The NFL is finally here! On Thursday, Sept. 9, the season will kickoff with Pittsburgh-Tennessee, and then the rest of the games will continue on Sunday and Monday. I am here to predict those games (and will weekly). This edition features small previews of each team, but future editions will focus more on actually predicting specifics about each game.
Pittsburgh vs. Tennessee (GAME OF THE WEEK)
These two teams had the best two records in the NFL last year, along with two of the best defenses. This should be a nasty, hard-hitting game without much offense.
Pittsburgh is defending its title against the very team that stomped on its beloved Terrible Towel last year. Big Ben plays his first meaningful game since the sexual assault allegations, so we'll see how he responds. Parker and Mendenhall are a good one-two punch, but we'll have to see if the offensive line can be better than last year. The defense returns most key players from last year. They could probably lose everybody but Harrison and Polamalu and still be one of the best in the league.
Those guys are crazy good.
Tennessee gets a harsh test early on facing the defending champs on their home turf with Kerry Collins at the helm. There is no way he is the quarterback of a playoff Titans team at the end of this year, despite getting better recievers, including former Steeler Nate Washington. Johnson and White are as good of a running back combo as any in the league, but they'll have trouble against Pittsburgh. The defense was great last year, but star DT Haynesworth is gone, so we'll have to see if they are as effective.
Pittsburgh has a superior offense and defense. They are playing at home and coming off a Super Bowl Championship. The crowd is going to be into it, and historically the former Super Bowl champs don't lose this game. I'm taking the Steelers.
Pittsburgh 20, Tennessee 10
Atlanta vs. Miami
Miami gets to show that last year was for real with a week 1 matchup with the Falcons.
Rookie sensation Matt Ryan could develop into a legitimate top QB this year, if they don't run 7,000 times with Michael Turner. It's hard to run so much when Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White are targets to throw to, though. Maybe they'll open up a bit more.
The Atlanta defense might be one of the leagues worst this year, having no strengths anywhere on it.
There is no way the Dolphins offense will have the same success as last year. Pennington is due for an injury after a healthy 2008 season, and Ronnie Brown is their best weapon—that is a big problem.
Joey Porter had a nice comeback year on defense and they welcome back veteran Jason Taylor, now an outside linebacker. After an off year in Washington, Taylor should have a mini-revival, being back in a familiar setting.
These are two teams I feel could drop off dramatically this year. The Falcons have a bad defense and Miami has a bad offense; on paper at least. The Falcons offense is slightly better than Miami's defense though and that will be the difference.
Atlanta 24, Miami 14
Cincinnati vs. Denver
Denver has had a whole slew of problems this offseason, as well as continuing problems with Brandon Marshall, and don't look great going into the season against the Hard Knocks stars of the Cincinnati Bengals.
Carson Palmer is back and Chad Ochocinco looks to be nearly back to his old self. Palmer is still fragile and remains behind a bad O line. Cedric Benson shouldn't be threatening to Denver.
The D might be better this year with Mike Zimmer calling the shots.
Denver is in disarray everywhere. Brandon Marshall is still at odds with management, Knowshon Moreno might not play Week One, and Kyle Orton hasn't looked good in preseason.
Not to mention that the defense is not much better than last year.
This is gonna be a high-scoring game. Both of these defenses are very bad. Bottom five is not out of the question for either team. The Bengals are gonna kill Denver through the air, but only if Palmer is really healthy. Orton has struggled and has an injury, so look for the Broncos backs to have a good game. Cincinnati will win because Palmer will outduel Orton.
Cincinnati 31, Denver 21
Cleveland vs. Minnesota
Two New York Jets outcasts meet here in week 1. Brett Favre will start against his former coach when Minnesota travels to Cleveland on Sunday afternoon.
Cleveland doesn't have a whole lot going for them right now. Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson haven't looked overly impressive and neither has anybody on either side of the ball. The only way the Browns can be successful this year is if Jamal Lewis and Braylon Edwards have major revivals, which is very unlikely.
