Thursday, September 7, 2017

NFL Weekly Predictions: Week 1

By Jeffrey Boswell

Note: the quotes in this article are fictional.

Kansas City @ New England (-8)

The Super Bowl champion Patriots open defense of their title with a Thursday night matchup against Andy Reid's Chiefs. New England is heavily favored to defend their Super Bowl crown.

"Despite losing Julian Edelman," Tom Brady said, "we're loaded. We're so much better than the rest of the league, we're tempted to start each game in a 28-3 hole.

"More importantly, I've instructed my wife Giselle to keep her mouth shut and never discuss anything about football. Thankfully, she's okay with being silenced. I think what I'm trying to say is she doesn't have a 'gag' reflex."

The Chiefs won the AFC West last season with a 12-4 record, led by a strong defense and the steady yet unspectacular play of quarterback Alex Smith.

"Let me reiterate," Andy Reid said. "Alex is our starter, but we've found his future replacement in rookie Patrick Mahomes. Patrick has all the measurables you look for in a quarterback: a great arm, the ability to scramble, quick decision-making, and a cool last name that allows me to say 'what's up, Mahomes?' and gain a little urban street cred.

"Unfortunately, we're going to rely even more on our quarterback due to the loss of Spencer Ware to a torn knee ligament. Kareem Hunt will take over as the lead running back. While his sky hook leaves a lot to be desired, Kareem is a talented back. But who needs a sky hook in the NFL? Let's be real, 'sky hooking' is what happens when you take the Minnesota Vikings 'sex boat' scandal and put in on a Dallas Cowboys team flight circa the 1990s."

Brady passes for 279 yards, to 17 different receivers, and 3 touchdowns, and New England wins, 33-21.

NY Jets @ Buffalo (-7)

It's the "Thank God Rex Ryan Doesn't Coach Here Anymore Bowl" featuring the hapless Jets and the rebuilding Bills, which goes down at Buffalo's New Era Field.

"Our quarterback situation is not ideal," Todd Bowles said. "Sure, we don't have a quality starter, but we do have depth. And by 'depth,' I mean we're in deep shit. And I'll certainly pooh-pooh the notion that we may be one of the worst teams in history.

"I've named Josh McCown as our starter. If Josh was Jewish, his last name would be 'Journeyman.' He's been with more teams than Khloe Kardashian. He's been in the NFL for for 16 years now. Next year, if he's still in the league, he can say his career is 17-years-old. Then, Mark Sanchez won't be the only Jets quarterback associated with a '17-year-old.'"

The Bills traded Sammy Watkins to the Rams in August, and acquired Jordan Matthews from the Eagles on the same day, the most notable of a number of trades initiated by the front office. The moves clearly signals that Sean McDermott and the organization are building for the future.

"That's right," McDermott said. "Our future's so bright, I've gotta wear shades. Shades that allow me not to see anything, because it's going to be a long year.

"We have so many draft picks coming in the next two years, it's practically a 'can't lose' situation for us. And what's the opposite of a 'can't lose' situation? A 'can't win' situation, also known as the 'Super Bowl' here in Buffalo."

Buffalo wins, 20-14.

Atlanta @ Chicago (+7)

The Falcons hope to use last season's bitter disappointment as motivation in 2017. Adding to the optimism is the opening of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta's sparkling new 71,000-seat home field, which the Falcons will christen in Week 2 against the Packers.

"I love our new stadium," Matt Ryan said, "but honestly, I'm going to miss the Georgia Dome. Demolition is scheduled for November, and I want to be there to see it. I hear it's going to be spectacular.

"And speaking of a 'monumental collapse,' our 2016 season ended with a devastating defeat to the Patriots. And speaking of another 'huge loss,' Julio Jones lost a $150,000 earring in a lake while jet skiing. That was a really dumb decision. If you measure a man's greatness by his stupidity, then Julio, much as he is on the field, is a 'stud.'"

