June 17, 2024

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NFL Week 1 preview: Guide, analysis, picks for every game

Two hundred and seven days have passed since the Rams hoisted the Super Bowl LVI trophy above their heads at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles.

A lot has changed around the league. Superstars have changed teams. Legendary coaches have stepped away. But football remains a zero-sum game. And on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2022, the march to Super Bowl LVII begins.

FOX Sports’ staff of NFL writers has assembled a guide to every game that will be played in Week 1 this NFL season. Be sure to check the site and app throughout the coming season; we’re extremely excited about the group that’s going to cover the league for you.

Sunday, Sept. 11

Overview: These are two teams with new looks that are trying to recapture their old offensive magic after failed offseason runs at Deshaun Watson. In New Orleans, the days of Sean Payton and Drew Brees are gone — officially now, after Payton “retired” and handed the team to Dennis Allen. The Saints’ hopes hinge on the recoveries of QB Jameis Winston (knee) and WR Michael Thomas (ankle), and they’ll ride dynamic RB Alvin Kamara — as long as he’s not suspended after his offseason arrest. 

Meanwhile, the Falcons dumped long-time QB Matt Ryan to give Marcus Mariota a second shot at being an NFL starter. He lost his No. 1 receiver when Calvin Ridley was suspended for the season, and that sure won’t help. But he does have dangerous weapons in TE Kyle Pitts and do-everything Cordarelle Patterson.

Matchup to watch: Saints DE Cam Jordan vs. Falcons RT Kaleb McGary. McGary, a former first-round pick, is certainly up to the task of handling the NFL’s top pass-rushers, but that’s never easy when it comes to Jordan. He’s the key to the Saints’ defense up front and had 12.5 sacks last season — his fourth double-digit sack season in the past five years. 

The Saints have a tough secondary, too, and if they can get the pass rush going against Mariota, it could be a long day for him. Keeping him upright is the Falcons’ key to the game.

Related: NFC South guide: Expectations and predictions for the Saints, Bucs, Panthers and Falcons

Key stat: The Saints went 5-2 in Winston’s seven starts last season and 4-6 in the games he missed. Once the Saints failed to land Watson in the offseason, they got off the Quarterback Carousel, mostly because they still have optimism that they can win with Winston. They believe he was just getting warmed up when he got hurt.

Prediction: I think there is some misguided hope with both of these teams, particularly considering their choices at the quarterback position. Both Mariota and Winston are capable of big games, but it’s unlikely they can sustain that kind of production over the season. 

For one game, though, Winston seems more likely to have a big day, mostly because he doesn’t have to go against New Orleans’ defense. The Saints’ D looks legitimately good again, coming off a top-10 year, and it will be too much for Mariota, who has barely played since his last start in 2019. Saints 17, Falcons 9.

Ralph Vacchiano

Overview: The Jets are trying to prove they’re not losers anymore. The Ravens are trying to prove they remain Super Bowl contenders. Jets quarterback Joe Flacco, who will start in place of an injured Zach Wilson, might have a revenge game in mind, but that won’t be enough to overcome the talent gap between these two teams. 

New York is still rebuilding. Baltimore has continuity under John Harbaugh and Lamar Jackson. Those two will make for a tough opponent for every NFL team.

Matchup to watch: Ravens WR Rashod Bateman vs. Jets CB Sauce Gardner. There might not be a more fun matchup between young playmakers around the NFL. Bateman had a quiet rookie season while dealing with an injury, but it is clear the Ravens expect a major breakout in year two, partly because their wide-receiver room is devoid of top talent aside from him. Gardner, the No. 4 overall pick in this year’s draft, gets a chance to show why the Jets believed in him.

Related: AFC East guide: Expectations and predictions for the Bills, Patriots, Dolphins and Jets

Key stat: Lamar Jackson will be making his 50th regular-season start. He is 37-12 (.755) in 49 career regular-season starts and can become just the sixth QB in NFL history to win at least 38 of his first 50 regular-season starts. 

Steve Young: Ravens “holding back” Lamar Jackson

Steve Young: Ravens "holding back" Lamar Jackson

NFL Hall of Famer Steve Young was critical of the Ravens when discussing Lamar Jackson and his contract negotiations.

