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Predicting studs and duds for NFL Week 1

Jesse Reed
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

A new NFL season means anything can happen, and it’s often tough to gauge matchups heading into Week 1. Still, we feel pretty confident about how some things are going to play out.

Looking ahead to the matchups in NFL Week 1, some stars are primed to explode, while others are looking like complete duds.

Stud: Lamar Jackson, quarterback, Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens will be in Miami for a date with everyone’s favorite tanking NFL team, the Dolphins. Jackson looked darn good this preseason executing Baltimore’s new-look offense. We fully expect the second-year former Heisman Trophy winner to be completely unleashed in Greg Roman’s system against a sub-par Miami defense. Look for Jackson to run wild on the ground while making the Dolphins pay through the air. It should be an ideal start for the Ravens.

Dud: Marcus Mariota, quarterback, Tennessee Titans

A player with plenty of pressure on his shoulders heading into the 2019 NFL season, Mariota will immediately be under siege in Week 1. On the road against Cleveland, the Titans will be without left tackle Taylor Lewan (suspension), going against a Browns front four that looks absolutely terrifying this year. Mariota is coming off an awful preseason. His regular-season debut won’t improve his outlook.

Stud: Dalvin Cook, running back, Minnesota Vikings

All it took was two preseason carries to remind us all just how explosive a playmaker Cook is. His incredible 85-yard touchdown against Arizona showed us he’s fully healthy again and ready to torch NFL defenses. The Vikings are hosting an Atlanta Falcons team that featured one of the worst rush defenses in the NFL last year (allowed 4.9 yards per carry). Look for offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski to feed his premier running back early, and often.

Dud: Le’Veon Bell, running back, New York Jets

A bit on the bold side, this prediction has more to do with the defense the New York Jets are up against Sunday than anything else. The Buffalo Bills are extremely stout up front, especially with the addition of rookie Ed Oliver, who plays next to Star Lotulelei. Add in a dynamic linebacker group, led by second-year star Tremaine Edmunds, and this Buffalo front seven is darn good. Look for Bell to struggle a bit in his first NFL game back in more than a year after he held out of the 2018 season.

Stud: Zach Ertz, tight end, Philadelphia Eagles 

It’s no secret that Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz targets Ertz often, and he’s the first player he looks for when pressure comes his way. The Eagles host Washington in Week 1, and this team’s defense is led by a strong front four that can bring the heat. Last season, Ertz caught a staggering 116 passes. We expect him to get his 2019 campaign off to a strong start Sunday as Wentz relies on his talented tight end to get out of trouble time and time again.

Dud: Nick Foles, quarterback, Jacksonville Jaguars

We expect Foles go have a rough start to his new gig in Jacksonville. The Kansas City Chiefs are coming to town, and they feature an impressive revamped defense that is led by pass rusher extraordinaire Frank Clark and dynamo safety Tyrann Mathieu. Jacksonville’s offense is lacking star power at receiver and tight end. The Jaguars will try to wear down the Chiefs with a heavy dose of Leonard Fournette, with the goal of also keeping Patrick Mahomes off the field. Foles will likely have a very quiet outing — certainly, we’re not expecting him to dominate.

Stud: Jadeveon Clowney, defensive end, Seattle Seahawks

Despite missing all of training camp with Houston, Clowney expects to make his debut with the Seahawks in Week 1. By all accounts, he’s been staying in phenomenal shape. Now, he has a massive chip on his shoulder after being dealt away from the team that selected him No. 1 overall for a relative bag of peanuts. He’s going to be an absolute nightmare playing on Seattle’s defensive front. This week, Andy Dalton — playing behind an injury-weakened offensive line — is in Clowney’s sights. It may get ugly, and fast.

Dud: Jameis Winston, quarterback, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

If the preseason was any indication, Tampa Bay still has some huge issues on its offensive line. Winston is excellent when he has no pressure in his face and can wait for big plays to develop. Unfortunately, not only does his offensive line stink, but San Francisco’s defensive front seven is downright scary. Don’t be surprised if the former No. 1 overall pick ends up having an awful debut to his 2019 season.

Stud: Duke Johnson, running back, Houston Texans

Watching Lamar Miller go down for the season in an exhibition game was just awful. Yet Houston was already prepared with a backup plan after having traded for Johnson. With an upgraded offensive line, and another weapon in the passing game for Deshaun Watson in receiver Kenny Stills, Houston’s offense is set to take flight. Johnson is one of the most dangerous pass-catching backs in the league and should have a strong debut against the New Orleans Saints, whose weakest defensive group is its linebacker corps.

Dud: Joe Flacco, quarterback, Denver Broncos

Don’t sleep on the Oakland defense this year. With a couple of first-round rookies — Clelin Ferrell and Jonathan Abrams — leading the way, the Raiders may be better than anyone gives them credit for. Certainly, the Black Hole is going to be rocking Monday night. Flacco looked okay this preseason, but he hasn’t been “elite” since winning the Super Bowl after the 2012 season. We don’t expect that to change in Oakland as these teams cap off Week 1 with a late-night AFC West showdown.