2018 record: 161-104-2
2017 record: 185-82
GB @ CHI | THU 8:20 PM ET | NBC
The NFL’s 100th season kicks off with the league’s oldest rivalry, as the Chicago Bears—who are the only remaining team to exist a century ago—will host the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field. Both sides should come out fired up, and it will be fun to see an experienced offense (led by Aaron Rodgers) face an established defense (led by Khalil Mack) for half the game and an emerging offense (led by Mitchell Trubisky) take on a promising defense (led by multiple young stars) for the other half. Rodgers has a 16-5 record against the Bears in his career, but Chicago was able to get to him five times in a 24-17 victory last December, and new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano should be able to pick up where Vic Fangio left off—especially if Roquan Smith and Leonard Floyd turn into undeniable difference-makers. I expect nothing less than a down-to-the-wire finish, but for the Bears’ sake, it hopefully won’t be decided on a late field goal.
Winner: Chicago Bears
LAR @ CAR | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
The best part about Jared Goff’s record-breaking contract extension—which includes $110 million guaranteed—is that all the doubters were clearly proven wrong in thinking Sean McVay wanted a different quarterback to operate his offense. Anyone who actually watches can tell that Goff is a top-tier quarterback, and even before the new deal, I thought the passing attack would be opened up in 2019 based on how last season ended with a disappointing, low-scoring Super Bowl loss. Carolina’s front seven should be much better this year as they switch to a 3-4 scheme with Gerald McCoy and No. 16 overall pick Brian Burns added to the defense, but I still have worries about the secondary holding up against LA’s aggressive aerial assault. Also, the Panthers will be tested on the offensive line by Aaron Donald and company; look for Ogbonnia Okoronkwo to make an impact this season as an explosive pass-rusher off the bench.
Winner: Los Angeles Rams
WAS @ PHI | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
It’s a scary thought, but the Eagles arguably have more talent on this year’s team than they did in 2017 (when they won the Super Bowl) or 2018 (when they looked prime for another Super Bowl run). Everything now rests on Carson Wentz, and while he needs to stay healthy, it shouldn’t come at the cost of dialing back the playmaking ability that made him an MVP candidate two years ago. Finding the balance will be key, and he could be unleashed immediately to attack Washington’s secondary rather than their underrated run defense. Perhaps the Redskins will still surprise, but several months ago, they looked like a surprise contender to me until the losses of linebacker Reuben Foster (knee) and left tackle Trent Williams (holdout, for now). Anything can happen in a Week 1 matchup of division foes, but a slow start by Philly’s offense is the only way I see this game still being undecided late in the fourth quarter.
Winner: Philadelphia Eagles
BUF @ NYJ | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
If Josh Allen and Sam Darnold both reach their potential in 2019 and beyond, this could be an awesome, 15-year rivalry between two signal-callers that are friends off the field. Almost no one is talking about the Bills (probably because the conversation would inevitably be centered around Allen, who looks like a superstar-in-the-making despite supposedly not being ready to see an NFL field for several seasons because his college completion percentage was too low), but I think they will make the playoffs, and Allen is a dark-horse MVP candidate. The Jets can also contend for a wild card spot, but their fatal flaw is obvious before the season even starts, as the cornerback group—with or without Trumaine Johnson (hamstring)—looks like one of the worst overall position groups in football. I don’t expect Allen to go out and throw for 350 yards, but new weapons John Brown and Cole Beasley should have big games.
Winner: Buffalo Bills
ATL @ MIN | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
The Vikings have the same headlining defensive talent that they’ve had over the past few years, but could their star already be faded following a disappointing 2018 season? Coming from someone who believed Xavier Rhodes was the NFL’s top cornerback for multiple years, I am concerned he may have lost his mojo a bit, and he’s going to be thrown right into the fire against Julio Jones on Sunday. On offense, Minnesota is making a hardline switch to a run-heavy philosophy built around Dalvin Cook, which will hopefully take the pressure off Kirk Cousins with more quick-strike, play-action throws to Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. However, Atlanta’s defense has the Deion Jones and Keanu Neal back as leaders up the middle, and I think the Falcons are ready to rebound from an injury-riddled year to reestablish themselves among NFC’s elite.
