2018 NFL Week 1 Picks and Previews: Every Win Counts

It’s that time of year again.  Football is finally back!  Today, I will share my predictions for each of the Week 1 games, and I have included a video preview for the Patriots game.   In the future, I may include 2-3 other game previews in addition to a Patriots preview.  I think the NFL is going to be especially competitive this year, so every win counts, even if it’s against a below average team.  Comment with your thoughts and I hope you’re all as excited as I am to watch some regular season football.

Lock of the Week

The Broncos are coming off a really strong draft that helped revamp their offense alongside the signing of QB Case Keenum.  I think the Broncos young pair of running backs will flourish against a declining Seahawks defense.  I don’t think Case Keenum will ever repeat his spectacular 2017, but I do see him having a strong game and taking advantage of the newfound WR depth in Denver.  In the 2017 draft, Denver finally found a third receiver to play alongside Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, Courtland Sutton, and I see him playing a significant role right off the bat.

This Broncos defense is also nearly as strong as it was last year.  Considering Seattle’s 2017 offensive struggles, I think Denver could easily hold the Seahawks under 20 points.  This will allow Denver to blow Seattle out and get revenge on Seattle for routing the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.

Upset of the Week (MNF)

I think this will be a close call, but I can’t see this stacked Raiders offense losing to the Rams in Oakland.  They have a trio of talented receivers, a good mix of long-time veterans and younger guys in the backfield, and a decent QB and tight end group.  They also have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL.  The Rams are one of my two overrated teams of the year.  Sure, they made some exciting moves this off-season, but they lost a lot to free agency in the process.

The Raiders defense may not be looking so good after losing DE Khalil Mack, but their secondary isn’t as bad as it seems.  I see the secondary keeping QB Jared Goff’s receivers well covered, leaving Goff struggling to find open men.  Meanwhile, I don’t see the Raiders offense putting up 30+ points against a relatively strong Rams defense.  But I do see them getting by with just enough to pull off the upset in this one.

TNF (Posted on Twitter on Thursday – Actual Score: 18-12 Eagles)

QB Carson Wentz may be out, but backup QB Nick Foles can still lead teams to victory when it matters.  I don’t see Foles playing quite at Super Bowl level in this one, but competition motivates him.  I think Foles will throw for 2 touchdowns despite being slowed down by the Falcons front seven.  Look out for a big game out of WR Mike Wallace as well.  With WR Alshon Jeffery injured, coverage will be drawn towards TE Zach Ertz and WR Nelson Agholor, Philly’s next two best pass-catchers.  For the Falcons, I think veteran WR Julio Jones and rookie WR Calvin Ridley will have a strong week.  But it won’t be enough for a victory with QB Matt Ryan and Atlanta’s RB duo struggling against the Eagles defensive front.

Sunday’s Games

It’s sure to be an intense game with two of the NFL’s best quarterbacks facing off.  I think both QBs, Tom Brady and Deshaun Watson, will have strong games.  But they will be held back by their lack of wide receiver depth, especially Houston, who will be without WR Will Fuller (hamstring).  However, this opens up an opportunity for a strong game by WR DeAndre Hopkins.  I also see RB Lamar Miller having a strong game with sophomore RB D’Onta Foreman injured.  Meanwhile, as the Patriots typically do, expect Tom Brady to find creative ways to score despite the lack of WR depth with Julian Edelman suspended, and that will lead them to a Week 1 victory.

The Ravens have one of the stronger defensive fronts in the league, and I can’t see QB Nathan Peterman having a strong game against Baltimore after his regular season struggles in 2017.  I don’t see Joe Flacco doing much better, but I think veteran WR Michael Crabtree will find a way to produce against the strong Buffalo secondary, and I think WR John Brown will begin to look like his old self, leading the Ravens in receiving while Crabtree is facing heavier coverage.  I don’t think the Bills stellar run game will be enough to outdo the Ravens, but I do think they will force overtime.  From there Baltimore will secure the victory with strong defense and a well-crafted winning drive.