Prediction: Baltimore doesn’t have to be one of the AFC’s elite to take care of New York in Week 1. The Jets are constructed in a way where they might need time to find their footing. The Ravens, meanwhile, are built completely around Jackson and I have zero doubt that, with his contract situation still unsettled, he will go off against this spotty defense. Ravens 31, Jets 13.

Henry McKenna

Overview: Quarterback Baker Mayfield gets a revenge game against the Browns. Though with Mayfield, his hot emotions aren’t always a pathway to success. He probably throws a pair of interceptions, but even if he does, the Panthers can probably eke out a win. 

They have an extremely talented secondary with plenty of talent on the edge. The Browns will try to run the ball to victory, but with Panthers linebacker Shaq Thompson patrolling the inside, running back Nick Chubb might not find much room.

Baker Mayfield reveals “anti-Browns” shirts

Baker Mayfield reveals "anti-Browns" shirts

Craig Carton reacts to Baker Mayfield releasing “anti-Browns” T-shirts ahead of this week’s Cleveland-Carolina matchup.

Matchup to watch: LT Ikem Ekwonu vs. Edge Myles Garrett. This is where all hell could break loose for the Panthers. Their tackles are simply not equipped to handle the edge rushers from Cleveland in Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney. Garrett, in particular, has a massive advantage over Ekwonu, the sixth overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Ekwonu has been equal parts incompetent and competent this offseason — as it tends to go with rookies. But against an elite player like Garrett, things could get ugly.

Related: AFC North guide: Expectations and predictions for the Bengals, Ravens, Browns and Steelers

Key stat: The Browns are 0-16-1 (W-L-T) in their last 17 season openers. The last time Cleveland won its opener was in 2004.

Prediction: So long as Mayfield’s mistakes aren’t catastrophic, the Panthers should win this. Carolina can lean on a healthy Christian McCaffrey in the run and passing game in an effort to mitigate the Cleveland pass-rush. And Jacoby Brissett won’t scare Carolina’s defense. Panthers 17, Browns 13

– Henry McKenna

Overview: Both these teams decided they were far better off with a different quarterback at the helm. So the Colts dumped Carson Wentz this offseason and grabbed veteran Matt Ryan off the Quarterback Carousel with the hopes that he can rejuvenate their passing game. Their offense is built around RB Jonathan Taylor, who was the NFL’s best runner last year, but they need more than one dimension to compete in the stacked AFC. 

The Texans moved on from Deshaun Watson, dealing him to Cleveland for a package headlined by three first-round picks. That should jumpstart their rebuilding process, which still has a long, long way to go.

Matchup to watch: Colts RB Taylor vs. Texans linebackers. Taylor was an MVP candidate last season, posting 1,811 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns. His explosiveness puts pressure on every member of a Texans defense that ranked 31st overall and 31st vs. the run last season — and it might not be much better now. Houston’s best hope might be to keep the ball out of Taylor’s hands as much as possible by grinding out offense behind impressive rookie running back Dameon Pierce. But that’s a lot to ask.

Related: Warren Sharp ranks the NFL’s 10 most accurate QBs

Key stat: Ryan is the Colts’ sixth different Opening Day starter in the past six years. That’s a remarkable run that includes, in order, Scott Tolzien, Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett, Philip Rivers and Carson Wentz. So yeah, the Peyton Manning days are long gone. The Colts have also lost eight straight season openers — the longest active streak in the league. Expect that to change Sunday.

Prediction: The Texans were bad at everything last season and figure to be one of the league’s worst teams yet again. They have intriguing young players on both sides of the ball, but not nearly enough to sustain things with a very questionable quarterback in Davis Mills. Meanwhile, the Colts are a contender and really in a different league than Houston. That should be clear in this rout. Colts 34, Texans 10

– Ralph Vacchiano

Overview: The Jaguars were one of the big winners of this offseason. They spent big (WR Christian Kirk, LT Cam Robinson, TE Evan Engram, DT Foley Fatukasi, CB Darious Williams), hired a new coach (Doug Pederson), got the No. 1 pick in the draft (edge rusher Travon Walker) and are getting injured RBs James Robinson and Travis Etienne back. All that will help second-year QB Trevor Lawrence. 

