NFL Week 1 Preview: Early Games


Photo Courtesy of Robert Robinson @badasskidsent


Pittsburgh Steelers (0-0) At Cleveland Browns (0-0)



Written by: Jake Leicht


Preview: The Steelers will be marching into Cleveland as the -3.5 point favorite this Sunday. Last season, the Steelers handled the Browns convincingly in week 1. They blocked a punt for a touchdown, and their defense was able to contain the Deshone Kizer-led Browns offense pretty much all day. This year, the game has a much different feel to it. The Browns are coming in with a retooled roster filled with playmakers, while the Steelers are entering the game without one of the best playmakers in the NFL, Le’Veon Bell.


Players to watch: For the Browns, the major question mark is whether or not Josh Gordon will be able to handle a large workload in the passing game. If he is unable to participate in a large number of snaps, rookie receiver Antonio Callaway will have to have a big game game for Cleveland if they are going to win. The Steelers are going to force Tyrod Taylor to throw early and often. The Steelers will have to ask second year running back James Conner to step up in a big way on the ground since Le’Veon Bell will not be playing in the ball game. Defensively, I believe rookie Terrell Edmunds will need to prove his worth, because Todd Haley loves to pick on young secondary players with his playcalling.


Steelers keys to the game:

  • Get to the quarterback

  • Get off the field defensively on third down

  • Test the Browns’ new secondary

Browns keys to the game:

  • Establish a running game

  • Hold Brown to under 100 yards

  • Win the turnover battle

Injury list:

Steelers

  • Vance McDonald, TE, foot (OUT)

Browns

  • James Burgess, LB, concussion (DOUBTFUL)

  • E.J. Gaines, CB, knee (OUT)

Top 5 Fantasy Players

  • Antonio Brown, WR (PIT)

  • Jarvis Landry, WR (CLE)

  • David Njoku, TE (CLE)

  • JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR (PIT)

  • James Conner, RB (PIT)

Prediction: The Browns defense will be much better in 2018. I look for Myles Garrett to get to Ben Roethlisberger early and often. Everyone knows that Big Ben struggles away from home, and I expect him to have a sub-par game this Sunday. If the Browns’ offense can score a few times, I think they can outpace the Steelers. If Le’Veon Bell was playing, I would probably pick the Steelers to win, but him not playing will allow Cleveland to focus on stopping Antonio Brown. If the Browns win the turnover battle, they will win the game.


Final Score: Browns, 20-17



San Francisco 49ers (0-0) At Minnesota Vikings (0-0)




Written by: Jack Bourgeois


Preview: The 49ers and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo are coming to Minnesota riding a five-game winning streak from last season that includes wins over three playoff teams. The Vikings are looking to rebound after losing in the NFC Championship to the Philadelphia Eagles. The team was a win away from the Super Bowl, but the lasting effects of the “Minneapolis Miracle” seemed to linger into the next week and the team was annihilated by the soon to be champion Eagles 38-7. An improved 49ers defense and an upgrade at the quarterback position for the Vikings should amount to the most anticipated matchup of week one.


Players to watch: Obviously, the entire NFL fan base will be interested to see how Kirk Cousins looks in his first regular season game in purple. He’s undoubtedly an upgrade at QB compared to Case Keenum and could be the one that puts the Vikings over the top this year. Dalvin Cook is set to return to action after tearing his ACL early in 2017 and is expected to have a heavy workload in week one. Former Seahawks Richard Sherman and Sheldon Richardson will be debuting for their new teams as well and should make quite the impact for both defenses. With 49ers running back Jerick McKinnon on the IR with a torn ACL, all eyes will be on newly acquired Alfred Morris and second-year UDFA Matt Breida.


