The NFL regular season is officially upon us. With all the NFL teams rosters set and game plans in hand, here are my Week One previews and predictions for all 16 games to kick off the 2021 NFL season.
Dallas at Tampa Bay: The reigning Super Bowl champs from Tampa Bay will return to their home field Thursday night to the same field they won their Lombardi Trophy. The Buccaneers will play their first game of the year as a 7.5-point favorite over the Dallas Cowboys, tied for the biggest point spread of Week One. With offensive guard Zach Martin OUT for Dallas after a positive Covid test, the task of upending the Bucs became more difficult for the Cowboys. Not having one of the best offensive linemen in the game in uniform will test quarterback Dak Prescott in his first game back from injury and running back Ezekiel Elliott, a player who many wonder if he has already peaked. With Tampa Bay having their first true training camp this year, the 22 returning starters from their Super Bowl-winning team are expected to be sharper than they were during their title run last year, making them the favorites in this game as well as to earn a return trip to the Super Bowl. The Buccaneers are a better team and will show it on Thursday night, take Tampa Bay to win by at least two touchdowns, 34-17.
Arizona at Tennessee: Many people like both the visiting Cardinals and host Titans to make some noise in the postseason come January. Perhaps that is why Tennessee is only been giving the status of three-point favorites in the interesting matchup. Another reason why this might be a one-possession game is that each team had issues on defense last year, which is why the over/under is 52 points, one of the biggest heading into Week One. It doesn’t take the signing of a former AFC South player like J.J.Watt to know how to defeat the Titans, stop Derrick Henry, the Tennessee RB who has had his way over the last few seasons, and so far has shown no signs of slowing down. That’s why Arizona will likely play aggressively early, try to jump out to a lead and take Henry out of their play calling, and look to defeat Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill straight up. Tennessee opened up with a lot of close wins last year, and they will open this season in the same fashion; only this time they may coming up on the short end. Take Arizona and the field goal to cover the spread and may even win the game late by a score of 31-30.
Jacksonville at Houston: This is one of only two division games being played this weekend and comes with plenty of quarterback drama. The hometown Texans have decided to make Deshawn Watson inactive for Week One, a move that is likely to play out all season while their QB is under police and NFL investigation. This leaves Tyrod Taylor as Houston’s quarterback in their first matchup against Trevor Lawrence and the Urban Meyer-led Jaguars. Taylor and his supporting cast are getting little support from oddsmakers, who has them at a 2.5-point home underdog in Week One, a sign of how long the 2021 season will be for Houston and the respect they have for the talents of Lawrence and Meyer. While you may not see Jacksonville on primetime much this year, you will see Trevor Lawrence highlights every Sunday night beginning this weekend, lay the 2.5, and take the Jaguars to control this game from start to finish and post a ten-point win.
Minnesota at Cincinnati: The Vikings are one of many road favorites this week when they travel to take on the Bengals in a battle of two teams potentially going in opposite directions. Minnesota is either going to compete for a playoff spot in the NFC North or end the tenure of QB Kirk Cousins when they bench him midseason. Cincy will have their second-year quarterback Joe Burrow back on the field after a late-season injury cut short his impressive rookie campaign. It will be up to Minnesota RB Dalvin Cook to prevent this game from being a QB shootout since the Vikings won’t be able to win a game like that too often in 2021 … and while I don’t like Cousins, I do like Cook enough to keep Burrow and the Bengals off the field enough to give the Vikings the win. I am giving up the field goal and taking Minnesota to win 28-20.
Seattle at Indianapolis: I never understand why the Seahawks don’t set up their training camp somewhere on the East Coast since it seems they begin every NFL season somewhere far away from Seattle. This year they travel to Indianapolis where they will face Carson Wentz and the new-look Colts. Wentz was traded from the Eagles this offseason to be the long-term solution at quarterback after the one-and-one season of Philip Rivers last year. While I think Wentz will play somewhere between everyone’s hopes and fears this season, starting against Seattle’s defense in Week One is a tough way to begin the next chapter of his career. The Seahawks always steal these early season wins in the east and will do so again this year as a slight (2.5-point) favorite. Take Seattle to control the game with Russell Wilson and win the game 27-17.
