*Team listed in BOLD is my pick to win the game
Seattle (vs. Miami) – Adam Gase gets to kick off his NFL head coaching career with a trip to Seattle where he has to try to figure out a way to not only beat Seattle’s stout defense that returns nine out of 11 starters, but a way to overcome the deafening noise of the crowd. Lucky him. The Dolphins lost Olivier Vernon to the Giants in the offseason, but they are still pretty stacked up front with Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh, although Wake could play limited snaps this week. They also signed Mario Williams and they are hoping for a bounce back with a change of scenery. Russell Wilson should have a nice day throwing the ball and connecting with receivers Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett against a poor Dolphins’ secondary. I’m also expecting that the Seahawks will have a lot of success running the football, but I do believe Christine Michael will eat into Thomas Rawls’ carries on Sunday. The Dolphins are going to struggle offensively and I expect they’ll be playing from behind for most of the game. This could lead to Ryan Tannehill ending up with some inflated stats because he will be forced to throw a lot, but I also believe turnovers will be the reason for Miami falling to Seattle this weekend. If you prefer holding off on Seattle in Week 1, I can’t say I would blame you. I always like to keep a top team in my back pocket as the season rolls on. Plus, the Seahawks have favorable matchups against the Rams and 49ers over the next two weeks.
Next 3 Games:
Miami: @New England, vs. Cleveland, @Cincinnati
Seattle: @L.A. Rams, vs. San Francisco, @NY Jets
Kansas City (vs. San Diego) – Kansas City kicks off their season hosting the San Diego Chargers with the expectations of winning the AFC West this year. Nothing will be handed to KC this season, and they’ve already hit their first obstacle as Andy Reid has said that Jamaal Charles will not suit up against the Chargers in Week 1, leaving Spencer Ware to handle the bulk of his workload. I don’t think this is a bad situation because it gives Charles another week for rest and it will give Ware the opportunity to show off what he can do and possibly run for 100 yards and a touchdown against the Chargers on Sunday. I think the Chiefs will be rolling on offense and don’t have any doubts that Alex Smith will play mistake-free football and should have a good rapport with Travis Kelce and Jeremy Maclin all afternoon. The Chargers are excited to have a healthy Keenan Allen back with the team after his season ended prematurely due to a lacerated kidney. He is a true difference maker when he’s in the lineup for San Diego, but I believe he won’t be enough of a difference maker against this tough KC defense. Although Justin Houston is starting the year on the PUP list, the Chiefs’ defense should still be able to get pressure on Rivers and should dominate the Chargers’ offensive line. Looking ahead, Kansas City has three tough games in Weeks 2-4 making this a more enticing Survivor Pool pick in Week 1.
Next 3 Games:
San Diego: vs. Jacksonville, @Indianapolis, vs. New Orleans
Kansas City: @Houston, vs. NY Jets, @Pittsburgh
Arizona (vs. New England) – I wouldn’t advocate picking against the Patriots in any week unless you were in a dire circumstance late in the season, but this is an unusual situation that New England is in and this would be the week to do it. Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last couple months, you know that Tom Brady is suspended the first four weeks of the regular season, leaving quarterback duties to Jimmy Garoppolo. And what better way to kick off the NFL season and first career start than against the Arizona Cardinals and their defense? With starting Right Tackle Sebastian Vollmer injured, I imagine Bill Belichick will limit his throws and instead rely on the running game this week. The last thing Belichick will want is Garoppolo panicking from being under pressure in this game, leading to turnovers. Obviously the Arizona defense wants to feast on Garoppolo and create turnovers throughout this game because that will set up good field position for a good Cardinals’ offense led by Carson Palmer and David Johnson. We also all know Chandler Jones wants to record a sack or two and make his presence known against his former team. It will be interesting to see how often Palmer challenges the Patriots’ secondary, but I believe they’ll run a very conservative offensive attack and let David Johnson do his thing behind Arizona’s offensive line. This isn’t a slam dunk win for the Cards, but it’s certainly a very favorable matchup for them at home against a Brady-less Pats.
Next 3 Games:
New England: vs. Miami, vs. Houston, vs. Buffalo
Arizona: vs. Tampa Bay, @Buffalo, vs. L.A. Rams
Houston (vs. Chicago) – Houston fans received great news this week when it was announced that J.J. Watt is expected to play this week against the Bears. This is especially big news for Jadeveon Clowney who could be the biggest beneficiary of Watt’s presence. The Bears are going to focus on stopping Watt by double-teaming him, which could lead to Clowney having better opportunities to beat his man off the line and wreak havoc on Jay Cutler all afternoon. Houston’s weakness is still with their secondary, so in order for the Bears to have a shot in this game Cutler will have to unload the football quickly, or run the risk of getting hit often, to get the ball in the hands of his playmakers, Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White. Offensively for Houston, Bill O’Brien will have Lamar Miller run the ball 20-25 times in this game. As long as Miller is effective running the ball, that will open up the passing game for Brock Osweiler. Between Houston’s defense forcing Jay Cutler into mistakes and Houston’s offense picking apart the Bears defense, Houston is a nice pick in Week 1.