San Francisco keys to the game:

  • Establish the run/play-action

  • Give Garoppolo time in the pocket

  • Contain Dalvin Cook on defense

Minnesota keys to the game:

  • Get Cook involved early

  • Pressure Jimmy Garoppolo

  • Don’t let Goodwin get behind the secondary

Injury list:


49ers

  • Erik Magnuson, OL, hamstring (OUT)

  • Dekoda Watson, LB, hamstring (OUT)

  • Malcolm Smith, LB, hamstring (Doubtful)

Vikings

  • Aviante Collins, OT, elbow (OUT)

  • Pat Elflein, C, ankle & shoulder (OUT)

  • Roc Thomas, RB, ankle (OUT)

  • Mackensie Alexander, CB, ankle (DOUBTFUL

  • Xavier Rhodes, CB, hamstring (QUESTIONABLE)

Top 5 Fantasy Players

  • Dalvin Cook

  • Kirk Cousins

  • Adam Thielen

  • Jimmy Garoppolo

  • Stefon Diggs

Prediction: Even though the 49ers have been on a role since Jimmy G has taken the reigns as the team’s signal caller, the Viking defense (especially at home) will be quite the challenge for anyone with only seven starts in the league. There are a lot of unknowns in regards to the 49ers defense, so this forces the prediction to slightly lean towards the Vikings. Minnesota was 7-1 at home last season and now have Kirk Cousins and a healthy Dalvin Cook. This should be enough end Garoppolo’s undefeated streak.


Final Score: Vikings 30-24

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-0) At New Orleans Saints (0-0)





Written by: Joe Carlino


Preview: The season begins for these teams with a divisional matchup in arguably the league’s toughest division. After a disappointing 2017 season, the Buccaneers will be looking to make the most out of the next three weeks with Jameis Winston on the sideline. New Orleans, meanwhile, is still seething from January, when their game against Minnesota ended on the Minnesota Miracle, and they’re looking to bounce back with a statement game.


Players to watch: Look for how the Bucs protect their quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. If the Bucs offensive line can give him time to throw, he can beat you because he’s a very smart player. Running backs will also be the key, as Peyton Barber and Alvin Kamara will be tasked with getting the ground game rolling. On the defensive side, Marcus Williams wants to erase that blunder from January completely off his mind, and what better way than at home against a divisional opponent?


Tampa Bay keys to the game:

  • Protect the quarterback

  • Utilize a now-potent pass rush

  • Securely tackle opponents

New Orleans keys to the game:

  • Get Kamara going early

  • Protect Brees

  • Defense — bend, don’t break

Injury list:


Buccaneer

  • Vita Vea, DT, calf (OUT)

  • Donovan Smith, OT, knee (QUESTIONABLE)

  • Brent Grimes, CB, groin (DOUBTFUL)

  • De'Vante Harris, CB, hamstring (DOUBTFUL)

Saints

  • Andrus Peat, OT, NIR (QUESTIONABLE)

  • Andrus Peat, G, (QUESTIONABLE)

Top 5 Fantasy Players

  • Mike Evans, WR (TB)

  • DeSean Jackson, WR (TB)

  • Alvin Kamara, RB (NO)

  • Drew Brees, QB (NO)

  • Michael Thomas, WR (NO)

Prediction: The NFC South teams predominately play their interdivisional games hard and intense, which usually leads to these games being won in the trenches. The Saints have talent across the board on offense, but this time they will be facing a revamped Bucs defense. Drew Brees is 78-47 in his career at the Superdome and 16-9 against the Bucs. The last time these two teams met in New Orleans, the Saints won 30-10. This game will definitely be closer than that matchup, but you can’t doubt Drew Brees. When he’s hot, you’re going to be burned. I’m going with Brees in a matchup that could ultimately come into play come December.


Final Score: Saints, 21-17


Jacksonville Jaguars (0-0) At New York Giants (0-0)





Written by: Alexander Amir


Preview: The Jaguars and Giants couldn’t have had different 2017 seasons, as the former went on to the AFC Championship Round while the latter had the #2 overall pick thanks to a 3-13 record. This game will feature New York’s star-studded offense against Jacksonville’s vaunted defense. Both quarterbacks, Blake Bortles and Eli Manning, have undergone lots of criticism recently, so they will have a chance to start the season off strong.


