It’s finally here. The dreaded NFL offseason dragged on throughout the summer, leaving fans hungry for America’s favorite league. That hunger will be satisfied starting Thursday, for every weekend will be packed with football until February’s Super Bowl. Each week, I’ll post the games you should pay close attention to, including what each team has to do to win along with a score prediction. Let’s get to it.
Broncos vs. Panthers, 8:30 P.M. EST Thursday, NBC
How could this game not make the list? The 2016 NFL season starts the same way the 2015 season ended. The Broncos emerged victorious in their matchup in February, and both teams should be in title contention this season. The Panthers lost cornerback Josh Norman to free agency but got receiver Kelvin Benjamin back from a torn ACL suffered in training camp last season.
The Broncos lost Peyton Manning to retirement, but let’s not forget Denver won last year’s Super Bowl in spite of Manning, not because of him.
Keys to the game: Second-year quarterback Trevor Siemian is making his first career start Thursday night, so look for a heavy dose of C.J. Anderson. If Denver can get its running game going, Seimian’s job will be much easier.
The Panthers have to do a better job protecting Cam Newton, who was sacked six times the last time these two teams played.
The Panthers clearly have the better quarterback, but the Broncos are at home, have retained the core of their defense and have confidence on their side.
Broncos 24, Panthers 17
Eagles vs. Browns, 1:00 P.M. EST Sunday, CBS
Why would the average NFL fan be interested in this game? Let me give you a few reasons.
- Carson Wentz, this year’s second overall pick, is making his first career start.
- Robert Griffin III is making his first start since the 2014 season.
- Coaches Hue Jackson and Doug Pederson are making their debuts with their respective teams.
There are a lot of things to keep an eye out for in this game, and perhaps the quarterback battle is the most intriguing. It will be interesting to see how the inexperienced Wentz does after being forced into the starting role. On the flip side, it’ll be exciting to see if Griffin can show the spurts of his greatness he displayed his rookie year in Washington.
Keys to the game:
RG3 has to protect himself. That means no more running into a crowd of defenders. He needs to slide when he senses pressure or simply run out of bounds. I think this game will come down to coaching. Jackson has only one year of head coaching experience and Pederson has been an assistant for the majority of his career. It’s a cliché, but whoever makes fewer mistakes will win this one, and I think Wentz struggles in his first game, for many other rookies do.
Browns 28, Eagles 20
Cardinals vs. Patriots, 8:30 P.M. EST Sunday, NBC
Sunday’s primetime game is a possible Super Bowl preview. Carson Palmer’s Cardinals play host to Tom Brady’s… er… Jimmy Garoppolo’s Patriots. Each of these teams were among the NFL’s final four last season. This will be a great test for Garoppolo, for the Cardinals boast one of the best defenses in football. All-Pro safety Tyrann Matthieu is making his return from an ACL tear suffered in December. Speaking of defense, the Cardinals acquired New England’s sack leader since 2012, Chandler Jones.
Jones, a Pro Bowler who recorded 12.5 sacks last season for the Patriots, will look to wreak havoc against the team that traded him.
Keys to the game: The Cardinals were one of the most blitz-happy teams in the NFL last season, and they’ll surely do the same against Garoppolo in his first start. The Patriots will likely design a lot of plays for tight ends Martellus Bennett and Rob Gronkowski to alleviate the stress, but this Cardinals defense is too good to lose at home against Garoppolo.
Cardinals 34, Patriots 28