By: Lucas Kochevar
Football season is officially back. College football starts this week with UGA and Clemson as the big draw. Shortly after that, the NFL season finally starts with Tampa Bay taking on Dallas on September 9th. This season has many storylines to follow with Tom Brady trying to repeat, Patrick Mahomes getting back on top, and Aaron Rodgers last dance with the Packers. The slate will be full of games worthwhile but, these are the five to keep an eye for.
LA Chargers @ Washington Football Team
One of the first games of the day kicks off in Washington between WFT and the Chargers. New HC Brandon Staley and Justin Herbert have to make an extensive trip for this week one match-up. That bodes well for Washington as they enter their second year under HC Ron Rivera. The biggest challenge will be WFT's D-Line going up against LA's O-Line, especially DE Chase Young against the Chargers first round pick OT Rashawn Slater. These two faced each other in 2019 in college and Slater was one of the guys that managed to contain Young. That will be fun to highlight. On the other side, Washington named Ryan Fitzpatrick the starter last week and he faces the genius, young defensive mind, Brandon Staley. Staley did fantastic things with the Rams last year and now he inherits gifted players like Derwin James and Joey Bosa. WFT has some of the most underrated players in the league on the perimeter with Terry McLaurin and newly signed weapon Curtis Samuel. Both of these guys should play a big role of WFT wants to win.
Vegas has this game as a toss-up with LA being the -1 favorite and I tend to agree. The Chargers are one of those teams that I have taking a good jump with Herbert, however, them being the favorite seems interesting simply because of the new head coach element and the travel. If I had to predict this game, I have to go with Washington. In week one, the trend seems to be that the defense is not ready. Last season, a little over half of the league managed to score over 21 points in week one. The question would then be: If defense is the issue, then shouldn't the better offense win with LA? Typically, yes. The difference here is that LA is the less experienced defense and they're implementing an entirely different scheme. Washington should be able to come out and run their typical defense under Riverboat Ron and get stops when needed on LA's offense. The pass rush is fierce and forces the offense to rush their decisions. I believe Fitz magic will be able to lean on RB Antonio Gibson and his two WRs. Look for Washington to win in a sloppy game as both teams go through a feeling out process for week one here.
Washington Football Team 27, Los Angeles Chargers 20
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Buffalo Bills
The Buffalo Bills are coming off one of the best seasons they've had in the last twenty years and they face the Steelers, who look to improve on what was a very disappointing ending to their season. The Steelers started their season 11-0 and fell flat on their faces, meanwhile, Buffalo advanced to the AFC Championship and lost to Kansas City. The most intriguing story here is that this could be legendary QB Ben Roethlisberger's last season opener. Nothing has been reported about a retirement, but for a player that has notoriously taken a ton of damage, Big Ben might be towards the end of his road. The prospect of Buffalo's surging offense against the Steelers stifling defense should showcase some premier football. The Bills offense was the story last year, and similar to that, they should be the story this year. For some unknown reason OC Brian Daboll didn't get a head coaching job and he returns to run the offense. With another year under Daboll, don't be surprised if Josh Allen makes a run at MVP. His odds sit at +1400 to win the award and that would likely be where I would place my money for pure value.
As previously said, the Bills offense vs Steelers defense will be the headliner here but let’s look at the other side of it. The Steelers offense last season was aggressively inconsistent when they hit their wall last season and dropped a majority of their last couple games. The biggest issue was balance between the passing attack and rushing attack. Their running backs last season, James Conner and Benny Snell, were never able to put together competent games to help Big Ben and his arm isn't like it used to be. Part of the problem has to do with the O-Line but, with a new group and Najee Harris, they look to improve the overall balance of their team. Vegas has the Bills as a touchdown favorite at -6.5 here. Once again, I agree with the oddsmakers here. The Bills offense is a well-oiled machine and the defense is sneaky good. The Bills are coached exceptionally well under HC Sean McDermott and I expect them to be more than ready for anything the Steelers might throw at them on offense. This game will set the tone for the Steelers' and Bills' season and I am really looking forward to it.
Buffalo Bills 31, Pittsburgh Steelers 16
Cleveland Browns @ Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City has been the team to beat in the AFC for three years now, but Cleveland is coming into the year with something they haven't in a long time: hope. The Browns seem to be playoff contenders for the foreseeable future and they look to make a push with Baker Mayfield. The Chiefs look to make another Super Bowl run after a really disappointing loss to the Buccaneers. The Chiefs offense should be better than ever with the new additions to their offensive line. KC will desperately need these guys to pan out with the Myles Garrett coming off the edge for the Browns. The rest of Cleveland's defense will be a unit to watch, specifically the secondary. Denzel Ward should be coming into his own as a star young cornerback. My biggest curiosity will be how the Chiefs defend Tyreek Hill. Guarding Hill is a challenge for so many teams due to his ridiculous speed. Then, you also have Travis Kelce, the best TE in the league. The Browns second level will be challenged for sure.