Players to watch: The Giants will win if they can establish the run with Saquon Barkley, which would open up play action opportunities. Jacksonville linebackers Myles Jack and Telvin Smith will try and prevent that. Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who bashed Eli Manning last month, and Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. will be engaged in a physical and verbal battle the whole game. New York’s problematic right tackle Ereck Flowers will have to hold his own against star pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue.


Jacksonville keys to the game:

  • Contain Saquon Barkley

  • Exploit the middle of the field on offense

  • Rely on the running game

New York keys to the game:

  • Keep Eli Manning upright

  • Establish the run

  • Shut down Leonard Fournette

Injury list:

Jaguars

  • NONE

Giants

  • Olivier Vernon, OLB, ankle (OUT)

  • Tae Davis, ILB, hamstring (OUT)

Top 5 Fantasy Players

  • Odell Beckham Jr., WR (NYG)

  • Saquon Barkley, RB (NYG)

  • Leonard Fournette, RB (JAX)

  • Evan Engram, TE (NYG)

  • Keenan Cole, WR (JAX)

Prediction: Jacksonville’s defense lets the team be competitive in any game. However, the onus is always on Jacksonville’s offense to put up enough points, and I think new Giants defensive coordinator James Bettcher will put enough pressure on QB Blake Bortles to render him virtually ineffective and make the offense one dimensional. The Giants offense, led by offensive guru Pat Shurmur, won’t be burdened by having to score too many points, but they will have to avoid turnovers. It will be a close, low-scoring affair, but I’m going to go with the creativity of Bettcher and Shurmur.


Final Score: Giants, 16-10


Houston Texans (0-0) At New England Patriots (0-0)




Written by: George Haraktsis


Preview: This week is a rematch of last year’s Week 3 matchup that saw New England edge Houston 36-33. That was Deshaun Watson’s inaugural coming out party that saw the young QB give the Patriots defense fits with both his arms and legs. One year later, both teams are now sporting revamped defenses that should help immensely. Watson is coming back from a torn ACL & has not touched the field since week 8 of 2017. Can he play like the MVP he was for the second quarter of the season? The Patriots still have Tom Brady under center, but the Hall-of-Famer is now without the team’s leading receiver from last year, Brandin Cooks, who had a tremendous 131 yards and two TDs in last years game. Can the Patriots still put up enough points without him?


Players to watch: When Tom Brady is comfortable in the pocket he’s the best quarterback in the league, so Houston’s pass-rushers J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus, and Jadeveon Clowney will have to play big roles to slow him down. Without a deep wide receiving corps, expect Rob Gronkowski to be targeted early and often. Also keep an eye out for James White, who has a great matchup against Houston’s sub-par LBs. Deandre Hopkins is Deshaun Watson’s favorite target and will certainly get his share of passes, so Patriots #1 CB Stephon Gilmore has to be on his A-game this week. Trey Flowers and Adrian Clayborn will have to prevent Watson from running wild all over them again. Don’t sleep on Lamar Miller either, as the Texans need to control the clock and keep the ball out of Brady’s hands. Dont’a Hightower and company will need to snuff this out immediately.


New England’s keys to the game:

  • Protect Brady

  • Contain DeShaun Watson

  • Get Gronk going

  • Utilize mismatches

Houston’s keys to the game:

  • Pressure Brady

  • Expose the lack of WR depth

  • Give Deshaun time

  • Control the clock and keep Pats offense off the field

Injury list:

Texans

  • Kayvon Webster, CB, Achilles (OUT)

  • Will Fuller, WR, hamstring (QUESTIONABLE)

  • Sammie Coates, WR, hamstring (QUESTIONABLE)

  • Keke Coutee, WR, hamstring (QUESTIONABLE)

  • Duke Ejiofor, OLB, hamstring (QUESTIONABLE)

Patriots

  • Sony Michel, RB, knee (QUESTIONABLE)

  • Jacob Hollister, TE, hamstring (QUESTIONABLE)

  • Marcus Cannon, OT, calf QUESTIONABLE)

  • Nate Ebner, DB, knee (QUESTIONABLE)

Top 5 Fantasy Players

  • Tom Brady, QB (NE)

  • DeShaun Watson, QB (HOU)