The Bears are free of Jay Cutler, now a Miami Dolphin, but uncertainty at quarterback is still an issue. Free agent acquisition Mike Glennon has been shaky, while first-round pick Mitch Tribisky is next in line.

"We're not asking our quarterback to move mountains," John Fox said. "We just need him to take care of the ball and let our defense and running game dictate the outcome. You know, basically play the role of Jim McMahon, which means, in essence, to limit your 'aerial displays' to just a few deep passes, and an occasional mooning of a helicopter."

Falcons win, 24-21.

Baltimore @ Cincinnati (-4)

After making the playoffs in 2015, the Bengals slipped to 6-9-1 in 2016, due in part to A.J. Green's season-ending injury in November. Cincinnati added speed and skill in the draft, adding wide receiver John Ross and controversial running back Joe Mixon.

"Joe will be a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses," Marvin Lewis said. "He'll drive defensive coordinators mad with his skill set. That's not unusual, though. Most people who watch film of Joe say, 'Wow. That's disturbing.'

"But I think the only chance of Joe slipping back into his bad behavior is if he hits the rookie wall. We expect Joe to be a big part of our offense, so if he does hit that rookie wall and his level of performance slips, it will be us paying for it, not Mexico."

The Ravens added veterans Danny Woodhead and Jeremy Maclin in the offseason, giving Joe Flacco two proven offensive weapons to hopefully compensate for the loss of Steve Smith.

"Just like the Bengals," Flacco said, "we added some punch to our offense. Woodhead and Maclin are two great players, and we signed them at reasonable prices. The last thing this franchise needs is to be held hostage by a bloated contract that pays a player well beyond his worth for far two long. Trust me, I should know."

Bengals win, 30-20.

Pittsburgh @ Cleveland (+9)

Hue Jackson starts his second year as head coach in Cleveland, where the Browns added rookies Myles Garrett and Deshone Kizer via the draft.

"We also added Gregg Williams as defensive coordinator," Jackson said. "That's right. The Gregg Williams. That's 'Gregg' with two G's. And '2 G's' are what Gregg has promised the defender who knocks Big Ben out of the game. But you didn't hear that from me.

"We expect Myles to make an immediate impact. He's a well-rounded individual. Not only is he physically gifted, but he loves paleontology. That makes him a 'huge boner,' which is what the Dawg Pound has for a player who can singlehandedly make this franchise relevant again. He's that good."

The Steelers are expected to mount a challenge to the Patriots as the AFC's top team. The offseason was dominated by contract negotiations with Le'Veon Bell, which failed to result in a long-term deal.

"We franchise-tagged Le'Veon Bell," Mike Tomlin said. "Le'Veon wasn't very happy about it. But he needs to understand, as talented as he is, he is a risk. Whether it's an injury, or some other issue, that causes him to miss games, Le'Veon hasn't played a full season in his career. In other words, his problems are chronic."

Kizer gets the start, and tossed an early touchdown pass to Duke Johnson to give the Browns an early 7-0 lead. But the Steelers come back, led by Antonio Brown, who, after scoring in the second quarter, 'throws his bone' to the Dawg Pound, resulting in an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, and the largest fine in NFL history.

Pittsburgh wins, 27-23.

Arizona @ Detroit (-2)

The Lions made the playoff last year as a wildcard, and expectations are high for Detroit in what is sure to be a competitive race in the NFC North.

"We'll go as far as Matthew Stafford can take us," Jim Caldwell said. "History tells us that's no further than the wild card round in the playoffs. But that didn't stop us from making Matthew the NFL's highest-paid player with a huge contract extension. He has so much money, he doesn't know where to put. Luckily, his offensive line has agreed to provide the sacks for it."

The Cardinals fortunes lie with the talents of David Johnson, their workhorse back who had 2,118 rushing and receiving yards last season. But an aging Carson Palmer and an unproven defense could spell trouble for Bruce Arians' team.

