By Dan Durkin
(CBS) It’s here. It’s finally here. The NFL is back!
(Home team in all CAPS)
Game of the Week: 49ERS 34, Packers 31 – 3:25 PM
For the second straight year, the 49ers and Packers meet to start the season. Last year, the 49ers administered bookend beatdowns, spoiling the Packers home opener and ending their season in the playoffs. The Packers didn’t do enough to improve their defensive front and will once again lose the battle at the line of scrimmage.
Patriots 37, BILLS 16 – Noon
The Bills are making history for all the wrong reasons. They became the the first team to ever start a season with two rookie quarterbacks. So, that’s two rookie quarterbacks and a rookie head coach matched up against the NFL’s longest tenured coach and a three-time Super Bowl champion quarterback. This game is already over.
STEELERS 31, Titans 17 – Noon
I’m surprised the Titans didn’t do more to improve their defense which gave up a league-high 471 points last season. Instead, they opted to improve their offensive line, in an effort to open holes for Chris Johnson and more importantly, protect Jake Locker to see what they have at quarterback. It won’t matter this weekend, as the Steelers are more talented and better coached.
Falcons 38, SAINTS 34 – Noon
It will be ‘defense optional’ in New Orleans, as the NFC South’s finest square off. These two teams have won the last four division championships, rotating each year. The pattern says it’s the Saints turn, but I’ll take the more complete Falcons not only this week, but to also win the division.
Bucs 30, JETS 13 – Noon
There’s no shortage of intrigue in this game. Darrelle Revis’ first game as a Buc is against his former team, and the season hasn’t officially started, yet the Jets are already in utter disarray. Rookie Geno Smith gets the start for the Jets in a game that could get out of hand quickly.
Chiefs 24, JAGUARS 20 – Noon
These two teams combined for a whopping four wins last season. The bright side is they “earned” the top two picks in the draft and were bad enough to necessitate regime changes. Comparatively speaking, the Chiefs weren’t nearly as bad as their record indicated and are the more talented team in this matchup.
Dolphins 23, BROWNS 21 – Noon
Both of these teams spent significant resources to retool in free agency, but their seasons hinge on the development of their second-year signal callers. I like the Browns defense, but they don’t have enough playmakers on offense, and Weeden will be outplayed by Tannehill.
Seahawks 27, PANTHERS 20 – Noon
There’s an unwritten rule that says you should never take a team making a coast-to-coast trip for a Noon kickoff, but I’m breaking it for good reason. The Seahawks are for real. The Panthers defensive front seven is impressive, but their offense has been out of sorts all preseason.
Vikings 24, LIONS 23 – Noon
The Lions host the Vikings in the NFC North Third Place Bowl. (It’s funny because it’s true.) There will be no shortage of jaw-dropping individual talent on display, but collectively, these are two flawed teams. The Vikings will be hampered by Christian Ponder’s inability to vertically stretch a defense, and as much as I like the Lions defensive line, they’re poorly coached. The Vikings will ride the sturdy legs of Adrian Peterson to victory.
COLTS 31, Raiders 16 – Noon
The only positive thing I can say about the Raiders is that their season will be over in 17 weeks. Seriously, this could be the worst collection of “talent” I’ve seen in decades. Just one year ago, the Colts went from Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck and still earned a playoff bid. Not too shabby. Luck will open up his sophomore campaign in style.
BEARS 23, Bengals 20 – Noon
This is a matchup of two similarly built, defensive-oriented teams with strong special teams, yet there’s one glaring difference: quarterback. One is gun-shy (Andy Dalton), the other is a gunslinger (Jay Cutler). In what should be a defensive struggle, I’m giving a slight edge to the Bears, who are healthier and at home.
RAMS 24, Cardinals 21 – 3:25 PM
If you’re a fan of offensive line play, avoid this game. Both teams made concerted efforts to improve the protection for their quarterbacks, but how much they’ve actually improved remains to be seen. I expect the Rams defensive line to overpower the Cardinals and make Carson Palmer move in the pocket, which has never been his forte.
Giants 27, COWBOYS 24 – 7:30 PM
It’s not far-fetched to think that this game is a harbinger of the NFC East championship. Both teams are dealing with a litany of injuries in the trenches which could make for some sloppy football. I’ve wavered on this game more than any other, but I worry that the Cowboys new defensive scheme with banged up personnel will be their undoing. I like Eli and company to improve to 5-0 at Cowboys (AT&T) Stadium.
REDSKINS 31, Eagles 23 – 6:10 PM Monday
Another intriguing NFC East matchup chock-full of storylines. What will Chip Kelly’s high-tempo offense look like in the NFL? In reality, the Eagles defense is the real story. They have several new pieces combined with a new coordinator, which could spell doom against a Redskins offense that scored the fourth-most points last year. All eyes in Washington will be fixed on RGIII’s right knee, but the Redskins should be able to ease him back in with a run-heavy gameplan.
Texans 27, CHARGERS 20 – 9:20 PM Monday
San Diego pushed reset and mercifully ended Norv Turner’s reign, giving Mike McCoy an opportunity to revitalize the Chargers. With three new pieces on the offensive line, the schedule makers weren’t too kind, matching them up against the league’s top defensive player, Houston’s JJ Watt. Watt will rudely welcome rookie DJ Fluker into the league as the Texans pick up a road win to wrap up Week 1.
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