron Jones (ankle) being on injured reserve—which makes them much easier to throw against with former first-round cornerback Noah Igbinoghene not yet living up to his potential. I’m expecting a run-heavy approach with opportunistic shots to Nelson Agholor for the New England offense, and Pats corner Jonathan Jones has the speed/confidence to contend with Hill defensively.


Winner: New England Patriots



Sunday, September 11 | 1:00 PM ET | CBS


On the heels of an offseason that was universally praised by the media, the pressure is on for the Jets—who have gone from a 7-9 team in the first season for Joe Douglas to a team that’s won six games over the past two seasons while having the second- and third-worst point differentials in team history. I don’t see what good “winning” the offseason does if you are out of contention by Halloween, so results need to be there for New York fans to have real faith about the franchise being headed in the right direction. This week, Joe Flacco will start versus the franchise he helped win a Lombardi Trophy with, and the receivers of the Jets have notably sounded like they are pumped to have the 37-year-old under center. There will be a lot of questions if Flacco plays well over the next three weeks with Zach Wilson (knee) out—especially if Wilson comes back and struggles versus the Steelers, Dolphins, and Packers starting in Week 4.


Winner: Baltimore Ravens



Sunday, September 11 | 1:00 PM ET | FOX


Jaguars-Commanders might not be a matchup that many are excited about, but there is underrated firepower on both sides—including Travis Etienne, Christian Kirk, and Jahan Dotson either making their NFL or team debut this weekend. It’s also the first ever game for the rebranded “Commanders” franchise, and their success depends heavily on the play of Carson Wentz after he was acquired for a couple of Day 2 picks during an offseason where there were quite a few options available. The former Eagles starter has no excuses leading a team that has Terry McLaurin and Dotson on the outside, and the offense as a whole needs to play well early in the year with Chase Young (knee) missing on defense. Because of that key loss for Washington, the Jags might be more likely to use Trevor Lawrence as a runner, and something tells me Doug Pederson will get off to a hot start after a year away from the game.


Winner: Jacksonville Jaguars



Sunday, September 11 | 4:25 PM ET | FOX


I was considering the Giants as a “sleeper” team in the NFC for much of the offseason, but recent comments made by new general manager Joe Schoen about the state of the team—essentially saying that they’re looking ahead to 2023 because of the financial state of the roster—have caused my optimism to drop. Wink Martindale’s unit can still make things difficult on opponents thanks to a stout defensive front, but Derrick Henry will be an unenviable first challenge, and Tennessee will look to attack cornerback Aaron Robinson when they air it out. If the Giants are going to exceed expectations in 2022, it will be due to the tackle duo of Andrew Thomas and Evan Neal opening holes for Saquon Barkley, Daniel Jones becoming a reliable starter under Brian Daboll, and the pass rush being jolted by Kayvon Thibodeaux (knee) whenever he makes his debut. I also want to throw out slot corner Darnay Holmes as a name to watch this season; the former UCLA standout was apparently one of New York’s best players in camp and has All-Pro ability in my opinion.


Winner: Tennessee Titans



Sunday, September 11 | 4:25 PM ET | CBS


The Cardinals blew out the Titans in last year’s opener and will try to start fast again for a probable shootout—but there are some injury issues already impacting them with Zach Ertz (calf), Justin Push (neck), Rodney Hudson (not injury related), and Markus Golden (toe) all being labeled as game-time decisions by the team’s official website and/or Kliff Kingsbury. That’s not even to mention J.J. Watt dealing with a calf injury that Kingsbury called “day-to-day” and new cornerback Trayvon Mullen (toe) missing practice on Wednesday. Basically, it almost always takes a team’s “A-game” to beat Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, so the key players for Arizona being out or limited would put a lot on the shoulders of Kyler Murray. I’m excited to see the connection between Murray and Marquise Brown (who went for a 6/113/1 line in a 36-35 win over the Chiefs last year), but Mahomes and the new-look, get-everyone-involved passing attack will be a challenge for the Cardinals.


