Thursday, September 23
Carolina Panthers @ Houston Texans
Another week, another NFL team gets a turn to pick on what should be an awful Texans’ defense. Sam Darnold gets an opportunity to recover from a difficult matchup against the Saints’ defense. Sign me up for some huge performances from Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, hell even Terrace Marshall and Dan Arnold. The cornerback duo of Bradley Roby and Terrance Mitchell has some talent, but this team is devoid of pass-rushing juice and offensive coordinator Joe Brady will be licking his chops at this matchup. It’s unclear if Deshaun Watson will play in this game given his legal troubles, but I have my doubts about this offense either way. There’s not much pass-catching talent outside of Brandin Cooks and this running back room leaves a lot to be desired. The Panthers add first-round cornerback Jaycee Horn to a defense with a lot of young talent. Head coach David Culley has an uphill battle in his first season in the job and it won’t get any easier against this upstart Carolina team.
Matchup to watch: Christian McCaffrey (CAR RB) vs. Texans’ run defense (allowed the most rushing yards in the NFL last season)
Sunday, September 26
Indianapolis Colts @ Tennessee Titans
It’s looking like the AFC South will come down to the Colts and Titans again after both teams finished 11-5 last season. Tennessee will be highly praised for their addition of Julio Jones, a future Hall of Fame receiver, via trade. There aren’t many teams in the NFL who can stop both Jones and A.J. Brown, and unfortunately for Indianapolis, they only have one Xavier Rhodes to go around. The Colts will need to rely on their pass rush to pressure Ryan Tannehill in this game, which means DeForest Buckner needs help from Al-Quadin Muhammad and rookie Kwity Paye. That front seven will also be responsible for slowing down a freight train in Derrick Henry. Indianapolis will move the ball just fine as their stout offensive line will overwhelm a middling Tennessee front seven; the Titans allowed the ninth-most rushing yards in the NFL last season and lost stud defensive tackle DaQuan Jones in free agency. The Colts’ best hope is to keep the ball out of Tannehill’s hands by running a ball control ground game through Jonathan Taylor. These teams have split their season series in each of the last two years, so this should be a highly enticing game to watch.
Matchup to watch: A.J. Brown and Julio Jones (TEN WRs) vs. Xavier Rhodes and Rock Ya-Sin (IND CBs)
Atlanta Falcons @ New York Giants
Matt Ryan may not be thrilled about the trade of Julio Jones to Tennessee, but he should be very excited to play with rookie tight end Kyle Pitts and in new head coach Arthur Smith’s system. Smith took the job under the notion that Ryan would be in Atlanta as he wants to build an offensive juggernaut around the veteran quarterback. The Giants were a top twelve defense both in terms of points and yards allowed last season, though, so the Falcons will have a bit of a challenge here. James Bradberry has the coverage chops to at least slow down Calvin Ridley on the outside while Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence could overwhelm the interior of Atlanta’s offensive line. On the other side of the ball, Daniel Jones will have as good an opportunity as ever to exploit his new weapons in Kenny Golladay and rookie Kadarius Toney as the Falcons’ defense allowed the most passing yards in football last year. Saquon Barkley could have a tougher test, however, as Grady Jarrett and friends operate a pretty stout run defense, especially by comparison.
Matchup to watch: Calvin Ridley (ATL WR) vs. James Bradberry (NYG CB)
Los Angeles Chargers @ Kansas City Chiefs
If the Chargers have good injury luck this year, which is a big if based on recent years, they could have a chance to unseat the Chiefs atop the AFC West. They’re one of the few teams with the pieces to slow down Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce as Derwin James is built to cover athletic tight ends and Chris Harris Jr. and Asante Samuel provide intriguing bracket coverage on Hill. Joey Bosa will keep new Chiefs’ left tackle Orlando Brown on his toes and Brandon Staley is as good as any defensive mind in the league; he can cook something up to exploit some of Mahomes’s very few weaknesses. On the other side of the ball, Justin Herbert should have plenty of time to sit in and throw as the Chargers’ offensive line should be one of the league’s best and I love the matchup of Keenan Allen against Will Parks in the slot – the Chargers’ receiver should feast. The Chiefs will be favored here, but the Chargers could make things very interesting.
