Steve Believes: Week 1, 2018 NFL Season

                                For all of the 2016 NFL season and eight weeks of the 2017 NFL season, I had a segment called Steve’s Picks on my now defunct sports website, 3-Tense.

                                However, picking the games and recapping each week became way too time consuming, so I had to shut down Steve’s Picks right after Week 8 of last season ended.

                                But now that I have a way more structured routine with my career, I’ve decided to go back to picking NFL games for my renamed NFL picks series, Steve Believes.

                                And not only has it been renamed, it’s also been revamped into a two-in-one series, meaning that I recap a team’s previous performance heading into their matchup with their next opponent. For example, I’ll recap how the New England Patriots did against the Houston Texans, and how the Jacksonville Jaguars did against the New York Giants during my prediction for the rematch of last year’s AFC Championship Game. And of course, I’m going to pick the winner based on who has the better chance to win. So with that being said, here’s the Week 1 segment of Steve Believes:

  • Atlanta Falcons vs. Philadelphia Eagles. The Super Bowl champs open up their title defense against the previous NFC champion and the team that they beat in last season’s Divisional Round of the playoffs. Offensively, the Falcons are expected to regain their 2016 form in Year 2 of the Steve Sarkisian era, while the Eagles are minus Carson Wentz and Alshon Jeffrey, along with trading Torrey Smith to the Carolina Panthers and letting LeGarrette Blount go to the Detroit Lions. But they have some guy named Nick Foles, who was the MVP of Super Bowl 52, along with most of the skill position players from last season’s team and their off-season acquisition of Mike Wallace, a player who could have a resurgence this season. And despite the preseason struggles of Foles and the Eagles offense, I expect them to resemble the unit that scored at will against the Patriots in the aforementioned Super Bowl. Defensively, both teams are stacked with talent on all three levels. But if I had to give an edge to a defense for one of these two teams, then I’d have to go with the Eagles, because of how scary deep they are on the defensive line and that’ll be the difference in this game. Plus, it’s hard for me to pick against the champs on opening night. I’m going with the Eagles.
  • Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cleveland Browns. The loss of Ryan Shazier altered the Steelers’ fortunes late last season, as first a heartbreaking loss against the Patriots denied them homefield advantage throughout the AFC Playoffs, and then losing to the Jaguars in said Playoffs via the AFC Divisional Round. They won’t have Shazier this season and that will be something to keep an eye on throughout. As for the Browns, they are 1-31 the past two seasons. But optimism is abound with the free agent signing of Carlos Hyde and the trade acquisition of Jarvis Landry, two tenacious players that will play a big part in the Browns turning around. Plus, expect Myles Garrett to be a monster pass rusher in his second season. Given that the Steelers have The Killer B’s and a compliment of other skill position players, it seems like a slam dunk to take the Steelers. However, I like the attitude that the Browns have heading into this game, so I’m taking them in an upset.
  • Cincinnati Bengals vs. Indianapolis Colts. This game marks the return of Andrew Luck, who missed all of last season with a right shoulder injury, as well as the start of the Frank Reich era. Plus, the Colts return to using a 4-3 alignment after spending the past six seasons in the 3-4 alignment. However, all of that will be an adjustment period for the Colts, so with that being said, I like the Bengals in this one.
  • Tennessee Titans vs. Miami Dolphins. The Titans have an uneven situation this season, as they are fresh off their first playoff appearance since 2008, but with a rookie head coach in Mike Vrabel. The Dolphins have Ryan Tannehill coming back after missing all of last season with a torn ACL, and if he can stay healthy, expect the Dolphins to be the team best suited to dethrone the Patriots in the AFC East. Plus, he has a compliment of skill position players, with Kenyan Drake being the headliner of that group. Defensively, the Dolphins can be a monster if everyone can stay healthy on that side of the ball. The Dolphins are one of my sleeper teams heading into this season, and I predict that they’ll look more like the team who won 9 of their last 11 games in 2016 to enter the playoffs than the team that had so much discord going on last season. So with all of that being said, I like the Dolphins in this one.
