2016 NFL Season: Picking The Week One Winners

Feb 7, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) has his pass knocked down by Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller (58) during the fourth quarter in Super Bowl 50 at Levi

Week one of the 2016 NFL season is almost at hand, so it’s time to get down to the fun part. Which teams will come away victorious?

Of course each year starts with the defending champions hosting a game to welcome the new year. Expecting the same outcome from a few months ago would be a bad bet to make though. If there is any lesson to learn about the NFL, it’s that things change a lot in a year. So who wins and who loses this Sunday?

Carolina Panthers at Denver Broncos

They’ll try to deny the fact, but there is no doubt that the Panthers view this opening game as a chance to get a measure of revenge for their humiliating loss in the Super Bowl. No doubt Cam Newton wants that more than anybody since it was his mistakes that largely cost them. This time though he’ll have Kelvin Benjamin back, a benefit he did not enjoy back in February. The Broncos defenses remains a force, but is Trevor Siemian prepared to handle his first serious trial by fire against Luke Kuechly and company?

Notable Injuries:

Ty Sambrailo (DEN) – The offensive tackle is needed to help stabilize what has been a lackluster offensive line since last season. Unfortunately a bothersome elbow problem has made life difficult for him. He returned to practice September 4th wearing a brace on it. Time will tell on how effective he can be with that.

Star Lotulelei (CAR) – No doubt there are lingering concerns surrounding the key Panthers defensive tackle. He’ll be needed to stiffen their run defense but he’s been held out all preseason due to a persistent hamstring injury. So far he remains questionable for the opener though odds say the team is being cautious and want him ready for this game.

Key Matchup:

Von Miller vs. Mike Remmers

This was the showdown that ultimately decided the Super Bowl. Star linebacker Von Miller absolutely abused Panthers right tackle Mike Remmers throughout the entire game for three of the Broncos’ six sacks in the game. This included the strip sack fumble that resulted in the first touchdown, ultimately setting the tone. No doubt Miller has visions of a repeat performance. Remmers can’t let that happen.

Prediction:  Panthers win 21-14

Nov 1, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) eludes the pressure from Atlanta Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborn (99) in the first quarter of their game at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons

Divisional matchups are never boring in the NFL, and that’s especially true for the NFC South these days. The last time the Buccaneers and Falcons met in Atlanta, it was an absolute thriller that came down to the final seconds. Both teams have improved since then and are taking aim at the Panthers’ crown. To do that though they need to stockpile wins within the division itself, so this game is of enormous importance. Look for it to become a chess match between Matt Ryan and Jameis Winston for who makes the fewest mistakes.

Notable Injuries:

Julio Jones (ATL) – The Falcons have been very cautious regarding their superstar receiver since he injured his ankle in the third preseason game. Damage wasn’t severe according to reports but they aren’t taking chances. They need him at 100% and ankles can be a tricky problem, especially for a position that relies on quick cutting ability.

Daryl Smith (TB) – Tampa Bay has not been forthcoming with the ailment that has dogged veteran linebacker Daryl Smith since the end of August, only stating that he remains questionable. There have been no indications he’s in danger of missing week one but until his status changes, there will be lingering doubts.

Key Matchup:

Gerald McCoy vs. Alex Mack

One of the biggest reasons that the Falcons moved fast to sign veteran Pro Bowl center Alex Mack was so they could better handle the slew of interior pass rushers they have to face in the division. None are better than Gerald McCoy who gave them plenty of problems in 2015 and limited the effectiveness of both Matt Ryan and the Falcons running game. Mack needs to change that.

Prediction:  Falcons win 24-23

Sep 3, 2015; Nashville, TN, USA; Tennessee Titans tight end Delanie Walker (82) after a reception during the first half against the Minnesota Vikings at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota Vikings at Tennessee Titans

It’s amazing how different this game has looked over the past week. It went from a clear mismatch in the Vikings’ favor to one in the Titans’ favor after Teddy Bridgewater dislocated his knee. Now the trade for Sam Bradford has thrown yet another new wrinkle into this game. The though is the belief that he likely won’t play due to lacking knowledge of the playbook. This could present an opportunity for Tennessee to take advantage, but Minnesota is still formidable with that solid defense and Adrian Peterson at running back.