The Commanders got help, too, adding veteran QB Carson Wentz (starting Week 1 for his third different team in three seasons) to a squad that was already solid and came equipped with a few excellent offensive weapons. The Jags definitely are more talented than they were, but it could be awhile before everything clicks.

Matchup to watch: Commanders WR Terry McLaurin vs. Jaguars CB Darious Williams. The Jaguars gave Williams a three-year, $30 million deal in the hopes he can stop receivers like McLaurin. Of course, the Commanders gave McLaurin a three-year, $71 million extension because they know how tough he is to stop. Considering nearly half the passes thrown to him last year were deemed uncatchable, he is expected to take a huge leap with a more accurate QB throwing to him.

Related: NFC East guide: Expectations and predictions for Eagles, Cowboys, Commanders and Giants

Key stat: The Jaguars have lost 17 straight road games (dating back to Week 15 in 2019) and they’ve lost 16 straight to NFC teams (dating back to Week 1 in 2018). Just take that as a reminder of how far the Jags have fallen and how much further they still have to go. They have optimism, some good young players and just went on a big offseason spending spree. But that might not be enough.

Prediction: The Commanders are a few steps ahead, but these are still two teams hoping to claw their way back to respectability. For the moment, there is just more talent in Washington. The Commanders have a strong rushing attack, a dynamic receiver and some pieces on defense. The Jaguars think they have all those things, and their quarterback has immense upside. But they haven’t seen it yet. This could be a good game, but it’s tough to pick the Jaguars in the first week of the season with a new coach and so many new pieces on the road. Commanders 20, Jaguars 17.

– Ralph Vacchiano

Overview: New England and Miami must know they face a bottleneck in the AFC, particularly within their stacked division. With the Bills favored to win the AFC East, the Patriots and Dolphins might be left to fight over a wild-card berth. This season opener could prove enormously important if the two teams face a tiebreaker. 

Related: How Mac Jones is defined by three things in his locker

Matchup to watch: Patriots CB Jonathan Jones (and safety Devin McCourty) vs. Dolphins WR Tyreek Hill. The Patriots faced Hill five times during his Chiefs tenure. They only truly contained him once, a postseason game that followed the 2018 season when Hill had a single catch for 42 yards. But their recipe for preventing him from dominating the game starts with Jones. He is a speedy corner who has held up in coverage when getting help over the top from McCourty. That will likely be what New England tries on Sunday.

Tyreek Hill: “Defenses will be scared”

Tyreek Hill: "Defenses will be scared"

Nick Wright reacts to Tyreek Hill claiming that he and Jaylen Waddle will scare defenses “s–tless.” Nick also shares his predictions for Miami in the 2022 NFL season.

Key stat: The Dolphins have won three straight matchups against the Patriots. Miami has never defeated New England four straight times since Bill Belichick became the Patriots coach in 2000.

Prediction: Contrary to what the stats indicate, I think the Dolphins can pull off a win. Their development seems to be further along than that of the Patriots, who installed a new offensive system without a coordinator. New England’s defense has too many unproven youngsters. New Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel schemes up a masterpiece for his debut and gets a victory. Dolphins 31, Patriots 24

– Henry McKenna

Overview: The Lions sure look like they’re building something special in Detroit. Dan Campbell had them playing hard last season, especially when they went 3-3 down the stretch (after an 0-10-1 start). They have a good offensive line and some weapons around QB Jared Goff in wide receivers Amon-Ra St. Brown and D.J. Chark. They have a potential stud pass rusher in No. 2 overall pick Aidan Hutchinson. 

But in Week 1, they’ll run into a team that has already built itself into a contender. The Eagles loaded up this offseason, adding WR A.J. Brown, edge rusher Haason Reddick and more to a defense that ranked 10th and an offense that had the best rushing attack in the league. This is a good litmus test for the Lions; the Eagles are already where Detroit wants to be.

