Indianapolis Colts @ Los Angeles Chargers (-7.0)*
At the finale of the 2018 season, seeing a week 1 showdown between the Colts and Chargers would have made my ears perk up in excitement. Last season, the Colts were explosive on offense, ranking in the top 5 in points scored. Their level of play put them on a short list of teams I thought were capable of dethroning the Patriots in the AFC.
Then Andrew Luck retired and things changed. Not to discredit Jacoby Brissett, but Luck was considered a serious candidate for MVP going into this year and Brissett, who has only started 17 games in his career, does not give the Colts offense the immediate respect that Luck’s presence bears. In case you were wondering, in those 17 games, Brissett managed a 5-12 record and a career passer rating of 82.2, which would place him just below Matt Hasselbeck on the all time list.
The Chargers are missing some key pieces of their own. Earlier this week Los Angeles GM Tom Telesco said that contract talks with running back Melvin Gordon will be postponed until after the season, putting the disgruntled star on the clock, per Adam Schefter. With just two days until opening Sunday, the Chargers will have to turn to Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson at running back. An even more pressing absence for the Chargers to face is Derwin James.
Following a foot injury that required James to have surgery, the young star was placed on the IR, making him ineligible to play until the Chargers Week 9 matchup with the Green Bay Packers. James’ rookie campaign brought him to the forefront of NFL safeties and landed him a place on the 2018 All-Pro team, labeling him as a top two player in his position.
Both teams are looking to overcome the adversity brought by the offseason and divert their attention back to the Lombardi Trophy.
Los Angeles Chargers
Indianapolis Colts +7.0
For the first game of the 2019 season I am picking the favorite to win, but not cover and here’s why: Jacoby Brissett and the Colts have A LOT to prove this weekend and will have that mentality throughout the game. While the Chargers will likely have control of this game and the better chance to win, the Colts will be playing keep-up and manage to cover in this game at the hands of Brissett leaving absolutely nothing on the field this Sunday.
Medium. Vegas did a very good job with this line.
Player to watch
Colts TE Eric Ebron
Ebron is coming off of a historic season, finishing 2nd in the NFL in touchdown receptions, behind Antonio Brown and tied with Davante Adams. Regardless, Ebron has fallen to the 14th ranked TE in fantasy football based on the Experts Consensus Rankings, due to Andrew Luck’s unprecedented retirement. But if Brissett targets Ebron half as much as Luck did last season in the redzone, Ebron is looking at another successful season.
Cincinnati Bengals @ Seattle Seahawks (-9.5)*
The Cincinnati Bengals have been known as the team that is on the fringe of the playoffs, but even when they make it, they aren’t going to win. Well, that was 4 years ago. Since their streak of losing in the wildcard round which lasted from 2011-2015 the Marvin Lewis led Bengals have not been able to squeeze out a .500 season.
Lewis, who was the 2nd longest tenured head coach in the NFL behind Bill Belichick, has been transformed into the 36-year-old Zac Taylor. Taylor, whose ties to Rams’ Sean McVay served as a selling point in his hire, has been handed a tough task to bring the Bengals back to the playoffs at a time when they are overshadowed by every other team in the AFC North. It will certainly be an uphill battle for Taylor and his staff.
The Seahawks made some moves this offseason highlighted by last week’s trade for former No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney. Additionally, the Seahawks locked up top linebacker Bobby Wagner in an extension that will keep him in Seattle through the 2022 season, which was necessary after trading away LB Frank Clark. To patch up Doug Baldwin’s young retirement, GM John Schnieder selected Ole Miss’ D.K. Metcalf to give Russell Wilson someone to catch passes.
In this matchup I have a difficult time believing that Zac Taylor will piece together a plan to get Andy Dalton to tear into the Seahawks’ defense in Seattle. Dalton’s soft voice just won’t suffice in the den of the 12th man.
Seattle Seahawks -9.5
The Seahawks do have the tendency to play to their opponent’s level, but in order for them to do that in this game Pete Carroll would need to bring in Geno Smith at quarterback and sign Hugh Jackson as a special assistant to the head coach. The Seahawks should have this handled.
Player to watch
Seahawks EDGE Jadeveon Clowney
Clowney is still in a contract year despite the trade and he is going to try to earn a massive payday next season. Don’t expect him to get a full workload being that he just started practicing last week, but look to see Clowney make some electric plays on Sunday facing the Bengals’ 27th ranked offensive line, according to PFF.
Detroit Lions (-2.5)* @ Arizona Cardinals
The Arizona Cardinals decided to hire a new head coach, draft a quarterback in the first round, and tried to rebuild the organization. Then they finished 3-13. Now, the Arizona Cardinals decided to hire a new head coach, draft a quarterback in the first round, and are trying to rebuild the organization. This time around the Cardinals are going with a full-on experiment, trusting the fired coach from a 5-7 Texas Tech program to fill Kyler Murray into his Air-Raid offense.
The Air-Raid offense is incredibly pass-heavy and gives significant power to the quarterback to audible at the line of scrimmage. This offense is difficult for many quarterbacks to keep up with, let alone a rookie quarterback. Only time will tell whether or not this crap-shoot will hit on the hard-eight where Arizona’s ownership bet their entire franchise.
