BAL (1-0) @ CIN (1-0) | THU 8:20 PM ET | NFL Network
Week 1 is always the toughest week of the year to pick games because we haven’t seen teams hit the field for games that count (just look at Buccaneers-Saints and Jets-Lions), but Week 2 doesn’t look much easier. And as if Thursday Night Football didn’t make things unpredictable enough, two AFC North teams doing battle can seemingly go in any direction—from shootout to blowout to slugfest. Of course, Cincinnati got some revenge for a 20-0 loss in the 2017 season opener by knocking Baltimore out of the playoff race with a 31-27 victory on New Year’s Eve, so this is actually a rubber match in more than one way with the all-time series tied at 22-22. I think the stout Ravens front will want to make amends for the way last season ended by containing Joe Mixon, and Baltimore should put up enough points on the road if Joe Flacco is given a clean pocket against Cincinnati’s talented interior defensive line.
Winner: Baltimore Ravens
CAR (1-0) @ ATL (0-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
A loss to Philadelphia in the season opener was nothing compared to what it cost the Falcons, as star defenders Deion Jones (foot) and Keanu Neal (knee) were both placed on injured reserve. The team expects Jones back this year, but his absence leaves a huge hole in the middle of Dan Quinn’s defense until at least November, which will make things tough with games against dual-threat backs Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara, Joe Mixon, and James Conner (or Le’Veon Bell) over the next four weeks. It will likely be up to Matt Ryan and the offense to pick up the slack (particularly in the red zone) if they want to stay among the NFC’s elite, and I like their chances of bouncing back this Sunday against a Panthers team that they’ve won four of five against. Ryan has thrown for 343 yards per game over that span, and he should look to get Calvin Ridley and Austin Hooper more involved to make defenses pay for doubling Julio Jones. It’s a toss up, but I’m taking the more desperate team at home.
Winner: Atlanta Falcons
IND (0-1) @ WAS (1-0) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Even before they dominated Arizona on both sides of the ball last week, I thought Washington was a legitimate contender in the NFC East with Alex Smith at quarterback and an improved defensive front led by former Alabama standouts Jonathan Williams and Daron Payne. In their team debuts, Smith showed he is the perfect triggerman for Jay Gruden’s offense, and Adrian Peterson was running like it’s 2012 behind the Redskins excellent offensive line; there’s no reason to expect them to slow down against the talent-lacking defense of the Colts, as Malik Hooker will have a difficult time forcing a mistake out of Smith, and rookie linebacker Darius Leonard might struggle with the power of Brandon Scherff and company. If Indy is going to pull off an upset, it will have to be all Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton, who might be able to get behind a secondary that can be susceptible to the deep ball.
Winner: Washington Redskins
HOU (0-1) @ TEN (0-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Similar to Atlanta, the Titans saw their loss compounded with injuries ravaging the roster, but at least Marcus Mariota (elbow) is good to go for Week 2, and Taylor Lewan (concussion) will hopefully be cleared, too. However, veteran tight end Delanie Walker (ankle) is done for the year, which is big loss. So, now down a receiving weapon, I think offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur (who was OC with the Rams in 2017) needs to take a page out of Sean McVay’s book—or just the playbook in general—by feeding Derrick Henry to set up play-action passes for Mariota. Plus, pounding the ball with Henry and Dion Lewis will allow Tennessee’s pass rushers to stay fresh against arguably the worst offensive line in the league, which could lead to a long day for Deshaun Watson after he was consistently under duress in the season opener. Houston has bigger names and perhaps more overall talent than the Titans, but it doesn’t matter if they can’t block. [Note: my pick has been switched to Houston with Marcus Mariota (elbow) set to be limited.]
Winner: Houston Texans
PHI (1-0) @ TB (1-0) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Nick Foles will get at least one more start before Carson Wentz (knee) is ready to make his season debut, and the reigning Super Bowl MVP could go out with fireworks against Tampa Bay’s banged-up secondary. Even at full strength, the Bucs have a very attackable cornerback group, but injuries could force them to start two rookies in Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart, both of whom don’t yet have the cover ability to stick with Nelson Agholor or run with Mike Wallace. Also, it sounds like Doug Pederson is finally going to commit to Jay Ajayi as his workhorse, which I think unlocks Philly’s offensive potential. Defensively, the best thing for the Eagles this week was Ryan Fitzpatrick (417 yards, four touchdowns) going off in the opener, as they won’t be sleepwalking into this matchup like the Saints did. Perhaps the pass rush will have a difficult time getting to Fitzpatrick away from The Linc, but Philly should be able to take care of business if Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and DeSean Jackson (if he plays) don’t go nuts again.
