WHEELING — Another season is upon us, and with it comes far more questions than answers.
How will the NFL deal with its record-low ratings? Will the national anthem hot-button topic be as big of news as it has been recently?
Those are important issues, to be sure. But in this space we’re going to stick to what happens between the white lines. There will be at least one upper-echelon team not live up to its billing this season, and of course there are going to be teams that come out of nowhere like Jacksonville and Philadelphia last year.
With that in mind, let’s dig into my predictions.
New England (East), Pittsburgh (North), Indianapolis (South), Kansas City (West)
Houston, L.A. Chargers
Philadelphia (East), Green Bay (North), New Orleans (South), L.A. Rams (West)
Pittsburgh defeats L.A. Rams
What? You thought I was going to pick someone else to come out of the AFC and win it all? Clearly you haven’t been paying close enough attention.
With that all out of the way, let’s delve into this week’s selections:
Atlanta 24, Philadelphia 23
As has been the custom for the last decade or so, the Super Bowl champ gets all the spotlight on opening weekend. Still wrapping my head around the Eagles being that team. Tough opener, however. Nick Foles won them a title, but he didn’t look like himself in the preseason.
Pittsburgh 29, Cleveland 14
You know it’s football season when my main man Bob Tschappat Jr. starts rolling in with the stats. It’s a rite of fall when he receives the yearly ”Steelers Bible”. Thanks to Bob, here’s what I know, Clowns fans: Steelers have won six in a row in the series, 10 of 12, 26 of 29, and 32 of 36 overall. That’s nearly impossible to do in the NFL. Here’s hoping we see a healthy dose of James Conner toting the rock for Pittsburgh. And here’s hoping Le’Veon Bell is gone after this season, because we can buy a lot of toys with that $14.5M he seems to scoff at.
San Francisco 21
For someone who hasn’t won a darn thing, 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo sure does get a lot of press as the next big thing. Everything he does, including taking a porn star on a date, seems to be front-page news. He won’t be the best QB on the field, an honor I’m personally bestowing on Kirk Cousins.
New England 25
Another season, another prediction that this is the year the Patriots finally tail off. Well I hate to burst your bubbles — I’m actually talking to myself more than anyone — but as long as Tom Brady is still throwing to midget receivers nobody else wants, that isn’t happening. Returns to health by J.J. Watt and Deshaun Watson make the Texans contenders overall, just not in this one.
Indianapolis 20, Cincinnati 3
You may have noticed above that I have the Colts as playoff team. That’s how much a franchise quarterback means in this league. Indianapolis has always made good use of its tight end while Andrew Luck has been there, and Eric Ebron was an underrated offseason acquisition to pair with Jack Doyle — not Wheeling Park’s assistant principal. I’d say Marvin Lewis is on the hot seat, but when you haven’t won a single playoff game in 15 seasons and are still employed by the same team, does the hot seat actually exist?
N.Y. Giants 22
The Jaguars came out of nowhere last season to make a run to the AFC Title Game. Guess what? No matter what Jalen Ramsey says — and that’s more than a lot — Jacksonville is going to prove to be a one-hit wonder. That defense does have some pieces, but the offense wasn’t much to begin with and its top two receivers won’t be in uniform. Hopefully the Browns have this one scheduled to record on DVR, to see what they missed not drafting Saquon Barkley.
New Orleans 32
Tampa Bay 10
Not only does Ryan Fitzpatrick still have a job in the NFL, but thanks to Jameis Winston he’ll be a starter in Week 1. The only fans that should make happy, cheer for the Saints. Drew Brees is on pace to become the league’s all-time leading passer, and as long as he gets a helmet New Orleans has a chance.
Buffalo 6, Baltimore 3
What’s the bigger upset? Nathan Peterman starting for the Bills, or that CBS Sports picked the Ravens to win the AFC North crown? Big Ben, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown would all have to be lost for the season in order for Baltimore to make up that much ground. An anemic passing game went out and got Michael Crabtree — a possession receiver — to solve all its problems.
The league couldn’t have matched two more nondescript teams on opening week if it tried. What’s to watch here? The return of Ryan Tannehill? If that’s what you’re left to get excited about, my apologies ahead of time. Everyone keeps waiting for the Titans to take that next step, but it never happens.
L.A. Chargers 24
Kansas City 13
How bad is the AFC West? Consider that I picked the Chiefs, who are starting a rookie quarterback, to win it. However, things aren’t going to start off great as Patrick Mahomes gets a quick introduction to Joey Bosa.
Cowboys fans swear this is the year. The problem with that is, they’ve been saying the same thing every season since 1996. We all know how that has turned out. I don’t like Cam Newton or the Panthers because I think they’re clearly overrated on a consistent basis, but they’re better than Dallas.
How quickly have these two teams fallen? It was only a few years ago when we saw them going toe-to-toe in the Super Bowl. But Peyton Manning retired from the Broncos and the entire Legion of Boom has done the same for the Seahawks. That leaves us with Russell Wilson and a bunch of guys nobody has heard of picking up the pieces.
Is this 2009? The Redskins are seriously going into a season with Alex Smith and Adrian Peterson as their starters at quarterback and running back, respectively? Good luck with that. The Cardinals have similar problems as 35-year-old Larry Fitzgerald is their No. 1 receiver, followed by a couple of guys who combined don’t have three seasons of NFL experience. Also, good luck with that.
Green Bay 28, Chicago 27
You know who had the most interest — not in a good way — in Khalil Mack being traded to the Bears? Aaron Rodgers. The Packers QB has to face this monster twice a season now. Not sure how Green Bay is always picked — me included — as a favorite to come out of the NFC, other than reverence for Mr. Rodgers. Beyond him, the Packers still don’t have a running game and the defense still needs work.
Detroit 16, N.Y. Jets 13
The Jets and Lions? Whose idea was this anyway? Sam Darnold makes his NFL debut against Matt Stafford. Pay close attention because those two guys are going to be forever linked as blue-chip guys, made a ton of bank and didn’t win anything.
L.A. Rams 33, Oakland 9
Can you imagine what the stands are going to look like at this one? Each week it seems there is a new video emerging of spectator fights at both Rams and Raiders games. Put these two together after a day of drinking and it may be the perfect storm for Armageddon. Side note: What in the name of Jack Tatum is Jon Gruden doing to the Oakland roster?
Shawn Rine can be reached via email at: email@example.com