NFL Week 1 Predictions: Breaking Down Biggest Games of Opening Weekend

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistSeptember 11, 2015

GREEN BAY, WI - AUGUST 29: Sam Bradford #7 of the Philadelphia Eagles hands the ball off to DeMarco Murray #29 during a preseason game at Lambeau Field on August 29, 2015 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
Jon Durr/Getty Images

The New England Patriots kicked off the 2015 NFL regular-season slate with a convincing 28-21 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night, but that was just the beginning of what promises to be a thrilling opening weekend.

So with 15 games still to be played, let's dive right into three of the weekend's most compelling contests and preview which clubs could get off to fast starts.

Here's a complete look at the Week 1 schedule:

2015 NFL Week 1 Schedule
DateMatchup/ResultTime (ET)
Sept. 10New England Patriots def. Pittsburgh Steelers, 28-21N/A
Sept. 13Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears1 p.m.
Sept. 13Kansas City Chiefs at Houston Texans1 p.m.
Sept. 13Cleveland Browns at New York Jets1 p.m.
Sept. 13Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills1 p.m.
Sept. 13Miami Dolphins at Washington Redskins1 p.m.
Sept. 13Carolina Panthers at Jacksonville Jaguars1 p.m.
Sept. 13Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals1 p.m.
Sept. 13New Orleans Saints at Arizona Cardinals4:05 p.m.
Sept. 13Detroit Lions at San Diego Chargers4:05 p.m.
Sept. 13Tennessee Titans at Tampa Bay Buccaneers4:25 p.m.
Sept. 13Cincinnati Bengals at Oakland Raiders4:25 p.m.
Sept. 13Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos4:25 p.m.
Sept. 13New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys8:30 p.m.
Sept. 14Philadelphia Eagles at Atlanta Falcons6:55 p.m.
Sept. 14Minnesota Vikings at San Francisco 49ers10:15 p.m.
Source: NFL.com

Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears, Sept. 13, 1 p.m. ET

Aug 23, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy (27) runs the ball against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first half at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

It's saying something that the Green Bay Packers are getting ready to march into enemy territory and they're still the biggest favorites on Sunday's slate. According to Odds Shark, the Packers are seven-point favorites over the rival Chicago Bears, who are searching for answers on both sides of the ball. 

Not only is rookie receiver Kevin White on the shelf with a shin injury, but No. 1 wide receiver Alshon Jeffery is questionable with a calf injury, per ESPN.com's Jeff Dickerson.   

"[Alshon Jeffery] is still day-to-day and we’ll continue to evaluate him at tomorrow’s practice,” Bears coach John Fox said Friday, according to Dickerson. "We’ll see what that brings. We have a training room set up at our team hotel at night, and really, I don’t solidify on the inactives until we get to Sunday morning to make sure nobody gets sick or anything goofy pops up."

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However, concerns regarding Chicago's proficiency on offense could take a backseat to questions regarding the team's porous defensive front. 

"After losing top DL Stephen Paea in free agency and NT Jeremiah Ratliff to a three-game suspension, the Bears' run-defense personnel is the NFL's worst entering the season," Rotoworld.com's Evan Silva wrote. 

For a defense that allowed 4.3 yards a carry last season, that's horribly concerning. 

With Packers running back Eddie Lacy ready to feast and Aaron Rodgers primed to shred a secondary that allowed the league's third-most passing yards in 2014, Green Bay should coast to a Week 1 victory. 

Prediction: Green Bay Packers def. Chicago Bears, 34-20

New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, Sept. 13, 8:30 p.m. ET

The Dallas Cowboys' division title defense begins in prime time, but the New York Giants will be seeking to dampen their repeat aspirations with a Week 1 upset in Texas.

And with offensive-firepower galore, this showdown could evolve into a shootout of epic proportions. 

The Giants secondary has been decimated by injuries, leaving rookie Landon Collins and 2013 fifth-round pick Cooper Taylor to protect the back end for Big Blue. Consider New York's depth at safety is comprised of coverage liability Brandon Meriweather and Craig Dahl, and the Giants could wind up getting scorched downfield by Dez Bryant and Co. 

"I think we're always at our best when we can attack defenses different ways and that starts with the run and the pass," Dallas head coach Jason Garrett said, according to the Associated Press (via Yahoo Sports). "I think we've made a concerted effort in our organization to be stronger and better on our offensive line."

However, the Giants aren't alone when it comes to secondary woes. 

Dallas is already without stud cornerback Orlando Scandrick for the season, which has shifted Brandon Carr and the inconsistent Morris Claiborne into more prominent roles on the outside. 

That means Eli Manning should have chances aplenty to find receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Rueben Randle for big gains. And with Manning more comfortable in offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo's West Coast system, New York shouldn't have a problem moving the ball and putting up points. 

Remember, this is a Giants team that finished last season by scoring at least 24 points in six straight games—including a 28-point outing in a late-November loss to the Cowboys. 

However, Manning won't be taking snaps behind an offensive line that ranked second in pass protection and tops in run blocking last season, per Pro Football Focus. That job belongs to Romo, who should lead the Cowboys to a close win at home.

 Prediction: Dallas Cowboys def. New York Giants, 38-34 

Philadelphia Eagles at Atlanta Falcons, Sept. 14, 6:55 p.m. ET  

Chip Kelly's new-look Philadelphia Eagles are stocked with fresh talent at seemingly every position, but it remains to be seen if overhauls in the personnel department will result in heavier doses of wins.

Not only have running backs DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews been added to the team's backfield, but the secondary's assuming a new look with high-priced free-agent signee Byron Maxwell slotted in as the team's new No. 1 cornerback.

Oh, and then there's Sam Bradford's arrival under center. 

"Sam is the man," Eagles linebacker DeMeco Ryans said, according to the Associated Press (via Yahoo Sports). "... He's an outstanding quarterback and we just have to protect him and keep him healthy. But, I think he can really shred some defenses."

Bradford certainly shred defenses during the preseason, completing 86.7 percent of his passes while displaying solid chemistry with No. 1 receiver Jordan Matthews. 

However, questions continue to linger in the Eagles secondary. Last season, Philadelphia allowed the NFL's second-most passing yards (4,238). 

The only team that allowed more? That would be the Atlanta Falcons. 

That said, the Falcons can mask their back-end woes with some prolific passing. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones have formed one of the NFL's most lethal connections over the past four seasons, and even the esteemed Maxwell may not be able to keep the 6'4'', 220-pound pass-catcher in check. 

Points should flow at a steady clip from both sides, but the Eagles are the pick to tally a few more stops thanks to their fierce front seven. 

Prediction: Philadelphia Eagles def. Atlanta Falcons, 31-20