Related: Jalen Hurts shifts into higher gear for 2022 season

Matchup to watch: Eagles WR Brown vs. Lions CBs Mike Hughes and Jeff Okudah. The Eagles are counting on Brown to open things up for QB Jalen Hurts, and they are set up for a fast start. Who would the Lions rather have on him? Okudah, the No. 3 overall pick in 2020, is coming off an Achilles injury that limited him to one game last season. Hughes, a first-rounder in 2018, is now on his third team and was part of a Chiefs defense that Brown torched for eight catches, 133 yards and a touchdown last season. Tough choice.

Key stat: The Eagles led the NFL in rushing last season (159.7 yards per game). The Lions ranked 28th in rushing defense (135.1). Even with Brown added to the mix, the Eagles aren’t going to abandon their winning formula. They have an array of running backs and a mobile quarterback with whom they can attack the Lions’ defense, and they will. They think they can throw more this year, but in this game, they might not have to.

Prediction: The Lions were generally tough to beat late last year, and you know Campbell will have them fired up for their difficult opener. That fire can only take them so far, though. The Eagles should wear them down with their relentless, diverse running game, and now they’ve got the passing game to open things up even more. It should be a close game in the fourth quarter, but not close enough for Detroit. Eagles 31, Lions 16

– Ralph Vacchiano

Overview: Young quarterbacks Trey Lance and Justin Fields lead their respective teams in this matchup. Selected third and 11th, respectively, in the 2021 draft, these second-year pros cost their franchises significant draft capital to trade up and select them. So now it’s time to shine. 

The all-time series between these two teams is tied at 32-32-1. At 18-7, San Francisco has the third-best road record in the NFL over the past three seasons, behind only the Chiefs and Saints. Five of San Francisco’s first six games are against teams that missed the playoffs last season. 

Matchup to watch: Bears’ offensive line vs. Niners’ defensive line. Chicago’s reshuffled O-line could have trouble protecting Fields from one of the top pass-rushing defensive fronts in the NFL. Led by Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead, the Niners totaled 48 sacks last season, tied for fifth in the NFL. Chicago allowed a league-leading 58 sacks in 2021.  

Related: NFC West Stock watch

Key stat: Fields finished 2-8 as a starter during his rookie year and was responsible for 14 turnovers in those 10 starts. 

Are Bears failing Justin Fields early in his career?

Are Bears failing Justin Fields early in his career?

Colin Cowherd explains why the Bears will not only struggle this season but how they are failing second-year QB Justin Fields.

Prediction: San Francisco has too much juice on defense. George Kittle and Deebo Samuel will make their plays for the Niners on the other side of the ball, and Lance will do enough for San Francisco to earn a road win. Niners 23, Bears 14

– Eric D. Williams

Overview: We all love division matchups to start the season. Though the Steelers have the edge in the all-time series 65-38, the Bengals are coming off a Super Bowl berth and more recent success. They also return all of their key pieces and added to the protection unit around quarterback Joe Burrow. That is to say, if they had a flaw last year, they fixed it. 

That should mean Burrow is even more comfortable in his immediate surroundings and will be throwing to his old buddy in Ja’Marr Chase, who also happens to be one of the best receivers in the league. The improved offensive line will also open things up for running back Joe Mixon, meaning the Steelers’ defense will have its hands full.

Bengals favored to win AFC North

Bengals favored to win AFC North

Can the Bengals fend off the Lamar Jackson-led Baltimore Ravens to capture the AFC North title?

Pittsburgh has the question mark of all question marks under center, announcing that Mitch Trubisky would not only be their starting quarterback, but a captain this week. Despite that, the Steelers likely are not — and perhaps can’t be — sold on Trubisky when they have a first-round quarterback in Kenny Pickett waiting in the wings. Trubisky will be looking over his shoulder constantly, and the clock could start ticking for him in this game.

Matchup to Watch: If the Steelers want to have a shot, they’re going to need to get to Burrow, and they can do that with the league’s sack leader last year in T.J. Watt. He’ll likely be matched up against Bengals newcomer La’el Collins, who will be asked to prove his worth immediately.

