Bet On It: Bold predictions for Week 1
Consider this your weekly predictions beyond the predictions. In "Bet on It," we'll be throwing our virtual money down on the things you can expect to see during the NFL's game action.
Our first installment takes us around Week 1 to try to guess which star will shine brightest this weekend, who will struggle and which teams are facing the best matchups.
Without further adieu, eight stone-cold locks for this weekend's NFL games:
8. St. Louis will sack Michael Vick at least three times.
The Rams' defensive line only produced an average pass rush last year -- its 34 sacks tied it for 18th in the league. But Philadelphia's offensive line is unsettled, with rookie Danny Watkins being replaced at right guard just this week and fellow first-year player Jason Kelce struggling at center.
Vick took a few big hits in minimal preseason playing time and the Rams have players who can get in the backfield. That's especially true given St. Louis' offseason acquisitions of Justin Bannan (free agency) and Robert Quinn (draft).
St. Louis should put a premium on pressuring Vick Sunday, and it will result in some takedowns.
7. Cam Newton will score a rushing touchdown.
Not surprisingly, Arizona plans to blitz Newton early and often in the Heisman winner's first start. While there's a strong chance that strategy will lead to some mistakes from the rookie QB, the one aspect of Newton's that we know is NFL ready is his running ability.
Should Newton slip through Arizona's rush, especially in the event of a blitz, he will find ample running run in the second level. For a player with Newton's explosiveness, that would be a dangerous proposition for the Cardinals.
6. Chris Johnson won't top 100 yards rushing.
For a guy of Johnson's ability and fitness level, missing the preseason isn't a huge concern. Still, he has yet to play with new Tennessee quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and the Jaguars figure to stack the box -- as most teams do against the Titans.
CJ2k has topped 100 yards rushing just twice in six games against the Jags during his career. Of course, one of those was a 228-yard outburst in 2009. But he averaged just 82 yards in a pair of Jacksonville matchups last season.
Tennessee also figures to work Jamie Harper and Javon Ringer (if he's healthy at all) into the rotation a bit, meaning Johnson could wind up closer to 20 carries than 30 and beyond.
There are a number of factors at play here. First and foremost, Cassel will play Sunday but he's coming off a rib injury suffered in Kansas City's final preseason game, so the game plan may try to protect him a bit.
The Bills were also abysmal against the run last season, allowing an NFL-worst 169.6 yards per game. While they should improve on that in 2011, stopping Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones in Week 1 is a tall order. The more that duo runs wild, the less Cassel needs to throw.
Buffalo could find itself behind for much of this game, too, which will force Fitzpatrick to air it out. He threw for 3,000 yards last season despite starting just 13 games.
4. San Diego will score 30 points.
Minnesota's Williams Wall has been torn down -- the Vikings let Pat Williams walk and Kevin Williams will miss two games to suspension. The remodeled front four will face a stiff test Sunday, both trying to get pressure on Philip Rivers and in slowing Ryan Mathews.
Meanwhile, Minnesota's secondary will be putting together the pieces after dealing with injuries throughout 2010 and the preseason. Even if Cedric Griffin and Chris Cook can make it through a full game, which the former hasn't done since Week 5 of last year and the latter since Week 11, they'll have their hands full with San Diego's loaded attack.
Rivers has made starting strong for once a focus for San Diego this year. The Chargers should do just that, at least on offense.
3. Cleveland will pick off Andy Dalton two or more times.
Here's a season-long lock for you: Dalton will be better than most people think. But Week 1 figures to be rough.
The Browns will set the tone for what Dalton and the Bengals see all season -- specifically, seven or eight guys in the box attempting to shut down Cedric Benson. Cleveland presents some tough challenges too, including rookie DT Phil Taylor and LB D'Qwell Jackson, who returns after missing all of 2010 with an injury.
2. Matthew Stafford will throw multiple TD passes.
Stafford has tossed more than one touchdown four times in his 13 NFL games and Tampa Bay allowed just 23 TD passes all of last season, so the numbers here don't necessarily add up.
That said, Stafford was locked in all preseason and the Lions look willing and able to let him use his numerous weapons -- Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, Titus Young, Brandon Pettigrew, Jahvid Best and so on. Detroit even showed a pass-happy, no-huddle look in a preseason thrashing of the Patriots.
Beyond that, Best was banged up throughout most of the preseason and Detroit's backup RB situation is unsettled. The Lions recently added Keiland Williams, while Maurice Morris and Jerome Harrison are in the mix. There's no definitive short-yardage option and Best might need a couple of weeks to shake off the rust.
Stafford's going to air it out, and he should find some success, even against a stingy Bucs pass defense.
1. Darren McFadden will hit 150 total yards.
McFadden went bonkers against the Broncos last season -- 165 yards rushing in Week 7 and 158 total yards in Week 15, both Oakland wins. Partly because of what McFadden did to Denver, new Broncos head coach John Fox made his run defense a focus this offseason. He's got his hands full in Week 1's closing game. The Raiders will use McFadden as much as possible, and even with all the moves Denver made -- including a switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3, the return of Elvis Dumervil from injury and drafting Von Miller -- the defensive tackles are still a question mark. The Broncos' defensive resurgence may have to wait another week.