The NFL season is finally upon us! I know back in May things looked really bleak but we are here. Now some teams will be allowing fans but for the most part we will be seeing something special on Sundays. How will no crowd noise effect home stadiums? We also have a slew of new coaches and promising young rookies looking to take advantage of these special circumstances. We also can’t forget all of the players changing teams In the hopes that greener pastures prevail.
This year like many others should be filled with unique story lines and guys who come out of no where and become stars. The hype surrounding Antonio Gibson leads me to believe he could be that one. Joe Burrows is almost a lock to win rookie of the year, but what what Johnathan Taylor behind that great offensive line? The college production tells me that Taylor has all the skills to lead the league in rushing. We should also be watching and cherishing the greats that may make this their last ride.
In this first week I wanted to cover some of my favorite story lines and teams from this offseason. Now not all of these teams are going to be winners and that’s ok, even bad teams need a little bit of move from time to time. Also we will be looking into some of the betting lines to get some extra change in our pockets to purchase the new Madden. Now let’s jump into what looks to be a boring game on paper but will have lasting effects on this season:
Carolina Panthers vs Las Vegas Raiders (-2.5)
Carolina comes in with a lot of hope for this year. They are now officially passed the Cam Newton/Ron Rivera phase of their franchise and welcome Bridgewater/Rhule with open arms. Matt Rhule is a first time NFL coach that has a lot of praise for turning around bad teams. His first year at temple they finished 2-10, yet in just his third year they finished 10-4 and 10-3 in his last year. He moved on to a Baylor program that was coming off a scandal that should of set them back for 5+ years. His first year they finished 1-11 but once again in his third year they blossomed to 11-3. So maybe we shouldn’t expect a winning season this year but the franchise looks to be in solid hands. One thing he has spoken about this off season is how they plan on airing the ball out this year and attacking deep. Teddy B didn’t throw a lot of deep balls last year but he completed a decent percentage of those throws. They brought in Robby Anderson to pair with Curtis Samuel’s speed. D.J. Moore has a perfect opportunity to use this year to enter that “elite” tier. He has polished routes, great hands and with arguably some of the worst quarterback play last year. He went off for 87 receptions, 1175 yards and 4 touchdowns. If they plan on attacking deep those touchdowns should increase because time and time again we saw panicked quarter backs just dump it off to CMC. Teddy doesn’t make mistakes often so drives shouldn’t just stop suddenly. They should move the ball and we know that Mccaffery is amazing. He is the best running back in the league and should dominate defenses once again. Their defense is brand new and they will be without their captain Luke Kuechly as he retired this offseason. That could be the biggest weak point for the whole team. They know the defense needs work as they literally drafted all defense. That tells me they will need to put up points to win.
Las Vegas is in a pivotal year. Gruden and Mayock have had time to bring in “their guys.” Josh Jacobs should shine this year and will be a focal point in this offense. During the off-season they really only brought in guys that catch the ball. Jacobs will lock down first and second down, but he will show that he has the hands to dominate all of the touches. The offensive line is ranked 11th according to Pro Football Focus, and will be crucial for this teams success. If you just look at Carrs number with no context you would think he had an ok year. Only 21 touchdowns and barely 4000 yards. But who was he really throwing to? Darren Waller came out of no where to be the best passing option on the team. Hunter Renfrow was injured for the first half and come along down the stretch. They drafted the first receiver off the board in Henry Ruggs III. A speed guy who has solid hands but could use a little more work on his route running. Reports out of camping are buzzing about a guy named Bryan Edwards. Derek Carr in an interview compared him to Devatae Adams for crying out loud. I believe the signing of Mariota was more to light a fire under Derek Carr so he can take that leap they need. If not I would like to think Gruden makes the change to Mariota midway through the year if this team isn’t winning games. Their defense is middle of the road but could take strides to improve. Overall I have a weird feeling about this team and I think they could be better than a lot people think.
The offensive line should handle this young core in Carolina and the offense should be able to move the ball effectively enough to get the job done. This won’t be a blow out though. Carolina comes in with a potent offense and a coach that wants to make a name for himself. What kind of feeling would it be to have your first win come against a champion coach like Gruden. CMC should go nuts for 150 all purpose yards and a touchdown. The Bryan Edwards that was mentioned will catch a touchdown as the Raiders beat Carolina and cover the 2.5 points.
