The first NFL Sunday is always shrouded in mystery.
It’s so hard to figure out most of these teams until you see them play actual games.
“Opening day is always very exciting,” said Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. “To get into that game, just all the work we put forth and all the uncertainty surrounding, ‘Okay, what kind of team are we going to have.'”
We will start getting some answers on Sunday. Let’s preview the action….
Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos
Coaching changes forced Peyton Manning to learn a new offense for the first time in a long time. And the Baltimore defense should have a good feel for what he likes to do since new Denver head coach Gary Kubiak served as the offensive coordinator in Baltimore last year.
On Wednesday, Ravens QB Joe Flacco met with the team’s defensive coordinator, Dean Pees, to provide insight on what Kubiak likes to call in certain situations.
A rookie left tackle also does not help Manning. A torn ACL sidelines Ryan Clady for the year. Look for the Ravens’ star pass-rushers, Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs, to test rookie Ty Sambrailo.
This game is a toss-up.
Carolina Panthers at Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jags enter Week One already banged up. They play without two starting defensive linemen, Andre Branch and Sen’Derrick Marks, along with prized free agent addition, tight end Julius Thomas.
Jaguars QB Blake Bortles learns his second offense in two years, so it could be rough sledding early for the Central Florida product, who really struggled last year. With the uncertainly surrounding Bortles, and the two D-Line injuries, Cam Newton and the Panthers enjoy the edge in this game.
Cincinnati Bengals at Oakland Raiders
The Raiders pulled a fast one on the NFL, signing troubled pass rusher Aldon Smith before the NFL announced his likely suspension.
But even with the talented Smith, the Raiders face a hard time winning this game. Like Blake Bortles, Raiders developing QB Derek Carr had a new playbook thrown at him in Year Two, not great for developing youngsters. And facing a Bengals defense—one of the most talented in the league—this could be a long day for Carr and the Raiders.
Expect the visiting team to leave Oakland on the winning end of this game.
Cleveland Browns at New York Jets
This plays as a battle of two teams that need to stop making the news for the wrong reasons.
On Friday, Browns cornerback Justin Gilbert crashed his car in Brunswick, Ohio, following a road-rage incident. Earlier this week, the Browns suspended offensive line coach Andy Moeller, who faces assault accusations.
The Jets have actually been well behaved the last few weeks, aside from Brandon Marshall grabbing headlines for playing the race card where it didn’t apply.
The Jets clearly field the more talented team, and, at home, should win this game.
Detroit Lions at San Diego Chargers
The Lions go to San Diego without one of their best defensive players, outside linebacker D’Andre Levy, who endured a hip injury.
And who knows what they are going to get from talented DT Haloti Ngata, who missed all of training camp and the preseason, and as coach Jim Caldwell says he’s not in “A1, peak game-playing condition.” Ngata was signed to fill the big shoes of free agent departure Ndamukong Suh. And Ngata’s backup, Caraun Reid, sits with an ankle injury, so this could be a problem because Ngata needs a lot of breathers after missing training camp. Starting Lions left guard Larry Warford also sits.
The Lions should be good this year, but there is a good chance they start out 0-1.
Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears
This is a terrible match-up for the Bears.
Their secondary looks weak, and they face perhaps the game’s best passer, Aaron Rodgers, who had months to prepare for this game.
On top of the secondary issues, the Bears defensive signal-caller, Shea McClellin, has never played inside linebacker before.
It would a huge surprise is the Packers don’t win this game.
Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills
The Bills need some help from the weather. It might be rainy and windy.
If Colts QB Andrew Luck gets a decent weather day, he should be able to exploit a Bills secondary that remains thin at corner, forced to start rookie Ronald Darby before he’s ready.
The Bills should be able to run in this game against a shaky Colts defensive line that lost Arthur Jones for the year, and starts two rookies.
If the weather isn’t a factor, the Colts win, but if it’s a problem, the game favors the Bills. In Orchard Park, with the lake effect, you never know what’s coming.
Kansas City Chiefs at Houston Texans
Texans superstar defensive lineman J.J. Watt is licking his chops.
The Chiefs line up with a rookie center, a guard making his first start, and a new left tackle.
With Houston’s talented front seven, led by Watt, the best player in football, the Chiefs likely face serious protection issues, and that is why this game favors the Texans.
Miami Dolphins at Washington Redskins
The Redskins start rookie Brandon Scherff, a college tackle, at right guard.
“Everybody looks at Brandon and sees that he’s picked top five and just expects him to come in and be a dominant force right away,” Redskins left tackle Trent Williams told the Washington Post. “That’s not the case, in a lot of cases.”
Expect the Dolphins to lineup Ndamukong Suh over him most of the game. Also, Cam Wake, one of the NFL’s best pass rushers, goes against Redskins right tackle Morgan Moses, making his second NFL start.
Robert Griffin III is lucky he’s not starting this game. Kirk Cousins could take quite a beating. The game favors the road team.
New Orleans Saints at Arizona Cardinals
This game could turn into a shootout.
The Saints secondary is all banged up with starting safety Jairus Byrd and cornerback Keenan Lewis out with injuries.
The Cardinals lost talented defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to the Jets, and it’s unclear whether 37-year-old James Bettcher is up to the job.
This game could go either way.
Seattle Seahawks at St. Louis Rams
While the Seahawks travel to St. Louis without talented safety Kam Chancellor due to a contract dispute, their pass rush should help make up for it.
The Rams start two inexperienced tackles, Greg Robinson and Rob Havenstein, and the Seahawks remain loaded with good edge pass rushers.
Also due to injuries, the Rams start their third-string tailback, Benny Cunningham.
And the Rams might not enjoy much of a home-field advantage this year with the team likely moving to Los Angeles and fans demoralized.
Expect the road team to win.
Tennessee Titans at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
In a match-up of two quarterbacks not ready to start, the Titans’ Marcus Mariota squares off against the Buccaneers’ Jameis Winston.
“There is no question this guy is not a rookie throwing the ball,” Titans defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said about Winston in quintessential coachspeak.
Yes he is a rookie, in every way possible, and his offensive line is skaky, featuring two rookie starters, so LeBeau’s talent-rich front seven should make the life of “Famous Jameis” miserable.
Don’t be surprised if the road team prevails.
New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys
A New York Post headlines this week read, “Can the Giants make a run with this little talent?”
They can if their franchise quarterback, Eli Manning, with his new mega-contract, puts the team on his back.
It might be hard for Manning to do that this week with star receiver Victor Cruz out. The already thin Giants defense competes at AT&T Stadium without starting middle linebacker Jon Beason.
It’s hard seeing the Giants winning this game against a loaded Cowboys club playing at home.