Notable Injuries:

Jerick McKinnon (MIN) – Peterson remains the focal point of the Vikings rushing attack but expectations are for McKinnon to have a big role in the offense this year. So his missing a preseason game with an undisclosed injury is news worth noting. There doesn’t seem to be any panic about the problem but it’s something to monitor.

Jace Amaro (TEN) – Ironically the only injury worth mentioning at this point for the Titans is their latest addition to the roster in Jace Amaro, who was just claimed off waivers. The young tight end is dealing with a groin injury that may have played a part in why he was cut by the Jets. Odds are he won’t be playing in the opener, which isn’t a huge deal due to the presence of Delanie Walker.

Key Matchup:

Titans OL vs. Vikings DL

The bane of existence for Tennessee over the past few years has been their lackluster offensive line. It was a big reason Mariota wasn’t able to finish the season with injuries. That’s why they drafted tackle Jack Conklin in the 1st round. They’ll have their hands full against a young and aggressive Minnesota front four led by Everson Griffen. In order to unleash their new power running tandem of Demarco Murray and Derrick Henry, that Titans front will have to show up.

Prediction:  Titans win 20-17

Aug 11, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (11) during pre game warmups against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland Browns at Philadelphia Eagles

This is one of the more fascinating matchups of week one.  The Browns and Eagles first made headlines with their blockbuster trade before the NFL draft. One that landed Philadelphia there future franchise quarterback in Carson Wentz and Cleveland a host of draft picks to remake their roster. Since then the Eagles traded Sam Bradford, opening the door for Wentz to start in the opener while the Browns prepare their attempted resurrection of Robert Griffin III. Quite a few subplots to what should’ve been a lackluster game.

Notable Injuries:

Josh Doctson (WAS) – The 1st round pick wide receiver  saw his progress stunted in the preseason by an Achilles injury that forced him to miss time. Now Doctson has finally returned to practice for the Redskins. It remains unclear how much action he’ll see in the game with such a lengthy layoff. Expect him to see limited snaps behind DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon.

Carson Wentz (PHI) – Official statements from the Eagles were that Wentz would be the starter against Cleveland “if he’s fully healthy.” The rookie quarterback suffered a painful rib injury in his first preseason games that has forced him to avoid any further live action. Odds favor him being able to play but it’s not 100% just yet.

Key Matchup:

Gary Barnidge vs. Malcolm Jenkins

Josh Gordon will be a welcome return come October, but until he’s back from suspension the Browns offense must find other playmakers. Tight end Gary Barnidge tops the list after his outstanding 2015. The Eagles will need somebody to stop him from gashing them down the seam and safety Malcolm Jenkins is their most capable in pass coverage. Expect those two to see each other a lot in the game.

Prediction:  Eagles win 21-13

Aug 27, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) pointing at the defense in the 1st half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports

Cincinnati Bengals at New York Jets

Will this be the year the Bengals finally break through and win a playoff game? They certainly hope so, but it’s fair to wonder how much that loss to Pittsburgh is still affecting them. Good news is they still have a strong roster, but the Jets represent a tough opening obstacle with their strong defense and potent receiving duo of Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. Between Andy Dalton and Ryan Fitzpatrick it comes down to two quarterbacks who have to limit their mistakes.

Notable Injuries:

William Jackson III (CIN) – The loss of their 1st round draft pick was a tough pill to swallow for the Bengals. Jackson figured to be a big part of their reshuffled secondary. Now they must hope Adam Jones has another good year in him and that Darqueze Dennard can take a step forward in his development. Neither is a guarantee.

Dee Milliner (NYJ) – While he wasn’t the future star they were hoping for, the Jets still relied on Milliner to at least give them some needed depth at cornerback. In the end he couldn’t even provided that, landing on injured reserve with a hamstring problem. It’s merely the latest in a series of setbacks that have defined his NFL career.

