NFL Week 1: Picks and preview
Patrick Mahomes' Chiefs take on the Browns Week 1. Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

NFL Week 1: Picks and preview

The 2021 NFL season has arrived, and while COVID-19 might still be a factor, the return of fans to stadiums means that things will look and feel much more like "business as usual" again. Tom Brady will look to continue adding to his unfathomable career with a Tampa Bay Buccaneers roster that is largely unchanged from the one that dominated the Kansas City Chiefs to win Super Bowl LV. Trevor Lawrence, perhaps the first generational quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck, begins the work of trying to turn around the Jacksonville Jaguars, while the Cleveland Browns, Buffalo Bills, and Baltimore Ravens get to work trying to unseat the two-time defending AFC Champion Chiefs. If those weren’t juicy enough storylines, reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers’ relationship with the Packers will be something to keep an eye on all season long. Ben Roethlisberger embarks on what might be his swan song as the Steelers try to avenge a 2020 season that started brilliantly and ended bitterly. Jameis Winston gets his second chance to be “The Man,” this time in New Orleans, and the Mac Jones Era begins in New England. Oh, and this year, the regular season crucible jumps from 16 to 17 games. The NFL is back, so let’s get to the games.

Point spreads are from and are current as of 11 a.m. ET Thursday.

NOTE: Pick with spread is in bold.

1 of 16

DALLAS AT TAMPA BAY (Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET)

DALLAS AT TAMPA BAY (Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET)
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

TV: NBC        Line: Tampa Bay -9

What you need to know: Dak Prescott’s recovery from a gruesome ankle injury last year has gone more or less to plan; however, a shoulder strain cost him 10 practices this preseason. The Cowboys will need Prescott’s arm and his legs if they want to make a Week 1 statement against the defending champs. A gimpy Patrick Mahomes, minus both starting tackles, got drilled in the Super Bowl. Dallas still has a solid offensive line, when healthy, but Prescott will have to be sharp right away to give his team a chance. The Buccaneers were third in the NFL in scoring last year, and return all 16 players who played at least 220 offensive snaps. Tom Brady’s left knee is healthy after playing through a torn MCL all last season, and he has ditched a knee sleeve he wore for the last 13 years, as well. The Buccaneers’ defense may have gotten even better since the end of last season, which is saying a lot, considering the virtuoso performance they delivered in the Super Bowl.

On the spot: Cowboys LB Micah Parsons. Parsons’ future already screams “focal point of Dallas’ defense,” and he might in fact inhabit that rule from the first play of the regular season. Tampa Bay went through a running swoon midway through the season, but in the playoffs, the Bucs averaged 122.5 yards per game on the ground. Dallas was 30th in the league in yards per carry allowed last year; Parsons must be a major fix for that issue.

Buccaneers DT Vita Vea: It’s no secret that the Cowboys want to run the ball with Ezekiel Elliott, making it easier for them to get it downfield with Prescott in the play-action game. Vea possesses the size, skill, and explosiveness to make part one of that offensive equation very difficult to achieve. If he’s able to jam up the middle of Dallas’ line, it will make the Cowboys one-dimensional, and much easier to defend.

The Pick: Buccaneers 37 Cowboys 27

2 of 16


Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

TV: FOX        Line: Atlanta -3.5

What you need to know:  The Eagles have moved on from Carson Wentz and handed the reins to their offense and franchise to Jalen Hurts, but questions abound about whether or not he has what it takes to be Philly’s next franchise passer. A preseason trade for Gardner Minshew further complicates matters, as Minshew’s numbers in an atrocious situation in Jacksonville weren’t all that bad. Hurts is unquestionably the starter, but one wonders just how much patience new head coach Nick Sirianni will have if the offense struggles early. Arthur Smith is the new man in charge in Atlanta, and his best chance to win immediately is to figure out how to get Matt Ryan back to something sniffing his 2016 MVP form. In some ways, that’s as simple as keeping him upright. Ryan posted a 92.1 passing grade from Pro Football Focus when throwing from a clean pocket. When he was pressured, that grade dropped all the way to 50.2. If traditional passer rating is your preference, he was at 103.8 and 68.3, respectively. Kyle Pitts’ presence gives Ryan a dynamic new weapon to offset the absence of Julio Jones, dealt to the Titans this offseason, so if Ryan can stay upright, the Falcons should be able to put up points, and perhaps lurk around the periphery of the NFC playoff picture.

