With hopes that interruptions are few due to COVID-19, the NFL kicks off Thursday night as Kansas City hosts Houston. 32 teams — one goal — advancing to, and winning, Super Bowl LV next February.
It’s customary to make Super Bowl predictions at the start of a new season and it’s always easy to make a case for the betting favorites and/or teams that made the playoffs the previous season. But I’m taking a different tact this season and going with a pair of teams that did not make last season’s playoffs.
I was impressed with how Atlanta finished last season, playing to save coach Dan Quinn’s job by winning its final four games to finish 7-9 after a 1-7 start. QB Matt Ryan and WR Julio Jones are proven performers and the defense played well over the second half of the season.
We have released our first depth chart of the 2020 season.— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) September 7, 2020
With no adequate backup in place Pittsburgh’s season effectively ended when starter Ben Roethlisberger was lost for the season in Week 2. The Steelers still managed an 8-8 season with an outstanding defense that compensated for weak QB play.
Going well off the beaten track my forecast is for 50-1 Atlanta to defeat 25-1 Pittsburgh in Super Bowl LV.
This will be perhaps the most unusual opening week, if not entire season, in NFL history. Without any preseason games, teams are going from practicing in pads to full speed and full contact ahead.
Browns at Ravens -7.5: Cleveland’s not received its normal hype leading into a season as in recent years and that may be a positive. The Ravens look to shake off the effects of an early playoff exit for a second straight season.
As if they needed further motivation, Baltimore can also point to its last 2019 regular season loss, a 40-25 beating by the Browns on this field in Week 4. It was obviously their worst defensive effort all season and they did exact revenge in the rematch. QB Lamar Jackson also seeks to shake off the effects of how last season ended. RAVENS
Seahawks -2.5 at Falcons: Both teams have top tier quarterbacks and coaches who’ve let their teams to Super Bowls. Seattle has been very consistent since Pete Carroll arrived in 2010.
His former defensive coordinator, Quinn, coaches Atlanta. The Falcons rallied behind their coach, saving his job last season by closing the season with four straight wins to finish 7-9 after a 1-7 start. That momentum could carry over and give the Falcons the opportunity to make amends for their blown Super Bowl a few years ago. It starts here. FALCONS
Bears at Lions -3: Mitchell Trubisky has been named starting QB but may be on a short leash before Nick Foles steps in. Trubisky had limited college experience when he was drafted second in 2017 and has developed slowly. He’s a mistake prone QBs who could struggle early.
Detroit QB Matthew Stafford was having a strong 2019 until a back injury ended his season after Week 8. Often criticized for a poor record against winning teams, it’s rarely just a QB’s fault. Stafford’s poised to pick up where he left off, leading an offense that was potent prior to his injury. LIONS
Packers +3 at Vikings: Coach Matt LaFleur’s debut with Green Bay was a success with QB Aaron Rodgers playing all 16 games and leading the Pack to a 13-3 record, including a sweep of the Vikings. Minnesota has been a yo-yo under its coach, Mike Zimmer, alternating improvement and decline of between two and five games each season. That pattern suggests a decline from last season’s 10 wins.
Rodgers has excelled in late-game heroics throughout his career and rates a solid edge over Minnesota QB Kirk Cousins. The fact U.S. Bank Stadium won’t have its usual raucous crowd doesn’t hurt Green Bay’s cause. PACKERS
Cowboys -3 at Rams: Once again there’s expectations for Dallas to finally have that big season. New coach Mike McCarthy inherits a potent offense and talented defense.
The Rams seemed to shrug off their Super Bowl loss with a 3-0 start last season but were unable to sustain that momentum, finishing 9-7. Coach Sean McVay remains highly regarded although roster turnover presents a challenge. Yet getting QB Jared Goff back on track remains the top priority.
Both teams have much to prove this season. The lack of a normal preseason could mean McCarthy needs a few games to become fully comfortable with his talent. RAMS
Titans Pick‘em at Broncos: Both teams are on the rise with the Titans ahead of the Broncos after last season’s success in the playoffs.
Denver’s challenge is the continued development of QB Drew Lock, who took over late and led Denver to a 4-1 finish, losing only to Super Bowl champion Kansas City. Denver’s defense remained a strength under defensive oriented first season coach Vic Fangio.
New Tennessee DE Jadeveon Clowney may need time assimilating into the defensive scheme. One key will be how the Titans handle the mile-high altitude with stamina a question after no preseason games having been built up. BRONCOS