Matchup to watch: Corey Linsley (LAC C) vs. Chris Jones (KC DT)
Cincinnati Bengals @ Pittsburgh Steelers
In Week 15 of last season, the Bengals pulled off a shocking upset over the Steelers with Ryan Finley under center in place of the injured Joe Burrow. Pittsburgh’s offense was putrid in that game, and they’ll be hoping that adding Najee Harris can give them the run-game dominance they so desperately needed. Joe Burrow will be back for this game, though, barring any complications, and he’ll be able to exploit a mediocre Steelers’ secondary with Ja’Marr Chase, Tyler Boyd, and Tee Higgins at his disposal. The real question for Cincinnati will be whether or not their offensive line can hold up against the likes of T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward, and Stephon Tuitt even after the addition of Riley Reiff and rookie Jackson Carman. Cincy lacks the requisite secondary talent to hang with Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and JuJu Smith-Schuster, although Jessie Bates is one of the best safeties in the game. This is an intriguing divisional matchup between two teams who split their season series last season.
Matchup to watch: Riley Reiff (CIN OT) vs. T.J. Watt (PIT OLB)
Chicago Bears @ Cleveland Browns
A year after the best season for the franchise in the past two decades, I believe the Browns are even better this season. The additions of John Johnson, Troy Hill, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, and rookie Greg Newsome to the secondary will make the defense very hard to throw against, particularly if Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams are able to stay healthy. That sheer volume of high-level pass coverage players paired with a potent pass rush in Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney will be difficult for most any passing offense to overcome, particularly one with a lack of proven pass-catchers outside of Allen Robinson. The Bears have the defensive talent to at least slow down a potent Cleveland rushing attack and make Baker Mayfield beat them downfield, but the former Oklahoma quarterback very much has the ability to do so. Chicago will struggle to replace lockdown cornerback Kyle Fuller, particularly if Odell Beckham Jr. gets hot in this game. The Browns are the much more talented team overall and they get the luxury of playing at home in this game.
Matchup to watch: Jack Conklin (CLE OT) vs. Khalil Mack (CHI OLB)
Baltimore Ravens @ Detroit Lions
The Ravens have ranked first or second in the NFL in rushing yards per game each of the past three years and the Lions allowed the fifth-most rushing yards per game last season. Lamar Jackson has run for 78.5 yards per game so far in his career and has run for just shy of 3,000 yards in his first three seasons which is an NFL record for quarterbacks. The backfield duo of J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards are potent as well; both ran for over 5.0 YPC last year. Breshad Perriman and Tyrell Williams are now the Lions’ top pass-catchers and they’re going to struggle to find breathing room against Marcus Peters, Marlon Humphery, and Jimmy Smith while Jared Goff will struggle against a deep, varied pass rush. It’s hard to find many winnable games on the Lions’ schedule, and this certainly isn’t one of them as the Ravens are a run-heavy, lockdown defensive team which is exactly the profile of squad that will give Detroit fits this year.
New Orleans Saints @ New England Patriots
A couple of years ago, a Saints-Patriots matchup would have meant Drew Brees vs. Tom Brady. Now, Brees is retired and Brady is playing in Tampa Bay. Both of these rosters are very talented, but it’s unclear who will suit up at quarterback for either side. New England will be choosing between veteran Cam Newton and rookie Mac Jones while New Orleans will be between Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston. On the Patriots side, with new pass-catchers in tow in Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Hunter Henry, and Jonnu Smith, they should have a solid chance to move the ball against an admittedly stout defense. New England’s offensive line is one of the best in the league, though. On the other side, Michael Thomas will see a lot of Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson while Alvin Kamara continues to thrive in his do-it-all backfield role. It’s hard to say which way this matchup will go, especially with so much talent on either side, but this should be a fun one to watch regardless.