Key Matchup:

A.J. Green vs. Darrelle Revis

This was an easy one. With Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu gone, the focus more than ever of the Bengals passing attack will be their star Green. One can bet the Jets know that and will make sure to have their ace corner Revis following him all over the field. It’s going to be an epic battle. One that could dictate which way the game goes.

Prediction:  Bengals win 19-14

Dec 28, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Oakland Raiders outside linebacker Khalil Mack (52) leaves the field against the Denver Broncos in the third quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos defeated the Raiders 47-14. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Oakland Raiders at New Orleans Saints

This has a chance to be the most exciting game of opening week. In it are featured two high-powered offenses. The Saints led by old gun Drew Brees try to show young gun Derek Carr and his Raiders how real showtime football is done. Being in the Superdome is of course an important advantage but with so much talent and speed on both sides, it’s hard to imagine the defenses being able to keep up.

Notable Injuries:

Terron Armstead (NO) – The starting left tackle for the Saints has been dogged by an unknown injury since the start of training camp. Information on it hasn’t been forthcoming but Armstead insists he will be ready for the opener. Whether the problem resurfaces again during the game is unknown but this is a player New Orleans can’t afford to lose.

Key Matchup:

Zach Strief vs. Khalil Mack

The veteran right tackle has maintained a steadiness for the Saints the past couple season but he’s about to get tested in the biggest way. Oakland is convinced they have one of the top pass rushers in football now with Khalil Mack, who had 15 sacks in 2015. His confidence is sky high and that fast indoor track is tailor made for his talents assuming the Saints plan to throw a lot. That puts a ton of pressure on Strief, who struggled at times in preseason.

Prediction:  Saints win 30-27

Dec 28, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles (25) runs the ball during the first half against the San Diego Chargers at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

San Diego Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs

The AFC West is going to be one of the most hotly contested divisions in the NFL this year. All four of its teams are capable of making the playoffs, and there is no doubt each of them know it. So games like this mean a lot. At the heart of the matter are the running backs. Both Melvin Gordon and Jamaal Charles finished last season on IR. One is trying to regain his old form while the other is hoping he gets better blocking so he can live up to his draft billing. Expect that to be a huge factor in how this contest plays out.

Notable Injuries:

Justin Houston (KC) – This is an easy one. Though it was expected, it’s still important to note what the loss of the All-Pro pass rusher means for the Chiefs. Defensively they have a lot of talent to lean on, but Houston was one of their keys. Tamba Hali is getting older and Dee Ford hasn’t yet proven he was worth the 1st round pick the team spent on him. Can they establish a rush without Houston for six weeks?

Key Matchup:

Matt Slauson vs. Dontari Poe

San Diego went out and signed veteran guard Matt Slauson for the express purpose of playing center, which has become a real sore spot on their offensive line. It’s hope he can help open up the ground game for Melvin Gordon. It will be a tall task in his first game going against Pro Bowl nose tackle Dontari Poe. He’s probably going to need help.

Prediction:  Chiefs win 23-20

Dec 28, 2014; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs (55) gets introduced prior to the game against the Cleveland Browns at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Buffalo Bills at Baltimore Ravens

The connections run deep between these two teams. Rex Ryan is a former Ravens defensive coordinator while Tyrod Taylor was once a backup to Joe Flacco. Now both are having some success with the Buffalo Bills and are anxious to show Baltimore what they can do. At the same time the Ravens are finally on the mend after an injury-riddled 2015. Hopes are high they can get back into the AFC North race, but a number of question marks on offense including how much the loss of guard Kelechi Osemele will impact things remain unanswered.

Notable Injuries:

Breshad Perriman (BAL) – The Ravens drafted the UCF wide receiver in hopes he could solve a lingering problem for them in the passing game. Yet his early career has been marred by knee injuries. The good news is he saw his first action in the preseason finale. Whether he can take that a step further against Buffalo is unknown at this point.

Shaq Lawson (BUF) – Fans were excited when the Bills drafted Clemson pass rusher Shaq Lawson to help fill the void left by Mario Williams. So it must’ve been a gut punch when they found out he required shoulder surgery and would be placed on the PUP list. Throw in the exit of Marcel Dareus due to suspension and it’s become a big question of where this defense will get its rush.

