NFL Week 1 Predictions: Picking Every Game This Weekend
Pro football has returned to a full slate of games and Week 1 of the 2012 NFL season brings plenty of highly anticipated debuts.
Health and durability plays a major role with the Kansas City Chiefs having Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry and Matt Cassel back. On the flip side, the Minnesota Vikings aren't as definite with Adrian Peterson.
According to the Associated Press (via Sports Illustrated):
The star running back, recovering from a surgically repaired left knee, said Thursday he has "somewhat" of a gut feeling about whether the Vikings will let him suit up on Sunday for the game against Jacksonville.
Peterson didn't specify whether he's expecting to play and knows the decision is out of his hands.
There's a legitimate potential NFC Championship game preview between the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers. Can opening week get any better?
Yes it can, by picking every game on tap for this weekend.
Colts at Bears
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That said, Andrew Luck leads basically a new offense into Soldier Field coming off a strong preseason.
Indianapolis has much to prove on both sides of the ball and the Bears simply have too much talent. A great two-back tandem in Matt Forte and Michael Bush presents a balanced attack and Cutler has other reliable targets in the passing game.
Chicago's defense needs to prove itself against the pass and this is Indy's strength. Last season the Bears were susceptible through the air. Injuries aside, that was a major issue in the NFC North.
The game will be closer than anticipated, but the Monsters of the Midway get it done.
Prediction: Bears 28, Colts 17
Eagles at Browns
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For as much talent as the Philadelphia Eagles had in 2011, it's quite possible they have more in 2012.
The Cleveland Browns are also looking better than last season, although it's nowhere near to Philly's level.
Philadelphia is deep across the board by comparison. The Browns are similar to Indianapolis, meaning they are relying on a rookie quarterback and inexperience elsewhere.
Cleveland's defense will keep it in the game early as the Eagles must start and finish better. Unfortunately for the Browns, Philly has the significantly more impressive running game and overall defense.
It's close early, but the Eagles gradually pull away in the second half.
Prediction: Eagles 27, Browns 10
Patriots at Titans
The New England Patriots won 59-0 in the last meeting.
You can certainly anticipate the Tennessee Titans coming out with a little vengeance at home.
With one of the NFL's best backs in Chris Johnson, the Titans field a better running game but New England is vehemently better at passing.
For one, Tom Brady has an abundance of weapons that all can't possibly be covered one-on-one and the Pats' ground game is effective when needed. Tennessee's defense won't be as strong against the pass as 2011 and its own aerial assault needs much work.
The Patriots also drafted exceptionally well and Bill Belichick's defense is great when it comes to causing quarterback pressure. Turnovers play a big factor in New England's win.
Prediction: Patriots 34, Titans 14
Falcons at Chiefs
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The Kansas City Chiefs would have made the postseason had it not been for injuries last season.
Despite those unfortunate circumstances, K.C. almost did win the AFC West from a roller coaster year.
What we have here are two teams possessing motivation to win and turn a corner in 2012. Provided K.C. remains healthy the Chiefs have the better running game with Jamaal Charles.
K.C.'s defensive strength in 2011 was against the pass and Atlanta's was defending the run. As expected, both improved their weaknesses this offseason and this will be one of the best Week 1 contests.
Asante Samuel was a nice get for depth in Atlanta's secondary, so don't expect a lot from the Chiefs passing attack. For K.C. the return of Eric Berry will help against the Falcons' offensive onslaught.
It's quite an evenly matched affair but the winner possesses the more balanced offense. Atlanta's running game may not be as great as K.C.'s. However, Matt Ryan is far better than Matt Cassel at tossing the rock and he has more reliable targets.
Prediction: Falcons 24, Chiefs 20
Jaguars at Vikings
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This will be one low-scoring battle because neither offense has much firepower.
Sure the Jacksonville Jaguars have a spruced up receiving corps and Blaine Gabbert is coming off a nice preseason.
Nevertheless, the second-year quarterback has to continue that into the regular season. The man opposite him, Christian Ponder, must do the same for the Minnesota Vikings.
The downside, unfortunately, is the Vikings' receiving corps.
Each ground game looks to be less productive as Rashad Jennings is starting over Maurice Jones-Drew—per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network—and as mentioned, Adrian Peterson's remains uncertain.
