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Well, the opening game of the season between the Cowboys and Buccaneers was an absolute cracker that went down to a last-minute field goal so let’s see how the rest of the week one games live up to it. Making picks in the early couple of weeks is always more of an art than science, even more so with the truncated pre-season and the trend amongst an increasing number of teams to barely play their starters so let’s see what we can do

Early Games:

The standout contest in the early games is the Pittsburgh Steelers taking on the Bills. I am really interested to see how the Steelers offence looks with new coordinator Matt Canada and the addition rookie running back Najee Harris, while the Bills are a team look set to mount a credible push for the Super Bowl. Time will tell if quarterback Josh Allen can maintain the jump in play he achieved last season, but even with some regression this team look set to compete once more. I think this line could be a little high given how well the Steelers’ defence played last season and so whilst I like the Bills to win the game, I’m going to grab the points.

This could be a big third season for Kliff Kingsbury with the Arizona Cardinals and the signing of multiple recognisable free agents in their thirties certainly demonstrates and urgency to push into the playoffs, although a winning season would be a good start. The Titans meanwhile have only had winning seasons under Mike Vrabel and have gone to the playoffs in the last two season. The big questions for them are: can the offence be as good without coordinator Arthur Smith, can Derek Henry sustain his remarkable production given the number of carries over the last two seasons, and can they patch together a defence to truly compete in the playoffs? Obviously, this game won’t answer any of the big questions for either of these teams, but its an intriguing early glimpse of what’s to come.

The other game I wanted to discuss in a little more detail is the Washington Football Team hosting the LA Chargers. I am curious to see what effect new head coach Brandon Staley has on the Chargers, both int terms of their defence, but also how they are developing quarterback Justin Herbert in his second year having torn up the league in his rookie season. Going against the third best defence by DVOA last year should be good a test and while defence ranking seems to be less sticky that offence, I find it hard to think a team coached by Ron Rivera would fall off that much on defence. I am also intrigued to see how the offence looks with Ryan Fitzpatrick at the helm as the glimpses I saw in pre-season were promising.

Points from the rest:

  • There’s a lot of unknowns in Philadelphia while the Falcons also have a new head coach in Arther Smith. I am definitely looking forward to finally getting a proper look at rookie tight end Kyle Pitts and what Smith has in store for him.
  • I am hoping that the turmoil in Minnesota gives the Bengals a chance in this game, but the Vikings are a team looking to push on again after a difficult 2020 season. However, the Vikings have an established base under Zimmer and I’m looking for Bengals to build something concrete on either side of the ball under Zac Taylor. First target, let’s get Joe Burrow through the season healthy.
  • How can you not be curious about the Detroit Lions given the human quote machine that is Dan Campbell, but the 49ers are not an easy team to face, whoever is playing quarterback for them right now.
  • It looks like Carson Wentz is starting and I’m interested to see if he can recover enough form for the Colts to continue to compete given the commitment in salary that the Colts have made recently. The Seahawks are always competitive under Pete Carroll and I am looking forward to seeing what new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron has planned for Russell Wilson so this should be a great watch and in a less idiosyncratic list would have got more of a write up. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing what happens.
  • The Jets at Panthers is the Sam Darnold bowl, but both teams will be hoping they’ve made the right move at quarterback. It’s interesting that the Panthers went for Darnold when they could have drafted one of the five first round QBs selected in this year’s draft who have all looked promising in pre-season. It will be hard to get too much of a read against a rebuilding Jets team who lost their big free agent pass rusher Carl Lawson before the first snap of the season and who really just need to find some things to build around this season.
  • The Jaguars are taking on the Texans in the first test of Urban Myer’s plans in the NFL with proper game planning. It’s a sign of how bad things are in Houston that an unproven in the NFL head coach with a rookie quarterback is laying points on the road, but it feels like it’s going to be a long season for Houston fans.

Eagles @ Falcons (-3.5)

Gee’s Pick:      Eagles
Dan’s Pick:      Eagles

Steelers @ Bills (-6.5)

Gee’s Pick:      Steelers
Dan’s Pick:      Bills

Vikings @ Bengals (+3.5)

Gee’s Pick:      Bengals
Dan’s Pick:      Vikings

49ers @ Lions (+7.5)

Gee’s Pick:      49ers
Dan’s Pick:      49ers

Cardinals @ Titans (-2.5)

Gee’s Pick:      Titans
Dan’s Pick:      Titans

Seahawks @ Colts (-2.5)

Gee’s Pick:      Seahawks
Dan’s Pick:      Seahawks

Chargers @ Washington (+1.5)

Gee’s Pick:      Washington
Dan’s Pick:      Washington

Jets @ Panthers (-4.5)

Gee’s Pick:      Panthers
Dan’s Pick:      Panthers

Jaguars @ Texans (+2.5)

Gee’s Pick:      Jaguars
Dan’s Pick:      Jaguars

Late Games:

