HOU @ KC | THU 8:20 PM ET | NBC
The 2020 NFL season kicks off with a playoff rematch between the Texans and Chiefs, which should mean plenty of offensive fireworks to start the year. Houston enters the night as close to double-digit underdogs, but they will undoubtedly be focused to make up for their January loss, and we know Bill O’Brien’s squad can go toe-to-toe with Kansas City (they beat them last October, 31-24). Although Deshaun Watson will always be the main attraction for the Texans, I think David Johnson will play a key role in Week 1 and for the entire year, and he needs to be featured in a variety of ways with Will Fuller and others stretching the defense vertically. The firepower is there for Watson to keep up, but their defense might not have an answer for Patrick Mahomes and the high-flying Chiefs, as we saw the cost of trying to stop Tyreek Hill in the playoffs when Travis Kelce caught ten passes for 134 yards and three scores. Those two plus Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman, and first-round rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire will be a nightmare to try to contain.
Winner: Kansas City Chiefs
PHI @ WAS | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
I was optimistic about the Eagles earlier this year, but as the season closes in, the concerns have piled up—including injuries to Brandon Brooks (Achilles) and Andre Dillard (biceps) on the offensive line. Now, future Hall of Fame left tackle Jason Peters will kick back outside to play left tackle, but he might wish he would have stayed inside by halftime with No. 2 overall pick Chase Young roaring off the edge for Washington. Fortunately, the Philadelphia defense looks improved with Darius Slay leading the cornerback group, and he should get his first shadow assignment with Terry McLaurin on Sunday. The Eagles might not be able to overcome a slow start like they did in last year’s opener, though, so Carson Wentz needs to come out sharp as Doug Pederson leans on the passing game with Miles Sanders (hamstring) getting eased back in. As long as playmakers Antonio Gibson, J.D. McKissic, and Steven Sims Jr. don’t do whatever they want underneath, Philly should start 1-0.
Winner: Philadelphia Eagles
MIA @ NE | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
The Cam Newton era starts this weekend in New England, but assuming both Byron Jones (Achilles) and Xavien Howard (knee) are healthy and active for Miami, the matchup isn’t exactly easy with “Patriots South” coming to town. Still, it will be exciting to see what kind of offense Josh McDaniels has crafted around Newton’s unique skillset, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a full-blown ground-and-pound attack. Defensively, the Pats still have the strongest cornerback quartet in the league despite opt-outs at other positions, and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore should be on his “A” game for an individual matchup against rival DeVante Parker. Perhaps veteran gunslinger Ryan Fitzpatrick can turn it into a shootout, but Sunday feels like it will be somewhat of a slugfest that plays to New England’s strengths.
Winner: New England Patriots
GB @ MIN | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Packers-Vikings is the toughest game of the week to pick for me, and the biggest mystery in the NFC North this season might be how effective Mike Zimmer’s defense can be with a young, remade cornerback group. Mike Hughes and Holton Hill are listed as the starters, but we could see first-round pick Jeff Gladney move to the top of the depth chart sooner rather than later—as he is a very promising prospect with the potential to eventually be used in shadow coverage against Davante Adams, Allen Robinson, and Kenny Golladay in the division. This week, the combination of Adams and Aaron Jones could prove to be too much with Danielle Hunter (undisclosed) out of the lineup, but the Green Bay defense needs to contain Dalvin Cook after their 2019 season ended by getting shredded by the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. I’m going with Aaron Rodgers and Matt LaFleur on the road.
Winner: Green Bay Packers
IND @ JAX | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
The Jaguars are the heavy favorites to be the worst team in the NFL this year, and all the talent they’ve jettisoned over the past year could lead to things getting ugly if the current roster tunes out the current regime. That being said, Jacksonville has some legitimate talent at important positions—most notably on the edge with Josh Allen and K’Lavon Chaisson—so it isn’t outside the realm of possibility that a “fun” offense with Gardner Minshew at the controls is able to squeak out some surprising wins. On Sunday, the Colts and their “one-one punch” at running back could quickly test that theory, as Marlon Mack had 186 yards and three scores in last year’s matchups, and Jonathan Taylor can hit the home run (or hit you in the mouth) on any given play. If the offensive line opens up holes like they should, Philip Rivers might not have much to do in his Indy debut.
