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Here is a close look at five of Sunday’s early NFL games in Week 1: NY Jets at Carolina, Minnesota at Cincinnati, San Francisco at Detroit, Jacksonville at Houston, and Seattle at Indianapolis.

And with regard to weather, only heat and humidity should be an issue.

(All times EDT; point spreads/totals provided by FanDuel; last year’s regular-season records in parentheses)

NY Jets (2-14) at Carolina Panthers (5-11)

  • Time: 1 p.m.
  • Line: Panthers by 4.5 (44.5),

The skinny: New Carolina QB Sam Darnold, who replaces departed Teddy Bridgewater, will face the team that just unloaded in his first start for the Panthers.

Facts: Darnold, the third overall pick by NYJ  in the 2018 draft, has been lambasted for his 13-25 record in his Jets stint. NYJ, though, was 0-10 without him. New York’s new QB, rookie Zach Wilson out of BYU, threw only 30 passes in his lead-up to the season after playing a less-than-rugged schedule last year during the pandemic. Carolina gets back sensational RB Christian McCaffrey, who missed 13 games last season with various injuries. And in the air game, the Panthers were one of three teams to have a pair of 1,000-yard receivers: Robby Anderson and D.J. Moore. Jets rookie coach Robert Saleh, the 49ers’ DC last season, takes over for fired Adam Gase. Online sites show Saleh has the youngest roster in the league.

Analysis: Carolina seems well-stocked offensively and should torment the largely inexperienced Jets and have enough defensive talent to slow a New York team that was outscored by 214 points last year, the worst margin in the league since 2009. NYJ also has had the worst offense (yards gained) in the league the past two years. History indicates that having the youngest roster is bad news in the short term, for over the past decade no team in that situation has had a winning season. Maybe next year for the J-E-T-S.

Forecast: Panthers 31, Jets 13

Minnesota Vikings (7-9) at Cincinnati Bengals (4-11-1)

  • Time: 1 p.m.
  • Line: Vikings by 3 (47.5)

The skinny: Cincinnati QB Joe Burrow is scheduled to return to the lineup after suffering a major knee injury last season that knocked him out in Week 11.

Facts: The Bengals were lost without Burrow last year, generating less than 200 yards of offense in three of the six games he missed. No other team had that many such games all year. In season openers under coach Mike Zimmer, the Vikings are 5-2 SU/ATS, but they did lose at home to Green Bay last year, 43-34, also as a 3-point favorite. Key performers RB Dalvin Cook, WR Justin Jefferson and safety Harrison Smith are full-go. Cincinnati RB Joe Mixon is back after missing 10 games to injury last season yet still led the team in rushing with 428 yards. He had 1,000-yard seasons in 2018-19.

Analysis: Steam was coming from the ears of coach Mike Zimmer after last year’s largely dismal showing, especially on defense. His squad should respond, this week at least, and score enough to subdue a Bengals team that likely will reduce the playbook to keep Burrow out of danger in his first action since November.  

Forecast: Vikings 27, Bengals 16

San Francisco 49ers (6-10) at Detroit Lions (5-11)

  • Time: 1 p.m.
  • Line: 49ers by 7.5 (44.5)

The skinny: High-strung Lions coach Dan Campbell and new QB Jared Goff make their Detroit debuts against a 49ers team that looks to rebound from a 6-10 season that came on the heels of its 2019 NFC title season.

Facts: While with the Rams last season, Goff had the worst game of his 2020 season (based on passer rating) in a home loss to the 49ers at a 7-point choice, 23-20. San Fran’s Jimmy Garoppolo returns as the starting QB after suffering a severe high ankle sprain that cost him 10 games last year.  Detroit has had some horrific teams in recent decades, including the 0-16 team of 2008, but no team in franchise history allowed as many yards per game (419.8) and points (519) as last year’s squad, which finished last in the league in both categories. The fabled Bobby Layne Curse must be working overtime.

