SEATTLE. The National Football League begins its 100th season in grand fashion. The big dog of all sports is going all out to make every one of the 256 regular season contests in its NFL 2019-2020 season a return to some time-honored league tradition. Take your Millennials and get them in front of a real NFL history book. Make them watch NFL Films. Otherwise you run the risk of having them insist that NFL history began in this century rather than 99 years ago.
They need to learn about the Steel Curtain, Jerry Kramer’s block in the Ice Bowl, Dick “Night Train” Lane, Bobby Layne, Otto Graham, Sid Luckman, Red Grange, and yes, Pudge Hefflefinger. History matters. The Sea of Hands, the Holy Roller and the Immaculate Reception matter. Football matters.
And because it does, let’s dig in to the opening week of the NFL 2019-2020 season.
Thursday, September 5, 2019, 8:20 p.m.
Just one game this Thursday. But this NFL 2019-2020 season opener should be interesting.
Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears (-3).
The ghosts of Curly Lambeau and Vince Lombardi prepare to take on the ghost of George Halas. Appropriately launching this NFL 2019-202 season, the NFL’s oldest rivalry offers a new nondescript Packers head coach and the greatest quarterback in the game in Aaron Rodgers. Meanwhile, the tradition of Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary lives on in defensive wrecking machine Khalil Mack. As great as Rodgers is, go with the home field and the emotion of the crowd. Bears cover.
Sunday, September 8, 1:00 p.m.
Now the bulk of the NFL 2019-2020 opening week action begins.
Los Angeles Rams (-2.5) at Carolina Panthers
The defending NFC champions start on the road having to avoid the Super Bowl hangover that often comes with the loss in the big game. Cam Newton is healthy, and Ron Rivera knows defense. Nobody knows if Todd Gurley is healthy. Michelin Man Wade Phillips unleashed Von Miller on Cam Newton in the Super Bowl four years ago. Now Phillips unleashes Aaron Donald. The NFC has more competitive balance than the AFC. At home, trust Riverboat Ron’s defense until proven otherwise. Panthers cover.
Tennessee Titans at Cleveland Browns (-5.5)
Still in recovery as we start the NFL 2019-2020 season, the Browns have been mostly sad sacks since going to 10 straight Pro Football Championships from 1955 through 1964. Since the legendary era of Paul Brown, Jim Brown and Otto Graham, it has been The Drive, The Fumble, and the 0-16 season of 2017. However, this club finally has a real field general in Baker Mayfield. The defense is for real. The Dawg Pound is hungry. It is crazy to consider the Browns Super Bowl contenders after so much futility, but a playoff berth this season is realistic. They went 6-2 down the stretch last year. A convincing home win would quell the doubters. Browns cover.
Kansas City Chiefs (-3.5) at Jacksonville Jaguars
Yes, Patrick Mahomes is super human. However, Nick Foles is a serious upgrade over Blake Bortles. Jacksonville’s defense finally has a proven winner on offense to balance the team. Captain Grumpy Tom Coughlin knows his team has a narrow window. They get a monstrously tough test in Walrus Lite Andy Reid’s pinball offense. Jacksonville may be improved, but the Chiefs were one overtime coin toss from the Super Bowl last year. They will come out like demon’s possesses as their unfinished business starts here. Chiefs cover.
Baltimore Ravens (-7) at Miami Dolphins
Joe Flacco is gone. Lamar Jackson now leads the offense. While Baltimore is not what it was during its heyday, Miami is holding a fire sale. This year’s Dolphins might be the worst team in football. A team in rebuilding mode with a rookie head coach should have John Harbaugh unleashing his defense at will. Josh Rosen may be angry at being shipped out of town after only one year in Arizona, but this is not the day he gets revenge on the league. Ravens cover.
Atlanta Falcons at Minnesota Vikings (-4)
This is a battle between two teams who really could be anything. On paper, they both look good. In reality, they have underachieved. Dan Quinn has the offense led by Matty Ice Ryan and Julio Jones. Mike Zimmer knows defense. Kirk Cousins has to prove that he was the last piece of the puzzle for a team that reached the NFC Title Game two years ago under Case Keenum. Expect a close game. Vikings win but fail to cover.
Buffalo Bills at New York Jets (-3)
Both of these teams expect to finally challenge New England for the AFC East crown. Just kidding. Every year prognosticators tell that story. Yet both these teams actually regressed last year. The Jets have a new head coach and a talented second year quarterback in Sam Darnold. Buffalo also boasts their talented second year quarterback Josh Allen. If Leveon Bell pounds the ball, the Jets can win. Home field means little in this series. Jets fans have their hopes up, so expect them to be dashed. Upset special, Bills win outright.
Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles (-10)
Nobody knows if Dwayne Haskins will lift the Redskins in ways Robert Griffin III and others could not. The Eagles are a far more talented team. Sometimes an inferior team can go on the road and shock the world against a better team at home. This is not that game. For the Eagles, the issue is whether Carson Wentz can last a full season without injury. In September, he has been very good. The spread is high, but so is the talent differential. Eagles cover.
Indianapolis Colts at Los Angeles Chargers (-6.5)
Every year the Chargers are a trendy pick, and every year they fail to deliver. Yet last year, that cycle was broken when they won a road playoff game. Normally the Melvin Gordon holdout would be a distraction, but the Colts are a mess. Andrew Luck’s retirement will affect this team in ways they have not seen since 2011. That year Peyton Manning’s neck injury caused the Colts to start 0-13 and “suck for Luck.” Frank Reich knows offense, but Philip Rivers at home should have a much easier time than Jacoby Brissett on the road. Chargers cover.
Cincinnati Bengals at Seattle Seahawks (-9.5)
For the first time in 17 years, Marvin Lewis will not be on the Cincinnati sideline. Pete Carroll may be the oldest coach in the NFL, but he seems to get younger every year. Russell Wilson is in his prime. The Legion of Boom is long gone, but Seattle’s defense is still very good. The 12th man is as strong as ever. The spread is high, but trust Wilson and the home crowd noise to turn it on. Seahawks cover.
Detroit Lions at Arizona Cardinals (-2.5)
The Cardinals fired their coach and shipped away their quarterback after only one season. Now they have Kyler Murray, who sportswriters already tout as a game breaker and a bust in different circles. Detroit fired Jim Caldwell after a winning season and regressed under Matt Patricia. No one expects either of these teams to compete. Matthew Stafford can win a shootout. Lions cover.
New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys (-7)
Sometimes a bad team can go on the road and shock a good team. This is not that game. Eli Manning will try to hold off Daniel Jones for a few weeks. Saquon Barkley is still a video game machine sensation. However, Ezekiel Elliott just got paid. Jerry Jones always thinks his team is in contention for the Super Bowl, and Jerrah keeps tossing out big money to make it happen. With Zeke, the money was earned. Dak Prescott may be a tad overrated, but at home the Cowboys should run the ball with ease. Cowboys cover.
San Francisco 49ers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Pick)
Jimmy Garoppolo is healthy, and has more talent at his disposal than last year. The Buccaneers are in rebuilding mode. Jameis Winston may be down to his last chance. However, if anyone can rescue him, it’s offensive wizard Bruce Arians. Anyone who can make Arizona a perennial contender deserves to be taken seriously. Go with the talent in this game. 49ers win.
Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots (-5.5)
The Patriots always beat the Steelers. It does not matter where the game is played, when it is played, or which players are playing. If Tom Brady is on the field, he wins against Pittsburgh. Mike Tomlin is a better coach than most. Bill Belichick always beats Tomlin. Pittsburgh’s bell cow running back is gone, and their problem wide receiver has been sent packing. Brady no longer has the retired Rob Gronkowski, but nobody gets role players to step up like Belichick. Normally this would be the Thursday night game to open the season, and Belichick will try to convince the world that playing on Sunday night is a slap at his team. Patriots cover.
Monday, September 9, 7:00 p.m.
Monday evening action wraps the first week of the NFL 2019-2020 season.
Houston Texans at New Orleans Saints (-7)
The Saints can complain about a controversial call, but they blew a 13-0 lead at home in the NFC Title Game last year. The year before that they lost on the Minneapolis Miracle. Sean Payton knows he has little time left with Drew Brees, but Brees is playing as well as ever. The Texans traded away Jadavean Clowney. J.J. Watt cannot slow down Brees all by himself. The Saints are in Super Bowl mode and are a legitimate contender to win it all. The Texans are not. Saints cover.
Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders (Pick)
Forget that the Raiders were a two-point conversion away from possibly going 4-0 in the preseason. Forget Hard Knocks. None of that means anything. The Raiders do have a significantly improved roster, but there was so much to improve. Antonio Brown is starting to act like Terrell Owens, which is not good. Derek Carr has a ton of talent around him, and the defense has some new playmakers. Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock have built up the hype. The stars barely played in the preseason. Luckily for Oakland in their final season before moving to Las Vegas, Denver is a mess. Joe Flacco is the new quarterback, but Denver has a new coach in Vic Fangio. At home, trust the Raiders to beat one of the few teams they beat last year. Raiders win.
Next up: Week 2 of the NFL 2019-2020 season. See you next week.
— Headline image: Screen grab of official NFL logo.