Winner: Indianapolis Colts
CHI @ DET | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
The Lions have been a great matchup for Mitchell Trubisky and Matt Nagy over the past two years (the former No. 2 pick has gone 3-0 with three scores in every game), so the Bears will hope—after not really having a full-blown quarterback competition due to COVID-19—that their starter plays well, gains confidence, and never gives the job away. With an underrated duo at all three of running back, wide receiver, and tight end, the time is now for Trubisky; he will look to attack a Detroit secondary that has three new starters this week. On the other side of the ball, Matthew Stafford will be supported by a stable of very capable runners—Kerryon Johnson, Adrian Peterson, and rookie D’Andre Swift—but the status of Kenny Golladay (hamstring) needs to be monitored for what should be a close division game. Either way, I’m leaning towards the Bears and their superior defense.
Winner: Chicago Bears
LV @ CAR | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
The Raiders are only slim favorites over Carolina this week, but we could see them get off to a hot start with Jon Gruden having a significantly deeper and more explosive supporting cast to play with. In particular, first-round speedster Henry Ruggs III will be able to stretch the defense not only vertically, but also horizontally, and his skillset combined with Darren Waller’s athleticism at tight end could be an immediate nightmare for opponents—and that’s without even mentioning what Josh Jacobs brings at running back. I would assume Gruden is banking on the new weapons pushing Derek Carr to be more aggressive, and Las Vegas should have a huge day through the air against a Carolina pass defense that projects to rank towards the bottom of the league. Of course, the Panthers aren’t lacking weapons of their own for Teddy Bridgewater (who I really like), but the Raiders are ready to contend and need to start with a win before their brutal schedule kicks in (v NO, @ NE, v BUF, @ KC, v TB).
Winner: Las Vegas Raiders
NYJ @ BUF | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
It feels like Jets-Bills has the makings of a heated rivalry in part due to the team’s respective fan bases arguing about Sam Darnold versus Josh Allen (despite the close real-life friendship of the young quarterbacks), and it may only increase in intensity with the AFC East being more open than it’s been in years. Last year’s opener between the division foes was a 17-16 victory for Buffalo in which Allen threw a touchdown and ran for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, but New York can’t count on their opponent to start slow this time around with Stefon Diggs in the fold. Unless second-year defensive lineman Quinnen Williams is able to become an impact player up front, the Jets really lack star power without Jamal Adams or C.J. Mosley, but Gregg Williams should at least have his guys playing hard. A dominant showing by the Bills wouldn’t be a surprise as they establish themselves as a powerhouse in the AFC.
Winner: Buffalo Bills
CLE @ BAL | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Taking carries away from Nick Chubb doesn’t seem like a winning formula, so signing Kareem Hunt to an extension—even though he’s a former All-Pro—seems like a strange move (especially when you consider his off-field troubles that popped up as recently as January). However, I think Cleveland fans that agree with me can maybe look at things optimistically by hoping the Hunt extension isn’t necessarily a detriment to Chubb’s touches, but instead emphasizes just how much they want to run the ball under Kevin Stefanski. The Ravens also have a talented running back room, but in general, the similarities between the AFC North rivals aren’t really there; while the Browns have done a lot of talking (though not much this offseason), Baltimore has let their play speak for itself. The quiet confidence of Lamar Jackson should be on display this weekend with the passing attack potentially opened up.
Winner: Baltimore Ravens
SEA @ ATL | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Julio Jones remains the NFL’s best receiver to me, but it will be fun to see him share the field again with D.K. Metcalf—who scored twice in last year’s matchup and is one of a few candidates that could eventually take the crown. Despite Matt Schaub starting in place of an injured Matt Ryan in the 2019 loss, Seattle had a difficult time stopping Julio (ten receptions for 152 yards) and the offense in general (460 passing yards), so we’ll see if Jamal Adams’ presence at safety is able to make a difference. Especially with the Seahawks lacking a proven pass rush and the Falcons having mostly unknowns at cornerback, though, Sunday has high potential for a shootout; “Matty Ice” versus “Mr. Unlimited” (Russell Wilson if you didn’t know) sounds like a comic book showdown, and Seahawks-Falcons should be the headliner for the early window of Week 1 games.
Winner: Atlanta Falcons
LAC @ CIN | SUN 4:05 PM ET | CBS
Seeing superstar safety Derwin James suffer a season-ending knee injury in practice (as shown on the Hard Knocks finale) was tough to watch, but the Chargers need to move forward, and they still have multiple impact defenders on the roster both up front and in the secondary. The battle I’ll be watching for in this matchup is the Los Angeles cornerbacks against the suddenly loaded Cincinnati receiving corps, as No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow is hoping to start his career with a win, but limited preparation will make Sunday a significant challenge versus the stingy trio of Casey Hayward, Chris Harris Jr., and Desmond King. If there’s an advantage for the Bengals, it’s the size of A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins, and Auden Tate against a collection of sub-six-footers, so it’ll be interesting to see how much Zac Taylor allows Burrow to rip it. Avoiding an early deficit is important so the rookie isn’t faced with too many clear passing situations with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram coming off the edge. Overall, I like LA a little more right now.