Packers fans will cringe when Brett Favre takes the field in Cleveland as a hated Minnesota Viking, but whatever you say he is an upgrade over Tavares Jackson. Jackson was dreadful in their playoff game last year and can take them out of games with mistakes. Not that Favre can't, but Favre can make more big plays and provides better leadership.
The defense will once again be one of the best in the league.
This will be an interesting game in determining the Browns' season this year. Will they bounce back to 2007 form or continue down the path of awfulness like their 2008 year. Brady Quinn will have a bad time against the pass rush of Minnesota and Jamal Lewis and/or James Davis aren't exactly superstar runners. Brett Favre gets an easy game in his first "real" game since un-retiring. He could actually have a good game here, but Peterson will have a huge game. Minnesota will win.
Minnesota 24, Cleveland 16
Indianapolis vs. Jacksonville
Jacksonville enters the year as a legitimate bounce-back team, and they face a legitimate fall-to-earth team in Indy. Manning won't let their season be ruined though, and this should be a great division shootout.
Two long time staples—Tony Dungy and Marvin Harrison—are gone from Indy this season. It is a lot to ask for Jim Caldwell and Anthony Gonzalez to fill those guys' shoes. Peyton Manning is essentially a coach though and will rally the troops around him. Don't think the Colts are going away this year.
Jacksonville is an intriguing AFC team this year. In fact, they are my sleeper pick to make the playoffs. That being said, they still have a lot of questions on defense, especially in the secondary. They need to generate a great pass rush for their secondary to be good this year. Going against Peyton Manning isn't the best ingredient for a so-so pass D.
Their offense will be good though with underrated David Gerrard, multi-purpose Jones-Drew, and newcomer/veteran Holt. They will score a lot this season.
The season kicks off for these two with a great division rivalry. The Jags and Colts have become nice foes over the past few years, and this game should be another great one. Manning needs to get out of the gate hot for Indy and the Jags need MJD to be healthy and productive. Indy will pull out a squeaker.
Indianapolis 31, Jacksonville 26
New Orleans vs. Detroit
The Saints host the history-making Detroit Lions in the Week One debut of Matthew Stafford. Drew Brees is coming off a record-breaking season of his own and should be able to pick apart this Lions D.
The Saints come into this game as the favorites of the NFC South. Dree Brees is of course excellent, and maybe Marques Colston will be able to stay healthy, but they still have many offensive questions. Will Bush stay healthy? Will Lance Moore be as effective? Can Shockey be a part of the offense? The defense will not help much more than last year, with the same core of players back.
Go ahead and lay down all the money in the world—the Lions will win 100 percent more games in 2009 than in 2008. Matthew Stafford can bring a glimpse of hope to the hopeless city of Detroit with a good first start and first season. Having Calvin Johnson to throw to doesn't hurt him either. The offensive line will be bad, but they have the talent to overcome that. The defense was the worst part of that 0-16 Lions team and Larry Foote won't change that. The Lions won't be winning any 10-3 games this year.
Detroit is going to be a lot better than last year. Calvin Johnson finally has a competent quaterback throwing to him. That is bad news for the Saints' excuse for a defense. Kevin Smith is dangerous on the ground as well. This might be the best game to watch of any this week. Both teams will score a lot and it's going to ba a lot closer than people think. Drew Brees will not let his team lose though. He's just goning to explode for some odd 400 yards and four touchdowns in this game. New Orleans will win a great shootout.
New Orleans 34, Detroit 28
Tampa Bay vs. Dallas
Tampa starts their rebuilding with a date with the Terrell Owens-less Cowboys. It will be interesting to see how Tampa can recover from losing veterans like Jeff Garcia and Derrick Brooks.
The Buccaneers face some major issues on offense. Anytime Byron Leftwich is your starter, things are not well. They have a trio of dangerous backs, but none of them will kill you. Ward is the most explosive, but he might still only get the same amount of work that he did in New York. Bryant had offseason surgery and will probably not be healthy for this first game. The defense really had a let down at the end of the season, and only time will tell how important Monte Kiffin was to them.
