NFL Predictions Week 1: Picks for Every Game
We can't tell you with 100 percent accuracy who will win every game this weekend when the NFL kicks off the 2011 season, but we can at least give it one hell of a try.
We'll break down what each team should do when they have the ball and the best ways to stop each offense. We'll also highlight five key players to this week's games and give our take on the final score.
NFL football is just days away. It's time to get excited.
New Orleans Saints vs Green Bay Packers
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When New Orleans Has the Ball
The New Orleans offense is powered by quarterback Drew Brees, but the run game is equally important. During the 2010 season the Saints' running game struggled due to injuries at the running back position, and when the run game stalled so did Brees' production. The key for winning the game is a solid run game by New Orleans, something that can be hard to do against the Green Bay Packers.
Green Bay's defense is stout, even after losing starter Cullen Jenkins to Philadelphia in free agency. Clay Matthews, Nick Collins, B.J. Raji, Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams are all exceptional players that the Saints must identify on every down. If Matthews and Raji aren't accounted for pre-snap, they'll wreak havoc on the Saints' backfield.
When Green Bay Has the Ball
The Green Bay offense, much like New Orleans, is based on the solid passing of Aaron Rodgers with a little help from the running game. Again, much like New Orleans, the Packers run gam struggled last season due to injury, putting much of the focus on Rodgers. The offensive line in Green Bay is good enough, but a heavy pass rush and blitz can throw them off. If anyone can design a blitz package to stop the Packers offense, it's Gregg Williams- defensive coordinator of the Saints.
New Orleans has a bigger defensive line this year, so expect to see a strong base presence of Sedrick Ellis, Shaun Rogers and Aubrayo Franklin up front with pass rushers aplenty outside of them.
New Orleans: Brees, Mark Ingram, Marques Colston, Jabari Greer, Jimmy Graham
Green Bay: Rodgers, Greg Jennings, Jermichael Finley, B.J. Raji, Clay Matthews
Prediction: Green Bay 34, New Orleans 27
If the Packers can shut down the Saints' running game they'll be able to tee off on Drew Brees and the Saint passing game. The stout Packers defense should have no trouble shutting down the run and finding ways to pressure Brees.
Atlanta Falcons at Chicago Bears
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When Atlanta Has the Ball
The Atlanta offense will be more balanced in 2011 with the addition of Julio Jones opposite Roddy White at wide receiver. They also plan to use backup running backs Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers more in addition to the regular load for Michael Turner. Matt Ryan is the captain of this ship, and he plays that part well. Ryan's accuracy and decisions make the Falcon offense a well-oiled machine.
The Bears defense is known for it's toughness and hard-hitting style of play. One of the best players on the Bears' defense, linebacker Lance Briggs, has recently asked for a trade and may be a problem on and off the field, depending on his level of commitment to this team. The Bears can pressure even the best offensive lines, and that's not a label the Falcon line receives. Julius Peppers versus Sam Baker will be the key matchup of the day.
When Chicago Has the Ball
The Bears offense is a bit of an unknown commodity right now. Depending on how well wide receiver Roy Williams plays in Week 1, the Bears may air it out, or they may go conservative and feed the ball to running back Matt Forte as often as possible. The Falcons defense has a new toy with left end Ray Edwards, who will help round out an already talented 11 on defense.
Atlanta: Ryan, Michael Turner, Roddy White, John Abraham, Sean Weatherspoon
Chicago: Cutler, Forte, Devin Hester, Peppers, Brandon Meriweather
Prediction: Atlanta 27, Chicago 13
The Bears offense will struggle to get going against the top-notch Atlanta pass defense. That'll leave the ball in Forte's hands, which puts the athletic Atlanta linebackers in a position to make plays.
Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns
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When Cincinnati Has the Ball
The play of rookie quarterback Andy Dalton is the key. If Dalton can play like he did in Week 3 of the preseason, the Bengal offense could roll up yards and put points on the board. If Dalton struggles, and he did in Weeks 1 and 2, the Bengal offense becomes one-dimensional. That one-dimension being running back Cedric Benson, who is spending this week in a Texas jail. The Browns' defense will make the change from a 4-3 to a 3-4 alignment this season, which is never easy to do. Expect bumps along the way, but this game against the Bengals shouldn't be one of their tougher outings.