Winner: Atlanta Falcons
BAL @ MIA | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Baltimore beat up on Nathan Peterman and the Bills last season in the opener (a 47-3 victory), and now they have a chance to do the same against Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Dolphins. Overall, I think Brian Flores will eventually get the franchise turned around for Miami, but it’s going to take time, and they might not know what hit them this week on either side of the ball—particularly with a creative, never-before-seen offensive system being revealed in Lamar Jackson’s first full year as a starter. I know it’s a new staff with some personnel changes, but the Dolphins really struggled against mobile quarterbacks in 2018, and the weakness of Jackson (throwing outside the numbers) won’t need to be tested since Miami is much weaker over the middle than on the outside (where they have Xavien Howard and Eric Rowe). Plus, I’m not sure how much Lamar will even need to throw if the running game if effective enough and the defense dominates.
Winner: Baltimore Ravens
KC @ JAX | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
The Jaguars were still thought to be a Super Bowl contender when they took on the Chiefs last year at Arrowhead Stadium, but the game ended up being the beginning of their demise, as the 30-14 defeat led to a seven-game losing streak. That said, the matchup was technically a two-possession game in a hostile environment despite seven turnovers (including a couple of turnover on downs) by a Blake Bortles-led offense, and the Jags will now have the steady-handed Nick Foles at the controls. Also, Leonard Fournette—who looked slimmer this summer—didn’t play in last season’s loss, and an old-school offense is what Kansas City most struggled with in 2018. I wasn’t sure this group would work for Jacksonville, but Josh Allen somehow falling to them at the No. 7 pick in April’s draft might be the perfect piece to keep everything together, and the start may be this weekend.
Winner: Jacksonville Jaguars
TEN @ CLE | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
What kind of team will the Titans be in 2019? If they make good on their promise to feed Derrick Henry like they did to close out last season, I’ll like their chances to be playing in January. If not, the foundation could crumble and cause things to go south in a hurry. This week, Tennessee will be the first team to take on the contending Browns, and an underrated defense combined with a 247-pound runner may be a reality check for Cleveland after plenty of talking in the offseason. Whoever jumps out to an early lead will have a clear advantage to keep the ball on the ground, but a close game could come down to the Titans secondary against Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, and Rashard Higgins; Tennessee should be able to double OBJ with Adoree’ Jackson staying in his hip while Logan Ryan takes Landry and Malcolm Butler takes Higgins. No matter who wins, you can be sure the Browns will either be winning it all or going 0-16 based on Monday’s analysis.
Winner: Tennessee Titans
IND @ LAC | SUN 4:05 PM ET | CBS
The star power has really been sucked out of this game with Andrew Luck retiring for Indianapolis and Melvin Gordon (holdout), Derwin James (foot), and Russell Okung (pulmonary embolism) all absent for the Chargers, but it should still be a really good game between two playoff teams from a season ago. The Colts are going to rely on Marlon Mack to carry them behind a dominant offensive line, and Jacoby Brissett should be able to have success considering the talent around him. Los Angeles, on the other hand, will have a backfield split with Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson replacing Gordon, and I think we may see that their 4-0 record last season without the star runner isn’t indicative of his value to the team or his overall talent. In general, this feels like a game where both offenses will want to play more conservatively while picking their downfield shots, which could play into Indy’s hands in a welcoming road game.
Winner: Indianapolis Colts
CIN @ SEA | SUN 4:05 PM ET | CBS
The Bengals will have the opposite of a friendly opener, as the fans at CenturyLink Field never makes things easy on opponents. Maybe Cincinnati can surprise if new head coach Zac Taylor has some tricks up his sleeve in his debut, but the Seahawks might be able to play keep-away by simply feeding Chris Carson (22.5 attempts per game over the final four weeks last year) and featuring Tyler Lockett out of the slot. Andy Dalton probably doesn’t have the firepower to keep up without A.J. Green (ankle), so the Bengals should try to slow things down and hope Russell Wilson and his guys comes out a little slow, which wouldn’t be a shock if history is any suggestion (.583% winning percentage in September; .691% winning in October through January). Still, Cincinnati needs to win the turnover battle on the road, and even that might not be enough.
Winner: Seattle Seahawks
SF @ TB | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX
Tampa Bay is a difficult team to evaluate because they obviously have great skill-position players, and I am a big fan of the Bruce Arians/Todd Bowles combination—but it’s just tough to be optimistic about them based on what we’ve seen out of Jameis Winston so far in his career. San Francisco’s retooled defensive line will surely be hoping to get to the former No. 1 overall pick, so Sunday will be the first real evaluation Arians will get of his quarterback when the games count. If Winston reverts back to old habits and is reckless with the ball in the pocket or tosses a prayer up that results in an interception, the Bucs will be in trouble not only this week, but all year. Tampa Bay should throw a ton (and more opportunities will inevitably lead to more mistakes), but I think moving Chris Godwin to the slot is a sign that the offense will be more selective in their aggressive, downfield throws than it was when Arians had Carson Palmer in Arizona. I’ll go with the home team in a toss up.
