Ed: Welcome back to another season of Hot Air picks and prognostications for the NFL! Thanks to my surprising (to me, anyway) win in last year’s post-season, I get the honors of choosing today’s teams and matchups. I feel a bit like Antonio Brown, who spent the offseason choosing one team, only to choose another at the last minute, although my boss is no doubt grateful that I didn’t tape our phone conversations. The New England Patriots have signed the former Steeler-turned-Raider-turned head case, but he won’t be playing today. And guess who’s delighted to hear that?
Jazz: Yes, after managing to win the regular season last year, and fighting my way to a tie with Ed after the conference championships, I let my shot at a clean sweep slip away at the last minute. I almost asked why I decided to take the Rams, but I know the reason. I just couldn’t pick the stinking Patriots to take the whole thing. As to the Antonio Brown question, his talent makes it worrisome that he went to New England, but there was some chatter about the Jets making a bid for him. We already took Le’vion Bell, and that’s not the dynamic duo I was hoping for in New York. Perhaps this is for the best.
Ed: Time to get down to the picks, and as always, I’ll start with Pittsburgh. The Steelers at Patriots (8:20 pm ET, NBC) will be a big test for both teams, but not for Brown. He’s ineligible for the first week thanks to his last-minute contract change, so Tom Brady will have to go without the league’s top target. Both teams had hot offenses last year, but the Steelers had the better defense. I’ll pick Pittsburgh to win in a shootout on the road, 31-27. Next up, Falcons at Vikings (1 pm, FOX) should be an interesting game. Will Kirk Cousins get enough time to prove himself worthy of that big contract he got before the last season? Atlanta had the better offense last year but Minnesota had a far better defense. The Vikes are tough to beat at home, too, so Vikings over Falcons 27-19. Jazz will be watching the Bills at Jets (1 pm, CBS) and that should be a good game. The Bills had a great defense last year, but both teams’ O were in the bottom five of the league. The Jets are favored, but I’ll go with the Bills on this one, 24-14.
Jazz: In the Patriots-Steelers game, there’s so little to go on with only the preseason to judge by, but both of these teams’ defenses are looking as if they will be highly ranked. And while it’s true that Antonio Brown won’t be on the field, Brady will have most of his favorite targets available. In the end, this one may just come down to home field advantage. As much as it pains me to say it, picking against the Pats at home is usually a suicide mission. I’ll take New England over Pittsburgh 20-17. The Vikings have picked up a lot of talent in the offseason both on and off the field, and I think that’s raised their game on offense to be at least the equal of Atlanta. Defensively it still looks like Minnesota has the upper hand, so I’ll take the Vikings over the Falcons 35-27.WIth Buffalo coming to play my Jets in New Jersey, I remain cautiously hopeful that all of the lineup changes will turn things around for us, but there are so many unknowns. We have a new coach (so does Buffalo) and a very young quarterback who has yet to live up to his initial hype at game time. (Again, so does Buffalo.) But Gang Green looked pretty good in the preseason for the few plays the starters were on the field. I’ll show some loyalty and take the Jets over the Bills 27-16.
Let’s rack up a few more Opening Weekend picks and get this season started (all times Eastern):
- Titans at Browns (1 pm, CBS) – The surprise team of the league last year was Cleveland. Their defense cost them games last year, but they’re playing at home and have a year of believing in themselves in the bag. Browns 23-20 over the Titans.
- Giants at Cowboys (4:25 pm, FOX) – Big rivalry, but low drama. Cowboys should win this easily, 35-21.
- Texans at Saints (MNF, 7:10 pm, ESPN) – This might be a better game than it looks on paper. The Saints will be roaring for another shot at the Super Bowl after last year’s horrible non-call in the NFC championship, but the Texans aren’t exactly slouches. Still, gotta go with Drew Brees at home here, with a 33-27 Saints win.
- Broncos at Raiders (MNF, 10:20 pm, ESPN) – With Antonio Brown, Oakland/Las Vegas had a shot at getting a statement win on national TV. After the wreckage Brown left behind in the locker room, they may come out defiant and fired up, but Jon Gruden had to have built his offense around AB. They can’t get that fixed in two days. Broncos 28-20 over the Raiders.
- Titans at Browns (1 pm, CBS) –Tennessee’s defense is still looking questionable from all the reports I’ve seen. That doesn’t mean that the Browns are suddenly Super Bowl contenders and Cleveland’s offensive line is a bit suspect, but they’ll have enough in the tank to handle the Titans. Cleveland wins this one 17-14, possibly in OT.
- Giants at Cowboys (4:25 pm, FOX) – Tough call here. The Cowboys have a lot of injuries and/or people just coming back from injuries for a week one game. But then, the Giants just looked terrible in the preseason and nobody is picking them to go far. I think I’ll just go with the favorite here again and take the Cowboys to win it in a low scoring affair 17-9.
- Texans at Saints (MNF, 7:10 pm, ESPN) – I’m not sure how New Orleans wound up only being a seven-point favorite. These guys look primed for the playoffs and the Texans, er… don’t. Give me the Saints in a bigger win than the spread, 28-16.
- Broncos at Raiders (MNF, 10:20 pm, ESPN) – Not sure what to do with this one aside from flipping a coin. Both teams have a ton of new faces. Derek Carr should still be a dominant player for the Raiders, but they have a lot of questions to answer about his potential targets. Pretty much the same could be said for the Broncos at this point. And frankly, I think the Broncos benefitted from ridding themselves of Brown’s drama, but it will take time to restructure. I realize Denver is the favorite, but I’ll go with a slight upset here and take the Raiders 24-21.
Finally, when calculating who will prevail in the 2019 season, don’t forget that while some teams travel well, the Steelers are out of this world. Almost literally!