  • Deandre Hopkins, WR (HOU)

  • Rob Gronkowski, TE (NE)

  • James White, RB (NE)

Prediction: While this will be a great game from start to finish, the Patriots will ultimately come out on top pretty handily. They have issues with their wide receiving corps, but Brady is the best at spreading the ball around and making no-name receivers something. While I do expect the Texans to get to Brady at times with the endless supply of pass rushers they employ, Brady will get the ball out quickly and pick apart Houston’s poor defensive backs. With a completely revamped defense and players progressing from last year, I don’t expect a rusty Deshaun Watson to come back full force. Belichick will make sure Watson is uncomfortable. The Patriots will force Deshaun to stay in the pocket, and I don’t think he handles that too well.


Final Score: Patriots, 31-24


Cincinnati Bengals (0-0) At Indianapolis Colts (0-0)




Written by: Cody Manning


Preview: After a disappointing 2017 season, the Colts and Bengals will be looking to get off to a fast start to avoid falling in a hole. Andrew Luck will see his first regular season action since 2016 and prove his doubters wrong. Marvin Lewis and company are looking to put their past woes to rest by finally putting together a deep playoff run for the first time in the Lewis era.


Players to watch: It will be interesting to see how Andrew Luck handles his first real game action since 2016, as defenses will be playing at full speed with the full playbook. The Colts’ defense will be depending on young stud safety Malik Hooker to help contain A.J. Green and John Ross so they don’t go off. Andy Dalton needs to start off the year with a big game as he finds himself in a make-or-break season as the Bengals’ franchise quarterback. Cincinnati’s defensive leader, Geno Atkins, will need to disrupt Luck’s pocket to make him uncomfortable.


Cincinnati keys to the game:

  • Feed AJ Green

  • Get Mixon going early

  • Don’t let T.Y. beat you

Indianapolis keys to the game:

  • Get Luck going early

  • Protect Luck

  • Defense - bend, don’t break

Injury list:Bengals

  • Cody Core, WR, back (QUESTIONABLE)

Colts

  • Denzelle Good, T/G, knee & wrist (OUT)

  • Anthony Castonzo, OT, hamstring (QUESTIONABLE)

  • Marlon Mack, RB, hamstring (QUESTIONABLE)

Top 5 Fantasy Players

  • A.J. Green, WR (CIN)

  • T.Y. Hilton, WR (IND)

  • Joe Mixon, RB (CIN)

  • Andrew Luck, QB (IND)

  • Jack Doyle, TE (IND)

Prediction: This game has the makings of a shootout. The Bengals have talent across the board on offense and will be facing a weak Colts defense. The Bengals defense has solid players sprinkled throughout the unit, but they are suspect to get beat in multiple areas. This game comes down to the head coach and quarterback. Give me Luck with Frank Reich over Dalton with Marvin Lewis.


Final Score: Colts, 31-24


Buffalo Bills (0-0) At Baltimore Ravens (0-0)



Written by: Jake Leicht


Preview: In what could be the least appealing matchup on Sunday, the Bills will travel to Baltimore to take on the Ravens at 1 p.m. I do not particularly think either team has a dynamic offense, so it could be a bit of a drag to watch. Luckily, the Bills will start Nathan Peterman, so every pass he makes could be must-see television. I will say that the Ravens have better playmakers on the outside than they have in years past, so maybe they will be able to move the ball versus the Bills. Hopefully the Bills can get Shady McCoy going early or else this game could be over in a hurry.


Players to watch: I can’t believe I am saying this, but Joe Flacco has the potential to have a big game on Sunday. I don’t think the Bills will be able to stay on the field on offense, so Flacco will have plenty of opportunities to make plays in the passing game. After stretching the field, Alex Collins will have wide open running lanes as well. Every cornerback on the Ravens’ roster is a player to watch since the Bills will be starting Nathan Peterman at quarterback. Obviously LeSean McCoy will need to have a big role in the Bills’ offensive attack if they are going to be successful.