Cincinnati Bengals vs LA Chargers (-3.5)
The Bengals can’t possibly be worse than last year right? I mean defensively they gave up the most yards per play last year and bottom five in turnovers. They brought in two new corners in Trae Wayne’s and Mackensie Alexander, as well as hard hitting Vonn Bell to hopefully lock down that secondary for years to come. Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap are still staples on that defensive line. The problem will be linebackers with this team but we should see major strides from the product that put out there last year. Something to consider is that the offense also did them no favors. There is a clear reason for why they were the worst team in the league and the hope is that Joe Burrow can come in and lead this franchise to places it hasn’t been in years. Coming off the best season ever by a QB, Burrows will have growing pains but should perform well in his first year. I would say it’s a good possibility that he breaks the rookie touchdown record of 27. The wide receiver core is sneaky good. A.J. Green should finally be healthy enough to give them ten solid games. That’s really it though and if we think he will be the Green of old we will have another thing coming. His multiple lower body injured give me cause for concern. Good thing Burrows loves the slot and Tyler Boyd is a perfect weapon. He handled the seventh most targets last year as the best weapon in the offense. Hopefully either Ross or Higgins can step up and be the big play to take advantage of that secondary that just lost its best piece.
The La Chargers will be ushering a new chapter in the franchise. Hopefully one that gets them more than five playoff wins in fourteen years. Phillip rivers will be talked about as a future Hall of Famer based on his work with the Chargers but they don’t exactly have a history or winning. Now with the future in the hands of Justin Herbert, who knows where they go? But he won’t be starting right away or maybe even this season. Tyrod Taylor is looking to pair his mobility with the elusiveness of Austin Ekeler and make the opposing line backing cores life’s hell. Anthony Lynn also coached Tyrod in Buffalo when he was the offensive coordinator and interim head coach in 2016. The familiarity should make the transition easier and as stated before, the line backing core for the Bengals can be taken advantage of. Keenan Allen should take advantage of the middle of the field. As to who steps up besides Ekkler and Allen? Who knows honestly. Hunter Henry hasn’t taken the step most people thought and Mike Williams is coming in with a shoulder injury. On the other side of the ball, I’m curious if the Cincinnati line will be able to handle the pass rushers in LA. Joey Bosa is looking primed to build off the 11.5 sack season and could quite possibly get four in this game alone. Melvin Ingram is fighting for a better contract and a solid game one could jumpstart an elite season. The secondary that was top 10 In most passing statistics added Chris Harris Jr. who is still regarded as a top tier corners despite his down year last year.
Overall I see the defense just being too much for this offense to handle in Joe Burrows first game. We should expect them to hang around just because the talent Cincinnati has is legit. The defense in LA is the real deal and I think it doesn’t get talked about enough. Like last years Pittsburgh Steelers, they have tons of talent all over the field and adding a piece like Harris could be the final touch to take them to the next level. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram get 4 sacks combined while the secondary does give up a big play. Maybe Mixon gets in the Endzone but the Chargers cover the 3.5 points and are my favorite bet of the week.
New Orleans Saints (-3.5) vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Talking about the Saints doing well in the regular season is almost trivial. Year in and year out we have the future Hall of Famer Drew Brees who comes out and gives you steady production. He is a lock for 4000 yards if he plays all sixteen games and you best believe Michael Thomas will eat. Last year putting together one of the most elite seasons ever from a wide receiver. He has a catch rating over 80% the past two seasons. The targets should sit somewhere around the same even though Emmanuel Sanders will command some attention. Sanders is a polished route runner like Thomas and that should fit perfectly with the ever so accurate Brees. At the time of this article Kamara still doesn’t have a contract and if that gets finished look out. He has never gotten a full workload due to his fragile history but has always produced extremely well with those touches. Pair that with a top level O-Line and the offense should finish top 5 again this year. Even if Brees misses a couple games, Jamis Winston can step in and win a couple games like Teddy B last year. The defense will have its hands full against Tampa. The matchup of Cam Jordan vs rookie Tristan Wirfs will be key for this defense. Tom Brady is at his best with more than four seconds of time and his lack of mobility should be exploited. The Marshon Lattimore has a history of shutting down Mike Evans but Godwin could take advantage. The defense doesn’t get a lot of credit because of how great the offense is. The clock is ticking on this franchise and this could be the last year they have.
