And so my offseason work meets the start of the regular season as I recap what I have been watching, the season opener and then pick the rest of the week one games.
I have been following the Broncos during the offseason, where their defence has continued to look good despite losing some players, and Trevor Siemian beat out Mark Sanchez and rookie Paxton Lynch to get the starting quarterback job. With the ongoing saga regarding Von Miller’s contract, the cutting of Mark Sanchez and Ronnie Hillman, GM John Elway has certainly not been afraid to make the big decision and whilst I think there will be some come down from last season with a seventh round pick starting under centre for the first time, I do think the Broncos will be competitive again this season.
The Carolina Panthers travelled to the Denver Broncos to open the season on Thursday, and in a sign of how Dan and my picks are likely to go, the Broncos won after the Panthers missed a last seconds field goal giving us our first losses of the season.
This ended up being a close game with the Panthers starting off well and going into the half with a ten point lead, but ultimately falling short as the Broncos came back in the second half. That the game was close with two such good defences should not be surprise, but I’ll start with the offences.
The Broncos offence looked surprising good for most of the game, although it seemed to function better between the thirty yard lines than it did at getting the ball into the end zone. For the most part Trevor Siemian didn’t look like a rookie quarterback, and certainly he was better than his stat line might suggest. However, whilst for the first interception Siemian failed to get the ball over Star Lotulelei on a screen pass, and the big defensive tackle tipped the ball up for Thomas Davis to make the interception, on the second interception he was hit by Kurt Coleman who had a free run at Siemian on a blitz and hit the QB as he threw enabling Bene Benwikere to intercept the ball. Yet the Broncos were able to move the ball throughout the game, particularly on the ground where CJ Anderson was able to rack up ninety-two yards on twenty carries. Certainly the rookies in the Broncos backfield will look back on their first NFL regular season carries differently with Devnotae Booker fumbling the ball and causing a turnover on his, whilst fullback Andy Janovich took his twenty-eight yards to score the Broncos first touchdown of the season. Even with his modest eighteen of twenty-six completions for one hundred and seventy-eight yards, there were good throws by Siemian and with the defence of the Broncos playing tough they will remain.
The Panthers meanwhile look like the same team as last year when running the ball, with Cam Newton gaining fifty-four yards to complement Jonathan Stewart’s sixty-four and Ted Ginn picking up twenty on an end-around carry. In the passing game Newton was happy to have Kelvin Benjamin back, connecting with him six times on twelve attempts as well as with Greg Olson for seven catches. However, Newton still doesn’t have the prettiest of throwing motions and took a couple of hits that would worry any coach. It is hard to read too much into how they are going to go this season as they were facing another strong Broncos defence, but they did give up three sacks and so the offence line might be a worry again at the tackle spot.
If the Broncos defence didn’t quite pick up from where they did last year, they were still very good with some familiar face making some key plays. They may have been a bit softer against the run, but both Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware got sacks and Chris Harris tipped and intercepted a ball in an impressively athletic play. In fact, there were no signs of Ware having any problems with his back despite what had been said in preseason as he bent low and got round the corner for his solo sack, and he also shared in a second later in the game. With a rookie quarterback, the Broncos will be leaning on this side of the ball and the running attack and for this game that certainly worked.
The Panthers defence looked solid but not spectacular, and whilst you could see flashes of Kuechly’s usual excellences, plus they did generate the interceptions I mentioned earlier, it was not exactly a dominant performance. The rookie corners seemed to hold up okay, but there will be tougher tests down the road and we will just have to see if this group can play up to the standards that were set last year.
Moving back from the opening game, I have two more teams to cover in terms of the preseason before moving on to our picks for the rest of this week’s games.
For the Cincinnati Bengals, apart from a couple of rookies getting injured, things seem to have gone relatively smoothly through the preseason, although AJ Green limping out of the week three game was very nerve racking. This may be misplaced confidence, but I have faith in the system and so despite losing two receivers that played a lot of snaps, the new receivers are already looking the part with Tyler Boyd seeming to fit in seamlessly and rookie free agent Alex Erickson looking effective both out of the slot and as a kick/punt returner, which led to long term Bengal returner Brandon Tate being cut when the Bengals were getting down to seventy-five. The defence is getting older, but there does seem to be youth waiting to come through, but I think the Bengals will be in the playoff hunt, and I just hope the steps Andy Dalton took last year were as much to do with his development as Hue Jackson’s coaching.
