Skip to main content

The Playbook: A complete guide to Week 1 action around the NFL

Chris Burke and Doug Farrar preview every game of Week 1 and offer their viewing recommendations, along with number to know, matchups to watch and, most importantly, a Tecmo Bowl prediction.

Week 1 is off and running, as the Patriots christened the 2015 season and celebrated their Super Bowl XLIX victory with a 28–21 win over the Steelers in front of a national audience on Thursday night. On Sunday, the nation's focus becomes more fractured, as seven games kick off in the early afternoon window, beginning a 36-hour run of nearly non-stop football in which the league's other 30 teams begin their campaigns. Chris Burke and Doug Farrar preview every game of Week 1 and offer their viewing recommendations, along with number to know, matchups to watch and, most importantly, a Tecmo Bowl prediction.

(All times Eastern.)

BANKS: Week 1 NFL picksKING: 10 things I'll be watching this weekend

​Main Events

Packers at Bears (1 p.m., FOX)

Historically, there is no question this rivalry is one of the greatest in sports. Reality has painted a different picture of late, however, with Green Bay sporting a lofty 9–2 record (including one playoff win) in the past 11 meetings with Chicago.

If the Bears have any plans to reverse the trend, they will need to turn in a much more competent showing on defense than they offered in the preseason. The transition to a new coaching staff—and thus, a new scheme under defensive coordinator Vic Fangio—left the Bears playing catch-up, trying to fit pieces where they may not go. Early returns have revealed a work in progress, at best.

•   Win $100K for 1st place in FanDuel's week 1 fantasy league. Top 46,000 teams get paid. Join now!

FanDuel

The offense, now led by coordinator Adam Gase, stumbled through August itself, and a string of injuries hasn't helped. The status of No. 1 receiver Alshon Jeffery (calf) is up in the air for Sunday, as is that of veteran Eddie Royal (groin); first-round pick Kevin White already landed on IR-return with a stress fracture in his shin.

NFL Week 1 picks: The beginning of the quest to Super Bowl 50

Jay Cutler will have to find points somewhere for the Bears to pull the upset—Green Bay averaged 46.5 points in its two-game sweep of Chicago last season.

Of course, the Packers have their own injury woes on offense and, potentially, their own question marks on defense. The former is a more pressing concern. Aaron Rodgers's favorite target Jordy Nelson suffered a season-ending knee injury last month, thereby thrusting 2014 draft pick Davante Adams into a critical role. The general consensus tabs Adams as a rising star, but Nelson's 1,500 yards and 98 catches will be tough to replace. If nothing else, opposing defenses will worry less about Adams than they did about Nelson.

Also bumped up the depth chart is cornerback Casey Hayward. His promotion came via the events of free agency (namely, the departure of Tramon Williams), but nevertheless he's set to take on a critical starting role. With uncertainty at linebacker outside of Clay Matthews, the Packers can't afford any deficiencies in the secondary.

Chicago will try to pressure those linebackers on the ground, where Matt Forte remains a threat. Green Bay's answer when it has the ball: Eddie Lacy, an 1,100-yard rusher during each of his first two seasons and a dark horse for the 2015 rushing title. -- CB

• KING: Aaron Rodgers and his tireless quest for turnover-free football

Lions at Chargers (4:05 p.m., FOX)

Scroll to Continue

SI Recommends

Both teams are hoping for great early returns from the running backs they selected in the 2015 draft. The Chargers went 9–7 in the tough AFC West with Branden Oliver as their lead back (582 yards and three touchdowns on 160 carries). Not bad for Oliver, an undrafted rookie out of Buffalo, but San Diego took Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon with the 15th pick this spring with the idea that he can deliver on the promise of his incredible 2014 season, in which he led the NCAA with 2,587 rushing yards, 29 rushing touchdowns and 2,740 yards from scrimmage. Gordon is used to doing his thing behind huge, powerful offensive lines, which makes him a great fit in this offense. Similarly, the Lions took Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah with the 54th pick, hoping that he can add consistency to a rushing attack that was all too boom-and-bust in 2014.

Watching Doug Baldwin's game tape from 2014 with ... Doug Baldwin

It's an important concern for both franchises, because there isn't much else standing between either team and deep playoff success. Both teams have great quarterbacks in Philip Rivers and Matthew Stafford, underrated offensive lines, credible targets and defenses on the rise. San Diego's John Pagano has become one of the league's most respected defensive coordinators with his ability to take little play-to-play tweaks and make them work, while Detroit's Teryl Austin did an amazing job in his first year in charge of the defense. The Lions had been known for their stout front four, but Austin drew out great performances from lesser-known players like linebacker Tahir Whitehead and cornerback Darius Slay.

Similarly, Pagano has benefited from the development of end Corey Liuget and cornerback Jason Verrett. Where this game might turn in Detroit's favor is the simple fact that their front seven is stronger, especially at the linebacker level. There are few 4–3 linebacker units better than the combo of Whitehead, DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch. Detroit will hope that veteran Haloti Ngata can take the place of Ndamukong Suh as a pure run-stopper, though Suh's pass rush will be tough to replicate. That puts the burden on end Ezekiel Ansah, who will be going up against tackles King Dunlap and D.J. Fluker. Both blockers are excellent with power moves but struggle against speed rushers. This could be the most interesting matchup of Week 1, and perhaps a Super Bowl preview if everything goes right for both teams. -- DF

VRENTAS: Suh to Brady: 'I'm coming after you again, buddy'

Ravens at Broncos (4:25 p.m., CBS)

“Statement wins” are more a college football phenomenon than an NFL one. There are no pollsters to impress in the pros (unless you count Power Rankings, which you should not) and no playoff committees deciding teams' fates. Still, the winner on Sunday in Denver will stake themselves to an early spot among the AFC favorites.

Despite winning four consecutive division crowns and reaching the Super Bowl two years ago, the Broncos may have more critics to silence entering Week 1. The Broncos made a coaching change (Gary Kubiak for John Fox) after a humbling divisional round defeat, and Peyton Manning's late-season struggles left many wondering if his career had hit the wall.

What off-season distractions? Brady sharp as ever in Pats' opening win

Somewhat lost amid all the Peyton panic has been that the Broncos may have a standout defense. That unit ranked 16th in scoring last season but third in yards allowed.

How the Ravens attack when they have the football remains to be seen. New offensive coordinator Marc Trestman opted against a complete overhaul of the system left behind by Kubiak when he took the Denver job, but count on some new wrinkles. The strength will remain in the run game, where Justin Forsett returns, as does all of Baltimore's powerful offensive line.

Joe Flacco is no slouch at quarterback, either, although the Broncos would love to force him to win through the air. Aside from Steve Smith Sr., the Ravens are unproven at both receiver and tight end. They're also squaring off with a Broncos secondary, led by Chris Harris and Aqib Talib, that may be one of the NFL's best.

Of course, Flacco should be used to a little scrutiny by now—whether it's fair or not. Manning has been knocked for his alleged struggles in cold weather and even for his postseason play, but he has never entered a season with this large a contingent doubting his game. But let's not forget that he still threw for 4,700 yards and 39 touchdowns last season.

Arguably of greater concern for the Broncos is their offensive line, even with Evan Mathis's arrival. Baltimore had the second-most sacks of any team a year ago, and the Terrell Suggs–Elvis Dumervil tandem would love to start Manning off on an uncomfortable note. -- CB