To that end, the Jaguars field the better overall defense and sneak a solid road win to kick off 2012.
Prediction: Jaguars 14, Vikings 10
Redskins at Saints
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The Saints offense, although still impressive courtesy of Drew Brees, has some new faces and the Redskins defense is much better than advertised.
Washington's offense won't do extensive damage either, because Robert Griffin III is still a rookie. The Saints will blitz early and often to rattle the new gunslinger and force the Redskins to throw more often.
The idea is to get Brees as many possessions as possible.
For as much pass-rushing talent that resides in Washington's front seven, Brees is as good as anyone when it comes to reading pre-snap. The Redskins linebackers will create a shield over the middle, so success will be a minimum at first.
Nonetheless, the Saints have the better offense because of Brees and it's also tough to beat NOLA in The Superdome.
Prediction: Saints 28, Redskins 23
Bills at Jets
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Here's a matchup that looks like a blowout on paper.
For as much talent as Gang Green fields on defense, Buffalo one-ups them with Mario Williams, Mark Anderson and rookie cornerback Stephon Gilmore.
Also, Buffalo possesses the much better running game and consistently reliable offensive line. New York's quarterbacks were under all kinds of duress this preseason and we know the Bills will bring the pain every snap.
With an underrated two-back tandem in Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, Buffalo's offense controls the tempo, while its defense goose-eggs the Jets' horrific offense.
Prediction: Bills 20, Jets 0
Rams at Lions
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After all, the Rams were 2-14 a year ago while Detroit made the playoffs.
Well, this matchup will be rather closer than anticipated. St. Louis' defense made some nice upgrades with Cortland Finnegan and rookies Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson.
The Lions offense will have some issues throwing as it's reasonable to suspect Calvin Johnson getting double covered every play. Detroit needs to establish a running game, otherwise 2012 could be a disappointment as well.
Defensively, the Lions must improve at stuffing the run and cause turnovers against the pass. Fortunately for St. Louis, Steven Jackson is still a beast and rookie Isaiah Pead creates a two-back set that can change the pace.
The Rams must keep it on the ground and Detroit's offense off the field. That's St. Louis' best chance to win, but with the Lions' explosiveness it won't be enough.
Prediction: Lions 30, Rams 16
Dolphins at Texans
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Here we have an intriguing matchup when the Miami Dolphins offense takes the field.
Another rookie quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, is Miami's signal-caller and he gets to face the Houston Texans' defense.
What a challenge for the No. 8 overall pick, because the Texans were the second-best defense in 2011 and will be just as stellar this season. With the ability to suffocate any running game, cause an immense amount of quarterback pressure and force turnovers, Tannehill's first outing will be rough.
The Dolphins don't have any standout receivers to consistently beat single coverage and Houston's offense is impressively balanced to remain effective. Miami's defense will be decent against the run, but blanketing Andre Johnson and tight end Owen Daniels in coverage won't be easy.
Houston simply has far too much overall talent than Miami and crushes to open 2012.
Prediction: Texans 31, Dolphins 7
49ers at Packers
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On one side we have Aaron Rodgers and the NFL's most efficient offense facing Patrick Willis and the NFL's most dominant defense.
Call it even when the Packers possess the ball because Rodgers will get pressure when dropping back. Also his quick release can get the 49ers secondary on its heels. The Packers have a more presenting ground game but San Francisco will limit Cedric Benson quite a bit.
When the Niners offense hits the field we see improvements here as well.
The Packers addressed the defense emphatically well through the draft and San Francisco got Alex Smith more receivers in Randy Moss and Mario Manningham. With Green Bay's explosive offense, though, expect San Francisco to run early and often to keep Rodgers off the field.
Doing so only helps the Niners defense, because keeping this game from becoming an offensive festival will tip the odds in San Francisco's favor.
Prediction: 49ers 23, Packers 21
Seahawks at Cardinals
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This NFC West duel will come down to one thing: The pass rush.
Each defense has a solid unit of rushers and each offense certainly has its flaws.
Chris Clemons leads the way for the Seattle Seahawks and rookie Bruce Irvin will make an impact in passing situations. Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell are the main sack-masters for the Arizona Cardinals and are quite consistent as well.
Because of each pass rush, that counter must come from the offensive lines.
