Things to realize:
Week 1 is always hard to predict. Teams are preparing for other teams without having a good basis for predicting the other team’s play. There are always strange outcomes.
To get a good idea of a team’s gameplan, you must watch the first half. That’s when the gameplan is instituted. After halftime, much of the game is then reacting to game situations as much as the other team.
“Teams that run the ball win” is wrong. Teams that are winning run the ball to drain the clock.
“You have to establish the run to make play action effective” is wrong. Linebackers and safeties read the keys of the offense and when teams make a pass play look like a run play, that’s when the defense reacts. How well a team runs the ball has no bearing on the effectiveness of the play action.
Finally, this is a brief version of my notes. I’ll do this every week but haven’t had time to really dive deep into the matchups. Future ones will be more in depth.
Patriots at Bills
The Bills are starting rookie and first round pick EJ Manuel. My concerns with Manuel coming out of college was that he lacked in progression reading and like to take off from the pocket too often when he primary receiver wasn’t open. There’s no denying his athleticism, but I’m most interested in seeing how he handles a very good defense in week 1. The Patriots struggled getting a consistent pass rush and the Bills offensive line is very good in pass protection. The Bills will probably try to run the ball significantly to allow Manuel to adapt to the game early on. The receivers for the Bills are smooth and the Patriots may have trouble covering them. If Talib and Dennard can blanket the receivers, it’s going to be a long day for EJ Manuel who can struggle with ball location.
On defense, the Bills have a lot of big names up front and a new defensive coordinator in Mike Pettine. Pettine comes from under Rex Ryan’s wing and should have a good plan for the Patriots. The problem is he doesn’t have the same caliber of players or Rex Ryan helping design the scheme and gameplan. Tom Brady is going to be calm, cool, and collected as usual. I’m fascinated by the completely new receiving corps and I think it’s his best group since Randy Moss left. The Patriots started every game in the preseason with the idea of running the ball heavily. We’ll see if that holds true today.
I would expect the Bills to be nervous coming out of the gate and to play a little shaky. If the Patriots get up early it could mean trouble as this will take the Bills away from running CJ Spiller and they’ll have to rely on EJ Manuel’s arm. If that happens, we’ll see how mature EJ is very quickly.
Patriots win 34-17.
Dolphins at Browns
This is one of the games I’ll probably have on when the games start. Both of these teams have a lot of questions going into this season and this is a pretty good matchup that should show us a lot about both teams.
The Browns are restructured all throughout so it’s tough to predict how they’ll play on offense. Norv Turner will have Weeden take his shots but this is another game I expect them to rely heavily on Trent Richardson. He’s a monster of a runner when healthy and Cleveland’s strongest unit may be it’s offensive line. Miami’s defensive line is very good and their revamped linebacking corps will be tested versus the run. If Josh Gordon were playing, I’d say Cleveland wins this game easily. Without him, I’m not sure how they’ll attack the corners of Miami. The safeties are not something Weeden should toy around with today or he’ll end up throwing a few picks.
On offense, the Dolphins should test the CBs of the Browns early. If Miami can get Cleveland to focus on Mike Wallace it will open up the run and the underneath passing game. If Joe Haden can shut Mike Wallace down on his own, I think this game shifts heavily in favor of the Browns as there’s not much else threatening for CLE to have to defend. The defensive front 7 of the Browns is one of the better groupings in the NFL and new defensive coordinator Ray Horton will mix up blitzes and looks to confuse Tannehill.
I think Cleveland takes this game but Weeden can’t stare down his receivers. 23-20.
Seahawks at Panthers
The cross country aspect to this game is an element that shouldn’t be overlooked. I’ve done it and it’s a tough trip for some. Some guys just don’t adjust to the new time zones and the jet lag can feel like a hangover.
As far as the game goes, this could be a unique matchup for the Seattle offense. The Carolina front seven is a great group of football players. Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy are remarkable at getting to the QB and linebackers Luke Kuechly and Jon Beason get the the ball in a hurry whether it’s in the air on in a back’s hands. The read option will play a little bit of a role in neutralizing those ends but it will be interesting to see how the Panthers decide to defend it. The Seahawks might just scrap the run at some point and decide to go after a weak Carolina secondary. Golden Tate, Sidney Rice, and Doug Baldwin could run free all day and we all know Russell Wilson is a good decision maker. Wilson can’t hold on to the ball today or the Panthers will have rack up the sacks.
On offense, the Panthers offensive line will be test by that tremendous Seattle pass rush – even without Bruce Irvin. The interior offensive line will have its work cut out for it, too. Cam Newton will have to make good decisions as he won’t have large windows to fit the ball in against the Seattle secondary. Ball security is paramount for the Panthers as Seattle will be punching and ripping at it every opportunity they get.
It’s hard to determine how much a cross country trip will affect each team. It will probably play some role on this game and make it closer than it should be, but Seattle should still be able to overcome it. Seattle wins 27-23.
