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Back to where it all ended, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers look to start their season with a win against the 49ers in the bay area, an area where the Packers Super Bowl aspirations came to an end back in January.
Thursday, September 5 8:30 PM ET – TV: NBC
Baltimore Ravens @ Denver Broncos
I get the fact of Baltimore losing three dynamic personalities Ed Reed, Anquan Boldin and most of all, Ray Lewis. But how lucky are they for a fax gone wrong by Denver to help them steal Elvis Dumervil from Denver to play on the opposite side of Terrell Suggs? And they beefed up the defensive line by adding Chris Canty and Marcus Spears, two 300 plus lbs. players on the same line with the monstrous Haloti Ngata. Speaking of luck, sometimes you can fall into the lap of waking up on the right side of the bed. Having a future Hall of Fame quarterback throwing you footballs is the greatest gift a receiver can get from the Football Heavens. I guess you can say I don’t need to say “God bless you” to Wes Welker? He goes from one legendary quarterback to the next. Denver will miss the suspended Von Miller on defense, but you really have to think about the weapons Peyton Manning has to throw to, Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas and now an ultimate slot-receiver Wes Welker. Yikes! Denver has waited almost eight months for their chance to avenge last season’s heartbreaking divisional playoff loss in their own house. This means more to Peyton Manning and the Broncos than just an opening night extravaganza.
Prediction: Broncos 30, Ravens 23
Final Score: Broncos (1-0) 49, Ravens (0-1) 27
Sunday, September 8
1:00 PM ET
New England Patriots @ Buffalo Bills – TV: CBS
Since 2001, the Patriots and Bills have met 24 times with the Patriots winning 22 of them. The Bills hope they found their everlasting search for a franchise quarterback when they drafted EJ Manuel. I personally think he’s heading into a cloudy situation without a clear-cut coaching staff that has things aligned for him. The Patriots on the other hand, even losing some key targets for Tom Brady, have at least brought along a receiver with potential to do Wes Welker type things with Danny Amendola. That’s the major difference in this matchup. You have a sure hand in one QB and the other looking to get his feet wet in an NFL quarterbacks life. And with Buffalo’s two-time Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd (foot) most likely out, Brady smells blood on the backend of the Bills secondary.
Prediction: Patriots 31, Bills 17
Cincinnati Bengals @ Chicago Bears – TV: CBS
We have both teams here that added some volume to the music. The Bears have a much better outlook on the offensive line that was mess in 2012. They added Jermon Bushrod at left tackle and drafted Kyle Long out of Oregon. The Bengals spent a wide-load of cash to keep the team together. Bringing along linebacker James Harrison from Pittsburgh to join a defense that ranked among the top seven in total defense each of the last two seasons, gives an already top-flight defense more sugar in the punch. The Bengals also added more weapons on offense by drafting tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Giovani Bernard, both rookies with good upside. And while Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis is heading into his 11th season at the helm, the Bears have a new head coach Marc Trestman, making his NFL head coaching debut after leading Montreal of the CFL to consecutive championships during his five-year run in Canada. Trestman has had success as an offensive coordinator, particularly on quarterbacks. He’ll have a good deal of influence on Bears quarterback Jay Cutler to spread the ball around, rather than throw a million passes to Brandon Marshall. I see things getting better for Chicago as the season progresses, but not this weekend going up against a bull-dog Bengals defensive front.
Prediction: Bengals 24, Bears 19
Miami Dolphins @ Cleveland Browns – TV: CBS
This is one of my favorite match-ups to look at this weekend. You have two young-slingers at quarterback, Miami’s Ryan Tannehill and Cleveland’s Brandon Weeden looking to take things a step further in their sophomore campaigns. I like just about everything Miami did this offseason, even though it came at a large price tag to tag along receiver Mike Wallace along with some other key moves at important positions. The best move off all of them was drafting Dion Jordan (shoulder) who says he can play Sunday. The Dolphins already have one of the better pass-rushers off the edge with Cameron Wake. If Jordan excels, Miami’s defensive front can potentially develop a dynamite duel. Without suspended receiver Josh Gordon, Weeden’s deep-threat, look for the Browns to hand off the football lots to running back Trent Richardson to avoid Weeden from being in more passing downs with Miami’s Cameron Wake barking in his ear all afternoon. I like the team that has more substance in the passing game here. Although Mike Wallace stands out, I like Brandon Gibson added to Miami’s new look receiving core as Tannehill’s third option. You need that option on third down. Field position battle type of game to endure, this will be.