Next 3 Games:
Chicago: vs. Philadelphia, @Dallas, vs. Detroit
Houston: vs. Kansas City, @New England, vs. Tennessee
Green Bay (@ Jacksonville) – The Packers welcome back Jordy Nelson for the season opener in 2016 but he is expected to be on a snap count this week in Jacksonville. Having Nelson back will help create open opportunities for Randall Cobb who will benefit from Jordy’s return. Jacksonville beefed up their defense in the offseason, but they won’t have an answer against Aaron Rodgers and this Green Bay offense. I expect that Jacksonville will put up points on Green Bay in this game and could keep this relatively close, but I am concerned that Bortles will make mistakes at a critical juncture of this game which will ultimately doom the Jaguars.
Next 3 Games:
Green Bay: @Minnesota, vs. Detroit, BYE
Jacksonville: @San Diego, vs. Baltimore, vs. Indianapolis
Buffalo (@ Baltimore) – NFL fans wishes came true this offseason when Rex Ryan hired his brother Rob Ryan to help run the Bills’ defense this season. Unfortunately for the Bills, they will be without first round pick Shaq Lawson for at least the first six weeks of the season and without second round pick Reggie Ragland for the entire season due to injuries. Even without those linebackers, the Bills should be good enough on defense this weekend as their cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby will look to shut down Baltimore receivers Michael Wallace, Kamar Aiken and Steve Smith Sr. I expect the Bills will shut down the Ravens’ running game and don’t expect Justin Forsett or Terrance West to be a factor in this game. I don’t believe this will be a high-scoring game, but I expect Greg Roman to utilize LeSean McCoy often as the difference maker for Buffalo. I expect roughly 25 total touches for McCoy in what should be a prominent role this week. Buffalo has a tough schedule to open the season with the Jets, Cardinals and Patriots on deck, but have more favorable matchups in Weeks 5 and 6 with games at Los Angeles and at home against the 49ers.
Next 3 Games:
Buffalo: vs. NY Jets, vs. Arizona, @New England
Baltimore: @Cleveland, @Jacksonville, vs. Oakland
Dallas (vs. NY Giants) – The Giants snapped their five game losing streak against the Cowboys in their 2nd meeting last year, but keep in mind that Matt Cassel was the Cowboys’ quarterback in that game. This Sunday, rookie Dak Prescott will be making his professional debut in front of the home crowd and faces a revamped Giants defense. Prescott had an excellent preseason and proved that he should undoubtedly be the starting quarterback with Tony Romo out for an extended period of time. Prescott is fortunate that he has Dez Bryant to throw to along with safety blanket Jason Witten. The running game is improved with another rookie, Ezekiel Elliot, running behind the best offensive line in football. Elliot is going to have to fight for every yard in this game but he should produce enough to help give Dallas the chance to win. As for the Giants on the offensive end of the football, we all know that Eli Manning is going to be looking in the direction of Odell Beckham the entire game. However, Beckham hasn’t fared too well against the Cowboys. In his four meetings against Dallas, Beckham is only averaging 65 receiving yards per game, and that is including the game he exploded for 146 yards and 2 touchdowns. The other three games he’s failed to eclipse 44 yards. If Dallas is able to take Beckham out of this game then Sterling Shephard could become the ‘X’ factor for New York. The other key to this game is Giants kicker Josh Brown who is suspended for the first week of the season. This is a game that I believe will be decided by three or fewer points, and not having Brown for this game could be the difference and reason why Dallas ends up locking up the win.
Next 3 Games:
NY Giants: vs. New Orleans, vs. Washington, @Minnesota
Dallas: @Washington, vs. Chicago, @San Francisco
Carolina (@ Denver) – What a great way to open up the 2016 season with a rematch of Super Bowl 50 and pitting two of the top defenses against one another in what I’m expecting to be a low-scoring affair. Carolina will be led by Cam Newton who struggled mightily in the Super Bowl, completing just 18 of his 41 passes with three turnovers. I expect that Newton will be under the same amount of pressure in this game but this time around he’ll limit those turnovers. The Broncos named former 7th round draft pick and Northwestern alum, Trevor Siemian, as their starting quarterback, and what better way to throw him right into the fire than against the Panthers’ defense? I don’t expect Siemian to throw the ball a lot in this game because I believe they will want to ease him in and not make him feel too overwhelmed. I expect that Denver will go with a run-heavy attack with C.J. Anderson just as they did in their Super Bowl win. Although I do think that the Broncos’ defense will keep them in the game and will give Denver a chance to win, I like Carolina this week and believe that Cam Newton will get revenge and be the one to walk off the field as the winner this time.
