[Editor’s note: Each week, Rosenthal and I will go head to head, picking the winner of each game. The guy who does worse each week gets to be the one to copy and paste together the text the next week. Despite trouncing Rosenthal last year when we divided the games each week, I somehow got stuck packaging up the first set of picks while he drank tequila with Alex Marvez on Bourbon Street. Let’s hope they kept their shirts on.]
Vikings at Saints
Florio’s take: In 2004, the NFL transformed the Thursday night opener into a belated coronation of the defending Super Bowl champion. And in each of the five years since then (Patriots, Patriots, Steelers, Colts, Giants, Steelers), the defending Super Bowl champion didn’t spoil the banner-raising party by losing the game. I’m hoping for a close contest that goes down to the wire (and possibly into overtime, again). But I’ve got a feeling that the Saints will seize the opportunity to take some of the national attention away from the likes of the Jets, the Cowboys, the Vikings, and the Packers.
Florio’s pick: Saints 35, Vikings 24.
Rosenthal’s take: The Vikings have only three healthy cornerbacks. The Saints still have the Saints rush defense. These two teams know each other’s flaws, but New Orleans is better positioned to cover up theirs. While Brett Favre chilled this offseason, Drew Brees spent more quality practice time with his talented array of wide receivers. They’ve all been with the Saints at least four seasons than, yet they are all 27 and under. The Saints will be more ready on day one.
Rosenthal’s pick: Saints 31, Vikings 17.
Browns at Buccaneers
Florio’s take: Each team surely has circled the game as one of the few on the schedule that they have a great chance of winning. But the Browns have looked much better in the preseason, with quarterback Jake Delhomme apparently rediscovering his skills. And Tampa is a fitting place for Delhomme to launch his career-reclamation tour. Indeed, he has a lifetime record of 5-1 at Raymond James Stadium. Suddenly, we’re beginning to understand why Mike Holmgren, one of the mentors of former Bucs coach Jon Gruden, made such an aggressive move to bring Delhomme to Cleveland.
Florio’s pick: Browns 24, Buccaneers 10.
Rosenthal’s take: Bucs fans are convinced their team has been overlooked this preseason. This is their chance to prove it. If Tampa can’t win at home against the Browns, they won’t be favored again until Week Seven, against the Rams. The Browns are really the team that’s overlooked. They have an identity with a defense that coalesced late last year and a strong offensive line. That’s enough to win in Tampa.
Rosenthal’s pick: Browns 17, Bucs 10.
Dolphins at Bills
Florio’s take: The four-team AFC East will come down to three teams. The Dolphins are one of those three teams; the Bills aren’t. Though anything can happen in Week One (after all, the Bills once spanked the Pats, 31-0, to launch a season that ended with a New England Super Bowl win), the Dolphins are better than the Bills at most positions, and whether it comes from passes thrown to Brandon Marshall or Wildcat runs from Ronnie Brown or a defense that gets a kick in the butt from Mike Nolan, the Dolphins should handle the Bills with relative ease.
Florio’s pick: Dolphins 27, Bills 13.
Rosenthal’s take: Toughest game to pick on the schedule. The oddsmakers want you to take the Dolphins. Which means it’s a bad idea. I predicted the Dolphins would make the playoffs in the PFT Season Preview. Which means they won’t. Miami couldn’t have had a more deeply depressing August on offense and the defense remains unsettled. But a wise man once told me: “Always ignore August. And September is the best time for Miami to play in Buffalo.”
Rosenthal’s pick: Dolphins 14, Bills 13.
Bengals at Patriots
Florio’s take: With Tom Brady reportedly on the brink of a new deal and Randy Moss hoping to lay the foundation for one of his own with a huge year, the Patriots’ passing game could look a lot like it did in 2007. The challenges come on defense, where the Patriots have seen injuries and free-agent departures and trades erode a once-powerful unit. It won’t be an easy year, but Brady’s will to win should be enough to carry the team to victory in a season opener at home.
Florio’s pick: Patriots 28, Bengals 20.
Rosenthal’s take: Florio probably wrote some smart-ass comment about me being a Patriots homer. And yet I’m still going to play to expectations. The line is too big here, but we don’t think the Bengals yet have the passing game chops to take advantage of New England’s young secondary. Logic says Cincy, but the quarterback-coach edge weighs too heavily in favor of the home team.
Rosenthal’s take: Patriots 24, Bengals 21.
Colts at Texans
Florio’s take: The Texans know that, with three good teams in the AFC East and three in the AFC North, a wild-card berth will be hard to come by. And so they also know that the best path to the playoffs comes from winning their division. And they get a crack at the team they regard as a rival but that regards them as an annoyance in Week One. The good news for the Colts? They won’t have to worry about extending an unbeaten streak in late December with backups.
Florio’s pick: Texans 31, Colts 30.
Rosenthal’s take: It feels like this game means too much to the Texans. But with the Colts’ offensive line in shambles, the Texans are catching Indianapolis at the right time. Indy has started with blah opening efforts the last two years. Even though the Texans secondary won’t hold up in the long run, Houston can win a shootout in what feels like their Super Bowl.
