The wait for NFL football is finally over as the Denver Broncos are set to host the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night in a rematch of Super Bowl 50.
On top of the Super Bowl rematch, week one features four games between division rivals, four prime time games, and three contests between two postseason squads from last season.
So without further ado, here are my predictions for the 16-game slate in week one.
Panthers 20, Broncos 13
Cam Newton and company have to be seeking some revenge from their poor offensive showing in the Super Bowl and I see them squeaking out a close victory in a low-scoring game. Carolina’s defense should contain Denver’s offense with Trevor Siemian making his first career start.
Browns 16, Eagles 20
Carson Wentz, the no. 2 overall pick in the NFL Draft, will make his first start after Sam Bradford was traded to the Minnesota Vikings following the Teddy Bridgewater season-ending knee injury. Playing at home, the Eagles’ defense should hold the Browns, who will be led by Robert Griffin III after a preseason where he completed just 57.9 percent of his passes. Add in an inexperienced offensive line and a conundrum at running back, Cleveland loses their NFL-worst 12th consecutive season-opener.
Bills 23, Ravens 20
After a Pro Bowl season were he tossed 20 touchdowns, Tyrod Taylor leads Buffalo to a big win over a Ravens team that is looking to rebound from an abysmal 2015 season where most of their starters landed on the IR and they were forced to start four different quarterbacks.
Bears 14, Texans 28
After completing nearly 70 percent of his passes in the preseason with a new compliment of weapons around him, Brock Osweiler defeats the Bears by a pair of touchdowns in his first game in Houston. The loss starts a long season for Chicago and their defense that ranked 20th in scoring one year ago.
Bengals 27, Jets 20
A close game against two teams that have playoff potential. Despite an NFL-high seventh straight road season-opener, Cincinnati’s defense that ranked #1 in the AFC in scoring is able to hold the Jets and former-Bengal Ryan Fitzpatrick to 20 points, while the offense continues their momentum from the preseason.
Packers 34, Jaguars 27
In the Sunshine State, Aaron Rodgers and Blake Bortles are prepared for a shootout where the Packers prevail by a touchdown. With Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb back in full strength, Eddie Lacy slimming down in the off season, and the acquisition of tight end Jared Cook, Rodgers will have a field day against a Jags’ defense that ranked 29th against the pass last season.
Buccaneers 27, Falcons 20
The trio of Jameis Winston, Mike Evans, and Doug Martin start their 2016 tear with a big day against the Falcons in the Georgia Dome. Atlanta started 5-0 last season, but lost seven of their final nine games and they will continue to trend that way when Tampa comes to town on Sunday.
Vikings 17, Titans 10
If Teddy Bridgewater was on the field, this is a game where many would pick Minnesota by double digits. However, it appears Shaun Hill will likely be under center and the Titans are in for a heavy dose of Adrian Peterson. Despite the questions surrounding the Vikings’ signal caller, Minnesota’s defense still held opponents to just 18.9 points per game last season and they should be able to contain Marcus Mariota and the Titans. It will be interesting to see how DeMarco Murray performs playing for his third team in as many years.
Chargers 10, Chiefs 21
San Diego managed just six points in two losses to the Chiefs last season and will continue to struggle when they head to Arrowhead in week one. Phillip Rivers will have Keenan Allen back in the lineup, but Kansas City’s secondary is solid and they will be getting after Rivers in the pocket as the Chargers’ offense remains stagnant for the majority of the afternoon.
Raiders 33, Saints 30
The Saints spent last season being obliterated by the opposing offense, finishing the season with the 31st ranked defense, allowing just under 30 points per game. This fits well for Derek Carr, who is coming off a solid season where he led Oakland to their highest win total since 2011, throwing for 3,987 yards and 32 touchdowns. It’s a dream match up for him, Amari Cooper, and Michael Crabtree against a Saints’ defense that allowed 284 yards per game through the air last season.
Dolphins 10, Seahawks 27
Seattle is 19-5 at home in the last three seasons and they drew a favorable match up with the Dolphins coming to the ’12th man’ in week one. Russell Wilson finished last season with an astonishing 24 passing touchdowns in the final seven games and threw just one interception at home all year. This just seems like a game Miami loses 99 times out of 100, most of the time by multiple possessions.
Lions 28, Colts 27
After a fifth straight season with 4,200-plus passing yards, Matthew Stafford lost Calvin Johnson Jr. to retirement, but was rewarded with free agent receiver Marvin Jones. With Golden Tate and Jones on the end, Eric Ebron at tight end, and two pass-catching running backs, Theo Riddick and Ameer Abdullah, he is set for another season with high outputs in passing yards. If Andrew Luck wants to take the next step, he can start by reducing his turnovers. Dating back to 2014, Luck has thrown 28 interceptions in the last 23 games.
Giants 20, Cowboys 21
Dak Prescott finished the preseason by completing 78 percent of his passes for five touchdowns and no turnovers and will have a favorable debut at Jerry World on Sunday against the league’s worst defense from a year ago.
Patriots 17, Cardinals 33
With Tom Brady suspended the first four games, Jimmy Garoppolo takes the lead. Although I have New England winning their next three games before Brady’s week-five return, they have to go on the road and face Carson Palmer and the Cardinals’ high-flying offense that was ranked number one in the NFL last season as Arizona won the NFC West and made it to the NFC Championship Game.
Steelers 31, Redskins 24
Kirk Cousins and Ben Roethlisberger will have a high-scoring battle in the Nation’s Capital, but the Steelers come out with a one-possession victory. Pittsburgh is considered a Super Bowl-hopeful and will out-sprint Washington in the season-opener. The Redskins ranked 25th against the pass last season and the Steelers have more big-play capability that will lead them to a win on Monday night.
Rams 10, 49ers 16
Doesn’t 2013 seem like forever ago? Just two seasons have passed since the 49ers went to Carolina and beat Cam Newton in a playoff game, then came a touchdown away from a win over Seattle in the NFC Championship Game. Now Jim Harbaugh switched to Saturdays, Colin Kaepernick is getting more attention for his National Anthem protests, and San Francisco is coming off an 11-loss campaign.
The 49ers are not favored to win many games this season, and they start the year with a divisional contest against the Rams, perhaps the most boring of the week-one match ups. Blaine Gabbert is set to be the team’s starting quarterback after going 3-5 in the final eight games of last season, finishing the year with a career-high 354 passing yards in an overtime win over the Rams in week 17. Last season, San Francisco dominated the Vikings in the season-opener on prime time, and they will once again begin the season with a win under the bright lights.