2022 NFL Week 1 Game-By-Game Preview

What’s that music I hear? Oh, it’s the start of another NFL season! It’s been too long, but what better way to start it than where last season finished- back in Los Angeles. Really, is there a better way to start off a season than with the defending Super Bowl champions hosting the Super Bowl favorites? It’ll certainly be weird not having Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth together, but, hey, football will be played, and, of course, overreactions will ensue. It truly is the best time of the year!

Welcome, everybody! Every week for the NFL season, we’ll be going over every matchup, analyzing storylines, key matchups, and, most importantly, making predictions. To help with this, having a strong foundation is paramount. Thus, using previous research on what facets of play, as measured by Pro Football Focus, leads to NFL wins, as well the effect of each offensive/defensive play-caller, I was able to create a statistical projection model that has been a feature on this site before. By factoring in each team’s projected PFF grades in each significant area based on their personnel, and than using a multi-variable formula to project a unit’s expected points added per play, and, thus, their points per game/points allowed per game, we can then project their expected point differential. Essentially, all of this can be leveraged to predict the winner of every NFL game, the margin of victory, what the actual betting line (spread+total) for each game should be, and much more!

As helpful as the model can be, though, something I’ve come to learn is the significance of added context upon it. In 2020, for instance, we perhaps leaned too much on the statistical projections at the expense on how each teams matched up against each other, losing significant predictive power. At the end of the day, it’s up to us to use all information at hand to make the most calculated decision, so cutting out any source of information puts us at a disadvantage. How else would you know that nobody came to a quarterback’s birthday party.

Kidding, of course- consider that part from Draft Day one that has always puzzled me. Regardless, whether you have a vetted interest in the game as fan of a specific team, are a sports better, or just a fan of football, there is nothing more fun than going through every game to find any sort of edge in terms of predictive power. Having betting lines give us a strong foundation for an expectation of the game, but nobody’s perfect, and you never know when the upset of the world (see Jets over Rams 2020) is going to happen.

Now, that likely won’t happen this week- we don’t know enough about any team to be shocked by a specific outcome. In fact, that’s what makes Week 1 so entertaining; there is so much to learn about every team. At a time where ten teams have new head coaches, several star players are on new teams, and five second-year quarterbacks look to take the next step in their development, the amount of storylines present here is absurd. Who’s coming out of Week 1 on a high note, and who’ll have their fanbase already concerned? Let’s cover that, and, so much more, here!

Stats via Pro Football Focus

Buffalo Bills (0-0) at Los Angeles Rams (0-0)

Spread: LAR (+2.5)

  • Projected Spread: LAR (+0.71)
  • My Pick: LAR (+2.5)

Total: 52

  • Projected Total: 54.06
  • My Pick: Over

Win Probability:

  • BUF: 52.15%
  • LAR: 47.85%

Projected Margin of Victory: Bills by 0.29

Score Prediction: Bills 27 Rams 30

Top Storylines:

  • How will Buffalo’s cornerbacks hold up with Tre’Davius White?
  • Can both offensive lines hold up against very potent pass rushes?
  • The re-making of both wide receiving corps on full display

Every year, the NFL specifically designs the schedule to have the defending Super Bowl champion face off against a notable opponent, and, man, did they hit the jackpot here. Would anyone be surprised if these two teams were facing off in this year’s Super Bowl? I certainly wouldn’t be, and the amount of star power that will be on display is extraodinary.

When you’re talking about two top-five offenses based on my projects (BUF 1st, LAR 4th), as well as two top-five defense (LAR 1st, BUF 3rd), the question always remains; what side of the ball will come out on top? As we’ve come to become well-aware of, in the modern NFL, that answer will almost always lean on the offense, particularly for a game played in a dome. If there’s one thing Josh Allen and Matthew Stafford are certain to bring to the table, it’s chunk plays through the air – they both ranked in the top-five in big-time throw rate last year – and that’s even more likely to happen with two of the most pass-happy offenses on early downs. All elements are conducive to a very high-scoring affair, which I’m sure the NFL is hoping for.

Now, the Rams are undergoing some turnover on the offensive line as well, but new left tackle Joseph Noteboom has rated strongly as a pass protector the past two years, and free-agent loss Austin Corbett’s pass protection rated much more in the middle-of-the-pack for interior offensive line, making the bar lower for Coleman Shelton to replace. Any game involving two elite passing offenses can go in a variety of ways, though it ultimately comes down to which teams has fewer holes to exploit in this particular matchup, which, in this case, sides with the Rams. Buffalo is rightfully a Super Bowl favorite, yet 2.5 points better on the road? That’s a lofty expectation, and one that will continue to be a theme in a “Super Bowl or bust” season. For two teams so committed to a championship title, consider this is a pivotal litmus test.

Still, who comes out on top? In the end, there’s one area that would make me quite queasy if I were a Buffalo fan; how does the secondary hold up without Tre’Davious White? Expecting Kaiir Elam in his first game and Dane Jackson to man the outside against Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson II is not ideal in the slightest, and is something I’m sure Stafford will attack often- take those Robinson II overs, everyone! If that wasn’t enough, even without Von Miller, who is ironically on the Bills now, the Rams still have proven to be able to generate pressure at an elite level thanks to the presence of Aaron Donald to ease up one-on-one opportunities for everyone else, yet if there’s one weakness for the Bills, it’s their interior pass protection, with Robert Saffold (46.7 PFF pass-block grade in 2021) and Ryan Bates (only 312 career snaps in three seasons) not providing a lot of stability in that area. Josh Allen has consistently ranked at the top of the league in terms of preventing pressures from becoming sacks, but with being pressured means diminished efficiency through the air, which, in a game like this, could make all the difference.

New Orleans Saints (0-0) at Atlanta Falcons (0-0)

Spread: ATL(+5.5)

  • Projected Spread: ATL (+4.21)
  • My Pick: NO (-5.5)

Total: 43

  • Projected Total: 38.12
  • My Pick: Under

Win Probability:

  • NO: 62.76%
  • ATL: 37.24%

Projected Margin of Victory: Saints by 6.05

Score Prediction: Saints 23 Falcons 13

Top Storylines:

  • The new-look Saints offense
  • Kyle Pitts and Drake London versus a very physical Saints secondary
  • Can rookie EDGE Arnold Ebiketie hold his own against Ryan Ramczyk?

Well, this isn’t like the Saints-Falcons rivalry we’ve become accustomed to! Sunday will be the first time since 2005 when neither Drew Brees or Matt Ryan played in this matchup, so, alas, we’re left with our fond memories of some very exciting shootouts between two historically high-powered offenses. 2022 in a new year however, and it’s time for new storylines.

