Rams at Lions, 12 p.m.
From their running back and offensive line to their banged up secondary, the Lions are a flawed team. If the Rams can somehow build a lead and let Chris Long and Robert Quinn loose on Matthew Stafford then St. Louis has a shot to spring the upset. But the biggest problem facing the Rams is that their offensive line will have a difficult time containing the Lions’ front four, which is the strength of their defense. Brian Schottenheimer will lean on Steven Jackson and the running game but Sam Bradford could be in for a long day and eventually Detroit should pull away. (The young Rams also figure to struggle on the road this year, and Ford Field can get loud whether Detroit is competitive or not.)
PREDICTION: Lions 31, Rams 13
Colts at Bears, 12 p.m.
The two biggest concerns facing Chicago this season are its offensive line and aging defense. But Soldier Field has become a tough place to play and while Andrew Luck will provide plenty of highlight reel plays for Indy this season, the Colts don’t have enough firepower to match Chicago for four quarters. Their defense is likely to struggle against the Bears’ balanced offense, which now features Brandon Marshall.
PREDICTION: Bears 24, Colts 10
Eagles at Browns, 12 p.m.
Cleveland’s home field advantage will last about five minutes before talent and depth start to take over. The Eagles won’t have to worry about Michael Vick getting hurt this week because the Browns don’t have a pass rush and they won’t be able to stop “Shady” McCoy due to their banged up front four. Trent Richardson isn’t 100-percent after having his knee scoped last month and Brandon Weeden was shaky in preseason. Philly should roll.
PREDICTION: Eagles 38, Browns 7
Bills at Jets, 12 p.m.
The “battle” between Tim Tebow and Mark Sanchez this offseason took attention off the real problem in New York: The Jets’ offensive line. Buffalo’s new-look defense will be somewhat of a project early in the year but Mario Williams and Marcell Dareus should have a field day rushing the passer this weekend. The Jets’ defense will keep things close but Ryan Fitzpatrick won’t get exposed until later in the year. The Bills pull off the small upset.
PREDICTION: Bills 16, Jets 13
Redskins at Saints, 12 p.m.
Robert Griffin III is immensely talented and he’ll produce his fair share of jaw-dropping plays this season. But he’s still a rookie and the Saints have been virtually unbeatable at home over the last few seasons. At some point their tumultuous offseason will catch up to the Saints but Drew Brees and that offense should fire on all cylinders this weekend. Look for a high-scoring affair.
PREDICTION: Saints 38, Redskins 28
Patriots at Titans, 12 p.m.
The Patriots have the easiest schedule of any 32 teams but this is a tougher game than people realize. Chris Johnson is poised for a bounce back year and while second-year quarterback Jake Locker needs to become a more consistent passer, his mobility and big arm make him a dangerous player. Look for Tennessee to keep things close but for New England to pull off a late victory.
PREDICTION: Patriots 20, Titans 17
Jaguars at Vikings, 12 p.m.
Mike Mularkey will do wonders for Blaine Gabbert this season. He’ll put the onus on the running game and try to build Gabbert’s confidence by working the short-to-intermediate passing game. Whether Maurice Jones-Drew touches the ball five times this Sunday or 15, this is a winnable game for Jacksonville. I don’t expect Adrian Peterson to have a big role in Minnesota’s offense, which could struggle as the offensive line tries to gel early on. I like the Jags to pull off a small upset.
PREDICTION: Jaguars 16, Vikings 13
Dolphins at Texans, 12 p.m.
Ryan Tannehill’s regular season debut could be a disaster. Houston has one of the top defenses in the league and if Miami can’t get Reggie Bush or Daniel Thomas going then it’ll be a long day for Tannehill. The Dolphins’ defense may keep things game close for a half but it better be prepared to be on the field for a long time on Sunday. The Texans will lean on Arian Foster and Ben Tate, and win this one going away.
PREDICTION: Texans 34, Dolphins 3
Falcons at Chiefs, 12 p.m.
