As is always the case, the NFL provided plenty of stories and surprises in Week 1. Where to begin? The Steelers, thought an also-ran by most observers outside the 412 and 724, went into Buffalo and suffocated the Bills for a statement win. Cleveland was firing on all cylinders and had Kansas City on the ropes, but melted down in the fourth quarter and came up short – again. Tampa Bay threw a major scare into the defending champs, and Dak Prescott looked dangerous, even if his mobility wasn’t close to 100 percent. Urban Meyer’s tenure in Jacksonville got off to a rough start, while the Bengals shocked the Vikings in overtime. Brian Flores won the “teacher-student” battle against Bill Belichick, and Matthew Stafford validated all the offseason hype in his Rams debut. Oh, and the Ravens and Raiders saved the craziest game of the week for last. A little note, by the way: The AFC and NFC West are a combined 8-0 after one week. Week 2 brings another slate of fascinating matchups, so let’s get to the games.
Point spreads are from DraftKings.com and are current as of 11 a.m. ET Thursday.
NOTE: Pick with spread is in bold.
Last week: 9-7
TV: NFL NETWORK Line: Washington -3
What you need to know: The Giants played approximately 20 minutes of competitive football and then had very little to offer in the way of resistance in their 27-13 Week 1 loss to Denver. Saquon Barkley and the offensive line never gave New York any semblance of offensive balance, and while Sterling Shepard had a big game, he was about the only Giant to show out. Meantime, New York’s defense had no answers for Teddy Bridgewater, who was efficient and effective, becoming the first Denver quarterback since Peyton Manning to complete 75 percent of his passes when attempting 35 or more. Washington lost Ryan Fitzpatrick for six to eight weeks with a hip injury, so it is once again Taylor Heinicke time for the Football Team. Heinicke was efficient in relief against the Chargers, but what remains to be seen is how the offense looks when it is fully his. Heinicke is a good athlete and mobile; will Washington let him take shots and cut loose downfield?
On the spot: Giants RB Saquon Barkley. Barkley was going against a good defense in Week 1, and he’ll see another this week. The Giants will need a whole lot more than 27 yards from scrimmage from their star to avoid an 0-2 start.
Washington Football Team QB Taylor Heinicke: Heinicke impressed in his playoff start against the Buccaneers last year, and now he’ll get a chance to show Ron Rivera that he deserves the starting job, even when Fitzpatrick gets healthy.
The pick: Washington Football Team 23 Giants 13
TV: FOX Line: Chicago -2.5
What you need to know: Few teams had a better first week than the Bengals, and few players were more impressive than Ja’Marr Chase. Chase’s preseason butterfingers were a distant memory, as he and Joe Burrow teamed up to torch the Vikings for 101 yards and a touchdown on five catches. Joe Mixon ran for 127 yards, but it wasn’t all sunshine for Cincy. Burrow still got sacked five times, and while both tackles were sturdy, center Trey Hopkins allowed two sacks, per Pro Football Focus. That has to improve, or Burrow won’t last long. The Bears are going to have to resist the temptation to immediately jump to rookie Justin Fields. Andy Dalton offered very little against the Rams, and trying to keep Fields’ role minimal to “protect” him is a cowardly strategy. Dalton couldn’t get much of anything going against a talented defense, and Fields would provide not only excitement for fans (and probably much of the Bears’ locker room) but also an added dimension for other defenses to consider.
On the spot: Bengals LT Jonah Williams. Williams figures to see a lot of Khalil Mack in this matchup. If Mack sees a lot of Joe Burrow, the Bengals will be in a world of hurt, literally and figuratively.
Bears HC Matt Nagy: Tick-tock, tick-tock. How long will Nagy stick with Andy Dalton as the starter, despite everyone in the Chicagoland area clamoring for Fields? If Fields really isn’t quite ready, that’s one thing. If Nagy is being overcautious, that’s another altogether.