The Lions, just like the Cardinals, are expected to be at the bottom of their division. But, unlike their Week 1 opponent, I believe that the Lions should be respected more. I’m not saying they’re going to win the division, I’m not even remotely suggesting that a playoff berth is a reasonable projection for them, but I am saying that the Lions have the tools to upset their fellow division rivals as well as playoff teams en route to a 7-9 or 8-8 season.
Detroit Lions +2.5
Definitely has been higher.
This game has far more questions than answers going into it, which labels this as a dangerous game in my head. Personally I think it will take the Kliff Kingsbury and this Cardinals offense some time to gel, but in the event that they are ready to fire, beating the Lions at home isn’t much of an upset at all. That being said, I do still like the Lions this year more than the credit they have received, and to the team, beating the last-place Cardinals appears to be the easiest task they’ll have this season.
Player to watch
Feels like an obvious pick, that’s because it is one. Kyler is a No. 1 overall pick that has been called too short by scouts his whole player career, there is an entire bag of Lays on his shoulder right now.
New York Giants @ Dallas Cowboys (-7.0)*
Here comes pt. 2 of the NFC East’s lopsided matchups for Week 1. The Dallas Cowboys are in a Super Bowl mindset, while the Giants are in a tank mindset? I mean they traded away Pro Bowlers Odell Beckham Jr. and Olivier Vernon to the Browns and sent one of the top NFL safeties Landon Collins to Washington, their rival. So, in that sense the Giants are clearly looking to save cap room, let young players develop, and to rebuild through the draft.
But then they give $37.5 million to veteran receiver Golden Tate over the course of four years and insist on Eli Manning remaining their guy. Not to discredit either of those players, but their presence speaks to the half-assed rebuilding job GM Dave Gettleman has been constructing. The Giants have some young and talented players on their roster, but their plan for the future appears shaky at best, and will show in their performance for the next few years.
For Dallas, this game is a welcome back for Ezekiel Elliott, the start of Dak Prescott playing for a major contract extension, Amari Cooper’s return from injury, and the kickstart to a very hopeful season for Cowboys fans. Just as I compared the Philadelphia v. Washington matchup, this game will be one of the Giants many learning opportunities and one of the Cowboys many wins this season.
Dallas Cowboys (-7.0)
13 of the last 18 games between the Giants and Cowboys have been decided by 7 or less points. However, this year’s Cowboys are stronger than they have been throughout that time period, and the Giants are undoubtedly worse than they have been at any point this decade.
Player to watch
Cowboys WR Amari Cooper
Cooper is currently dealing with a plantar fascia foot injury. He will be playing this Sunday, but this type of injury is the type that lingers. He will be able to play through some pain this season, but his production will take a hit if he cannot reach the speed and explosiveness that he demonstrated last season with the Cowboys.
San Francisco 49ers @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-1.0)*
The 49ers are in an interesting situation because last season they were seen as a team with potential to skyrocket in the win column. Then, after starting 1-1, Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a torn ACL against the Chiefs in Week 3. That injury put a damper on the season as the team spiraled out of contention quickly, finishing the year 4-12. But now Garoppolo is back and this team is ready to perform exactly how they were expected to in 2018, except now no one cares. The hype is gone. But a strong start to the season can get NFL fans back onto the 9ers train.
The storyline for the Buccaneers season will revolve around the return of Bruce Arians as head coach. Arian’s tremendous football journey brought him to Arizona where he finally was given the opportunity as head coach. In Arians first three seasons in Arizona, the Cardinals records were 10-6, 11-5, and 13-3 respectively. Arian’s added his old Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator and former New York Jets head coach Todd Bowles to his staff to run the Buccaneers’ defense. In the two years Bowles worked alongside Arians, the Cardinals finished in the top 10 in points against. While the Bucs have it tough in the NFC South, Arian’s coaching ability can provide this young team optimism as they head into a new season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-1.0)
I think this game is as much of a toss up as there is this week, but the Buccaneers’ home field advantage as well as the 49ers long trip to the east coast skews this matchup ever so slightly.
Player to watch
Buccaneers WR Chris Godwin
Reports out of Buccaneers training camp suggests that Godwin is in store for a career year. Playing across from Mike Evans gives him the opportunity to see single coverage on the wide majority of his snaps. Serious chance to see a star born in Godwin this season.
Pittsburgh Steelers @ New England Patriots (-6.0)
The reigning Super Bowl champions host non-divisional rival Steelers in a classic matchup. The Patriots still have Tom Brady, they still have Bill Belichick, and they still have the best chance in the AFC to make the Super Bowl for what would be their 4th straight season. This offseason, the Patriots looked to the draft to bring in another pass catcher for Brady and selected WR N’Keal Harry with the last pick of the first round. Harry was turning heads this offseason with his play, which is huge for New England now that Star TE Rob Gronkowski has stepped away from football. Unfortunately, however, Harry came up with an ankle injury this summer that led to his placement on the IR. There is another receiver in New England that is ready to shine, you may have heard of him, his name is Josh Gordon. Gordon is yet again reinstated and ready to ball. If his off field issue remain in check the possibilities in a Brady to Gordon connection are scary. Expect more or less the same from Belichick and co., they win, and no one likes it.