"We'll certainly rely on David bigly this season," Arians said. "David is arguably the best running back in the game. And here is something you can't argue — he's the most underpaid running back in the game. I think's he's making only $850,000 this year. David is actually paid to find paydirt, but he is literally paid dirt.

"For that reason, I'm taking a stand for economic equality and starting a petition for people to sign acknowledging the cause that David needs more money. It's called 'Raise Awareness.'"

Lions win, 27-24.

Jacksonville @ Houston (-5)

The Texans traded Brock Osweiler during the offseason, leaving Tom Savage and rookie Deshaun Watson to battle for the starting quarterback job.

"We're just glad we found a team to take Brock off our hands," Bill O'Brien said, "and more importantly, off our books. I'm a man who's prematurely balding, and that's a little embarrassing. Therefore, I like to cover it with a hat. But what if I can't find a hat? My bald dome is on display to everyone! Much like Brock, that's a 'cap nightmare.'

The Jaguars drafted bruising running back Leonard Fournette with the fourth pick in the NFL Draft, and new head coach Doug Marrone plans to make him the centerpiece of a ball-control offense.

"I'm tasking Leonard with implementing my entire offensive philosophy," Marrone said, "and that's 'taking the ball out of Blake Bortles' hands.'

"Fans are fully supportive of our strategy. Sales of Leonard's #27 jersey are off the charts. Plus, he has the coolest fan club, a member list of which includes Annette, Jeannette, Claudette, and Bernadette. They're called the 'Four 'Nette's.'"

Bortles starts, and walks his first five batters before he's yanked for a reliever in the third quarter. Tom Savage throws for a score to DeAndre Hopkins, who recently added six zeroes to his No. 10 jersey.

Texans win, 23-12.

Tampa Bay @ Miami (+2½)

The Dolphins lost quarterback Ryan Tannehill to a knee injury in July, and responded by luring Jay Cutler out of retirement and out of the broadcast booth.

"Jay is taking his talents to South Beach," Adam Gase said. "And let's be clear, Jay's talent is considerable. So, to bring all that talent to South Beach, you've got to have baggage, and Jay has plenty of that.

"But we also have running back Jay Ajayi to power the running game, and therefore take some of the pressure off Jay. Jay Ajayi is the key to our rushing attack. Hopefully, it will be Jay Ajayi who keeps our offense grounded."

Offensive mainstays Jameis Winston and Mike Evans anchor a Bucs team that went 9-7 last year, with a NFC South division title in their sights. Tampa signed DeSean Jackson in the offseason to boost Tampa's deep passing game.

"I'm extremely excited about our potential," Winston said. "So excited, in fact, that I want to shout my excitement from atop a table. I've been told not to do that, though.

"You may have seen our team on HBO's 'Hard Knocks.' If you did, you probably witnessed one of the hard realities of the NFL — a coach telling a player he's been released. That's what happened to kicker Roberto Aguayo, who was let go in August. Ironically, television critics, when asked to rate that particular episode, almost universally said, 'it's good.'"

Miami wins, 24-23.

Oakland @ Tennessee (-1)

Derek Carr's broken leg last season effectively ended the Raiders chances to advance in the playoffs. Now, with a healthy Carr and a new Raider in Marshawn Lynch, Oakland is primed to make a deep run in the playoffs.

"We're excited to have Marshawn in Raiders silver and black," Jack Del Rio said. "I know our home crowd can't wait to see him in action. I fully expect sales of Skittles to skyrocket in the 'Black Hole.' And I fully expect some cleverly deranged fan to display a sign that says 'Taint The Rainbow.'

"But it's not all about the offense. We have a great defense as well. Khalil Mack may very well challenge Michael Strahan's season sack record. NFL legend Brett Favre, for one, believes that record will fall. I agree with Favre, because if anyone knows sack records and falling, it's Favre."

The Titans are primed to challenge for the division title in the wide open AFC South, assuming quarterback Marcus Mariota can stay healthy. Last season, his season was cut short by a broken leg suffered in December.