This will be an interesting game.  We have a match-up between two younger quarterbacks looking to take it to the next level.  I think both Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill and Titans QB Marcus Mariota will have promising showings in a close one.  Even without WR DeVante Parker, I think the Dolphins wide receivers will step it up in this game to make it close.  But I think the Titans receivers are ready to tear apart Miami’s secondary.  Expect a big game from veteran TE Delanie Walker, even against S Reshad Jones.  You also could see a very strong game out of WR Corey Davis.  This is only the beginning of what I think will be Corey Davis’ breakout year.  Walker and Davis will lead the Titans past Miami in a close one.

I think the Steelers will manage a victory here.  But the Browns will make it closer than we’ve seen in a game between these two teams in a long time, with a strong offensive showing.  I don’t think QB Tyrod Taylor will look that good against the Steelers D.  But I think he’ll manage to find open receivers such as WR Jarvis Landry and TE David Njoku for portions of the game.  With RB Le’Veon Bell likely out, expect RB James Conner and RB Stevan Ridley to step it up against the Browns D in Bell’s place.  I think the Steelers offense will just be too much for Cleveland’s rebuilding D, especially with a strong game from WR Antonio Brown and a strong debut from rookie WR James Washington.

Andrew Luck is finally back.  I think he’ll look like his old self, but I see him struggling to find reliable receivers.  Besides T.Y. Hilton, Luck doesn’t have many of them.  Meanwhile, I think the Bengals offense, led by WR A.J. Green will dominate a Colts defense that isn’t looking great.  I think Cincy’s defensive front will look good and shut down the Colts’ young run game.  But I don’t think the Bengals secondary will look much better than Indy’s without S George Iloka.  That will at least allow T.Y. Hilton to have a strong game and make this a little closer.

I don’t think Jaguars QB Blake Bortles will be especially strong against the Giants D, but he’ll find enough open receivers to edge out a victory.  Meanwhile, the Jaguars stellar defense will help secure Jacksonville’s lead by holding the Giants under 20 points and 2 touchdowns.  However, I see WR Odell Beckham Jr. outplaying Jaguars CB Jalen Ramsey and scoring New York’s only TD in an epic WR-CB match-up.  But I think rookie RB Saquon Barkley and the Giants run game will be shut down by the strong Jacksonville front seven.

I think QB Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers receivers will have a decent game here.  But the Vikings defense will limit them significantly, allowing the Vikes to blowout the Niners with Minnesota’s offense outplaying a mediocre 49ers D.  I think QB Kirk Cousins will find plenty of open men to throw to in the end zone, and I expect a strong game out of the Vikings RB duo (Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray) with Cook healthy.  I think the one Vikings receiver that will struggle is Adam Thielen, who will likely be matched up against star corner Richard Sherman.  But Vikings WR Laquon Treadwell will show promise after a slow start to his NFL career and play a role in Minnesota’s victory.

This Buccaneers front seven is extremely underrated, and I don’t see the Saints run game thriving against them with RB Mark Ingram suspended.  But with Bucs QB Jameis Winston also suspended, I don’t think Tampa Bay will put up enough points to outdo the Saints in New Orleans.  The Saints are the other team I see as overrated, but I still cannot see them losing to a Winston-less Bucs offense at home.  I think the Saints defense will play well enough.  Offensively, Drew Brees and Michael Thomas will work together to secure the Saints a victory.

With QB Patrick Mahomes II starting for the Chiefs, I don’t think the offense will look as good as it did last year.  But I do think RB Kareem Hunt, WR Tyreek Hill, and TE Travis Kelce will help Mahomes and the Chiefs keep this game close.  However, I see the Chargers offense looking pretty good in this game.  WR Mike Williams will look strong at full health, and QB Philip Rivers and RB Melvin Gordon will also put up strong performances, leading the Chargers to victory despite sloppy defense by both teams.