Next 3 Games:
Carolina: vs. San Francisco, vs. Minnesota, @Atlanta
Denver: vs. Indianapolis, @Cincinnati, @Tampa Bay
Tampa Bay (@ Atlanta) – Jameis Winston showed improvement and maturation in the last three weeks of the regular season last year, averaging 328 yards per game, completing 58% of his passes and tossing four touchdowns. Winston is hoping to build on those numbers, but the area he has to really improve on is cutting down on his mistakes and limiting his turnovers. He has a favorable matchup in Week 1 against a poor defensive Falcons team, but he may have to take advantage of every opportunity given to him to cross the end zone because the Falcons will keep attacking while they have control of the ball on offense. Tampa Bay will establish the run behind Doug Martin and will look to control the clock so that they keep the ball out of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones’ hands. Atlanta and Tampa Bay had two good battles last season and although the Bucs ended up sweeping the series last year, they only beat the Falcons by a combined seven points in those two games. Because the Falcons’ defense is so dreadful, I don’t see how they will be able change the outcome this time around either.
Next 3 Games:
Tampa Bay: @Arizona, vs. L.A. Rams, vs. Denver
Atlanta: @Oakland, @New Orleans, vs. Carolina
NY Jets (vs. Cincinnati) – The Bengals will roll into MetLife Stadium on Sunday for what I’m expecting to be a good, hardnosed defensive football game. Both team’s offensive lines are going to have to work hard against the other team’s defensive front seven. The Jets will try to contain A.J. Green by putting Darrelle Revis on the all-pro wide receiver, thus forcing Jeremy Hill, Brandon LaFell or Giovani Bernard to beat them instead. I expect both teams to utilize their running backs in the passing game by checking down as opposed to trying to force the ball to one of their receivers while in tight coverage. The Jets have won nine out of their last 11 meetings against Cincinnati and should be able to make it 10 out of their last 12, even if it’s by the narrowest of margins this Sunday.
Next 3 Games:
Cincinnati: @Pittsburgh, vs. Denver, vs. Miami
NY Jets: @Buffalo, @Kansas City, vs. Seattle
Detroit (@ Indianapolis) – Calvin Johnson retired last winter leaving a huge hole in the Lions offense, but they are hoping that Marvin Jones can fill some of that void. Looking at this matchup on paper, one would jump to the conclusion that the Colts may steamroll the Lions at home. But the Colts fooled me too often last year having tons of issues offensively, primarily with their offensive line. More troubling, the Colts lost Jack Mewhort for the season, leaving lots more question marks with that O Line. This doesn’t bode well for Frank Gore running the football or Andrew Luck against a tough Lions defense. Detroit is talented enough on offense to pick apart the Colts’ defense. Matthew Stafford should have a big game throwing the football and that could lead to Golden Tate putting up big receiving numbers. I wouldn’t bet on this game in Week 1, but this could be a good primer for next week at home in Detroit when the Lions host the Titans.
Next 3 Games:
Detroit: vs. Tennessee, @Green Bay, @Chicago
Indianapolis: @Denver, vs. San Diego, @Jacksonville
Pittsburgh (@ Washington) – Pittsburgh travels to Washington to kick off the first slate of this week’s Monday night doubleheader. The Over/Under is set at 50 right now which means Vegas is expecting this to be a pretty high-scoring game. And why wouldn’t it be with playmakers on both sides of the football? I expect Pittsburgh to strike first and Washington to try to match the Steelers point-for-point from the outset. DeAngelo Williams gets the start with Le’Veon Bell suspended for the first three games of the season, and Williams should set the tone for Pittsburgh with the ground game. Antonio Brown averaged 133 receiving yards per game in games that Ben Roethlisberger started in last year, and just 59 yards in games when anyone else started. I expect Josh Norman to shadow Brown in this game which should be a great matchup, but that could lead to Marcus Wheaton being a focal point and a playmaker in this game for the Steelers. Due to the fact that this could be a high-scoring game, I’d recommend passing on Pittsburgh this week and look to possibly selecting them in Week 3 against the Eagles.