Here is where the Seahawks have a major competitive advantage. Last season the Cards' allowed 54 sacks (second-most in the league) and it only got worse this preseason. In addition, neither of Arizona's quarterbacks are as mobile as Russell Wilson.
Wilson enjoyed solid protection throughout the preseason and his dominant production shined. Seattle has an array of receivers for him to target and provided that he suits up, Marshawn Lynch will go beast-mode.
However, Lynch's status remains uncertain according to Stephania Bell of ESPN.com:
Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch is no lock to play this weekend after being sidelined for the past two weeks because of back spasms. With regard to Lynch's status, Seattle coach Pete Carroll told reporters Thursday he "really won't know until the end of the week unless something changes."
Still, Seattle is becoming a complete team and it also has the better secondary for limiting any big plays.
Prediction: Seahawks 21, Cardinals 13
Panthers at Buccaneers
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Each team has the ability to run the ball effectively, but the edge goes to Carolina with Cam Newton and his abundance of running backs.
Tampa Bay has a nice tandem itself with Doug Martin and LeGarrette Blount, so the Bucs will also slam well on the ground. One difference, though, comes from Carolina having Jon Beason and Luke Kuechly at linebacker and a proven pass-rusher in Charles Johnson, whereas the Bucs aren't nearly as talented up front.
In the passing game, Tampa Bay has Vincent Jackson to target downfield and press Carolina's coverage. On the flip side, the Panthers' passing attack presents more reliability in Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and tight end Greg Olsen.
Both teams are similar but the Cats are just a better version.
Prediction: Panthers 35, Buccaneers 24
Steelers at Broncos
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The debut of Peyton Manning puts him against the Pittsburgh Steelers to kick off 2012.
The Denver Broncos finally have a quarterback who can spread the field like John Elway and capitalize on any defensive look.
Even with receivers Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, the Broncos passing game has more relevance because of Manning. In turn, this helps the ground game's production and ultimately keeps Pittsburgh honest.
When the Steelers have the rock, Ben Roethlisberger is protected by a vulnerable offensive line and the non-threatening rushing attack will struggle against a stronger Broncos defense. Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil will put the pressure on once again and provide Tracy Porter and Champ Bailey turnover opportunities in the secondary.
A double-team must be put on receiver Mike Wallace at all times and constant blitzing of Big Ben to force early releases. This can also be said for the Steel Curtain because the quicker Manning is forced to rid the ball, it reduces the odds of him slicing up Dick Lebeau's defense.
The main difference comes from Denver having the better offensive line. Winning the line of scrimmage is where games are won and that's where the Steelers are the weakest.
Prediction: Broncos 24, Steelers 16
Bengals at Ravens
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Each team fields a Top 10 defense and run-oriented offense with a big-play receiver.
So how can one team gain an edge despite the commonalities?
Well, the Bengals are much younger and healthier on defense. With Terrell Suggs out, Baltimore misses a huge asset to the front seven, and despite his dominance, Ray Lewis is 37 years old.
The Bengals have to attack on the ground and wear down Baltimore because Ed Reed and Lardarius Webb make for excellent coverage in the secondary. Plus, Benjarvus Green-Ellis was part of the Pats team that beat Baltimore in the 2011 AFC title, so his ball-carrier vision will pay dividends.
Baltimore's offense must continue to rely on Ray Rice.
It's the best way to set up play-action for Torrey Smith downfield and test Cincy's sound pass defense. The key to this game will be which ground game remains effective. Although it's Rice, Cincy will stop the run better as the Ravens were exposed against the run toward the end of 2011.
Prediction: Bengals 14, Ravens 10
Chargers at Raiders
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The old AFC West rivalry closes out the first week of the 2012 season and it's a good one.
This time around not much has changed. Oakland is the better running team with Darren McFadden and San Diego is the better passing team. This chess-match will be determined by how well the defenses adjust in-game.
As obvious as that sounds, the Raiders were horrendous in 2011 by ranking No. 27 against the run and pass, and the Chargers weren't much better. Despite the differing offensive philosophies, this contest will see more scores than expected.
The Raiders have a stronger front seven with a decent pass rush and Tyvon Branch is a great safety. On the contrary, San Diego presents Eric Weddle and Quentin Jammer for playmaking against Carson Palmer.
The Silver and Black have a great edge, much like San Francisco beating Green Bay by running the ball.
Prediction: Raiders 27, Chargers 21
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