Key Matchup:

LeSean McCoy vs. C.J. Mosley

No doubt this game is going to be centered on running the football. Both teams want to do it and will give it an honest effort. With Karlos Williams gone, LeSean McCoy is the unquestioned feature back in Buffalo. They are sure to feed him plenty and it falls to Ravens Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley to lead the charge in stopping him. When McCoy has good days, the Bills do well.

Prediction:  Ravens win 16-13

Jan 3, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (99) celebrates after a sack during the first quarter against the Jacksonville Jaguars at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Chicago Bears at Houston Texans

Two teams with high expectations in 2016. The Houston Texans are aiming to defend their division crown and erase the bad taste of their ugly playoff loss back in January. Brock Osweiler has the city excited as their new quarterback and J.J. Watt is returning earlier than expected from back surgery. On the other side the Chicago Bears have made big strides in rebuilding their roster. The defense is younger, faster and more aggressive. Jay Cutler has a fortified offensive line and healthy weapons. It’s an interesting matchup to say the least.

Notable Injuries:

Pernell McPhee (CHI) – Initially it was thought the Bears’ top pass rusher would be ready for the regular season but the rehab from knee surgery went longer than expected. Pernell McPhee is now on the PUP list, not due back until October. Finding ways to replace his loss will be the challenge ahead for defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.

Duane Brown (HOU) – Getting Watt back was great news for the Texans, but it’s not all bright and sunshiny in Houston. Though Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown avoided the PUP list, he is not expected to play in the opener. Though his quad injury is healing, it’s not quite at a point where he can take the risk. That absence will be felt on that Texans front.

Key Matchup:

Kyle Fuller vs. DeAndre Hopkins

The biggest fear Bears fans have is what will the team be getting from the secondary? Top cornerback Kyle Fuller looked like he might miss the opener after having minor knee surgery, but the third-year man insists the pain he felt is gone and intends to play. They’ll need him because DeAndre Hopkins has emerged as one of the best receivers in football. Slowing him down will require everything the Bears have, never mind stopping him.

Prediction:  Texans win 26-20

August 26, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) shakes hands with wide receiver Jordy Nelson (87) before the game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi

Green Bay Packers at Jacksonville Jaguars

A case of a perennial contender paying a visit to a up-and-comer. The Green Bay Packers remain one of the best teams in the AFC. They have Aaron Rodgers, an assortment of weapons on offense and a well-coached, creative defense. No doubt the Jacksonville Jaguars are anxious to test their young, talented roster against the best. Blake Bortles finished 2015 with a flourish and receiver Allen Robinson is becoming a star. Can their retooled defense handle an MVP like Rodgers?

Notable Injuries:

Corey Linsley (GB) – A hamstring injury has dogged Packers center Corey Linsley for months. At last the team decided to make the tough decision and put him on the PUP list. They would rather he fully recover and take their chances with J.C. Tretter than have him play hurt. Whether this impacts them against an improved Jaguars defensive front will be seen.

Key Matchup:

Jalen Ramsey vs. Jordy Nelson

This will be the most interesting matchup for a number of reasons. First is the fact that Jordy Nelson will see regular season action for the first time since 2014 after tearing his ACL last year in preseason. He’ll be going against rookie 1st round pick Jalen Ramsey whom many hailed as one of the most talented defensive backs to come out of college in years. Either Nelson will have a few things to teach him or the rookie will take advantage of a rust factor.

Prediction:  Packers win 31-24

Aug 25, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin (89) carries the ball against the Dallas Cowboys during a NFL football game at CenturyLink Field. The Seahawks defeated the Cowboys 27-17. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Miami Dolphins at Seattle Seahawks

Quite the stiff opening test for rookie head coach Adam Gase, having to visit one of the loudest venues in the NFL and face the always dangerous Seattle Seahawks. It’s going to take every bit of his keen offensive mind to go against the Legion of Boom defense, which looks strong as ever. Couple that with Russell Wilson looking like an MVP in the making and it’s hard to see how the Miami Dolphins win this game. Then again, if they can beat the Patriots they have a chance.

