The NFL’s regular season is here. Let’s go.
Here are previews for Thursday’s lid-lifter and Sunday’s card.
Carolina at Denver: The last teams we saw play a meaningful NFL game are at it again at Mile High, where oddsmakers are giving the defending champs only so much respect despite homefield advantage. Trevor Siemian will get his first career start against a revenge-minded Cam Newton, who will have top receiver Kelvin Benjamin back, albeit on a snap limit.
Tampa Bay at Atlanta: The Falcons have won their season opener each of the last two years and started off 5-0 under Dan Quinn before the bottom fell out last season. The Bucs swept last year’s season series despite Matt Ryan throwing for a diabolical 666 yards in the losses, completing 20 passes to Julio Jones. Despite all the production, both games went under the posted total as Atlanta’s seemingly season-long trend of stalling out in the red zone foiled it in both losses.
Minnesota at Tennessee: It’s unlikely that Sam Bradford will be up to speed enough to start over Shaun Hill here, but Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer wasn’t in a rush to make a decision and likely won’t tip his hand before kickoff. Although there’s renewed optimism in Nashville due to Marcus Mariota’s development and talented rookies Derrick Henry and Tajae Sharpe emerging this preseason, the Titans have won a single home game in each of the past two seasons and are 3-19 over their last 22 at the recently renamed Nissan Stadium. Minnesota was 6-2 on the road last season.
Cleveland at Philadelphia: It’s hard to come up with a good reason why the Eagles are sending Carson Wentz out there to start his first NFL game despite missing so much of the preseason with a fractured rib, but they’re going the baptism by fire route with the No. 2 pick. Chase Daniel could’ve gotten the call, but the Eagles look to begin the Doug Pederson era with a big splash. Their best chance at a win will be spoiling old friend Robert Griffin III’s Browns debut thanks to a defense that looked active and capable all of August.
Cincinnati at N.Y. Jets: After coming to terms with Ryan Fitzpatrick following a well-publicized contract dispute, there’s pressure on New York to make the most of its veteran roster by breaking through and reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2010, when they came up a win shy of the Super Bowl. The Bengals know a thing or two about pressure themselves and are eyeing at least a playoff win. In the short term, they’ll be eyeing how well A.J. Green is moving after knocking knees in the preseason.
Oakland at New Orleans: Inconsistent offensive line play means Drew Brees will have to get the ball out quickly against Khalil Mack and the aggressive Raiders defense. The Saints are 6-2 in their last eight home openers under Sean Payton, but lost last season against Tampa Bay as Brees left with an injured throwing shoulder. Oakland won its first road opener since 2011 last season and is certainly on the upswing under Jack Del Rio, adding veterans like Bruce Irvin and Sean Smith to this year’s defense.
San Diego at Kansas City: The Chargers are hoping Melvin Gordon bounces back from a disappointing rookie effort and Keenan Allen can pick up pre-injury to help Philip Rivers pick up an offense that sputtered due to attrition. Alex Smith threw eight TD passes to Jeremy Maclin last season in finally establishing chemistry with a wide receiver in the red zone, so the Chiefs are looking to take another step forward despite it appearing unlikely that Jamaal Charles will be active to open the season. Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West should again fill his void.
Buffalo at Baltimore: Rex Ryan went 8-8 in his debut season with the Bills, spoiling his old team’s bid to make the playoffs in Week 17 to reach .500. Former Ravens backup Tyrod Taylor, armed with a shiny new contract extension, will try and have a happy return to M&T Bank Stadium, where the Ravens are also hoping improved health can deliver a return to glory. Joe Flacco will be playing his first game since tearing his ACL and MCL in Week 11 last season. The Ravens were 3-7 in his starts last season.
Chicago at Houston: J.J. Watt will play in the season opener after passing his physical and returning to practice on Monday, so the Texans hope to hit the ground running with him anchoring the defense and new QB Brock Osweiler picking the offense’s level up a few notches. The Bears are hoping to take a step forward in year two under John Fox, so this season opener should be fueled by desperation as both teams try and get off to a strong start.
Green Bay at Jacksonville: Jordy Nelson’s return and a slimmer Eddie Lacy has the Packers thinking Super Bowl again, especially since Aaron Rodgers appears poised to bounce back from a down season. For the Jaguars, this is a great measuring stick game to see just how ready they are to compete in the seemingly wide open AFC South. Blake Bortles has the weapons to turn this into a shootout.
Miami at Seattle: This is the only double-digit spread we’re seeing in Week 1, since Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins looked slow to pick up the offensive wrinkles new coach Adam Gase is attempting to install. The Seahawks are a perfect 6-0 in home openers under Pete Carroll and haven’t lost one since 2008. Russell Wilson appeared to be in midseason form during his exhibition appearances, and it isn’t likely the Seahawks will miss Marshawn Lynch too much.
N.Y. Giants at Dallas: Rookie Dak Prescott will start for the injured Tony Romo in this key NFC East clash, since every win the Cowboys can pick up without their normal starter will be a huge bonus. A number of defenders are also out due to suspension, but Eli Manning and the Giants offense looked brutal during the preseason. Oddsmakers are seeing this one as a pick’em.
Detroit at Indianapolis: The Colts are hoping Andrew Luck’s rough season was just an aberration, but the offensive line’s poor showing throughout August is cause for major concern. Detroit looks vulnerable in its first game without Calvin Johnson, but is capable of pulling off a surprise here.
New England at Arizona: Similar to how the Cowboys are attempting to stay afloat without Romo, the Patriots begin a four-game run without the suspended Tom Brady, but find themselves as an underdog in a potential Super Bowl preview. Jimmy Garropolo will face an aggressive defense that should be the best he’ll run into as he fills in for the face of the franchise.