When Cleveland Has the Ball
The Browns feel like they have their franchise backfield with quarterback Colt McCoy and running back Peyton Hillis. Coach Pat Shurmur will work the two in equally, mixing between power runs off-tackle and timely playaction passes that fall right behind the linebackers. McCoy has looked sharp this preseason and has everyone in Cleveland excited about this potential. The Bengals are an athletic defense, but they have lacked discipline in the back. If the Bengals get sucked in by playaction, McCoy will pick them apart underneath.
Cleveland: McCoy, Hillis, Greg Little, Jabaal Sheard, Joe Haden
Cincinnati: Benson, A.J. Green, Jermaine Gresham, Carlos Dunlap, Leon Hall
Prediction: Cleveland 38, Cincinnati 13
The Browns, as mentioned above, have the tools to kill the Bengals with playaction. The Cincinnati defense is not disciplined or talented enough to shut down an efficient offense like the one Shurmur's Browns will roll out.
Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs
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When Buffalo Has the Ball
The Buffalo Bill offense will be about running the ball to control the clock and set up the pass. The goal of the Kansas City Chiefs will be to shut down running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller with their front seven, while rolling safety Eric Berry to bracket coverage with Brandon Flowers in covering wide receiver Stevie Johnson. Stop the run, win the game. The Kansas City linebackers are smart enough to stay in their assignments and not get drawn down by playaction, and they are fast enough to wreak havoc on the backfield when the Bills do pass.
When Kansas City Has the Ball
The Chiefs' game plan will not be all that different from what Buffalo should do. The Chiefs love to run the ball with Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones, as they should. They'll use the run to set up playaction passes and screen plays. Charles is one of the most dangerous players in the NFL. Any time he touches the ball, he's a threat to make a game-breaking play. The Bills should set strong safety George Wilson on Charles and hope he can keep up. A recent report says that quarterback Matt Cassel may not play, which would quickly change up the entire game plan. Without Cassel, the Chiefs will be forced to run the ball much more.
Buffalo: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Fred Jackson, Stevie Johnson, Shawne Merriman, Marcel Dareus
Kansas City: Matt Cassel, Charles, Dwayne Bowe, Tamba Hali, Eric Berry
Prediction: Kansas City 42, Buffalo 7
If the Chiefs must play without Cassel, I reserve the right to change this prediction considerably. With Cassel, no matter the Chiefs struggles during the preseason, Kansas City is head and shoulders above the Bills.
Philadelphia Eagles at St. Louis Rams
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When Philadelphia Has the Ball
When the Eagles have the ball you can expect to see a heavy dose of Michael Vick. The Eagle offensive line is not great, and they are prone to mistakes if and when they are blitzed, which is exactly what St. Louis Rams' coach Steve Spagnuolo should do.
The Eagles offense is dangerous if they have time to set Vick up in the pocket. If you pressure Vick there's a chance he'll run and gain 20 yards, but there's also a chance he'll freeze in the pocket and can then be sacked. It's a risk, but one you have to take.
When St. Louis Has the Ball
The lone weakness of the Philadelphia defense is the play of the linebackers. This is where the Rams will attack. St. Louis will start the game by trying to establish the run, forcing the Eagles' inexperienced linebackers up toward the offensive line. This is when quarterback Sam Bradford will attack with crossing patterns and screen packages. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is a fan of screen plays and timing patterns over the middle, two things that exploit bad linebacker play very well.
The Rams should avoid the deep ball, as the Eagles secondary is ridiculous. The matchup between the Ram offensive line and Eagles defensive line might be the most exciting breakdown of the entire game. Watching Trent Cole and Jason Babin battle Rodger Saffold and Jason Smith should be epic.
Philadelphia: Vick, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Trent Cole, Nnamdi Asomugha
St. Louis: Bradford, Steven Jackson, Chris Long, James Laurinaitis, Ron Bartell
Prediction: Philadelphia 27, St. Louis 18
This game could be much closer, depending on how well the Eagles protect Vick. The Rams are a good team, but they are not good enough to compete with the Eagles right now.
Detroit Lions at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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When Detroit Has the Ball
We can officially stop saying "if Matthew Stafford is healthy" now, the season is here and Stafford is healthy. The Detroit Lion offense will be centered around the passing attack of Stafford to wide receiver Calvin Johnson and tight end Brandon Pettigrew. The Tampa Bay defense is good, but young, and mistakes can be made. The linebacking crew in Tampa is especially young and can be attacked with misdirection plays using Jahvid Best in the backfield on runs and to set up playaction passing. The Lions have struggled to protect Stafford in the past and will face a tough test against a very good defensive line in Tampa.