Prediction: Dolphins 16, Browns 13
Atlanta Falcons @ New Orleans Saints – TV: FOX
I know it’s only the first game of the season, but Atlanta better be careful here. Playing in the ‘Big Easy’ has been a nightmarish experience for the defending NFC South champs. The Falcons are 2-8 in New Orleans and 1-4 with Mike Smith as head coach. Why does Atlanta need to be careful? You don’t want the Saints gaining momentum to kick things off. Let’s not forget the fact that head coach Sean Payton wasn’t on the sideline in 2012. The Saints have a new-look defense with Rob Ryan coordinating it, but there’s something about Ryan’s scheme that I dislike. It’s a risky approach, and the backend of the defense has the tendency to get caught in one-on-one miss-matches downfield. What I like most about Atlanta’s offseason additions was adding an effective featured running back to an explosive offense. Steven Jackson is the perfect back to have on the road against a hostile crowd to disengage it. Getting positive yardage on first down will keep Matt Ryan out of third and long situations to exploit the Saints secondary. All in all, we should get a high scoring affair with Atlanta feeding the rock to Jackson to eat up the clock in the 4th quarter. This will help Atlanta hold onto leads late in games this season.
Prediction: Falcons 30, Saints 27
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ N.Y. Jets – TV: FOX
Forget about all the media-frenzy surrounding Jets head coach Rex Ryan. It’s getting old already, but the guy my focus is on is offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. Marty wanted rookie Geno Smith to start, so that’s what he got. I mean, gee, I wonder how much Tylenol he took from the headaches of watching Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith quarterbacking during the preseason? Here’s what I like about making Smith start, what do you really have to lose when you really don’t have a team expected to make lots of noise if you’re going to be realistic about the situation? And for once, the organization is taking some power away from Rex and giving it to an assistant like Mornhinweg to have a say or two, unlike when Tony Sparano was aboard last season. At some point during this game, I vision Marty talking to himself when he looks across the border, seeing receivers like Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams catching passes, and a running back like Doug Martin being effective for the Buccaneers offense saying, “boy do I wish I was running that offense over there.”
Prediction: Buccaneers 24, N.Y. Jets 13
Tennessee Titans @ Pittsburgh Steelers – TV: CBS
With Mike Wallace, Ben Roethlisberger’s recent deep-threat receiver gone to Miami, Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown, receivers that combined for 110 catches, 1,413-yards and 6-touchdowns last season, will be “Big Ben’s” top two targets. The more intriguing member of the new group is rookie receiver Markus Wheaton, the projected third option for the Steelers passing game. Wheaton has a tone of speed with the potential to take on the deep-ball role of Mike Wallace while Sanders and Brown do most of the intermediate work at Roethlisberger’s disposal. I like what Tennessee did to beef up the offensive line by signing guard Andy Levitre and drafting Chance Warmack, giving star running back Chris Johnson a potential hole-plugging lineman combo for him to run behind. I also like them brining along former 49ers tight end Delanie Walker, who will now be the go-to tight end unlike his days in San Francisco playing behind Vernon Davis. Ultimately, I like Roethlisberger to make lesser mistakes than Titans quarterback Jake Locker, and for the Steelers to control this game with methodically time-consuming drives. I don’t see how Tennessee’s defense puts Roethlisberger on his back.
Prediction: Steelers 23, Titans 13
Minnesota Vikings @ Detroit Lions – TV: FOX
The Vikings did their work in the offseason by catching two big fishes for quarterback Christian Ponder by signing former Packer Greg Jennings, a well-polished receiver and drafting Cordarrelle Patterson. Patterson does need some development, however. But not all rookies pick up the pro game as quickly as others. I think he’ll work his way into the mix as the season goes along. I like the addition of Reggie Bush to Detroit’s offense, a running back with explosive speed in the open field. Detroit offensive coordinator Scott Linehan needs to forget about the Demons of yesteryear, and be more chillaxed. Why? Look man, if Reggie sees something more obvious than you, you have to take a bite of the same Apple he is. Reggie gives the Lions offense two playmakers with the amazing Calvin Johnson, aka “The Megatron” living in a world full of a bunch of mega-things with only one ‘Megatron’ living in it.