The pick: Bengals 24 Bears 20
TV: CBS Line: Cleveland -12.5
What you need to know: Well, the Texans won’t go 0-17, and deserve some credit for delivering a command performance in the face of plenty of offseason turmoil and arguably the lowest expectations in the league. Tyrod Taylor was very sharp in his return to a starting role, and the Texans took full advantage of Trevor Lawrence in his NFL debut, intercepting him three times and jumping out to a 27-7 lead at halftime. The going will be much tougher this week; managing a second-straight upset will take a monster effort across the board. The Browns have a test this week. They are doubtless disappointed with the way the Chiefs game got away from them late, but Kevin Stefanski and his team need to put that behind him and focus on all the things they did well. What’s more, they need to prevent a hangover on the field; the Texans shouldn’t be able to stop Cleveland’s running game, and there could be big shots available for Baker Mayfield in the passing game.
On the spot: Texans QB Tyrod Taylor. Once upon a time not too long ago, Taylor was the Browns’ starter, but his tenure there was uninspiring enough that he gave way to Mayfield. He’ll no doubt be playing for a measure of revenge. Will he be patient even if Houston falls behind early?
Browns QB Baker Mayfield: Mayfield had a chance to make a huge statement with a late, game-winning drive against the Chiefs. Instead, he threw a game-ending interception. and a terrible one at that. Don’t be surprised if Stefanski puts the ball in his hands early and often in this one.
The pick: Browns 31 Texans 21
TV: FOX Line: Los Angeles -3.5
What you need to know: Matthew Stafford had a smashing Los Angeles debut, not just statistically – 20-of-26, 321 yards, and three touchdowns – but aesthetically, too. Stafford’s second pass went for a 67-yard touchdown to Van Jefferson, and he chucked another bomb for a score to Cooper Kupp. More than the deep balls, Stafford showed an ability to rifle intermediate throws that Jared Goff never possessed. Stafford also torched a good defense; this week he’ll have to try to do the same thing on the road. Carson Wentz’s stats looked good against Seattle, but the Colts were out of the game for virtually the entire fourth quarter. More concerning is the way that Indianapolis had no answers for Russell Wilson. Wilson carved up Indy with deep shots, averaging 10 intended air yards per attempt, the highest in the league in Week 1, and Chris Carson racked up 66 yards after contact on the ground. Frank Reich’s team will be staring at 0-2 if they don’t shore up their coverage and tackling, and fast.
On the spot: Rams DT Aaron Donald. Yes, Donald was still wrecking the Bears’ game plan, with a sack and five hurries, but he had a few missed tackles, and by his lofty standards was merely very good, not great. He’ll also have a powerhouse matchup with Colts guard Quenton Nelson.
Colts G Quenton Nelson: Donald was number two on the NFL Top 100 for 2021, a list voted on by the players. Nelson was number 33, and the top-ranked offensive lineman. Need I say more?
The pick: Rams 26 Colts 14
TV: FOX Line: Buffalo -3.5
What you need to know: The Bills came into their season opener with sky-high expectations, only for those to come crashing back to earth, at least for a week, after a 23-16 loss to Pittsburgh. The Steelers’ defense ruled the day, particularly Cam Heyward, who generated 11 hurries, per Pro Football Focus, and was PFF’s highest-graded defensive player in the entire league for Week 1. The interior of Buffalo’s line got caved in, and it was clear that Josh Allen was off his game as a result. Miami triumphed over New England thanks to a very timely Damien Harris fumble that short-circuited a New England drive that seemed destined to give the Patriots a lead late in the fourth quarter. Tua Tagovailoa ran and threw for a touchdown, but he still wasn’t very dynamic down the field. He did start to develop a connection with his former Alabama teammate Jaylen Waddle, something that will have to continue if the Dolphins’ offense is to grow.
On the spot: Bills G Jon Feliciano. Feliciano got worked over by Heyward all game long, which created problems for Allen and sack opportunities for other Steelers defenders. Christian Wilkins and the rest of Miami’s defensive front will be another test.
