• Matthew Whiley

NFL Kickoff Week

Updated: Jan 14

It's rather apt that the first proper post of a sports blog features the word 'kickoff' in the title, isn't it? It's fortunate for me, then, that the National Football League in the USA uses that very word to encompass its first week of games, the first of which will be getting underway in a little over 48 hours. I didn't want to begin with a post about what we in the UK call football because there's plenty of time for that later, so I thought I'd start things off with a post about the football they play across the pond.


When I got into the NFL about three years ago, I knew I needed to pick a team. When it came to that, I was a bit stuck, having never visited the US. I didn't want to just go with the Super Bowl champions, so I thought about the teams I already supported, and with that logic, I plumped for the Minnesota Vikings. Why? Because I liked their kit colours. Scraping the barrel, I know, and apologies to the Baltimore Ravens, but I've really rather settled into life as a loyal Vikings fan, and I wouldn't have wanted to be supporting anyone else at the point Kyle Rudolph took *that* overtime catch in New Orleans in January. Let's not mention what happened in San Francisco the week after, shall we?


Anyway, as in past years, the Chiefs, in their role as defending champions, will open the 2020 season at home to the Houston Texans, and there's some mouthwatering clashes in Week 1 to get the season going. In my naivety, I've had the mad idea of attempting to predict the outcome of each of these clashes. What could possibly go wrong?


Let's give it a go.


Houston Texans @ Kansas City Chiefs: Chiefs win

There's a DeAndre Hopkins-shaped hole in the Texans offense, and any team with Mahomes at the helm are the team to beat. Losing running back Damien Williams to opt-outs might have been a blow for the Chiefs, were it not for the addition of a man being touted as a possible Offensive Rookie of the Year to replace him in Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Arrowhead won't be its usual thunderous self, but the home side should still have too much for Deshaun Watson and co.


Seattle Seahawks @ Atlanta Falcons: Seahawks win

This is a really intriguing one. The Falcons have underachieved for the past couple of years, but their addition of Todd Gurley gives their offense a needed boost in a very tough NFC South. However, just one look at the talent the Seahawks have on their books - Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner, and newly-arrived safety Jamal Adams being the standout names, amongst others - for me, just puts them in pole position for this one.


Indianapolis Colts @ Jacksonville Jaguars: Colts win

I think it's been widely accepted in Jacksonville that 2020 is not going to be a particularly brilliant season for the Jaguars, and they're starting a rebuilding process this year. Meanwhile, the Colts are looking good for a strong challenge at their first division title since 2014, especially with Philip Rivers at QB, who, thanks to Indianapolis' top-notch offensive line, will have more protection than he got at the Chargers last year, when he was sacked 34 times. The Colts should come away with a comfortable win here.


Las Vegas Raiders @ Carolina Panthers: Panthers win

This is an incredibly close one to call, but I'm going with the Panthers here, because of one man - Christian McCaffrey - who's in a very select group of the best of the best in the NFL. While the Raiders have been improving year on year since Jon Gruden retook the reins, and first-round receiver Henry Ruggs is one to watch this year, the Panthers edge this one.


Philadelphia Eagles @ Washington Football Team: Eagles win

In any sport, the one thing coaches and players will always emphasise is that no game is easy. But the Eagles must be feeling quietly confident for this one. It will be interesting to see if Chase Young can live up to his billing that saw newly-renamed Washington take him second overall in April's draft, but even if he has the game of his life, I can't see the outcome changing. Eagles win.


Miami Dolphins @ New England Patriots: Patriots win

If I'd written this prior to Cam Newton, a player that I really like, signing for the Patriots, I might have gone a bit left-field here and said the Dolphins would win this, especially considering they did exactly that back in December, and they're my Dad's team too. However, it's a foolish call to back anyone but the league's elite against Bill Belichick, and while Brian Flores is steadily turning the Dolphins back into something competitive, the Patriots should still be able to win at home.


Green Bay Packers @ Minnesota Vikings: Vikings win

Must be impartial, must be impartial. The problem is, if I look at this impartially, I have to admit that my team's biggest rivals are probably the favourites in Week 1, don't I? Very tough. I'm going to let my heart rule my head, and back my Vikings. If the game was at Lambeau, perhaps my head may be shouting a bit louder, but seeing as it is in Minneapolis, the Vikings take it. Just.