The Rams have had an offseason of upheaval as they move to LA and had the Hard Knocks crew filming them. It has not been a brilliant series, but the big worry for the Rams has to be that the first round quarterback that they traded up to get has not even won the backup job for the first game of the season. I am not against bringing on quarterbacks slowly, but this has to be a worry given all they gave up to get Jared Goff. The Rams defence looked to be coming together finally in game three of the preseason, and certainly I am expecting a monster year from Aaron Donald. However, whilst Todd Gurley looks to be a staple of the Rams’ offence, what will be key is whether some of the receivers can step up and offer more in the passing games than they have over recent seasons. I have quite liked the look of rookie receiver Pharoh Cooper, but with Tavon Austin seemingly more a gadget play threat than a true number one receiver, they will need more than a rookie showing flashes to improve that side of the ball. I think the Rams may well be heading for another battle to get above 8-8, but in a tough division they could easily fall short of the playoffs again.
And now on to the rest of my week one picks:
Buccaneers @ Falcons (-3.5)
The Falcons haven’t grabbed the imagination, and whilst I like the pedigree of their head coach in Dan Quinn, his side of the ball is not fixed yet and the move of Vic Beasly to strong side linebacker is troubling given that he was supposed to be a first round pass rusher. The offence has struggled for consistency since Matt Ryan lost tight end great Tony Gonzalez, but he does have one of the best receivers in the game in Julio Jones. However, Jones can’t do everything on offence, and the Falcons could do with lowering his workload as he is taking a ton of punishments with the number of catches he is making. They will hope that the signing of Mohamed Sanu will help with this, but the proof will be seen during the season.
The Buccaneers were so keen to keep continuity for their new franchise quarterback Jameis Winson that they fired Lovie Smith and elevated offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter to head coach. They have the prize for the worst draft pick when they moved up to draft a kicker in the second round, and he has already missed kicks in the pre-season, generating a lot of extra pressure for the young player. They will be hoping that the supposed better kicking and the improvement of Winston will be enough for them to win more of the close games they lost last season, but as ever only time will tell.
I like the Bucs on the road in this one to be competitive, and possibly even win so I have been tempted into backing them on the road thanks to the extra half point the Falcons are giving up. I hope I’m not mistaken.
Gee’s Pick: Buccaneers
Dan’s Pick: Falcons
Bills @ Ravens (-3.5)
The Ravens have injury problems already at tight end, but still have a long way to go before they are as banged up as last season. I think this could be a trying season for the Ravens as there are sections of the team that are still old, but I expect them to have more wins that last season and they are never an easy opponent for anyone.
The Bills have been suffering the usual drama that seems to surround a Rex Ryan team, and with injuries to key rookies on defence just being the start to their problems, I have feeling the Bills will be missing the postseason again. I do like Tyrod Taylor, and think it’s likely that the Bill offence will be pretty good again, but whilst Taylor will want to beat the team he started with, I can’t see it happening.
Gee’s Pick: Ravens
Dan’s Pick: Ravens
Bears @ Texans (-4.5)
The Texans had a draft that was all about find other receiver to play across from DeAndre Hopkins to help him and free agent quarterback Brock Osweiler. The worry for Texans’ fans will be JJ Watt’s back injury, and how he will look in the early part of the season that he was not necessarily expected to see. That said, the word is that Jadeveon Clowney is looking the best he ever has for the Texans and they have to be hoping that without the quarterback carousel they had last season that a strong playoff push is possible.
The Bears are still a way away from such hope, and whilst I think they are heading in the right direction, I don’t think this season will see much of an improvement in terms of wins than last season. The defence is looking like it is beginning to shape up, but with a new offensive coordinator and the ever talented but interception prone Jay Cutler at quarterback, I’m not sure they have enough to cover this spread on the road.
Gee’s Pick: Texans
Dan’s Pick: Texans
Bengals @ Jets (+1.5)
The Jets have one of the older rosters in the league, and seemed to cost their starting quarterback a lot of practice reps in the offseason in a negotiating tactic that didn’t seem to net them much of a reduction in cost and has to be a bad decision overall. They still have a formidable defensive front, but I think they could slip as a team, particularly as the only AFC East team not to get a game against the Patriots whilst Tom Brady is suspended.
I still have faith that the Bengals opening up the season on the road can win this one despite them having to use new receiving options on offence, and I just hope this one doesn’t bite me for personal reasons.
