Gregg Rosenthal will predict every game of the 2020 season, and he promises to get them all right. Check out the Week 1 picks below.
Thursday, Sept. 10
Kansas City Chiefs 41, Houston Texans 30
8:20 p.m. ET (NBC) | Arrowhead Stadium (Kansas City, Mo.)
Andy Reid saves up a few tricks for the opener. Over the last three years in Week 1, the Chiefs scored 42 in Foxborough, 38 in Carson, and 40 in Jacksonville. There’s no reason to think that trend won’t continue while facing a secondary that is too similar to the group that gave up a 50-burger in the playoffs eight months ago — and is now minus its best cornerback, Gareon Conley.
For the Texans to keep up, their returning young players need to step into starring roles, from wideout Will Fuller to safety Justin Reid to J.J. Watt’s promising new tag-team partner, Charles Omenihu. Deshaun Watson can even be included in this group. Fresh off his new contract, who’s going to tell Watson that he can’t jump another tier to challenge Patrick Mahomes as the NFL’s best quarterback? Watson will have to be the better QB on Thursday night, because he has a lot less support.
Sunday, Sept. 13
Philadelphia Eagles 20, Washington Football Team 10
1 p.m. ET (FOX) | FedExField (Landover, Md.)
After a tumultuous first offseason as Washington’s coach, Ron Rivera can look at his defensive line and smile. This group — led by rookie Chase Young — could be as talented as any that Rivera coached in Carolina. Washington is well-equipped to test the Eagles’ reconfigured offensive line, which includes Jason Peters now back at left tackle. That could keep this game ugly close for a while, but Rivera is unfortunately a defensive coach in an offensive league. Second-year quarterback Dwayne Haskins is surrounded by the shakiest collection of talent in football, especially the left side of his offensive line.
New England Patriots 23, Miami Dolphins 17
1 p.m. ET (CBS) | Gillette Stadium (Foxborough, Mass.)
The Tom Brady era didn’t end against the Titans in the playoffs. It ended when the Fighting Floreses stole the Patriots’ bye with a win in Foxborough the week prior. Bill Belichick won’t take this Dolphins team lightly, and it’s safe to expect a lot of surprises from both coaches after spending August in hiding. That could include some extreme option football by Cam Newton and some use of Tua Tagovailoa as a change-up by the Dolphins against a Patriots defense which is awfully thin up front. In a potential battle of ground games, the Patriots have a better backfield, offensive line and, remarkably, a better running quarterback than the Dolphins’ 2019 leading rusher, Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Minnesota Vikings 23, Green Bay Packers 20
1 p.m. ET (FOX) | U.S. Bank Stadium (Minneapolis)
The Packers have had a strong offensive line for so long that it’s taken for granted. That may no longer be the case after Bryan Bulaga’s departure — and a series of injuries — scrambled the right side. The Vikings’ pass rush will also be shorthanded without Danielle Hunter for at least the first three weeks of the season, but new arrival Yannick Ngakoue’s speed should show up on the home turf Sunday. Minnesota’s zone-running game should also match up well against a Packers defense that puts six defensive backs on the field more than any other team. This result wouldn’t exact revenge for the Monday nighter that decided the NFC North late last season, but it would be a terrific way for the Vikings to establish themselves as the most balanced team in a balanced division.
Indianapolis Colts 27, Jacksonville Jaguars 24
1 p.m. ET (CBS) | TIAA Bank Field (Jacksonville, Fla.)
I picked the Colts to win the Super Bowl because that is a fun thing to root for. The Jaguars have one of the youngest, most untested rosters in football, especially on defense. Yet it’s hard for me to see the Colts — or most any team — as a huge favorite on an initial weekend of football with so little precedent. The games are probably going to be ugly and strange for a while, and I expect a lot of “huh?” results in September, like Philip Rivers needing a last-minute touchdown to avoid a Week 1 defeat in Jacksonville. This time, he doesn’t throw a pick!
Detroit Lions 28, Chicago Bears 27
1 p.m. ET (FOX) | Ford Field (Detroit)
Matt Patricia didn’t succeed the last two seasons fitting his inherited Lions defensive talent into his scheme. So he’s imported half of the former Patriots defensive roster in a quest to improve to average, because average is all that he may need with a deep, veteran group of offensive talent led by Matthew Stafford. On paper, this is a forgiving first test for Mitchell Trubisky’s final chance in Chicago. The Lions’ defense loathes blitzing, doesn’t have many pass rushers and mostly waits for opponents to mess up. Trubisky has shown he will usually comply, even if it comes after a game with a surprising amount of offense that leaves Bears coach Matt Nagy torn once again about what to do next.
Las Vegas Raiders 27, Carolina Panthers 21
1 p.m. ET (CBS) | Bank of America Stadium (Charlotte, N.C.)
No team is a bigger mystery in Week 1 than the Panthers. There’s no way to know what first-year head coach Matt Rhule’s offense looks like and the team’s defensive coaching staff and ragged roster beyond the front four is an even bigger question mark. It’s strange that the young Jon Gruden Raiders are the squad with the continuity. Their awesome offensive line provides Derek Carr a high floor to work from, with Las Vegas’ heavy personnel likely to wear down the Panthers in the Charlotte heat.
Buffalo Bills 22, New York Jets 9
1 p.m. ET (CBS) | Bills Stadium (Orchard Park, N.Y.)
The last time we saw Sam Darnold, he put up three points in the first three quarters of a Week 17 game in Buffalo against the Bills’ backups. Now the Jets return to Buffalo to face a defense that returned all of its key players, while reloading up front with Mario Addison, rookie A.J. Epenesa and underrated super sub Quinton Jefferson. It’s a difficult matchup for the Jets. No team relies more on short passing and no defense is better at patiently waiting out mistakes, especially with football’s best coverage linebacker duo in Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds.
