Predicting the MVP of Every NFL Week 1 Game
A year ago, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson shredded opposing defenses for 2,097 yards on the ground and helped transform the Vikings into a playoff team.
Now let’s get to something a little more difficult.
Here is a look at all 16 games on the Week 1 slate and who will emerge as the most valuable player of each contest. All of the chosen performer’s teams will on the winning side of the scoreboard and there was no fear in picking a surprise or two (or more) along the way.
Agree or disagree? That is certainly anyone’s priority. But let’s see how it all shakes out in what is often the most unpredictable week of any NFL season.
Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos (Thursday Night)
Game MVP: OLB Elvis Dumervil, Ravens
The much-anticipated playoff rematch between the Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos is upon us.
Eight months ago, John Harbaugh’s team outlasted the host Broncos in double overtime, 38-35, en route to winning Super Bowl XLVII.
Revenge is in the Mile High air, but for whom?
In one of the more interesting offseason developments, Broncos Pro Bowl defensive end Elvis Dumervil became Ravens outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil. Those are the fax…uh, facts.
Another fact is that Denver will be without outside linebacker Von Miller for this tilt and another five games due to a six-game suspension.
And that’s too bad. Even with Miller and Dumervil around, the Broncos only sacked Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco once in five-plus quarters in the playoff meeting last season. Denver’s defense will also be missing perennial Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey for this showdown.
This time around, Dumervil will get in a pair of sacks. Only this time, it will be in the fourth quarter and at the expense of former teammate Peyton Manning, halting a late Denver drive as the Ravens prevail, 27-23.
New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills
Game MVP: RB C.J. Spiller, Bills
The feeling is that the New England Patriots defense will be one of the league’s most improved units in the league in 2013.
But perhaps that won’t be the case this week against a very familiar foe.
Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller, the ninth overall pick in 2010, began to show signs of why he was so highly regarded as a big-play threat in 2012. Spiller finished the season with 1,244 yards rushing on just 207 carries, averaging a nice six yards per attempt. He also totaled 459 yards on only 43 catches (10.7 yards per reception) and would score a total of eight touchdowns.
On Sunday at Orchard Park, new Bills head coach Doug Marrone will give rookie quarterback EJ Manuel the start according to CBSsports.com. But it will be another former first-rounder in Spiller that steals the show against a Patriots defense that finished ninth in the league in rushing defense a year ago.
Still, look for Spiller to have an early impact as a pass-catcher and make a bigger impression later in the game as a runner.
Marrone has a surprise or two waiting for Bill Belichick’s team.
Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers
Game MVP: QB Cam Newton, Panthers
After tying the NFL record for touchdown passes by a rookie last season, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has gone from a promising third-round pick in 2012 to a possible MVP candidate in 2013.
But the Pro Bowl signal-caller still only has one NFL season under his belt and one look at the Carolina Panthers' improving defense tells you that Wilson will have his hands full this Sunday.
Meanwhile, with all of last season’s deserved attention given to the 2012 quarterback draft class, the number-one overall pick in 2011 has taken a little bit of a back seat for numerous reasons.
But Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has no intentions of letting his team get off to another dreadful start. Look for the third-year pro to frustrate Seattle’s defensive front with his legs as well as his arm and Ron Rivera’s team to notch, perhaps, an unexpected win.
Cincinnati Bengals at Chicago Bears
Game MVP: WR A.J. Green, Bengals
This figures to be quite a showdown between two of the better defensive teams in the league.
So it is only common sense that one of the league’s best wideouts be the difference in this clash of 10-win teams from 2012.
And we are not talking about Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall.
It hasn’t taken long for Cincinnati Bengals Pro Bowler A.J. Green to make his presence felt in the league in only two seasons. He is teammate Andy Dalton's favorite target, just as Marshall is to Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.
Although the Bears secondary features the Pro Bowl cornerback tandem of Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman, look for Green to frustrate the Chicago defense with a pair of touchdown grabs.
And not surprisingly, look for Marvin Lewis’ talented team to walk out of the Windy City with a solid victory.
Miami Dolphins at Cleveland Browns
Game MVP: C Alex Mack, Browns
There are high expectations for the Miami Dolphins in 2013. And in some ways, the stakes have also been raised for the Cleveland Browns this season.
A new-look coaching staff featuring offensive coordinator Norv Turner means second-year pros Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson could be in for impressive seasons. The latter led the team in rushing and total touchdowns as a rookie. Meanwhile, Brandon looked like a different quarterback this preseason just one year after a so-so rookie campaign.