Interestingly, this is also the first time that Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, the top-two picks in the 2015 NFL Draft, will face off since their first career games. Man, time has flown by! So far, Mariota, both in college and the NFL, has certainly gotten the upper-hand in this head-to-head matchup, though it’ll be a much tougher road here.

That’s what happens when you have to face the Saints, who are fresh off a season in which they led the league in expected points added per play (EPA/play) allowed, and return all of their cornerstone players. Specifically, the defensive line, which now theoretically should have Marcus Davenport and David Onyemata full a full season, faces the third-worst projected pass-block unit in the NFL, which is not ideal for a quarterback (Mariota) who tends to hold onto the ball for a considerable amount of time (2.89 second time-to-throw in 2019). For what it’s worth, New Orleans did a fantastic job taking care of Kyle Pitts (1.23 yards/route run, 53.4 PFF receiving grade), and with Drake London already being limited due to a knee injury, there aren’t a lot of avenues here for success for Mariota, who actually could really benefit from a separator like the Falcons had in Russell Gage last year.

That creates a positive game script for Winston, which historically reduces his propensity for turnovers/other mistakes significantly. Thus, the way to force those mistakes out of him is to create pressure; his turnover-worthy play rate when pressured is twice what it is in a clean pocket, while he’s also ranked near the bottom of the league in PFF passing grade under pressure. The problem for the Falcons? They don’t have the means to do that. No team generated less pressure (16.7%) than they did, and, unless rookie edge rusher Arnold Ebiketie makes a major impact in his NFL debut against one of the league’s best tackles in Ryan Ramczyk, there isn’t any reason to expect more success this season. Hence, how Winston is set up for success here.

It’s one thing for the Saints to be the much more talented team, but they simply match up tremendously with Atlanta in so many different ways. Games like this, where Winston isn’t coerced into mistakes and they can simply overwhelm teams in low-scoring fashion, is likely how they’re going to try to win games this year. Against inferior teams, that certainly can work, as should be the case here.

Baltimore Ravens (0-0) at New York Jets (0-0)

Spread: NYJ (+6.5)

  • Projected Spread: NYJ (+2.37)
  • My Pick: BAL (-6.5)

Total: 44.5

  • Projected Total: 46.49
  • My Pick: Under

Win Probability:

  • BAL: 57.18%
  • NYJ: 42.82%

Projected Margin of Victory: Ravens by 3.03

Score Prediction: Ravens 24 Jets 14

Top Storylines:

  • The Ravens’ run/pass balance + 12-personnel usage
  • The effect of rookie center Tyler Linderbaum
  • Can the Jets show signs of promise defensively?

There’s a certain “revenge game” this week involving a Super Bowl-winning quarterback facing off against his former team for the first time, but why fret about that when we’ve been “gifted” another revenge storyline? With Zach Wilson still out with a bone bruise to his knee he suffered in the preseason, Joe Flacco will not only fill in for him, but get to face the team who he spent his first 12 career seasons with and won a Super Bowl. Now, the two parted ways on very good terms, though I’m still sure one would be amused by the prospect of Flacco pulling off the upset against the quarterback (Lamar Jackson) that replaced him.

Unfortunately for Flacco, that is a tough outcome to bank on. The Ravens may have ranked as the sixth-worst defense in EPA/play allowed, but, now, the cornerback duo of Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters is in place, with free-agent acquisition Marcus Williams and first-round rookie Kyle Hamilton rounding out quite the secondary for new defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, whose slight uptick in the diversity of his scheme compared to previous defensive coordinator Wink Martindale may also be very beneficial. The Jets, at their core, want to run the ball on first down (-1% pass rate over expectation on 1st down & 10), yet that’s not easy to do against a projected top-ten run defense, with Flacco offering little big-play ability to compensate for that. If that wasn’t enough, left tackle Duane Brown is likely out of the lineup for this game due to injury, which means Flacco, who is certainly not mobile, will have his blindside insecure against one of the league’s more aggressive defenses. That doesn’t sound like fun!

It will be interesting to see if the Ravens’ offseason moves, including trading receiver Marquise Brown, drafting center Tyler Linderbuam int he first round, and adding multiple tight ends, did in fact properly indicate. return to their 2019 formula- running the ball more than any other team and using a notable amount of multiple tight end formations. For any concern about their lack of running back depth, they were 5th in EPA/rush before Lamar Jackson got injured last season in spite of losing their entire running back room before the season, and now get to face the league’s third lowest-graded run defense from a season ago from PFF. This is a Jets defense that, at its core, wants to rush four and has spent most of their resources in the secondary and pass rush, at the expense of linebacker and run defense on the interior. That’s a sound strategy for practically every offense in the NFL, but not the Ravens.

The Jets, heading into the second year under head coach Robert Saleh and the fourth year of general manager Joe Douglas’ tenure, are looking to take a notable step forward this season. For a young team with a lot of moving parts, though, facing a very well-coached team with tremendous continuity is likely not what they had in mind. We’ll see if the pre-2021 Ravens are truly back, but it’s going to look an awful lot like that on Sunday.

Pittsburgh Steelers (0-0) at Cincinnati Bengals (0-0)

Spread: CIN (-6.5)

  • Projected Spread: CIN (-9.3)
  • My Pick: CIN (-6.5)

Total: 44.5

  • Projected Total: 44.31
  • My Pick: Under

Win Probability:

  • PIT: 21.82%
  • CIN: 78.18%

Projected Margin of Victory: Bengals by 14.4

Score Prediction: Steelers 17 Bengals 27

Top Storylines:

  • Do the Bengals continue to pass on early downs at a very high rate?
  • The Steelers’ new-look cornerback room against Ja’Marr Chase + Tee Higgins
  • The Bengals’ new-look offensive line against a vaunted defensive front

Oh, how the tables have turned. Who would have thought we would get to a point, where, in a Steelers-Bengals matchup, it would be the Bengals who would be team with Super Bowl aspirations? Yet, that’s where they are, and in what should be a tightly-contested division race with the Ravens, these are the types of games that they can’t afford to lose.