Baltimore Ravens 33, Cleveland Browns 30
1 p.m. ET (CBS) | M&T Bank Stadium (Baltimore)
Can Baltimore run it back? It’s one of the questions of this NFL season, one that comes with a high degree of difficulty. The Ravens not only fielded one of the best offenses in NFL history — they did it with a style that runs counter to most league trends. Entering a season hoping to be 90 percent of what you were a year ago is an awkward place to be, one that the Browns don’t have to worry about. Can Cleveland possibly squander all this talent again? That’s the Browns’ existential question. With an improved offensive staff ready to take advantage of football’s best backfield (Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt) and a suddenly deep tight end group, the answer should be no. A tight loss for Cleveland would be a moral victory, if such a thing is possible in the stadium that Art Modell built.
Atlanta Falcons 24, Seattle Seahawks 23
1 p.m. ET (FOX) | Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Atlanta)
Slow starts have plagued Pete Carroll and his former assistant, Dan Quinn. There’s no telling how an actual plague-like virus will impact that, but one of them gets to start 1-0 on Sunday. This will be our first peek at whether the Seahawks have any interest in letting Russ cook with a higher volume of throws earlier in games this season, and whether Carroll finally moves off his base defense of three linebackers after a strong camp by expected nickel corner Marquise Blair. The Falcons hope their defensive improvement under coordinator Raheem Morris late last season carries over, with an ideal first matchup to do so. This reconfigured Seahawks offensive line looks like birdseed for Grady Jarrett, Takk McKinley and sneaky-good free-agent pickup Dante Fowler Jr.
Cincinnati Bengals 20, Los Angeles Chargers 17
4:05 p.m. ET (CBS) | Paul Brown Stadium (Cincinnati)
Derwin James’ season-ending injury puts the spotlight on Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. Bolts backers like to blame the team’s defensive struggles last year solely on Philip Rivers’ interceptions, but the Chargers were way too talented — even without James for all but five games — to finish 25th in defensive efficiency. They often stay too vanilla, even against rookie quarterbacks — like Joe Burrow. The Bengals now have the talent to run the three-wide sets coach Zac Taylor insisted on last season, and Burrow is just swaggy enough to start his legend with a home-underdog victory.
San Francisco 49ers 23, Arizona Cardinals 20
4:25 p.m. ET (FOX) | Levi’s Stadium (Santa Clara, Calif.)
Now that Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury has four wide receivers worth playing, it’s worth wondering if he’ll go with four wide on the field most of the time. That will present a contrast with the 49ers, whose projected top wideouts Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk are iffy for Week 1 because of injuries. These are two teams that were allergic to throwing the ball deep last year, but even a banged-up 49ers squad is better suited to win a game dominated by short grabs and big runs. Keep an eye on 49ers’ backup tight end Jordan Reed, who could change the dynamic of Kyle Shanahan’s offense early in the season.
New Orleans Saints 31, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27
4:25 p.m. ET (FOX) | Mercedes-Benz Superdome (New Orleans)
There has been a lot of focus on Tampa Bay’s running back situation because of Leonard Fournette scrambling fantasy drafts, but it’s mostly a waste of hot takes. The Bucs were dead last in percentage of first-half runs last year, and that was with Jameis Winston at quarterback. Do you think Bruce Arians will suddenly be about that life with Tom Brady behind center?
In a battle of teams with beaucoup playmakers, it should be easier for Drew Brees to find the right mismatch than it will be for Brady. The Saints’ secondary has talent and continuity that can nearly match its offense, while the Bucs’ young defensive backs still must prove last year’s stretch run was no fluke.
Los Angeles Rams 31, Dallas Cowboys 28
8:20 p.m. ET (NBC) | SoFi Stadium (Inglewood, Calif.)
This game features two offenses with plenty of talent, continuity and track records of success. But the Cowboys have all the hype. That could change after Sunday night, especially when Al and Cris watch what Dallas’ offensive line looks like without right tackle La’el Collins. The once-proud Cowboys line is down to two difference-makers and three potential liabilities. It’s not like the Rams’ line is any better, but their offense looks deeper than it did a year ago with rookie wideout Van Jefferson making noise and two quality tight ends to test the Cowboys’ shaky secondary. The Rams would love to have fans in the house to open up their new stadium, but an upset win over America’s Team will have to suffice.
Monday, Sept. 14
Pittsburgh Steelers 26, New York Giants 21
7:10 p.m. ET (ESPN) | MetLife Stadium (East Rutherford, N.J.)
Daniel Jones made a lot of plays against pressure last year, and he will have to do so again in the opener. The Steelers are one of the few teams that hit — and hit often — during training camp. They have a veteran defense primed to repeat as one of the best pass-rush groups in the league, especially now that Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt are healthy together. I’m curious how Jason Garrett’s offense looks with an underrated collection of talent, but I’m less curious about what Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham’s unit looks like. With a talent-poor group on the back end, Big Blue’s defense is at a disadvantage weekly until proven otherwise.
Tennessee Titans 22, Denver Broncos 17
10:20 p.m. ET (ESPN) | Empower Field at Mile High (Denver)
I was all ready to pick the Broncos in this game. Altitude! Vic Fangio shut the Titans out in Denver last year! Drew Lock is the new Jay Cutler! Then Von Miller was lost, possibly for the season, and I lost my nerve. Bradley Chubb is coming off a torn ACL and hasn’t practiced fully in weeks. If the Titans have a weakness offensively, it’s Ryan Tannehill taking sacks. That shouldn’t be as big of a concern against this Broncos group. If this Denver defense has a weakness, it’s stopping the run. That’s a problem with Derrick Henry coming to town to wrap up Week 1 in style. We made it, people.
Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal
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