Bengals at Bears
This game is a battle of the defenses. These are 2 of the best defenses in the NFL and they play so physically. The Bears’ offense is something I can’t really speak to as I haven’t had a chance to study new head coach Marc Trestman’s scheme much. Jay Cutler will do Jay Cutler things and make ill-advised throws into tight windows that sometimes he’ll get by with and sometimes he won’t.
The battle up front is where this game is won or lost. The Bengals’ defensive line should terrorize the Bears patchwork offensive line. I would expect Trestman to use a ton of screens to Forte and to receivers to try to get the ball out of Cutler’s hands quickly and slow down the aggressiveness of the Bengals’ defensive line.
I think the Bengals eek out an ugly win based on a defensive score. 20-18.
Vikings at Lions
The Lions’ defensive line is one of the most disruptive in the league. I’m not sure if they have what it takes to keep Adrian Peterson from running wild. The new Vikings receivers should be able to test the secondary of the Lions if Christian Ponder gets time to throw and if he can find them with the football.
On offense, the Lions should try to find a way to force the Vikings to get away from the run. The earlier they can score points, the better.
I just don’t think the Lions have what it takes to stop AP and I underrated the Vikings defense all last season. I’m not going to do that again to start 2013. Vikings win 24-13.
Raiders at Colts
Terrelle Pryor takes over at QB for the Raiders and will be functioning behind an offensive line that’s shaky at best. The Colts aren’t fantastic at getting to the QB but they won’t have to be. Pryor makes too many mistakes throwing the football so Indianapolis should focus on keeping him in the pocket rather than blitzing him. Pryor is more dangerous with his feet.
Andrew Luck should have a field day throwing the ball. He has a ton of options to throw to and the Raiders don’t have the personnel to stop him. The season starts off rough for the Raiders. Colts win 31-10.
Chiefs at Jags
The Jaguars have revamped their entire roster and they’ve added some solid talent on the defensive side of the ball. I saw some great scheme wrinkles from new head coach Gus Bradley and I like the promise that the Jags have. The problem is that the Chiefs have a style of offense that will be able to exploit the linebackers in space. Jamaal Charles may not have a ton of success running up the middle but if he gets the edge off tackle, he may run free all day. Alex Smith needs to just play dink and dunk all day and let his playmakers do the work.
The problem for the Jags is that Blaine Gabbert needs time to throw and he won’t get it with Justin Houston and Tamba Hali rushing the edges and Dontari Poe penetrating up the middle. Poe has a unique ability to collapse the middle of the pocket in a hurry right into the face of the QB. Jacksonville might counter this by moving the pocket and designing plays that uses Gabbert’s legs to get him throwing on the move – something he’s very good at doing. It will also be interesting to see how the Jags use Denard Robinson in connection with Maurice Jones-Drew to create opportunities for both. One or both could have a big day and make this a game going into the 4th quarter.
I think the Chiefs play a mistake free game while the Jags suffer from a mistake or two. Chiefs win 24-20.
Falcons at Saints
I was high on the Saints defense at first but recent injuries has me worried that it could be one of the worst units in the NFL again. The Saints got very little pass rush in the preseason and that spells doom against a team like Matt Ryan and the Falcons. The Saints will have trouble covering all of those weapons. Rob Ryan needs to swallow his pride and go with a basic cover 2 scheme to keep the Falcons from hitting the deep ball. The more than can get Ryan to hand off the better. One note: The Falcons seem to run more out routes than anyone in the league to me. I don’t have the numbers on that but it seems to happen every game.
Of offense, the return of Sean Payton can’t be understated. There will be more balance and more of a focus on matchup creation. Last year, Darren Sproles was not used nearly enough in how the Saints should have schemed with him. The Falcons mix coverages as good as anyone in the league but it’s nothing Drew Brees hasn’t seen.
While I’m taking in the fact that Sean Payton is back and this will be an emotionally charged game for the Saints, the Falcons are just the better team. The problem is that the Falcons are starting two rookie corners and Drew Brees is going to light them up. Welcome to the NFL, rooks. Saints win 42-38.
Bucs at Jets
Go here for my insight into this matchup.
Titans at Steelers
This is a good game for the Steelers to open with. They’re at home against a Titans team that’s physical but lacks good QB play. This game will give the Steelers a good look at how the offensive line plays and where they may need to start working on a fix. The Titans’ corners are one of the more underrated duos in the league. Verner and McCourty are both physical and good football players. The Steelers’ wide receivers will need to focus on getting off the line smoothly and getting past those guys before they can get their hands into them – something they’re very good at doing.
On defense, the Steelers don’t matchup well against the Titans. Tennessee is very good on the offensive line and Chris Johnson’s speed is something that the Steelers can’t match. If Jake Locker can turn into an accurate QB for the day, the Titans have a real chance to upset here.
If this game were in Tennessee, I’d go with the Titans. But I can’t fathom taking Jake Locker over Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh. Steelers win a close one, 24-23.by