So for the past several years I have predicted every matchup in the NFL with varying success. In past years I have had prediction rates with up to 80% accuracy. Last year…not so much. So I am looking for a bounce back year this season
Unfortunately for me, week one is always the hardest one to predict. Almost every team has seemingly improved on paper and with the influx of rookies and movement of free agents, team chemistry and confidence has yet to be established.
Before we begin I want to give full disclosure: I am not a gambling man. I pick the games straight up and do not incorporate the spread. I personally feel that it would be disingenuous to give gambling advice, when I do not personally heed it. But if anyone wants my two cents picking a specific game feel free to message or tweet me.
With all that being said, let us examine the mysteries of the NFL’s first week of the 2016 season:
Carolina Panther @ Denver Broncos
A rematch of last year’s Super Bowl, but with many different faces. The Broncos lost their top two quarterbacks from last year and will be starting Trevor Siemian, in his first career start. They lost playoff hero Malik Jackson to the Jaguars and starting interior linebacker Danny Trevathan to the Bears. Add to the fact that Aqib Talib’s abilities and availability is up in the air due to him shooting himself (whole other article right there) and you have a team that is a shadow of its former self.
On the flip side the Panthers get their number one wideout back in Kelvin Benjamin, which gives the reigning NFL MVP another quality weapon. The Panthers will be without top corners Josh Norman (Redskins) and Charles Tillman (retired), but their front seven on defense are as dominant as ever.
The Broncos may be at home, but more often than not the team with the best quarterback wins. In this matchup, the Panthers not only have the best quarterback, but they have the better overall team. Panthers dominate this one.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Atlanta Falcons
By the end of last season the Bucs looked like a potential playoff team, while the Falcons looked like an organization ready to clean house. But despite the appearances, both of these teams were statistically very similar. Both teams finished within a few yards of each other in both total offense and total defense, both teams’ starting quarterbacks were very close in yardage and touchdowns, and both teams feature elite position players: Doug Martin and Julio Jones respectively.
Two things really stand out to me in this matchup. First is scoring defense. The Bucs allowed 26.1 points per game as opposed to the Falcons who allowed 21.6. That may not seem like a big difference, but those 4.5 are the difference between being ranked 14th and 26th. Secondly is matchups. In this case, the Bucs were so in need of talent in the defensive backfield that they used the 11th overall pick to draft Vernon Hargreaves; but unfortunately for Mr. Hargreaves his first test will be against Julio Jones.
Julio Jones at home against a rookie? I cannot pick against that. Falcons win.
Chicago Bears @ Houston Texans
Last year the Texans sported a top 10 defense, despite having an offense that was inconsistent and distinctly non-threatening. This offseason Houston addressed that issue in a big way. They drafted a wide receiver with their first round pick, signed ultra-fast running back Lamar Miller, and vastly overpaid for Brock Osweiller; but to be fair all of them are big upgrades over what they had.
The Bears on the other hand seem to have gotten worse on what was already a bad offense. They lost their starting running back to the Jets (without a fight), they lost their starting tightend to the Patriots (without a fight), and will be dependent on Jay Cutler to lead drives with an injury-prone group of receivers and a running back who has mediocre hands and an inability to break tackles. A long year for the Bears I fear.
Add to the fact that the Bears’ best defensive player, Parnell McPhee, is starting the year on the PUP list and you have the recipe for a rough week 1. Houston wins big.
Buffalo Bills @ Baltimore Ravens
The Bills have been the unluckiest franchise this offseason. 1st round pick Shaq Lawson out with shoulder surgery, 2nd round pick Reggie Ragland out with a torn ACL, Marcell Dareus suspended for the first four games for violating the substance abuse policy by missing a test, Manny Lawson released after a suspected domestic violence incident, Sammy Watkins is still dealing with a lingering foot injury, and promising running back Karlos Williams was released after showing up to camp overweight and getting suspended for for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
And the Bills in response to a disappointing defense and a lack of team discipline went out and hired Rob Ryan to be defensive coordinator.
Do I even need to list reasons why the Ravens should win this game? Here’s two: they have the home field advantage and the better quarterback. Ravens win.
