With the Patriots/Steelers match up out of the way, the regular season will kick off proper starting this Sunday. Here’s your 411 for the upcoming matchups and what to look for.
Green Bay Packers @ Chicago Bears
The Packers were dealt a heavy blow losing their top receiver in Jordy Nelson. The Chicago Bears will also be similarly shorthanded after losing their 1st Round selection, WR Kevin White, to injury. The Packers still have some depth and Randall Cobb’s likely starting should help soften the blow for the Packers along with returning James Jones, who knows the offense well. The Bears have reunited Jay Cutler with former teammate Eddie Royal but jettisoned Brandon Marshall to the New York Jets leaving Alshon Jeffery as their top wideout.
Both running games are stacked and the Packers have both Datone Jones (21 tackles, 1.5 Sacks) and Letroy Guion (22 tackles, 3.5 Sacks) suspended which deals a blow to the Packers defensive line in particular. Clay Matthews is also expected to play inside linebacker more this season. One new adjustment coming into the year is a desire to run more of a pure up tempo offense which should help their strength and make it easier for their defense by forcing teams to throw the ball to catch up in games.
The Bears only have Marquess Wilson and Marc Mariani for depth at receiver so expect Cutler to lean on Matt Forte and Martellus Bennett in the passing game. Defensively, the Bear’s strength is their depth at LB including Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, Shea McClellin, Pernell McPhee, and Willie Young as they shift over to a new 3-4 defense under arriving John Fox. One name to keep an eye out for is their massive DT Eddie Goldman along with 3rd year player Ego Ferguson.
Prediction: Packers win fairly easily 38-17
Kansas City Chiefs @ Houston Texans
Alex Smith finally has a go to receiver in Jeremy Maclin, giving the Chiefs a surprisingly deep offense with Jason Kelce still at tight end and Jamaal Charles in the backfield. They also bolstered their back seven with the addition of Tyvon Branch from the Oakland Raiders and the healthy return of lynchpin linebacker Derrick Johnson to make an already formidable defense one to watch out for in the AFC West. A couple players to watch for are raw rookie Chris Conley, a burner on the outside, and solid veteran Jason Avant manning the slot who is quite familiar with Andy Reid’s systems while in Philadelphia. Notable is that cornerback Sean Smith will be suspended for the game.
On the flipside, a JJ Watt fueled defense now has a healthy Jadeveon Clowney to help terrorize quarterbacks. Brian Hoyer who started his career under O’Brien with the Patriots now reunites with him as the starter in Houston. The loss of Arian Foster is a blow and Houston will try to lean on Alfred Blue, Jonathan Grimes, and Chris Polk to carry the load. The Texans remain fairly solid at wide receiver despite Andre Johnson landing in Indianapolis as they have DeAndre Hopkins, Keshawn Martin, respected veteran Nate Washington, and rookie Jaelen Strong. They also bolstered their depth at linebacker by drafting Benardrick McKinney and added veteran Vince Wilfork to their defensive line, reuniting him with defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel.
Prediction: Kansas City Chiefs win a tight one 27-23.
Cleveland Browns @ New York Jets
Oh, Cleveland. A disastrous year sees them possibly having to lean on Shaun Draughn at running back after Isaiah Crowell and rookie Duke Johnson continue to deal with injuries. They have some veteran leadership at receiver with Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline but it’s a sad statement that Terrelle Pryor finally switching from quarterback has gotten most of the hype. Once again leading on a one year veteran quarterback in Josh McCown after he flamed out in Tampa Bay says enough despite having a hybrid athletic threat in Johnny Manziel whom they took in the 1st Round. Despite this, their offensive line remains one of the best in the NFL and they have a quite good secondary with Joe Haden, Tramon Williams over from the Packers, and Donte Whitner to lay the wood. Raw talents Justin Gilbert and Pierre Desir also are vying to get some playing time.
In a fitting match up, the Jets also appear dysfunction as all get out with Geno Smith literally getting punched in the back leading to a broken jaw. Now they are leaning on starting journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick and his manliest of beards. Newly acquired Stevan Ridley continues to fight injury so they’ll be relying on a tandem of Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell in the backfield. Both Oday Aboushi and Sheldon Richardson are suspended, giving blows to the interior on both sides of the ball. With Jace Amaro injured, their tight ends are perilously thin leaving Fitzpatrick to lean largely on Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker along with drafted rookie Devin Smith, a vertical deep threat. The return of Darrelle Revis gives them a tandem shutdown duo again as he reunites with Antonio Cromartie.