I can see the logic that the Steelers, a team with more intense training camps, and, thus, a knack for starting the season on a high note, could take advantage of a Bengals team that perhaps has taken things slowly after their Super Bowl appearance. That being said, that’s about all that is going in favor for Pittsburgh in this game. Of course, it all starts with Joe Burrow, who played quite well against the Steelers last season, to say the least:

  • 93.6 PFF Grade, 8.6 yards/attempt, 8.7% big-time throw rate

Small sample be damned, that about explains the Steelers/Bengals matchups from a season ago. In these two games, Burrow (2.51 second time to throw vs 2.63 time to throw against other opponents) notably got rid of the ball quicker to try to combat Pittsburgh’s pass rush, relying on his pre-snap processor to pick apart a thin secondary. Now, the Bengals have revamped their offensive line, and, most importantly, have one more trick up their sleeves. After all, this game will serve as a an important indicator over the legitimacy of this split from this past year:

  • Weeks 1-15: 51.1% Early-Down Pass Frequency (15th)
  • Weeks 16-Super Bowl (Excluding Week 18): 60.6% (4th)

For a process statistic, this appears to have been a legitimate change in philosophy when the games mattered most, and, now, we have to see that continue over to this season. If so, we’re looking at a much-more efficient offenses on early downs that can avoid the type of third-and-long scenarios that can kill drives against a Steelers defense built with their front four, taking advantage of the main weakness, and, rather, taking advantaged of a bottom-ten projected coverage unit. In other words, a repeat from last year is on the table.

On the other end, there’s nothing better for early-season performance than a defense that returns all 11 starters, especially against a Steelers offense with a completely revamped offensive line, yet still with several questions. Speaking of which, Pittsburgh starting Mitchell Trubisky over first-round rookie Kenny Pickett certainly hampers any sort of ceiling for them offensively; playing from a negative script with a quarterback who finished in the bottom-five in PFF grade is quite difficult.

Sometimes, the gap in quarterback talent tells you all you need to know; As was the case last year, it’s simply too difficult to rely on perfect defensive play against high-end offenses, and the Steelers have such a small margin for error here. With a quarterback (Trubisky) prone for mistakes, that’s just not a winnable strategy against the league’s better teams. Alas, another example of the changing of the guard taking place in the AFC North.

New England Patriots (0-0) at Miami Dolphins (0-0)

Spread: MIA (-3.5)

  • Projected Spread: MIA (+3.96)
  • My Pick: NE (+3.5)

Total: 46

  • Projected Total: 46.95
  • My Pick: Under

Win Probability:

  • NE: 62%
  • NE: 38%

Projected Margin of Victory: Patriots by 5.64

Score Prediction: Patriots 23 Dolphins 21

Top Storylines:

  • What do these two offenses even look like?
  • Bill Belichick handling cornerback deficiencies against Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle
  • Rookie IOL Cole Strange against a very strong interior defensive front

While there are plenty of exciting games this week, I’m not sure there is one involving more “unknowns” than this one. Ironically, for two teams that enter the season with the exact same win total (8.5), they couldn’t be more different; the Patriots are coming off a postseason appearance with a head coach (Bill Belichick) with all the job security in the world, whereas the Dolphins have a new head coach, just traded significant draft capital for star receiver Tyreek Hill, and have are functioning with significant urgency. For two teams that could be competing against each other and are seen as fringe AFC postseason contenders as is, this is an incredibly significant game.

To be honest, the betting line for this game is quite perplexing. Factoring in 1.5-2 points of home-field advantage, the Dolphins are being seen as that same amount better than the Patriots on a neutral field, which seems bold, to say the least. First off, any team that has multiple new starters on the offensive line, a new head coach, and multiple new wide receivers is going to go through its fair share of growing pains, especially against Bill Belichick, of all people. Yet, simply from a team quality standpoint, the Patriots would appear to have the upper hand.

For starters, there are the two quarterbacks:

  • Mac Jones: 80 PFF Grade, .157 adjusted EPA/play, 4.4% Big-Time Throw, 2.5% Turnover-Worthy Play
  • Tua Tagovailoa: 68.3 PFF Grade, .081 adjusted EPA/play, 2.4% Big-Time Throw, 4.8% Turnover-Worthy Play

Once could argue that Tagovailoa could take a step forward in his third season, yet why wouldn’t that same logic apply to Jones in his second year? Losing cornerback Byron Jones is a major blow for Miami’s secondary, which lacks depth as is, and that’s something the Patriots can attack early and often; Miami’s defense, which relies heavily on the pressure creating via blitzing (third-highest pressure rate), is naturally less effective against the league’s sixth-least pressured quarterback from a season ago.

Here’s an interesting nugget; in his two games against the Patriots last year, Tua Tagovailoa had an extremely 6.8% turnover-worthy play rate, and, interestingly, held onto the ball (2.58 time-to-throw) for a significantly longer time. To me, this indicates an inability to adapt when the first read is taken, with New England specifically doing a tremendous job last season defending both play-action passes and the middle of the field; this is exactly where Tagovailoa and McDaniel (coming from his Shanahan roots) want the offense to succeed. In retrospect, perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Patriots defense had a lot of success against the Jets, Browns, Falcons, Titans, and Dolphins- all of them, outside out of Miami, feature your classic “Shanahan-style” offense with a lot of zone-rushing concepts, play-action concepts, and attacking the middle of the field, with the Dolphins specifically focusing on the latter two components last year. It’s just hard to see the Patriots biting for what Miami has to offer.

When a team has a quarterback and coaching advantage, they’re in a great position to win. Yet, perhaps due to the differing buzz surrounding these two teams currently, the Patriots find themselves as 3.5-point underdogs? It’s easy to get lost in the shine of the Dolphins along with some fatigue with the “same old Patriots”, yet, when simply looking at the two teams playing in this game, it’s hard to fathom with the market expectation of this game. Of course, Vegas knows best, so I’m fully prepared for a Dolphins four-point win, though perhaps a working clock is wrong twice a day. Or, in this case, just once!

Philadelphia Eagles (0-0) at Detroit Lions (0-0)

Spread: DET (+5)

  • Projected Spread: DET (+6.43)
  • My Pick: PHI (-5)

Total: 48

  • Projected Total: 45.91
  • My Pick: Under

Win Probability:

  • PHI: 69.48%
  • DET: 30.52%

Projected Margin of Victory: Eagles by 9.71

Score Prediction: Eagles 27 Lions 17

Top Storylines:

  • Can The Lions’ Young Interior Defensive Line Show Promise Against An Elite Offensive Line?
  • A new-look offense for the Lions under offensive coordinator Ben Johnson
  • Jeffrey Okudah versus AJ Brown/Devonta Smith

Is the Hard Knocks blessing real? There has been a long history of teams featuring on the show to having improved season, which perhaps explains why the Lions are the most bet-on team to exceed their win total this season. Heck, this game is already a sell out!