This should be a competitive game throughout. Atlanta DC Mike Nolan knows Kansas City OC Brian Daboll from their days together in Miami, so there’s a familiarity between these two teams. (Chiefs’ GM Scott Pioli is also familiar with Falcons’ GM Thomas Dimitroff from when the two worked in New England together.) That said, the absence of Tamba Hali and the nagging injuries that have limited Derrick Johnson and Brandon Flowers this week will hurt KC in the end. The Falcons’ up-tempo offense looked great in preseason and Matt Ryan has a ton of weapons in Julio Jones, Roddy White, Harry Douglas and Tony Gonzalez. This game will be tight but I like the Falcons to eek out a victory.
PREDICTION: Falcons 20, Chiefs 16
49ers at Packers, 3:25 p.m.
What a great early-season matchup between two teams that should win their respective divisions this season. The 49ers arguably have the best defense in the league and if they can generate a pass rush against Green Bay’s shaky offensive line, Aaron Rodgers could have a tough time moving the ball the way he’s accustomed to. That said, in the battle of Rodgers vs. Alex Smith I obviously like Rodgers, especially on his home turf. But this one won’t be decided until the fourth quarter.
PREDICTION: Packers 23, 49ers 20
Panthers at Bucs, 3:25 p.m.
Plenty of people see Carolina as a potential sleeper this season and with Cam Newton at quarterback it’s hard to argue with that line of thinking. But the Bucs will be a much-improved team under coach Greg Schiano, who will try to keep games close by winning the turnover and time of possession battle. Carolina’s running game is a complete mismatch against Tampa Bay’s soft front seven, but these NFC South games tend to be close and I like the Bucs to pull off the upset at home in Schiano’s debut.
PREDICTION: Bucs 20, Panthers 17
Seahawks at Cardinals, 3:25 p.m.
By the end of the season I fully expect Seattle to outperform Arizona in the win-loss column. I also expect Russell Wilson to be successful in his first year and for John Skelton to quickly be exposed under center. That said, the Cardinals have proven to be a tough team at home and the Seahawks have never traveled well. As much as I like Wilson, he’s a rookie quarterback facing a division rival on the road in his first regular season game. I expect him to make a few mistakes and for Arizona to lean heavily on its running game. For as bad as the Cardinals’ offensive line is in pass protection, it’s actually decent as a run-blocking unit. Look for Skelton to put the ball in the air less than 20 times and for the Cardinals to surprise with a victory.
PREDICTION: Cardinals 13, Seahawks 10
Steelers at Broncos, 7:20 p.m.
Peyton Manning makes his much-anticipated debut for Denver, which still owns an underrated defense. The Steelers’ offensive line is in shambles and questions surround the running game and aging defense. While I fully expect Pittsburgh to challenge for a postseason spot, this could be a down year for the “Steel Curtain.” Peyton rises to the occasion at home and on national TV, and records his first win as a Bronco.
PREDICTION: Broncos 23, Steelers 17
Bengals at Ravens, 6 p.m. Monday
The Bengals remain underrated because people don’t know whether or not to trust Andy Dalton. But they struggled against the Ravens and Steelers last year and Baltimore will finally be able to lean on its offense now that Cam Cameron has installed elements of the no huddle for Joe Flacco. The Ravens’ defense will miss Terrell Suggs but they’ll control the line of scrimmage and handle their AFC North rival on Monday night.
PREDICTION: Ravens 27, Bengals 16
Chargers at Raiders, 9:15 p.m.
Carson Palmer looked rough in preseason and the Chargers have more talent and deeper depth than their AFC West foes. But over the past two seasons this division has provided an upset on Monday Night Football in Week 1, with the Chiefs beating the Chargers two years ago and the Raiders upsetting the Broncos last season. Plus, San Diego is notorious for starting slow and Oakland’s defense should be improved from a season ago. With Darren McFadden healthy, I like the Raiders to spring the upset on MNF.
PREDICTION: Raiders 17, Chargers 14