Besides the arrival of Turner, the Browns boast one of the better offensive lines in the league. While left tackle Joe Thomas is a perennial Pro Bowler, center Alex Mack has been a Pro Bowler as well.
This offseason, the Dolphins added middle linebacker Dannell Ellerbe to their defense. But Mack is a little familiar with the former Ravens defender—and knowledge is power.
Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions
Game MVP: RB Reggie Bush, Lions
The Minnesota Vikings were a big-time surprise in 2012, finishing with a 10-6 record after winning a combined nine games the previous two seasons.
The Detroit Lions were a major disappointment a year ago, finishing with a 4-12 record after losing their final eight games; this was a playoff team in 2011 with a 10-6 mark.
So, of course, the Lions are the pick here to win their first divisional contest since 2011. And the catalyst will be one of their newcomers in the form of running back Reggie Bush.
Those who saw the Vikings defense taken apart last year by Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie running back Doug Martin on a Thursday evening at the Metrodome will know exactly what could be in store for the Purple Gang.
The Detroit coaching staff will take full advantage of an overaggressive Minnesota defense. Look for Bush to score once on a long screen pass and tack on another touchdown on the ground as Jim Schwartz’s crew gets 2013 off to a good start.
Oakland Raiders at Indianapolis Colts
Game MVP: QB Andrew Luck, Colts
A year ago, Indianapolis Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck spearheaded one of the biggest turnarounds in league history. The team rebounded from a 2-14 finish in 2011 and went to the playoffs with an 11-5 mark.
But Luck also had as many turnovers as touchdown passes a year ago (23), an aspect of his game that must change.
He’ll get a chance to get off to a good start against a less-than-imposing Oakland defense that has only two starters returning from a year ago—which may or may not be a good thing.
Luck will throw for 309 yards and three touchdowns without an interception, two of those touchdowns to second-year wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. Head coach Chuck Pagano and company will roll to a 30-17 victory.
Kansas City Chiefs at Jacksonville Jaguars
Game MVP: RB Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars
Last season, the Kansas City Chiefs and Jacksonville Jaguars combined for four wins and 466 points.
The first statistic is flat-out awful. The second number is dreadful considering both the New England Patriots (557) and Denver Broncos (481) scored more points than that on their own in 2012.
How’s this for a number? A year ago, the Jaguars lost running back Maurice Jones-Drew for the final 10 games of the season. But the former Pro Bowler still led the team with 414 yards rushing.
The Chiefs figure to be much better this week but might be in for a little shock when Jones-Drew rolls up 135 yards on the ground and two touchdowns in Jacksonville’s 20-16 win.
Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints
Game MVP: FS Thomas DeCoud, Falcons
When last the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints squared off, the eventual NFC South champions spent a Thursday evening catching almost as many Drew Brees passes as his teammates did.
All kidding aside, Mike Smith’s team shut down the New Orleans passing attack, holding Brees without a touchdown pass for the first time in 55 games and picking off the perennial Pro Bowler five times.
There’s little doubt that the Saints have had Atlanta’s number. Since Brees’ arrival in 2006, New Orleans owns an 11-3 mark versus their bitter division rival.
But Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan will once again be ready for the New Orleans signal-caller. DeCoud will total two of Atlanta’s three interceptions of Brees in a key 26-21 win, spoiling head coach Sean Payton’s return to the Saints sidelines.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New York Jets
Game MVP: RB Bilal Powell, Jets
The ideal script here would have new Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Darrelle Revis pick off three or four passes, run them all back for touchdowns and for the New York Jets to regret trading their star defender this offseason.
But this is real life. So we’ll save that scenario for another time and perhaps a movie of the week.
As for this contest, the reeling Jets look like they will go with rookie quarterback Geno Smith, at least for this week. But those worried about the Tampa pass rush affecting the young player must know that the Bucs haven’t totaled any more than 30 sacks in each of the previous five seasons.
The Jets' ability to throw the ball against the Buccaneers will be accelerated by the running of Bilal Powell, who will see the bulk of the carries in this contest. Smith may grab the headlines but Powell’s 24 carries for 115 yards will be the difference in New York’s 23-20 victory.
Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh Steelers
Game MVP: SS Troy Polamalu, Steelers
There’s been a lot of talk in recent seasons about how the Pittsburgh Steelers are getting old on defense.
