Week 1 Cheat Sheet: Colts are facing a potential upset in Week 1
Another season is here, which means another year of my Cheat Sheet column.
I'd typically do a big introduction on how this is the year of Super Bowl 50, or how Tom Brady -- coming off the oddest offseason a Super Bowl MVP has ever endured -- can become the first quarterback to win five Super Bowls and do so a few miles from where he played his high school ball.
And, not to mention, in the city Joe Montana did his winning.
I'd write a bit how for the good of the game, Roger Goodell absolutely needs to let go of some of his disciplinary power, sooner rather than later. And I'd trash this new extra-point rule, which I still don't see any reason for.
Want to talk about hubris? How about, "Hey, we have this awesome game that no one has a problem with that's been keeping millions of fans entertained across the globe. Let's CHANGE THE RULES!"
But, I digress. And I'd rather just get right to the games. First, some trivia.
Cheat Sheet Trivia Question of the Week: Jim Tomsula was the head coach of the Rhein Fire of NFL Europe in 2006. His two quarterbacks were both decorated college players who failed to ever make it big in the NFL. One split time with Tom Brady at Michigan and the other broke NCAA passing records. Who were Tomsula's two quarterbacks?
Now, my picks. Disagree with any of them? Hit me up on Twitter @Pschrags or email me at PeterSchrager@gmail.com.
Pittsburgh at New England: All eyes are going to be on the quarterbacks, but how about the defensive backfields? Quick, can you name the starting two cornerbacks on either team? Easier -- can you name one starting corner on either team? Really? Nothing? Answers: Cortez Allen and William Gay for the Steelers and Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan for the Pats. The Patriots let Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner sign elsewhere and let go of longtime veteran Kyle Arrington. For the Steelers, Ike Taylor's on TV and Brice McCain is in Miami. What the Patriots might not have in the defensive backfield, they do up front, with one of the best young front-sevens in all of football. Not given nearly enough credit, the unit continues to add talent (rookie Malcom Brown this year and Dominique Easley last year). Watch the once "young" guys -- Jamie Collins and Chandler Jones -- develop into two of the very best at their positions. The energy in the building will be off the charts, and even if Brady's a bit rusty, I think New England wins big.
Cleveland at New York Jets: Two teams that are opening the season under curious circumstances. Their quarterbacks are Josh McCown (Browns) and Ryan Fitzpatrick (Jets), respectively; two guys who if I told you they'd be starting Week 1 anywhere eight months ago, you'd tell me I was drunk. The Jets are, of course, without their actual No. 1 Geno Smith because he was punched in the jaw by a scrub linebacker over a $600 plane ticket. The Browns are without general manager Ray Farmer because he was suspended four games for texting his ex-offensive coordinator a season ago. These are not things that happen to typical teams. The Jets and Browns are not typical teams. If the Steelers and Patriots brings offensive fireworks, this one will be for fans of offensive and defensive line play. You just might want to avert your eyes when there's a play call other than halfback dive.
The Pick: Jets 17, Browns 13
Indianapolis at Buffalo: Our first upset special of the week. Circle the wagons, folks. I'll be at this one, doing pregame hits for our new FOX NFL Kickoff show at 11 a.m. ET, and can tell you already that the in-house excitement and energy level will be unlike any other stadium on Sunday. I've been around the Bills enough this offseason to know the fan base is salivating to see this team in action and that Rex and that D is more than ready to knock this much-hyped Colts offense in the mouth. The Colts bandwagon is spilling over with dreamers right now. You have to stand to board it, no seats available. LeSean McCoy and Percy Harvin do their thing, Tyrod Taylor makes like Braxton Miller in the open field, and the defense clears out the Colts hype train with a Week 1 upset.
The Pick: Bills 24, Colts 20
Miami at Washington: Things haven't gone swimmingly for the Redskins the past few weeks, but I do think they'll be better than most people expect. Kirk Cousins starting over Robert Griffin III is addition by subtraction at this point (though I actually think Colt McCoy could end up under center sooner rather than later), and offensive coordinator Sean McVay's got the smarts and the pieces to do some real things with the unit this year. The Dolphins, a team that hasn't been to the playoffs since Chad Pennington was their starting quarterback, is suddenly in win-now mode with a ton of expectations. I'd rather be the former than the latter. I'm not sold on Miami just yet, and I don't think the Redskins are the unmitigated disaster -- on the field, at least -- that everyone else thinks they are. Upset special, No. 2. Right here.
The Pick: Redskins 27, Dolphins 23
Green Bay at Chicago: Jay Cutler is going to have a big statistical season and the Bears are going to be much improved in 2015. The Packers have won 11 of 13 against the Bears and Chicago's defense is suspect. Aaron Rodgers is going to miss Jordy Nelson this season. A lot. Just not on Sunday.
The Pick: Packers 31, Bears 20
Kansas City at Houston: "Hard Knocks" has everyone excited about J.J. Watt, Brian Cushing, and Vince Wilfork's overalls. You can have your show. I'm fascinated to see what we get out of Jadeveon Clowney this year. The former No. 1 overall pick is said to be on a "pitch count" for Sunday's game, but I'm still skeptical he even suits up. When healthy, there may be no more dynamic young defensive player in the sport. Then again, we could be looking at a potential Greg Oden/Sam Bowie situation. Expect a tremendous outing from Romeo Crennel's defense in Week 1.
