NFL Picks Week 1: Chris Simms' Game-by-Game Picks
You probably know me as Chris Simms, Bleacher Report NFL analyst and former quarterback.
But when kickoff approaches and it's time to pick a winner and a loser? That's when people around the Bleacher Report office start calling me "The Oracle."
Why? I'm not going to pick a team just because its quarterback is hot or its defense is missing its centerpiece. Instead, I dig deep to discover the heart of a team. Will its corners tackle, or will they shy from contact? Was last week's soul-crushing loss too big to rebound from? Does the team sit on the ball with a lead or go for the knockout play? Is the team physical?
I was in a locker room not too long ago. I know what a winning team looks like and what a losing one looks like by the time it runs through the tunnel. And The Oracle is more than happy to share that knowledge as I run through my picks for every Week 1 game.
Panthers at Broncos
Danny Trevathan is gone. Malik Jackson is gone.
But the rest of the Broncos' title-winning defense is back. And it's still built as the perfect counter to what Carolina wants to do on offense.
Aqib Talib and Chris Harris don't need over-the-top safety help against this group of Panthers wideouts (even with Kelvin Benjamin back). Instead, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will load the box to stop Carolina's run game. The added manpower will help against jet sweeps, read-option looks and every other run-game look the Panthers use.
Cam Newton will make his fair share of plays. His offense has the toughest matchup in all of sports on Thursday night. I see an ugly 20-17 type of game.
The pick: Broncos
Vikings at Titans
This isn't an easy matchup for the Titans. Their new "Exotic Smashmouth" offensive motto is a scheme the Vikings are built to beat.
Tennessee plays right into Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer's hand in this one. DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry want to bang it inside; Zimmer's impressive front seven will push them back. That group of linemen and linebackers are as deep as any positional group in football.
The Vikings weren't going to ask much of Shaun Hill this week. The plan doesn't change now that Sam Bradford's in the mix. He can pick on the Titans' weak cornerback group, but this system isn't built for 300-yard days. Teddy Bridgewater's stats will tell you that.
The pick: Vikings
Browns at Eagles
The Eagles are the better football team in this game. They just can't be trusted yet.
Not while starting a rookie quarterback in Carson Wentz, who we last saw in Week 1 of the preseason. It's almost disrespectful to think he can step in from the Football Championship Subdivision and immediately win at the NFL level.
You can bet Browns head coach Hue Jackson is playing that angle up with his team. Sure, his defense has its holes, some of which are rather noticeable. But this is the pros, and Wentz hasn't seen game speed like he will on Sunday.
The pick: Browns
Chargers at Chiefs
San Diego is a see-it-to-believe-it kind of team.
Can the Chargers run the ball? We've seen some sparks from Melvin Gordon this preseason, but not against a defense as deep and physical as Kansas City's. And certainly not in as hostile an environment as Arrowhead Stadium in Week 1, where signals and audibles are lost in the noise.
Can they stop the run, too? Only five teams had a worse rushing defense last season than San Diego. Chiefs running back Spencer Ware—who will get a ton of carries Sunday—tore them up last season. Free-agent import Brandon Mebane might not be enough to plug the gaps.
I need to see the Chargers are a different team. Even then, it might not be enough against a Chiefs roster that's so well-rounded.
The pick: Chiefs
Buccaneers at Falcons
I hate reading too much into preseason tape.
It's just tough to ignore what I see when I look at Matt Ryan. Physically, his arm looks like it's on the decline. He's not throwing with power or accuracy. As a result, you see him second-guessing his own throws and throwing with far less confidence than anyone hopes for.
Mike Smith knows Ryan's limits like no other. Now, the former Falcons head coach is coordinating Tampa Bay's defense. He'll put Gerald McCoy and Co. in the perfect position to earn a little revenge.
The pick: Buccaneers
Packers at Jaguars
On paper, the Jaguars have the most improved roster in football.
On the field, they’ll still have to defend Aaron Rodgers. That’s a whole different beast.
In a way, Blake Bortles is the perfect reflection of the entire Jaguars roster. It’s young, unproven and still figuring out how to play four quarters of pro football. I’m not sold on Bortles’ ability to carry an offense that long with consistency.
No questions like that exist with Rodgers. His receiving corps is back healthy after a rough year. He also has a new tight end at his disposal. I’m going with Green Bay.
The pick: Packers
Bears at Texans
I'm still not sure if Brock Osweiler is truly the answer in Houston.
He won't need to be in Week 1. Chicago's secondary is one of the worst the game has to offer. Osweiler should get after them with the Texans' stockpile of offensive talent. I'll say it again: Look out for Braxton Miller.
Chicago's offense has been shaky all preseason—and now it's up against J.J. Watt. This Texans defense is still one of football's best. Even its secondary is amazing; they go unnoticed, but they are three deep at an important spot.