Winner: Philadelphia Eagles
KC (1-0) @ PIT (0-0-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
This game is a must watch for anyone that loves offense, as the Chiefs and Steelers are two of the most explosive teams in the league. Pittsburgh actually held Kansas City in check last year, but adding Sammy Watkins (who went for 4/54/1 in a matchup with the Steelers in 2016) was key, as he brings an added element to the offense. That said, Patrick Mahomes will likely need to put up a lot of points at Heinz Field, and Keith Butler’s zone scheme might be able to confuse the talented 22-year-old in just his third career start. The pressure will be on, too, as last season, the Steelers averaged 29.8 points per game at home, and the Chiefs simply don’t have the personnel to stop any of Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and James Conner—let alone all of them. By Sunday evening, the hype for Kansas City might die down a bit if Pittsburgh enjoys a decisive victory to make up for their Week 1 tie.
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers
MIA (1-0) @ NYJ (1-0) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
People want to continue saying the AFC East is a joke besides New England, but the Dolphins, Jets, and Bills all have the right head coach in charge to at least make it interesting. I mean, Adam Gase is so competitive that he was once suspended from Nick Saban’s recreational basketball game for a week because he took things too seriously, and Todd Bowles has helped New York overachieve since taking over in 2015. As for the players, it was great to see Sam Darnold bounce back from a pick-six on his first career pass attempt, and while he still has a long way to go in proving himself as a franchise quarterback, the early returns are certainly promising. A win this week would leave the Jets just a TNF victory over the Browns away from a 3-0 start, but I’m giving the slight edge to Miami because they have more playmakers and are winners of three-of-four matchups since Gase took over.
Winner: Miami Dolphins
LAC (0-1) @ BUF (0-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
The Chargers need to be wary of an upset as they travel to the east coast to face a team that should have a jolt with Josh Allen making his first career start, but the trek actually hasn’t been as issue for Los Angeles in recent years. Last season, they went 2-2 in cross-country games, and the losses came against New England (21-13) and Jacksonville (20-17). We’ll see if the Bills are able to put up a fight at home after having absolutely no answers for the connection between Philip Rivers and Keenan Allen in 2017—they connected 12 times for 159 yards and two scores—, but the fact that Vontae Davis was a healthy inactive in Week 1 doesn’t bode well for the cover guys behind Tre’Davious White. And while I’ve been all-in on Josh Allen since last year, the No. 7 overall pick will need to put the team on his back with the worst supporting cast in the league around him. Even sans Joey Bosa (foot), Allen would need a heroic performance to top the Chargers.
Winner: Los Angeles Chargers
MIN (1-0) @ GB (1-0) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Breaking news: Aaron Rodgers is good at football. I’m not sure if we’ll ever truly know how serious his knee injury is, but expect Rodgers out there against the rival Vikings after he straight up said, “I’m playing next week,” immediately after the comeback victory over Chicago. The Packers are actually favored at home, but Minnesota’s pass rush might smell blood in the water if No. 12 isn’t moving well and understandably speeds up his internal clock to avoid hits. It’s worth noting that excluding last year’s meeting where Rodgers threw just four passes before breaking his collarbone, the Vikings have combined for 14 sacks over the past three games against Green Bay. With Davante Adams (shoulder) also less than 100% for a matchup with Xavier Rhodes, I’m not sure the offense has enough firepower to keep up with Kirk Cousins and his collection of weapons. Winning the turnover battle will be crucial for the Pack picking up a huge early-season win, but the road team appears to have the advantage this weekend.
Winner: Minnesota Vikings
CLE (0-0-1) @ NO (0-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
You might have seen this already, but Cleveland’s 0-0-1 start is their best since 2004, which probably isn’t as surprising as it should be. They have as much talent as anyone, but I don’t see how fans can be optimistic about the Browns with the current leadership in place; as if Hard Knocks wasn’t enough evidence, look no further than their claim that Josh Gordon wouldn’t start the opener, because not only did he play 69 snaps, but he also quite literally started due to what Hue Jackson called a miscommunication about personnel. To make matters worse, Tyrod Taylor claims he knew Gordon would start the whole time, saying it was the gameplan, and the former All-Pro receiver—who apparently wasn’t aware of that gameplan—even heard coaches talking before the game about him starting. So basically, either the team’s head coach is a liar, or he has absolutely no control and there is a coup being staged against him. Either way, it’s a mess, but as for their opponent, I expect the Saints to be exceedingly focused on both sides of the ball after allowing 48 points to Tampa Bay in the opener.
Winner: New Orleans Saints
DET (0-1) @ SF (0-1) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | FOX
Last week, I called Detroit “the biggest unknown in the league” because they looked so flat in August, but I thought they deserved a clean slate for the regular season under new head coach Matt Patricia. Unfortunately for them, the unpreparedness and overall mediocrity carried over to real games after opening up the season with a 48-17 loss—at home—to Sam Darnold and the Jets, with the lowlights being a 31-point third quarter from New York and four interceptions for Matthew Stafford, who just wasn’t seeing the field. Now, they head west to face the 49ers and an offensive attack that was able to get guys open against Minnesota’s league-best defense in Week 1, so the Lions will need some marked improvements on both sides of the ball to avoid 0-2. Things are never as good or bad as they seem, but if the veterans aren’t buying into Patricia, it could be a long year in the Motor City.