The Cowboys entered last season as Super Bowl favorites, but now come into this season as NFC afterthoughts. They disappointed last season, but this team is basically the same as last year's, minus TO. Tony Romo was injured for a crutucal stretch last year and he is one of the best in the league out there. Running the ball should be a breeze. DeMarcus Ware leads what should be a better defense this year.
This game might be rough for Tampa since all of the coaching overhaul in the offseason, as well as not really having a good starting quarterback. Demarcus Ware is going to be putting licks on Leftwich all night. The only way Tampa stands a chance if their running game just comes out and kicks butt, which it could very well do. It's hard to see a whole lot of things going right though. Dallas will win a game closer than the score indicates.
Dallas 24, Tampa Bay 13
Carolina vs. Philadelphia
Michael Vick may not be playing, but this game will be one of the best of the week. Two of the final four NFC teams from last year face off in Charlotte in what should be a well-balanced game.
Jake Delhomme is fresh off of a five-interception game in the playoffs at the very same stadium. He is not as bad as some are making him out to be and can still win the Panthers some games with his gutsy late-game play. DeAngelo Williams might be flying without Jonathan Stewart a lot this season as Stewart has had an unpromising Achilles injury nagging him. Smith is still one the elite guys at wide receiver.
The loss of Kemoeatu hurts the Panthers, but if Jon Beason plays, the run defense shouldn't be too bad. The pass defense should improve with Gamble and Mashall continuing to get better.
Philadelphia is being hyped as a much better team this year than last, and its hard to argue offensively. They went out and got a good tackle in Peters, as well as grabbing Maclin and LeCoy in the draft. McNabb is very good when healthy, but Vick could be the league's best backup when he is eligible after Week Two.
The Eagles will be hurt by Brian Dawkins' departal, but Jim Johnson's death will effect them more. Many of the players were close to him and may not be able to concentrate while on the field with somebody else leading them on. It will be interesting to see if their pass rush is as aggressive this season.
This is probably the second most intriguing matchup of Week One. People are really sleeping on Carolina in this one. They are basically the same team that went 12-4 last year. They lost one key player on defense and they are now being written off. They will come out with something to prove in this game, especially Jake Delhomme. Donovan McNabb will also come out firing, as it has appeared he is bothered by the whole Michael Vick signing. This is gonna be a great game, but the Panthers get the edge because of the home field advantage (8-0 in regular season last year).
Carolina 27, Philadelphia 21
Baltimore vs. Kansas City
They D-heavy Ravens take on the rebuilding Chiefs in what could be one of the biggest blowouts of the week.
Baltimore returns all of the key cogs from their offense last year. Joe Flacco has the tools to be a great quarterback, and we'll get to see if he can take that next step this year and play well in the clutch. Ray Rice is the starter this year and has gotten a lot of preseason hype. It will be interesting to see if he gets most of the carries this year, instead of McGahee. It's really a curious situation why McGahee is looked at as a below average back now.
Of course the Ravens defense will again be one of the league's best. Despite losing stud linebacker Bart Scott and coordinator Rex Ryan, the defense returns two of the best players at their respective positions, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. Those guys might be the most exciting two defensive players in the league, and they are on the same team. Terrell Suggs is also a great player at defensive end.
The Chiefs have already had a bad omen on their season. Matt Cassel went down in the preseason with a knee injury right after signing a big $50 million contract (Really? Fifty millions for a guy who had one pretty good season? REALLY???). He might be back for the opener, but that's not a good start. Brodie Croyle and Tyler Thigpen are the backups. Larry Johnson has been ignored by pretty much everybody recently. Just a few years ago he was the league's top back. Then again, so was Shaun Alexander. Johnson still has some juice though. Dwayne Bowe could help Cassel out this year. He is a big breakout candidate; a big, strong, fast receiver on a passing team without any other great options. That is a good recipe for a great year.