"It's incumbent upon our offensive line to protect Marcus," Mike Mularkey said. "It's also important that Marcus protect himself. We absolutely need his passing skills, as well as his running ability, to be successful. If we lose Marcus, it will cost us an arm and a leg."

Titans win, 30-27.

Philadelphia @ Washington (-1)

New faces abound for the Eagles, as free agents LeGarrette Blount and Alshon Jeffery joined the team in the offseason. Their presence is expected to help second-year quarterback Carson Wentz as the Eagles aim to improve on last year's 7-9 record.

"Blount really hasn't been too impressive in the preseason," Wentz said. "But I think once the real football starts, he'll be the physical, bruising back we expected when we signed him, score 12 to 16 touchdowns, and re-earn the nickname 'Monster Blount,' which was originally coined by his good buddy Le'Veon Bell."

The Redskins lost DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon to free agency, but signed Terrelle Pryor, who will serve as Kirk Cousins No. 1 receiver.

"Thank you," Cousins said, "for calling me 'Kirk' and not 'Kurt,' like Redskins President did. Like I've said all along, this team doesn't need a franchise tag, it needs a name tag.

"For the second year in a row, the Redskins failed to offer me a reasonable long-term contract. That means I'm playing under the franchise tag. I'm sure the Washington organization will call this reparations to Native Americans for the team's offensive nickname, because, in this case, 'Skins management is stealing from the white man. And it means for two years now, the Redskins have said, 'wait until next year.' Well, here's news for you Redskins management: I can't wait until next year, for two reasons: 1) I won't be a Redskin, and 2) I'll be playing for a team that knows my name, and my worth."

Eagles win, 29-24.

Indianapolis @ L.A. Rams (-3)

The Colts will start the season without Andrew Luck, who is still recovering from right shoulder surgery.

"We haven't been very forthcoming with information involving Luck," Chuck Pagano said. "That's called giving the public the 'cold shoulder.' And 'cold shoulder' is what you get when you haven't thrown a football for months. Similarly, 'cold feet' is what you get when you're faced with quarterbacking behind our shoddy offensive line.

"We traded Philip Dorsett to the Patriots for quarterback Jacoby Brissett in order to secure some depth at quarterback, should Luck be out longer than expected. I feel like this improves our chances to make the Super Bowl, but nowhere near as much as Dorsett's."

The Rams hope to drastically improve upon last season's 4-12 campaign, and quarterback Jared Goff will have a big new weapons in wide receiver Sammy Watkins, acquired in a trade with the Bills.

"Nothing says you're serious about making serious offensive headway like acquiring a talent like Watkins," said head coach Sean McVay. "And, nothing says you're serious about making the Super Bowl like acquiring the draft picks you received for giving up Watkins.

"We're also concerned about Aaron Donald's holdout. He's the centerpiece of our defense, so we need him on the field. Aaron's known for wreaking havoc on offensive lines. If he plays against the Colts, one thing is for sure — he'll spend more time in the Indy backfield than Luck."

Rams win, 24-16.

Seattle @ Green Bay (-4)

Eddie Lacy, signed by the Seahawks in the offseason, faces his former team as the Seahawks travel to Lambeau Field, where the Packers await the challenge.

"Eddie's returning to the place where he started his career," Pete Carroll said. "He calls that 'seconds.' All joking aside, Eddie met all of his weight incentives. Just look at his physique. I tell ya,' it's a far cry from his days at Alabama, when you looked at his midsection and said 'Tide Rolls.'

"But make no mistake, this team will be defined by its defense. If Richard Sherman is the Legion Of Boom's mouth, then Michael Bennett would is its butt, because he won't stand for the national anthem. Michael is on a quest, for sacks, and social justice, in that order."

The Packers reached the NFC Championship Game, where they were sent packing 44-21 by the Falcons.

"Despite that loss," Aaron Rodgers said, "we still had a great season. And I had a great season, even with my domineering girlfriend Olivia Munn making everyone's life miserable.