Winner: San Francisco 49ers
ARI (0-1) @ LAR (1-0) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | FOX
The Lions didn’t look good in the preseason and then didn’t look good in opener, but the Cardinals looked great in the preseason and then didn’t look good in the opener. Predictably, casual fans and analysts that didn’t even watch the loss to Washington are getting on Sam Bradford already, but you can add four-time Super Bowl champion Terry Bradshaw to the list of supporters after he said the former No. 1 pick is “as good as anyone” on FOX NFL Kickoff. Arizona simply didn’t get guys open for Bradford in the opener, which forced him to constantly throw into tight coverage. This week, I just hope the Cardinals are able to hold up in protection to keep Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh from crushing the injury-prone quarterback, who will get the ball out of his hands quickly like Derek Carr did in the first half on MNF before going off the rails. If the offense can’t put drives together, though, Steve Wilks’ defense doesn’t have a shot at stopping Jared Goff and Todd Gurley.
Winner: Los Angeles Rams
NE (1-0) @ JAX (1-0) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | CBS
As Omar from The Wire said, “Come at the king, you best not miss.” Jacksonville may have had their shot at New England in the AFC Championship Game last season, but Tom Brady led two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter to overcome a 20-10 deficit and win, 24-20. Brady said he expects it to be an “emotional” game this weekend, and I definitely agree when you consider all the personalities for the Jaguars combined with the trash talk by Jalen Ramsey towards Rob Gronkowski, who has often gotten into personal battles on the field. I’m hoping for some one-on-one matchups between Ramsey and Gronk, but I think the emotion will be mostly one-sided (coming from Jacksonville), which plays to the Patriots’ advantage. If the boisterous corner does end up on the all-time great tight end, I’m not sure he will be able to neutralize him, as many have tried, and all have failed. I expect a close game, but New England dominating throughout wouldn’t be a shock, either, especially with Leonard Fournette (hamstring) questionable.
Winner: New England Patriots
OAK (0-1) @ DEN (1-0) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | CBS
Some are blinded by their unjustified and unexplained hate of Jon Gruden so they don’t feel the same way, but I thought it was awesome to see the Raiders go down the field for a touchdown drive—which culminated with a classic “Chucky” fist pump—to jump out to a 7-0 lead over the Rams. Oakland went into halftime up 13-10, but as stated, Derek Carr fell apart over the final 30 minutes, tossing two interceptions in the 33-13 loss. In Week 2, Amari Cooper (one catch) and Jordy Nelson (three catches) will look to get on track with the re-signing of Martavis Bryant hopefully opening things up for everyone, but the Raiders face a stingy Denver secondary with Von Miller and Bradley Chubb coming off the edge. Still, I think Carr will be much better for the remainder of the season, and I like how Gruden’s squad matches up with the Broncos.
Winner: Oakland Raiders
NYG (0-1) @ DAL (0-1) | SUN 8:20 PM ET | NBC
Sunday Night Football will probably be a low-scoring contest as has been the case for Giants-Cowboys over the past couple seasons, but it will be fun to see Saquon Barkley and Ezekiel Elliott share the field for the first time, which we could see twice a year for the next decade. Barkley couldn’t be contained against the Jaguars in his NFL debut, and Dallas will have a difficult time stopping the game-breaking 21-year-old, who was every bit worth the No. 2 pick in the draft. On the other hand, Zeke found the end zone against Carolina, but it could be tough sledding for him every week until Travis Frederick returns, including in primetime against the defensive trio of Damon Harrison, Dalvin Tomlinson, and rookie B.J. Hill. Overall, I think New York’s clearly superior playmakers and creative coaching staff will be enough to get a close win, which could lead to questions—right or wrong—about Dak Prescott and the Cowboys.
Winner: New York Giants
SEA (0-1) @ CHI (0-1) | MON 8:15 PM ET | ESPN
A hangover for Chicago is definitely possible after the soul-crushing defeat at the hands of Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, but I think they are more likely to come out determined to capitalize on another opportunity in front of a national audience. Matt Nagy’s play-calling was very impressive early on in the opener, and I think Sunday night was a learning experience to maybe keep his foot on the gas a bit more than he did. Against Seattle’s vulnerable secondary, I’d like to see Anthony Miller get more targets along with added emphasis on downfield shots to Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel. For the Seahawks, committing to Chris Carson as their clear lead back is probably coming a week later than it should have, but their biggest worry against the Bears should be keeping Khalil Mack from single-handedly winning the game like he almost did in Week 1. I like Chicago to play a complete game at Soldier Field.
Winner: Chicago Bears
Last week: 7-9
Recommended picks last week: 3-2
Ravens (PK) @ Bengals
Panthers (+6) @ Falcons
Colts @ Redskins (-6)
Texans (-2) @ Titans
Eagles (-3) @ Buccaneers
Chiefs @ Steelers (-4)
Dolphins (+3) @ Jets
Chargers (-7) @ Bills
Vikings (+1) @ Packers
Browns @ Saints (-9)
Lions @ 49ers (-6)
Cardinals (+13) @ Rams
Patriots (-1) @ Jaguars
Raiders (+6) @ Broncos
Giants (+3) @ Cowboys
Seahawks @ Bears (-3.5)
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