When Tampa Bay Has the Ball
The Tampa Bay offense is as well-rounded as any in the NFL. They are able to throw the ball with Josh Freeman at quarterback and Mike Williams at receiver. The run game is also strong with LeGarrette Blount proving to be the every-down back this team needed. Blount will get the share of the carries in this offense, and his ability to run hard between the tackles sets up everything. The Lions' defense has been much publicized this summer, but they'll be without rookie defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who is still recovering from a foot injury. Detroit is unproven in the secondary. There are talented players here, but Week 1 will be the first true test for the unit.
Detroit: Stafford, Best, Johnson, Ndamukong Suh, Louis Delmas
Tampa Bay: Freeman, Blount, Adrian Clayborn, Mason Foster, Aqib Talib
Prediction: Tampa Bay 31, Detroit 24
In what will be a much closer game than many expect, I see the Lions losing a nail biter to the Bucs. Josh Freeman and co. will be too much for a raw Detroit defense to contend with.
Tennessee Titans at Jacksonville Jaguars
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When Tennessee Has the Ball
Star running back Chris Johnson is back after a contract holdout this preseason, but will he be in game shape? The Titans will rely on backup Javon Ringer to at least share the load with Johnson in the opener. The Titan passing game is not, in my opinion, good enough to move the ball on the Jaguar defense. Matt Hasselbeck may be an upgrade over Kerry Collins, but he lacks options outside of wide receiver Kenny Britt. Jacksonville invested serious money in getting better at linebacker, adding Paul Posluszny and Clint Session this summer. Their job will be to shut down the run game and force Tennessee to throw the ball. Oddly enough, it was Jacksonville's secondary that gave them the most trouble last year. Jack Del Rio will be hoping his Jaguars are better equipped to shut down the Titans' passing game.
When Jacksonvile Has the Ball
Jacksonville has a better offense overall than the Titans, but that doesn't mean they are world beaters by any stretch of the imagination. The team will use Maurice Jones-Drew heavily out of the backfield as a runner and receiver, mixing in playaction passes from David Garrard to tight end Marcedes Lewis. The Jacksonville receivers are stoppable. They are non-factors in this game. The key matchup will be the play of an aggressive Titans' defensive line versus a talented, young offensive line in Jacksonville.
Tennessee: Chris Johnson, Kenny Britt, Barrett Ruud, Michael Griffin, Cortland Finnegan
Jacksonville: Maurice Jones-Drew, Marcedes Lewis, Terrance Knighton, Paul Posluszny, Clint Session
Prediction: Jacksonville 28, Tennessee 9
The Titans will struggle with an out of shape Chris Johnson and an ineffective passing game as the Jaguars role to an early win in the AFC South.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens
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When Pittsburgh Has the Ball
The Steelers continue to run a hard-core offensive system that favors the power run that sets up the deep ball from Ben Roethlisberger to Mike Wallace and friends. The play of Rashard Mendenhall, the Steelers running back, will be the key for the Baltimore defense to stop. If Baltimore's defensive line can stop Mendenhall and begin to open up lanes for pressure, the Raven linebackers can begin crashing the gaps. Haloti Ngata might be the best defensive lineman in football, and he'll be the player the Steelers aim to stop first and foremost. Double-teaming Ngata means allowing Terrell Suggs to rush off the edge without the help of a guard kicking out behind the tackle. If Suggs can get to Roethlisberger, the Ravens can force turnovers. Big Ben has been near flawless versus Baltimore in their previous meetings.
When Baltimore Has the Ball
The Ravens love to get Ray Rice the ball early and often in their offense. This year they'll also look to stretch the field with Lee Evans and Torrey Smith bringing speed to the wide receiver crew that Joe Flacco was never able to enjoy before. The Pittsburgh cornerbacks can be beaten, especially with three and four-wide sets. Look for Baltimore to spread the field and then use Rice in delayed draws and counter plays to open up the run game against the aggressive Pittsburgh linebackers. If Rice can get in a rhythm and delay the Steeler linebackers, Flacco will have time to tear apart the defense. The key for Baltimore is to get safety Troy Polamalu to creep up into the box, which will open up the underneath and deep passing lanes.
