Bet On It: Week 1 predictions
Here we go for Week 1, minus the Cowboys' 24-17 win over the Giants (which I totally would have nailed, by the way).
Coming off a 3-13 season, the Vikings appear to be the riskiest part of this equation. But since Minnesota hosts the Jaguars, this is the week to go all in on the NFC North. The Packers face a stiff challenge against the Niners, but it's at Lambeau. You have to feel confident about the Bears hosting the Colts and the Lions hosting the Rams.
Last season Cincinnati's Andy Dalton beat Cleveland in Week 1 and Carolina's Cam Newton lost to Arizona. This year, Indy's Andrew Luck (at Chicago), Washington's Robert Griffin III (at New Orleans), Cleveland's Brandon Weeden (vs. Philadelphia) and Miami's Ryan Tannehill (at Houston) are all underdogs. Russell Wilson is the one to watch with this prediction. Wilson's Seahawks are favored at Arizona, but these teams split two close games last year and it's going to be tough to get an early divisional win on the road.
McCoy has to be salivating at the thought of facing the 30th-ranked run defense in 2011, and one that will be missing defensive tackle Phil Taylor. Even if the Browns find a way to slow down the run, McCoy is dangerous in the passing game because the defense has to turn its attention downfield to receivers Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson.
Jacksonville coach Mike Mularkey is probably still a bit upset with MJD after his lengthy holdout, but this is a winnable game against the Vikings. By Sunday afternoon, he'll have forgotten about that "third-down back" talk and make sure Jones-Drew gets carries and receptions.
It's a bold prediction considering the Jets went most of the preseason without getting in the end zone, and Tebow wasn't responsible for the one they did score. But New York offensive coordinator Tony Sparano was keeping his real game plan close to the vest, and the Jets' offense will be more effective against a Bills defense that looks better on paper, but still has something to prove.
Manning can have success in the air against a traditionally tough Pittsburgh pass defense that will be missing Ryan Clark. The best way to beat Pittsburgh's D is to spread out the offense, so Manning will test them that way. But Peyton still has to prove how healthy his arm is after making some questionable throws during the preseason. Look for Pittsburgh's defenders to jump routes to try to make a big play. This could be the story of Manning's season -- lots of yards, but more interceptions than normal.
Fellow Pittsburgh receiver Mike Wallace is still learning a new offense and the Steelers' running game isn't settled yet. Ben Roethlisberger is comfortable with Brown, who got a big contract in the offseason, and will rely on him when the Broncos' pass rush is bearing down.
Everyone expects the Saints to be extra motivated in Week 1 because of their emotional offseason. They won't need to get into full gear for this contest against the Redskins, even though Washington will be missing starting safeties Brandon Merriweather (injury) and Tanard Jackson (suspension). Washington will try to slow down the game with a conservative attack, and the Saints should try to establish the running game. The Redskins ranked 12th against the pass last year and can get after the QB, while they were just 18th against the run.
The Texans' pass rush was strong last season and could be even better this year with rookie Whitney Mercilus in the mix. Connor Barwin, Brooks Reed and J.J. Watt have to be excited to chase the rookie Tannehill. If they can stop Miami running backs Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas and put Tannehill in obvious pass situations, the Texans' front seven will cause total mayhem.
Even with Jonathan Stewart iffy because of a preseason ankle injury, the Panthers will gash a defense they ran all over last year. Carolina amassed 433 yards on the ground in 38-19 and 48-16 wins over the Bucs last season. New Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano may not have enough talent to fix this unit immediately. If Stewart can't contribute, new addition Mike Tolbert can help in both the running and passing games. Cam Newton ran for 119 yards on 20 carries last season against the Bucs.