  • San Francisco 49ers vs. Minnesota Vikings. Jimmy Garoppolo started the first two games of the 2016 season in place of Tom Brady, and the last five games of the 2017 season in place of C.J. Beathard. And in those seven starts, he’s undefeated and a big reason why the future is looking bright for the 49ers. However, it won’t a bright day on Sunday in Minneapolis, as Everson Griffen & Company will hand Jimmy G. his first career loss.
  • Houston Texans vs. New England Patriots. The Texans almost beat the Patriots in Gillette Stadium in Week 3 of last season, and the return of Deshaun Watson could lead to a much different result this time around. Plus, J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus return to regular season action for the first time since Week 5 of last season to form a three-headed pass rush monster along with Jadeveon Clowney. History suggests to pick the Patriots in this one, but I’m not sold on Tom Brady looking anything like he did last season. Especially with a receiving corps that is paper thin with the releases of Kenny Britt, Malcolm Mitchell, and Jordan Matthews, along with the retirement of Eric Decker and the suspension of Julian Edelman. Plus, the offensive line is suspect at best, along with the fact that their awful defense returns most of their players from last season. Nope, history won’t be on the Patriots side this time and because of that, I’m rolling with the Texans.
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. New Orleans Saints. The Buccaneers open the season with Jameis Winston suspended for this game and the team’s two games against the Keystone State teams. In his place, Ryan Fitzpatrick is the starter and he goes up against a Saints defense that looks to take their anger out on him and the Tampa Bay offense. The Buccaneers defense looks improved with all the upgrades that they made on their defensive line. However, it’ll take a while for all of them to jell together. And because of that, look for Drew Brees & Company to do just enough to the start the season 1-0 for the first time since 2013.
  • Jacksonville Jaguars vs. New York Giants. The AFC runner-up starts their pursuit of a second consecutive playoff berth at MetLife Stadium, where they take on a Giants team that is in transition with a third different head coach in four seasons and a switch to the 3-4 defense, except Lawrence Taylor isn’t walking through that door. The Jaguars are minus Dante Fowler Jr., due to his one-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. However, the Jaguars still have enough depth on their defensive line to get to Eli Manning, and enough defense overall to shut down New York’s offense. I’m going with the Jaguars in this one.
  • Buffalo Bills vs. Baltimore Ravens. The Bills sneaked into the playoffs last season, by virtue of the Ravens losing against the Bengals in Week 17, and that should make for one of the more interesting Week 1 matchups. Plus, it’s the second time in the past three seasons that both of these teams face each other in Week 1. However, this matchup is only intriguing on paper, because I see the Ravens emphatically taking it to the Bills in this one. 
  • Kansas City Chiefs vs. Los Angeles Chargers. This game marks the beginning of the Patrick Mahomes era for the Chiefs, as well as their first game since that heartbreaking loss in the Wild Card Round against the Titans. They take on a Chargers team that many feel will dethrone them in the AFC West this season, despite the fact that Missouri’s lone NFL team has an eight-game winning streak against Philip Rivers & Company. The Chiefs are my favorite team in the AFC, but I think the Chargers have more talent than they do, along with the more experienced quarterback. And because of those two factors, I got the Chargers snapping their eight-game losing streak against Andy Reid’s bunch.
  • Seattle Seahawks vs. Denver Broncos. This game marks the second meeting between these two since that 43-8 beatdown that the Seahawks put on the Broncos in Super Bowl 48. However, both teams are shells of what they used to be, along with both of them being riddled with question marks. And because of those two factors, I’m on the fence about who to pick. However, if I had to pick one of these teams, then I’d pick the Broncos, because they’re more of the complete team at this point. So with that being said, Broncos for the win.
