It’s here! It’s finally here! After several painful months of offseason, it’s finally time for the first Sunday of the 2016 NFL season!
There’s several intriguing games on the docket this week, with a whopping ten interleague games, four divisional games, and many games that will be sure to entertain. If Thursday’s Super Bowl rematch was any sign, this season should be vastly better than last year’s horrid and forgettable one, despite so many great players having retired in the offseason, and here are my picks for all 13 games on slate for today.
Noon games (1pm/Noon CT, FOX/CBS)
Green Bay Packers at Jacksonville Jaguars (FOX)
For fans of offense, this should be a great game to watch. The Packers get Jordy Nelson back after the star receiver missed all of last season, which will be a huge boost to an offense that felt like it was lacking last year. Aaron Rodgers is back at quarterback, Randall Cobb won’t have to deal with as much pressure as a receiver as he did a year ago, Eddie Lacy is finally in shape again, and the addition of Jared Cook could improve the offense too. They’re also pretty solid on the defensive side of the field, and many believe that the Packers are a legitimate Super Bowl threat again.
As for the Jaguars, they could be a sneaky playoff contender. Blake Bortles threw 35 touchdowns last year, and his rapport with Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns is one to follow this season. Former star tight end Julius Thomas finally seems healthy again, and the signing of solid starting running back Chris Ivory should help balance the offense. The defense also improved, and this team has what it takes to be a dark horse playoff team.
This should be a fun, high-level game with good scoring. I won’t be shocked if Green Bay wins by double digits, but I’ll predict it to be a bit closer than that. One thing’s for sure, this is a game worth watching. Prediction: Packers 31, Jaguars 24.
Cincinnati Bengals at New York Jets (CBS)
There’s only two games this week that aren’t interleague or division games, and this is one of them. Truth be told, it should be a terrific game. Both teams are pretty good on defense, and offensively, have a sneaky good amount of firepower. The Jets re-signed Ryan Fitspatrick last month, and he still has his elite one-two punch of receivers in Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. They did lose Chris Ivory from their running game, but the addition of former Bears star Matt Forte is likely a notable upgrade.
The Bengals have a healthy Andy Dalton again, who looked like a pretty good quarterback for the first time in his career. AJ Green is still a top ten receiver, and while there’s nobody else who’s a high-level receiving threat on the team, Tyler Boyd could fill that void soon enough. Tyler Eifert will miss the first month of the season, but the running back duo of Jeremy Hill and Giovanni Bernard should at least be better than it was last season.
I think this will be a back and forth affair. Both teams will make some great defensive plays, as the score will exceed expectations. It’s hard to pick a winner, but I’ll say that the Jets will find a way to pull off the win at the end of the day. A Bengals win should surprise nobody, since this feels like a tossup game, but I’ll pick the Jets in an entertaining tilt. Prediction: Bengals 24, Jets 27.
Oakland Raiders at New Orleans Saints (FOX)
Anyone who’s a fan of offense should try to tune into this game. The Raiders are a potential playoff team with third year quarterback Derek Carr looking to reach elite status, receiver Amari Cooper looking to improve on a great rookie year, Michael Crabtree hoping to continue a career renaissance in Oakland, along with a solid running back in Latavius Murray.
The Saints still have Drew Brees as their quarterback, and the future Hall of Famer isn’t showing signs of slowing down yet. He finally has a potential star tight end again in Coby Fleener, a pair of rising receivers in Brandon Cooks and Willie Snead, as well as a healthy Mark Ingram in the backfield again.
The Raiders have the better defense, and probably should win this game.In fact, I expect them to have a fourth quarter lead in the game. However, the Superdome is a crazy place, and I have a feeling that the Saints will win a shootout today. Prediction: Raiders 31, Saints 38.
Buffalo Bills at Baltimore Ravens (CBS)
In the only other game besides Bengals/Jets that won’t be an interconference or divisional game, Bills head coach Rex Ryan will head back to his former stomping grounds, where he won his only Super Bowl ring. He’ll do so with a Bills team that was surprisingly terrific on offense, but shockingly subpar on defense. Offensively, Tyrod Taylor got a big extension, so the dual threat quarterback has a lot of pressure on him. Running back Lesean McCoy seems like he’s finally healthy again, receiver Sammy Watkins will try to reach elite status, and tight end Charles Clay will try to live up to his exorbitant contract.