Green Bay Packers @ Jacksonville Jaguars
I am a big fan of the Jaguars and the way they have built up their team. They already have a very good passing offense, and they bolstered their run game with the addition of Chris Ivory. But their biggest moves occurred on defense. The Jaguars will be starting at least four new impactful starters: Super Bowl winner Malik Jackson, 1st round pick Jalen Ramsey, 2nd round pick (should have been 1st) Myles Jack, and last year’s 1st round pick Dante Fowler Jr.
But here in lies the problem: Aaron Rodgers. I truly believe the three rookies (Jack, Fowler, and Ramsey) will all be very good to great players, but in their first true NFL game I do not think they have the experience and moxie necessary to outplay Aaron Rodgers. It really is that simple. At some point I guarantee Rodgers will throw a deep touchdown to Jordy Nelson, who will be open deep over the middle when Rodgers looks off Ramsey to open a seem up the middle.
Packers will win.
San Diego Chargers @ Kansas City Chiefs
The entire offseason disaster that was the Joey Bosa signing tells you all you need to know about this shamble of a franchise, and why in all likelihood San Diego officials will be unable to get a referendum passed for public funds to fund a new stadium.
The Chiefs on the other hand host one of the great home field advantages in sports, are led by well-tenured coach with a plethora of success, and enough legitimate talent to compete with any team in the league.
The Chargers will get a couple scores off of big plays, because that is what they do, but they do not have the talent nor the infrastructure to be a competitive franchise at this point in time.
Oakland Raiders @ New Orleans Saints
This games is very difficult to choose. The Raiders may have the more well-rounded team and are definitely on the upswing, with a quarterback who may very well take a leap into the elite group. On the other hand, the Saints are consistently among the best offenses in the league, led by a sure-fire hall of fame quarterback who shows no signs of slowing down and have one of the top 3 home field advantages in all of football.
What this game comes down to will be one or two defensive plays. The Saints over the past few seasons have fielded defenses that rank among the worst in NFL history. Smartly, New Orleans opted to go with a new defensive coordinator in Dick Allen, rather continue to treat their defensive players like a human turn-style. But can Allen get this group to buy in and have an impact immediately?
The Raiders were not great themselves. They hovered around the bottom third of all major defensive team statistics and often seemed to come up short in big moments. But unlike the Saints, the Raiders not only had a few impact players, but they added a few more through the draft and free agency.
If this game comes down to one or two major defensive plays then I am picking the Raiders to win, because they have the personnel that can do it and the Saints do not.
Cincinnati Bengals @ New York Jets
This game comes down to one question: can Andy Dalton shoulder the load and single-handedly carry the Bengals to a victory? Two of his top three receiver were lost in free agency, Tyler Eiffert will be out a number of weeks due to injury, and their tandem running backs, Bernard and Hill, while good, have yet to display the ability to consistently dominate a game. Can Dalton utilize A.J. Green and create enough openings for his teammates to pull off a week 1 victory in New York?
I doubt it.
The Jets’ defense was 9th in points allowed and 4th in yards allowed and they are bringing their defense back almost completely intact. Furthermore, they have an offense that is explosive and can consistently keep the defense off the field and on the sideline. The only thing that kept the Jets from being a factor in the playoffs was a season finale meltdown. I do not know if they have conquered those demons, but they should be good enough to win at home in week one.
I like the Jets to take this game.
Cleveland Browns @ Philadelphia Eagles
It is clear to everyone who follows football that the Browns are throwing in the towel on the season. They are stock piling draft picks and resetting the franchise to zero before building it back up. But the Eagles literally just traded away their starting quarterback and are starting their rookie quarterback who expected to enter the season as a third-string option.
Both of these teams are in rebuild mode and if you asked the GMs and owners behind closed doors, I think they would all tell you that they would like to lose this game and get one step closer to the top overall pick at the next draft. But there has to be a winner and I am going with the Eagles because I think they have more talent and they the home team. But it really is a coin flip.
