The NFL is back with a bang on Sunday with a fixture list packed full of intrigue as we all start from zero again in the pursuit of that coveted Vince Lombardi Trophy and Super Bowl LIV in Miami in February.
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As ever, we have theories on all 32 teams, we think we know the no-hopers from the title challengers, but you’re never quite sure until the season kicks off – especially with seven teams having new head coaches and five of those being rookies.
And then we have the New England Patriots, who will always be there or thereabouts as long as Tom Brady continues to defy both age and logic and, after years of writing him off, we’re all better served just accepting he’ll probably play as long as he wants to.
So then, onto Sunday’s offerings, and as it’s week one we of course don’t really know how well these teams are shaping up, but there are still some tasty match-ups to get stuck into regardless..
Tennessee Titans @ Cleveland Browns
It’s 2019, and the Browns are finally a relevant force in the NFL and are THE hyped team of the season, a remarkable feat for a team that won seven games last season. This team has been awful, they had one win on two seasons previously but have splashed out to bring the big name in the NFL – Odell Beckham Jr – to Cleveland to combine with cocky, confident and talented young QB Baker Mayfield.
The Browns haven’t won a season opener for 14 years, showing just what levels of awfulness they’ve attained during these lean years, but these new Browns are full of hope, expectation, but more crucially talent on both sides of the ball to expect them to at least make a strong play-off push.
The Titans are one of the more un-sexy teams in the league, but don’t sleep on them just because of that as they’ve got more than enough to earn a sixth win in eight trips to Cleveland.
Ordinarily you’d say there’s a danger of stage fright for the Browns, but given the individuals involved this is exactly the stage they want to be playing on, and even in a tough opener they should get the job done, even if it is a bit of a struggle.
Verdict: Browns to win (-5.5pts) at 10/11
New York Giants @ Dallas Cowboys
With Ezekiel Elliott’s new deal signed, sealed and delivered, these Cowboys can now saddle up for what should be another play-off push – and it should be a winning start in a divisional fixture that’s gone the home side’s way in six of the last seven renewals.
Elliott may not get a full workload given he’s only just returned to the team, but the Cowboys have veteran Alfred Morris and love rookie rusher Tony Pollard – who could get a healthy allocation of carries on his debut.
A Cowboys win looks certain, but the manner of it may not be as convincing as many think, given that bar Amari Cooper Dallas don’t have a great receiving corps, and with Giants rusher Saquon Barkley the star of their show it could well develop into a rushing contest.
It’s only a matter of time before Eli Manning gets replaced by Daniel Jones at quarterback as well, so he’ll be conservative in trying to limit mistakes. It’s tough to make a case for the Giants in this one, and although they may keep it close early on, if they fall behind Dallas could run away with this.
Verdict: Cowboys to win (-7.5pts) at Evens
Pittsburgh Steelers @ New England Patriots
42-year-old Tom Brady is beating the rest of the NFL, and Father Time, as he looks as good as ever in preparing for yet another Super Bowl defence – and he’s usually pretty handy on opening night with 34 TD passes in 16 week one games.
Old rivals the Steelers have lost Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, but have able deputies in Juju Smith-Schuster and James Conner but their season will rest with QB Ben Roethlisberger and just whether he’s still up to it. He threw more yards, but also more interceptions that anyone else last season and it’s that sort of inconsistency that can cause all kinds of problems.
Brady usually relishes playing Pittsburgh – he’s never lost to them at home and only plays better statistically against the Bears in terms of QB rating – and he’s never been intercepted by the Steelers at Gillette Stadium. I think one of those ‘0s’ will go on Sunday, but it’s more likely the pick than the unbeaten run.
Verdict: Over 5.5 touchdowns at Evens
Buffalo Bills @ New York Jets
Hopes are high for the green side of New York with young QB Sam Darnold getting a lot of love, but make no mistake this will be Le’Veon Bell’s show and after a year out, although there could be some ring rust, he’ll be desperate to announce his return.
Bell should have a big game, both running and receiving, and find the end zone, while although Buffalo’s strength is defence, Josh Allen is good enough to get them a few points on the board as well.
Verdict: Over 40.5 points at 10/11
NFL Season preview
NFL Week one fixtures (all times BST)
- Los Angeles Rams at Carolina Panthers (6pm)
- Tennessee Titans at Cleveland Browns (6pm)
- Kansas City Chiefs at Jacksonville Jaguars (6pm)
- Baltimore Ravens at Miami Dolphins (6pm)
- Atlanta Falcons at Minnesota Vikings (6pm)
- Buffalo Bills at New York Jets (6pm)
- Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles (6pm)
- Indianapolis Colts at Los Angeles Chargers (9.05pm)
- Cincinnati Bengals at Seattle Seahawks (9.05pm)
- Detroit Lions at Arizona Cardinals (9.25pm)
- New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys (9.25pm)
- San Francisco 49ers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9.25pm)
- Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots (1.20am Monday)
Monday Night Games
- Houston Texans @ New Oleans Saints (12.10am Tuesday)
- Denver Broncos @ Oakland Raiders (3.20am Tuesday)
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