Tom Brady is now a Tampa Bay Buccaneer. We should of all seen this coming if you think about it. History tells us that aging greats like the challenge of going to a new franchise and winning a title to cement their legacy. Tom doesn’t need it but maybe that should tell us how serious he is taking this year. Everyone know that the pressure of their success will lay on his shoulders. He has had the likes of Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Julian Edelman and even Antonio Brown for a hot minute. But this may be the best offensive talent he has ever had. I’m not even counting Gronkowski who I think will have a slow start to this season. O.J. Howard is the real deal and people forget that he was compared to Gronkowski for his ability to catch and block. Mike Evans has a mixed bag of solid speed, great ball skills, ideal size and the history to back it up. Chris Godwin can prove that he can better than both Welker and Edelman with a possible 1600 yard season in store. Last year he was the darling all training camp and then bursted on the scene with an 86 catch, 1333 yards and 9 touchdown season in just his second year. The tools he has as well as the talent tells me that this is something that can continue if he is healthy. The offensive line is something that will need to come together as the season progresses. They will helped with Brady’s quick release but times when coverage is good, they will need to play better than last year. Fournette is the hot name now as he was just signed on a prove it deal. Ronald Jones has been getting first teams reps all camp and the chatter has been nothing but positive. But what about this defense? During the off-season Devin White said “Before we signed Tom or Gronk —me and coach Bowles— we always said in the offseason as we’ve been talking and preparing that we were gonna be the ones to carry the team, the team is gonna go as far as we go.” This team still features the leagues youngest secondary. These are very young men trying their best and at the end of last year from week 12 on they finished top five in yards allowed. Shaquil Barret won the sack title last year with 19.5. They will be overshadowed all year by a great offense but don’t expect that to tell you they are bad.
This is probably the game everyone would tell you to stay away from. They are so many different variables that are hard to count on. Who knows how good that connection is with Brady and his receivers? Last year Brees looked to lose a step, will he show some rust on top of that? Both defenses have questions on whether they can even stop these offense or will it be a 30+ point game. Honestly I think the lack a preseason will slow these guys down at first but the second half should see a real spike. I might take an over on the second half if I see a low scoring start. Give me the Saints to win this game but I’m staying away.
LA Rams vs Dallas Cowboys (-3.0)
Call me a sucker but I have some real high hopes for this Rams squad. Last year was highlighted by the failures of the offensive line. They were graded as the 31st ranked group by PFF and that showed real effects on the offense as a whole. Goff led the league with 626 passing attempts but that produced only 22 touchdowns. I believe that positive regression is coming. Cooper Kupp finished second in touchdowns last year. Robert Woods went fourteen weeks without a touchdown last year. That blows my mind considering the talent and his consistency. Expect that to be a big change as well. Tyler Higbee came on last year in the last five games with 43 catches, 522 yards and 2 touchdowns. Now that was against teams who were bottom five at defending the tight end but that shows the potential. That stretch was also a way for Mcvay to shake up his play calling. Last year they also had a hobbled Todd Gurley and now they should see much better production from their rookie Cam Akers. The defense still has some of the best at their positions. Jalen Ramsay just signed a nice new deal to lock him down in LA for the foreseeable future. Aaron Donald is arguably the best player in the league and will continue to assert his dominance. Some other faces that people knew are gone but the defense shouldn’t see that much of a decline. The line backing core might be the most exposed. Hopefully the former first round pick Leonard Floyd can find new life and provide that edge pressure they desperately need.
Dallas has finally moved on from Jason Garret and welcome in the Mike McCarthy era. Now I will admit, I thought the one thing holding this franchise back was Garret and I’m not exactly changing my tune with McCarthy. A report this offseason stated that during the later parts of his tenure at Green Bay, he was delegating all of his duties on to his other coaches and coasted. He had enough time to get massages daily in his office while his team was mediocre. They have a promising young OC in Kellen Moore who may not be ready for the job yet but is waiting in the wings. I mean he has Dak Prescott entering his prime. When Ezekiel Elliot is staying out of trouble he is a model for health and consistency. The wide receiving core is now officially loaded with the edition of rookie CeeDee Lamb. Michael Gallup is looking to take that year three leap and could quite possible give Amari Cooper a run for his money. Amari hasn’t exactly been the perfect form of health and these young guys are ready to snatch up the workload. The O-Line is returning almost everyone which has been the trademark to their success. Now you pair that with a defense that should be formidable and you have a legit Super Bowl contender. I mean Vander Esch is fully recovered from offseason neck surgery. They signed Aldon Smith and Everton Griffen to the pass rush. Both of which have a solid history of getting to the quarterback. Which should our nicely to one of the leagues best in Demarcus Lawrence. Demarcus is coming off a down year with injuries and just getting a lot of extra attention from the offense. Teams have game plans now to bring extra guys to block him and that’s where I think the off season moves really help this squad. A good pass rush can really help a weaker secondary.