The Panthers had a very strong pre-season, and I think they can carry the momentum into the regular season against the Cowboys.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see Panthers QB Cam Newton throw 3-4 touchdowns in this one.  Cowboys QB Dak Prescott will keep this interesting as I expect him to throw at least 2 touchdowns.  However, I think RB Ezekiel Elliott will have a tough time against a really strong Panthers front seven.

I don’t think Cardinals QB Sam Bradford will quite look like his old self.  But I see him staying healthy and tossing a couple touchdowns in his first start since early last season.  I expect QB Alex Smith and RB Adrian Peterson to have strong days as well, making this close.  But I think the Cardinals win in the end, led by a dominant day for RB David Johnson in his return, and a strong performance by CB Patrick Peterson in man-to-man coverage against Redskins WR Jamison Crowder.

SNF

With QB Aaron Rodgers back at full speed, expect a strong game by the Packers offense.  I see Rodgers tossing at least 2 touchdowns, and TE Jimmy Graham having an especially strong day.  Graham was a great signing, and Rodgers and Graham will make for an amazing QB-TE combo.  Rodgers hasn’t had that for a long time.  The Bears offense will look strong in this game as well.  But I cannot see them putting up as many points as Green Bay does with Rodgers at full health, making the Pack victorious in Rodgers’ return.

MNF

I expect QB Matthew Stafford to look sharp in prime time against a mediocre Jets D.  His receivers should have a strong showing as well, with WR Kenny Golladay showing flashes of dominance, and veteran WR Golden Tate looking better than he was last year.  I also think RB Ameer Abdullah will step up his game this season, starting with this prime time match-up.  Meanwhile, the Jets offense will look revamped with WR Quincy Enunwa healthy and RB Isaiah Crowell and WR Terrelle Pryor Jr. on board.  But I still don’t think it is going to be enough.

That’s all for my NFL Week 1 picks and previews.  Be sure to comment with your thoughts, and enjoy the first Football Sunday of 2018.

Championship Weekend Recap and Super Bowl LII First Look

The match-up is set.  The Patriots and Eagles will face off in Super Bowl LII.  Today I will address how they got there, and give you your first look at the match-up.

But first here is the official schedule for my Super Bowl LII Preview. This will be part of each Preview article and will include links to the articles that are finished.

Super Bowl LII – Patriots vs. Eagles: Boston Sports Mania Preview

Monday, Jan. 29: Championship Weekend Recap and Super Bowl LII First Look

Tuesday, Jan. 30: The Case for the Patriots: How They Can Win, Keys to the Game

Wednesday, Jan. 31: The Case for the Eagles: How They Can Win, Keys to the Game

Thursday, Feb. 1: Super Bowl Fast Facts and Their Significance

Friday, Feb. 2: Super Bowl LII: The Final Pick and Projected Stats

Saturday, Feb. 3: Super Bowl LII Video Preview and iMovie Trailer

Sunday, Feb. 4: Watch the big game and stay tuned for my Recap!

How They Got There

Patriots

 

The Pats won in comeback fashion again, this time against the Jacksonville Jaguars, 24-20.  Early on, Blake Bortles, Leonard Fournette, Corey Grant, and the rest of the Jaguars offense dominated, taking a 14-3 lead and challenging the Pats for their chance at making it to their 10th Super Bowl, and their 8th with Tom Brady.  The Pats were unable to stop this powerful Jags offense for most of the 1st half, although they did narrow Jacksonville’s lead with a TD before the half, making it 14-10.  The Jaguars’ powerful pass rush also got on Tom Brady’s nerves in this half.

By halftime, Pats fans were getting worried, and some (but not me) gave up hope.  But the 2nd half brought a turn-around for the Patriots.  In the 3rd quarter, we began to see a better defensive performance by New England, as they held Jacksonville to just a measly 3 points in that quarter.  Lawrence Guy was able to sack Bortles as he led the Pats defense to begin to get pressure on him.  The Jags scored another field goal to begin the 4th and led 20-10.