The Chiefs defense should improve from last year, but nobody should expect a big improvment. Tyson Jackson was their big offseason aquisition (via draft) and he isn't expected to contribute right away. They're going to have a lot of shootouts this season.
This game is going to be a blowout, plain and simple. Maybe even a shutout. A slightly unhealthy Matt Cassel/healthy Croyle or Thigpen behind that offensive line against that defense spells a Ravens blowout and first shutout of the season.
Ravens 27, Chiefs 0
Houston vs. New York Jets
Everybody's sleeper pick in Houston matches up with a team that could sneak up on people in the Jets in this Week one duel.
Houston has one heck of an offense. Matt Schaub might have a 4,000+ yard, 30+ TD season if he can stay healthy. He has weapons like Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels, and Kevin Walter to throw the ball, not to mention star running back Steve Slaton. Slaton is back and running behind one of the better O-lines out there. Teams will have to put up a lot of points to slow down this show.
The defense on Houston shouldn't be too shabby either. Mario Williams is still showing why he was the better pick than Reggie Bush and leads a good pass rusher. DeMeco Ryans is also one of the leagues better playmakers at linebacker. The secondary is middle of the pack, but should't lose them any games.
New York intrigues me because they were 9-7 last year and Brett Favre is the only significant piece missing. The way he played down the stretch, it isn't crazy to think Mark Sanchez can't be better this year than Favre was last year. Thomas Jones, Leon Washington, and Shonn Greene make up one of the best three-headed monsters in football, and each guy presents unique problems. Jerricho Cotchery is the only reliable receiver Sanchez has, so he could have a big year for the Jets in '09.
Rex Ryan didn't leave Baltimore empty-handed. He brought along Bart Scott, who immediately upgrades the Jets defense. They were a middle of the pack defense last year, and it would not be surprising at all if they turned into an elite unit with Ryan and Scott joining team operations.
This game will be a good test for Rex Ryan's new defense. Houston won't be able to run very well, but Matt Schaub is going to light up the Jets secondary. The Jets will run down the Texans gut wear them down. This game will be close throughout, but the Texans will pull away with a late touchdown at the end.
Texans 28, Jets 14
New York Giants vs. Washington
The G-Men and 'Skins will have an epic NFC East showdown to kick off their respective seasons in the Meadowlands.
The Giants will be good this year. Brandon Jacobs is due for a monster year. Derrick Ward, who had 1,000 yards last year is gone, and Bradshaw is not going to get all 1,000 of those yards. This will still be a running team, since Eli really doesn't have anybody to throw the ball. Jacobs is going to lead the league in touchdowns. Write it down! Dominik Hixon and Steve Smith lead one of the worst receiving corps in the league. They have decent depth, but everybody is a No.3-type NFL receiver. Kevin Boss might be Eli's favorite target this year.
The Giants will once again be a force on defense. They get back Osi Umenyiora to add to an already great pass rushing unit. They are going to be all over opposing quarterbacks, giving a decent secondary a chance to make lots of plays.
Washington brings in maybe the most boring offense in the league. Is there a less exciting team to watch than the Redskins? Watching that offense last year was never fun, but they will be effective. Portis can still carry a team on his back and might have another 1,400-1,500 yard season in him. Santana Moss leads a group of talented big play receiver that can all break touchdowns at any point. Chris Cooley is one of the most reliable pass catching tight ends in the league.
Albert Haynesworth comes to D.C. and will immediately make a positive impact on the run and pass defenses. Haynesworth was probably the best run stuffing defensive tackle in the league last year and should be just as good in Washington. This is a defense that was very good last year, and a new version of DeAngelo Hall, along with Fat Albert makes this defense even better.
Washington could come into the Meadowlands and knock off this Giants team. If Haynesworth is really as good as he got paid for, then he will impact that defense tremendously. This game is a great one and will be a defensive struggle. Still, it's hard to believe that the Giants won't convert in the red zone with big Brandon Jacobs just bullying his way through guys. Giants win.