Bills keys to the game:

  • Limit mistakes from the QB

  • Establish a running game

  • Get to Joe Flacco

Ravens keys to the game:

  • Get Flacco comfortable early

  • Stretch the Bills’ defense

  • Make Nathan Peterman beat them

Injury list:

Bills

  • Ray-Ray McCloud, WR , knee (OUT)

  • Julian Stanford, LB, nose (QUESTIONABLE)

Ravens

  • Hayden Hurst, TE, foot (OUT)

  • Willie Henry, DT, abdomen (OUT)

  • Kenny Young, LB, knee (QUESTIONABLE)

  • Maurice Canady, CB, thigh (QUESTIONABLE)

Top 5 Fantasy Players

  • Alex Collins, RB (BAL)

  • LeSean McCoy, RB (BUF)

  • Baltimore Ravens D/ST

  • Michael Crabtree, WR (BAL)

  • Kelvin Benjamin, WR (BUF)

Prediction: I think the Ravens defense will absolutely overwhelm Peterman early on Sunday. Flacco will have opportunities to make throws all over the field unless the Bills can get some pressure on him. If the Ravens can stretch the Bills defense, Collins should have some huge running lanes. The Bills have some talented defensive players, but I do not believe they will be able to contain the Ravens the whole game. The Bills offense has to get first downs or else their defense will be gassed. I think the Ravens win pretty convincingly in week 1.


Final Score: Ravens, 31-10


Tennessee Titans (0-0) At Miami Dolphins (0-0)


Written by: George Haraktsis


Preview: These two teams met last year in Week 5 with Jay Cutler and Matt Cassel under center for the Dolphins and Titans, respectively. Yikes. 2017’s bout was won by Miami 16-10, but this year’s game figures to be very different. Since then, both teams have changed dramatically. Tennessee's Marcus Mariota and Miami’s Ryan Tannehill, who lost his 2017 season to a knee injury, return as starting quarterbacks for their respective teams. Both teams added plenty of players this offseason, and Tennessee has a new head coach, Mike Vrabel. Will these moves pay off in week 1?


Players to watch: Fourth year QB Marcus Mariota is in a make or break season and will have to prove his worth this year as a former #2 overall pick. The Titans will only go as far as the Oregon product takes him, and his load could be lightened with a stellar game from both Derrick Henry and free agent addition Dion Lewis. He will need help from his pass catchers as well, so keep an eye out for long-time starting tight end Delanie Walker and sophomore receiver Corey Davis. On Miami’s side, the team will have to lean heavily on Ryan Tannehill and his new receivers Albert Wilson and Danny Amendola. The Titans and Wesley Woodyard will have to look out for all-purpose running back Kenyan Drake, who figures to be involved heavily in Miami’s plans.


Miami’s keys to the game:

  • Protect Tannehill

  • Get Drake Involved

  • Make Mariota uncomfortable

  • Bottle up the run game

Titan’s keys to the game:

  • Shut down Drake

  • Expose the lack of WR talent

  • Control the clock

  • Make Tannehill beat you

Injury list:

Dolphins

  • Devante Parker, WR, finger (DOUBTFUL)

Titans

  • Jack Conklin, OT, knee (OUT)

  • Harold Landry, ankle OLB (OUT)

  • Rashaan Evans, hamstringILB (OUT)

  • Kendrick Lewis, foot S (OUT)

Top 5 Fantasy Players

  • Derrick Henry, RB (TEN)

  • Kenyan Drake, RB (MIA)

  • Corey Davis, WR (TEN)

  • Delanie Walker, TE (TEN)

  • Marcus Mariota, RB (TEN)

Prediction: This is an easy pick. The Titans are just flat out a better team. They can control the run game and the clock with Henry and Lewis, and have a defense that will give Miami fits. Tannehill lost his number one target in Jarvis Landry, and has no real rapport with any of his receivers. Kenyan Drake will be the only source of offense that this team has, and he will have to ball out if Miami has any shot of winning. The Titans should be able to take advantage of Miami’s horrendous defensive unit through both the air and on the ground, which should ultimately lead them to an easy win. This could be a snore-fest.


Final Score: Titans, 24-13