Sometimes, reality comes back at you quick. Considering the Lions play a last-place schedule, it certainly would have been ideal for them to start the season in position to keep the preseason hype rolling, but, instead, the Eagles come to the town. It’s not just that the Eagles are heavily expected (-200) to make the postseason, which you’d expect after an offseason in which they essentially filled every hole imaginable with impact players. Rather, it’s how they match up with Detroit that should have the Lions worried.

Last season, only the Browns and Colts averaged more yards/rush attempt than the Eagles, which you’d expect for a team with an exceptional offensive line (5th in PFF run-block grade) and dynamic rushing threat at quarterback with Jalen Hurts. The Lions, on the other hand, had the league’s worst PFF rushing grade, and are relying on the same group of interior players (mainly Alim McNeil and Levi Onwuzurike) to take a step forward in their second season. That could certainly happen, but, man, there aren’t many tougher ways to find out than this.

When you trade for AJ Brown, you’re expected to not continuing ranking near the bottom of the league in early-down pass frequency, but, to be honest, the Eagles don’t need to change much here. If they desire, though, the Lions also happen to have the second-lowest projected coverage unit in the NFL, with the linebackers being the main culprit. Well, hello Dallas Goedert!

Shifting to the other side of the ball, what better way to find out your promising offensive line’s true colors than against against as deep of a defensive line as there is in all of football? Even if they can hold up, though, what ceiling does this offense have? That’ll be a consistent theme this season regarding Jared Goff, who had the lowest average depth of target (6.8 yards) in all of football last year, and historically struggled mightily under pressure. This is an organization on the upswing, but there’s still a talent deficit in place, which is going to show up in matchups like this. For the Eagles, consider this a spot for them to set the tone for things on a high note, while, for the Lions, a game filled with competitiveness is more than a sufficient outcome. Now, let’s see who’d win a fight between a bald eagle and a lion; it may not be who you’d expect!

Jacksonville Jaguars (0-0) at Washington Commanders (0-0)

Spread: WSH (-3)

  • Projected Spread: WSH (-5.45)
  • My Pick: WSH (-3)

Total: 44

  • Projected Total: 41.99
  • My Pick: Under

Win Probability:

  • JAX: 33.49%
  • WSH: 66.51%

Projected Margin of Victory: Commanders by 8.09

Score Prediction: Jaguars 17 Commanders 24

Top Storylines:

  • The Jaguars’ new-look offense
  • Can Washington create explosive plays through the air against an aggressive defense?
  • Jacksonville’s revamped defensive line against a strong offensive line

How about this for a storyline: Doug Pederson in his first game as the head coach of the Jaguars facing off against Carson Wentz in his first game as a Commander. I mean, at this point, why not?

For two teams that enter the season with a lot of questions, this game offers much more intrigue than you may think at first glance. Trevor Lawrence’s rookie season didn’t go as planned, but can he show why indeed he was the #1 overall pick in his second year, involving a much more competent situation? On the other side, Washington’s defense ranked in the bottom-five in EPA/play allowed, yet a majority of that was due to an absurdly poor third-down defense, and they were much better (15th in EPA/play allowed) after their Week 10 bye- can that improvement carry over to this season? There are plenty of teams that are going to challenge that, but it’s unlikely to be the team with the lowest-projected receiving corps.

It’s unclear what the Commanders are looking for with Carson Wentz, who they invested significantly (multiple day-two picks, $28 million cap hit) in to solve their recent quarterback woes. If there’s one area where he can succeed, it’s in the deep passing game (13th in PFF passing grade 20+ yards down the field), where Terry McLaurin and first-round rookie Jahan Dotson are at their best. With new defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell coming from Tampa Bay, you’d expect him to field an aggressive, blitz-happy defense that can be vulnerable to explosive plays through the air, especially if Washington (4th-highest PFF pass-block grade in 2021) holds their own against a revamped Jaguars defensive line.

Both of these teams enter with plenty of questions on both sides of the ball, especially in the passing game. At first glance, it’d seem as though Washington would be better suited to have success here based on their continuity, as well as the questions they have being less severe; perhaps their range of outcomes isn’t as high, but that also means a higher floor as well. It’s easy to see this game going either way, but, in this case, the edge is with what Washington can bring with regards to the explosive passing game; with two inefficient offenses, siding with the one who can create chunk plays is usually wise. Still, though, this is the one game where any outcome would not surprise me.

Indianapolis Colts (0-0) at Houston Texans (0-0)

Spread: HOU (+7)

  • Projected Spread: HOU (+7)
  • My Pick: IND (-7)

Total: 45.5

  • Projected Total: 42.1
  • My Pick: Under

Win Probability:

  • IND: 67.73%
  • HOU: 32.37%

Projected Margin of Victory: Colts by 6.05

Score Prediction: Colts 26 Texans 17

Top Storylines:

  • Can the Colts offensive line show improvements against a surprisingly strong pass rush?
  • Our first look at the Colts offense with Matt Ryan
  • Derek Stingley Jr.’s NFL Debut

Last season, the Colts defeated the Texans by a combined score of 62-3 in their two matchups, and, in fact, have now won five straight games against Houston. As they look to start the Matt Ryan era in Indianapolis on a high note, starting in Houston is a great spot for them to be in, and, as per usual, a multi-score win should be expected.

Naturally, it could took take some time for Indianapolis’ offense to get in sync, though is there a better defense for that to happen than the worst defense in projected PFF coverage grade, and the second-worst defensive projection overall? There’s a world where Houston can create some disruption, especially against left tackle Matt Pryor, with a suddenly strong pass rush, though how much can that happen when a) you struggle to hold up on the back end and b) you have a bottom-five projected run defense against arguably the most potent rushing offense in all of football. Yeah, that’s not an ideal combination.

Should the Colts utterly control this game offensively, that places Davis Mills and the Texans in obvious passing situations, which is perfect news for a defense, which, between a strong pass-rushing defensive line with some concerns in run defense without Shaquille Leonard, works perfectly for Indianapolis. Sometimes, analysis is as simple as “one team is significantly better than the other”, and that’s the case here. There is a world where the Colts, dealing with some changes on both sides of the ball, could struggle out of the gate, yet the gap in the quality of teams is massive. At some point, Houston will look to finally get back on track in this head-to-head matchup, but, for now, simple progress from their young players is all they should be looking for; it’s clear these two teams have much different goals in mind this season.