Rosenthal’s take: Texans 34, Colts 31.
Broncos at Jaguars
Florio’s take: The Broncos finished 2-8 last year. They’ve lost Brandon Marshall, Tony Scheffler, Elvis Dumervil, and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. A rash of injuries has parked a dark cloud over a team that continues to find a large measure of delusion in last year’s 6-0 start and the promise of a rookie quarterback who won’t be playing much at all this year, barring injuries. The Jaguars aren’t headed for Dallas, but they’ll derive enough of a boost from actually playing in front of a full stadium to strike paydirt in Week One.
Florio’s pick: Jaguars 20, Broncos 7.
Rosenthal’s take: While previewing the season for NBCSports.com, I asked Silva if he could think of anything good that happened on the field for the Jaguars in August. We were stumped. In Denver, Kyle Orton is going to have to carry a banged-up squad. We’re strangely confident he can do it and that he’ll be better in the post-Brandon Marshall era.
Rosenthal’s take: Broncos 27, Jaguars 20.
Falcons at Steelers
Florio’s take: The last two meetings between these two teams have been memorable, with the Steelers winning four years ago in overtime at the Georgia Dome and with the two teams playing to a draw eight years ago in Pittsburgh. This time around, the Falcons are trying to catch the Saints, and the Steelers are hoping to hold it together until Ben Roethlisberger comes back. Look for the Steelers to try to grind it out with a running game and a still-strong defense and for the Falcons to try to draw the Steelers into a shootout like the 34-34 outcome in 2002 or the 41-38 finish in 2006.
Florio’s pick: Steelers 17, Falcons 14.
Rosenthal’s take: I take it back. Steelers-Falcons was the toughest game to pick on the slate. These are two teams I think are going to the playoffs this year, with Dennis Dixon’s presence canceling out the Steelers strong rush defense this week. I’m taking Pittsburgh out of principle; no defense that loaded should be a home underdog in Week One.
Rosenthal’s pick: Steelers 19, Falcons 17.
Raiders at Titans
Florio’s take: The Raiders quietly have inspired hope and optimism in Oakland, with Jason Campbell at quarterback and a defense that gradually is improving. With Chris Johnson, the Titans have the best non-quarterback in the league. But the question is whether the Titans’ quarterback can continue the latest uptick to his career. Vince Young’s plunge started two years ago on this same weekend in Nashville during a sluggish performance against the Jaguars. If Young can’t move the offense against a defense that will be obsessed with stopping Johnson, Young will hear the boos again, and the wheels could fly off faster than anyone had imagined.
Florio’s pick: Raiders 17, Titans 10.
Rosenthal’s take: I really want the Raiders to be good. I have friends that are Raiders fans and they’ve lost their grip on reality. They need some actual good news, instead of Al Davis spin. Unfortunately, I think the Titans really will be good. They are what the Raiders want to be; big, physical, and capable of big plays at any moment.
Rosenthal’s pick: Titans 21, Raiders 10.
Panthers at Giants
Florio’s take: The Giants closed down their old stadium by taking a beating from the Panthers. The Giants open their new home with a chance to give a little payback to a team with a decent defense but, until proven otherwise, a subpar offense.
Florio’s pick: Giants 30, Panthers 21.
Rosenthal’s take: The Panthers embarrassed the Giants 41-9 in Big Blue’s final game at the old Meadowlands Stadium. If the Giants lose to Carolina again, Tom Coughlin should have to change jobs with John Fox as punishment. Or buy a Giants PSL. The line is way too big for two evenly matched teams -- the Panthers defense could be the best unit in the game -- but we’ll give the Giants a slight edge at home.
Rosenthal’s take: Giants 17, Panthers 14.
Lions at Bears
Florio’s take: I’m tempted to pick the upset here. The Lions played the Bears tough last season in the first half at Chicago, and I’m not convinced that Jay Cutler is the right quarterback or that Mike Martz’s offense is the right approach. Then again, the Lions have won two games in two years. Though I think a surprise could be coming, I’ll play it safe.
Florio’s pick: Bears 19, Lions 13.
Rosenthal’s take: Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, and Jahvid Best will make the Lions fun to watch again. They will score fantasy points. They will also strain their neck watching from the sidelines while their overmatched defense gets run up and down the field. It’s Mike Martz’s bag of tricks and false hope week in Chicago!
Rosenthal’s pick: Bears 26, Lions 20.
Cardinals at Rams
Florio’s take: Sure, the Rams won only one game last year. Yeah, they’ll be lucky to win more than four in 2010. OK, the Rams haven’t beaten the team that used to play in St. Louis in St. Louis since 2004. But it’s a new era for the Rams, with the passing game possibly waking up while the running game still has Steven Jackson, and coach Steve Spagnuolo using his defensive background to tinker with the other side of the ball. The Cardinals are moving the wrong way, with key player departures, a still-shaky running game, and real concerns at quarterback.
