By Mike Crum
Dallas Cowboys Team Analyst and Co-Host of the Across The Cowboys Podcast
Week one of the NFL season is always one of the toughest ones as far as predictions go. Every team, except maybe the Jacksonville Jaguars, believes they can win the Super Bowl. Teams had a full offseason to implement new game plans, and new coaching staffs make what we will see in this first week nearly impossible to predict. Nevertheless, I don't have the luxury of taking week one off, so let's get into my predictions.
Houston Texans (HOU) at Kansas City Chiefs (KC)
I never bet against Andy Reid with extra time to prepare. I do love Deshaun Watson, however. And I think he will be prepared and not miss a beat even though DeAndre Hopkins was unceremoniously whisked away to Arizona. Reid & Patrick Mahomes will just be too much to overcome. KC starts the defense of their championship with a win in week one.
Miami Dolphins (MIA) at New England Patriots (NE)
Along the same lines as HOU at KC, I don’t pick against Bill Belichick with extra time to prepare. I like the Dolphins' roster more than NE's honestly, but Belichick will have something waiting for Miami that they won’t be ready for. Expect it to be low scoring. NE gets to 20, MIA doesn’t.
Cleveland Browns (CLE) at Baltimore Ravens (BAL)
I would not put it past the Browns to pull off the upset here. They have the roster to compete in this match. Myles Garrett, Sheldon Richardson, Olivier Vernon, & Jordan Elliott is a nice group up front. And Denzel Ward, Greedy Williams, Kevin Johnson, Karl Joseph, Ronnie Harrison and Andrew Sendejo is an equally quality back end. We know they have plenty of firepower on offense, and new coach Kevin Stefanski has proven to run a very effective offensive system. The reason I’m sticking with the Ravens is simple: I just need to see Baker Mayfield do it first. Not to mention that the Ravens are great at home, they are exceptionally well coached, and of course they have the NFL's reigning MVP. My gut says the Browns - and heck, Cleveland is getting 7.5 points so I might even take a shot on them to cover - but my wallet says let Baker show he can do it first. So, I'm picking the Ravens to win in a great divisional match up.
New York Jets (NYJ) at Buffalo Bills (BUF)
I expect the Bills to handle the Jets easily in the opener. They have the better roster by about a mile and a half, a much better head coach, and they're at home (of course, we don’t know about them having any fans there yet). The betting line favors the Bills by 6.5 points, and I’d probably lay the points with the Bills in this one.
Las Vegas Raiders (LVR) at Carolina Panthers (CAR)
This is one of those week one games that is so hard to pick. The better team on paper looks like LVR. They have a massive offensive line, an excellent young running back, a good stable of young wide receivers, and an excellent tight end that’s hard to match up with (assuming Jason Witten doesn’t get something insane like 70% of the snaps.) On the other hand, the Panthers are extremely young on defense. In fact, in last April's NFL Draft, Carolina used all seven of their picks on defensive players, something that had never been done before since the AFL and NFL merged. The goal was to upgrade that unit, but with so many rookies starting on that defense it's going to be pretty difficult to pull off this first year. I would think that Derek Carr and Jon Gruden will be able to attack the young Carolina defense.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Panthers are rolling out a new coach and a new quarterback. The good news is that since there was no preseason, they didn't put any plays or schemes on tape, so Las Vegas' defense really has no idea what to expect on Sunday. The new regime in Carolina, lead by Head Coach Matt Rhule, will want to get off to a good start, so I expect them to pull out all the stops to get a win this weekend. In the end though, I went with the Raiders. The offense should be explosive and I think they can put up points on that inexperienced Panthers defense.
Seattle Seahawks (SEA) at Atlanta Falcons (ATL)
This is my first upset pick of week one. This should be one of those close Seahawks-style games. They like to keep it close and make a few big plays to put points on the board. But mostly they'll do what they always do: spend most of the game running ball and thus running down the clock, and then praying that Russell Wilson can win it in for them in the fourth quarter. I think that’s entirely likely to happen. I just like Falcons offense matched up against Seattle’s (lack of) defense. I think the Falcons get an early upset, something along the lines of a 27-24 game.
Philadelphia Eagles (PHI) at Washington Football Team (WAS)
The Washington Football Team has had one hell of an offseason. Team scandals, new coaching staff, the team name change, their new head coach finding out he has cancer, and oh yeah, there's that whole COVID-19 thing that the entire planet is dealing with. However, this kind of stuff can be very motivational, and I think this team is gonna be fired up to play for Ron Rivera. Add to that the Eagles' offensive line is in flux, Carson Wentz has been sidelined with an injury, and the Eagles' secondary beyond Darius Slay, Jr. is a huge question mark. I’m picking Washington in a crazy week one upset.
Chicago Bears (CHI) at Detroit Lions (DET)
Look, in all honesty here, I don’t like the Lions very much at all. Their coach isn’t long for his job. But they did put together a pretty solid roster, and they are up against Mitch Trubisky this week, which certainly helps any opposing defense. My dad is a Bears fan, and if “TruBearski” can play well, Chicago can definitely win. But I’m siding with Matt Stafford being able to score enough versus that tough Bears defense, over Trubisky being able to do the same against the improved Lions defense.
Indianapolis Colts (IND) at Jacksonville Jaguars (JAX)
The Jags aren’t trying to win this year, so I’m likely not picking them all season. And I sure as h-e-double hockey sticks am not picking them to beat a damn solid Colts team. It's nice to have an easy one every now and again. And folks, this is an easy one.