On the spot: Eagles WR DeVonta Smith. Early in the season, it will be particularly important for Philadelphia’s skill players to make plays that help out Hurts; Smith was electrifying after the catch on his way to a Heisman Trophy at Alabama, and he’ll have to flash similar game-breaking skills, starting with this game.

Falcons QB Matt Ryan: Ryan has been sacked 89 times over the last two seasons, but it isn’t all the offensive line’s fault. Per Football Outsiders, the Falcons had the fourth-highest rate of non-pressure sacks (39.0%) in 2020. Ryan has new weapons and Atlanta has tried to rebuild his line; he needs to return the favor and get the ball out sooner.

The Pick: Falcons 30 Eagles 27

3 of 16


Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

TV: CBS        Line: Buffalo -6.5

What you need to know:  The Steelers were the most curious team in the NFL last season. They started 11-0, despite having plenty of doubters outside of Pittsburgh for much of that run. Those doubters were proven correct, as the wheels completely came off, and Mike Tomlin’s team lost five of their last six games, including a humiliating 48-37 home playoff loss to their perpetual little brother, the Cleveland Browns. Owner Art Rooney II made improving Pittsburgh’s league-worst running game the major offseason priority. To that end, the team drafted Alabama running back Najee Harris with the 24 th overall pick. They didn’t address their offensive line as aggressively, and as a result will start Kendrick Green, a third-round pick, at center, and Dan Moore Jr., a fourth-round pick, at left tackle. Buffalo looks primed and ready to make another serious push for AFC supremacy; Josh Allen might be even better this year, and he has a talented, experienced cast around him, led by Stefon Diggs. Buffalo’s offense ought to be able to repeat – or at least come close to repeating – most of their pyrotechnics from last season. Whether or not they can win the AFC might hinge on whether they can develop a more dynamic pass rush. To that end, top pick Gregory Rousseau’s ability to make an impact as a rookie will be crucial.

On the spot: Steelers LT Dan Moore Jr. Early returns on Moore were not kind. He was beaten on almost every rep by players no longer on the roster. To his credit, he improved immensely during training camp and the preseason, but he’ll still have a massive task – protecting Ben Roethlisberger’s blind side – on his plate.

Bills RB Devin SingletaryThe Steelers’ defense played pretty well against Buffalo last year, all things considered, and if they’re able to make the Bills one-dimensional, could keep this game close. If Singletary can hit a few big runs early in the game, it will open things up considerably for Allen.

The Pick: Bills 30 Steelers 21

4 of 16


Sam Greene via Imagn Content Services, LLC

TV: FOX        Line: Minnesota -3

What you need to know: Minnesota is a hard team to figure; the Vikings were the 11th-best scoring team in the league last year, but their total offensive rank of 4th meant that their overall performance on that side felt somewhat lacking. Kirk Cousins is the personification of, “good enough to get you to the playoffs, not good enough to do anything else.” Minnesota’s defense was a complete mess last season, routinely getting shredded by just about every opposing offense, and ranking 29 th overall in points allowed. Danielle Hunter being back this year after missing all of last year after neck surgery should help things on that side of the ball, but how much? The Bengals get Joe Burrow back after a major knee injury prematurely ended a promising rookie season, and the franchise has two major questions to answer, starting with this game; can the offensive line protect Burrow, and will fifth-overall pick Ja’Marr Chase catch the ball? Left tackle Jonah Williams will go a long way towards providing an answer to the first question, but only Chase can answer the second. Cincinnati is interesting mainly because Burrow showed flashes of greatness last year, albeit on the rare occasions where he wasn’t being driven into the turf.

On the spot: Vikings RB Dalvin CookEverything Minnesota wants to do offensively still pivots around Cook being one of the three best running backs in the NFL. Fortunately for the Vikings, Cook should still have more in the tank after getting 356 touches last season.

