NFL Predictions Week 1: Bleacher Report's Expert Consensus Predictions
The NFL National and Division Lead Writers here at Bleacher Report have made more prognostications this week than Carnac the Magnificent. They have forecast this year's individual award winners. Predicted the All-Pro team. Done the same with an All-Rookie squad.
Want Week 1 predictions? Done and done. Now if we could only get them to come up with the winning Powerball numbers.
However, while they may not make us all millionaires (selfish jerks), the esteemed crew here at B/R isn't done just yet. Now it's time to take a deeper look at this week's slate. What are the upset specials? Who's fixing to get a beatdown? Which individual players will shine?
Read on and find out!
Upset of the Week
Winner: Tampa Bay Buccaneers over Carolina Panthers (five votes)
If one thing is certain in the National Football League, it's that nothing is for certain.
No matter how lopsided a matchup may appear on paper, there's always a chance for an upset. It keeps teams on their toes and sends fans scrambling for liquor cabinets.
For instance, if the Cleveland Browns knock off the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, as predicted by B/R's Mike Freeman, I can guarantee you that tequila consumption will spike in Western Pennsylvania.
However, there's one game that was far and away the leading pick for "Upset of the Week."
That game features the reigning NFC South champion Carolina Panthers, who travel south to face a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that managed only four wins last year.
However, things change quickly in the NFL, and for many folks a Tampa win would hardly be an upset. largely due to two very different offseasons.
For the Carolina Panthers, the good times from their division title didn't last long. Left tackle Jordan Gross called it a career, and the wide receiver corps was decimated by free agency.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, on the other hand, added several pieces, including a new head coach in Lovie Smith and a new quarterback in Josh McCown. In fact, the Buccaneers kept adding pieces right up until go time, acquiring Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins in a trade with the New England Patriots last week.
As if those opposing offseasons aren't enough concern for the Panthers, they also have a banged-up quarterback.
However, head coach Ron Rivera said he expects Newton to be OK for Sunday's game. ''I'm optimistic, and I expect him to be there,'' Rivera said. ''We will see how it all unfolds. We have to look at this day by day.''
Even if Newton does play, his injury could lead to the Panthers using fewer (or none) of the zone-read plays that make Newton so dangerous. Plus, the Tampa pass rush is loaded with talent.
Add in an unsettled Carolina passing attack, and the recipe is there for the Buccaneers to down the defending division champs at home.
With Carolina opening a three-point favorite on the road according to OddsShark, that qualifies it as upset in our book.
Of course, that line has now swung a full six points, so it appears we're far from alone in thinking Tampa gets the win.
Others receiving votes: Tennessee Titans over Kansas City Chiefs (two votes), Cleveland Browns over Pittsburgh Steelers (one vote), Atlanta Falcons over New Orleans Saints (one vote), Oakland Raiders over New York Jets (one vote), Minnesota Vikings over St. Louis Rams (one vote), Green Bay Packers over Seattle Seahawks (one vote), Washington Redskins over Houston Texans (one vote), Indianapolis Colts over Denver Broncos (one vote).
Blowout of the Week
Winner: San Francisco 49ers over Dallas Cowboys (three votes)
Apparently, our panelists think many of Week 1's games will be taking place behind the woodshed.
Of the 16 games taking place this week, 10 earned at least one vote from our panel as the "Blowout of the Week."
With that said, only three contests received multiple votes, and a single contest garnered three.
Sunday afternoon in Dallas, the 49ers and Cowboys will stage the latest chapter in what was once one of the most heated rivalries in the NFL.
This time around, however, it isn't Troy Aikman dueling Steve Young with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. It's Colin Kaepernick battling Tony Romo in an effort to get the 2014 season off on the right foot.
Both teams enter the season with looming question marks. For the 49ers, the offense struggled to move the ball in the preseason.
As Larry Hartstein of CBS Sports pointed out, many of the team's issues can be traced to an offensive line that has looked nothing like its usual dominant self:
Two-time Pro Bowl left guard Mike Iupati does not look fully recovered from the broken left fibula he suffered in the NFC Championship Game. The rest of the line isn't rock solid either. Right tackle Anthony Davis (shoulder surgery) is supposed to be ready for Week 1 but hasn't played yet. Right guard Alex Boone is holding out for a new deal, and there's been “no movement” on that front, according to the San Jose Mercury News.
Since Hartstein penned that article, Boone has reported, but after missing all of camp and the preseason, he's iffy to play Sunday. Even if he does, it would be wildly optimistic to assume he'll be at anything resembling 100 percent.
