The NFL football season has already begun, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeating the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday Night Football.
The first Sunday of the new season promises plenty of excitement and intriguing results which will be debated throughout the coming weeks: Will they be indicators of what is to come, or will some teams stumble out of the gate but find solutions to their problems later on?
Seattle Seahawks at Indianapolis Colts
The Colts wondered a month ago if Carson Wentz would be able to start this game at quarterback. He will. He made a fast recovery from an injury suffered in preseason camp. He will start on Sunday under coach Frank Reich, who got the most out of Wentz as the Eagles’ offensive coordinator when Wentz played in Philadelphia.
Other Colts injury news isn’t as good: Offensive lineman Quenton Nelson is questionable for Sunday’s game. He might play, but he wasn’t practicing most of the week and the team hasn’t made a final decision on his status. That is a concern. Xavier Rhodes, one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, is battling a calf injury and did not practice on Friday, which is a very bad sign for his status on Sunday against the Seahawks’ receivers.
The matchup which can still win this game for the Colts is their defensive front against Seattle’s beleaguered offensive line, which has been one of the worst in the NFL at allowing sacks the past four years. Indianapolis has to turn this game into a 16-13 slugfest. If Seattle scores at least 27 or 28 points, it will be hard for the Colts’ banged-up offense to catch up.
Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs beat the Browns 22-17 in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs last January, but keep in mind that Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes got injured midway through the contest and did not play at all in the fourth quarter. The Chiefs held on without their star, paving the way for a second straight AFC championship and Super Bowl appearance. If Mahomes plays all four quarters, the Chiefs have to like their chances here.
That said, the Chiefs were not a very good team against the spread last season. Kansas City spent most of 2020 winning close games, either with late drives or by playing down to the level of the competition. The Chiefs were the best team in the AFC and the second-best team in football, but they survived the regular season instead of dominating it. They did just enough to win every week, which leaves people wondering if we will see a more imposing and explosive team this year.
The Browns won a playoff game for the first time in 26 years, after making the playoffs for the first time in nearly two decades. New head coach Kevin Stefanski seems to be the right man in Cleveland. He brought the Browns together and gave them stable leadership and solid schematic concepts. The Browns came very close to making the AFC Championship Game for the first time since the 1989 season. Browns fans hope this is the year their team makes its first-ever Super Bowl appearance.
Arizona Cardinals at Tennessee Titans
This is a great matchup in Week 1. The Cardinals signed J.J. Watt and A.J. Green in a very busy offseason. They are loaded with veteran talent but have youthful Kyler Murray at quarterback. Arizona’s chief concern is the offensive line. How it will hold up against the Titans’ pass rush is likely the biggest key to the game.
The Titans hope that new receiver Julio Jones, acquired in the offseason, will boost their passing attack and give Ryan Tannehill the resources he needs to keep defenses off balance and prevent them from stacking the tackle box to stop All-Pro running back Derrick Henry. Whoever wins this game will feel very good about making the playoffs in this new and expanded 17-game NFL regular-season schedule.
Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots
Odds At FanDuel Sportsbook: Patriots -3
This might be the most fascinating matchup of Week 1. It’s not the most important, but it is hard to predict and contains a great set of storylines. The central story of this game is that the last two men to quarterback the University of Alabama football team will face each other in this game. Mac Jones backed up Tua Tagovailoa in 2019 at Alabama. He replaced Tua when the star got hurt late in the season. Jones replaced Tua in 2020 and won a national title. Now the two quarterbacks face each other when the Dolphins visit Foxborough in a key AFC East clash. Both teams are trying to catch the Buffalo Bills in their division, but even if they don’t catch Buffalo, they can at least finish second in the AFC East, which would significantly increase their chances of making the playoffs. The third-place team in the AFC East is not likely to go to the postseason this year. That’s why this game is so big.
Green Bay Packers vs. New Orleans Saints – game moved to Jacksonville due to Hurricane Ida
Odds At FanDuel Sportsbook: Packers -3.5
The Saints begin life without Drew Brees. We will see if Jameis Winston is really ready to lead this team to the playoffs. New Orleans isn’t playing at home in the Superdome due to Hurricane Ida’s devastation of the Crescent City. The Saints won’t be ready to play in the Superdome until early October. Will playing at a neutral site significantly hurt the Saints, or will they be relaxed in this game in ways which might not have applied had they been in their dome sweet home?
The Packers might be starting the final season with Aaron Rodgers as their quarterback. It is believed that Rodgers will play his last season in Green Bay this year before retiring or going to another NFL team.
Baltimore Ravens at Las Vegas Raiders (Monday Night Football)
Odds At BetMGM: Ravens -4
The Raiders play their first regular-season game in front of fans in Las Vegas. Last year was their first year in Las Vegas, but fans were banned from games because of the pandemic. It will be a wild scene in Sin City as the Raiders welcome their fans to Allegiant Stadium for the first time in a regular season game.
Baltimore has been crushed by offseason injuries. Several running backs – J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, and Justice Hill – are all out for the season, not just Week 1. Baltimore signed Latavius Murray and Le’Veon Bell as replacements. The Ravens have also lost cornerback Marcus Peters and linebacker L.J. Fort for the year. Their depth will be sorely tested.
The Raiders have to prove their up-and-down identity can turn into something more solid and reliable. The Raiders nearly swept the Chiefs last season, beating the AFC champions on the road, but were bad enough that they nearly lost to the New York Jets and withered down the stretch in a late-season collapse which included a decisive loss to the 4-12 Atlanta Falcons