Florio’s pick: Rams 17, Cardinals 10.
Rosenthal’s take: This is oddly a big game for Arizona. To scrape out nine wins, they can’t split with the Rams. It’s also a big game for the Rams. If they can’t win at home in their crappy division, they aren’t going to win and Rams fan disinterest will reach new lows, Sam Bradford or not. I have a lot more faith in Ken Whisenhunt, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Adrian Wilson, Darnell Dockett, and Larry Fitzgerald than most. This is still a solid Cardinals team. (Notice how I left out Derek Anderson.)
Rosenthal’s pick: Cardinals 27, Rams 20.
Packers at Eagles
Florio’s take: Eagles coach Andy Reid surely would have preferred to launch the post-Donovan McNabb era with a game against a slightly less formidable opponent. In last year’s home opener, Kevin Kolb got his first career start against a potent Saints team that came to Philly and scored nearly “fitty”. Though the Eagles ultimately could turn it around and get to the playoffs like they did last year, it could be another long day for Reid and company against one of the best teams in the conference.
Florio’s pick: Packers 38, Eagles 21.
Rosenthal’s take: I just picked the Packers to win the Super Bowl, yet I’m not remotely confident they will win this game. Eagles should remain a very tough out at home, and Andy Reid hasn’t suddenly lost his playcalling ability because of a slow preseason. My big question: Philly’s pass rush. Will Brandon Graham and a rebuilt linebacker group make a difference? Since “stay away” isn’t an option to pick here, I’ll say no.
Rosenthal’s pick: Packers 34, Eagles 31.
49ers at Seahawks
Florio’s take: New Seahawks coach Pete Carroll will find out very quickly that the talent gap isn’t nearly as big as it was when he was coaching one of the best teams at the college level -- and that he’s now on the wrong side of it. If the 49ers are going to end up being one of the worst teams to ever earn a playoff bye, they need to take care of business in the worst division in the conference.
Florio’s pick: 49ers 20, Seahawks 13.
Rosenthal’s take: Logic says the beleaguered Seahawks offensive line can’t block anyone, much less a strong 49ers defense. Logic also says Seahawks reclamation project Mike Williams should have turned into a pumpkin a a month ago. But logic doesn’t apply here. The Seahawks may not be any good this year, but they have made positive steps in the leadership of their franchise. Pete Carroll can “win forever” if he only plays home openers against so-so opponents.
Rosenthal’s pick: Seahawks 20, 49ers 17.
Cowboys at Redskins
Florio’s take: The Cowboys went 2-0 last year against the Redskins and 3-0 against the team for which their new quarterback played. Though Dallas was sluggish in the preseason, they’ll get it together in time to rudely welcome a hobbled Donovan McNabb to D.C.
Florio’s pick: Cowboys 30, Redskins 17.
Rosenthal’s take: The Cowboys struggled in the preseason, but they are everything the Redskins aren’t on offense; explosive, experienced in their system, and battle tested. It’s strange to think of the Cowboys as the smart, veteran team. But they fit the bill here, even if they aren’t yet at their best.
Rosenthal’s pick: Cowboys 20, Redskins 16.
Ravens at Jets
Florio’s take: The Rex Ryan aim-high-and-talk-big experiment gets started Monday night against a Ravens team that finally has a better offense than defense. Baltimore coach John Harbaugh gets the first crack at shutting up a team that has done plenty of boasting despite winning nothing. Unless Darrelle Revis can cover three guys at once, this one is not going to end well for the home team.
Florio’s pick: Ravens 24, Jets 16.
Rosenthal’s take: Thank you to the Monday Night Football scheduling gods for putting this slobberknocker in Week One. This is going to be sweet and painful. It will be fascinating to see if Mark Sanchez’s confidence problems crop up. In theory, this should be a tasty matchup against a broken-down Ravens secondary. But Baltimore knows how to cover up weaknesses and Joe Flacco is visiting Revis Island at the right time.
Rosenthal’s pick: Ravens 16, Jets 14.
Chargers at Chiefs
Florio’s take: Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel are reunited for the first time since winning three Super Bowls in four years for a Chiefs team that has a long way to go in order to be competitive -- but that quietly is moving in the right direction. The Chargers have typically started slowly under Norv Turner, barely beating the Raiders in the second game of last year’s Week One Monday night doubleheader. The fumes of some offseason contract issues (two of which persist) could make it even harder for San Diego to get the pull the lawnmower cord on the 2010 season. Though they’ll likely eventually win the division, I think they’ll have to dig out of an 0-1 hole to do it.
Florio’s pick: Chiefs 17, Chargers 14.
Rosenthal’s take: The Chiefs should be a lot more fun to watch this year, and we expect Charlie Weis to help uncork some big plays in Week One with Jamaal Charles and rookie Dexter McCluster. The Chargers defense, meanwhile, needs to figure out what it can do well. For now, the best thing it can do is let Philip Rivers get the ball back with enough time to score a winning touchdown.
Rosenthal’s pick: Chargers 35, Chiefs 34.