So, given those struggles, why does our panel expect the Niners to roll in Big D?
Well, we'll get to that in just a second.
Others receiving votes: Chicago Bears over Buffalo Bills (two votes), New York Jets over Oakland Raiders (two votes), Pittsburgh Steelers over Cleveland Browns (one vote), Kansas City Chiefs over Tennessee Titans (one vote), Detroit Lions over New York Giants (one vote), Seattle Seahawks over Green Bay Packers (one vote), Denver Broncos over Indianapolis Colts (one vote), Philadelphia Eagles over Jacksonville Jaguars (one vote), New Orleans Saints over Atlanta Falcons (one vote).
Winner: San Francisco 49ers offense vs. Dallas Cowboys defense (five votes)
About that Dallas defense.
There hasn't been an adjective invented yet that truly captures just how bad the Cowboys are fixing to be defensively in 2014.
At least until "craptastic" gets into the dictionary.
Last year, the Cowboys ranked dead last in the NFL in defense, allowing 415.3 yards per game.
Since then, the Cowboys have lost their two best pass-rushers (DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher) to free agency and their best linebacker (Sean Lee) to a torn ACL.
As Bleacher Report's Clarence Hill wrote, the losses showed in the preseason:
The preseason offered little encouragement, as the Cowboys finished last in the league in run defense, giving up 633 yards on 147 carries in four exhibition games.
The Cowboys allowed 158.3 yards per game and 4.3 yards per attempt.
'I think it’s a probably a combination of things based on who is in the game,' Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said of the problems against the run in the preseason. 'I think gap discipline and making sure your run fits are right; that's been an issue at different times throughout the preseason. Getting off blocks, tackling. Those things we have to get better at.'
Those numbers don't bode well even a little bit heading into a game with a San Francisco squad that had the third-best ground game in the NFL a year ago.
Is your offense ailing? Just call Doctor D. One shot of his offensive defense elixir will have you feeling like a million bucks and looking like the Denver Broncos.
Others receiving votes: New York Jets defense vs. Oakland Raiders offense (four votes), New Orleans Saints offense vs. Atlanta Falcons defense (four votes), St. Louis Rams defense vs. Minnesota Vikings offense (one vote).
Best QB Performance
Winner: Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos (five votes)
The 2013 season went about as well as a season can go for Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.
Well, up until the last game anyway.
Manning rewrote the single-season record books at his position last year, setting new high-water marks in passing yards (5,477) and touchdowns (55).
However, there were a few blemishes among that record-setting performance.
The first came in Week 7, when Manning and the undefeated Broncos were handed their first loss of the season by Andrew Luck and the Colts in Indianapolis.
On Sunday night, Manning and the Broncos will get a chance at a measure of revenge when the Colts visit the Mile High City.
The week got off to a rocky start for the Broncos with the four-game suspension levied against wide receiver Wes Welker, but Manning insisted to ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold that the team will be ready to go.
"It's the third year running we've had a starting player suspended at the start of the season," Manning said. "That's not something the Broncos want to brag about, but it's the reality. We've been able to still win games despite that. So no question it's a test; we'll see how we handle this test."
Losing Welker hurts, but the Broncos remain loaded on offense, and you can bet the rent that Manning hasn't forgotten that the Colts spoiled his return to Indy last year.
Look for him to return the favor Sunday by spoiling Week 1 for the Colts.
Others receiving votes: Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers (three votes), Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions (two votes), Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints (two votes), Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts (one vote), Geno Smith, New York Jets (one vote).
Best RB Performance
There's something of a logjam where the vote for Week 1's top running back performance is concerned, but that's not difficult to understand.
After all, you can be sure that when the Seattle Seahawks meet the Green Bay Packers Thursday night, the Green Bay defense will be in for a healthy dose of bruising running back Marshawn Lynch.
As Ben Rohrbach of Yahoo Sports reports, that dose comes with a side of Skittles:
In the weeks before his first full season as the official Skittles spokesperson, Lynch has apparently incorporated the candy into his training regimen, if the company's ad campaign is to be believed. The 5-foot-11, 215-pound running back even deadlifts what appears to be a lifetime's supply of colorful candy.
'Skittles and I are getting ready for all that action, boss,' Lynch said in an official press release.
Meanwhile, in the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy (who led the league in rushing last year) will square off with a Jacksonville Jaguars team that ranked 29th in the NFL in run defense last year.