Cleveland Browns (0-0) at Carolina Panthers (0-0)

Spread: CAR (-0.5)

  • Projected Spread: CAR (+3.99)
  • My Pick: CLE (+0.5)

Total: 42

  • Projected Total: 39.59
  • My Pick: Under

Win Probability:

  • CLE: 62.09%
  • CAR: 37.91%

Projected Margin of Victory: Browns by 5.69

Score Prediction: Browns 20 Panthers 13

Top Storylines:

  • Baker Mayfield and DJ Moore against a very strong Browns secondary
  • Myles Garrett against rookie OT Ikem Ekonwu
  • Are The Browns Going To Be Able To Have a Functional-Enough Passing Attack?

If you thought there wasn’t enough NFL voodoo magic happening with the Week 1 schedule, the Browns and Panthers were already scheduled to face off in Week 1 long before Baker Mayfield was traded there, setting up the ultimate revenge story. After all, Cleveland not only moved on from Mayfield after an injury-riddled season, but were aggressive in finding his replacement before sending him out of town for a conditional fifth-round pick. If that isn’t a slap to the face, I don’t know what is.

This may not just be the last stand for Mayfield to prove himself as a clear-cut starting quarterback, but also head coach Matt Rhule’s likely last chance as the head coach in Carolina. As such, there is an enormous amount on pressure for there to be instant success offensively, which may be hard to come by. For starters, Cleveland finished last season with the #1 PFF coverage grade in the entire sport, and now returns every starter, while also potentially getting second-year leaps from cornerback Greg Newsome, linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and safety Grant Delpit. Thus, it’s likely not a scenario where Mayfield is able to make quick, efficient decisions, which leads to the ultimate mismatch being exposed.

By now, you’re well familiar with Myles Garrett, who led the league in PFF pass-rush grade as a season ago. Well, consider him quite the first test for rookie offensive tackle Ikem Ekonwu, who established himself as an elite run blocker at NC State, yet left a lot to be desired in pass protection, which carried over into the preseason (20.9 PFF pass-block grade in his only game against a starting defensive line). I think it’s safe to say that matchup could get out of hand in a hurry, which, for a quarterback who has generally been plagued by pressure and is coming from a situation where he had one of the best offensive lines in football, could be extremely problematic for Mayfield.

As such, points will be tough to come by for Carolina, allowing Cleveland to win in the exact fashion they’ll need to with Jacoby Brissett under center. While the Panthers had moderate success against the run last year, they don’t have a single starter in the front seven who eclipsed a 65 PFF run defense grade, and, now, face the team who had the top explosive run rate in football a year ago. In games that Brissett is forced to go through the air and the Browns can’t rely on such an outlier rushing offense, this formula likely won’t work, yet, similar to the Saints, they can have a lot of success operating in their preferred style of play against teams who simply can’t put up the points to force them to do more than they have to. As exciting as it would be to see Mayfield get the last laugh against Cleveland, he’s not in position to do so, and there aren’t many reasons for his team to be favored in this game; consider this a scenario where the narrative of the game may make us forget the likely reality that is soon to follow. That doesn’t sound as fun!

San Francisco 49ers (0-0) at Chicago Bears (0-0)

Spread: CHI (+6.5)

  • Projected Spread: CHI (+7.32)
  • My Pick: SF (-6.5)

Total: 40.5

  • Projected Total: 43.64
  • My Pick: Over

Win Probability:

  • SF: 72.18%
  • CHI: 27.82%

Projected Margin of Victory: 49ers by 11.17

Score Prediction: 49ers 27 Bears 14

Top Storylines:

  • The two quarterbacks: Trey Lance vs Justin Fields
  • Nick Bosa against a very questionable offensive line
  • Charvarius Ward’s impact for the 49ers vs Darnell Mooney’s ability to be the main target hog

When the 49ers traded up to the third overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the initial thought was that it would be to select quarterback Justin Fields. Instead, their decision came down to Trey Lance and Mac Jones, thus leaving Fields out of the equation all together. Now, he’ll look to create his own revenge narrative, which the Bears are already playing up. Unfortunately, his chances of doing so are quite minimal.

Expectations aren’t very high in Chicago this season, and a lot of it has to do with the lack of talent centered around Fields is certainly lacking, as we covered earlier this week:

“It’s easy to forget how dominant of a quarterback prospect Fields was, but you shouldn’t; given the combination of accuracy, athleticism, and arm talent that was an on display consistently at Ohio State, it’d be a personal shock if he didn’t end up as a starting quarterback, and {offensive coordinator Luke Getsy} can help him get there. That being said, outside of that, he’s not in a position to succeed. While he did formulate a connection with Darnell Mooney, who was productive (1.72 yards/route run) as a vertical threat last year, the rest of the depth chart at wide receiver consists of players such as Byron Pringle, Equanimeous St.Brown, and 25-year-old rookie Velus Jones Jr., while Cole Kmet (63.4 PFF receiving grade) is certainly not a proven player at the tight end position. As such, Fields’ passing options completely center around Mooney, who is a fine player, yet this strategy perhaps is best served when you have Davante Adams to throw to, and even that isn’t a sure thing. All told, Fields may be stuck holding onto the ball for a considerable amount of time.

The problem? He’ll also not be protected very well by his offensive line. Perhaps Braxton Jones surprises people this year, but starting a fifth-round rookie from Southern Utah at left tackle is incredibly risky, and you don’t know what you’re getting from Teven Jenkins on the interior after a tough rookie year. As such, Fields will likley be under duress consistently, and you shouldn’t expect much efficiency on the ground either. The pairing of Fields and Getsy is fascinating, though it’s not going to lead to offensive production this season.”

Now, Fields has to face a defense with a defensive line fronted by Nick Bosa and plenty of depth, likely exposing some clear issues performing under pressure while also playing in the rain- not fun! Trey Lance, on the other side, gets to face a defense that already was a bottom-five team defending the run last season, is adjusting to a new defensive system under head coach Matt Eberflus, and lacks proven talent in the secondary as well. Oh, and he also has Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk to throw to, as well as what he provides in the running game alongside Elijah Mitchell. Could these two quarterbacks be in any different situations?

To be fair, this explains why one team (49ers) is a projected Super Bowl contender, while the other could easily find themselves picking at the top of next year’s draft. By all accounts, barring any sort of meltdown by Lance, this is shaping up to be quite the lopsided matchup, and there’s a legitimate chance based on success on both sides of the ball he doesn’t crack 20 pass attempts here. If Fields overcome this, then it truly is time to build him a statue in Chicago.