The Steelers, free from any Antonio Brown nonsense, are in a very different place as they were just two seasons ago. The AFC North no longer runs through Pittsburgh and for the first time since Ray Lewis’ retirement, the Steelers have a chip on their shoulder. Personally, I do not think the Steelers will perform anywhere near how they have in the past 5 years. Many fantasy football owners are expecting JuJu Smith-Schuster to fill in the role of Antonio Brown, minus threatening his general manager. But what those “fantasy pros” fail to realize are these two things:
1) JuJu will now be shadowed by elite corners and also face double coverage this season
2) JuJu is not Antonio Brown. He’s a very good wide receiver, but AB is a master of route running and has the ability to make mind-blowing plays constantly in double coverage.
I think this is the year that the Steelers fall sub .500 for the first time since 2003.
New England Patriots
New England Patriots -6.0
Like I said, I believe this is a much more lopsided match than many would think just from reading the team names. The Patriots should be able to take care of business in Foxborough, but my only concern would be the Steelers not going away despite the Patriots maintaining control and the lead throughout.
Player to watch:
Steelers TE Vance McDonald
Now that JuJu will be subject to a lot of attention, this opens the field for the big man in the middle. Sunday night’s game is a great opportunity for McDonald to showcase what he can bring to the table. Don’t be surprised if he finishes the game with double-digit receptions.
Houston Texans @ New Orleans Saints (-7.0)*
We are now 8 months removed from the infamous no call in the Saints NFC championship matchup against the Rams. Since that time, Saints fans still haven’t gotten Roger Goodell to give them a Lombardi Trophy as an “I’m sorry” gift. What Saints fans have managed in this time is to bring about a major change to the league that, in my opinion, has no place in football. Now teams can challenge pass interference calls. How nice it is to take a subjective part of football and let the officials subjectively watch it again in slow motion, which does a worse job of showing PI, while I am forced to watch the same Bud Lite commercial for the 8th time in one half.
Enough on that rant.
The Saints are an excellent team and it goes without saying that Drew Brees is an all time great quarterback who has the talent and leadership to make a title run this season for his team. I have no doubts that the Saints will be fighting for a spot at Hard Rock Stadium in December and January, but that Saints have struggles early in the season the past few years. The Saints have not started a season 1-0 since 2013, including a 40-48 loss at home to the Buccaneers last season.
The Texans have drastically changed their team in the last week, trading Jadeveon Clowney and acquiring Laremy Tunsil, Duke Johnson, and Carlos Hyde. To expect there to be no growing pains in putting those players into a new offense would be ridiculous, but it would be even more ridiculous to think those players won’t make an impact on Monday night.
New Orleans Saints
Houston Texans +7.0
As previously mentioned, the Saints recent history suggests struggles in their first game of the season. But, this pick comes down to Deshaun Watson’s ability to lead and make tremendous plays in Bill O’Brien’s offense. I do still think that the Saints will come out victorious, but this will be a good game in all aspects. Just pray that the Saints don’t lose on a missed horse collar tackle.
Player to watch
New Orleans TE Jared Cook
Coming off of a Pro Bowl season with the Raiders, Cook gets the pleasure of catching balls from Brees this year. Drew Brees hasn’t had a reliable tight end in his arsenal since Jimmy Graham, and Cook can give Saints fans a reason to draw (misguided) comparisons between the two if Cook performs.
Denver Broncos (-1.0) @ Oakland Raiders
Last, but certainly least is this AFC West showdown late Monday night. If you haven’t heard about the circus that has been in Oakland this summer, then you should probably contact an ENT and consult possible hearing loss. This broadcast will be flooded with Antonio Brown content just as sports social media has been consistently the past few weeks. After all the madness, Antonio Brown will be playing against the Broncos, and better make all of the attention he’s drawn onto himself worth it.
The Broncos have been exact opposites, getting very little media attention this offseason. In case you’ve forgotten, former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco will be behind center for Denver this season. While the Broncos flopped in free agency a bit, they quietly won in an even more important category: coaching staff. The Broncos picked up Vic Fangio as head coach just one year after he coordinated the NFL’s top defense. Additionally, the Broncos were able to bring in their second choice for the head coach job, Mike Munchak, as their offensive line coach.
The Broncos and Raiders have taken the back seats in their division with the emergence of the Chiefs and Chargers taking all the playoff hopes for themselves, but could use this game as their platform to make a statement.
Denver Broncos -1.0
Certainly not fantastic.
Neither of these teams gives me much of a reason to have faith in their ability to win this game, but the absurd media attention that has surrounded the Raiders this offseason can only serve as a distraction to their team as they enter this season. Call me crazy, but I also like Flacco running this Broncos offense.
Player to watch
Raiders rookie RB Josh Jacobs
All signs point towards Jacobs being used as a bell-cow for Jon Gruden this season. Despite the NFL moving towards a pass heavy league, Gruden’s offense remains as one of the most balanced in the NFL, meaning the Raiders will run the ball a lot.
*All lines per TheScore