The games now count and so do the picks. So who will get off to a quick start in Week 1?
Getty ImagesMark Cunningham
Thursday: Panthers at Broncos
Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, and Warren Moon all had wonderful NFL careers. None of them started Week 1 for a defending Super Bowl champion. Trevor Siemian — a player who has taken one snap (a kneel) in an NFL game — is the quarterback of the defending Super Bowl champions. Some quick things on Siemian for those wondering…
1. A LOT of noon kickoffs on ESPN U while starring at Northwestern. If I’m being honest, I can’t say I saw him play more than four or five times. 2. The last starting quarterback he faced was current University of Florida backup Austin Appleby, when Appleby played at Purdue. Simien faces Cam Newton on Thursday night. Good player. 3. Guys who know more about football than all of us combined — John Elway, Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennison — feel Siemian's ready for this. So let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. I’m riding with the Broncos and that defense, in front of that home crowd.
The pick: Broncos 19, Panthers 14
Sunday: Buccaneers at Falcons
Everything old is new again in this one. Mike Smith was the head coach and Dirk Koetter was the offensive coordinator the last time the Falcons were relevant in the NFC. Now, they both come back into their old stomping grounds. I think the Bucs compete this year, but this one won’t be easy. I’ve got the Falcons in Week 1. Mohamed Sanu was quiet in the preseason; watch out for what they plan on doing with him in Week 1.
The pick: Falcons 23, Buccaneers 20
Getty ImagesJason Miller
Sunday: Bills at Ravens
Joe Flacco’s back, Steve Smith Sr.’s on the field, and there’s a lot of excitement for second-year wideout Breshad Perriman. But I’m pumping the brakes on Week 1. The Bills had the No. 1 rushing offense in the NFL a season ago, and Tyrod Taylor could give grief to his former team and coaches. The Bills are a sneaky team this year with zero expectations from the national media. Why not get one on the road to silence the critics right from go?
The pick: Bills 27, Ravens 20
Getty ImagesBrett Carlsen
Sunday: Bears at Texans
I’ll be on the sidelines for this one and can’t wait. The Texans’ new additions on offense — Lamar Miller (26), Brock Osweiler (17), Braxton Miller and Will Fuller V — come with big expectations. I think they’re the real deal. Especially Fuller. The burner from Notre Dame has all the speed in the world but battled a case of the drops in college. I’d expect big things from him and fellow rookie Miller in Sunday’s debut.
The pick: Texans 24, Bears 20
Getty ImagesThearon W. Henderson
Sunday: Packers at Jaguars
An August tradition like no other, the Jacksonville Jaguars got a ton of hype all summer. And why shouldn’t they? With additions of Malik Jackson, Tashaun Gipson, Myles Jack and Jalen Ramsey on defense, they’re one of the more exciting teams on paper. But Aaron Rodgers (12), a healthy Jordy Nelson and a P90X’d-up Eddie Lacy? I can’t take Jacksonville in this one.
The pick: Packers 30, Jaguars 17
Getty ImagesHarry How
Sunday: Chargers at Chiefs
The Chiefs have not made playoffs in back-to-back years since 1994-95, which is a factoid that blows my mind. They’ll put it to rest this season and that starts Sunday. Home game, a fired-up Arrowhead, and a whole lot of Spencer Ware hammering that Chargers defensive line.
The pick: Chiefs 34, Chargers 20
Getty ImagesPeter Aiken
Sunday: Raiders at Saints
The Saints have the league’s No. 1 total offense over the past two seasons, while their total defense ranks dead last. They were super excited about first-round pick Sheldon Rankins, but he got hurt this summer and is out for the foreseeable future. And yet, I like them Sunday. Drew Brees’ contract is resolved (for now), and I’m wary of jumping on the Raiders hype train just yet — it’s beyond full capacity. I need to see them win on the road in a hostile environment before rolling with this “silver and black is back” storyline.
The pick: Saints 31, Raiders 20
Getty ImagesSean Gardner
Sunday: Bengals at Jets
It’ll be lost in the annals of NFL history, but Andy Dalton was having quite a season before going down with an injury last December. Dalton’s 22.7-point jump in passer rating from 2014 (83.5) to 2015 (106.2) represented the biggest improvement in passer rating among any QB from 2014 to 2015 (min. 20 starts) and the Bengals were rolling. He’s without Hue Jackson this year. He’s without Sanu and Marvin Jones. Andre Smith is in Minnesota. And yet, I think Dalton steps it up and has an even bigger 2016. It starts Sunday.
