Week 1 of the NFL season starts Thursday as the Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles face off in a divisional-round rematch from last year.
An exciting slate of games awaits Sunday, highlighted by the return of Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson against the New England Patriots and a team that made the leap last year (the Minnesota Vikings) hosting one that may do the same this year (the San Francisco 49ers).
Two Monday Night Football games close Week 1 action, as the New York Jets take on the Detroit Lions before the Los Angeles Rams and Oakland Raiders take part in an intrastate battle.
Here's a look at some Week 1 score predictions, as well as further analysis of the two closing games.
NFL Week 1 Picks
Atlanta Falcons 24, Philadelphia Eagles 17
Baltimore Ravens 24, Buffalo Bills 10
New York Giants 17, Jacksonville Jaguars 16
New Orleans Saints 31, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17
Houston Texans 31, New England Patriots 30
Minnesota Vikings 27, San Francisco 49ers 20
Tennessee Titans 24, Miami Dolphins 10
Indianapolis Colts 24, Cincinnati Bengals 20
Pittsburgh Steelers 34, Cleveland Browns 20
Los Angeles Chargers 34, Kansas City Chiefs 31
Denver Broncos 20, Seattle Seahawks 17
Carolina Panthers 27, Dallas Cowboys 17
Arizona Cardinals 17, Washington Redskins 13
Green Bay Packers 17, Chicago Bears 13
New York Jets 20, Detroit Lions 17
Los Angeles Rams 38, Oakland Raiders 10
New York Jets at Detroit Lions
Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press called this Lions preseason "the least encouraging" he's seen in the nine years he's been on the beat. That may be understandable, as Detroit amassed a 1-3 record and allowed 30-plus points in three games.
The team has a solid offensive core in quarterback Matt Stafford, wideouts Golden Tate and Marvin Jones Jr. and rookie running back Kerryon Johnson, but the front seven could be the team's downfall. The Lions ranked just 28th in rush-defense efficiency last year, per Football Outsiders, and they finished 22nd in adjusted sack rate.
Detroit faces the Jets to kick off 2018, and Gang Green will reportedly start rookie quarterback Sam Darnold in Week 1, per Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network. Darnold has flashed this preseason, and he earned some praise from head coach Todd Bowles when he said the rookie "rarely makes the same mistake twice."
Although starting your career on the road is never an easy task, Darnold may not find himself running for his life against this Lions front seven, which should help him establish a rhythm as he acclimates to the pros.
In addition, the Jets defense may be able to slow the Lions down a bit. Second-year safety Jamal Adams and free-agent cornerback Trumaine Johnson form the backbone of a promising secondary that could improve its pass defense, and defensive end Leonard Williams helps helm a front seven that finished 11th in rush-defense efficiency, per Football Outsiders.
While the Lions should be able to put up points via connections between Stafford and his receivers, the Jets could pull off an upset. Look for that to happen in a one-score victory.
Los Angeles Rams at Oakland Raiders
The Oakland Raiders are in for a long season on defense after dealing edge-rushing superstar Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears for four draft picks (including two first-rounders). Although Oakland still has some solid defensive talent (e.g. linebacker Bruce Irvin), they can't replace him now and will be hard-pressed to do so in the future, as the former University of Buffalo star had 36.5 sacks in the past three years.
The problem is that Oakland's defense struggled mightily last year even with Mack on the field. Per Football Outsiders, the Raiders were fourth-last in defensive efficiency and third-last against the pass. An adjusted sack rate of 6.1 percent (23rd in the league) may only get worse as well, as the Raiders only return one player (Irvin) who had more than one sack last year for Oakland.
Unfortunately for Oakland, its first matchup offers no break, as it will face the Los Angeles Rams on Monday Night Football. L.A. led the league in points last season (478), and there's no reason to believe it will slow down in 2018.
The Rams arguably upgraded at one of the wide receiver slots by replacing Sammy Watkins with Brandin Cooks, and the rest of the main skill-position cast (running back Todd Gurley, quarterback Jared Goff and wideouts Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods) is back.
The Raiders' other problem is that they'd be hard-pressed to hang with the Rams in an offensive shootout. The Rams defense loaded up in the offseason, adding defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters and re-signing defensive stalwart Aaron Donald to a massive deal.
Therefore, this game has blowout potential, and the guess is that occurs here to close out Week 1.