Bengals WR Ja’Marr Chase:  Williams or Burrow could have been in this spot, but the Bengals took Chase over Oregon tackle Penei Sewell, despite many experts feeling Sewell was the more prudent choice. If his struggles with drops continue into the season, patience will be in short supply in Cincy.

The Pick: Vikings 28 Bengals 23

5 of 16


Junfu Han via Imagn Content Services, LLC

TV: FOX        Line: San Francisco -7.5

What you need to know:  Despite lots of drooling from pundits over third overall pick Trey Lance’s ability during the preseason, Jimmy Garoppolo has held onto his job as the Niners’ starting quarterback, at least for now. Lance’s presence creates some extra pressure for Garoppolo to perform, but Kyle Shanahan might try to slow play things with his quarterback of the future. Garoppolo, when healthy, is a more than capable passer; he might not wow anyone with his style, but he was good enough to have San Francisco within a quarter of a Super Bowl title two seasons ago. Detroit’s quarterback situation, and really overall situation, is about as far from San Francisco as a team can get. Jared Goff has the feel of a lame-duck placeholder under center, and new head coach Dan Campbell might have lots of attitude – not to mention a major caffeine addiction – but the Lions need a major personality overhaul, as well as better play from several young players, namely last year’s third overall pick, corner Jeff Okudah. Detroit isn’t the league’s worst team, but this figures to be the start of a long year in the Motor City.

On the spot: 49ers QB Jimmy GaroppoloGaroppolo doesn’t need to show that he can play; that much is known about him. He needs to show that he can stay healthy, which has been a problem for some time. He’ll get thrown right into the fire against Campbell’s Lions, who figure to be aggressive if nothing else.

Lions HC Dan Campbell:  Detroit mercifully pulled the plug on Matt Patricia’s atrocious 42-game tenure, one that yielded a 13-28-1 record and plenty of embarrassments, and now Campbell must prove that he’s more than an entertaining – and possibly insane – soundbite and that he can actually build a winning culture.

The Pick: 49ers 26 Lions 19

6 of 16


David Wallace/The Republic via Imagn Content Services, LLC

TV: CBS        Line: Tennessee -3

What you need to know:  Things were going great for Arizona through nine games last year. They were 6-3, fresh off a Hail Mary-aided win against the Bills, and looked like a team ready to make a leap. Then the wheels fell off. The Cardinals went 2-5 over their final seven games to miss the playoffs and finish a disappointing 8-8. Despite the presence of Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins, Arizona’s offense averaged just 20.5 points per game in those seven contests. By contrast, the Cardinals were held under 30 points just three times in their first nine games and never scored fewer than 21 points in that span. Tennessee got even more loaded on offense, trading for Julio Jones and adding him to a mix that already included Derrick Henry, A.J. Brown, and Ryan Tannehill. Jones’ presence figures to give Brown, one of the league’s most devastating catch-and-run players, even more room to operate. The Titans’ offensive formula figures to be the same under new offensive coordinator Todd Downing as it was under Arthur Smith, now the head coach in Atlanta; lots of play-action looks for Ryan Tannehill, and a heavy dose of Henry in the second half to close out wins.

On the spot: Cardinals HC Kliff Kingsbury. Here are just a few of the questions Kingsbury needs to answer: Can Kyler Murray make a big leap forward in his system, and is that system going to have more answers when defenses adjust to it this year. If he doesn’t, the bloom will be fully off the rose, if it isn’t already.

Titans OC Todd Downing: If Downing was a hotshot offensive mind with a major track record, that would be one thing. He is not that. He has one season as an offensive coordinator in his past; 2017 with the then-Oakland Raiders. Those Raiders finished 23rd in the league in scoring offense, and Derek Carr was mediocre, to put it kindly. Downing has big shoes to fill, and if he doesn’t, the Titans could be in big trouble.

