NFL WEEK 1: After the longest, strangest offseason anyone can remember, it’s football time again, and though the mostly-empty stadiums and masks on the sidelines will be a constant reminder of the grim reality that we’ve all been dealing with over these past few months, it sure is nice to have some degree of normalcy returning.
Week 1 is always a bit of a minefield, but after limited training camps and exactly zero preseason games, not to mention a handful of COVID-related “opt-outs”, the unpredictability factor is through the roof this week. Of course, that holds true for the oddsmakers as well, so some might argue that the lines are a bit softer than usual, and will remain so in the early part of this unusual season. We’ll take that view and kick things off with confidence…
Las Vegas Raiders @ Carolina Panthers (LV -3, 47.5)
Recommendation: Las Vegas -3 at 2.03
Optimism abounds in Carolina after the addition of a new head coach, offensive coordinator, and starting quarterback, and based on what we’ve seen out of Matt Rhule and Joe Brady at the college level, you’d have to agree that the long-term outlook seems rosy. But Teddy Bridgewater was merely adequate in New Orleans last season despite a stellar supporting cast and proven offensive system, so I think it’s unrealistic to expect too much out of the Carolina offense right out of the gate. The Raiders have some fresh (albeit young) talent in the secondary, but their advantage will be on the other side of the ball, where an offense that features a veteran quarterback, an explosive young running back, and an excellent line will be facing a Panthers defense that was awful last season and returns just 34% of their defensive snaps– the fewest in the NFL. I’ll roll with Vegas here.
Seattle Seahawks @ Atlanta Falcons (SEA -2.5, 48.5)
Recommendation: Atlanta +2.5 at 2.0
Somehow, some way, Dan Quinn has managed to hang on to his job despite back-to-back losing seasons in Atlanta, but needless to say he’s under tremendous pressure to win and win now. Fortunately for him, he’ll have an offense that should be among the NFL’s best, with an elite tandem of wideouts, a 4-time Pro Bowl QB, and newly-acquired bellcow running back Todd Gurley, who may have something to prove after the Rams seemingly gave up on him. The Seattle defense, which allowed more yards last season than all but three NFC teams, should be improved after some nice offseason additions, most notably All Pro safety Jamal Adams, but slowing down these loaded Falcons in the dome is a tall order. The ‘Hawks will have some offensive pop of their own behind Russell Wilson, but the o-line still projects to be an issue, and the Falcons should be strong in the defensive front seven after upgrading through free agency and the draft. As great as Wilson is, he’s going to have trouble keeping pace with Matt Ryan and the Falcons in this one.
Dallas Cowboys @ Los Angeles Rams (DAL -2.5, 51)
Recommendation: Los Angeles +2.5 at 1.99
The Rams will have a new-look defense under first-year coordinator Brandon Staley, but with cornerstones like Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, there won’t be much patience for growing pains. They’re certainly being thrown into the fire with this Week 1 matchup against the balanced yet explosive Dallas offense, but the Cowboys won’t be as good on the o-line as they have been in years past, so don’t be surprised if Donald & Co. are able to wreak some havoc in the Dallas backfield. The Rams offense, meanwhile, isn’t nearly as hyped as it was prior to last season, but it should still be one of the most effective units in the NFL, as Jared Goff is working with a familiar group of receivers and should have total command of Sean McVay’s offense in Year 3. This feels like a perfect setup for the Rams: home opener, primetime night slot, facing a heavily-hyped opponent. I’m betting they rise to the challenge.
Tennessee Titans @ Denver Broncos (TEN -2.5, 41)
Recommendation: Tennessee -2.5 at 1.94
Despite advancing to the AFC Championship game last season, the Titans don’t seem to have many believers heading into 2020, with most everyone I’ve seen pegging them as a top candidate for regression. But there aren’t many weak spots– they return 19 starters, they have an excellent o-line that paves the way for one of the league’s top running backs, and talented young receiver A.J. Brown leads a capable group of pass-catchers. The defense should be strong once again, as the underrated secondary returns intact and new arrival Jadeveon Clowney will add some punch to the front seven.
The only logical spot to call for “regression”, then, is at quarterback, where Ryan Tannehill is coming off a career season. But Tannehill is no flash in the pan– he’s a 32-year old vet in his 9th NFL season, and last year he finally stumbled into an advantageous situation. I have much more confidence in him keeping the momentum going than I do in Denver’s Drew Lock, who is 23 years old and has just 5 NFL starts under his belt. Losing top receiver Courtland Sutton to a shoulder sprain won’t make things any easier for Lock this week, and the devastating injury to All Pro OLB Von Miller– the best player not only on the defense, but on the entire team– casts a dark shadow over Denver’s season. Look for Tennessee to grind out a low-scoring win here.