The Pick: Texans 17, Chiefs 16
Carolina at Jacksonville: The Panthers are starting Philly Brown and Ted Ginn Jr. at wide receiver this weekend. No bueno. The Jaguars are going to be a lot better than they were a season ago. Expect big numbers from second-year players quarterback Blake Bortles and Allen Robinson, a receiver I'm being told is coming off a phenomenal summer. This one's going to be close.
The Pick: Jaguars 24, Panthers 20
Seattle at St. Louis: The Rams are going to the playoffs this year, but it's going to take some heavy lifting from Todd Gurley, a guy they don't have Week 1. I respect the Rams' handling of Gurley a lot. They're looking at his career, not one week. Protecting the investment may cost them a Week 1 game.
The Pick: Seahawks 23, Rams 13
New Orleans at Arizona: Arizona's not sneaking up on anyone this year, and if Carson Palmer stays upright, they're going to be a hard team to beat down in the Birds' Nest. The guy to watch for the Cardinals isn't newly signed Chris Johnson or Andre Ellington; it's rookie David Johnson. The Northern Iowa rookie running back turned the most heads in training camp and had a good preseason. The Saints are a question mark. I'm very curious to see what Rob Ryan's defense looks like.
The Pick: Cardinals 33, Saints 20
Detroit at San Diego: Detroit lost two starting defensive tackles to free agency and didn't draft one in the first round, and yet I think their interior D-line will be more than capable with Haloti Ngata (healthy, at least for now) and underrated big man Tyrunn Walker holding it down inside. Backed by a healthy Calvin Johnson, a fresh rookie running back in Ameer Abdullah, and an offensive line that got better over the off-season, the Lions will get off to a good start.
The Pick: Lions 31, Chargers 23
Tennessee at Tampa Bay: This is going to be hyped as Jameis Winston vs. Marcus Mariota, and it should be. But I'm fascinated to see what the Buccaneers' other top draft picks do in Week 1. All starting, offensive linemen Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet are going up against a very good Tennessee front-seven and fourth-round pick Kwon Alexander is being asked to quarterback the defense at the middle linebacker spot. I can't recall a team asking so much from four rookies in the first week of the season. And yet, I think they all will excel. The Bucs drafted well and did some good work in free agency. They'll be sneaky good this season. It starts with a Week 1 win.
The Pick: Buccaneers 23, Titans 17
Cincinnati at Oakland: The Hue Jackson Bowl! Hue, who once was the head man in Oakland and just recently almost got another stab at it, is the offensive coordinator in Cincinnati. When it comes to expectations, the Bengals are in a tough place in 2015. They can go 15-1 in the regular season, and if they lose their first playoff game, heads could roll. Andy Dalton and Marvin Lewis are now 0-4 in playoff contests together, but regular-season contests haven't ever been a problem. Oakland has some fun young guns to watch, but the Bengals defense isn't losing to Derek Carr with an entire offseason to game plan. Expect four or five trick plays from ol' Hue, too.
The Pick: Bengals 27, Raiders 16
Baltimore at Denver: It's hard not to remember when the Ravens traveled to Denver and pulled off The Mile High Miracle. Jacoby Jones beat Rahim Moore on a deep pass in the divisional round to force overtime in January 2013. The Ravens won, and that started Baltimore's improbable Super Bowl run. Neither Jones nor Moore will be playing in this one, but Peyton Manning and Joe Flacco certainly will. Baltimore's a hot pick for a lot of pundits out of the AFC this year. I don't see them winning this one. Ignore the noise, Manning's still got it ... or, at least in September, he does.
The Pick: Broncos 34, Ravens 24
New York at Dallas: The Giants are hurting all over and it's not even Week 1. Their safety situation is dire, Victor Cruz is still not 100 percent, and the offensive line has more question marks than an episode of "Lost." Then, there's the pass rush. Is there one? The Cowboys get Sean Lee back and added Randy Gregory and Greg Hardy -- at least after he serves his four-game suspension -- to their pass rush. After the summer they've had, I just don't see the Giants showing up ready to compete. This one could get ugly.
The Pick: Cowboys 38, Giants 21
Philadelphia at Atlanta: I'm all in on Chip Kelly's Eagles, having picked them to win the NFC this season. I'm most curious in seeing how Sam Bradford -- he of those knee injuries -- handles the first big hit below the waist. Terrell Suggs came in unscathed during the preseason and a flag was thrown for a legal hit. Bradford got up and was just fine. But it was scary. Let's see if Dan Quinn throws the kitchen sink. This team can go as far as Bradford wants to take them; they're not Super Bowl-bound with Mark Sanchez under center.
The Pick: Eagles 37, Falcons 23
Minnesota at San Francisco: I'm not as down on the 49ers as the rest of my media brethren and actually think they could surprise some folks this season. If Tomsula has seen his roster dismantled over the past eight months, he's also seen a team strengthened and galvanized by its obstacles. I like the 49ers at home here, and I think we're going to see a different Colin Kaepernick in 2015 than the one we did in 2014. It starts Week 1 with this late-night win.
The Pick: 49ers 24, Vikings 17
Cheat Sheet Trivia Answer: The Rhein Fire's two quarterbacks in Tomsula's one season as head coach were Drew Henson and Timmy Chang. Fred Jackson was the team's running back.