Pittsburgh at Buffalo: With the 17-game schedule creating an extra week to spread out important games on the schedule, this Steelers-Bills tilt landed on Week One’s schedule. While Pittsburgh brings with them a solid defense, how well their offensive can hold up in Buffalo remains to be seen, with Ben Roethlisberger likely to look like an old QB before the season is overdue to his lack of options on the field. Josh Allen made it to the AFC Championship Game last year but now needs to climb that mountain all over again if the Bills Mafia wants to get to the Super Bowl. He proved last year he has the talent, now he just needs to prove himself again; something he will do with a win over Pittsburgh to start the season. Lay the 6.5-points and take Buffalo to win at home 30-20.
San Francisco at Detroit: The Lions traded away Matthew Stafford to the LA Rams, but the 49ers didn’t trade away Jimmy Garoppolo this offseason despite drafting Trey Lance. Those offseason moves and lack thereof set up with Garoppolo vs. Jared Goff matchup to being the 2021 season. As a fan of Jimmy G the QB, I am surprised San Francisco didn’t trade their pick for some more draft assets; nevertheless, here they are with a potential controversy on their hands as soon as Garoppolo struggles, something that won’t happen this week in Detroit. There’s a reason why the 49ers are as big of a favorite as Tampa Bay is this week (-7.5 points), because they should be at least ten points better than the Lions are at any point this season and will prove it Sunday. Give up the 7.5 as this game will be settled before the start of the fourth quarter. S.F. wins 38-10.
LA Chargers at Washington: Another quality team from the West starts their season in the East as Justin Herbert and the Chargers take on the defending NFC East champs from Washington. As a fan of both Herbert’s and Washington’s head coach Ron Rivera, this game is interesting from the perspective of both teams. LA knows they can make some noise in the AFC this year thanks to their second-year QB, and Washington wants to prove that being a division winner still means something, even if you do it at 7-9. I am surprised the Chargers are only giving up one point; perhaps they are expecting some early season “Fitzmagic” from Washington’s starting QB Ryan Fitzpatrick; I, for one, am not. Taking the LA Chargers to win and cover 24-14.
NY Jets at Carolina: The long-awaited Sam Darnold Bowl has finally arrived as the former Jets quarterback takes them on as a member of the Panthers after being traded to Carolina to make room for Zach Wilson. Darnold will have some time to prove that it wasn’t his lack of talent, but a lack of head coaching that held him back while wearing Green. For Wilson, joining a team bad enough to draft him second overall means it will take time for the rookie out of BYU to show his true talents, putting him at a disadvantage against Darnold. Of course, two of the advantages Darnold now has are a young, talented defense as well as Christian McCaffery at running back, who is returning from injury this week and is likely to perform better than Le’Veon Bell did in for the Jets. As a result, give up the five points and take the Carolina Panthers to win 27-13.
Philadelphia at Atlanta: Even if you believe that Matt Ryan is the second-best starting QB on the field Sunday, with Calvin Ridley and Kyle Pitts, the hometown Falcons now have more talent on offense than the visiting Eagles do. When you add in a new head coach bound to put in a few new wrinkles into Atlanta’s offense to start the season, it is surprising to me that the Falcons are only a 3.5-point favorite. I am not impressed by Jalen Hurts at quarterback, but with another Alabama player teaming up with him with Heisman Trophy-winning WR DeVonta Smith, there should be some big plays during the Eagles’ 2021 season. For this week, however, it won’t be enough to win on the road, so, give up the 3.5 points and take the Atlanta Falcons to win 31-21.
Cleveland at Kansas City: Another AFC North team ventures outside the division in a potential playoff preview as the Browns visit Kansas City. Would have loved to have seen this game on Sunday Night Football, but I guess even CBS and Fox deserve to have a few good games on in the afternoon. People are rooting, YES, rooting for the Browns to make the Super Bowl this season after years of telling us “this” would be their year. The difference is they are now good enough to do just that, with one of their main obstacles, Kansas City, their Week One opponent. Kansas City put things on cruise control last year, winning 14 of the 15 games they tried to; but towards the end of the season, were unable to blow people out, failing to cover in six of the last seven. If they were facing a lesser opponent to start the season, I think that trend would continue into the new year; however, with KC knowing people believe the Browns are a Super Bowl-caliber team, I don’t expect them to take their foot off the gas in this game, and if they win, they will win big. This is exactly what I think will happen because despite being one of those people rooting for the Browns, having Cleveland play in KC Week One is bad timing. KC wins going away 41-24.