Next 3 Games:
Pittsburgh: vs. Cincinnati, @Philadelphia, vs. Kansas City
Washington: vs. Dallas, @NY Giants, vs. Cleveland
Cleveland (@ Philadelphia) – Cleveland players will be racking up hotel reward points early on this season with five of their first seven games on the road. The first stop for the Browns is Philadelphia. The Eagles traded away Sam Bradford to the Vikings for a 1st round pick and decided to throw Wentz into the fire right away. I think this is a good plan because Wentz will face the Browns and Bears in Weeks 1 and 2, which happen to be two of the weaker defenses in the NFL. I expect that Wentz will be nervous entering this game and the butterflies could potentially cause him to make a couple mental errors, which is expected during his rookie season. Robert Griffin III has found a new home in Cleveland and has been named the starter. He has had success against the Eagles over the years, completing 63.7% of his passes against Philadelphia and completing 10 touchdowns over the course of his career. Keep an eye on Terrelle Pryor who has shown big play ability during the preseason.
Next 3 Games:
Cleveland: vs. Baltimore, @Miami, @Washington
Philadelphia: @Chicago, vs. Pittsburgh, BYE
Minnesota (@ Tennessee) – Minnesota suffered heartbreaking news last week losing Teddy Bridgewater for the season with a dislocated knee and torn ACL. Minnesota responded by trading a first round pick for Sam Bradford and reuniting the former Oklahoma Sooner with Adrian Peterson. It’s beginning to look like Bradford could get the start in Week 1 against the Titans, which I believe would be the smart move as opposed to Shaun Hill who would most likely just hand the ball off to AP. Bradford will at least give the Vikings a passing threat. Had Bradford been with the Vikings for a couple preseason games and had more time to learn the playbook and a chance to practice with his receivers, I’d have moved the Vikings up a tier. But because there are still questions whether or not Bradford actually starts in Week 1 and how well he is connecting with Stefon Diggs and Charles Johnson, I think you’re better off passing on Minnesota this week.
Next 3 Games:
Minnesota: vs. Green Bay, @Carolina, vs. NY Giants
Tennessee: @Detroit, vs. Oakland, @Houston
Oakland (@ New Orleans) – Raiders fans are excited for the 2016 season because there are expectations that they could win 9-10 games and fight for a playoff spot. Their offense should take a step forward this year and the defense should continue to improve, especially with the addition of Bruce Irvin. Their first test is a matchup against Drew Brees and the Saints in New Orleans. For some reason, many people are still under the impression that the Saints are almost unbeatable at home, but believe it or not, they haven’t played well at home the last two years. In fact, the Saints are only 4-9 over their last 13 home games. Oakland will come into New Orleans and I am expecting a shootout between these two teams. Derek Carr will pick apart the Saints’ secondary and will lead the Raiders on multiple scoring drives. The Raiders will need Bruce Irvin and Khalil Mack to put pressure on Brees all game and make him uncomfortable in the pocket. Oakland is the better all-around team, but because this has the potential to be a high-scoring game, I’d recommend avoiding the Raiders this week and using them in Week 3 against the Titans instead.
Next 3 Games:
Oakland: vs. Atlanta, @Tennessee, @Baltimore
New Orleans: @NY Giants, vs. Atlanta, @San Diego
San Francisco (vs. L.A. Rams) – The 49ers are regarded as the worst team in football and everyone is expecting them to finish with the worst record in 2016, so picking San Francisco in this game isn’t going to be a popular choice. Carlos Hyde is in the concussion protocol and looking more and more unlikely to play on Monday night. That would leave Shaun Draughn as the starting running back, although this is going to be a very tough matchup for the Niners’ offensive line in both run blocking and pass protection. Obviously the 49ers’ offense has its issues, but Chip Kelly may be able to pull some magic out of his hat and be just creative enough in this game to find a way to score against this tough Rams’ defense. The 49ers’ defense is young, but with Case Keenum leading the Rams’ offense, it’s a perfect matchup for San Francisco’s defense to rattle Keenum and possibly come away with a surprise win in Week 1.
Next 3 Games:
L.A. Rams: vs. Seattle, @Tampa Bay, @Arizona
San Francisco: @Carolina, @Seattle, vs. Dallas
Week 1 Survivor Pool Rankings:
1. Seattle Seahawks
2. Kansas City Chiefs
3. Arizona Cardinals
4. Houston Texans
5. Green Bay Packers
6. Buffalo Bills
7. Dallas Cowboys
8. Carolina Panthers
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
10. New York Jets
11. Detroit Lions
12. Pittsburgh Steelers
13. Cleveland Browns
14. Minnesota Vikings
15. Oakland Raiders
16. San Francisco 49ers