Cleveland Browns (11-5) at Kansas Chiefs (14-2)
Time: 4:25 p.m.
Line: Chiefs by 6 (54.5)
The skinny: This is a rematch of last year’s divisional-round playoff battle at Arrowhead, won by KC 22-17 en route to earning its second straight AFC title.
Facts: The Browns have had a gory history on opening weekends since their reincarnation in 1999, going 1-20-1 (6-15-1 ATS). Included is last year’s 38-6 defeat in Baltimore and a 43-13 home loss to Tennesse in 2019 as a 5.5-point pick. That’s the most lopsided beating for such a heavy favorite the past two seasons. Kansas City QB Patrick Mahomes likely will be operating behind three offensive linemen who have never started a regular-season game before. The Browns, who have been outscored every regular season since 2007, were the only playoff team with a minus point differential last year at negative-11.
Ten years ago, though, the Giants won the Super Bowl
despite a minus-6 margin. The only time in the Mahomes era that KC didn’t score in double digits was in its 31-9 Super Bowl loss to Tampa Bay in February.
Analysis: Two remarkable streaks collide for the Chiefs: Last year they set an NFL record with their fourth consecutive 4-0 start to a season. On the other hand, teams coming off a championship game loss typically have the proverbial Super Bowl hangover, going 5-16 in openers since 2000.
One of the losses was by coach KC coach Andy Reid’s Eagles in 2005 as a 1-point favorite at Atlanta. So he should know better now how to handle the situation. Although Cleveland QB Baker Mayfield performed well on the playoff stage last season on the road, fans were limited. This time, the Browns might not be prepared to deal with the capacity Arrowhead crowd, one of the noisiest in the league. Plus, Mahomes probably won’t be leaving the game this time with an injury like he did last season.
Forecast: Chiefs 34, Browns 21
Denver Broncos (5-11) at NY Giants (6-10)
Time: 4:25 p.m.
Line: Broncos by 3 (41.5)
The skinny: QB Teddy Bridgewater makes his Denver debut as the Broncos open the season with the first of two straight road games for the first time since 2003. Jacksonville is next.
Facts: Denver is a favorite for the first time since 2019. All other teams were the betting choice at least once in 2020. The Giants opened 0-5 last year for the third time since 2013, the most for any team in that span. … The Broncos were 3-2 two time zones away back East last season, including a 37-28 victory over the NY Jets in the Meadowlands. Closer to home they were 2-9, including 2-6 at Mile High.
New York’s Daniel Jones, entering his third season at QB, is 8-18 as a starter. And his top weapons aren’t 100 percent: Top WR Kenny Golladay is probable (hamstring), starting TE Evan Engram is doubtful (calf) and standout RB Saquon Barkley still isn’t 100 percent after last season’s knee injury. Plus, Jones will be going against a defense that didn’t allow a TD this summer. Denver pass rush specialist Bradley Chubb is probable but has been wrestling with an ankle injury.
FYI: The Broncos are infamously 0-7 under coach Vic Fangio in September. No surprise there. While defensive coordinator in Chicago from 2015-18, the Bears were 4-10 before October.
Analysis: New York’s attention might not be 100 percent on the Broncos, considering the Giants have a key road game vs. defending NFC East champion Washington on Thursday night. For what it’s worth, last season teams were 10-16 SU/10-14-2 ATS the week before their Thursday outing. Broncos coach Vic Fangio, meanwhile, is desperate to end his early-season dry spell and won’t be concerned with an upcoming division game on short rest. Or long rest.
Forecast: Broncos 24, Giants 14
Green Bay Packers (13-3) vs. New Orleans Saints (12-4)
Time: 4:25 p.m.
Line: Packers by 3.5 (50)
The skinny: The game was moved to Jacksonville from New Orleans’ Superdome in the wake of Hurricane Ida’s devastation in late August.
Facts: In 2005, the year Katrina gashed the Big Easy, the Saints never did play a game in the severely damaged Dome, instead calling Giants Stadium, the Alamodome in San Antonio, and LSU’s Tiger Stadium home. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, last year’s league MVP, grumped all offseason about the team’s management. But it seems he’s a relatively happy camper these days.
New Orleans will be without WR Michael Thomas (ankle surgery) till midseason. Thomas, who set an NFL mark with 149 catches in 2019, also missed nine games last year, yet the Saints averaged 31.8 points in those outings. Of course, that was with Drew Brees at QB. Now it’s Jameis Winston.
Analysis: Winston, who threw 30 INTs in his last full season as a starter with Tampa Bay in 2019, including an NFL record seven pick-6s, surely will be kept under wraps so to speak by coach Sean Payton, who coaxed a 5-0 mark out of Teddy Bridgewater two seasons ago while Brees was hurt. All-purpose RB Alvin Kamara should be touching the ball almost as many times as the center. For Green Bay, it might not be the same fluid attack without two All-Pros along the line, with center Corey Linsley off to the LA Chargers and OT David Bakhtiari injured.