Prediction: Jets barely survive this one 20-13 in an ugly game.
Indianapolis Colts @ Buffalo Bills
Colts are going all in behind Andrew Luck by acquiring RB Frank Gore over from the 49ers and WR Andre Johnson to a loaded corps also including T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, and rookie burner Philip Dorsett. Their tight ends also remain solid with Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen. This offense should give teams nightmares. Defensively, they didn’t upgrade majorly and Vontae Davis remains arguably their best player on that side of the ball.
The Bills have Rex Ryan in the house and that defense should remain devastating along the front seven despite Marcell Dareus’ suspension. The biggest questions, as with most Rex teams, remains on the offensive side as they are starting unproven dual threat Tyrod Taylor with newly acquired LeSean McCoy who should start to pound the rock 25-30 times. Karlos Williams, the rookie out of Florida State is expected to back McCoy up and Charles Clay, of the Miami Dolphins, should also help Taylor out some. Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, and Percy Harvin provide talent but also inconsistency.
Prediction: Colts win 45-17 lighting up the scoreboard.
Miami Dolphins @ Washington Redskins
Ryan Tannehill, Lamar Miller, and the Dolphins offense is expected to do big things in year 2 under Bill Lazor as offensive coordinator. Newly acquired Jordan Cameron from the Browns and rookie DeVante Parker teaming up with Jarvis Landry and veteran Greg Jennings should bolster their passing game. However, all eyes will be locked on big DT Ndamukong Suh teaming up with Cam Wake, Olivier Vernon, and C.J. Mosley to give the Dolphins one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. The Dolphins remain raw in the back seven with the team expecting bigger things from CB Jamar Taylor and rookie Tony Lippett out of Michigan State.
The Redskins are a dumpster fire at the moment under Jay Gruden with Kirk Cousins declared the starting quarterback throwing to DeSean Jackson and relying on Alfred Morris in the backfield. Their defense has a lot of solid players including linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, cornerbacks Justin Rogers and DeAngelo Hall, and rookie linebacker Preston Smith but the team is in a dysfunctional mode and it’s hard to feel any excitement over their prospects for the season.
Prediction: Dolphins run away 38-14 in a blowout.
Carolina Panthers @ Jacksonville Jaguars
Panthers lost Kelvin Benjamin for the year, leaving Cam Newton with a very thin group to throw to including Corey Brown but they still have Jonathan Stewart in the backfield. They lost DeAngelo Williams to the Steelers but their defense remains strong up the middle with linebacker Luke Kuechly and and Charles Tillman in the secondary from the Chicago Bears. Greg Olsen and Ed Dickson are a decent tight end tandem and Mike Tolbert remains one of the better fullbacks in the NFL.
Jacksonville has a very, very young squad but their offense is intriguing with Blake Bortles, rookie T.J. Yeldon at running back, and receivers Marquise Lee, Allen Hurns, Allen Robinson, and rookie Rashad Greene. Marcedes Lewis remains a serviceable tight end and Julius Thomas, over from Denver, should make an impact when he gets healthy. They also have some depth in the backfield with Bernard Pierce from the Ravens. Defensively they have a surprisingly tough squad with their strength being their front seven including Tyson Alualu, rookie Michael Bennett, Chris Clemons, Jared Oldrick from the Miami Dolphins, and Andre Branch.
Prediction: Jaguars take this 21-16.
Seattle Seahawks @ St. Louis Rams
Seattle is aiming to make another run at the Super Bowl and all their pieces are back in place including acquired tight end Jimmy Graham who should make an immediate impact target for Russell Wilson. The Seahawks remain loaded on defense despite the holdout by Kam Chancellor and rookie Frank Clark, his character background notwithstanding, adds more depth to a group already deep. Fred Jackson, coming over from the Buffalo Bills, gives the Seahawks a very good backup to Lynch.
