Boy oh boy, where on earth do I start here?
Despite COVID-19 continuing to spread throughout the US with relative ease, the NFL actually got their season started on schedule last week.
It’s quite a feat considering the number of people involved, coupled with the fact quite a few teams are located in COVID hot spots around the country.
In terms of the quality of football on offer, yes, the lack of a full preseason was evident in a few cases, but this was expected as the usual months of preparation that encompasses an NFL preseason in more normal times was condensed into only a few weeks.
In many cases, it was actually a good showing from teams that have endured substantial changes to their coaching staff or player personnel since the Kansas City Chiefs outlasted the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl back in February.
Speaking of which, have the Chiefs gotten better since their big win? It certainly appeared as though they had with the addition of rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire putting in a hell of a debut against the Texans.
They looked so good that maybe the only thing that can stop them is the fogging up of head coach Andy Reid’s face shield on the sideline.
How he could read that play card at the end of the game, I’ll never know.
But, we all have another 16 weeks to go yet, so I might be getting a little carried away there. Anything can, and does, happen in this caper. So let’s have a look at a few games that I find interesting coming up this week.
Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns – 10:20 am Friday 18th September
Look, if you were trying to introduce someone to the game of American football, you would not choose this game. They are both franchises who haven’t seen success for quite some time, but the reason I have chosen it is to shine a light on the fact that both the Bengals and Browns are supposed to feel optimistic at this point in time.
The problem is that nobody seems to have told the big names in the Browns squad. They were the big things coming out of the preseason last year and they imploded spectacularly by the time the 2019 season mercifully ended. This year, the talent was still on paper, so they were the quiet favourites to really step it up in 2020.
Well, a demolition job at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens last week doesn’t really back up this quiet confidence.
The Bengals, on the other hand, know that this is going to be a tough season, but the reason for this is also their silver lining as their new quarterback is this year’s first overall draft pick, Joe Burrow.
You don’t get the first pick if you’re a good team. That’s simple enough to understand and another thing to understand is that it will take time for this young gun to get accustomed to the big time. It will also take time for the parts around him to be upgraded, and believe me, they need upgrading big time.
But Burrow is seen as an absolute beauty, something you don’t always get with the top pick. He can take them back to the playoffs, and maybe even win once they get there. But it won’t be this season.
Friday will give us an opportunity to see where both of these teams really are. In short, considering all of the hype that surrounded the Browns both last year and now, Cleveland needs to beat the crap out of young Burrow and his Bengals. Anything less just won’t be good enough.
My pick: Browns, by at least two touchdowns. Confidence levels are low though.
Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 3:00 am Monday 21st September
I was impressed with the Panthers last week. For a team that had really cleaned house in terms of coaching staff and key player roster moves, it wouldn’t have surprised me to see Carolina struggle out of the blocks. Instead, they had a real arm-wrestle of a game with the Las Vegas Raiders where the lead changed hands seven times before the Raiders held strong at the end.
I think that’s what they call a confidence-building loss.
They come up against a team that will be heavily favoured to win here, but after seeing the new look Carolina last week, this is no shoe-in for Tom Brady’s new team in Tampa Bay.
The Buccaneers weren’t disgraced last week against the Saints, but they really had the look of a team that were underdone. The pieces are there, but the cohesion and chemistry was lacking. That will come, but what will the damage to their win/loss be by the time it gets right?
To complicate things further this week, Brady’s two top receivers have issues coming into this game. Mike Evans was obviously troubled by a hamstring last week and that could well continue this week, while Chris Godwin, who actually looked pretty good with Brady, has missed practice due to being under the concussion protocols.
If he doesn’t play, Brady’s trusted options are few.
Based on talent, Tampa should win here, but these Panthers aren’t going to make it easy on anyone by the look of things. This should be a good one to watch in terms of the development for both squads. The added NFC South implications don’t hurt either.
My pick: Buccaneers, by a touchdown. Their defence should do the job in the end.
New England Patriots at Seattle Seahawks – 10:20 am Monday 21st September
I’m not so much intrigued by the quarterback battle in this one, but in the battle between Seattle quarterback Russ Wilson and Patriots wily head coach Bill Belichick.
The reason is it appears as though Russ has been given license to thrill in regards to the Seahawks passing game and I think the Patriots can only win if Belichick finds a way to stop him.
If Cam Newton tries to out-duel Russ, it will be some kind of feat if it comes off. If the Patriots try to run the ball the way they did last week against the Dolphins, Seattle’s defence will welcome it. Belichick’s defensive plan has to win this game for them.
He has quality in the secondary that can do the job, but in the end, I can’t see Russ Wilson falling into his traps enough to lose this game.
Especially when the Patriots offence is getting their own wakeup call thanks to opposing head coach Pete Carroll orchestrating his own defensive flair after adding Jamal Adams from the Jets.
My pick: Seahawks, by over ten points.
New York Giants at Chicago Bears – Giants
Atlanta Falcons at Dallas Cowboys – Cowboys
Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers – Packers
Minnesota Vikings at Indianapolis Colts – Vikings
Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins – Bills
San Francisco 49ers at New York Jets – 49ers
Los Angeles Rams at Philadelphia Eagles – Rams
Denver Broncos at Pittsburgh Steelers – Steelers
Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans – Titans
Washington Football Team at Arizona Cardinals – Cardinals
Baltimore Ravens at Houston Texans – Ravens
Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Chargers – Chiefs
New Orleans Saints at Las Vegas Raiders – Raiders