Pittsburgh: Roethlisberger, Mendenhall, Wallace, LaMarr Woodley, Polamalu
Baltimore: Flacco, Rice, Anquan Boldin, Suggs, Ed Reed
Prediction: Baltimore 17, Pittsburgh 14
This is the game of the week. Baltimore versus Pittsburgh. Flacco versus Roethlisberger. The team who wins Sunday night will have the early advantage in the AFC North. In a hard-fought game, the Ravens run game and one deep ball from Flacco to Evans will be the difference.
Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans
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When Indianapolis Has the Ball
It would seem that Peyton Manning will not be ready to play Week 1, leaving the ball in Kerry Collins' hands. That's bad news for the Colts, and even for a Houston team that hoped to prove that they were ready to beat the Manning-led Colts. Still, a win is a win and a divisional win is even better. The Texans will pin their ears back and attack the run game of the Colts without Manning in the lineup. The key for the Houston defense will be Joseph Addai. Stop Addai, stop the Colts, win the game. Houston's new-look 3-4 defense will get a chance to test itself against a sub-par team, which will in essence be a fifth preseason game.
When Houston Has the Ball
The Texans may be without 2010 leading rusher Arian Foster, which will hurt but nowhere near what the loss of Manning means to the Colts. If Foster isn't able to go the Texans will simply roll out 2010 second-round pick Ben Tate. The Indianapolis defense is not great, and should be and easy outing for the dominant Texan offense. What Indianapolis does best is rush the passer, something they won't have much of a chance to do unless they can build a lead and force Houston to throw the ball.
Indianapolis: Manning, Addai, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Dwight Freeney
Houston: Matt Schaub, Foster, Andre Johnson, Mario Williams, Johnathan Joseph
Prediction: Houston 42, Indianapolis 7
Without Manning the Colts have no chance to win this game, or many others. The Colts are 100 percent Peyton Manning. His play sets up the offense and the defense. Indianapolis might be a six-win team without him under center.
Carolina Panthers at Arizona Cardinals
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When Carolina Has the Ball
The Carolina Panthers won two games last year en route to the league's worst record. They'll be better this year, but the offense is largely unchanged outside of the quarterback position. Cam Newton is now under center after being drafted No. 1 overall. While Newton is not an accomplished passer, his electric running style and big-play mentality will cause fits for NFL defenses at times. Newton will be inconsistent, and he'll make mistakes, but you have to respect his ability. That's what the Cardinals will do, using either safety Kerry Rhodes or Adrian Wilson to spy him, while letting the other 10 men handle the running game of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Arizona uses a hybrid defense, but they are primarily a 3-4 team, which means more linebackers to chase down the ball. Keep an eye on the match ups of the Arizona safeties versus the Panther tight ends, and of course wide receiver Steve Smith versus (hopefully) cornerback Patrick Peterson.
When Arizona Has the Ball
The Cardinals gave up a starting cornerback and second-round draft pick to get quarterback Kevin Kolb from Philadelphia, and the hope is that Kolb can be the franchise quarterback the team needed once Kurt Warner retired. Kolb will have targets on offense, with Larry Fitzgerald and Todd Heap both legit options. The run game is a mystery in Arizona with an injury to rookie running back Ryan Williams. The team will hope Chris Wells can be the man, and that's who the Panthers will be watching. The key for the Panthers will be pressuring Kevin Kolb behind a bad offensive line. If Charles Johnson starts pressuring Kolb, the Panther defense is good enough to capitalize and create turnovers.
Carolina: Newton, Williams, Smith, Johnson, Jon Beason
Arizona: Kolb, Fitzgerald, Darnell Dockett, Adrian Wilson, Kerry Rhodes
Prediction: Arizona 24, Carolina 10
The Panthers will show potential, but they are not good enough yet to overtake the Cardinals, who will win on the strength of Kevin Kolb's arm.
Minnesota Vikings at San Diego Chargers
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When Minnesota Has the Ball
The Minnesota Vikings invested in quarterback Donovan McNabb this summer, and they hope he can lead them back to the playoffs. They'll have running back Adrian Peterson behind him, which definitely helps any quarterback. Peterson is the bread and butter for Minnesota. Peterson's runs set up the pass and are also the bulk of the production for the Vikings offense. If San Diego can stop Peterson, something few teams have done, they'll win the game. The problem will be stopping Peterson while being aware of McNabb and wide receiver Percy Harvin. McNabb is not the same quarterback he used to be, but he is sell capable of big games when he gets the right protection. That means the Chargers should blitz his ass of. Shaun Phillips and Larry English should familiarize themselves with McNabb as early and as often as possible.