Winner: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
NYG @ DAL | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX
The NFC East is being called a two-horse race between Dallas and Philadelphia, but I wouldn’t sleep on the Giants making some noise and competing for a playoff spot in Pat Shurmur’s second season at the helm. Everyone quickly pivoted from “Dave Gettleman is dumb for drafting Daniel Jones” to “The Giants are dumb for not starting Daniel Jones,” but no matter who is under center, New York fans should be excited about the talent all over the roster—particular rookie additions Dexter Lawrence and Deandre Baker on defense. The Cowboys will likely feature Ezekiel Elliott if he’s even close to “game shape,” but the sledding won’t be as easy as people are making it out to be with Lawrence, Dalvin Tomlinson, and B.J. Hill up front (Zeke was already averaging a modest 4.0 yards per carry in his career against the Giants). Dallas is a touchdown favorite, but I’m leaning towards the Giants making a statement to open the season.
Winner: New York Giants
DET @ ARI | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX
The Monday night game between the Texans and Saints could be really high-scoring, too, but Lions-Cardinals looks like the most likely shootout on the Week 1 slate in my opinion. Detroit should undoubtedly be more prepared than they were in Matt Patricia’s coaching debut last year when they allowed then-rookie Sam Darnold to put up 48 points against them, but Arizona’s offense is going to be very creative and present challenges to everyone they face early in the season with basically no tape out on them. And while I’m not sold on Kliff Kingsbury—who went 35-40 at Texas Tech—being a successful head coach, I do think he will at least have statistical success on offense with Kyler Murray being able to make defenders cover the entire field with both his arm and legs. Patrick Peterson (suspension) not being there could allow Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones to go off, but I think the Cardinals have enough secrecy on their side to win at home.
Winner: Arizona Cardinals
PIT @ NE | SUN 8:20 PM ET | NBC
New England has basically owned the Steelers this decade, but Pittsburgh seems to have a much more professional, take-care-of-business approach compared to previous years now that all the distractions are gone, and the Patriots aren’t usually an unstoppable force early in the season as they find their identity. On defense, Bill Belichick will be able to bracket JuJu Smith-Schuster (both outside and in the slot) and potentially put Stephon Gilmore on Donte Moncrief, so I think the Steelers would be wise to give James Washington a significant role out of the gate because he has the game-breaking ability to take advantage of one-on-one matchups. And on the other side of the ball, third-round pick Justin Layne gives Pittsburgh a guy that is somewhat in the same world as Josh Gordon in terms of size and athleticism, though he may not start until a potential playoff rematch (which I think will happen). While I like the Steelers’ long-term outlook, there’s no chance I pick against New England as they raise a championship banner.
Winner: New England Patriots
HOU @ NO | MON 7:10 PM ET | ESPN
You can bet the New Orleans fans will be fired up for a primetime matchup at the Superdome, as Monday Night Football will be their first shot at redemption after the second heartbreaking playoff loss in as many seasons. The Texans have as much firepower as anyone to possibly go into tough stadium and pull off a primetime upset, but the offensive line is still a concern after being pieced together on the fly (including a blockbuster trade for new left tackle Laremy Tunsil), and that could lead to multiple communication issues—potentially causing not only pre-snap penalties because of the crowd noise, but also busted assignments that could put Deshaun Watson in danger. Even if the offense is able to cut through the noise and put up points, I don’t see Houston stopping Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas, and Jared Cook with Drew Brees throwing pinpoint passes on his favorite night of the week (50 touchdowns in 23 MNF appearances).
Winner: New Orleans Saints
DEN @ OAK | MON 10:20 PM ET | ESPN
The Raiders are apparently suspending superstar receiver Antonio Brown after a confrontation with general manager Mike Mayock on Wednesday, and as of this writing, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it result in anything from Jon Gruden convincing Mayock that they need AB on Monday night to Brown making good on his previous retirement comments and stepping away from the game. The most likely scenario may be outright release, but it’s difficult to imagine Gruden being on board with that because it was essentially his move and would mean the team lost a third- and fifth-round pick for a summer of headaches and no on-field production. Hopefully we get more clarity in the coming days, but it’s a shame that the drama is overshadowing what should be a good matchup to close out Week 1—and it would have been great to see Brown face off against his rival Chris Harris. Instead, the main matchup to watch is right tackle Trent Brown versus Von Miller, as their battle will be key not only this week, but over the next few years. With or without AB, I think Gruden has a game plan to start 1-0.
Winner: Oakland Raiders