The pick: Bengals 27, Jets 16
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY SportsReinhold Matay
Sunday: Browns at Eagles
The past two FCS-level first-round picks to start from jump whom I can remember were Phil Simms (Morehead State, ’79 Giants) and Joe Flacco (Delaware, ’08 Ravens). And both those guys actually saw real time in the preseason. The Eagles have jumped all-in on the Carson Wentz Boat, and I like it. Why not? Rip that Band-Aid off and get going with the future. Can he play right away in the NFL? The Eagles must think so or they’d have Chase Daniel under center Sunday. Fun subplot here? Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo was the offensive coordinator in Cleveland in 2015. He was fired with the rest of the staff after last season. The John DeFilippo Bowl! Get excited!
The pick: Eagles 24, Browns 20
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY SportsBill Streicher
Sunday: Vikings at Titans
Pardon me if I’m buying into the preseason hype around Marcus Mariota and the Titans. I have them going to the playoffs this year and am not afraid of the guys at the @OldTakesExposed Twitter feed holding my feet to the fire in six months. New general manager Jon Robinson has pressed all the right buttons, I love their run game and I like the veteran coaching staff mixed with young offensive and defensive talent. Minnesota was dealt a big blow last week. I think Tennessee deals the Vikings another one.
The pick: Titans 24, Vikings 17
Getty ImagesJim Rogash
Sunday: Dolphins at Seahawks
The Seahawks have 15 rookies on their 53-man roster, and I’m completely fine with it. Any other team? Eh, maybe I’d scratch my head. But remember, this is a team that got Russell Wilson (3) in the third round. It’s a team that turned undrafted Doug Baldwin into one of the most dynamic wide receivers in the NFL. It’s a team built on guys with huge chips on their shoulders, looking to prove the world wrong. There’s something special up there in Seattle this season. Miami might have it, too. But not on Sunday.
The pick: Seahawks 30, Dolphins 16
2015 Getty ImagesStephen Brashear
Sunday: Giants at Cowboys
Dak and Zeke are all the rage and it’s hard not to get caught up in the hysteria. The last time there was a rookie quarterback and rookie running back starting for the Cowboys in Week 1, it was Roger Staubach and Calvin Hill and the year was 1969. The stage will be huge. Troy and Joe are there, it’s a nationally televised game, and the Giants have $200 million of new additions on defense. I see a low-scoring affair, and the visiting Giants winning in the end on the arm of Eli Manning.
The pick: Giants 17, Cowboys 13
Getty ImagesRon Antonelli
Sunday: Lions at Colts
Everything is hunky-dory in Indianapolis at the moment. Andrew Luck’s got his money, Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson are tied at the hip, and the offensive line is rebuilt. I think Matt Stafford and the Lions upset the Colts on Sunday and for the second straight year, there’s concern in Indy after Week 1.
The pick: Lions 31, Colts 23
Getty ImagesDave Reginek
Sunday night: Patriots at Cardinals
I have Carson Palmer winning the 2016 MVP, and for that to happen, it means he needs to take full advantage of his nationally televised opportunities. I am hearing a lot of “New England will be fine without Brady” talk this week. I don’t know. I think Tom Brady is actually pretty good. This might not be a scorching hot take, but I actually think they miss him a whole lot more than people seem to expect. Give me Arizona. In a blowout.
The pick: Cardinals 34, Patriots 20
Getty ImagesRonald C. Modra/Sports Imagery
Monday night: Steelers at Redskins:
Josh Norman will be put right to the test in this one, lining up against Antonio Brown in a Monday night showdown. But I’m looking at the Redskins offense, and specifically, their $19.5 million man, quarterback Kirk Cousins (8). It’s truly a “Show Me” year for the former fourth-round pick. And with the home crowd going, Norman firing up the D, and Jordan Reed and DeSean Jackson healthy, I like him to notch the W over Big Ben and Co. in Week 1.
The pick: Redskins 33, Steelers 27
Getty ImagesMatt Hazlett
Monday night: Rams at 49ers
Who predicted Blaine Gabbert would square off against Case Keenum in a nationally televised Week 1 game two years ago? Get the lottery numbers from that dude. I didn’t see much excitement out of either of these teams during the preseason, but I love the thought of Chip Kelly’s offense going up against Gregg Williams’ D. Two chess masters going at it, on the biggest of stages. Give me Kelly. And expect a lot out of the recently acquired Jeremy Kerley in Week 1.