Chicago Bears @ Detroit Lions: Bears win

The other all-NFC North tie sees the Bears travel to the Motor City, and I don't think they'll need to go through the gears too much to come away with a win. Akiem Hicks and Khalil Mack in tandem is a scary thought for any offensive line, and the Bears should have too much for Matthew Stafford's Lions, who could be in for another long season.


Cleveland Browns @ Baltimore Ravens: Ravens win

The Ravens, surely? 11 Pro Bowlers from 2019 still on their books this year, including the league MVP? The Browns haven't won a season opener since 2004. And yet... that season opener in 2004 was against none other than the Ravens. They were also the only opposition to win in Baltimore last season. So, is this one tougher than it looks for the home side? I'll err on the side of caution, say no, and call this one for the Ravens.


New York Jets @ Buffalo Bills: Bills win

If there's one team this season who might, just might, stand a chance of finally breaking the New England Patriots' 11-year stranglehold on the AFC East title, it will be the Buffalo Bills. They added a substantial talent to their offense with the trade of Stefon Diggs from the Vikings, who I was sad to lose, and I can't see the Jets offering too much of a challenge, even if Le'Veon Bell returns to his pre-2018 levels. Bills to win this one.


Los Angeles Chargers @ Cincinnati Bengals: Chargers win

I have another conflict of interest to declare here; the Chargers are very much my second team, because one of my best friends supports them, but I am going for a Chargers win, albeit with a bit more confidence. While neither team has an elite quarterback (yet - keep watching Joe Burrow), I think the fact the Chargers have a better option at running back in Austin Ekeler to take the pressure off their QB, plus Joey Bosa on the other side of the ball, should see them take this one.


Arizona Cardinals @ San Francisco 49ers: 49ers win

There are some games that are hard to predict, and others that, at first glance, have a clear winner. This one definitely falls into the latter category, but... do the Cardinals have a shot? Any team with DeAndre Hopkins has to be considered competitive, but the 49ers reached the Super Bowl last year and the Cardinals still have a way to go before they'll do that again. San Francisco, with home advantage, will have too much for the Cards.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ New Orleans Saints: Saints win

This is THE clash of Week 1 for the neutral, and the hardest one to call. Brees and Brady going head to head, and the game will also feature Thomas, Sanders, Kamara, Godwin, Evans, and Gronkowski. But who will come out on top? I think home advantage has to play its part, and just the fact that the Saints might be a tad more of a well-oiled machine, given Brady hasn't had any game time as a Buccaneer yet, makes the Saints slight favourites.


Dallas Cowboys @ Los Angeles Rams: Cowboys win

Los Angeles' SoFi Stadium will become the first of the two new stadiums in the NFL this year to host a game, and what a game it could be. The Rams have endured a downturn since their run to the Super Bowl two years ago, but still have the best defender in the NFL on their books in Aaron Donald. However, the Cowboys have some serious offensive talent, and will consider anything less than a playoff place to be disappointing. For me, America's Team will just edge this one.


Pittsburgh Steelers @ New York Giants: Steelers win

Oh, New York, New York. What has happened to the Giants over the last few years? They're one of the league's best-known and most successful teams, but they've only reached the playoffs twice since moving stadiums a decade ago, and it will be a surprise if they make it three this year. They host another team with a rich history in the Pittsburgh Steelers, who, now they've got Ben Roethlisberger back from injury, should have enough to come away from the Big Apple with a win.


Tennessee Titans @ Denver Broncos: Titans win

The Titans are unpredictable, aren't they? Nearly reached the Super Bowl last year against all the odds. Meanwhile, the Broncos look better than they've done for a little while, especially since they acquired Melvin Gordon. I wonder, however, if QB Drew Lock's inexperience, along with the Titans' possession of one of the league's best running backs in Derrick Henry, could prove to be Denver's undoing. I like the Broncos (I've got another friend who supports them) but, sorry mate, I've got to give this one to the Titans.


So there we have it. Let's see how I do, eh? I'll briefly revisit these in my next post (unless I do terribly, in which case you might find this post has been quietly deleted).


Signing off,

Matthew

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