"But I came to my senses and dumped her. I should have known better. If the movie 'There's Something About Mary' has told us anything, it's that Green Bay quarterbacks should be D-list actors, not date them."

Seattle wins, 29-27.

Carolina @ San Francisco (+6)

With a surgically-repaired rotator cuff, Cam Newton is healthy and ready to reclaim his place among the NFL's elite quarterbacks after a disappointing 2016 campaign. Carolina added a talented offensive weapon in Christian McCaffrey, a threat in both the running and passing game.

"That surgery was on my right arm," Newton said. "That's my yogurt-slinging arm. In case you didn't know, Oikos Triple Zero is the best-selling yogurt in the history of yogurt. What's that? That's not true. Well, speaking of blatant inaccuracies, I completed only 52.9% of my passes last year. That's also the percentage of instances when I was brutalized by a defender last year that an unnecessary roughness penalty was called."

Kyle Shanahan takes over as head coach for the 49ers, replacing Chip Kelly, and optimism is high for Shanahan to return the franchise to the top of the NFL. He'll have to do so with quarterback Brian Hoyer running the show.

"Brian Hoyer is certainly no Joe Montana," Shanahan said, "but at least he doesn't wear Skechers. It's hard to believe Montana, as famous as he is, opted to shill for Skechers, of all shoe brands. It's like he 'soled' his 'sole.'"

Carolina wins, 24-22.

NY Giants @ Dallas (-3½)

Bad news came down from the NFL office on August 11, when it was announced that Ezekiel Elliott would be suspended six games for violating the league's personal conduct policy. It was the latest in a long line of suspensions of Cowboys players over the last few years.

"We went to court to have Ezekiel's suspension overturned," Jerry Jones said. "We didn't want it just reduced, we wanted it altogether eliminated. But we lost. That sucks, because if Zeke's not suspended at all, I would be forced to say what everyone's been saying about my team all along — that they're 'undisciplined.'"

With a strong receiving corps of Odell Beckham, Jr., Brandon Marshall, and Sterling Shepherd, the Giants are optimistic their rushing attack can find success and lend balance to the offense, helmed for the 14th year by Eli Manning.

"You heard right," Manning said. "This is my 14th year as a Giant. Since I took over in 2004, I've started every game. Unfortunately, that's the only reason you can say 'there's been no turnover at quarterback' on this team."

New York wins, 27-24.

New Orleans @ Minnesota (-3½)

New Orleans signed former Viking Adrian Peterson as a free agent, and he'll make his Saints debut against his former team at U.S. Bank Stadium.

"We're pleased to have Adrian," Drew Brees said. "I think everyone wants to see him return to the level of performance he enjoyed before injuries slowed him. I mean, who doesn't want to see Adrian be his old self, besides his children?

"As is usually the case, we really need our defense to step up this season and be respectable. That probably won't happen. I think a more likely and better solution is the sneak the Vikings defense back home to New Orleans. I think it can be done, especially if former Viking Onterrio Smith can lead the way, because he has experience in smuggling a 'D' through an airport."

Minnesota wins, 30-24.

L.A. Chargers @ Denver (-3½)

The Chargers call Los Angeles home now, and former Buffalo offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn was hired as head coach after the firing of Mike McCoy.

"I look forward to working with Philip Rivers," Lynn said. "In this town known as L.A., he is a real 'Big Baller.' Philip has had a productive career, both on the field and off. He has eight children, for Christ's sake. So, it's a toss up who the biggest nut in Los Angeles is, Philip or Lavar Ball."

The Broncos defensive unit is again expected to be one of the NFL's best, but it will be all for naught unless Denver can get consistency at quarterback. Last year, Trevor Semien was mediocre, but had an exceptional preseason and reclaimed the starting role.

"Let's face it," Semien said, "I'm no superstar. Peyton Manning was my predecessor, for Christ's sake. The closest I can come to 'replacing' Manning is to serve as a cadaver donor in his next neck surgery."

Broncos win, 23-20.

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