Notable Injuries:

Chris Culliver (MIA) – Signing the veteran corner was a wise move for the Dolphins given the questions in their secondary. Bad luck that he’s dealing with a knee injury that lands him on the PUP list. He’ll be out six games, leaving the Dolphins to figure out their coverage concerns in another way.

Jordan Hill (SEA) – Hill was slated to be a starting defensive tackle for the Seahawks entering this season. A nagging groin injury made that impossible. Odds are he’ll go on short-term injured reserve while rookie 2nd round pick Jarran Reed assumes his spot as starter. That may have been a big reason they traded up to get him in the draft.

Key Matchup:

Michael Bennett vs. Laremy Tunsil

A classic veteran against a rookie showdown. Michael Bennett is one of the top defensive ends in football who is a handful for any blocker. Laremy Tunsil was hailed as the most gifted offensive tackle in the draft and the Dolphins’ 1st round pick. He’ll have to stay on his toes if he’s going handle the heavy load of stopping Bennett. Otherwise it will be a long day for Ryan Tannehill.

Prediction:  Seahawks win 28-14

Sep 13, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; New York Giants wide receiver Dwayne Harris (17) runs the ball against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. Dallas won 27-26. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys

One of the great rivalries in football. It’s never boring when the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys get together. This game has the feel of an offensive shootout. Eli Manning has three quality targets in Odell Beckham, Victor Cruz and Sterling Shepard. The Cowboys have the best offensive line anywhere, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. The big unknowns are whether Dak Prescott can pickup where he left off in the preseason and if that pricey new Giants defense is up to the challenge.

Notable Injuries:

Tony Romo (DAL) – The last time the Cowboys lost Romo, it ruined their season. Hopes are they’ve avoided that disaster with Prescott but it doesn’t erase the loss of the Pro Bowler. Not entirely. He could miss as many as 10 weeks with his back injury and there’s no telling how effective he’ll be whenever he gets back. It’s an injury that will handicap this offense.

Key Matchup:

Damon Harrison vs. Zack Martin

The Giants know that Dallas is going to live and die by whether they’re able to run the football. One of the primary keys to that success is up front with right guard Zack Martin, an All-Pro. It was for that reason they invested a good amount of money in signing Damon Harrison away from the Jets. The big defensive tackle is a space eater with the strength to clog running lanes, making it hard to for running backs to find room. That will be his sole purpose in this game.

Prediction:  Giants win 31-28

Sep 1, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) against the Cincinnati Bengals in a preseason NFL football game at Paul Brown Stadium. The Colts won 13-10. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit Lions at Indianapolis Colts

Two excellent quarterbacks. An indoor stadium. Plenty of speed on both offenses. The ingredients are in place for this game to feature lots of points. Andrew Luck is back from injury and his offensive line has been steadied by the arrival of new center Ryan Kelly. Matthew Stafford lost Calvin Johnson but he still has some weapons to work with. The key to this game may be which defense holds up better. Indianapolis is banged up while Detroit is healthier but somewhat inconsistent.

Notable Injuries:

Vontae Davis (IND) – This is a gut punch. He’s by far the best defender the Colts have and losing him has really not made the secondary look good in preseason. Davis is nursing a bad ankle injury. People aren’t sure when he’ll be able to return. Some speculate it could be the first four games of the year. If so, it further proves Luck and the offense must pick up the slack.

Brandon Pettigrew (DET) – He may not be a star like other tight ends in the league, but at least he’s been a consistent player whom the Lions have gotten good contributions from for years. With him out though due to continued rehab from a torn ACL, it will fall to the unproven Eric Ebron to finally pick it up at tight end.

Key Matchup:

Taylor Decker vs. Robert Mathis

The Lions have faith that rookie Taylor Decker will do fine as their starting left tackle despite the inexperience risks. Indianapolis has a chance to take advantage with their old faithful pass rusher Robert Mathis. At age 35 it’s hard to tell if he has anything left, but if there is some magic left then it will come in handy against a young kid in his first real game.

