It’s like Christmas Eve… We stand on the edge of the 103rd NFL season, and there are plotlines galore.
Time to wage war with the bookies once again: Here are five games to look out for, where the handicaps may be more in our favour.
(2021 Overall Predictions W-L-D: 49-49-2 ¦ Number of 5/5 weeks: 2)
All odds courtesy of Paddy Power
Browns @ Panthers (-1.5) – 18:00
The Baker Mayfield revenge game is one of the juicier plotlines surrounding the opening weekend, but I’m surprised at Carolina being the favourites, even if they are on home field. Yes, Cleveland are without Deshaun Watson and that hurts their offense considerably. But this is a roster that is overall better than the Panthers’.
Christian McCaffrey will be back in the RB slot for the Charlotte team but under-fire HC Matt Rhule will need him to be back to his best straight away and crucially, stay injury free. Jacoby Brissett will start under center for Cleveland and he is more than competent enough to keep the ship afloat, at least for Week 1. In a close, low-scoring affair I see the Browns getting a crucial early win on the board.
Prediction: Browns 17 Carolina 14 (Browns +1.5)
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Jaguars @ Commanders (+2.5) – 18:00
I’ve said it in each of my season preview columns: This Jags team could well surprise people. There certainly looks to be a bigger upside to them than the Commanders, whose new QB Carson Wentz will be having Vietnam flashbacks when viewing those Teal Jerseys: It was eight months ago when he blew up with the Colts to fall out of the playoff race at the last.
Jacksonville have explosive parts on offense and defense: QB Trevor Lawrence will have WR Christian Kirk and not-a-rookie-but-kind-of-a-rookie RB Travis Etienne to assist him. Number one Draft pick Travon Walker has been making waves in preseason.
Washington meanwhile are a mess off the field and marginally better on it. Chase Young is still injured, Terry McLaurin can’t do everything by himself and Ron Rivera is on the hotseat. By week 10 we might wonder how this line was the way it was. Take the Jags, and I love them to win outright too.
Prediction: Jaguars 24 Commanders 21 (Jaguars +2.5)
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Packers (-1.5) @ Vikings – 21:25
It’s a big NFC North grudge match right off the bat but while some are bigging up the Vikings as a sneaky good team, I’m happy to put my faith in the three-time regular season MVP Aaron Rodgers. The Packers are weaker at WR with no more Devante Adams, but Sammy Watkins and Randall Cobb are established heads who can gain chemistry with the bearded wonder.
Kirk Cousins has a new Head Coach in Kevin O’Connell and I think it may take a few weeks for their new game plan to truly come into its own. On the other side, Matt LaFleur’s regular season record is startling at 39-10. Green Bay takes an early hold on the division with a tough road win.
Prediction: Packers 28 Vikings 24 (Packers -1.5)
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Raiders @ Chargers (-3) – 21:25
Home advantage may mean less for the Chargers than pretty much any other team in the NFL, but that won’t faze them one bit. Justin Herbert's trajectory is tracking higher than one of his ballistic-missile deep balls; it doesn’t look like slowing down soon.
There’s no real excuse for Brandon Staley’s team to miss the postseason again, and this is an immediate chance to avenge week 18 last year, where the Raiders beat the Chargers in overtime to carry on at their expense. Herbert is carrying a 98 career passer rating and despite losing that aforementioned game, he went for 383 yards and three TDs. They’ll be swift vengeance on the streets of LA.
Prediction: Raiders 24 Packers 31 (Chargers -3)
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Buccaneers (-2.5) @ Cowboys – 01:20
This was the opening fixture of the season last year: The Bucs won on a last-minute field goal at home. While they may be slightly weaker now than they were then, I see them winning by more than 2 points even on the road. I wouldn’t have Dallas favourites of the NFC East, there’s a lot of questions on this team.
Jerry Jones may want more Zeke Elliott, but would that bring success? Is a 40-year old Jason Peters the answer at OT? Will Mike McCarthy be able to not make a brain fade decision in a crucial moment?
The Bucs still have Brady, Evans, Fournette, David, Vea. They also now have Russell Gage and Julio Jones, a very handy pair of WRs that can get the ball from Brady’s quick releases. Just as I can’t see anyone else winning the NFC South, I can’t see anything other than a Tampa win on the first SNF for 2021-22.
Prediction: Buccaneers 30 Cowboys 24 (Buccaneers -2.5)
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