Dolphins WR Jaylen Waddle: Waddle showed some dynamic run-after-catch ability against the Patriots, and he’s going to need to put that on display again this week, as Tagovailoa continues to try and grow within the Dolphins’ system.
The pick: Bills 26 Dolphins 23
TV: CBS Line: New England -6
What you need to know: Mac Jones couldn’t get over the hump in his first real game, though that’s probably more on Damien Harris’ late fumble than it is anything else. The Patriots have to be largely happy with Jones’ performance, and that of their defense; really everything but the final score went New England’s way. The Patriots need this win because dates with the Saints and Buccaneers loom, and if the Jets pull an upset, 0-4 is a real possibility. Zach Wilson’s debut wasn’t horrible, but wasn’t particularly great, either. He threw for two touchdowns but couldn’t get anything going until late in the third quarter, and the 19-14 final wasn’t indicative of how lopsided the game was. His job won’t get any easier, either. Not only does he have Bill Belichick’s defense to contend with, but starting left tackle Mekhi Becton will miss 4-6 weeks after arthroscopic knee surgery.
On the spot: Patriots RB Damien Harris. Harris would have been the star of the game for New England, with 100 yards rushing on 23 carries, except the last one ended up being a game-deciding fumble. Knowing Bill Belichick, if Harris fumbles one more time, he might not see the field for weeks.
Jets HC Robert Saleh: Saleh’s defense is going to have to do a number on Jones and win a low-scoring game; Wilson can’t yet be counted on to put up big numbers. If New York can’t hold the Patriots under 20 points, winning is likely out of the question.
The pick: Patriots 27 Jets 17
TV: FOX Line: San Francisco -3
What you need to know: The season is one week old and already the 49ers are racked with injury problems. Raheem Mostert will be gone for eight weeks because of chipped cartilage in his knee, and corner Jason Verrett is done for the year with a torn right ACL. The Niners were already thin at corner, with Emmanuel Moseley missing Week 1. While Kyle Shanahan’s system is plug-and-play with running backs, it is harder to find ready-made replacements in the secondary. That could spell trouble, with Jalen Hurts looking sharp for Philadelphia in Week 1. The Eagles got DeVonta Smith on track right away, with six catches for 71 yards and a touchdown. Even more heartening for Philly was the fact that Jalen Hurts had a big game and looked polished with his arm and dangerous with his legs. Atlanta’s defense is not very good, which should be noted, but that shouldn’t take anything away from Hurts’ performance.
On the spot: 49ers RB Elijah Mitchell. Mitchell stepped in when Mostert got hurt and had 104 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. San Francisco still has options, including rookie Trey Sermon, a Week 1 healthy scratch, but Mitchell will have a chance to take the ball and run with it.
Eagles T Jordan Mailata: Mailata just signed a 4-year, $64 million extension last Saturday, and with Nick Bosa looming, he’ll have a chance to prove his worth. If he can handle Bosa, Hurts has a chance to put up big numbers yet again.
The pick: 49ers 27 Eagles 26
TV: FOX Line: New Orleans -3.5
What you need to know: No team turned in a more shocking performance in Week 1 than the Saints, who harassed Aaron Rodgers into one of the worst games of his career, and saw Jameis Winston play one of his best, with five touchdown passes. It stands to reason that Winston might have to do a little more heavy lifting in this one – he only attempted 20 passes against Green Bay – but there’s also no reason to believe he can’t handle it. Having Alvin Kamara and an attacking, suffocating defense also doesn’t hurt. The Panthers got Sam Darnold a win in his first start, as he hooked up with his old Jets teammate Robby Anderson for a long touchdown to give Carolina a 9-0 lead. Darnold looked more dangerous and comfortable than he ever did with the Jets, which makes sense because he never had a weapon like Christian McCaffrey in New York.
On the spot: Saints LB Kwon Alexander. The Saints’ entire team will be tested by McCaffrey, but if Alexander can take him away, particularly in the passing game, then New Orleans’ task becomes much easier, and Darnold’s much harder.