The Rams remain a team that in some ways should be better then they have been. They got Nick Foles from Philadelphia and have a potentially deep backfield with Tre Mason while easing in rookie running back Todd Gurley. Tavon Austin remains a great threat when utilized properly but their wide receivers are largely just solid options at best with no real game breaker to take over. Jared Cook’s a solid tight end but again, their best areas are that defense especially that line with Chris Long, Robert Quinn, William Hayes, Michael Brockers, Aaron Donald, and Nick Fairley over from the Detroit Lions. On paper, the Rams should win 11 games based on that DL talent but they have so many holes elsewhere that it’s hard to see them winning more than 8 or 9 games in another ‘underachieving’ year.
Prediction: Seahawks win 31-21 in a game where their offense is simply too dominant in all facets.
New Orleans Saints @ Arizona Cardinals
The Saints will be without C.J. Spiller meaning they’ll be relying more heavily on Mark Ingram. Pass catching scat back Travaris Cadet is now on the Patriots and Marques Colston is also one year older. Their tight end situation is murky with a combo of Ben Watson/Josh Hill expected to fill the hole of the departed Jimmy Graham, traded to the Seattle Seahawks. They also remain unproven with youngsters Brandon Coleman and Brandin Cooks expected to chip in heavily during the season and provide a spark.
Arizona gets big armed Carson Palmer back along with a healthier Andre Ellington at the running back position. Their receivers remain solid enough with Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, and John Brown although their tight ends don’t inspire much fear: Jermaine Gresham from the Bengals, Daniel Fells, and Troy Niklas. Chris Johnson was signed to offer some veteran reliability although it’s tough to say how much he has left in the tank. Their offensive line remains uninspiring and Patrick Peterson remains the star of a very thin area of defense.
Prediction: Cardinals win a tough battle 24-23.
Detroit Lions @ San Diego Chargers
Detroit has lost a lot of firepower on their defensive line despite rookie Gabe Wright coming in out of Auburn. Their secondary looks weak and unproven, as has usually been the case with that team, leading the weight to yet again be on the shoulders of Matt Stafford throwing to Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, Eric Ebron, and Brandon Pettigrew. They drafted Ameer Abdullah who’s a great dual threat who should give Detroit some versatility in the ground game with Joique Bell’s power downhill style.
Remaining a team on a playoff mission, San Diego continues to be a threat despite some serious blows with a suspension to Antonio Gates and a possible concussion to expected starter LaDarius Green. The Chargers have some talent on defense including Corey Liuget, Eric Weddle, and drafted rookie Denzel Perryman to team with Mant’i Teo. Big things are expected of rookie running back Melvin Gordon and a healthy Danny Woodhead gives Rivers another receiving option to pair with Keenan Allen and Malcom Floyd outside at receiver.
Prediction: Shootout time as Chargers withhold Detroit 35-31.
Tennessee Titans @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Two rookie quarterbacks go up head to head with Mariota taking on Winston. Both team’s backfields are unimpressive with the Titans trying to rely on a Bishop Sankey/Terrance West combo, acquiring West from Cleveland, while Tampa Bay is leaning on a Doug Martin/Charles Sims duo.
The Buccaneers boast the stronger receivers with Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans but the Titans have a more intriguing group with Justin Hunter, rookie Dorial Green-Beckham, and veterans Harry Douglas and Kendall Wright manning the slots.
Prediction: Buccaneers win 24-16 in an uneventful game despite Mariota playing better overall.
Cincinnati Bengals @ Oakland Raiders
The Bengals roll around Andy Dalton and his arm. They have their weapons back including a healthy Marvin Jones and one of the best running back tandems in Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard. The loss of Vontaze Burfict is a blow but that defense remains solid, especially along the line with Geno Atkins, Domata Peko, Margus Hunt, and Micheal Johnson.
Much more intriguing are the Oakland Raiders. Derek Carr has an electric albeit raw Latavius Murray behind him but the team drafted stud Amari Cooper at wide receiver and Mychal Rivera remains a solid player at tight end along with talented rookie Clive Walford. The defense under new coordinator Ken Norton Jr remains unproven but has more veteran leadership along the back seven including linebackers Curtis Lofton and Malcolm Smith to team up with Khalil Mack. DJ Haydean and TJ Carrie remain works in progress at cornerback though and Charles Woodson will be 38 years old.
Prediction: Bengals start slow but handle the Raiders 30-20.