The late game that leaps off the page is the Cleveland Browns taking on last year’s defeated Super Bowl team the Kansas City Chiefs. There could be a hangover for the Chiefs in that they have been to two consecutive Super Bowls, but with the combination of head coach Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes it’s hard to see the Chiefs suffering a big fall off this season like so many defeated Super Bowl teams. The Chiefs remade their offensive line in the offseason and once more look like a team gearing up for a Super Bowl run. However, this is no easy game for them as the Browns have one of the stronger rosters in the league these days and Kevin Stefanski worked wonders in his rookie season as head coach in the middle of a pandemic. If he can continue to improve Baker Mayfield’s play, then there’s no reason for them to fear anyone, including the Chiefs. I wouldn’t like to predict who is going to win this game, but this line is too high for me as the Browns should be pushing for the playoffs again.

Points on the Rest:

  • I’m looking forward to seeing what Tua Tagovoila can do now he is running an offence built around his skill set and expect the Dolphins to compete again as that’s all they’ve done under Brian Flores. However, the Patriots have their own young QB in rookie Mac Jones and a defence that is potentially scary good this season with the number of players returning from last season’s opt outs. You don’t win or push the rules as much as Bill Belichick does without being competitive, so I don’t think he needs the extra motivation of proving himself after Brady won the Super Bowl last year as some are suggesting, but I’m sure the Pats are expecting to be competitive this year after a rough 2020.
  • I am curious to see what Sean Payton can do with Jameis Winston as his quarterback, but the Saints salary cap woes means I’m not sure how competitive they can be with this retooled roster missing Michael Thomas, particularly now they are displaced thanks to the hurricane that hit New Orleans. The Packers were making headlines all offseason given the situation with Aaron Rodgers, but having reported at the start of training camp there is no reason not to expect the offence to be good again. The question is, can the change in defensive coordinator push the Packers from thirteen win seasons into the Super Bowl?
  • The Broncos taking on the Giants is an intriguing game given the unknowns for both teams. The Broncos are going with Teddy Bridgewater as their quarterback, but the defence was good last season despite ace pass rusher Von Miller being lost in pre-season. If Bridgewater can be effective with the young skill players of the Broncos they can at least be competitive. I liked a lot of what Joe Judge built in New York in his first season, but too much rests on the question of whether Daniel Jones is a franchise QB or not. The Giants made moves to give him no excuses so it’s a big season for Jones, and I’m not sure on this one at all.

Browns @ Chiefs (-5.5)

Gee’s Pick:      Browns
Dan’s Pick:      Chiefs

Dolphins @ Patriots (-2.5)

Gee’s Pick:      Patriots
Dan’s Pick:      Dolphins

Packers @ Saints (+2.5)

Gee’s Pick:      Packers
Dan’s Pick:      Packers

Broncos @ Giants (+1.5)

Gee’s Pick:      Broncos
Dan’s Pick:      Giants

Sunday Night Football:

Bears @ Rams (-6.5)

The Sunday night game is one that’s fascinating in large part because we get to see Matthew Stafford running Sean McVay’s offence. Their defence will also be an intriguing thing to monitor through the season as the loss of coordinator Staley along side several players around the stars of Jalen Ramsay and Aaron Donald means there’s a lot of questions and an injury to either defensive star could cause real problems. However, the Bears are a curious team in of themselves, with a defence that has fallen off a little under Matt Nagy. They answered one question at quarterback by moving on from Mitchell Trubisky, but how long Andy Dalton can hold off Justin Fields is the new questions alongside whether this team can this team truly compete. The line would seem to indicate not, but the questions surrounding the Bears are going to take weeks to resolve, and they’ve never had a losing season under Nagy so let’s see if he can improve on the last two seasons of 8-8.

Gee’s Pick:      Rams
Dan’s Pick:      Rans

Monday Night Football

Ravens @ Raiders (+4.5)

This is a game that is intriguing rather than one that sets the pulse racing. I think we know to a large degree what we will get out of the Ravens, and the question is still whether Lamar Jackson can become a good enough passer on defined throwing downs to push his team on. Still, Jackson is an electric talent and the Ravens have clearly been attempting to improve his receiving options in the offseason. They travel to face a Raiders team who rebuilt their offensive line in the offseason and invested once again in their defence, but the combination of Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock still doesn’t feel like it is working to a clear enough plan. I don’t doubt Gruden’s footballing brain, but I’m not sure of him as a head coach, although for me a lot rests on whether Gus Bradley can transform a defence that has consistently been in the bottom quarter of the league by DVOA. It will be good to see the Las Vegas stadium full and I wonder how the dynamics of visiting fans vs Raider fans work out, but the Raiders will likely find this a tough way to start the season

Gee’s Pick:      Ravens
Dan’s Pick:      Ravens

DVOA is Football Outsiders statistic for measure a team’s success on every play versus the league average and you can read more about it and other football topics at https://footballoutsiders.com.