  • Washington Redskins vs. Arizona Cardinals. This game marks the beginning of the two eras, with the beginning of the Alex Smith era for the Redskins and the beginning of the Steve Wilks era for the Cardinals. And as for who I think will win this game, well I expect a defensive battle throughout, with the Cardinals doing just a bit more offensively than the Redskins. So with that being said, I like the Cardinals in this one.
  • Dallas Cowboys vs. Carolina Panthers. Questions abound for both of these teams. For the Cowboys, it’s the receiving corps minus Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, as well as lack of depth at the safety position. Plus, Travis Frederick is out, thus rendering the interior of the Cowboys offensive line vulnerable against the three-headed monster of Kawann Short, Dontari Poe, and Vernon Butler. For the Panthers, it’s how well Cam Newton does with Norv Turner as his offensive coordinator, as well as injury concerns along the offensive line. But one thing is certain, and that’s the fact that the Panthers have one of the best defenses heading into the season. Look for the Panthers secondary to lock down the Cowboys receiving corps, Luke Kuechly and Shaq Thompson to neutralize Ezekiel Elliott, and Julius Peppers and that deep Panthers defensive line to make life miserable for Dak Prescott. Plus, look for the Panthers to do just enough offensively in yet another game that is expected to be a defensive battle. Panthers for the win.
  • Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers. The Bears defense went from good to great with the trade acquisition of Khalil Mack, who will form a lethal pass rush tandem with Leonard Floyd. The Packers get Aaron Rodgers back, but without Jordy Nelson, as the latter was released and then signed by the Oakland Raiders. But he does have the best tight end that he’ll ever throw to in free agent signing Jimmy Graham, and that should more than make up for the loss of Nelson. As for the Bears’ offense, a lot more is expected of Mitchell Trubisky in his second season. Especially when Ryan Pace gave him more weapons to work with in Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Trey Burton, and Anthony Miller, along with being paired with a brilliant offensive mind in Matt Nagy. Defensively, Mike Pettine takes over as defensive coordinator for Green Bay, and aims to get the Packers’ defense to resemble his two New York Jet units that went to two consecutive AFC Championship Games earlier this decade. The Bears will be better on offense this season, but not in this game, because I see Pettine making an instant impact with the Packers. Plus, I think Rodgers & Company will do just enough in another game that I expect to be a defensive battle. Packers for the win.
  • New York Jets vs. Detroit Lions. The first game of the Monday Night Football doubleheader features the debut of Sam Darnold as the Jets’ starting quarterback, and the debut of Matt Patricia as the Lions’ head coach. The Jets are coming off a 2017 season, in which they finished with a 5-11 record, while the Lions hope that the hiring of Patricia gets them over the hump in the NFC North, as well as through the NFC playoff bracket. Bright days are ahead for the Jets, but not in this game, because Ziggy Ansah & Company will make life miserable for Darnold, while the lack of an edge rusher for the Jets will be their undoing against Matthew Stafford and the Lions offense. I like the Lions in this game.
  • Los Angeles Rams vs. Oakland Raiders. A week ago, I would have taken the Raiders here, because Jon Gruden’s return to the sideline in primetime would have been reason enough to pick them here. But now that Khalil Mack is gone, I don’t think that will be the case, as their defense will be rendered ineffective by his departure. As for the Rams, I expect their defense to be vastly improved with the trade acquisitions of Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, along with the free agent signing of Ndamukong Suh. Plus, they locked up one of their own in Aaron Donald, by agreeing with the 2017 Defensive Player Of The Year to a six-year, $135 million extension. Look for Suh and Donald to make life miserable for Derek Carr, and look for Peters and Talib to lockdown the Raiders receiving corps. As for the L.A. offense, expect big games from 2017 Offensive Player Of The Year, Todd Gurley, and the newly-acquired Brandin Cooks. I like the Rams in this one.

            Well, that’s all for this week’s version of Steve Believes. Tune in next week to see how I did with my picks for Week 1, along with who I predict to win in Week 2. So until then, so long everybody.