When San Diego Has the Ball
The Minnesota Vikings defense is a bit underrated, but they won't be able to stop the passing attack the Chargers can field. Philip Rivers will have both Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd outside, with Antonio Gates still owning the middle of the field. The Vikings' strength is in their linebacker play, which doesn't help them considering the Chargers best offensive threat is their ability to throw the ball. San Diego is simply too good up front and too good at receiver for the Vikings to handle. Minnesota has a very good defensive line, but Kevin Williams will be out serving his StarCaps suspension, which means little pressure coming from the A and B gaps.
Minnesota: McNabb, Peterson, Harvin, Chad Greenway, Jared Allen
San Diego: Rivers, Jackson, Gates, Phillips, Eric Weddle
Prediction: San Diego 42, Minnesota 17
In a game that will feature 30 plus runs by Minnesota, and 40 plus passes by the Chargers, points will be aplenty. More of them will be on the side of the San Diego Chargers.
Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers
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When Seattle Has the Ball
Coach Pete Carroll would love to field a balanced attack, but that won't happen this year. Not with Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback. Jackson has never been good when pressured, and that's what the 49er defense will do best this year. With solid coverage coming from the secondary, the 49ers will be able to pressure the Seattle backfield from their front seven. Rookie Aldon Smith has the speed to create big problems off the edge, especially when you consider the Seattle offensive tackle duo is one of the worst in the NFL. The Seahawks best chance would be to pound the ball with Marshawn Lynch and hope to score a few field goals.
When San Francisco Has the Ball
Seattle can feel good about field goals because the San Francisco offense might be in worse shape than their own. The 49ers have two high-profile wide receivers in Michael Crabtree and Braylon Edwards, but both are questionable for Sunday's game. Without them the 49ers will lean heavily on running back Frank Gore—which might be a good thing since Alex Smith is lining up at quarterback. Smith, much like Jackson for Seattle, is prone to mistakes and can be rattled quickly. Seattle needs to focus on man coverage in the back and heavy pressure up front.
San Francisco: Gore, Vernon Davis, Justin Smith, Aldon Smith, Donte Whitner
Seattle: Lynch, Leon Washington, Sidney Rice, Red Bryant, Earl Thomas
Prediction: San Francisco 13, Seattle 10
New York Giants at Washington Redskins
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When New York Has the Ball
The New York football Giants have the talent to keep up with the best teams, but can they protect Eli Manning well enough for the offense to get rolling? The team cut veterans Rich Seubert and Shaun O'Hara, replacing them with the oft-injured and penalty-happy David Baas and second-round pick William Beatty—who has looked weak in preseason play. New York can score points in a hurry if Manning is protected. If he's not, we will see more of the 25 interception Manning from 2010. The Redskins 3-4 defense is nearing completion with the addition of Ryan Kerrigan opposite Brian Orakpo. The two will tee off on the Giant offensive tackles, which lets safety LaRon Landry roam the field looking for turnovers off hurried passes.
When Washington Has the Ball
The surprise of the preseason has been the play of Tim Hightower at running back in Washington. Hightower has shown the hard-nosed running ability to carry this team, and he'll be given every chance to. The Redskins can also work in Roy Helu, Jr. when they want a scat back who can take it the distance. Washington's biggest issue is at quarterback. The team will start Rex Grossman, who won a preseason battle with John Beck. Grossman can be a good game manager, but if Washington falls behind he will not be able to pull them back into the game. The Giants are painfully thin at defensive tackle, linebacker and cornerback. This could be the weakness the Redskins expose to win the game.
New York: Manning, Ahmad Bradshaw, Hakeem Nicks, Justin Tuck, Mathias Kiwanuka
Washington: Hightower, Santana Moss, Orakpo, Landry, O.J. Atogwe
Prediction: Washington 24, New York 20
The first upset of the week, the Washington Redskins will beat their division rival Giants. The difference will be the ability to run the ball against a weak Giant interior defense. Tim Hightower racks up over 200 yards rushing in the win.
Dallas Cowboys at New York Jets
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When Dallas Has the Ball
The Dallas offense should be much better in 2011 now that Tony Romo and Dez Bryant are healthy. There are concerns about three new starters on the offensive line, but the team has looked solid in the preseason. Dallas will feature a balanced set with early runs by Felix Jones and Tashard Choice, complemented by the passing attack of Romo. The Jets best asset, on either side of the ball, is their secondary. Romo may have all day to throw, but if no one is open, it won't matter. The Jets can shut down even the best wide receiving units with Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie and Kyle Wilson a solid trio at cornerback. Romo will need to focus on getting the ball to tight end Jason Witten and the running backs if the Cowboys hope to move the ball through the air.