Green Bay Packers (GB) at Minnesota Vikings (MIN)
Aaron Rodgers is likely on "kill everybody" mode after his team traded up in the first round of the draft to pick his replacement. That bold decision obviously left him with very little to work with on offense, and he is going up against his nemesis in Minnesota's Head Coach, Mike Zimmer. The Vikings are weak at defensive tackle and young at cornerback, but I think Zimmer will be ready with a whole offseason to prepare. I'm envisioning a close slugfest battle with the Vikings pulling out a tough division win.
Los Angeles Chargers (LAC) at Cincinnati Bengals (CIN)
My biggest upset of the week: I’m taking the Bengals to get a HUGE win in week one. The Bengals have a stronger roster than you might realize, and I certainly don’t expect Tyrod Taylor to put up 30 points on anyone, so Cincinnati's offense will absolutely have a chance in this contest. I know the Chargers have a loaded defense, even after Derwin James was lost for the season. I just expect Zac Taylor and Joe Burrow to make plays in an offense that had all offseason to prepare. They get a couple scheme touchdowns early to get a lead, then they'll hold off a late comeback from the better team. Unfortunately, Tyrod doesn’t get all the way there on the comeback, and Joe Burrow's young career starts out 1-0.
Arizona Cardinals (ARZ) at SanFrancisco 49ers (SF)
This should be a blast to watch. Arizona with weapons all over the place versus that vaunted SF defense. On the other side, Kyle Shanahan having an entire offseason to prepare for any opponent is going to be incredibly difficult for said opponent. This could be a back and forth game, but I think the 49ers defense can get more stops than Arizona’s can. Game of the Week candidate here, with the 49ers snagging the W.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (TB) at New Orleans Saints (NO)
Did somebody say Game of the Week? Well, if it ain't that, it is definitely the most anticipated. I’d be much more confident if the Saints had fans inside the Superdome, because when they do, they have one of the most massive home field edges in the league. Both of these teams are loaded with great offenses, and both defenses should be at least above average. We can expect excellent coaching from each sideline, and of course both squads have all-time leaders at the quarterback position. I don’t put Sean Payton on a Reid, Shanahan, or Belichick level to start seasons, but he’s definitely in the second tier and he is a great offensive mind. I see the Saints putting up more points on Tampa's defense than Brady and company can tally against the Saints' defense. I kinda have a feeling that Tampa's offense will prove to be overrated this year. I guess we shall see in the weeks to come. In week one, however, the Saints get the win.
Dallas Cowboys (DAL) at Los Angeles Rams (LAR)
As a Cowboys fan I want to pick us to go 16-0, but I am objective in my picks and I’m gonna prove that right away. I’m picking the Rams to beat my Cowboys in week one. This is a pro-Sean McVay pick. I think he is a spectacular offensive mind, and on paper he has Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Van Jefferson, Tyler Higbee, Gerald Everett and Cam Akers going up against a poor secondary that is also already dealing with injuries. Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis and Xavier Woods are all questionable, and this would be a very tough game for them even if they were completely healthy. Another big matchup worry is Aaron Donald or Michael Brockers inside against Conner Williams and Joe Looney. Stuffing the run and providing pressure up the middle can stifle any offense. My hope is that Dallas' new defensive scheme, which McVay and Jared Goff haven’t yet seen, might cause Goff to turn the ball over a couple times. If that happens, the Cowboys offense can certainly overpower the Rams defense, but I think the Rams open their new stadium with a high-scoring win.
Pittsburgh Steelers (PIT) at New York Giants (NYG)
Anything can happen in week one, but taking the Giants to upset the Steelers is 100% not a pick I could ever actually stomach. The Steelers somehow finished 8-8 last year despite some of the worst quarterback play we've ever seen in the NFL. But good news for Pittsburgh fans, their franchise QB, Ben Roethlisberger, is back and seemingly has all his elbow ligaments in tact. Additionally, the Steelers have a solid defense that should bother Daniel Jones into some turnovers while holding down Saquon Barkley for the most part, so I definitely don’t expect New York to do much of anything on offensive, really. “Big Ben” will make Pittsburgh's offense a threat again and this should be a solid playoff team yet again.
Tennessee Titans (TEN) at Denver Broncos (DEN)
Man, this is a brutal game to pick. It’s not at all easy to beat the Broncos in Denver early in the year. Some guys just aren’t in football shape yet, and having to play an entire game of football in the thin air at Mile High Stadium is - if you'll pardon the pun - breathtakingly hard to do. On the other hand, Coach Mike Vrabel is excellent off of bye weeks or in any game in which he was afforded extra time to prepare. Last year, the Titans annihilated the Browns in week one after tons of offseason hype for a Cleveland team that was supposed to be Super Bowl contenders. And, the Titans play a style of football that will be hard to deal with early in the season. So yeah, I’m taking Tennessee to win in week one again this year.
Well, those are my week one predictions. What do you think? Any obvious disagreements? Any of them (other than my fellow Cowboy fans, naturally) killing me for my Rams pick?
Week One Pick Summary:
KC over HOU
NE over MIA
BAL over CLE
BUF over NYJ
LVR over CAR
ATL over SEA
WAS over PHI
DET over CHI
IND over JAX
MIN over GB
CIN over LAC
SF over ARZ
NO over TB
LAR over DAL
PIT over NYG
TEN over DEN
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