Gee’s Pick: Bengals
Dan’s Pick: Bengals
Browns @ Eagles (-6.5)
The Eagles have had a torrid offseason, culminating in the trade of their starting quarterback Sam Bradford to the Vikings last weekend. I think I can see what the plan is, and I am very much looking forward to seeing Fletcher Cox let loose in Jim Schwartz’s defence, but with Carson Wentz suddenly leap frogging Chase Daniels to start at quarterback, I think it could be a long season.
The Browns seem to have a renewed vigour with a new front office approach and Hue Jackson as their head coach. They have to be hoping that the Browns’ young players show enough to convince owner Jimmy Haslam to have some faith in the process and stick with it long enough for it to bear fruit.
I am definitely looking forward to this game, and certainly intend to watch it, and I think it will be much more competitive than this line suggests.
Gee’s Pick: Browns
Dan’s Pick: Browns
Packers @ Jaguars (+4.5)
The Jaguars are all about this season, with Gus Bradley really needing to reward the Jaguars’ owner’s faith in him with at least a challenge for the playoffs. This is the team that keep getting tipped for a break out year, but with a string of moves and picks on defence to go along with a developing offence I can see it finally happening.
The Packers keep steady with their draft and develop philosophy, but the insistence on relying on receivers to get open with one on one routes last season was frustrating as they weren’t able to capitalise on having probably the best quarterback in the NFL. They look set to take the NFC North this year, but they will have their eyes on bigger prizes.
This is a big swing in points to the Jaguars, and whilst I think the Packers may well win this game, I just fancy the Jaguars to cover. This may bite me as I seem to remember this happening a lot with the Jags last year, but it hasn’t put me off in this one.
Gee’s Pick: Jaguars
Dan’s Pick: Packers
Vikings @ Titans (+2.5)
The Titans are very much focussing on the running game, with the addition of DeMarco Murray and rookie Derrick Henry at running back, and announcing their offensive philosophy as exotic smash-mouth football. If they stick with Mike Mularkey as head coach then at least they will have a consistent plan with an offseason to implement it, and they will certainly hope the running game will help keep second year quarterback Marcus Mariota healthy. There have been some surprising names let go, but clearly Mularkey is focussing on running this team his way and only time will tell if this yields an increase in wins.
The Vikings must still feel they have the team to push for a Super Bowl, or they would not have traded a first round pick and anywhere between a fourth and a second round pick for Sam Bradford. They have a strong defence, and should have won their playoff game last year barring a missed field goal. Their new stadium will see a competitive season thanks to Mike Zimmer’s excellent defence, and he will keep this tem focussed despite losing their franchise quarterback to a horrible injury, but it will be an uphill battle all the way. Still I expect them to win an ugly game against the Titan, which will be something of a throwback given the likely focus on running the ball that both teams will display.
Gee’s Pick: Vikings
Dan’s Pick: Vikings
Chargers @ Chiefs (-7.5)
The Chiefs defence looks to be struggling with injuries to their key pass rushers, but I still expect this team to at the top of the division, pushing for a playoff place and more. For all of his clock management issues, Andy Reid is a really good football coach and I expect this team to be there or there about come the end of the season.
The Chargers are not nearly as stable, and have not managed to win consistently despite having one of the better quarterback in the game. For a lot of last season their offence only functioned because of how quickly Philip Rivers could get rid of the ball, and with their first round pick holding out for nearly the entirety of the pre-season I worry about what kind of year Rivers will have in terms of wins.
I don’t think the Chargers are going to get off to a winning start, but I’m not sure the Chiefs will run away with this game either.
Gee’s Pick: Chargers
Dan’s Pick: Chiefs
Raiders @ Saints (-1.5)
The big question f or me this year is whether the Saints defence can improve enough for them to be competitive, and whilst it will be hard for them to be as bad as last year, there were so many holes and it has been such a problem for the Saints that I see them falling short of the playoffs again this year.
The Raiders seem poised to make a push for the playoffs, and whilst I’m worried that this may be the same kind of hope as the Jaguars that doesn’t quite materialise, they have been drafting well and with some good free agent signings for the offensive line and defence, I do expect them to pushing for the playoffs and look forward to seeing if they get there or not. I do expect them to win this one though.
Gee’s Pick: Raiders
Dan’s Pick: Raiders
Dolphins @ Seahawks (-9.5)
The Seahawks look to be set for another strong season despite the defence losing more depth, and an offensive line that remains a huge question. The development of quarterback Russel Wilson will need to continue as he gets handed full control of the offence with the retirement of Marshawn Lynch, but certainly his form at the end of last season will give them hope.