Green Bay vs New Orleans: The Saints could have moved this game to any of the three Florida NFL stadiums and chose Jacksonville since they hoped it would keep away more Packers fans than Tampa Bay or Miami would. Knowing that Aaron Rodgers is back in his #12 Green Bay uniform means that Packers fans will have traveled to any of the Villes in America to see him play, and this game will prove that. The pregame shows will focus on Saints quarterback Jameis Winston being giving the starting job to start this season; but without Michael Thomas to throw the ball to, the New Orleans offense will run through running back Alvin Kamara more than it can if the Saints want to win games. With Rogers and the Packers ready to prove they are the best team in the NFC from Week One, I would not be against them this week. Give up the four points, GB 34, NO 23.
Denver at NY Giants: The pressure is on Daniel Jones and the New York Giants offense this year, which is why the return of running back Saquon Barkley to the field is important for the quarterback as well as the general manager. Denver will start a quarterback they traded for this offseason, but it won’t be Aaron Rodgers; instead, it will be Teddy Bridgewater. Oddsmakers are showing zero respect for the Giants, making them an opening week underdog at home, giving Big Blue bettors a chance to grab 2.5 points if they dare to put faith in their team. It is always difficult to project how new players will perform in new environments, which is why banking on a new QB and a rookie RB like Denver has in Javonte Williams is a risky bet. That’s why many in the national NFL media are jumping on the Giants this week. Since we know the kind of quarterback Jones and Bridgewater are, taking the Broncos to win this game 30-16 is easy for me.
Miami at New England: The second divisional match-up sees two more former Alabama QBs square off as Tua Tagovailoa faces Mac Jones. The Dolphins seem to want to replace their QB with Deshawn Watson, but only if Houston provides a damaged goods discount, while the Patriots tossed Cam Newton to the curb in favor of their rookie signal-caller after never needing to trade up to get Jones at #15 during the draft. Bill “The Hoodie” Belichick won’t expose Jones to too many challenging decisions early in the season until he is sure what he has in his QB. The Patriots head coach also has plenty of film on the Dolphins QB, making this a chess match from the pregame warmups to the fourth quarter. That also means a low-scoring punt-fest that NFL fans can afford to miss in favor of other more appealing games. Even with a rookie starter, the Patriots are being given a three-point favorite status at home; those three points might be the margin that determines the winner of this game; but, since you can’t pick ties, I will take New England 20-16 to win and barely cover on Sunday afternoon.
Chicago at LA Rams: Andy Dalton vs. Matthew Stafford is how we start the Sunday Night Football schedule. Except Dalton is with the Bears and Stafford is with the Rams. Seeing this game on SNF means that Al Michaels didn’t want to leave the LA area to start the season, giving the Rams a chance to play a primetime home game. While the Rams are “preparing” to see Bears backup QB Justin Fields, Chicago is insisting the Ohio State product will be watching and learning from the sidelines this year, leaving the playing duties to Dalton. Is more likely Dalton is the punching bag the Bears will play as they rebuild their offensive line and keep Fields safe. It is that leaky line that sees the Rams a 7.5-point favorite in this game, giving two of the three primetime games the largest point spreads of Week One. The Rams defense will do enough to win this game on their own; proving short fields for Stafford to work with and look good in the highlights. Take LA to win in this one-sided affair 38-10 and cries for Fields’ debut to come from the Windy City.
Baltimore at Las Vegas: OK, so let’s take a quarterback that everyone in a team’s front office wants to replace, put him on Monday Night Football, and let him face one of the toughest defenses in the league … Welcome to 2021 Derek Carr and the Las Vegas Raiders! Talk about an ideal Week One matchup, did the Baltimore Ravens pay someone off to make it look like they were dealt a tough blow by playing the first game with fans in the Raiders new stadium, but get to do it this week to start this season when they are clearly the better team? This will be one of those games that will feed the narrative that Jon Gruden should (if he is not actually) be on the hot seat and how wonderful Lamar Jackson and the Ravens are. While true Baltimore should and will likely dominate this game from start to finish, it is all about matchups, with a vastly superior Ravens defense facing a confused and outdated Raiders’ offense, which is why Gruden’s coaching career needs to be questioned and the franchise needs to consider clearing house soon. If Baltimore doesn’t win every quarter by the 4.5 points they are laying in this game, it is only because they pulled Jackson or told him to stop throwing the ball. Baltimore 38, Raiders 9.
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