Back to school means start of NFL season can’t be too far away
It felt like fall swept in Tuesday when everyone went back to school.
It felt even more like it Wednesday when all that rain and those cooler temperatures came crashing in.
But it will really feel like the green leaves are ready to change colors tonight when we all tune in to the first NFL game that counts.
Yes, it’s September and that means pro football teams can’t play their second-, third- or 80th-string quarterbacks in preseason games anymore. They actually have to try.
Some solid teams will flop early, other crummy ones will get off to fast starts. And while that will begin a meaningful trend for a few of these squads, most will regress — or recover — after three or four or maybe even eight games.
So in the spirit of knowledgable predictions for Week 1 of the regular season, I’ve made sure NOT to look at the preseason standings as much as possible.
Remember, when the Detroit Lions set the standard that the Cleveland Browns matched last season — you know, a perfect 0-16 campaign — those Lions went 4-0 that preseason.
I did try to pay attention to some roster movements around the league, though.
Without further ado, here’s the opening matchups and my picks for them:
Today, 8:20 p.m.
Atlanta at Philadelphia — Philly QB Carson Wentz doesn’t look ready to play yet and backup and Super Bowl-winner Nick Foles has looked awful in the presea … ooh! I’m not supposed to pay attention to what happened in August. In that spirit, Eagles, 30-23.
Sunday, 1 p.m.
Buffalo at Baltimore — Everyone’s saying the Bills have the worst QB situation in the league, while Baltimore may be creating a mess with rookie Lamar Jackson getting support to supplant past Super Bowl-winning veteran Joe Flacco. But that shouldn’t happen this soon. Ravens, 27-17.
Pittsburgh at Cleveland — The Browns promise to be much improved and Pittsburgh has issues with unhappy players like Le’Veon Bell. Still, I’m not ready to watch the world turn upside down quite yet. Steelers, 24-20.
Cincinnati at Indianapolis — Much like the last matchup, Colts’ QB Andrew Luck should need at least a week to readjust to playing again after being off for what, almost two full years? Bengals, 31-24.
Tennessee at Miami — Throw out everything else, it’s September’s oppressive heat and humidity in South Florida. Dolphins, 20-16.
San Francisco at Minnesota — Though the 49ers were the hottest team at the end of last season once Jimmy Garoppolo joined them, a second look showed they weren’t exactly playing the toughest set of teams over that five-game win streak. Minnesota might’ve changed QBs, but may have improved the position with Kurt Cousins. Vikings, 27-23.
Houston at New England — It’s hard picking against the Patriots, especially at home, but I’ll take a flyer on them needing a few weeks to adjust with all the holes in their roster. Especially when going up against Houston QB Deshaun Watson. Texans, 29-24.
Tampa Bay at New Orleans — I’m not seeing many differences between the 2017 edition of these teams. Saints, 31-20.
Jacksonville at New York Giants — If the Giants have improved, that means a lot of roster moves, and that means at least a week of adjustments to coordinate everyone. Jaguars, 19-17.
Sunday, 4 p.m.
Kansas City at Los Angeles Chargers — I’m not totally sold on KC QB Pat Mahomes, and certainly he’ll need a period of adjustment into the starter’s job. Chargers, 24-16.
Washington at Arizona — I’ll take Alex Smith over Sam Bradford in this matchup of new QBs, at least in Week 1. Redskins, 33-29.
Dallas at Carolina — Hmm, Ezekiel Elliott is supposed to be out to prove how great he is after last year’s suspension. At least in Week 1, Cowboys, 27-20.
Seattle at Denver — Well, I’m inclined to pick the Seahawks. Then I remembered both of these teams have the biggest home-field advantages in the league. Guess who’s at home? Broncos, 23-20.
Sunday, 8:20 p.m.
Chicago at Green Bay — Yes, the Bears have QB Mitch Trubisky entering his second year, and yes, they just picked up defensive grizzly bear Khalil Mack. But again, it’s Week 1 and it’s at Lambeau Field, especially with a Green Bay team that has Aaron Rodgers fully healthy and fat and happy in the wallet. Packers, 35-24.
Monday, 7:10 p.m.
New York Jets at Detroit Lions — With the Jets naming rookie Sam Darnold over veteran Josh McCown as starting QB right away, that’s a signal that 2018 will be used as a long preseason for this New York team. Especially in Week 1. Lions, 38-20.
Sunday, 10:20 p.m.
Los Angeles Rams at Oakland Raiders — If nothing else, Jon “Chucky” Gruden is going to need a period of readjustment after a decade away from coaching. L.A. isn’t going to be a pushover with its loaded roster of veterans. Rams, 33-20.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.