Kansas City Chiefs (0-0) at Arizona Cardinals (0-0)

Spread: ARI (+6.5)

  • Projected Spread: ARI (+4.13)
  • My Pick: KC (-6.5)

Total: 53.5

  • Projected Total: 52.98
  • My Pick: Under

Win Probability:

  • KC: 62.51%
  • ARI: 37.49%

Projected Margin of Victory: Chiefs by 5.93

Score Prediction: Chiefs 30 Cardinals 20

Top Storylines:

  • Will the Cardinals stick to their blitz-happy mindset, even against Patrick Mahomes?
  • How do the Cardinals keep up offensively?
  • The Chiefs’ new-look offense

Who needs a running game when you can have this? These two teams ranked in the top-four in early-down pass rate a year ago, and, at their core, are built entirely around the passing game. Oh, and this game is also in a dome? Yes please!

If there is one thing a defense should attempt to do against Patrick Mahomes, it’s blitzing him- he has ranked in the top-five in yards/attempt against the blitz in back-to-back seasons, which isn’t surprising considering his combination of arm talent and quick processing ability. Now, is this something defensive coordinator Vance Joseph will acknowledge? Only the Bucs, Dolphins, and Panthers blitzed more than Arizona did a season ago, which is their way of manufacturing a pass rush and overwhelming teams with the way they disguise their pressures. The problem? That opens up massive opportunities for Mahomes against a cornerback trio of Byron Murphy Jr., Marco Wilson, and Jace Whittaker, which should go about as you would expect it to.

With that in mind, it’ll be up to the Cardinals to keep pace offensively. Unfortunately, that was already going to be tough to do without star receiver DeAndre Hopkins for the first six games of the season, but, now, they’ll also be without Rondale Moore with tight end Zach Ertz likely to be limited. For a team already playing with a notable talent deficit, this is the type of adversity they can’t afford to have, especially against a Chiefs team that made major reinforcements to their defense this offseason and are in the top-five in projected PFF coverage grade this year. Consequently, we’re looking at serious blowout potential here, which would explain why Kansas City has gone from a three-point favorite to nearly a touchdown favorite. In the end, that may not be enough, paving the way for a great first impression for Kansas City’s offense sans Tyreek Hill; we’re still looking at the team who finished 1st in EPA/play a year ago! Now, will this be the last time the Chiefs will play in Glendale? We’ll see in Feburary!

Las Vegas Raiders (0-0) at Los Angeles Chargers (0-0)

Spread: LAC (-3.5)

  • Projected Spread: LAC (-2.61)
  • My Pick: LV (+3.5)

Total: 52

  • Projected Total: 53.65
  • My Pick: Over

Win Probability:

  • LV: 42.09%
  • LAC: 57.91%

Projected Margin of Victory: Chargers by 3.42

Score Prediction: Raiders 30 Chargers 33

Top Storylines:

  • How is Davante Adams used and how do the Chargers even try to defend him?
  • The Raiders’ questionable offensive line against a superb pass rush
  • Chargers right tackle Trey Pipkins against EDGE Maxx Crosby

In case you haven’t noticed, the AFC West is about as dominant of a division as you can get. In fact, there has never been a division in NFL history where every team finished with a winning record, yet that is currently projected to happen based on current win totals. As you’d expect, every intra-division game is critical, making this quite a significant game.

When you trade for a wide receiver such as Davante Adams, you’re likely planning on funnelling a lot of the passing game through him, but when you also have two other high-end players with Darren Waller stretching the seam and Hunter Renfrow serving as an underneath weapon, that doesn’t necessarily have to happen. A logical guess based on Carr’s history with Amari Cooper and with Waller and Renfrow serving as the sole threat in the passing game, though, would indicate that Adams likely sees somewhere close to the target share (~30%) that he saw in Green Bay, allowing for Carr to get back to the aggressive tendencies (9.2 average depth of target) he demonstrated before the loss of Henry Ruggs III last year. If so, this can be a very dynamic passing attack for new head coach Josh McDaniels to work with.

This would appear to be exactly why the Chargers signed star cornerback JC Jackson this offseason. The problem? He’s currently out with an ankle injury, leaving Los Angeles left with Michael Davis or second-year corner Asante Samuel to handle responsibilities against Adams. On paper, that would seem like quite the mismatch, and one I’d expect Carr to consistently look to exploit. Sure, one could hope the Chargers’ duo of Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack create enough pressure to prevent that, yet, despite the poor reputation regarding them, the Raiders still rank 14th in projected pass protection heading into this year. As such, they’re unlikely to struggle to score points here.

The problem for Las Vegas? They face an offense that is arguably even better than theirs. After all, the Chargers already finished in the top-five in EPA/play a year ago, and with expected improvements from the right side of their offensive line and tremendous amount of continuity, shouldn’t be in for any sort of negative regression there. After trading Trayvon Mullen to the Raiders, however, their secondary depth is thin, which is unideal when you’re facing an offense headlined by Justin Herbert, Keenan Allen, and Mike Williams. Push comes to shove, whether it’s quarterback play, continuity, offensive line, or impact defensive talent, the Chargers do just enough better in every key category to still project as the more successful team, which is why their win total is two wins higher than Las Vegas’. Is that enough for them to win convincingly? Certainly not, and, to be honest, a Raiders win here should not come as a surprise. Grab your popcorn, folks; a shootout is on the horizon.

New York Giants (0-0) at Tennessee Titans (0-0)

Spread: TEN (-5.5)

  • Projected Spread: TEN (-6.28)
  • My Pick: NYG (+5.5)

Total: 43.5

  • Projected Total: 44.97
  • My Pick: Under

Win Probability:

  • NYG: 30.97%
  • TEN: 69.03%

Projected Margin of Victory: Titans by 9.45

Score Prediction: Giants 20 Titans 23

Top Storylines:

  • The Giants’ new offense under Brian Daboll
  • Do the Titans have any “man beaters” offensively?
  • A very young Titans secondary against a Giants receiving corps with a lot to prove

Generally, a game between last year’s #1 seed in the AFC and a team that won just four games wouldn’t offer the possibility of a tightly-contested matchup, but a lot can change in a year. Whereas the Titans, who already drastically overachieved their point differential last season, have lost notable pieces, primarily AJ Brown, the hiring of former Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has brought needed optimism to the Big Apple. Now, will the mood around these two teams shift immediately? That depends on a variety of factors.