Panthers QB Sam Darnold: It’s probably fair to say that, history with the franchise aside, Darnold had an easier Week 1 opponent than most quarterbacks. That isn’t the case in this game. He’ll have to up his play significantly to both deal with New Orleans’ defense, and keep pace with Winston.
The pick: Saints 30 Panthers 23
TV: CBS Line: Denver -6
What you need to know: The Broncos lost Jerry Jeudy for 4-6 weeks because of a high ankle sprain, but the injury looked like it could have been much worse at first blush. Teddy Bridgewater was cool and confident against the Giants, and if he’s able to perform like that more often than not, Denver will be a tough out. Everything worked for the Broncos against New York, and Bridgewater’s legs were also a positive attribute. Though Jeudy got hurt, Denver has plenty of other pass catchers, not to mention an extremely disruptive defense. The Urban Meyer era got off to a rough start, with the Jaguars falling way behind lowly Houston, and Trevor Lawrence putting plenty of rookie mistakes on tape to go with some sparkling moments. Lawrence had plenty of time to throw – 2.67 seconds on average, per NFL Next Gen Stats – and tried to be aggressive, averaging 8.4 intended air yards per attempt, but pushing the ball downfield comes with a downside; he’s going to make mistakes. Probably lots of them.
On the spot: Broncos HC Vic Fangio. Fangio has an important decision to make this week; should Bradley Chubb play if his health is right on the border? Chubb missed Week 1, and his long-term availability is paramount, so Fangio will have to weigh things carefully if the situation comes down to the wire.
Jaguars HC Urban Meyer: You had to know it was coming. The USC job came open, and Meyer was asked about it. He offered a pretty emphatic denial, but one wonders how a man who rarely loses is going to handle plenty of it at the pro level. Here’s a guess; not well.
The pick: Broncos 27 Jaguars 13
TV: CBS Line: Pittsburgh -6.5
What you need to know: Las Vegas finally had fans at Allegiant Stadium, and they certainly forced them through the gamut of emotions on Monday night. The Raiders dug themselves a 14-0 hole, climbed all the way out, forced overtime, appeared to have the game won, then lost, only to actually win it after Carl Nassib forced a pivotal fumble. Nassib, Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue were the story against Baltimore, torturing the Ravens’ offensive line and generally making Lamar Jackson’s life miserable without actually having to blitz. Like Las Vegas, Pittsburgh got a surprise Week 1 win thanks to a phenomenal pass rush. Cam Heyward was a monster, T.J. Watt had two sacks, and Melvin Ingram and Alex Highsmith helped to torture Josh Allen all game long. If the Steelers are able to get anywhere near that same kind of consistent pressure on Derek Carr, the Raiders will be in trouble.
On the spot: Raiders C Andre James. Heyward destroyed the interior of the Bills’ line, and with starting guard Denzelle Good done for the year, James will have added pressure on him to make sure that Carr doesn’t face constant pressure up the middle.
Steelers S Minkah Fitzpatrick: Jon Gruden was engaging in hyperbole – I think – when he called Darren Waller the best player he’s ever coached, but it’s no stretch to say that Waller (19 targets in Week 1) is a top-three tight end in the league. No one can stop him fully, but Fitzpatrick seems a likely candidate to try and slow him down.
The pick: Steelers 28 Raiders 24
TV: FOX Line: Arizona -3.5
What you need to know: Perhaps no team save the Packers flopped quite like the Vikings in Week 1. Minnesota needed a late rally just to force overtime in Cincinnati, and then a Dalvin Cook fumble not only ended what looked like it might be a game-winning drive, but it also launched the Bengals’ decisive march. Minnesota essentially got a mulligan on the game because the rest of the NFC North lost, but Mike Zimmer’s team delivered a sloppy, uninspiring performance. Chandler Jones singlehandedly destroyed the Tennessee Titans, piling up five sacks and abusing both Titans' tackles equally in a 38-13 Cardinals win. Not only was Jones great, but the Cardinals also got a very encouraging command performance out of Kyler Murray, who threw for four touchdowns and ran for another. If Murray is starting to make a leap forward, and Jones keeps doing what he’s doing to anchor the defense, the Cardinals should have what it takes to hang in the rugged NFC West.