For the Ravens, it’s thankfully a new season. A year after dealing with major injuries throughout their roster, the team is finally healthy again. Quarterback Joe Flacco, starting running back Justin Forsett, top receiver Steve Smith and defensive cornerstone Terrell Suggs all sustained season-ending injuries a year ago, while rookie receiver Breshad Perriman missed the entire year! All those guys are healthy now, and the result should be a pretty solid season that could result in a potential playoff berth.
Like the other three games addressed so far, this could be a great game. The Bills should win, and I think they likely will. However, I can’t help but believe that somehow, someway, the Ravens will prevail. It seems crazy, but I’m going with the home team to hold on for a win here. Prediction: Bills 21, Ravens 23.
Chicago Bears at Houston Texans (FOX)
Finally, it’s time to talk about a potential one-sided game. The Bears are healthy and could be decent this year, but nobody thinks they’ll be .500 or better this year. Meanwhile, I honestly believe the Texans could be contenders this year. JJ Watt is the top defensive player in the league. DeAndre Hopkins is arguably the third best receiver in the league behind Antonio Brown and Julio Jones, and finally has some receiving help with potential rookie standouts Will Fuller and Braxton Miller. Defensively, Whitney Mercilus is coming off a double-digit sack season, and Jadeveon Clowney is finally healthy. The x-factor is new quarterback Brock Osweiler. If he plays average, they should win the division again. If he’s better than that, then look out. I see the Texans having a great game today, as they maul the Bears right from the get go. Prediction: Bears 20, Texans 38.
San Diego Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs (CBS)
In an AFC West showdown, the Chiefs will take on the Chargers. The Chargers will surely be better this year, now that running back Melvin Gordon is finally healthy, so is top receiver Keenan Allen, tight end Antonio Gates will be set to go right from Week One, and newly signed Travis Benjamin should be the ideal receiver that leads to more opportunities for Philip Rivers and company to make more splashes in the passing game than they have the past few years.
That said, the Chiefs should win this game. Even though star running back Jamaal Charles will miss the game, and star pass rusher Justin Houston will be out for a large chunk of the season, the team is too deep to fall off much. I still believe they’ll win the division, and it will start with them winning their game today at Arrowhead Stadium. Prediction: Chargers 20, Chiefs 28.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons (FOX)
This is a very intriguing game. Jameis Winston had a decent rookie year quarterbacking the Bucs last year, and he’s expected to be a potential top 10 guy by the end of the year. He still has Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson to throw to, dual threat running back Charles Sims and star rusher Doug Martin behind him, and a sneaky good defense to give him short fields more often than not.
As for Atlanta, Matt Ryan still has elite receiver Julio Jones and breakthrough running back Devonte Freeman by his side, but not much else. The rest of the offense is nothing worth writing home about, and neither is the defense. And yet, I can’t help but think the Falcons will win. For some reason, I think they’ll pull off the come-from-behind upset, despite falling off into a tailspin to close out last year. I’ll probably be dead wrong, but I’m picking Atlanta to get it done in a crazy manner. Prediction: Buccaneers 21, Falcons 24.
Cleveland Browns vs. Philadelphia Eagles (CBS)
On paper, this isn’t a great game. In reality, there are a lot of reasons to consider tuning in. For one, both teams have polarizing quarterbacks. Former Heisman Trophy and Rookie of the Year winner Robert Griffin III is finally out of hell in Washington, rookie receiver Corey Coleman is a fellow Baylor Bear who has major upside, running backs Isiah Crowell and Duke Johnson could be a solid duo, the defense is okay, and new head coach Hue Jackson is a great offensive coach who made the once terrible Oakland Raiders go .500.
As for the Eagles, expectations aren’t too high. Last year’s top quarterback and running back were both traded, the defense didn’t improve, and rookie quarterback Carson Wentz is starting despite being viewed as not fully ready yet. Ryan Mathews is a good running back when healthy, but he’s usually not healthy. Third-year receiver Jordan Matthews should be better than last year, but he’s coming off a preseason injury. Darren Sproles still has some spring in his step, but he’s in the twilight of his career.
This won’t be a high-quality game per se, but it should be a close one. There will surely be some incredible moments in this game, and I believe that the Eagles will eke one out at the end of the day. Prediction: Browns 17, Eagles 23.
Minnesota Vikings at Tennessee Titans (FOX)
The final early game to address will pit the Vikings and the Titans. The Vikings may be without starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater for the entire season, but legendary running back Adrian Peterson should still be the focal point of the offense. Receiver Stephon Diggs played well early last year before tailing off, and despite QB concerns, he should improve, especially with highly touted rookie receiver Laquon Treadwell splitting the field with him. The defense is healthy and elite level, and that’s why whether Shaun Hill stays the starting quarterback, or newly acquired Sam Bradford takes over, the team should still be playoff caliber.