The numbers don’t necessarily indicate that. In each of the last two seasons, Dick LeBeau’s unit has allowed the fewest yards in the league.
But what is getting old is the lack of big plays by this unit. Mike Tomlin's team has only forced 35 turnovers in their last 32 games. That’s not a lot from a team known for pressuring its opponents into mistakes.
It is safe to say that 2012 was a forgettable season for Steelers safety Troy Polamalu. But look for the star defender to be one reason the Pittsburgh defense keeps Titans running back Chris Johnson under wraps and quarterback Jake Locker under the gun as Tomlin’s team gets an opening-day win.
Arizona Cardinals at St. Louis Rams
Game MVP: TE Jared Cook, Rams
The Arizona Cardinals can’t protect the quarterback. The St. Louis Rams know how to get to the quarterback.
What about when the Rams have the football? Will the Cardinals pass rush be a threat to quarterback Sam Bradford, who last season quietly threw for 21 touchdowns compared to only 13 interceptions?
But while Patrick Peterson and company focus on the young St. Louis wideouts, can the Cardinals linebacking corps keep an eye on new Rams tight end Jared Cook? Bruce Arians’ team will be lacking one if its star defenders in suspended inside linebacker Daryl Washington, who led the team with nine sacks in 2012.
Meanwhile, Cook figures to make life difficult for an Arizona defense that may not prepared for a St. Louis passing attack that has not made much of an impact in the league in recent seasons. Head coach Jeff Fisher will continue to do what he has done best since taking over the Rams a year ago: beat the teams in his own division.
Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers
Game MVP: OLB Aldon Smith, 49ers
During the first 13 games of 2012, San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith spent more time with opposing quarterbacks than they did with their own head coaches.
Speaking of a lot of sacks, Green Bay Packers signal-caller Aaron Rodgers saw his share. That would be 51 sacks, more than any other quarterback in the league last season.
Including the team’s three-game postseason run, Smith failed to record a sack in his last six outings a year ago. But that will change in a hurry this Sunday as the Pro Bowler will get half of the team’s five sacks of Rodgers in a 24-20 win over Mike McCarthy’s Packers.
New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys (Sunday Night)
Game MVP: WR Dez Bryant, Cowboys
One of the hottest receivers during the second half of 2012 was Dallas Cowboys wideout Dez Bryant. The big-play performer caught 50 passes for 879 yards and 10 touchdowns in the team’s final eight games.
Throughout the preseason, Bryant continued his fine play. The former first-round pick was target 14 times in three games and caught 13 passes for 183 yards and a touchdown.
Now Bryant and quarterback Tony Romo take aim at a New York Giants defense that hasn’t shown the same kind of pass rush than in 2011. Look for the Dallas passing game to make a big impact in a contest that could feature its share of points.
Bryant will total eight catches for 121 yards and three touchdowns in the Cowboys 34-20 win.
Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins (Monday Night)
Game MVP: RB Alfred Morris, Redskins
We now know who will be playing quarterback Monday night in the nation’s capital.
The number-one pick in 2001 (Michael Vick) faces the number-two pick in 2012 (Robert Griffin III) as the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins finished at opposite ends of the NFC East last year. The Birds squandered a 3-1 start and wound up 4-12, while Washington finished the regular season with seven straight wins and a 10-6 record that gave the 'Skins their first division title since 1999.
Vick and company are now under the guidance of new head coach Chip Kelly.
The Redskins are still Mike Shanahan’s and the highly-regarded coach is determined to make sure his team isn’t a one-hit wonder.
A year ago, Washington led the NFL in rushing thanks to Griffin and fellow rookie Alfred Morris, the latter finishing second in the league with 1,613 yards. With the Eagles defense still trying to find itself, look for Morris to enjoy a terrific evening in a win for the ‘Skins.
Houston Texans at San Diego Chargers (Monday Night)
Game MVP: OLB Whitney Mercilus, Texans
The turnover issues regarding San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers the last two seasons are well documented.
The team’s inability to protect their former Pro Bowl signal-caller has been getting just as much attention as of late. A year ago, Rivers was sacked 49 times in 16 games.
Now the Bolts must find a way to contain Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt this Monday night. The 2012 NFL Defensive Player of the Year totaled 20.5 sacks and batted down his share of passes.
But while the Chargers look to handle Watt, who else but second-year pro Whitney Mercilus to the rescue? The explosive outside linebacker will open a few eyes with his 3.5-sack/one-interception performance on Monday night.