When New York Has the Ball
The Jets are almost the opposite of the Cowboys. With just one real threat at wide receiver, Santonio Holmes, the Jets will hope to run the ball as much as possible. New York will have to fight against the urge to throw the ball, as Dallas can devote two men to Holmes and single cover Plaxico Burress opposite him. The biggest threat might be tight end Dustin Keller, who matches up well against the Dallas safeties. A key will be the ability of the right side of the Jet offensive line to shut down the Cowboy pass rush. If they cannot slow down DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, this will be a long game for Mark Sanchez.
Dallas: Romo, Bryant, Witten, Jay Ratliff, Ware
New York: Sanchez, Shonn Greene, Holmes, David Harris, Revis
Prediction: Dallas 27, New York 23
This game won't be pretty, especially offensively, but good special teams play and hard-fought defense will be the difference as the Cowboys are able to capitalize off Jet turnovers to win the game.
New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins
When New England Has the Ball
How do you stop the New England Patriot offense? To steal a quote from Stuart Scott, you don't, you only hope to contain them. Tom Brady will have the Patriots offense on fire for their division game versus the Dolphins on Monday night. The Patriots offense is so multi-faceted, and so deep, that finding a way to attack them is guesswork. Miami will pressure Brady with Cameron Wake and Koa Misi coming off the edge, but tackles Matt Light and Sebastian Vollmer are among the best in the business. They can handle the Miami pass rush, which will open up the middle of the field for draw plays and counters. Miami has the secondary to keep up with the Patriots receivers, but the safeties are no match for tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
When Miami Has the Ball
Miami hopes that Chad Henne and Reggie Bush both find rejuvenation this year. If Henne and Bush can get rolling, Miami's offense could be scary. Expect to see many gimmicks as the Dolphins look for any advantage versus Bill Belichick's defense. The Patriots are expected to roll out a 4-3 defense, but the personnel packages are constantly changing and will keep Henne and the Dolphins guessing. If the Patriots have a weakness it's at safety. Miami will look to exploit this by getting the ball down field and with dump offs to Bush.
New England: Brady, Danny Woodhead, Wes Welker, Jerod Mayo, Devin McCourty
Miami: Bush, Brandon Marshall, Jake Long, Wake, Vontae Davis
Prediction: New England 38, Miami 10
New England will be just too much for the Miami defense, and offense, and special teams. This Patriot team is even more talented than the roster than won an NFL best 14 games last year. The Dolphins are on the right track, but they cannot hope to stop this train.
Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos
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When Oakland Has the Ball
It doesn't take an offensive genius to look at the Denver roster and tell you that the game plan for the Raiders will be to run the ball right down the Broncos throats. And that's what they'll do, with heavy doses of Darren McFadden and Michael Bush setting the tempo for the game. Oakland has the run game to take control of this game early, but once Denver loads up on the run game, can they pass the ball with enough efficiency to keep the Denver defense honest? Denver may lack talent in the interior, but their outside presence from defensive end to outside linebacker to cornerback is excellent. The Broncos will test the Raider tackles from the first snap of the ball.
When Denver Has the Ball
Denver will start with Kyle Orton under center, running your classically balanced NFL attack. Knowshon Moreno and Willis McGahee will share carries as Orton works in the passing game to a talented group of receivers. The big wrinkle will come when, and if, Tim Tebow enters the game. Tebow may not be much of a threat to throw the ball consistently on every down, but he's a difference maker in short spurts. Oakland's defensive line is among my favorite in the entire NFL. They'll be able to put pressure on the Bronco backfield and create havoc. The question mark is the ability of the secondary to hold up their end of the deal. Oakland is weak in the defensive backfield, and Denver's passing game can exploit this weakness.
Oakland: McFadden, Jacoby Ford, Richard Seymour, Rolando McClain, Stanford Routt
Denver: Orton, Marshall, Ryan Clady, Elvis Dumervil, Von Miller
Prediction: Denver 34, Oakland 28
In a game that will quickly become a shootout, Denver will expose the weakness of the Raider secondary for big play after big play. Oakland will stay in the game with long runs from McFadden and at least one back-breaking run from Ford, but their defense will fail them in the end.