Meanwhile, although nobody believes the Titans will be a playoff team this year, they should be a solid team nonetheless. Second year quarterback Marcus Mariota should be improved, the new running back duo of Demarco Murray and Derrick Henry should be solid, and Delanie Walker is a top 5 tight end. The receiving core is barren, but the team should be decent this year. I don’t think the Titans will win today, but I do see them being competitive all season long. I see the Vikings winning the game, and it should be a pretty decent one. Prediction: Vikings 21, Titans 17.
Late afternoon games (4:25/3:25c of FOX, 4:05/3:05c on CBS)
New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys (FOX)
Why is it that seemingly every year, the Giants and Cowboys kick off the season in a prime slot? The games are classics just about every time, but still. Anyways, the Giants are healthy, loaded on offense, and the defense got a major makeover to the tune of over $200 million. If they miss the playoffs, it’ll be a huge disappointment.
As for the Cowboys, another year, another devastating Tony Romo injury. he sustained a severe back injury in the third preseason game at Seattle, and will proceed to be out for at least half the season. As a result, rookie Dak Prescott, who looked sensational in preseason, will be the #1 starter. He will have an excellent supporting cast though, with an incredible offensive line, potential superstar rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott, veteran running back Alfred Morris, reliable tight end Jason Witten and a healthy superstar receiver in Dez Bryant. The defense will be a mess though, so that’s a downside.
Like just about every other Cowboys/Giants game, this one should be a barnburner. I think the Giants will win by double digits, but this should be a really fun game. Prediction: Giants 34, Cowboys 24.
Miami Dolphins at Seattle Seahawks (CBS)
The lone late afternoon game on CBS is somewhat intriguing. The Dolphins have a new starting running back in Arian Foster who’s great when healthy, but far too injury prone. Backup Jay Ajayi is out, so the running game will be thin. Ryan Tannehill needs to prove his worth this year, and while he still has Jarvis Landry to throw to, #2 receiver Devante Parker will miss the game. The defense should be decent, but they did lose Olivier Vernon. They signed Mario Williams, but that is a bit of a downgrade.
As for the Seahawks, they should win this game for sure. Quarterback Russell Wilson is coming off a career year, as is top receiver Doug Baldwin, tight end Jimmy Graham will look to return to elite status after a terrible year last year, the running back duo of breakout star Thomas Rawls and Christine Michael should be good, and second year receiver Tyler Lockett should continue to improve. Add in a great defense, and while I believe the Dolphins might be able to keep it close, I see the Seahawks pulling away before long. Prediction: Dolphins 17, Seahawks 35.
Detroit Lions at Indianapolis Colts (FOX)
Whenever there’s a big late afternoon game, there’s another game on that channel that takes place at the same time. This week, it’s a pair of teams that struggled last year, and are looking to improve. The Lions released running back Joique Bell in the offseason, and Calvin Johnson, the best offensive player in team history besides Barry Sanders, retired. In his place, Marvin Jones got signed, Eric Ebron will have to take on a bigger role, and Golden Tate should see more targets. Matthew Stafford is still the quarterback, and if he doesn’t play well this year, this could be the end of the ride for him.
For the Colts, there’s hope for a bounceback year. The team was up and down all year, as starting quarterback Andrew Luck went from borderline elite to an injured turnover machine with a terrible offensive line, and missed the second half of the season. Now he’s back, so is running back Frank Gore, top receivers TY Hilton and Donte Moncrief, as well as red zone tight end Dwayne Allen. The offensive line should be better, as the team spent their first round pick on center Ryan Kelly. The defense is decent too, and while I don’t think they’ll make the playoffs per se, I do believe they’ll be able to win this game. Prediction: Lions 20, Colts 27.
Sunday Night Football (8:20/7:20c, NBC)
New England Patriots at Arizona Cardinals
Closing out the day is a game that has gone from must watch to potential blowout. A few months back, this Sunday Night game felt like a Super Bowl preview. Now, it feels like a preseason team vs. a Super Bowl contender. Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady, elite tight end Rob Gronkowski, dual threat running back Dion Lewis and high-level linebacker Rob Ninkovich won’t be playing for the Patriots, who also happened to trade away their top pass rusher, Chandler Jones, to Arizona this past offseason. The Cardinals are incredibly healthy though, fully loaded with all their key players from last year’s NFC Championship runner up team, and if this isn’t a double digit victory for them, it’ll be a huge surprise. Prediction: Patriots 17, Cardinals 34.