Prediction: Lions 27, Vikings 21
Oakland Raiders @ Indianapolis Colts – TV: CBS
Rumor has it that some within the Raiders organization are skeptic of Terrelle Pryor being the starter. Look, you can’t really pin-point a clear starter in this messy situation. But given the athleticism behind Pryor and the evolution of the read-option being installed in the league, why not give it shot with this kid? Do you really think any other QB on the team will make things much better? Can you bank on Matt Flynn or Matthew McGloin to be the savior of the masses in Oakland? The Colts don’t have any uncertainty at quarterback as things are looking up for second year quarterback Andrew Luck and the Colts looking to make the playoffs for the second straight season. The Colts added some toughness on offense by bringing along former Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw, a player with a championship attitude. I expect the offense to be better even without Bruce Arians running it. The Raiders only have a prayer on stopping them this Sunday afternoon.
Prediction: Colts 34, Raiders 16
Seattle Seahawks @ Carolina Panthers – TV: FOX
I see that we have a pretty good range out there that are looking at this game as a possibility of an upset special to kickoff things. Winning five of their last six games last year, the Panthers gained some respect across the league as a team that will possibly be better this season. Winning five of six games is always a good track to be on, but four of their five wins during that stretch came against teams with losing records, and the lone loss came against the lowly Chiefs. Carolina receiver Steve Smith came out the other day and took a stab at former offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski. Chudzinski helped implement the zone-read option last season, but the running game never got going. That’s what new offensive coordinator Gus Bradley’s job will be this season, fix the running game. (Problem is) he starts things off against a mean and speedy Seattle defense that’s primed for big things. On the flip side, I don’t like Carolina’s chances defensively to slow down Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch carrying the football, or for their defensive front to get a good enough pass rush on the swift feet, mobile in the pocket, with the ability to throw on the run type quarterback Russell Wilson.
Prediction: Seahawks 26, Panthers 10
Kansas City Chiefs @ Jacksonville Jaguars – TV: CBS
The Chiefs now have a head coach that can bring discipline to the team. The key with having Andy Reid aboard is having a head coach that understands what he has in front of him. He has a top running back Jamaal Charles, a receiver like Dwayne Bowe that sported a 15-touchdown catch season in 2010, and a quarterback that can at least play within the confines of the system, not trying to force the issue Alex Smith. Jacksonville is still in the process of trying to find out if Blaine Gabbert has enough sauce in the pasta to be a legit quality starting quarterback in this league.
Prediction: Chiefs 19, Jaguars 13
4:25 PM ET
Arizona Cardinals @ St. Louis Rams – TV: FOX
I get the whole deal of Arizona having a veteran quarterback Carson Palmer is much better music to their ears than what they had a year ago. And I like the idea of looking into using the extremely athletic Patrick Peterson as a receiving option. Why not? You need to throw anything out there skill-wise, especially when you have a shaky offensive line. And just when you thought they had something good to look forward to in that department, first round draft pick Jonathan Cooper broke his leg, ending his season. The Rams improved at various areas of the team. They added a top left tackle Jake Long to protect quarterback Sam Bradford’s blind side, the defensive line is full of young talent that can create havoc upfront, drafting receiver Tavon Austin gives them more ammo on offense, and I like second year receiver Chris Givens to only get better. I do think new head coach Bruce Arians will eventually get the offense rolling in due time in Arizona, but the coach on the opposite side of the fence Jeff Fisher already has things more aligned in his second year at the helm in St. Louis.
Prediction: Rams 27, Cardinals 16
Green Bay Packers @ San Francisco 49ers – TV: FOX
Make no mistake, the Packers defense has been preparing for the read-option the 49ers used 16 times on them in the Divisional Playoff game in January, gaining 176-yards on the Packers defense. The 49ers finished with a playoff record setting 579-total yards in that game. Losing receiver Michael Crabtree was a tough blow to the 49ers offense during the summer, but the addition of Anquan Boldin still gives quarterback Colin Kaepernick a solid true number one option at receiver that can catch the football in tight spots and every now and then, get open over the top. Boldin is the ideal perfect fit to the 49ers offensive system. The Packers are heading into the season with a subpar offensive line that took a huge hit when losing left tackle Bryan Bulaga (Achilles) for the season. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is one of the best at escaping pressure and extending plays, but I think the 49ers defense heckles him enough to make a mistake or two to give the 49ers, who I like to control the tempo at the line of scrimmage, and slightly edge out the Packers in the make or break you things of the game. I hear the voices ringing in the head of Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers, “that darn read-option stuff is giving me CAT-SCRATCH FEVER.”