Winner: Los Angeles Chargers
ARI @ SF | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX
Arizona gave the 49ers a fight in both meetings last year, and their confidence seems high after on-paper improvements in the offseason (but not 2019 Browns high for those already predicting disappointment). While DeAndre Hopkins was obviously a big-ticket addition at receiver, don’t forget about do-it-all defensive weapon Isaiah Simmons, who could immediately be tasked with neutralizing All-Pro tight end George Kittle—though that’s easier said than done. As for Hopkins, he didn’t get a ton of reps in with Kyler Murray last month, and Richard Sherman will be a tough defender to gain chemistry on the fly against. Perhaps a creative offensive game plan from Kliff Kingsbury will allow the Cardinals to make it another close one, but with or without his top wideouts (Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk), I could see Kyle Shanahan wanting to put his foot on the gas from the jump after months to think about Super Bowl LIV.
Winner: San Francisco 49ers
TB @ NO | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX
It’s a shame one of these teams will have a tally in the loss column by Sunday night (barring a tie), but Buccaneers-Saints should live up to expectations as two Super Bowl contenders square off at the Superdome. While nothing will ever top him going off in the cold of New England wearing the navy blue uniform, six-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady already “looks” normal in a Bucs jersey, and I think that’s a sign that everyone should get used to him winning—and winning a lot—with his new team. Possibly being without Mike Evans (hamstring) would hurt this weekend, but Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard, and whoever plays at running back is still a great collection of targets, and TB12 is always laser-focused. In general, I’m all in on Tampa Bay this year (they’re my Super Bowl V pick over the Bills); we’ll see if Drew Brees and the Saints have something to say about it as the reigning champs in the NFC South.
Winner: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
DAL @ LAR | SUN 8:20 PM ET | NBC
The Rams are perhaps the most under-the-radar team in the league, but that could change after this weekend with Jared Goff being leaned on more without Todd Gurley behind him at running back; we know what Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, and Tyler Higbee can do as pass-catchers, and Los Angeles also has depth (Van Jefferson, Josh Reynolds, Gerald Everett). Perhaps more importantly for Sunday night, though, rookie runner Cam Akers can be absolutely deadly in the screen game, which is something Sean McVay may look to set up in order to offset the Dallas defensive line. On the other side of the ball, I’m interested in how Jalen Ramsey will be used in coverage, and my guess is as a shadow for Amari Cooper. If that’s the case, Dak Prescott will look to Michael Gallup and impressive rookie CeeDee Lamb, but the star power of the Rams in SoFi Stadium gives them the edge for me as home underdogs.
Winner: Los Angeles Rams
PIT @ NYG | MON 7:10 PM ET | ESPN
I just said the Rams were being overlooked in the NFC, and Pittsburgh is arguably in the same boat out of the AFC contenders. He doesn’t get talked up as much as some other popular head coaches, but Mike Tomlin is one of the best in the league, and now that the offense is healthy, the Steelers should reach double-digit wins after somehow coming out of 2019 with an 8-8 record. Ben Roethlisberger, James Conner, and JuJu Smith-Schuster (along with Eric Ebron, for that matter) all playing like they did two years ago—with the defense Pittsburgh has in 2020—is a scary thought. Monday night’s opponent will be a New York squad that is hoping to earn the respect that Tomlin’s franchise has, and Joe Judge seems to be well-liked by his players despite attempting to bring some of the Bill Belichick make-up over from New England, which hasn’t really worked for other coaches in other cities. Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley have the ability to score points against an opportunistic defense, but the secondary of the Giants could experience some early struggles with Logan Ryan joining the team as a late signing.
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers
TEN @ DEN | MON 10:20 PM ET | ESPN
Denver’s chances of competing in the AFC West took a huge blow with Von Miller’s (likely) season-ending ankle injury suffered on the final play of Tuesday’s practice, so they may need Drew Lock to quickly come into his own at quarterback—which is possible when you consider all the weapons around him. If Courtland Sutton (shoulder) misses time, Lock will have to look towards No. 15 overall pick Jerry Jeudy as his top receiver, but the Broncos are fortunately well-equipped at both running back and receiver to take the pressure off the young duo. Still, the Titans are now the favorites on Monday night (they probably should have been to begin with), and I get the feeling that there could be an offensive explosion with Derrick Henry, A.J. Brown, Corey Davis, and Jonnu Smith all joining in on the fun. Vic Fangio selling out to stop the run like he did in 2019 could lead to multiple chunk plays from Ryan Tannehill to his run-after-catch studs.
Winner: Tennessee Titans