Matchup to watch: Trent Brown (NE OT) vs. Cameron Jordan (NO DE)
Arizona Cardinals @ Jacksonville Jaguars
I’m going to be very excited for this matchup between the 2019 first overall pick in Kyler Murray and the 2021 first overall pick in Trevor Lawrence. Two prolific collegiate passers, both were highly-billed prospects who should be among the best quarterbacks in the league in the new generation. Arizona’s offense has evolved into a juggernaut headlined by DeAndre Hopkins who is joined by Christian Kirk, A.J. Green, and rookie Rondale Moore in the wide receiver room. The offensive line is stout as well; D.J. Humphries and Kelvin Beachum are elite bookends supported by arguably the best center in the NFL in Rodney Hudson. Jacksonville’s cornerback room is going to struggle mightily to cover Hopkins. Trevor Lawrence has plenty of talent in Marvin Jones, D.J. Chark, and Laviska Shenault as well as Travis Etienne and James Robinson at running back. The interior of the offensive line is strong, but the tackles are going to be highly susceptible to J.J. Watt and Chandler Jones on the outside. The Cardinals are further along than the Jaguars are at this point, and it’s going to show in this game.
Matchup to watch: DeAndre Hopkins (ARI WR) vs. C.J. Henderson (JAX CB)
Washington Football Team @ Buffalo Bills
The Bills are going to be thrilled that they resigned two offensive line starters in Ike Boettger and Daryl Williams when this game rolls around as Washington’s front seven is arguably the best in the NFL. Rookie Jamin Davis fits right in at weakside linebacker while Chase Young, Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne, and Montez Sweat represent arguably the best defensive line in football. Washington did lose Ronald Darby but replaced him with William Jackson III who some would tell you is an upgrade. Buffalo’s Josh Allen is coming off a prolific season, but this might be the toughest test he’s faced since the start of last season. Washington’s Ryan Fitzpatrick does have a bit of a revenge game here, as the journeyman does against lots of teams, but Terry McLaurin and Curtis Samuel could struggle against the Bills’ top-notch cornerbacks in Tre’Davious White and Levi Wallace. Both of these teams are very talented defensively, so I see this being a low-scoring gut-punch battle between two 2020 playoff teams.
Matchup to watch: Terry McLaurin (WAS WR) vs. Tre’Davious White (WAS CB)
New York Jets @ Denver Broncos
Last time we saw the Jets take on the Broncos, we watched a surprising Thursday Night Football shootout between New York’s Sam Darnold and Denver’s Brett Rypien. The Jets will be playing rookie Zach Wilson at quarterback this year, while the Broncos will be playing either Drew Lock or Teddy Bridgewater. I’ll be excited to see how this new-look Jets’ defense looks against the Broncos’ potent offense with Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Noah Fant, Javonte Williams, and Melvin Gordon headlining the skill position group. New York’s new coach Robert Saleh should be very excited to work with some high-level front seven players in C.J. Mosley, Carl Lawson, Quinnen Williams, Sheldon Rankins, and Vinny Curry. Lawson, a new defensive lineman for the Jets, will take on Garrett Bolles, an All-Pro left tackle last season. However, the Jets’ secondary is underwhelming, however, and I don’t feel great about their ability to cover the Denver pass-catchers. New York’s offense is still likely to be a work in progress, and Denver’s defense is stacked with talent at all three levels, so Wilson could struggle to produce in this game.
Matchup to watch: Mekhi Becton (NYJ OT) vs. Bradley Chubb (DEN OLB)
Miami Dolphins @ Las Vegas Raiders
We saw a barnburner of a game between these two playoff hopefuls last season as Miami’s kicker Jason Sanders hit a 44-yard field goal with one second remaining to deliver his team the win. The Raiders will be hoping for an improved defense with some rookie safeties arriving on the scene along with defensive coordinator Gus Bradley and cornerback Casey Heyward Jr. However, Las Vegas will be struggling to keep up with some high-level pass-catchers in Miami in Will Fuller V, DeVante Parker, Jaylen Waddle, and Mike Gisecki. On the other side of the ball, Las Vegas will be hoping for improved production from second-year receiver Henry Ruggs and veteran addition John Brown to pair with the stud tight end Darren Waller. However, the Raiders’ offensive line is still very much a work in progress and Miami’s defensive line is deep and full of talent. Derek Carr did throw for over 300 yards against this team last year, but Miami’s defense is one of the best in the NFL.