Prediction: 49ers 34, Packers 24
Sunday Night Football in America 8:30 PM ET – TV: NBC
N.Y. Giants @ Dallas Cowboys
“Jerry’s World” isn’t only the house that he built, Giants quarterback Eli Manning and the Giants have their signature’s stamped in the locker rooms of the once Cowboys Stadium, now called AT&T Stadium. There’s no need for me to take a trip back on the success between both rivals recently, we all know who has the two Super Bowl rings over the last six seasons. Things look different for both squads this season. You have the Cowboys with a new defensive scheme that I think fits the personnel they have, the change at play-caller, and just a better attitude from what many have seen during camp. The Giants on the other hand have a slew of injuries at important positions. In the grand scheme of all of this, I hear many calling this game by the numbers as if we are in line to witness a blowout? Please stop it. I know injuries are a concern, but I would always trust a coach like Tom Coughlin to change things up and have a game plan in place to give the Giants a chance. Now time for my “Crystal Ball Moment” I had the other day thinking about this game. Dallas comes out clicking, firing through the heart of New York’s defense with Tony Romo and Dez Bryant connecting big giving Dallas an early 17-0 lead. Then that Eli Manning that you just can’t put to sleep who starts out horrific facing a 3rd and 19 from the Giants own 25, connects with Victor Cruz on a 75-yard TD pass for a momentum changer. A game that looks like Dallas is on its way to a blowout win turns into a nail-biter with the ball in Romo’s court leading 24-21 with 3 minutes and some change left. The new play-caller Bill Callahan signals down to the once play-caller and still head coach Jason Garrett and says, “let’s get that interior moving and lets run this thing out, we don’t want Eli with the ball last here.” Garrett nods his head in agreement, and it works with a mixture of DeMarco Murray, Phillip Tanner and Joseph Randle, running behind plugged holes of an improved O-line.
Prediction: Cowboys 24, N.Y. Giants 21
Monday Night Football, September 9 – TV: ESPN
7:00 PM ET
Philadelphia Eagles @ Washington Redskins
Having Chip Kelly aboard to utilize the speed the Eagles have on offense could work for the better on taking an up-tempo approach. But then it hits me, you have quarterback Michael Vick telling the world that his younger teammates don’t respect him. After the drama continued in the Riley Cooper aftermath fighting his teammate in practice, after you thought his racial slur moment was going to rest a little, Vick tried to be a peacemaker. “I try to be the peacemaker,” said Vick, “but these young dudes don’t respect me. Our maturity level gotta be on a whole different plane. Regardless of who the catalyst was for the whole fight, that doesn’t matter. We’ve gotta be men. We’re not guys who are out on the street, fighting one another. We’re teammates … It’s game week. We don’t have time for that. I don’t. It’s a distraction.” Meanwhile, RGIII (knee) is ready to go. I honestly think that was the best thing coach Shanahan did, keeping him off the field during preseason, and stick him in when the games actually count. And enough of this the Redskins are going to keep him in the pocket most of the time yacking going on. You do what you do best, pistol it out and feed running back Alfred Morris the rock. That’s what works.
Prediction: Redskins 30, Eagles 19
10:15 PM ET
Houston Texans @ San Diego Chargers
Poor Philip Rivers, the Chargers go out and get him a new coach Mike McCoy for a change. What about something that isn’t changing? The offensive line remains messy, and when are they going to consider looking at a non-injury prone running back? I hate to be mean, being unlucky is unlucky, and this has to be the last straw for Ryan Mathews’ chance to ride out a healthy season. I just feel bad for Rivers, a good quarterback that had so much going for him in the early stages of his career, and all of sudden, poof, everyone disappears. And what he has in front of him to roundup the nightcap of ESPN’s Monday Night double-header is a wild Pit-Bull Dog J.J. Watt, Brian Cushing and gang getting after him and the ball. Houston should be able to provide a consistent pass-rush on Rivers for most of the night, due to an abysmal Chargers O-line.
Prediction: Texans 29, Charges 15