Giants 17, Washington 13
Arizona vs. San Francisco
The surprising Cards of last year take on an NFC West sleeper, San Fran in yet another opening week division game.
The key to the Cards offense this year is Kurt Warner's health. It is rare that he can put back-to-back season up without being hurt, especially at 38. It's not a good thing that the Cards' hopes rest on a 38-year-old, injury-prone QB. Even if Warner got hurt though, the Cards might still have a shot at the playoffs. Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin can make any quarterback look good and will probably propel Beanie Wells to a great rookie year as well.
The Cards defense should be better this year. Up the middle it's hard to get better than Darnell Dockett, Karlos Dansby, and Adrian Wilson. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie showed a lot of promise last year and could develop even more into a very good shutdown guy this year.
San Francisco has a very interesting offense situation. Shaun Hill looked very good last season when he played and had very good stats over the second half of the season. They wont throw as much this year, but they need him to be solid again. Frank Gore is one of the best multi-dimensional backs in the league and will be very good again. Michael Crabtree has still not signed with San Francisco, and Josh Morgan remains their top guy.
San Francisco's defense isn't exactly what somebody would call great. Patrick Willis is their middle linebacker though. He makes plays everywhere and is always near the ball. Look for big things for him, and maybe he can rub off on the rest of the team as well.
San Francisco is going to come out of the gates fast in this one. They might score on the first possession. The Cardinals will battle back quickly though. The Niners can't contain Fitz and Boldin. Cardinals win in spectacular comeback fashion.
Arizona 27, San Francisco 24
Seattle vs. St. Louis
Sleeper of the year Seattle takes on the rebuilding Rams in what should be a fairly easy game for Seattle.
Seattle's offense looks great this year. The offensive line is just decent, but the passing game should be in 2006-2007 form. Hasselbeck looks healthy and they added Houshmandzadeh in the offseason, who is about as sure-handed as they come. Housh is due for a breakout year, finally playing with a healthy quarterback as the number one guy. Julius Jones and Edge James will be good enough in the backfield. This is a passing team, despite the coach's history.
Expect the Hawks defense to rebound as much as their offense will. Aaron Curry adds onto maybe now one of the best linebacking corps in the NFL. Tatupu is very underrated and might be a top five middle backer. The secondary shored up at corner by adding Ken Lucas and Trufant, who is annually one of the best corners in the league.
The Rams offense will be the bright spot of the team, and that is bad. This is a team with Marc Bulger as the starting quarterback and Donnie Avery as the number one target. Steven Jackson is a beast of a back, but is injured too much. If Jackson can stay healthy, maybe they can win some more games, but this St. Louis team could threaten the Lions' 0-16 mark.
The Rams defense is bad. None of the starters are great NFL players. Chris Long could develop into a very good player, but he has a year or two more to develop since he isn't as much of an athletic freak as guys like Mario Williams and Julius Peppers.
This Seahawks are going to show that they are the real deal this week against the Rams. Steven Jackson will have a big game for St. Louis, but that will be the only bright spot. If Seattle doesn't win by more than two touchdowns I will be surprised.
Seattle 33, St. Louis 13
Green Bay vs. Chicago
This great division rivalry kicks off NBC's Sunday Night Football season. What a game to start with!
Aaron Rodgers replaced Brett Favre excellently last season and will continue his success this year. Packers fans must be wishing that they had let Favre go play in Minnesota about three years ago after Rodgers' first year as a starter. Greg Jennings and Donald Driver are one of the best wideout tandems in the NFL and make reliable targets for Rodgers. Ryan Grant quietly had another 1,000 yard season last year and will get to the 1,000 mark again this year. This will be a passing team, but Grant is a very reliable runner.
The Packers defense is a very good unit. Charles Woodson still has it and played very well in the secondary last year. Nick Barnett and A.J. Hawk headline a very good linebacker unit, while Aaron Kampman leads the defensive line. They have every area of the defense covered. The Packers are a very dangerous football team.