Related: Ranking the NFL’s top 10 receiving groups, with Bengals leading the way

Key Stat: This will mark the first time since the 2010 season (Dennis Dixon) that Ben Roethlisberger is not the Steelers’ Week 1 starting quarterback.

Prediction: The Bengals are highly favored in this game, and for good reason. They’re at home, they’re a talented team, and they have all the swagger of their quarterback Joe Shiesty to lean on. Considering how much uncertainty surrounds the Steelers’ offense and Trubisky, Cincinnati should take this one pretty handily. Bengals 38, Steelers 19

– Carmen Vitali

Overview: We’re going to immediately get a head-to-head matchup of the two teams that could be fighting for the NFC North crown as the Packers travel to Minnesota to take on the Vikings for FOX’s Game of the Week.

The narratives surrounding these teams couldn’t be more opposite. While there is optimism in Minnesota because of the changes that have taken place around the organization this offseason, there is pessimism in Green Bay. Davante Adams is gone, and with him, 25% of the Packers’ touchdowns from last season. The Packers signed Sammy Watkins to help pick up some of the slack. They have veterans Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb, too. But their most intriguing receiving prospect is a rookie in Romeo Doubs (and perhaps Christian Watson, once he gets healthy).

Super Bowl or bust?

Super Bowl or bust?

Emmanuel Acho, Joy Taylor, Shady McCoy and David Helman decide whether it is Super Bowl or bust for Tom Brady, Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers.

Green Bay also has some question marks along its offensive line due to injury. The Packers have the potential to yet again be one of the best units in the league, but the health of both tackles — David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins — is uncertain to open the season. Therein lies an opportunity for Minnesota.

Related: Why Vikings will surprise, Cowboys will disappoint: Warren Sharp’s NFL guide

Matchup to watch: If you don’t think Packer-turned-Viking Za’Darius Smith isn’t giving his new team some insight into his old one, you don’t know how this all works. He and Danielle Hunter will be directly matched up with whoever is at tackle for the Packers and could have an easier path to Aaron Rodgers at this stage of the season versus further down the line when Green Bay is healthier.

Bonus matchup to watch: With Kevin O’Connell in charge of the Vikings, wide receiver Justin Jefferson is going to get the Cooper Kupp treatment. That is to say, despite the fact that teams are well aware of the third-year receiver’s greatness after he made back-to-back Pro Bowls to start his career, he’s going to somehow always be open. That means Jaire Alexander and the rest of the Packers’ excellent secondary are put on notice now.

Key Stat: Kirk Cousins has thrown a touchdown pass in 30 consecutive regular-season games, which is the longest active streak in the NFL.

Prediction: Even with Aaron Rodgers being Aaron Rodgers, I think the home crowd and Minnesota’s potentially explosive offense prove to be too much at this point in the season for Green Bay. Talk to me again in Week 17 when the Vikings have to play at their place. Vikings 31, Packers 30

– Carmen Vitali

How to bet Packers-Vikings

Overview: Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs head to the desert to battle Kyler Murray and the Cardinals. Mahomes will play his first game without speedster Tyreek Hill, building chemistry with new receivers in JuJu Smith Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. The Chiefs lead the all-time series 9-3-1 and have won four of the past five games. However, the Cardinals won the most recent game in Arizona 17-14 on Dec. 7, 2014. The Cardinals will be playing without No. 1 receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who will miss the season’s first six games for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. 

Chiefs top Nick Wright’s NFL Tiers entering Week 1

Chiefs top Nick Wright's NFL Tiers entering Week 1

Nick Wright tiers all 32 NFL teams ahead of Thursday’s Rams vs. Bills season opener. Nick has Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs as the favorites to win Super Bowl LVII.

Matchup to watch: Chiefs TE Travis Kelce vs. the Cardinals’ secondary. Since 2014, Kelce ranks third in the league in catches (704), fourth in receiving yards (9,006) and fifth in receiving touchdowns (57). In the last game against the Cardinals in Arizona, Kelce had seven catches for 110 receiving yards. The Cardinals must use a combination of Isaiah Simmons, Jalen Thompson and Budda Baker in coverage to slow down Kelce. 

