Each week during the NFL season, Bob Christ will provide pregame capsules Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.
Below is a look at Thursday’s annual prime-time kickoff to the season and four of the early Sunday games.
(All times EDT; point spreads/totals provided by DraftKings; last year’s regular-season records in parentheses)
- Time: 8:20 p.m.
- Line: Bucs by 8.5 (51.5)
The skinny: Tampa Bay and Tom Brady begin their quest for a second straight Super Bowl title in prime-time against a Cowboys team that hasn’t gone past the divisional round since the 1995 season.
Facts: Dallas QB Dak Prescott, who did not participate in preseason action, returns to the lineup after his grotesque ankle fracture/dislocation in Game 5 last season. He also had right shoulder issues this summer. … The last time Brady faced Dallas, in cold, wet, windy weather while with New England in 2019, he was 17-for-37 for 190 yards in a 13-9 Patriots victory, his worst completion percentage (46.95%) the past three sesaons…in the Super Bowl era, defending champs are 0-3 when facing Dallas in their opener. … Location, location, location: In TB’s eight-game win streak to end the 2020 season, it started 14 drives in enemy territory. Foes had one such close-range starting point.
Analysis: Despite one Dallas defender suggesting the relatively immobile Brady could be rendered less great by the Cowboys, it will be covered-with-rust Prescott who’s up against the odds. He’ll face a pass rush that was tied for fourth in the league with 48 sacks last season and returns everyone. Plus, assuming he does have time to throw, how effective will he be vs. a pass defense that gave Drew Brees, Patrick Mahomes, and Aaron Rodgers their worst games of the 2020 season (based on passer rating)? Not to mention, over the past two years TB’s rush defense has allowed the fewest yards per game and yards per carry. That’s bad news for Dallas RB Zeke Elliott, who seemed a step slow last season. It won’t help that six-time Pro Bowl guard Zack Martin is listed as out (COVID).
Forecast: Bucs 34, Cowboys 17
- Time: 1 p.m.
- Line: Bills by 6.5 (48.5)
The skinny: This is one of two Week 1 meetings between 2020 division winners, including Green Bay’s matchup with New Orleans.
Facts: In Week 14 last year when these team met in Buffalo, the Bills won 26-15 as a 2-point pick, holding Pittsburgh to its lowest point total of the season. Buffalo QB Josh Allen, second in league MVP voting last season, will team with WR Stefon Diggs again after he led the league in catches and receiving yards last season. But watch the injury report. At midweek, Diggs was listed as questionable (knee). Will Steelers LB T.J. Watt play? The 2020 sack leader (15) spent the summer moping about not having a contract extension. Even if he does play, he could be limited since he hasn’t had contact all summer.
Analysis: Last season the Steelers had league-worst averages of 84.4 yards rushing yards a game and 3.6 yards a carry. And in the wake of that, three starting offensive linemen from that team totaling 17 Pro Bowls are gone. Pittsburgh drafted Alabama’s Najee Harris in the first round this spring to help out, but he didn’t dazzle this summer, averaging 3.2 yards on 13 carries. Plus, 39-year-old QB Ben Roethlisberger averaged a career-low 6.3 yards a pass in 2020 and could be running for his football life behind the rebuilt line. Bills Nation should enjoy the afternoon.
Forecast: Bills 28, Steelers 13
- Time: 1 p.m.
- Line: Titans by 3 (52.5)
The skinny: The Titans will be looking to shake COVID issues that affected players and coaches for extended periods this summer in their opener against the Cardinals.
Facts: Tennessee added seven-time Pro Bowl WR Julio Jones from Atlanta to join 1,000-yard receiver A.J. Brown this season, but both are listed as questionable (Jones, undisclosed; Brown, knee). Listed as out are the Titans’ starting center and right guard. QB Ryan Tannehill will play, but missed a good amount of time dealing with COVID protocols. Arizona QB Kyler Murray led the Cardinals to seven games of 30-plus points last year, including five straight at midseason. They’ll be facing a defense that ranked in the bottom five in yards allowed in 2020. No other playoff team finished in the bottom 10.
Analysis: Two-time Titans rushing champ Derrick Henry will certainly get his yards, but if the Cardinals closely studied the Titans’ playoff loss to Baltimore last season, when he was held to 40 yards on 18 carries, maybe he’ll have an ordinary day. He suffered in that game when the Titans’ were short on receivers and the Ravens could focus on him. That could be the case Sunday. On the other side, Arizona’s Chandler Jones is back (19 sacks in 2019) after missing last season, and will be joined by ex-Texans star J.J. Watt. They should thrive against the Titans’ beleaguered offensive line.
Forecast: Cardinals 24, Titans 17
Time: 1 p.m.
Line: Football Team by 1 (44)
The skinny: Washington will be looking to defend its unlikely NFC East championship while the Chargers aim to get off to a fast start under its new coach.
Facts: Rookie LA sideline boss Brandon Staley comes over from the Rams after working as DC for the league’s top-ranked defense last year. Only five years ago, he was an assistant coach at John Carroll University. After using four starting QBs last season, Washington acquired vet Ryan Fitzpatrick from Miami. He was one of six QBs last year who had three-plus games with a passer rating of 130-plus. The other five finished ranked in the top eight on the passer chart; hot-and-cold Fitzpatrick was 17th. From 2018-20, rookie bosses have a record of 1-12-1 SU in their debut when facing an experienced sideline boss, 4-10 ATS. … FYI: The Chargers were 1-3 back East in 2020, 0-2-2 ATS.
Analysis: If Fitzpatrick can avoid INTs, such as last year’s opener when he had three in a loss to New England, Washington should fare well behind second-year RB Antonio Gibson and sly WR Terry McLaurin. The Chargers have Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert back along with RB Austin Ekeler, but wll be facing one of the league’s most dynamic defenses led by DE Chase Young, the Defensive Rookie of the Year. Herbert no doubt will have his head on a swivel since ORT Bryan Bulaga, the line’s only holdover from 2020, is questionable for Sunday with a hip flexor issue. Star center Corey Linsley and first-round pick Rashawn Slater also were questionable midweek.
Forecast: Football Team 23, Chargers 17
- Time: 1 p.m.
- Line: Falcons by 3 (48)
The skinny: For the first time in seven years, a pair of rookie coaches will make their debuts against each other in Week 1: Philadelphia’s Nick Sirianni and Atlanta’s Arthur Smith. (Jacksonville and Houston will have a similar matchup.)
Facts: The Eagles will be trying to become the sevetnh NFC East team the past 10 years to win the division a season after finishing last. Washington did it last year. Atlanta will be relying on retread Mike Davis at RB. But the passing game QB Matt Ryan has standout Calvin Ridley to replace Julio Jones and TE Kyle Pitts, their first-round draft pick. Philadelphia gave up a league-high 65 sacks last season, but a chunk of the blame falls on inuries that saw three-time Pro Bowlers Lane Johnson (ORT) and Brandon Brooks (ORG) miss the bulk of the season last year. They’re back.
Analysis: The Eagles’ defense, spearheaded by six-time Pro Bowl DE Fletcher Cox (questionable, groin), will be going against a shaky Falcons line that’s missing standout center Alex Mack (salary cap departure). And play along the line is one of the Eagles’ few strengths. If Eagles second-year QB Jalen Hurts can avoid trouble and let DeVonta Smith, last year’s Heisman winner, make plays and not botch handoffs to RB Miles Sanders, Philly should prevail.
Forecast: Eagles 27, Falcons 21