The pick: Texans
Bills at Ravens
Something special is coming together on the Ravens offense.
Joe Flacco is back and healthy. So is former first-round pick Breshad Perriman, who figured to be a deep threat before missing his rookie year. I really, really like what I see from Mike Wallace for the first time since his Steelers days. And never, ever count out Steve Smith.
The Bills will struggle to keep such a dynamic group out of the end zone. They're not the same unit without horses like Mario Williams and Marcell Dareus.
The pick: Ravens
Raiders at Saints
That Raiders' roster? It's deep and talented for the first time in years.
But it's still young. It still needs to learn how to overcome adversity. Doing so on the road in New Orleans might prove too tall a task right at the start of the season.
Sean Payton is an offensive mastermind. He's had a full season to draw up the perfect plan to counter Khalil Mack. It's not like his offense is hurting for players, either.
The Saints don't let wins slip away at the Superdome. Oakland's depth chart might look better, but this is the the kind of battle I need to see them win first.
The pick: Saints
Bengals at Jets
At their core, the Bengals are a team that wins on the offensive line. They've mounted playoff season after playoff season because they're better from tackle to tackle.
Just not in this game.
Leonard Williams, Muhammad Wilkerson and the Jets can beat the Bengals where they typically beat other teams. They also have Darrelle Revis, who can eliminate their best player—A.J. Green. Huge advantage: Gang Green.
The Bengals will keep things close. But the Jets, in general, are a little bit better.
The pick: Jets
Dolphins at Seahawks
This feels like Seahawks all the way.
First off: The flight from Miami to Seattle can be brutal. It’s even farther than the old cross-country flights I had to take when I played for the Buccaneers, and no one liked those.
Second, Russell Wilson is going to make plays. My feelings about the Dolphins' back seven are not exactly a secret. Wilson can use his legs, buy a little time if his protection breaks down and pick that secondary apart.
That’s how the 'Hawks usually win. They’ll do so again in dominant fashion to start the 2016 season off right.
The pick: Seahawks
Giants at Cowboys
The winning formula is there for Dak Prescott if he follows it.
If two safeties are back, he'll hand it off to Ezekiel Elliott and let his offensive line work. If not, the Cowboys trust Prescott to make the correct read and the quick throw. After watching all of his preseason work, I can see why they're so confident. He can scramble a little, too.
It'll take a few weeks for the Giants (and all of their new pieces) to come together. Until then, I'll favor the team running the rookie-friendly offense over the one that stalled in the preseason.
The pick: Cowboys
Lions at Colts
Here's my warning: You're all sleeping on the Lions.
I don't think the loss of Calvin Johnson is as big as everyone thinks. Was he an amazing player? Absolutely. Can the Lions still move the football? Yes.
Detroit even gets to try its new offense out against the Colts. There's no one special on the defense who can slow the team I saw on film. They could be without five starters when Week 1 kicks off. Not even a little Andrew Luck magic can counteract that.
Detroit is one of the more improved teams in football this year. You watch.
The pick: Lions
Patriots at Cardinals
Since the start of the Patriots dynasty, Bill Belichick-coached teams zero in on what a team does best. And time after time, they take it away.
It'll happen again on Sunday night. The Cardinals don't have a cornerback threat opposite Patrick Peterson. New starter Jimmy Garoppolo will attack that spot until Arizona figures something else out.
New England's line can protect Jimmy G. The same can't be said for Arizona, which has struggled to block for passers all summer. Belichick will exploit that, too.
Top to bottom, I think the Pats are the best team in football. Coupled with the best coach, I have a feeling they'll emerge from the desert 1-0.
The pick: Patriots
Steelers at Redskins
Washington just isn't ready to slow down the Steelers.
They have a receiving stable unlike any group in the league—including a name I think is poised for big things in 2016. When they don't target Antonio Brown and Co., they can run the ball down your throat as well. Their top-five line paves the way no matter if Le'Veon Bell or DeAngelo Williams is back there.
I question the ability of the Redskins to keep up. They'll need to stay balanced to go score-for-score on Monday night. I haven't seen a single ball-carrier separate himself this preseason, though. Matt Jones doesn't look like the answer.
It'll be a fireworks show in our nation's capital. And the Redskins might flame out.
The pick: Steelers
Rams at 49ers
The NFL saved its ugliest showdown of Week 1 for last.
The first team to double digits might take this one. I give the slight edge to Los Angeles, which has a special back in Todd Gurley to ride. He could be in line for 25-plus carries after limited preseason work.
The 49ers don't have a Gurley of their own, so it'll be up to Blaine Gabbert to make plays against a Rams defense with a front four that's as good as it gets. Chip Kelly should be concerned.
The pick: Rams