But better defense set the Pats offense up to come back in the 4th quarter.  Despite TE Rob Gronkowski being ruled out with a concussion, the Pats came back, led by Brady, Danny Amendola (who scored both 4th quarter TDs) and Brandin Cooks.  The Pats came out of nowhere after being down by 10, scoring 14 unanswered points to win the game and advance to the Super Bowl.  But how will they fare against the Eagles, who obliterated the Vikings?

Eagles

 

The Vikings got off to a fast start as Case Keenum connected with TE Kyle Rudolph for a touchdown.  But after that, Nick Foles broke out, leading the Eagles offense to blow away an otherwise unstoppable Vikings defense.  He somehow tossed 3 TDs and 352 yards against the typically dominant Vikings D.  I also don’t know how this defense gave up 38 points.

Not only did Foles do well, but his top four receivers (Zach Ertz, Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Nelson Agholor) all had over 50 yards receiving, combining for 306 of Philly’s receiving yards and all 3 receiving TDs.  The combination of end zone back LeGarrette Blount and lead running back Jay Ajayi also had a big game compared to recent performances.

After that win, the Eagles truly do deserve to fight for that Lombardi Trophy in Minneapolis, although it would have been cool to see Minnesota win it at home, or be stopped by the Patriots dynasty.  But will the Eagles put up the same numbers against New England, who has far more experience in the Super Bowl?  Many of New England’s players don’t even know what it is like not making the AFC Championship game.

A First Look at the Big Game

With TE Rob Gronkowski on the practice field as of Saturday the 27th, it’s a good sign that Gronk will be able to clear the concussion protocol and play by Sunday’s big game. Gronk’s status will help determine New England’s offensive schemes against an Eagles defense that can be tricky at times.

Either way, especially with T Marcus Cannon injured, DT Fletcher Cox and the Eagles’ defensive line could pressure QB Tom Brady and hit him a few times. But I do think Brady should be able to find his receivers against the younger, but still powerful Eagles secondary. With or without him, Gronk will have to get past Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins among others as they will likely keep the star tight end double covered.

Brady will have to mix it up a little, not only passing to Gronk, and dependable passing backs James White and Rex Burkhead, but also to his wide receivers who helped him win with Gronk and Burkhead out late into last week’s game. Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola, and/or Chris Hogan could have a big game here. But will we see the Eagles look like their inconsistent selves again, or will we see QB Nick Foles and the Eagles offense pick up where they left off?

If they can, they will significantly challenge the Patriots, whose pass rush has struggled to pressure the QB at times this season.  However, it has gotten better since LB James Harrison joined the Patriots.  Not only has he himself made an impact, but he’s also made an impact on other players’ performances, serving as a veteran influence.  The Pats sacked Jags QB Blake Bortles twice last week.  One was by Harrison, and the other by DT Lawrence Guy.  However, the Eagles give Foles better protection than Bortles gets with their strong offensive line.

This also helps running backs, who the Pats have struggled even more against.  In their Week 7 win against Atlanta, their big flaw was giving up big plays to Devonta Freeman.  It cost them in Week 1 against Kareem Hunt.  Can RB Jay Ajayi be next?  Will end zone threat Blount Force Trauma get revenge on his former team?  Or will it be younger RBs like Corey Clement and Wendell Smallwood who thrive?

The good news is, despite their front seven woes, they have maintained a strong secondary all season long, and don’t be surprised if they annoy Foles’ receivers and pick Foles off a couple times. I do think Foles will continue to thrive though, finding his receivers for most of the game, but making brutal mistakes against this strong secondary that cause the Eagles offense to trail a little behind the “Brady Bunch.”

Who will win Super Bowl LII?  What is the game plan for each team?  What Super Bowl and season-long stats will burden, encourage and/or influence each team?  Find out this week as I release more articles each day.