It’s certainly possible that a Giants front seven featuring a linebacking core of last year’s lowest-graded linebacker (29.1) from PFF and Austin Calitro, who hasn’t fared much better and has played just 12 snaps the past two years, is simply overwhelmed by what the Titans can offer either on the ground or with their passing game over the middle of the field. Or, new defensive coordinator Wink Martindale does just enough to hide those deficiencies, such as a heavy-blitz, man-centric approach. Only three offenses had a lower explosive pass rate last year than the Titans, and that was before losing AJ Brown; Robert Woods has historically performed much better sitting in zone coverages, Nick Westbrook-Ikhine doesn’t offer much explosiveness, and first-round Treylon Burks’ role is uncertain. If Martindale is able to essentially stack eight and send the house against a liable pass-protecting offensive line, does the narrative change here? For what it’s worth, Ryan Tannehill average 1.8 yards less per pass attempt against man coverage (6.3) than against zone coverage (8.1).

Plus, with Harold Landry off the edge, the Titans also are compensate in terms of their ability to rush the passer, though the prospect of interior defender Jeffrey Simmons teeing off against New York’s interior offensive line has to be frightening for Daniel Jones. At the same time, should clean pockets preside, could the extra aggressiveness he desperately needs be coerced out of him? Ka’Darius Toney and Kenny Golladay have each eclipsed an elite two yards/route run total in either of the past two years, and the secondary of Kristian Fulton, Caleb Farley, Roger McCreary, and Elijah Molden all feature unproven young players that could be exploited at any point, creating even more “upset” potential here.

Now, at the end of the day, one look at the Giants linebacking corps, as well as their talent deficiencies overall, are enough to not have that serve as a general expectation. Yet, if there’s one game where an upset could happen, it’s here. Most likely, we’re looking at a low-scoring game Tennessee pulls away with in typical “Titans” fashion, but would you be surprised that, barring Burks playing a significant role and shining right away, their lack of offensive explosiveness shows up right away? I certainly wouldn’t be!

Green Bay Packers (0-0) at Minnesota Vikings (0-0)

Spread: MIN (+1.5)

  • Projected Spread: MIN (+2.47)
  • My Pick: GB (-1.5)

Total: 46.5

  • Projected Total: 55.36
  • My Pick: Over

Win Probability:

  • GB: 57.48%
  • MIN: 42.52%

Projected Margin of Victory: Packers by 3.18

Score Prediction: Packers 31 Vikings 24

Top Storylines:

  • Who does Aaron Rodgers throw the ball to?
  • Do see the Vikings finally “air it out”?
  • Is this Packers defense as strong as advertised?

In 2020, the Green Bay Packers, after a disappointing offseason, went into Minnesota to face a hyped-up Vikings team in Week 1, and proceeded to win by multiple scores. In 2022, the Green Bay Packers, after a disappointing offseason, went into Minnesota to face a hyped-up Vikings team in Week 1, and …. that’s to be determined, though it’s very likely we’ve once again doubted Aaron Rodgers too much.

Losing Davante Adams is, indeed, as significant blow as there can be for a non quarterback. Yet, for an offense that has finished in the top-three in EPA/play in back-to-back years, is that loss significant enough for a notable drop-off, particularly when you have the league’s most efficient quarterback (based on adjusted EPA/play) over the past two years? That would likely not be the case. Getting left tackle David Bakhtiari back solidifies an elite offensive line with tremendous amount of continuity, with both Patrick Peterson (61 PFF coverage grade) and Chandon Sullivan (57.5 PFF coverage grade) being potential cornerbacks for Rodgers to look to exploit. At some point, you have to bet on an elite quarterback/play-calling combination, particularly with substantial amount of continuity.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of calls for the Packers to be considered the top defense in the league, and one simply look at their depth chart can hint why- getting elite cornerback Jaire Alexander back to round an extremely well-rounded secondary, while the team’s front-seven improvements should, theoretically, do just enough to not make them a complete liability against the run. Notably, edge rushers Rashan Gary and Preston Smith, as well as interior defender Kenny Clark, all exceeded 76 PFF pass-rush grades, and now get to feast on the fourth-worst projected pass-block unit. Considering Kirk Cousins’ statistical decline under pressure, look out if the Vikings are forced into obvious passing situations.

In the end, you have your choice between Aaron Rodgers and Kirk Cousins, a team with a projected elite defense versus another with notable questions, and a complete difference in the continuity from a personnel and coaching perspective. There are a lot of reasons to believe the Vikings have what it takes to make a postseason run in a thin NFC this season, but that isn’t likely to show up right away, especially against a team that still remains arguably the class of the NFC. Really, we appear to be in deja vu all over again!

*NOTE: Tackles David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins have been ruled out for the Packers, shifting the line to MIN (-1.5). This is a major blow for Green Bay, though two whole points is a significant amount, showing a clear misevaluation of the Packers’ prospects for this game, and moving forward as well.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-0) at Dallas Cowboys (0-0)

Spread: DAL (+2.5)

  • Projected Spread: DAL (+2.79)
  • My Pick: TB (-2.5)

Total: 50.5

  • Projected Total: 47.67
  • My Pick: Under

Win Probability:

  • TB: 58.45%
  • DAL: 41.55%

Projected Margin of Victory: Bucs by 3.71

Score Prediction: Bucs 27 Cowboys 20

Top Storylines:

  • How the Cowboys get offensive production outside of CeeDee Lamb?
  • Rookie OT Tyler Smith’s NFL debut against Shaquil Barrett
  • Tampa Bay’s young interior offensive linemen and new weapons

Tom Brady in his final NFL season against the Cowboys to start the season in a rematch of last year’s season opener? Sign me up for that! For two NFC contenders that underwent some change this offseason, this is going to be a very telling game.

After trading away Amari Cooper this offseason and without the injured Michael Gallup, the Cowboys are suddenly thin on offensive weapons outside of CeeDee Lamb, who they can simply decide to funnel targets to, but what can the team’s ancillary weapons rely on? That’ll be key for Dak Prescott and this offense, especially with rookie offensive tackle Tyler Smith going up against a blitz-heavy defense (#1 in blitz% in 2021) with Shaquil Barrett opposite of him. It’s easy to retain faith in the combination of Prescott and Lamb, but facing a top-five defense in back-to-back years isn’t exactly easiest way to adjust on the fly.