The Dolphins come into this year with a more coherent plan for the offence, but the back seven of their defence worries me and I think they may well fall short of the playoffs this year. I’m picking the Dolphins to cover as the Seahawks are giving away a lot of points, but I don’t expect them to win and I think it could be a long season for the fans in Miami.
Gee’s Pick: Dolphins
Dan’s Pick: Dolphins
Giants @ Cowboys (-3.5)
It might be time for Tony Romo to retire, but certainly Jerry Jones is having none of it, and at least in Dak Prescott they look to have a capable backup and very possibly a future starter. The defence is still a worry for me, but with that offensive line and Ezekiel Elliott the Cowboys will be looking to dominate in the running game and will give the Cowboys a fighting chance.
The Giants made a lot of moves to shore up their defence, which does not fill me with a lot of hope as the winners of free agency rarely seem to do that well when the season rolls around. This is one of those wait and see teams, but with the all the problems they had on the roster last season, I think there is more wrong than just Tom Coughlin who the owners were clearly pointing the finger at when they fired him and stuck with everyone else. I really think there is more to it than that.
We will have to see how this game goes, and I don’t feel that strongly, but I’m backing the Cowboy reluctantly at home as I just don’t trust the Giants.
Gee’s Pick: Cowboys
Dan’s Pick: Giants
Lions @ Colts (-5.5)
Everyone is expecting a better season for the Colts, but whilst I prefer the intentions of their draft, the line hasn’t necessarily gelled yet and I’m still not sure where the pass rush will come on defence or how they’ll cope without the injured corner Vontae Davis. I’m not saying there season won’t be better, but I’m certainly not ready to pencil them in for a division win just yet.
The Lions are a team in flux, but I quite like the direction of their offence with Jim Bob Cooter changing things when he became offensive coordinator last season, and I think the pairing of Golden Tate and Marvin Jones at receiver will do well even if no one can replace Calvin Johnson. The defence hopes to be healthier at defensive tackle, but I’m not sure how much of a push this team will make overall. However, I’m certainly not ready to back the Colts giving away 5.5 points yet.
Gee’s Pick: Lions
Dan’s Pick: Colts
Patriots @ Cardinals (-5.5)
The Cardinals are in win now mode, and with the additions of Chandler Jones and Robert Nkemdiche they look to have an improved pass rush for a defence that already blitzed as much as anyone in the league. You know that a Bruce Arians offence will be taking plenty of shots downfield, and running back David Johnson will be looking to build on his excellent rookie season. I think they will be in contention at the end of the year, with the only questions being about keeping ageing quarterback Carson Palmer healthy and hoping there aren’t any big game legacies from last year’s playoff loss.
The Patriots are everyone’s tip to win the AFC East despite Tom Brady being suspended for four games. Certainly the addition of Martellus Bennett as a second tight end has excited people about the Patriots double tight end sets for when Brady returns. However, this is pretty much as tough an opening game for this team as they could have been set. I think that Belichick will win out in the end, but it is not unusual for his teams to start slow and with a quarterback making his first NFL regular season start I think the Patriots start off with a loss, even if there won’t be too many more to follow.
Gee’s Pick: Cardinals
Dan’s Pick: Cardinals
Steelers @ Washington (+3.5)
Washington really gained momentum at the end of last year to win their division, and with another solid draft and the signing of Josh Norman, I expect them to be competitive in their division again this year as Kirk Cousins tries to earn himself a franchise quarterback’s contract.
When the Steelers have all their players on offence they are truly terrifying, and their defence is beginning to take shape, but I do think the suspensions will take their toll early. They could easily make me look stupid as Antonia Brown is the best receiver in the game, but I’m not sure that they will run away as winners in this game and so I’m taking the home underdog to cover in this one.
Gee’s Pick: Washington
Dan’s Pick: Steelers
Rans @ 49ers (+2.5)
The 49ers woes will continue into this year if for no other reason than it takes time to rebuild a roster. It will be fascinating to see how Chip Kelly does and what he has learnt from what happened in Philidelphia, but I could very easily see the 49ers picking first at next year’s draft.
The Rams will want to be making fans in LA by winning, and despite the worries that I laid out earlier, I think that they will win their opener in San Francisco.
Gee’s Pick: Rams
Dan’s Pick: Rams