Da Bears fans finally get to see Jay Cutler in some action against the hated Packers, and it will really test the young QB right put of the gates. It was a good move to go out and get him, and the Bears finally have a good QB. He makes a lot of mistakes, though, so he may soon become the object of hate in the Windy City if he costs them a game. Forte is one of the best young runners in the league and will help Cutler greatly. He can catch balls put of the backfield too. Devin Hester and Greg Olsen lead the pass catching unit. Those two guys need to make a leap for Chicago to be a great team this year.
Brian Urlacher and Co. are going to bounce back this year. Urlacher has been working out more this offseason and is reported to look as good as ever. Lance Briggs and all the other familiar faces are back as well. The Bears don't have a new look to their defense, but they will rally around Urlacher and return to being one of the NFL's stingiest units.
Steelers-Titans might have been my "Game of the Week," but this is a close second. I can see this game coming down to a last second field goal or something like that. The game will be very close until the final whistle blows. Cutler will play well, but Rodgers and the Packers barely edge the Bears.
Green Bay 27, Chicago 24
Patriots vs. Bills
Tom Brady returns against the Bills in the Monday Night Football's season debut. What a game! (haha)
The Pats should return to 2007 offense form. Brady doesn't appear too affected by the knee and Moss and Welker are as good as ever. Joey Galloway is a nice veteran pick up for the Patriots. New England shouldn't run out of backs this year. Fred Taylor, Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris, Benjarvis Green-Ellis, and Kevin Faulk are all listed on the roster. The running game with the combination of all of those guys will be good.
The Patriot defense will be average once again. The days where New England was consistently a top defensive squad are over. There guys that used to be key cogs in the defense are too old have departed (Bruschi, Seymour, Vrabel). The secondary is especially weak, but the offense will score plenty of points and take some pressure off the D.
Terrell Owens was the big acquisition for the Bills this offseason. He and Lee Evans might be the best wide receiver combo in the league. Both are very, very sold guys and could both end up with 1,000 yards. Trent Edwards is not very consistent and needs to improve in that respect. Marshawn Lynch is suspended for three games and Fred Jackson will take his place in the meantime. People sleep on Lynch. He is a very good back. The offensive line has tons of problems though. They traded their best guy in the offseason and didn't replace him adequately.
The Bills defense will just be decent to fairly bad this year. They aren't impressive in any particular aspect and will need their offense to score a fair amount of for them to have chance at winning games. Draft pick Aaron Maybin will bolster their struggling pass rush.
The Patriots will come out of the gates in full 2007 form. Four or five touchdowns aren't out of the question for Brady. New England wins BIG.
New England 41, Buffalo 17
Oakland vs. San Diego
Monday Night Football books another great game with the mighty Raiders hosting the Chargers. (haha)
My man Philip Rivers is going to have himself a good year again. Tomlinson should be better, and Sproles probably gets more involved, so Rivers numbers won't be as good as last year's, but he'll still be at the top of the league in QB rating. Vincent Jackson is really going to break out this year. It's not unreasonable to think he could end up with 1,300 yards and 12 TDs. That is in all seriousness. Gates needs to stay healthy.
Shawn Merriman (assuming all is fine with the assault allegations) returns to a defense that really struggled without his presence last season. He is back and should return to his old self, and the rest of the D should soon follow. Cromartie and Jammer are both good corners and will have bounce back years.
Oakland is a team full of young guys. The top guys at skill positions are their past three draft picks: Jamarcus Russell, Darren McFadden, and Darrius Heyward-Bey. McFadden leads a deep backfield of himself, Fargas, and Michael Bush. The running game will be good. Zach Miller is the only sure receiving threat on the team. Heyward-Bey needs to contribute immediately.
Does Oakland have a defense? I can't remember.
San Diego's explosive offense is going to light up Oakland's non-existing defense. This is the Monday Night Romp Pt. II
San Diego 34, Oakland 13