Winner: Kansas City Chiefs



Sunday, September 11 | 4:25 PM ET | CBS


Sunday’s late afternoon matchup between the Raiders and Chargers being anything close to the final regular season game of 2021 would be a tremendous outcome for football fans, and it will be the first battle of the year in a loaded AFC West. The Chargers not having prized free agent addition J.C. Jackson (ankle) at cornerback isn’t a good sign with Davante Adams coming to town, but the offensive line for Las Vegas is still a huge question mark—and Khalil Mack gives Joey Bosa a running mate to avoid consistent double teams. On the other side of the ball, Los Angeles keeping Mike Williams on a three-year, $60-million deal was a necessary move to build on the connection Justin Herbert had with him, and the team would be wise to funnel Williams double-digit targets every week. I always get worried about picking LA because of their overwhelming use of analytics being a detriment, but they’ve had nine months to reflect on the Week 18 loss that kept them out of the playoffs.


Winner: Los Angeles Chargers



Sunday, September 11 | 4:25 PM ET | FOX


The status of Allen Lazard (ankle) is not looking good after back-to-back DNPs at practice, but that opens the door for Sammy Watkins to continue his Week 1 legend as the No. 1 target for Aaron Rodgers, and Matt LaFleur’s offense has routinely shown that it can adjust to missing pieces. Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon will each be a massive part of the game plan—which should be a weekly fixture in 2022—and fourth-round rookie Romeo Doubs seems more than ready to start if Lazard is indeed out. So, the Vikings might need to get into a shootout if they want to keep up with the back-to-back NFL MVP, but Green Bay having shutdown cornerback Jaire Alexander healthy to pair with Eric Stokes and Rasul Douglas makes the Packers perhaps the biggest challenge of the year for Kirk Cousins. I wouldn’t anticipate a repeat of last year when Green Bay came out flat in Week 1.


Winner: Green Bay Packers



Sunday, September 11 | 8:20 PM ET | NBC


Last year’s season opener between the Cowboys and Buccaneers was a back-and-forth classic with Dak Prescott doing everything possible to get a win in his first game back from the 2020 ankle injury, but 1:24 being left on the clock following a go-ahead field goal was unsurprisingly too much time with Tom Brady on the other side of the field. Dak should again air it out with a pass-heavy gameplan on Sunday night (58 attempts in last year’s matchup), but the Bucs only have to worry about CeeDee Lamb as a headlining wideout with Noah Brown (who I think could be in line for a big game) and rookie Jalen Tolbert replacing Amari Cooper (13/139/2 line last season) and Michael Gallup (knee). An expanded role for Tony Pollard should help while Tampa Bay’s run defensive contains the traditional touches from Ezekiel Elliott, but can Prescott outduel Brady for what could be the GOAT’s final season? An offense with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin (if active), Julio Jones, Russell Gage, and Leonard Fournette could prove to be too much for Dallas to pull off the upset.


Winner: Tampa Bay Buccaneers



Monday, September 12 | 8:15 PM ET | ESPN/ABC/ESPN2


“Revenge” seems to be a theme for the Week 1 slate, and Broncos-Seahawks pits Russell Wilson versus his former team with each side having something to prove. Strictly looking at the quarterback advantage for Denver, they are deservedly a touchdown favorite despite being on the road, and I’d assume there are many Seattle fans that are still very supportive of their former quarterback—who will hopefully get a nice ovation. When the game starts, though, the homefield advantage for the Seahawks (particularly in primetime) should be a significant factor, and it’s not like the team doesn’t have talented players on both sides of the ball. To make it a homecoming to forget for Wilson, Seattle needs to feature Rashaad Penny, hit on play-action shots to DK Metcalf/Tyler Lockett, and be completely unpredictable on defense versus a quarterback they know as well as anyone.


Winner: Denver Broncos