Trusting the Bears is dangerous, especially when it comes to the Packers rivalry and prime time. The Bears were one Marcus Cooper gaffe from dominating the Steelers last week and possibly not needing overtime to win.
Aaron Rodgers, though, is the X-factor. The Saints belatedly found their groove last week, albeit without much from Adrian Peterson again. The Dolphins misplaced their groove against the Jets, with their quarterback reverting to Bad Jay Cutler. The Saints' defense is capable of getting the Dolphins offense healthy. Both teams may have found themselves offensively last week, the Rams maxing out against the 49ers and the Cowboys snapping out of their season-long funk in Arizona.
Both have vulnerable defenses, but the Rams will keep getting the benefit of the doubt because of Aaron Donald. The Ravens got their bums handed to them across the pond by the Jaguars, and they can only take solace in the fact that the rest of the AFC North lost, including the Steelers to a vastly inferior Bears team.
The usual psychological boost of beating an archival applies, as always. It took just three weeks to get down to just two undefeated teams, and it took a fortuitous touchdown review to get the Falcons there. The Bills caught every break possible against the Broncos, but one of them was harassing Trevor Siemian into some wretched mistakes. That might be too much to ask this week. The Texans would love to see Deshaun Watson progress along the same schedule as Marcus Mariota, who was as good as can be against the Seahawks.
He might be good enough to replicate what Brady did against the Texans defense. The Patriots' defense has had issues since the opening loss to the Chiefs. If Cam Newton was what he usually is when fully healthy, that would be a problem for New England.
The Panthers' offense has been less than optimal so far. The dramatic comeback notwithstanding, the Patriots still aren't as sharp as they can be, but this is their window to get closer.
No, nobody saw this Case Keenum renaissance coming yards, three touchdowns against the Buccaneers. No one knows how long it lasts, either. It could end this week against a Lions team with a defense that handled Matt Ryan fairly well and gave Matthew Stafford a chance to win. The continued dominance of the Jaguars' defense is startling.
So is the attitude coach Doug Marrone showed with a fake punt with a lead over the Ravens. As things stand, though, the Jaguars should stay on track. Dallas will be coming off that huge Week 10 tilt with the Eagles and heading to Atlanta to face a Falcons team that crushed them by 20 points last year while Elliott was out. The winner of this head-to-head will greatly improve its odds of getting a wild card.
Like the Cowboys, the Giants have one glaring hole. The only way to beat Drew Brees is to hit him consistently. Obviously that should be a challenge for this Giants defense. This also kicks off a four-game stretch for the Giants against playoff teams. And finally, we get treated to Beckham vs. Kirk Cousins pulled off a miracle last year that is rarely discussed. His banged-up offensive line got him sacked 41 times. His best pass-catcher missed most of the season with a hamstring injury.
The defense was 27th in scoring was the worst in the league against the run. And somehow Cousins led Washington to a record. Washington needs more than that.
The Vikings are about as well-built as any team in the league. Their top-ranked defense from a year ago got even better in the offseason with the addition of Sheldon Richardson and rookie corner Mike Hughes. Following a career year from Case Keenum, the offense got a quarterback in Kirk Cousins who could get them over the hump, and Minnesota returns running back Dalvin Cook from an early-season ACL tear after he dazzled in his debut.
The interior of the offensive line may be the only question in Minnesota, which is looking for its third NFC North crown in four years. This is the sort of early game that eventually decides a division.
As long as Aaron Rodgers is healthy, the Packers will reach the playoffs. The Packers finally have a legitimate No. Adding Mo Wilkerson to the defensive line and strengthening the defensive backfield in the draft gets the Pack back in postseason play. Brady and Rodgers have met on the field just once before, and a week for the quarterbacks and their head coaches to scheme against one another could be a multipart docuseries on HBO.
This could be the best game of the regular season. Matt Stafford has played a high level the past two seasons, the receiving group has gotten better and the 27th-ranked defense from a year ago should improve immediately under the former Pats defensive coordinator.
But the Lions are clearly the third-best team in this tough division. The schedule makers pitted the Lions against the Vikings in Weeks 7 and 9, so Detroit has to show mental toughness against a Seahawks team that may be down this year. The outcome of this game will show how focused the Lions are. The Bears got better at crucial positions they had to get better at this offseason. The offensive line took a big hit losing guard Josh Sitton and the defense, while improved with Roquan Smith at linebacker, still needs to find a pass rush.
It may take one more year for this group to gel. After a difficult home game against the Pats, the Bears have a soft middle-season schedule during which they host the Jets, travel to Buffalo and host the Lions in consecutive weeks.
The rich got richer this offseason, and the Rams look to be completely unfair. Ndamukong Suh is now on a defensive line beside Aaron Donald. Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib are in the same secondary. Brandin Cooks adds speed to the offense. The Rams are building a monster, and their youthful wild-card exit last year will only fuel this campaign.
No game on paper is as exciting as this one. Both squads have surrounded their third-year quarterbacks with veterans acquired through various trades and deft free-agency moves. No team that missed the playoffs last year should feel as good about its odds in as the 49ers.
They went with Jimmy G, with three wins against playoff-bound teams. Talk about a statement game to open the season. The Seahawks as we knew them are no more, and we should all mourn that. Once built with smart draft picks, the Seahawks had to go out in free agency this offseason to get parts such as Jaron Brown, Brandon Marshall and Maurice Alexander.
The Legion of Boom is gone, taking the identity of this team and its juice with it. Plenty of storylines in this one. Jon Gruden gets to go against a quarterback he gushed about for years on Monday Night Football. Marshawn Lynch faces his former squad. All this and more in a West Coast tilt between teams looking for their footing.
The Cardinals are going to have to find themselves in the desert this year. I believe first-year head coach Steve Wilks will soon have success in Arizona, but not this season. The quarterback situation with veteran Sam Bradford and future-of-the-franchise Josh Rosen will be a difficult one to navigate for the defensive-minded first-time head coach.
There was a great deal of roster turnover this offseason for a team looking for a new identity. Only once since has a team won both of the games in this series. When the Saints have a scoring defense in the top 20, the team will reach the postseason. Cam Jordan gets to rush the passer with rookie Marcus Davenport. New Orleans has depth at linebacker, and the secondary boasts reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year Marshon Lattimore.
No one should have any doubts about the offense doing its job. When the Falcons go into 11 personnel, there may be no more lethal offense in Not many teams can match up with that weaponry, and Steve Sarkisian should be coming into his own in Year 2 after an up-and-down first season as offensive coordinator. Atlanta is a believer in championship windows, and the Falcons are in the middle of theirs right now. The Falcons have figured out Aaron Rodgers lately. I have no clue how well the Norv Turner-Cam Newton arranged marriage is going to work.
Carolina upgraded its receiving group with D. Moore and Torrey Smith but never really took care of the guard position vacated by Andrew Norwell. Carolina went on the road to New Orleans and lost a tight wild-card round game. Would that game have played out differently in Charlotte? This Week 15 Monday Night Football match starts a three-game stretch to end the season for Carolina against the Saints twice and Falcons.
They would like to have control of the playoff scenarios early. The Bucs were one of the most disappointing teams last season after a solid offseason and plenty of hype some of it by yours truly. Dirk Koetter got to keep his job even though his team took a gigantic step back in on both offense and defense.
Tampa Bay has finished last in the division seven of the past nine seasons, and it looks to happen again in The Bucs lost and began their first of two five-game losing streaks. This year the Bucs start the season with the Saints, Eagles and Steelers. The best to hope for, realistically, is a start, and maybe that win will come against the Steelers.
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