Head coach Chip Kelly told Matt Lombardo of NJ.com (h/t Eliot Shorr-Parks) that he doesn't see any reason why McCoy can't lead the NFL in rushing again:
I think he has challenges and goals and aspirations that he wants to achieve...he does have the unique ability that the goals and aspirations he has, they are obtainable. (He says) 'I wanna lead the NFL in rushing', but not everyone has the God given ability to do it. He does.
Then there's Kansas City's Jamaal Charles, who flirted with 2,000 total yards and scored 19 total touchdowns last year.
Charles suffered a bizarre foot injury while moving out of the team's dorm at the end of training camp, but the 27-year-old told KSPR-TV he feels "great" in advance of the season opener.
That's good news for the Chiefs, but not so much for a Tennessee Titans team that made wholesale defensive changes in the offseason.
Best WR Performance
Winner: Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions (five votes)
The NFL is very much a passing league nowadays, and there are a lot of immensely talented wide receivers scattered across the league.
Still, the gold standard at the position remains Detroit's Calvin Johnson, who came very close two years ago to becoming the first wideout in NFL history to post a 2,000-yard season.
Johnson's numbers were down last year (as in only 1,492 yards and 12 touchdowns...that bum), but as the 28-year-old told Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, he's much more concerned with team success in 2014 than individual accolades:
I believe this is our best chance (to win the Super Bowl). And you’ve got to buy in. You’ve got to buy into the coaches’ philosophy, and we have. I believe that everybody is doing exactly what the coaches want us to do, and if we’re not, if something is not like he wants it, he’s going to tell us and we’re going to get better at it and he only has to tell us one time.
Detroit's quest for a playoff spot begins Monday night against a New York Giants team that was a top-10 pass defense last year and has improved the personnel in the secondary in the offseason.
However, the Lions improved their personnel in the receiving corps as well, adding wide receiver Golden Tate and tight end Eric Ebron. Besides, teams have been bracketing Megatron with everything from extra defensive backs to Luigi the hot pretzel guy for years.
Fat lot of good it's done them.
Others receiving votes: Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys (three votes), Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos (two votes), Brandon Marshall, Chicago Bears (two votes), Vincent Jackson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (one vote), Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota Vikings (one vote).
Best TE Performance
Winner: Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints (six votes)
Well, this vote should surprise absolutely no one.
After all, no one is going to refute that Jimmy Graham of the New Orleans Saints is the NFL's best tight end. Graham and the Saints open the season against an Atlanta Falcons team that has more questions than answers on defense.
In short, the table would appear to be set for Graham to open the 2014 campaign with a bang.
However, Atlanta safety William Moore told Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com that he's looking forward to the challenge of covering Graham on Sunday:
It comes down to executing your play and the stuff you've got going on. You can't too much worry about Jimmy Graham. He's explosive. He does things other tight ends don't do. But at the same time, you worry about what you've got to do. Your technique should allow you to put you over an edge over what he's got going, if you execute.
When these teams last met, Graham roasted Moore for a 44-yard touchdown, so we'll see if Moore feels the same way after chasing Graham around again Sunday.
Others receiving votes: Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots (three votes), Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers (three votes), Jordan Cameron, Cleveland Browns (one vote), Martellus Bennett, Chicago Bears (one vote).
Best Defensive Performance
Winner: New York Jets (seven votes)
Hope springs anew for fans of the Oakland Raiders. Rookie quarterback Derek Carr electrified the fanbase with a strong performance against the Seattle Seahawks in the preseason finale, and head coach Dennis Allen named the youngster the team's Week 1 starter under center.
Of course, after watching Matt Schaub play in the preseason, Raiders fans would probably be excited if the dog from the Air Bud movies was named the starting quarterback.
However, in the opinion of our panel, a heaping bucket of cold water is about to be dumped on those hopes, courtesy of the New York Jets.
Yes, the New York secondary is something of a mess. Cornerback Dee Milliner is hurt, which, given his performance as a rookie last year, may actually be a good thing.
Fellow cornerback Dimitri Patterson was cut after he literally took his ball and went home, going AWOL reportedly over unhappiness about his spot on the depth chart, according to Rich Cimini of ESPN.com.
However, the Raiders receiving corps isn't going to be confused with Denver's anytime soon, and a Jets front seven led by ends Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson is no joke.
Throw in Rex Ryan's penchant for blitzing, well, all the time, and the struggles that West Coast teams often experience when traveling east for an early game, and the Carr bandwagon may be about to blow a tire.
Others receiving votes: Pittsburgh Steelers (three votes), St. Louis Rams (two votes), New England Patriots (one vote), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (one vote).