The Bucs, meanwhile, are undergoing changes in their receiving corps and interior offensive line as well. Fortunately for them, Dallas’ interior defensive line isn’t a particularly strength of the team, while the Cowboys, a defense that wants to play aggressive in a variety of ways, likely can’t succeed in that fashion against the player with quickest time-to-throw in the NFL among active quarterbacks. Whether it’s in pass protection, lack of receiving depth, or holding up in the secondary, there are a lot of concerns here for Dallas, which, in turn, could lead to some struggles against who many consider to be the best team in the NFC. Consider this step #1 in Brady’s quest to go out in style; the team with the the higher projected offense and defense usually has a good chance of coming out on top.

Denver Broncos (0-0) at Seattle Seahawks (0-0)

Spread: SEA (+6.5)

  • Projected Spread: SEA (+4.1)
  • My Pick: SEA (+6.5)

Total: 44.5

  • Projected Total: 48.06
  • My Pick: Under

Win Probability:

  • DEN: 62.42%
  • SEA: 37.58%

Projected Margin of Victory: Broncos by 5.88

Score Prediction: Broncos 23 Seahawks 21

Top Storylines:

  • The Russell Wilson/Nathaniel Hackett era starts now in Denver
  • Seattle’s rookie offensive tackles against Bradley Chubb and Randy Gregory
  • Denver’s secondary against DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett

When you’re with a franchise for 11 seasons, including a Super Bowl championship, post a 104-53-1 record, and establish yourself as arguably the organization’s top quarterback of all time, it’s easy to imagine spending the rest of your career with them. For Russell Wilson, though, a “breakup” with the Seahawks, mainly due to philosophical differences, has seemed imminent for some time, and it came via a trade to the Broncos this offseason. Denver, who sacrificed two first-round picks and two second-round picks, as well as more capital via draft picks and capital, is expecting Wilson, who also just signed a new $243 million contract extension, to finally bring them back to greater pastures. Seattle, on the other hand, is officially starting their rebuild, and will look for immediate gratification that they made the right decision to move on from their franchise quarterback.

It’s unclear what the Broncos offense will look like under Wilson, though the final result should be quite promising:

To be fair, Wilson definitely is the type of quarterback you want to gamble on. Between 2018 and 2020, he led the league in big-time-throw rate, and ranked towards the top of the league in both PFF grade and EPA/play+CPOE composite rating. So, what’s the potential pushback? Well, last year was not an ideal season for him. Overall, he finished with a career-low 73.9 PFF grade, ranked just 19th in adjusted EPA/play (.084), saw his accuracy crater (24th in adjusted completion rate), and also was in the bottom-ten in both positively-graded play rate and negatively-pay rate. All told, it was a shocking turn of events, and one that could signal concern. Luckily, there’s more to it than that. See, in Week 5 against the Rams, Wilson injured his middle finger leading to him missing three games, which, perhaps, wasn’t enough time. Regardless, the splits pre and post-injury are rather telling:

  • Pre-Injury: 92.1 PFF passing grade, 9.6% big-time throw, 0% turnover-worthy play, 80% adjusted completion rate, 9.6 yards/pass attempt, .153 adjusted EPA/play, 10.2 (!) CPOE
  • Post-Injury: 53.9 PFF passing grade, 3.9% big-time throw, 3.8% turnover-worthy play, 67.9% adjusted completion rate, 6.6 yards/pass attempt, .051 adjusted EPA/play, 0 CPOE

Can we completely buy into this split? Usually, I’d say no, but with such a clear cause-and-effect here, I’d be inclined to believe it; this is a quarterback that relies so much on touch and precision, so when that goes, he’s in trouble. Really, there’s no other explanation for why there would have been any sort of decline, so let’s enter 2022 assuming we’re getting the established elite play from Wilson. From there, what does the offense look like? Not only are they adjusting to a new quarterback in Denver, but a new head coach as well, as we’ll have to see what Nathaniel Hackett carries over from his time in Green Bay, in addition to what Wilson wants to do. Generally, Wilson has had a tendency to rely on low percentage throws (outside the numbers deep shots), yet if Hackett can will him to make slightly quicker, more efficient decisions, a whole new level can be unlocked here. Regardless, though, it’s hard to not see him performing simply because that’s what elite quarterbacks do.

It’s easy to dream on the connection with Wilson and Courtland Sutton outside the numbers, what Jerry Jeudy can bring if he is willing to target the middle areas of the field more often, as well as an explosive rushing attack led by Javonte Williams. All of this needs time to gel, though, making it more likely they don’t hit their stride until the end of the year; there’s certainly a power dynamic here between Wilson and Hackett that will take time to get comfortable with.

The Seahawks defense isn’t daunting, yet if there is one thing they’ve done well over the years, it’s limiting explosive plays through the air- they were tied for the third-lowest explosive pass rate allowed this year. On the other hand, if there is anything we know about Wilson, it’s that he’s a quarterback that prefers to swing for the fences rather than take what’s often given to him, which, when the chunk plays aren’t there, lead to unexpected struggles. Certainly, this looks like a scenario where the talent gap isn’t so obvious.

Meanwhile, if there’s one thing outside of Wilson for Seattle to be focused on, it’s the performance of their rookie offensive tackles. Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas rated out quite strongly in pass protection both in college and in the preseason, yet going up against the edge rush duo of Randy Gregory and Bradley Chubb is not an easy test. They’ve likely shown enough to not expect a strong rookie learning curve, though, and there are enough explosive playmakers (DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, Rashaad Penny) on the Seahawks side to take advantage of a defense adjusting to a new system. Now, that depends on a competent performance from Geno Smith, though he did perform adequately (73.9 PFF Grade, 6.9% big-time throw, 2.5% turnover-worthy play) in his 3.5 games filling in for Wilson last year.

Really, there’s so much open in the air to this game, which, based on the general trajectory of Week 1 games, makes a sloppy, closer-than-expected game likely on the table. There’s certainly a world where Wilson comes out with a vengeance and the Broncos immediately look like Super Bowl contenders. Or, they take time to get into sync, and a Seahawks team with still enough talent and continuity to make this much more interesting. Consider this a game with enough unknowns to make every outcome much more feasible than it may seem.

Photo Creds:

BUF/LAR: AZCentral

NO/ATL: Bleacher Report

BAL/NYJ: 98online.com

PIT/CIN: Cincinnati Enquirer

NE/MIA: Boston.com

PHI/DET: The Game Haus


IND/HOU: Colts Wire

CLE/CAR: Yahoo! Sports

SF/CHI: Niner Noise

KC/ARI: Chiefs Wire

LV/LAC: CBS Sports

NYG/TEN: Giants Wire

GB/MIN: Daily Norseman

TB/DAL: Cowboys Wire

DEN/SEA: Action Network

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