Analysis: San Francisco briefly showed off a two-pronged QB attack this summer, alternating Garoppolo and first-round pick Trey Lance (questionable)  of North Dakota State. But that’s probably not going to happen Sunday since Lance has an injured finger. Plus, he was only 19-for-41 in exhibitions against largely backups. TE George Kittle and RBs Raheem Mostert and impressive rookie Trey Sermon should have their way here. As for the Lions, good grief! Star OLT Taylor Decker is questionable (finger) and first-round draft pick Penei Sewell reportedly has been getting pushed around by backups. And TE T.J. Hockenson (shoulder) and RB D’Andre Swift are questionable (groin).

Forecast: 49ers 30, Lions 17

Jacksonville Jaguars (1-15) at Houston Texans (4-12)

  • Time: 1 p.m.
  • Line: Jaguars by 3 (45.5)

The skinny: Trevor Lawrence, the No. 1 pick in the 2021 draft, gets the opening-day start for Jacksonville against a Houston team that’s been in disarray all offseason and through camp.

Facts: The teams’ collective .156 winning percentage from last year isn’t the worst in the history of openers. That happened in 1940 (.053) when Pittsburgh, 1-9-1 a year earlier, faced the Chicago Cardinals (1-10). Appropriately, they tied 7-7. Tyrod Taylor was finally named Houston’s starting QB over incumbent Deshaun Watson. Rookie head coach David Culley was Taylor’s position coach at Buffalo four seasons ago when Taylor guided the team to the playoffs, ending with a 10-3 loss to the Jaguars. Watson, coming off a soap opera offseason,  is embroiled in sexual assault lawsuits by a bevy of massage therapists and still demanding a trade. Jacksonville took a gut punch in late August when RB Travis Etienne, the 25th overall pick in the draft, suffered a season-ending foot injury. The Jags will now rely more heavily on James Robinson, a 1,070-yard rusher last season.

Analysis: Taylor, 32, isn’t some stiff the Texans are plugging in until they get to next year’s draft. He has a 24-21-1 career mark as a starter and was the LA Chargers No. 1 guy in Week 1 last year before his bizarre season-ending lung injury. He’ll be facing a Jaguars team, led by another rookie coach, Urban Meyer, that gave up a franchise-high 492 points last season but which signed more than a dozen free-agent the defenders this offsesaon. A key for any success the Texans might have this season is the addition of DC Lovie Smith, who preaches turnovers. That will come in handy for a team that had a league-low nine last year. Lawrence had better hold that ball tightly. Or else.

Forecast: Texans 20, Jaguars 16

Seattle Seahawks (12-4) at Indianapolis Colts (11-5)

  • Time: 1 p.m.
  • Line: Seahawks by 3 (50.5)

The skinny: A pair of teams that were vanquished in the first round of the playoffs last season meet with questions remaining about who wlll start at QB for Indianapolis. 

Facts: Through six games last season Seattle’s defense was on path to shatter the NFL record for most yards yielded per game, held by the orginal Baltimore Colts in 1950 (450.2), But after giving up 478 a game through October, the Seahawks’ norm was only 322 the final 10 games, which over the course of a full season would have ranked sixth best. Indy coach Frank Reich says his new QB, Carson Wentz, whose summer was clouded by foot surgery and COVID quarantine, “will be on the field” Sunday. What does that mean exactly? Seattle and standout OLT Duane Brown ended their contract stalemate by meeting halfway. He’ll start vs. the Colts.  

Analysis: QB Russell Wilson and the Seahawks will be working against an Indianapolis defense that had four games with five-plus sacks last year, which should have his attention since he went down 47 times last season, third most in the league. At least with Brown in the fold, he can feel a little more secure. As for the Colts, if Wentz has to go into quarantine again or damages his foot at some point, his backup is second-year QB Jacob Eason. His next snap will be his first in the pros. Indy isn’t worth the gamble.

Forecast: Seahawks 26, Colts 17 

Next Up

Cleveland at Kansas City, Miami at New England, Green Bay vs. New Orleans, Denver at NY Giants, Chicago at LA Rams, and Baltimore at Las Vegas.

About the Author
Bob Christ

Bob Christ

Bob Christ, based in New Mexico, has been a gaming writer (primarily the NFL) for almost four decades, with his work appearing in publications/websites across North America. He's a big fan of the Arkansas Razorbacks, Philadelphia's Eagles and Phillies, and inexplicably the NHL's Winnipeg Jets.

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