Forecast: Saints 28, Packers 24
Miami Dolphins (10-6) at New England Patriots (7-9)
Time: 4:25 p.m.
Line: Patriots by 3 (43)
The skinny: A pair of national championship quarterbacks from Alabama will start when Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa, in his second year, meets his former backup, Mac Jones, who beat out Cam Newton for a job in New England.
Facts: Miami matched Cleveland with the biggest improvement in victories from 2019 to 2020, going from 5-11 to 10-6. But the Dolphins became the first team since 2015 with that many wins and not make the postseason. Tagovailao was 6-3 as a rookie starter but yanked twice for bullpen help from now-departed Ryan Fitzpatrick.
This season Miami offers Tagovailoa more weapons in rookie WR Jaylen Waddle, a former Alabama teammate, and ex-Texan Will Fuller. In last year’s season opener, also in New England, the Patriots prevailed 21-11. But they were a 7-point choice back then. Coach Bill Belichick’s Patriots have gone 15-2 in openers since 2004. In 2014 Miami beat them 33-20 as a 3-point dog, but NE still went on to win the Super Bowl.
Analysis: This will be a stern test for Tagovailoa, playing on the road against a defense that reloaded in the offseason. And LB Kyle Van Noy, who was let go by Miami after last season, should provide some valuable insight into the Dolphins. Tagovailoa will be strapped by a weak running game behind an equally weak offensive line. Helping the Dolphins thrive last year was the defense’s league-high 29 takeaways last season. They’ll need a few here to get past a Patriots team that gouged them for 217 rush yards in last year’s opener and has a potent TE combo of Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith to help Jones break-in.
Forecast: Patriots 28, Dolphins 21
Chicago Bears (8-8) at LA Rams (10-6)
Time: 8:20 p.m.
Line: Rams by 7.5 (46.5)
The skinny: The Matt Stafford era begins in LA when he quarterbacks against a Bears team he faced twice a year his first 12 years in the league with Detroit.
Facts: Stafford opened at home last year, too, against the Bears. It was a game in which his Lions had the biggest fourth-quarter collapse of the season, losing the game 27-23 after leading 23-6. The Bears’ defense no longer resembles the turnover-causing unit led by Brian Urlacher when Lovie Smith was coach (2004-12), especially their NFC title season of 2006 when Chicago led the league with 44 takeaways. Last year, even with standout QB harasser Khalil Mack, Chicago forced only 18 turnovers. For LA, with RB Cam Akers out, Darrell Henderson and newly acquired Sony Michel will carry the ground load when Stafford isn’t looking for Cooper Kupp, Robert Wood, and ultimate deep threat DeSean Jackson.
Analysis: For now, Chicago’s Andy Dalton, 33, gets the QB nod over first-round draft pick Justin Fields. But if Dalton still had the magic he showed by with Cincinnati while leading the Bengals to five straight playoff berths from 2011-15, he might still be in Dallas. His offensive line is a weak link, too, and will be going against a Rams defense that ranked No. 1 in the league last year behind league defensive MVP Aaron Donald.
Forecast: Rams 27, Bears 10
Baltimore Ravens (11-5) at Las Vegas Raiders (8-8)
Time: 8:15 p.m.
Line: Ravens by 4 (50.5)
The skinny: The Raiders open their new Las Vegas showplace to fans for the first time during the regular season when injury-ravaged Baltimore visits.
Facts: What else can go wrong for the Ravens? Baltimore, which led the league in rushing last season behind QB Lamar Jackson’s 1,000-yard production, no longer has any running backs active from last year’s team with recent season-ending injuries to stars J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards to go with the offseason departure of veteran Mark Ingram.
Ty’Son Williams, undrafted in 2020 and a member of last season’s practice squad, is listed atop the depth chart. The Raiders were 2-6 at home last season, before no fans, matching the most home losses in team history. And LV has a running back issue of its own, with Josh Jacobs questionable as of Friday for an undisclosed reason.
Analysis: Baltimore has had open tryouts for essentially any running back in the unemployment line, and recently added ex-Steelers standout Le’Veon Bell, Devonta Freeman, and Latavius Murray to the mix. But will they have enough time to acclimate to coach John Harbaugh’s system to play this week? Then there are woes at wide receiver, with rookie first-rounder Rashod Bateman dealing with a groin injury. There likely won’t be any fly patterns for him. Plus, star CB Patrick Ramsey also is out. Yikes!
On the other side, Vegas coach Jon Gruden, mega-hyper QB Derek Carr, and the rest of the Raiders won’t be short on adrenaline playing on MNF before the home fans in Vegas for the first time. Fingers crossed though, that Jacobs gets in there.
Forecast: Raiders 24, Ravens 21