The Pick: Cardinals 31 Titans 26

7 of 16


Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

TV: CBS        Line: Washington -1

What you need to know:  The Chargers have already been tabbed as a not-so-sneaky challenger to the Chiefs in the AFC West. The biggest reason why is the play of last year’s AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, Justin Herbert. Herbert looks poised for stardom and has some of the most spectacular physical gifts of any quarterback in the league. Assuming he doesn’t fall victim to a sophomore slump, he could become one of the league’s elite passers sooner rather than later. Couple that with a talented, if injury-prone defense, and you have a recipe for major excitement for Los Angeles’ “other” team. Washington was one of the league’s most interesting stories last year; there was Alex Smith’s astonishing comeback, of course, but the Football Team’s defense was a force to be reckoned with, despite not getting a ton of national recognition until they ended the Steelers’ dreams of an unbeaten season and exposed Pittsburgh’s major offensive issues in the process. If – and it’s a big “if” – Ryan Fitzpatrick can limit his mistakes, Washington’s defense should give them a chance in virtually every game.

On the spot: Chargers S Derwin JamesJames is in his fourth year in the NFL, but he missed all of last season, after only playing five games in 2019. How much does he mean to Los Angeles? When he was a first-team All-Pro in 2018, the Chargers had the eighth-best scoring defense in the league. Without him last year? The Bolts were 23rd.

Washington Football Team QB Ryan Fitzpatrick:  Fitzpatrick, one of the streakiest players in NFL history, is an interesting choice to lead Washington. On one hand, he’ll probably win them two or three games that last year’s stable of quarterbacks could not. On the other, he’ll probably cost them the same number – or more – with horrible turnovers that the defense can’t overcome.

The Pick: Chargers 24 Washington Football Team 20

8 of 16

NY JETS AT CAROLINA (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

NY JETS AT CAROLINA (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
Samantha Madar/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin via Imagn Content Services, LLC

TV: CBS        Line: Carolina -4

What you need to know:  Zach Wilson’s first career start will come against the quarterback whose failure with the Jets is the only reason Wilson was drafted by them in the first place. That juxtaposition provides an easy narrative for this game, but Robert Saleh’s debut as the Jets’ head coach is also an interesting subplot. New York was an all-around “blah” outfit under Adam Gase, but Saleh is fiery, a defensive whiz, and unlike Rex Ryan, not cartoonish in his day-to-day behavior. Will he finally breathe some life into Gang Green? Matt Rhule has already started the process of trying to reset the Panthers’ course, and he now has a former third-overall pick in Sam Darnold as a reclamation project. No one doubts Darnold’s talent, but his time with the Jets was a mess in part because of porous offensive line play (not to mention Gase’s ineptitude) but also because of his own failings. Now he gets to work with Joe Brady, who is the reason Joe Burrow went first overall, and Ed Orgeron gets to call himself a national championship winner. If Brady can fix what Gase seemingly ruined, the Panthers might turn into a contender in short order.

On the spot: Jets QB Zach Wilson. Wilson doesn’t cut a particularly intimidating profile, and he doesn’t look like a particularly big guy, but his arm talent is breathtaking, and many say he possesses that intangible “it” factor. He’ll need it in large quantities to turn the Jets around.

Panthers OC Joe Brady:  Brady was never going to turn Teddy Bridgewater into a dynamic downfield thrower. Darnold, however, had handcuffs put on him by Gase, playing away from his strengths with too many short passes. If Brady can get Darnold going in a big way, he won’t be a coordinator for long.

The Pick: Panthers 23 Jets 20

9 of 16


Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

TV: CBS        Line: Jacksonville -3

What you need to know:  It’s time for Urban Meyer’s big debut, and after some missteps, both serious (hiring Chris Doyle, who resigned a day later after accusations of racism in his past caused public fury) and comical (actually letting Tim Tebow try to make the team as a tight end) his NFL debut is here. The questions with Meyer are simple: Will his style translate to the NFL, and can he tamp down his control-freak tendencies enough to keep from self-destructing? If the answer to both is yes, he has a chance. The Texans should feel familiar to Meyer, insofar as they’re like a collegiate homecoming opponent. Houston is without question the NFL’s worst and most dysfunctional franchise at present time, and neither one of those things figures to change in the near future. The Deshaun Watson situation is a mess in every way, and everything about the Texans feels off and wrong. It makes you feel bad for Tyrod Taylor, who gets another chance to start but in a hellish situation.