Key stat: The Chiefs have won seven straight season openers, the longest active Week 1 winning streak in the NFL. The Cardinals are 0-5 in their last five home games. 

Prediction: This game should be a high-scoring, back-and-forth affair with offenses led by two dynamic quarterbacks. But Kansas City’s defense will find a way to keep the Cardinals out of the end zone at the end of the game. Chiefs 33, Cardinals 27

– Eric D. Williams

Overview: With lofty expectations, the Chargers start the regular season with a home contest against the AFC West rival Raiders. Las Vegas ended L.A.’s postseason hopes last season with a 35-32 victory at home in the final game of the regular season. The Raiders own a 66-56-2 edge in the all-time series. However, the Chargers have won 13 of the past 19 matchups at home. Sunday’s contest is the earliest the two teams have met at the Chargers’ home stadium since a Week 2 game in San Diego in 1980. 

Matchup to watch: Raiders WR Davante Adams vs. the Chargers’ secondary. With top corner J.C. Jackson out due to ankle surgery in August, the Chargers will have to figure out how to slow down one of the best receivers in the NFL. A free-agent acquisition for the Raiders during the offseason, Adams pairs with former Fresno State teammate Derek Carr, giving Las Vegas one of the top QB-WR duos in the league. Adams leads the league in catches, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns over the past four seasons.

Related: AFC West guide: Geoff Schwartz sets expectations, makes predictions for all four teams

Key stat: The Chargers allowed offenses to convert a league-best 49.5% of the time on third down in 2021 and gave up 173 points in the fourth quarter, also the worst in the NFL.

Prediction: Did the Chargers do enough during the offseason to significantly improve on defense? We’re about to find out. That said, it’s hard to pick against Justin Herbert and an explosive L.A. offense at home, even though SoFi Stadium might be taken over by Raiders fans. Chargers 30, Raiders 24

– Eric D. Williams

Overview: If new Giants coach Brian Daboll wanted to get off to a fast start, this isn’t the way to do it — on the road against last year’s No. 1 seed in the AFC. The Titans might not be the AFC’s best anymore, but they are still dangerous, especially while super back Derrick Henry is healthy. Yes, they have to find a way to replace No. 1 WR A.J. Brown, and losing pass-rusher Harold Landry (torn ACL) hurts. But there’s still enough on defense to outmuscle opponents, and Henry is still virtually unstoppable. The Giants will get a boost from a healthy Saquon Barkley, but he’s still running behind a questionable offensive line.

Matchup to watch: Titans RB Henry vs. the Giants’ LBs. It’s hard enough to stop this train at the line of scrimmage, but once he gets through, it could be ugly. After New York cut middle linebacker Blake Martinez, the Giants’ linebackers are a patchwork group of young players, centered around former “Mr. Irrelevant” Tae Crowder. If OLB Azeez Ojulari misses the game along with rookie edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux, Henry could find a lot of room to run.

Key stat: The Titans are 25-3 when Henry has 100-plus rushing yards (22-3 in regular season, 3-0 in playoffs). Their formula is simple, and there’s no reason to change it now, provided Henry is the same player he was before his injury. The Giants, who bring back mostly the same defense, gave up 129 rushing yards per game last season, including more than 150 yards six times and more than 200 yards three times.

Related: Can Daniel Jones succeed as Giants QB in now-or-never season?

Prediction: The Titans have some early issues to work out, but not nearly as many as the Giants, who don’t even know who or what they are yet. They have too many new pieces and players coming off injury to expect the offense to click. Meanwhile, it’s easy to expect Henry and the Titans to steamroll a Giants defense that hasn’t improved coming off a bad year. The Giants also have a tradition of starting slow. They’ve lost five straight season openers and have won only one of their last 11. Titans 33, Giants 14.

– Ralph Vacchiano

Overview: The 2021 season opener between these two was an instant classic, so why mess with a good thing? The Cowboys and Buccaneers were two of the NFC’s best teams throughout 2021, but both campaigns ended in bitter disappointment. How do they respond? 