Baltimore Ravens @ Denver Broncos
Baltimore remains in the playoff hunt but losing Dennis Pitta and Matt Elam are big blows. They’ll rely on Crockett Gilmore and rookie Maxx Williams at tight end while rookie Breshad Perriman is expected to help fill the shoes of Anquan Boldin who left for the San Francisco 49ers. Justin Forsett is a good running back but the defense remains a strength behind names like Terrell Suggs, Courtney Upshaw, Jimmy Smith, and Timmy Jernigan. Cornerback Kyle Arrington will provide depth and knows the system as coordinator Dean Pees coached under Bill Belichick in New England.
The Broncos remain one of the best teams in the NFL so long as Peyton Manning is there at quarterback. New offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak will be leaning on last year’s find in running back CJ Anderson while Peyton continues to target talent such as Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas on the outside. Owen Daniels and Virgil Green are expected to make up for the departure of Julius Thomas to Jacksonville. The defense remains good with additions of rookie Shane Ray and Antonio Smith from the Raiders offering up solid depth.
Prediction: A hot battle but Broncos win 30-28 in a back and forth slugfest.
New York Giants @ Dallas Cowboys
A healthy Victor Cruz will help the Giants down the road despite probably missing this game but the team remains a work in progress. They bolstered parts of their offense including Shane Vereen from the Patriots and return man Dwayne Harris from the Dallas Cowboys. Their biggest and most intriguing strength is their defensive line including Robert Ayers, Cullen Jenkins, Louis Nix, and Johnathan Hankins.
The running back situation is a big question mark for the Cowboys after losing DeMarco Murray to Philadelphia. They’ll be relying on a hodge podge group including Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden over from the Oakland Raiders as well as Christine Michael from the Seahawks. Losing Orlando Scandrick is a massive blow to their secondary but they’ll have a healthy Sean Lee at linebacker. What to watch is their young defense including rookies DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory, and Davon Coleman along the line and Byron Jones at cornerback.
Prediction: Despite uncertainty, Cowboys hang on to win 24-20.
Philadelphia Eagles @ Atlanta Falcons
A memorable offseason saw the roster overhauled for Philadelphia including Sam Bradford now starting at quarterback from St. Louis, DeMarco Murray at running back, and rookie Nelson Agholor drafted to bolster their wide receiver group while signing Miles Austin as well. Defensively, the Eagles remain stout with Cedric Thornton, Bennie Logan, Vinny Curry, and Fletcher Cox stack that line with newly acquired Kiko Alonso expected to be a force alongside Connor Barwin, DeMeco Ryans, Brandon Graham, and Mychal Kendricks. The big question will be the play of their secondary.
Atlanta is well known for their offense featuring Matt Ryan, Roddy White, and Julio Jones and they worked to try and beef up their defense to fight in the NFC South. Atlanta added several rookies for offensive depth including running back Tevin Coleman and receiver Justin Hardy. Defensively there is some hope including rookie Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett at DT out of Clemson. Much like Philadelphia though, their secondary remains a question mark.
Prediction: Eagles take this one 37-30 in one of the highest scoring games of the week.
Minnesota Vikings @ San Francisco 49ers
Probably the most intriguing game on the slate. The Vikings have Adrian Peterson back at running back and have a capable deep threat in Mike Wallace from the Dolphins to team with Teddy Bridgewater. Losing Phil Loadholt is a major blow but the team remains well rounded with receiver Charles Johnson flashing and Stefon Diggs conjuring up Devin Hester in his prime as a return man. The Vikings remain strong defensively and may have one of the best overall defenses in the NFC.
Which cannot be said for the 49ers who saw a plethora of players retire and leave the team. New defensive coordinator Eric Mangini has some pieces to work with: Arik Armstead, Glenn Dorsey, Jimmie Ward, a healthy NaVorro Bowman, Ahmad Brooks, and rookie Eli Harold but it will be a tall order to try and match past years under new head coach Jim Tomsula.
The strength of the 49ers remains on the other side with a dedication to letting Colin Kaepernick run more and Carlos Hyde is a very good running back in his own right, albeit somewhat unknown nationally. Reggie Bush also offers up a dual threat and they remain deep at tight end with Vernon Davis, Vance McDonald, and rookie Blake Bell. Their weak area is receiver not offering much after Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith over from Baltimore.
Prediction: Vikings give the 49ers too much ADP and mostly dominate taking this one 27-14.