On the spot: Jaguars QB Trevor Lawrence Lawrence’s play will determine whether Meyer’s tenure as an NFL coach is a short-term failure or a long-term success. He has the tools, but can he lift up a woebegone franchise the way previous generational prospects like Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning did? Only time will tell.

Texans QB Tyrod TaylorIt’s up to Taylor, a solid, unspectacular player, to keep the Texans from becoming a complete laughingstock. He’ll keep them in their share of games, but will he have enough to actually win more than a handful?

The Pick: Jaguars 26 Texans 16

10 of 16


Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

TV: FOX        Line: Seattle -2.5

What you need to know:  Jamal Adams got his big deal and now the Seahawks must hope that his play matches his payday. Seattle’s biggest problem down the stretch last year wasn’t its defense, however. It was their offense suddenly going cold against quality defensive teams in the season’s final three games, even though they won all three. That was a harbinger of things to come, as the Rams bounced them in the Wild Card round with a Herculean defensive effort. Seattle is still very much a team that will go as far as Russell Wilson takes them, so whatever issues plagued them down the stretch can’t be repeated. The Colts reunited Frank Reich and Carson Wentz this offseason, trying to recapture the magic they produced in 2017, but it’s fair to wonder if Wentz will be able to recapture his form from that season. Wentz was truly terrible for Philadelphia last year, leading the league in interceptions despite playing in just 12 games. If he gets his act together, the Colts could be a serious AFC contender. If not? The quarterback search begins anew in Indy.

On the spot: Seahawks QB Russell Wilson.  Wilson’s line occasionally betrayed him last year, but his drastic decline in the second half of the season was partly his own doing, the byproduct of holding onto the ball for too long and trying to do too much. Perhaps the switch from Brian Schottenheimer to Shane Waldron at offensive coordinator will cure what ailed Wilson.

Colts QB Carson Wentz: In many ways, Wentz’s issues in Philadelphia last year mirrored Wilson’s. He held onto the ball too long and took too many sacks and threw too many interceptions as a result. The problem for Wentz was that he never had the electric first half that Wilson did. He’s got a fresh start, but can he take advantage of it?

The Pick: Seahawks 27 Colts 23

11 of 16


Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

TV: CBS        Line: Kansas City -5.5

What you need to know:  How far the Browns have come. In one season, Kevin Stefanski took a talented group of underachievers and turned them into an 11-5 team that made the playoffs, overcame COVID-related adversity to throttle the Steelers at Heinz Field, before nearly knocking off Kansas City in the divisional round. Cleveland went to great lengths to upgrade their defense this offseason, and if those moves pay off, and Baker Mayfield takes another step forward, the Browns might stand as Kansas City’s biggest threat in the AFC. The Chiefs overhauled an offensive line that cost them dearly in the Super Bowl, and they went big with their changes. General Manager Brett Veach will have a new starter at each spot on the line, and so far, all the messaging out of Kansas City has been (predictably) positive. That line will need to be great because the Chiefs’ defense looks like it is trending in the wrong direction. That said, having to win shootouts isn’t as intimidating a thought when your team boasts the best quarterback on the planet.

On the spot: Browns S John Johnson. Johnson was Cleveland’s biggest-name free agent signing this offseason, and he’ll be counted upon to lead a secondary that is otherwise rich with potential, but rather light on results thus far.

Chiefs T Orlando Brown Jr:  Brown is not thought of as an elite athlete, and he’ll make the switch to the left side in Kansas City after playing right tackle for the Ravens. He’ll be tested by one of the best pure athletes in the league, Myles Garrett, right off the bat.