Tom Brady is back after a brief retirement, and he has a new head coach after Todd Bowles replaced Bruce Arians in the middle of the offseason. The Cowboys have been through a year of transition with major personnel changes on offense, but there are still big expectations on Dak Prescott, CeeDee Lamb and a star-studded defense to carry the Cowboys back to the postseason.

This is an early measuring stick for 2021’s two most potent offenses that will do a lot to shape the way we think about the NFC pecking order.

How optimistic should Cowboys fans feel about this season?

How optimistic should Cowboys fans feel about this season?

The Dallas Cowboys had a lackluster offseason, but owner Jerry Jones remains confident in his team.

Matchup to watch: It’s all about the offensive line — on both sides of the ball. The Buccaneers have lost two starters on the interior, most notably Pro Bowl center Ryan Jensen, while the Cowboys are dealing with losing All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith to a knee injury for most of the season. In both cases, young and inexperienced draft picks will be asked to fill the void. In case you hadn’t heard, both of these teams employ terrifying pass rushers. Whichever line holds up best should have a big say in the outcome.

Key stat: Tom Brady is 6-0 in six career starts against Dallas. 

Prediction: The quarterbacks get all the love, especially after the show they put on last season. But this might be a matchup that’s decided by two nasty defenses. The Bucs return most of the starters from their Super Bowl LV defense, and they added Akiem Hicks to the mix. The Cowboys have all the major players back from last year’s electric unit — highlighted by Micah Parsons and Trevon Diggs. Who comes away with more takeaways? Who does the better job affecting the other team’s quarterback? It should be another close matchup, but ultimately it makes sense to trust Brady’s track record in games like this and assume he sneaks out of AT&T Stadium with a close victory. Buccaneers 20, Cowboys 16

David Helman

Monday, Sept. 12

Overview: Russell Wilson faces his former team for the first time when the Denver Broncos travel to the Pacific Northwest to take on the Seattle Seahawks. The Broncos lead the all-time series 35-21, but Seattle has won three of the past five matchups. Geno Smith won the starting quarterback job over Drew Lock during training camp and will replace Wilson at quarterback for Seattle. Wilson had a 104-53-1 record as a starter with Seattle. His 113 career wins, including the playoffs, are the most by a quarterback in his first 10 NFL seasons in league history. 

Why Wilson’s extension puts more pressure on Broncos

Why Wilson's extension puts more pressure on Broncos

Colin Cowherd breaks down the potential ramifications of Russell Wilson’s new $245 million extension.

Matchup to watch: Denver’s running backs vs. Seattle’s front seven: While much of the focus will be on Wilson and how he handles playing at Lumen Field, the game could be determined by how Seattle’s defense holds up against Denver’s running back tandem of Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon. The two combined for 1,821 rushing yards and 12 rushing TDs last season. The Seahawks allowed 143 rushing yards per contest during preseason play. 

Key stat: Wilson will be the sixth different Week 1 starting QB for the Broncos over the past six seasons (2017 Trevor Siemian, 2018 Case Keenum, 2019 Joe Flacco, 2020 Drew Lock, 2021 Teddy Bridgewater). Wilson is 57-21 in 78 regular-season starts in Seattle.

Related: The Broncos committed to Russell Wilson. How can they best build around him?

Prediction: Seattle wants to ruin Wilson’s homecoming, but it’s hard to see how the Seahawks muster much offense against the Broncos, who boast one of the NFL’s top defenses. Wilson will make enough plays on offense for Denver to scratch out a win. The Seahawks were a league-worst 0-5 in games decided by three points or fewer last season. Broncos 24, Seahawks 21

– Eric D. Williams

How to bet Broncos-Seahawks

This Week 1 NFL preview was compiled by:

AFC East reporter Henry McKenna (@McKennAnalysis)

NFC West reporter Eric D. Williams (@eric_d_williams)

NFC East reporter Ralph Vacchiano (@RalphVacchiano)

NFC North reporter Carmen Vitali (@CarmieV)

Dallas Cowboys reporter David Helman (@davidhelman_)

Researcher Daniel Gerber (@danielg90049)

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