On the spot: Vikings RT Brian O’Neill. O’Neill just signed a lucrative contract extension, and he figures to see plenty of Jones on Sunday. Jones won with speed on most of his sacks, and O’Neill is a lean, athletic player. If he can slow Jones down, Kirk Cousins should be able to put lots of points on the board.
Cardinals LB Isaiah Simmons: Jones got all the headlines in Week 1, but Simmons’ matchup with Dalvin Cook, particularly in the passing game, figures to be one of the most important aspects of this contest. If he wins the battle, the Cards will likely win the game.
The pick: Cardinals 33 Vikings 26
TV: FOX Line: Tampa Bay -12.5
What you need to know: Atlanta looked awful against Philadelphia in Week 1, and that’s about as kind as I’m capable of being. The Falcons were listless from the start, barely touched Jalen Hurts all game, and were incapable of doing anything significant on either side of the ball. The defense wasn’t necessarily expected to be good, but the offense putting up only six points was an embarrassment. If Matt Ryan, Calvin Ridley, and Kyle Pitts can’t win some shootouts, that quiet preseason optimism about the Falcons will vanish and fast. Tampa Bay was sloppy against a very game Cowboys team in Week 1. There is an argument to be made that the Bucs didn’t deserve to win. That they did is a commentary on – what else – Tom Brady’s incredible knack for game-winning drives. The real star for Tampa might have been Vita Vea, however. He looked like a disruptive force on virtually every snap he took. That’s a big problem for Tampa’s opponents.
On the spot: Falcons QB Matt Ryan. Ryan was facing pressure, yes, but what on earth was that? He’s got some weapons around him, even without Julio Jones around, but an entire game without a completion over 18 yards isn’t going to cut it. Not even close.
Buccaneers WR Mike Evans: Antonio Brown and Chris Godwin had big days, but Evans had just 24 yards on three receptions against Dallas. If he can get himself going while Brown and Godwin stay hot, Tampa’s offense will be nearly unstoppable.
The pick: Buccaneers 38 Falcons 20
TV: CBS Line: Los Angeles -3.5
What you need to know: Dak Prescott delivered a gritty, top-shelf performance against the Buccaneers in the season opener. It may not have been a moral victory, but many observers came out of the game feeling like the Cowboys’ chances of winning the NFC East were actually better on account of Prescott’s play. However, Dallas already has a major injury to deal with, as DeMarcus Lawrence will miss six to eight weeks with a broken foot. Lawrence is Dallas’ best defensive player, so it is a potentially huge loss. The Chargers got a big win over the Washington Football Team, which is nothing to sniff at, considering the quality of Washington’s defense. Justin Herbert wasn’t spectacular, but he made big plays when the Chargers needed them, and Los Angeles never really let Washington’s offense get into a real rhythm, with the exception of one long touchdown drive to start the second half.
On the spot: Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott. This spot could have gone to Micah Parsons, who will have step up even more on defense, but Elliott was barely a factor in Dallas’ game plan against Tampa. The Cowboys need to find a way to get Elliott more involved, and he needs to produce when that happens.
Chargers LT Rashawn Slater: Slater was a monster against Washington in Week 1, posting a 79.9 PFF pass-blocking grade, and neutralized Chase Young for virtually the entire contest. He might end up having to deal with Parsons at times if Dallas chooses to move him around and occasionally use him as a pass rusher.