Matchup to watch: Will Fuller V, DeVante Parker, and Jaylen Waddle (MIA WRs) vs. Casey Heyward Jr., Damon Arnette, and Trayvon Mullen (LV CBs)
Seattle Seahawks @ Minnesota Vikings
One week after facing the Titans’ A.J. Brown and Julio Jones, the Seahawks have to face the Vikings’ dynamic duo of Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson. Seattle added cornerback Akhello Witherspoon over the offseason and will be hoping for improved play from D.J. Reed, Tre Flowers, and Damarious Randall. The Seahawks do have one of the better run defenses in football led by all-time linebacker Bobby Wagner, and that will help them slow down the remarkable Dalvin Cook who racked up almost 2,000 yards from scrimmage last season. Minnesota will be eager to welcome back Danielle Hunter, Anthony Barr, and Michael Pierce to the front seven following their injury-riddled 2020 seasons, and Seattle could be forced to be more one-dimensional with their middling offensive line. D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett should have winnable matchups, though, as there aren’t any real standouts in the Minnesota cornerback room. Last season, the Seahawks and Vikings played an intriguing Sunday Night Football game that ended with Russell Wilson throwing a touchdown pass to D.K. Metcalf with 48 seconds remaining in the game. Minnesota will be looking for revenge here.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Los Angeles Rams
This is my current pick for the NFC Conference Championship game, and it’s going to be a treat to watch these two teams face off; they’re arguably the two most talented teams in the NFL top-to-bottom. Aaron Donald, the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in three of the last four seasons, will be met with some resistance in the form of a solid offensive line across the board. In the interior of the offensive line, guards Ali Marpet and Alex Cappa as well as center Ryan Jensen will have a tough task in this game. Mike Evans and Antonio Brown will be matched with Jalen Ramsey and Darious Williams, arguably the best cornerback tandem in the league, while Chris Godwin will have the easier matchup in the slot. On the other side of the ball, Matthew Stafford could struggle against a ferocious pass rush and the yet-to-be-named starting center for LA will have nightmares about dealing with Bucs nose tackle Vita Vea. Cam Akers will also struggle to find rushing lanes against the team that allowed the fewest rushing yards in the NFL last year. Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, and DeSean Jackson all have winnable matchups in this game, but the Buccaneers are no slouches defensively as they ranked top eight in both points and yards allowed last year. In this early matchup between two of the NFL’s juggernauts, quarterback play could win out, and the slight edge still goes to Tom Brady over Stafford in that regard.
Matchup to watch: Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Antonio Brown (TB WRs) vs. Jalen Ramsey and Darious Williams (LAR CBs)
Green Bay Packers @ San Francisco 49ers
The Packers earned their revenge over the 49ers last season with a 34-17 win; don’t forget, San Francisco beat them 37-20 in the NFC title game the season prior as Raheem Mostert rushed for 220 yards and 4 touchdowns. The Packers’ run defense improved considerably as they went from allowing the tenth-most rushing yards to fielding an above-average unit. However, the Niners’ offensive line should be healthy after dealing with its fair share of injuries last year. Jaire Alexander and rookie Eric Stokes will be tasked with guarding Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk while George Kittle will be matched up with a number of defenders, likely seeing a lot of safety Adrian Amos. Regardless of whether or not Aaron Rodgers is under center for Green Bay, the San Francisco defensive line could overwhelm just about any O-line in football. Luckily, Rodgers is about as good as it gets under pressure and should be just fine in this matchup. A matchup between two historic juggernauts should make for an exhilarating Sunday Night Football contest.
Matchup to watch: Raheem Mostert (SF RB) vs. Packers’ run defense (Mostert had 220 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns the last time he faced Green Bay)
Monday, September 27
Philadelphia Eagles @ Dallas Cowboys
One year after suffering a season-ending injury early in the year, Dak Prescott should be raring to go and play against a familiar divisional foe in the Eagles. Since Prescott became the Cowboys’ quarterback in 2016, the Cowboys have gone 6-4 against the Eagles. With Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup, Prescott is supported by a lethal trio of wide receivers who can beat up on an Eagles’ cornerback group offering little resistance to most teams. Dallas also should have its offensive line back and healthy and intact to play a middling Eagles’ pass rush. On the other side of the ball, first-round rookie Micah Parsons is going to make a huge impact against the Philly run game while DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory provide the pressure off the edge. The Cowboys don’t really have the corners to matchup with Jalen Reagor and DeVonta Smith, two first-round receivers, but they can rely on an improved front seven to slow down a strong Eagles’ rushing attack.
Matchup to watch: Lane Johnson (PHI OT) vs. DeMarcus Lawrence (DAL DE)