The Chiefs are the Super Bowl favorites at +450 and they will have huge expectations here to make a statement at home. That leads me into thinking the Browns might be sneaky in this season opener. When Cleveland travelled to KC for their playoff game, they competed the entire game. Mahomes wasn't 100% healthy but, the Browns still were in the game and had a real chance at winning. I remain skeptical about the Chiefs defense, especially the D-Line outside of Chris Jones. I think Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are primed for huge games. The spread sits with the Chiefs as the obvious favorite at -6.5 and I personally think it will be closer than that. This game gives me the feeling of last year’s Browns-Ravens matchup on Monday Night Football. The most dangerous coach in sports with a bye week is Andy Reid and the off-season is just the longest bye week there is. This leads me to thinking the Chiefs win in a week one shootout but, both teams prove to be legit in the AFC.
Kansas City Chiefs 38, Cleveland Browns 34
Green Bay Packers @ New Orleans Saints
Packers fans have been through the ringer this off-season with the entire Aaron Rodgers problem. He finally came back from his hiatus and the team was right to call him on his bluff that he wouldn't sit out the season. The Saints, on the other hand, did lose their QB, but that was because of retirement. The Saints have announced Jameis Winston as the week one starter to no one’s surprise after the preseason he was having. This game provides a ton of intrigue for me because the Packers are a premier team in the NFC and should compete for a Super Bowl berth and then New Orleans will look totally different without Brees. The Saints and Packers also had a really fun game last season where Green Bay ended up winning 37-30 and Alvin Kamara had a monster run. This game should be another shootout for the slate as both defenses aren't really known for being lockdown. The Packers O-Line is something to keep note of mainly due to them losing their all-pro C Corey Linsley. I think that loss is being underplayed for the Packers and it could hurt them for the long haul.
Seeing the Saints offense with a QB who can throw more than 25 yards will be a change for sure. The Packers secondary got torched by Tom Brady and the Bucs in the NFC Championship, so you have to think that was an area they wanted to improve on. CB Jaire Alexander should have his side on lock but, it’s the other guys that may be in trouble with Jameis throwing the ball everywhere. On the flip side, the reigning MVP should keep his great streak going. He showed no signs of slowing down last season and I don't foresee him falling off a cliff. This game will be decided with the offenses. The Vegas guys have this game as a field goal difference in favor of Green Bay -3. I think that's generous with the Saints and it might have factored in home field advantage. With Hurricane Ida, New Orleans won't be playing in NOLA for the next month. That might shift the line some in favor of Green Bay. I would expect these NFC contenders to have a fun game, but don't be surprised if one team pulls away from the other.
Green Bay Packers 37, New Orleans Saints 27
Miami Dolphins @ New England Patriots
Two teams that missed out on the playoffs last year look to make it back in this week one division match-up. The Dolphins had a strange end to last season but, with Tua Tagovailoa, they look to make some noise. The Patriots finally missed out on the playoffs last season with Cam Newton under center. They hope to recapture some magic with rookie QB Mac Jones. The Patriots surprisingly cut QB Cam Newton today and named Mac Jones the official starter. The move was quite shocking as the Patriots just don't seem like the team to trust a rookie QB, but after a strong showing in preseason, they made the judgement that he was ready for week one. The Dolphins really did the exact opposite last season with Tua and Ryan Fitzpatrick. With Fitz in Washington now, the job is all up to Tagovailoa. Miami was in the wild card mix last season but just couldn't put together a strong finish to take that spot. They did win with their head coach hire from last year, former New England assistant Brian Flores.
This game will be an Alabama fan's dream with both Jones and Tua playing. It might provide a tiny bit of insight on the debate in regard to who’s better. Both defenses should perform with some energy. Flores had them playing above their skill level with last year. I am really curious to see what he throws at Jones and how Mac will respond to it. Bill Belichick has never lost to a rookie QB. Ever. Tagovailoa will essentially be a rookie QB and Belichick should be able to scheme against him. Tua looked good in preseason, but he never played any first teamers. I have no doubts about the defense for Miami, but the Miami offense is still very questionable. Even if you don't believe in Tua, they still have a spotty O-Line and a journeyman at RB. Both of these teams are nearly playoff contenders but, they have ways to go. Something that surprises me is that Miami is +2.5 underdog. I understand that going on the road is always a challenge, especially in Foxborough, but the team was better overall last season. In the end, I believe the better overall roster will win, therefore, the Dolphins should take this game with the help of their defense. Out of the two division match-ups, this is definitely the more intriguing one, especially now that we will see Mac Jones
Miami Dolphins 24, New England Patriots 13