That said pass rush should feast on this offensive line. Chemistry for a D-line is easier off the jump and I predict they take full advantage. As a team they get five sacks on the day. Ezekiel Elliot might go for 150 yards but don’t expect Amari to do Much. Jalen Ramsay will have him on an island. The Rams won’t go down easy as Goff still throws for over 300 yards. Dallas does win this game but I’m not confident in the cover.
NY Giants vs Pittsburgh Steelers (-5.5)
The NY Giants may not be ready for a championship right now but they are for sure building a solid foundation for that goal. Saquon Barkley is looking to drastically improve off of 2019. His rookie campaign was filled with long touchdown highlights and him making guys look silly. Where as sadly last year was filled with stacked boxes and nagging injuries. Like Todd Gurley in his second year, a lack of talent around him made it so difficult for Barkley to really shine. In the final three games last season we saw Barkley go off for 539 total yards and five touchdowns. Now the edition of Daniel Jones and his comfortability in the offense had to play a large part. Jones opened up his rookie campaign on fire with a four total touchdown day, showcasing not only his passing abilities but his athletic skill set that could help him early on. Now the rest of the season was filled with inconsistencies and mistakes. His 24 touchdowns and 23 total turnovers needs drastic improvements for this team to succeed. His O-line is suspect at best but his receiving core could show some flashes. Slayton and Shepard look to be the start of a solid young core. We all know that when Evan Engram gets the work, he can produce like top level tight ends. The problem for him was Eli’s inability to get the ball deep at times. Now the organization has cleaned house and brought in new faces at DC/OC/HC to try a propel the future of the franchise. Now unfortunately you know by now I have zero love for Jason Garret but Joe Judge has a winning background with the New England Patriots. He has never been a head coach before so we should all expect a major learning curve for Judge.
The Steelers on the other hand may be the complete opposite of the Giants. They have had familiarity in the coaches for a multitude of years now. Big Ben is coming off major elbow surgery but all things out of camp have been positive. Statistically 2018 may of been Ben’s best year, so to see him go down so early in the year was heart breaking to most fans. Now the expectations should be adjusted because we don’t really know how he recovers from that elbow injury but if Ben can actually play 13+ games, I see this team going very far. This offseason they went out and grabbed a couple athletic freaks. Eric Ebron was a first round pick who never really got to take off like most people thought. In his one year with Indy we saw him catch 13 touchdowns and become a favorite for Luck in the red zone. Pair that with the 6’4 rookie who ran a 4.4 40 yard dash and draws comparisons to the great Calvin Johnson, and they should have a lot of problems scoring. Juju and Diontae Johnson should be the 1a-1b punch the fans also clamor for. Ben has always had two good receivers during his successful years and last years breakout of Johnson showed us that this year shouldn’t change things. They have big bodies and speed that can catch the ball, a guy in Ben who can excel at getting them said ball and a running back core that has sneaky depth. James Connor should be the bell cow for this team but his health history tells me that it will be an up and down ride. We haven’t even gotten into the defense that was ranked top 3 in almost every statistical category! That defense carried a below average team to the end of the year. They have the perfect mix of young guys on cheap contracts and veterans who can still produce later in their careers. When you think back on previous champions, they all hoped to have a defense like this one. Sadly they will only go as far as the quarter back room let’s them and if it’s not Ben? Good luck this year Pittsburgh fans and hope if Ben does go down, its early and the tank can begin.
For an NFL spread, 5.5 points is a lot. But the Steelers should cover that with ease. A defense that has a nose for the ball and an opposing quarterback who has a tendency for turnovers could be disastrous for NY. Still Mike Tomlin has a history if playing down to his competition and losing these “easy” games. We should all believe that Barkley will probably go over 100 all purpose yards and possibly a TD. That won’t be enough as Ben comes back with a vengeance and throws for 400 yards and 3 touchdowns!