The pick: Chargers 30 Cowboys 24
TV: CBS Line: Seattle -6
What you need to know: The Titans stunk. There’s no nice way to put it. They were listless offensively, had no answer whatsoever for Chandler Jones, and worst of all, seemed to abandon many of the things that made their offense so special under Arthur Smith, namely play-action passes. Ryan Tannehill was 1-of-2 for 39 yards on play-action throws against Arizona, a criminally low number of attempts for a quarterback who established himself as one of the most lethal play-action passers in the league over the last two seasons. Seattle had no trouble taking the top off the Colts’ defense, with Russell Wilson routinely striking downfield, and often finding Tyler Lockett at the other end of his passes. Shane Waldron’s time as offensive coordinator already seems to be going well, with some analysts noting that he was routinely scheming Seattle’s receivers open, something former coordinator Brian Schottenheimer rarely did. If Waldron can get the most out of Russell Wilson for a full season, the Seahawks will be a good candidate to make a serious run in the NFC.
On the spot: Titans OC Todd Downing. Hey Todd, see the words about play-action passes up there? You might want to consider heeding them. Just a thought.
Seahawks LB Jordyn Brooks: The Seahawks made Brooks their first-round pick in 2020 largely because they loved how physical he was and how downhill he liked to play. He’ll need every bit of that high-speed thumping ability against Derrick Henry.
The pick: Seahawks 31 Titans 27
TV: NBC Line: Kansas City -4
What you need to know: Baltimore’s offensive line is a mess. Alejandro Villanueva was used as a turnstile by Maxx Crosby and the rest of the Raiders’ defensive front and left tackle Ronnie Stanley wasn’t much better. Everything the Ravens do offensively is predicated on sound blocking, but if they can’t protect Lamar Jackson when he does drop back to pass, their complicated run schemes won’t matter much. John Harbaugh can’t be happy with what he saw, and with Tyre Phillips already lost for the season, things might go from bad to worse. The Chiefs got lucky against Cleveland. The Browns melted down, both on offense and special teams, and gave away a game it looked like they had won. Actually, “lucky” probably isn’t a fair term. Patrick Mahomes made a preposterous throw for a touchdown, then followed that up with another march for a score, and Chris Jones was a big reason that Cleveland’s offense went from excellent to incompetent. Either way, the Chiefs are 1-0 and still very much kings of the AFC.
On the spot: Ravens T Alejandro Villanueva. Villanueva turned in one of the worst performances by a tackle that you’ll ever see, but since the Ravens have virtually nothing behind him, his only option is to get better on the fly. Ronnie Stanley is likely out, so Villanueva might move back to his natural left tackle spot. Will it help, though?
Chiefs TE Travis Kelce: Kelce and Mahomes had to be licking their lips when they saw what Darren Waller did to the Ravens’ defense. There is every reason to believe that Kelce might match that level of production, or even exceed it.
The pick: Chiefs 35 Ravens 27
TV: ESPN Line: Green Bay -11.5
What you need to know: This week, Monday Night Football pits the Lions against a team that merely played like the Lions in Week 1. Detroit, to their credit, tried to stage a late, completely insane rally against the 49ers, primarily thanks to San Francisco’s Deebo Samuel giving them a big assist, but for the majority of that game, they were completely outclassed. To make matters worse, Jeff Okudah was lost for the season with a ruptured Achilles; a brutal blow for a player many felt was starting to make big strides in his second season. Green Bay, on the other hand? Who knows what’s going on there. At least the Lions are just a run-of-the-mill bad football team. Aaron Rodgers can just chalk it up to having a bad game – “one of those days” or something like that – but given the ugly offseason he went through with the team, it’s fair to wonder just how invested Rodgers is in the idea of going all-out to get the Packers to the promised land this season.
On the spot: Lions RB D’Andre Swift. Lions quarterback Jared Goff loves to check the ball down; this much we know. In Swift, he may have found the perfect complement to his style. The Lions will need them to be huge in this game.
Packers QB Aaron Rodgers: Hey, uh, Mr. Reigning MVP? What in the world was going on with that performance in Jacksonville? Packers fans everywhere would love to know.
The pick: Packers 30 Lions 17
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.