The Pick: Chiefs 35 Browns 31

12 of 16

MIAMI AT NEW ENGLAND (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)

MIAMI AT NEW ENGLAND (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

TV: CBS        Line: New England -3

What you need to know:  Tua Tagovailoa is very much the man now in Miami. Ryan Fitzpatrick won’t be looking over his shoulder anymore, which could help Tagovailoa, but there’s also no safety net for the franchise if things go bust. Last season could be brushed off as a player still recovering from a major injury trying his best to acclimate to the speed of the NFL game, but the truth is that Tagovailoa looked like a checkdown-happy player who might not have been ready for what he was thrown into. Miami will have to hope that an offseason of work has him better equipped to handle things both mentally and physically. Mac Jones beat out Cam Newton for the starting job in New England, and then Bill Belichick went and left no doubt by cutting Newton. That puts plenty of pressure on Jones to perform, but he does have a few things in his corner; namely, Belichick’s acumen and what should be a very strong defense. Jones looked sharp in the preseason, and while it is unreasonable to expect him to look like Tom Brady, if he takes care of the football, New England will be a tough out.

On the spot: Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa. Miami must take the training wheels off Tagovailoa this season; there’s no doubting his pure ability, particularly if his hip is fully healed, but the Dolphins need him to be their best player this season, not a bystander.

Patriots QB Mac JonesThis game and really this season in the AFC East will be a tale of two former Alabama stars. Jones played understudy to Tagovailoa with the Crimson Tide, but he might be in the better situation in the pros. Everyone around the Patriots has raved about him so far; when the lights go on, will he stay within himself?

The Pick: Patriots 20 Dolphins 16

13 of 16

GREEN BAY AT NEW ORLEANS (Game in Jacksonville) (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)

GREEN BAY AT NEW ORLEANS (Game in Jacksonville) (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)
Mark Hoffman / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via Imagn Content Services, LLC

TV: FOX        Line: Green Bay -3.5

What you need to know:  Well, it certainly was an interesting offseason for the Packers. Awkward is probably a better descriptor. Aaron Rodgers clearly wants out and wants this season to be his final one with the Packers, and it probably will be. The reigning MVP is absolutely good enough to end things with a Super Bowl, as the Packers were a play here and there from beating Tampa Bay in the NFC Championship Game. Most of the same skill cast returns, and Randall Cobb is back as a peace offering to Rodgers. David Bakhtiari isn’t, however, and the Packers will be without their All-Pro left tackle for at least six games. New Orleans finally begins life without Drew Brees, but having a former number one overall pick take over isn’t the worst thing in the world. The big question, of course, is whether or not Jameis Winston will be a changed man under Sean Payton’s tutelage. Winston is plenty good enough to put up monster numbers, but interceptions – in large quantities – have always dogged him. If Payton can unlock all the talent and leave the baggage behind, New Orleans’ offense should be one of the league’s most explosive.

On the spot: Packers LT Elgton JenkinsJenkins will be making his first-ever NFL start at left tackle in this game, and one imagines that Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan will be very excited at the prospect of avoiding Bakhtiari and instead facing Jenkins.

Saints QB Jameis WinstonWinston picked New Orleans before last season because he felt it was the best situation for him. He’ll have a chance to prove himself right this year; can he fix his chronically poor decision-making enough to do it? It’s up to Payton to put him into advantageous situations.

The Pick: Packers 27 Saints 24

14 of 16

DENVER AT NY GIANTS (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)

DENVER AT NY GIANTS (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

TV: FOX        Line: Denver -3

What you need to know:  It’s Teddy Bridgewater’s job to lose for the Broncos, and while Bridgewater has a reputation as one of the league’s more conservative passers, he has the kinds of weapons that could make even the most gun-shy quarterback want to open things up. Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler are electrifying talents, Hamler in particular, and the Broncos have the kind of defense that would make any quarterback feel a little bit bolder about taking shots downfield. Daniel Jones may not have star running back Saquon Barkley at his disposal in this game, which would be a big blow to the Giants’ chances. New York will have to find a way to contend with Von Miller and Bradley Chubb in this game, and Andrew Thomas’ struggles at left tackle have New York fans on edge. Jones has occasionally flashed top-drawer skills, but unless the Giants can shore up everything happening around him, he’ll be set up for failure. This will be Jones’ third season as a starter, so if a leap forward is going to happen, this would be the year. Though, to be fair, he took a clear step backward last season.

On the spot: Broncos LT Garett BollesBolles went from one of the most-maligned offensive linemen in the entire league to a stud at left tackle for Denver last year. How did it happen? Let’s just say that officials refusing to call holding might have been cited as a major factor in Bolles’ success. He’ll have to prove that last year was no fluke.