Minnesota Vikings @ Tennessee Titans
This is an incredibly interesting matchup. The Vikings would have been the overwhelming favorite, but the loss of their quarterback a week before the start of the season is devastating. Both teams want this to be a defensive battle with a heavy emphasis on the power running game.
This game literally comes down to strength versus strength. As a general rule I pick teams that have the best quarterback and/or home field advantage. The Titans have both in this instance, but I am breaking my own rules and going with the Vikings. If this game comes to defensive play and power running, then that drastically favors Minnesota powered by their top 5 defense and the league’s leading rusher Adrian Peterson.
Miami Dolphins @ Seattle Seahawks
Well the Dolphins must have pissed somebody off in the NFL headquarters. To start the new season on the road in Seattle is hard enough, but they are also going against one of the hottest quarterbacks in the league after having lost their best defensive back in the offseason.
Hopefully for Miami, Suh starts living up to his contract and Cameron Wake can come back at 100%; but being led into Seattle by a rookie head coach with a quarterback who has yet to truly prove himself is a recipe for disaster. I like Seattle to win this game by a fairly large amount.
New York Giants @ Dallas Cowboys
This could be the game of the week. These two teams are division rivals, which often compensates for a great disparity in talent. The Cowboys have a better offensive line and a rookie running back who I predict will have an amazing year, despite the loss of Tony Romo. Also, Dak Prescott is not acting like your typical rookie. He has a certain swagger bolstered by an incredibly impressive preseason performance. He may be able to shock a lot of people this week by pulling off the victory.
The Giants spent more money this offseason than any team in the NFL and virtually all of it was spent fixing the defensive side of the ball. Personally, I think it was a lot of money wasted. The New York GM is treating his franchise like a fantasy team and he overpaid a lot of average talent, namely Vernon Olivier from the Dolphins.
That being said, the offense of New York should be pretty explosive and the defense should be able to make a few stops on a team led by two rookies. So I am going with the Giants in this one.
Detroit Lions @ Indianapolis Colts
The Lions are one of those few teams that got worse over the offseason. The signing of Anquan Bolden cannot offset the loss of Calvin Johnson. The Colts will be getting Andrew Luck back healthy and bolstered their offensive line, which was the two biggest concerns for the Colts entering the offseason.
Neither team is overly talented and neither team will find too much success this year, but the Colts have the better quarterback and home field advantage so week 1 goes to them.
New England Patriots @ Arizona Cardinals
I am picking the Cardinals to win it all this year, so I would probably have picked them even if Tom Brady was available. Bill Belichick is the best in the league at replacing players and adapting on the fly, but losing your best player and going up against one of the best teams and coaches in the league is a tall order. I expect Bruce Arians will break out several plays that he has never used and that the overall talent of Arizona will be too much for New England to handle in their current state.
Arizona should win this game in convincing fashion.
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Washington Redskins
This is another game that could be a surprisingly fun contest. Both of these teams are built around the passing game and have defenses that are suspect against said passing attack. The Redskins were ranked 25th and the Steelers were an abysmal 30th against the pass last year and funnily enough, neither team did anything of substance to fix the problem.
The Redskins may have a slight advantage in talent overall, but unfortunately not where it counts. On paper, there is virtually no way they can stop the combination of Ben Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown. Brown may end up with 15 receptions. And if by some miracle the Redskins are able to slow up Brown, the Roethlisberger is the type of quarterback who can adapt and carry the team to a victory. Whether or not that can be said of Kirk Cousins is still up in the air.
Steelers get the slight edge in this matchup.
Los Angeles Rams @ San Francisco 49ers
In the second of the Monday Night Football double-header we will be treated to perhaps the worst game of the weekend. It features one team who is starting a bust of a first rounder over their politically divisive uber-athlete against a team that is benching the number 1 overall draft pick. The Rams have a couple of big play offensive weapons in Tavon Austin and Todd Gurley, but the 49ers have a couple big play defensive players such as Antoine Bethea and NaVorro Bowman.
So who will come out ahead? I like the Rams. Led by Aaron Donald, their defense is formidable and with Gurley and Austin, the Rams can literally score at any time. Rams get the slight edge.
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