Prediction:  Colts win 33-26

Aug 19, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians (center) gestures before the game against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

New England Patriots at Arizona Cardinals

Many people believe this could be a Super Bowl preview. Of course that will not involve Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback for the Patriots. It’s certainly a tall order for the young kid to face a Cardinals team that reached the NFC championship last season in their own building. Never mind the fact their defense has improved by leaps and bounds with the return of Tyrann Mathieu and the arrival of Chandler Jones via trade. New England always finds a way to compete, this is a tough one.

Notable Injuries:

Sebastian Vollmer (NE) – Everybody remembers how overmatched the offensive line looked in the AFC championship last season. So for the Patriots to lose what has been their most dependable blocker in Vollmer hurts in too many ways to count. Tom Brady might be able to mask that when he returns, but can Garoppolo with all his inexperience? He has no other choice.

Key Matchup:

Tyrann Mathieu vs. Rob Gronkowski

The heavyweight bout every football fan wants to see. A beast tight end who is the best in football going against one of the most dynamic playmaking safeties. There is no doubt the two will meet a few times across the middle of the field. One has the size advantage, the other speed and quickness. Both are stars. It has the idea recipe of being that one matchup that won’t be the center of attention but will end up deciding the outcome.

Prediction:  Cardinals win 24-17

Aug 26, 2016; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins defensive back Josh Norman (24) celebrates after a tackle against the Buffalo Bills during the first half at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Steelers at Washington Redskins

This is an under-the-radar game that features a fascinating setup. The Washington Redskins were a playoff team last season but got there by beating up on bad teams. Until they start beating good teams, nobody will take them seriously. Of course the Pittsburgh Steelers represent the perfect test. It starts with finding an answer for Antonio Brown, something that hasn’t happened yet. At the same time Kirk Cousins is going against an injury-depleted defense. If he wants his money, he must take advantage with his array of quality weapons.

Notable Injuries:

Bud Dupree (PIT) – The Steelers front seven was expected to rank among the best in the league this season after such a strong finish to 2015. Dupree was a big part of that. Now the team is forced to adjust as the outside linebacker deals with a muscle tear in his abdomen. A chance still exists he can return later in the year, but exact details are unknown.

Junior Gallette (WAS) – It may seem odd putting a player that has failed to play a down in Washington on the list, but it’s what Gallette represents. He was expected to help improve the defensive pass rush. An issue that haunted them in a number of key games last year including the playoffs. With him out for the year again (Achilles), the Redskins are back to square one.

Key Matchup:

Josh Norman vs. Antonio Brown

Washington felt their pass defense needed help, so they went out and grabbed it thanks to a puzzling decision by Carolina to release All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman. His arrival couldn’t have been more timely as the Redskins must find a way to cover superstar receiver Antonio Brown who had over 1,800 yards last season.

Prediction:  Steelers win 28-27

January 3, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers tight end Vance McDonald (89) is tackled by St. Louis Rams free safety Rodney McLeod (23) and strong safety Maurice Alexander (31) during the fourth quarter at Levi

Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers

Some fans are upset they won’t get to see #1 pick Jared Goff take the field, but this is how Jeff Fisher operates. The last time he drafted a quarterback in the 1st round was Vince Young in 2006, who didn’t start his first game until a month into the season. Steve McNair before that had to wait a couple seasons. So there’s no telling when Goff will be ready. In the meantime the Rams are hoping to get 2016 started right against the 49ers, who are ushering in the Chip Kelly era.

Notable Injuries:

Bruce Ellington (SF) – There are already enough question marks at the wide receiver position for San Francisco. Piling injuries on top of it only makes it worse. Bruce Ellington was supposed to become a key contributor in that Kelly offense but instead lands on injured reserve with a severe hamstring problem. There is a good chance he returns later in the season, but his loss will be felt.

Key Matchup:

Anthony Davis vs. Aaron Donald

It’s going to be quite the first test for Anthony Davis. He was the starting right tackle for the 49ers in 2014, retired for a year in 2015 and is now back as the teams’ starting right guard. The first mission being asked of him? Block the best interior pass rusher in football. Aaron Donald is a popular pick for Defensive Player of the Year. Davis may be a capable blocker but he’s got little experience at guard. He’ll have to learn fast.

Prediction:  Rams win 23-19

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