Giants LT Andrew ThomasThomas was truly wretched in a preseason game against the Patriots, and he has to be good this season. If he struggles, not only will Jones take hits, but evaluating him for the long term will be nearly impossible for New York’s front office.

The Pick: Broncos 23 Giants 14

15 of 16

CHICAGO AT LA RAMS (Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET)

CHICAGO AT LA RAMS (Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET)
C. Morgan Engel-USA TODAY Sports

TV: NBC        Line: Los Angeles -7.5

What you need to know:  Andy Dalton is in fact QB1 for Chicago. And Bears fans aren’t happy about it. Can you blame them? Dalton, if protected, is a better-than-average quarterback. He’s also not Justin Fields. The Bears made a bold move to go up in the first round and get Fields, so it’s understandable why fans would be anxious to see him do his thing. That said, with Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey looming on the other side, perhaps it’s better to put Dalton out there instead. Wouldn’t want to spook Fields in his very first game, right? Los Angeles is a trendy pick to win the NFC, based mostly on the fact that Donald and Ramsey are still around, and Jared Goff is not. Goff was exiled to Detroit in a trade that brought Matthew Stafford, one of the most purely gifted arms in the league, over to the Rams. Football junkies are understandably excited to see what a player of Stafford’s talents can do in Sean McVay’s offense. If everything clicks, all the preseason hype about the Rams might prove to be justified.

On the spot: Bears QB Andy DaltonDalton has had a very confident attitude towards the entire quarterback derby in Chicago, and there will be no better way for him to quiet Bears fans than by starting fast and leading the Bears to a good start. He’s struggled with pressure his whole career, so this game should be quite the litmus test.

Rams QB Matthew Stafford Jared Goff was (rightly) seen as a product of Sean McVay’s schemes. Stafford was (perhaps rightly) seen as a great talent held back by existential franchise dysfunction in Detroit. If that latter thought is proven true, he’ll be a dark-horse MVP candidate.

The Pick: Rams 26 Bears 12

16 of 16

BALTIMORE AT LAS VEGAS (Monday, 8:15 p.m. ET)

BALTIMORE AT LAS VEGAS (Monday, 8:15 p.m. ET)
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

TV: ESPN        Line: Baltimore -4

What you need to know:  The Ravens are about to put to the test the old “scheme or players” theory when it comes to their offense. J.K. Dobbins is done for the year, as are Gus Edwards and Justice Hill. Le’Veon Bell has been signed to the practice squad, and will likely be on the 53-man roster very soon. Lamar Jackson is still around, which is what really matters, but Dobbins was a difference-maker independent of scheme. At this point, Bell is a guy whose best chance at success would be as part of a running back job share, which is what Baltimore will have to go with. The Raiders’ problem is on the other side of the ball; the offensive weapons are there in Las Vegas, but the defense is a mess, and the Raiders just waived linebacker Tanner Muse, who had been taking starter reps throughout camp. The House That Gruden Built is once again only half done, and in a talent-rich AFC West, having just one side of the ball taken care of isn’t going to cut it.

On the spot: Ravens QB Lamar Jackson.  Not only do the Ravens have to replace their top three running backs now that Gus Edwards is done for the year with a torn ACL, but they also will need to score even more points, because corner Marcus Peters also went down with a torn ACL. That means more pressure on Jackson than ever before. 

Raiders TE Darren WallerThe Raiders surely won’t stop Baltimore, so they’ll have to win a shootout. To that end, Waller will be a huge factor. If he can shred his former team over the middle of the field, Las Vegas will have a chance to make a great first impression in their first regular-season game in front of their new Vegas fan base.

The Pick: Ravens 31 Raiders 28

Chris Mueller is the co-host of The PM Team with Poni & Mueller on Pittsburgh's 93.7 The Fan, Monday-Friday from 2-6 p.m. ET. Owner of a dog with a Napoleon complex, consumer of beer, cooker of chili, closet Cleveland Browns fan. On Twitter at @ChrisMuellerPGH – please laugh.

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