NFL WEEK 1: It’s great to have it back, isn’t it? The season kicked off in fine fashion on Thursday night, with the ageless Tom Brady one-upping Dak Prescott in a classic quarterback duel. Brady and the Bucs look to be Super Bowl contenders once again, though if we’ve learned anything from past Week 1s, it’s that the results can be wild and unpredictable and it’s wise to avoid drawing firm conclusions.
I always say that Week 1 is a lot like getting married for the first time: it’s a total crapshoot, and the excitement for getting started makes it so that any pains or frustrations that may arise in the future are but distant concerns when the adventure begins. And it can be quite an adventure, as any NFL enthusiast knows, but our task is to ensure that it’s a profitable adventure. In this way, it’s nothing at all like marriage…
We’ve got a full slate this weekend, with 14 games on Sunday and then the Monday nighter in Vegas, so opportunity abounds. Here are my favorites:
Philadelphia Eagles @ Atlanta Falcons (ATL -3.5, 48.5)
Recommendation: Atlanta -3.5 at 1.95
It’s a new era for both of these teams, as ex-Titans OC Arthur Smith is the new head man in Atlanta while Nick Sirianni takes the reins in Philly. Being that both coaches have offensive backgrounds, we can expect these teams to look totally different on that side of the ball, which is a good thing considering the struggles they endured in 2020. There’s one major difference between the two situations, however– Atlanta has a veteran Pro Bowl quarterback and a bevy of weapons that includes an elite wideout and the most exciting tight end prospect to come into the league in decades, while the Eagles are going with unproven Jalen Hurts at the game’s most important position. Hurts played fairly well in relief of Carson Wentz last season, but he looked lost and tentative in the preseason, and his receiving corps is led by a rookie and several unproven players. I think it’s going to be a bumpy road for Hurts and the Eagles these first few weeks, making the Falcons an attractive play here as a short home favorite.
Minnesota Vikings @ Cincinnati Bengals (MIN -3, 47.5)
Recommendation: Cincinnati +3 at 1.91
Will it be the same old Bengals this year? Most prognosticators seem to think so, but I’d be careful about sleeping on the Joe Burrow-led offense, which may feature as much skill-position talent as any group in the AFC. Burrow must feel like a kid in a candy store with Tee Higgins on one side, former LSU teammate Ja’Marr Chase on the other, and Tyler Boyd in the slot. And then there’s the terminally underrated Joe Mixon in the backfield, an upgraded o-line… I’m telling you, these Bengals are going to be tough to slow down. The Minnesota defense totally disintegrated towards the end of last season, allowing 40 ppg over their final three contests, and this is a difficult way to start for the revamped secondary. Of course, the Bengals had defensive problems of their own last year, and slowing down Dalvin Cook will be a major test for what should be an upgraded front seven. But if Burrow and the Cincy offense come out firing like I expect, it will be tough for the Vikings to keep pace, even if Cook has some success. I like the Bengals in this spot.
Green Bay Packers vs. New Orleans Saints (GB -3.5, 49.5) *game in Jacksonville
Recommendation: Green Bay -3.5 at 1.92
When Hurricane Ida forced this game to be relocated, the Saints supposedly had their choice of a new venue (within reason of course… it needed to be an NFL-approved stadium). Rumor is Sean Payton chose Jacksonville because he thought the oppressive heat might work to his team’s advantage, and because of Aaron Rodgers’ not-so-stellar record in the state of Florida, where he’s 3-4 in seven career games and has posted a pedestrian 78.1 passer rating. Rodgers is coming off a terrific season, however, and with his offensive weapons intact and Matt LaFleur’s system now fully ingrained, it should be smooth sailing for the Green Bay offense in 2021, regardless of the temperature. The Saints, on the other hand, will be breaking in a new quarterback in Jameis Winston, and it will be interesting to see whether Winston can even come close to matching the precision and prudence that Drew Brees exhibited while leading Payton’s offense for so many years. I’m quite sure that Payton will find a way to squeeze productivity out of the offense, but will it happen in Week 1, and will it happen to the degree that Winston is able to outduel someone like Aaron Rodgers? I have my doubts.
Chicago Bears @ Los Angeles Rams (LAR -7.5, 46.5)
Recommendation: Los Angeles -7.5 at 1.91
Both of these teams will be breaking in new starting quarterbacks, with Matt Stafford set to take over for Jared Goff in L.A. and Andy Dalton acting as the placeholder for first-round rookie Justin Fields in Chicago. The Rams are hoping that Stafford is an upgrade at the position, and early reviews have been positive– Sean McVay is said to have drawn up some new wrinkles to take advantage of his strong-armed new QB’s abilities, and with a receiving corps that includes Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, and new arrival DeSean Jackson, Stafford arguably hasn’t had this much perimeter talent at his disposal since the Calvin Johnson days. The outlook is a bit different for Dalton, as the Red Rifle will be looking over his shoulder in trying to hold off Fields, who is the future of the franchise. Considering Chicago’s uncertainly along the offensive line– the group had to be reshuffled several times during the preseason and will be starting a 39-year old at left tackle– this matchup with Aaron Donald and the fearsome Rams defense has the potential to turn into a nightmare. Don’t be surprised if this one gets out of hand and starts the Super Bowl Hype Train rolling in L.A.