Picking winners for every NFL Week 1 game

By Jesse Reed
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos got NFL Week 1 kicked off with some excitement, but there’s plenty more where that came from.

There are 15 more games on the schedule, with 13 on Sunday and two more in a special opening-week edition of Monday Night Football.

We all know the old adage “any given Sunday,” and it’s true. Any team can win any game. And more often than not, just when you think you’ve got things figured out in terms of winners and losers, the football gods laugh loudly in your face.

With that in mind, don’t laugh too loudly at these upcoming picks. The football gods already have it covered.

Green Bay Packers vs. Jacksonville Jaguars

How the Packers win

NFL Week 1, Eddie Lacy

First and foremost, Green Bay’s gotta shut down the two Allens — Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. If the Packers get pressure up front and force a turnover or two in the passing game, then it should be a sure win for the away team.

On the other side, a healthy dose of Eddie Lacy to soften up the front seven should result in some fireworks through the air. And that’s when Jalen Ramsey will learn not to pull the tiger’s tail.

How the Jaguars win 

Dante Fowler

It’s all about getting pressure on Aaron Rodgers. The Packers don’t feature a terrific offensive line, so it’s up to Dante Fowler and Co. to exploit this weakness.

Quarterback Blake Bortles needs to be sharp in this one against Green Bay’s talented secondary. They’ll be reading his eyes to jump routes, and he cannot afford any mistakes in this one.

Verdict: Packers win 31-24

Buffalo Bills vs. Baltimore Ravens

How the Bills win

On a sunny day in Baltimore, Tyrod Taylor needs to avoid pressure and take advantage of his speedy receiving corps. Baltimore’s defense is awfully sketchy on the back end, which could result in big plays.

Defensively, it’s all about keeping it clean down the field, both in terms of playing tight and playing the ball, rather than the receiver. Flacco’s deep balls result in flags on a regular occurrence.

How the Ravens win

Justin Forsett

Run the ball first. Soften up the already soft middle of Buffalo’s stripped defense, which took heavy casualties this offseason. That will open up the passing game, where Flacco can take full advantage of his track stars.

The defense must shut down LeSean McCoy and keep him from busting a big one. Keeping Taylor in the pocket is the biggest key to stopping the big plays in the passing game.

Verdict: Ravens win 20-17

Chicago Bears vs. Houston Texans

How the Bears win

Jay Cutler

The first thing Chicago needs to do is change all the clocks in J.J. Watt’s house to make sure he doesn’t show up (he will anyway). The next thing Chicago needs to do is call new Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase and ask him to draw up the offensive game plan.

In all seriousness, the Bears aren’t going to win. It’s going to take an epic performance by Jay Cutler to put enough points on the board to compete with the Texans.

How the Texans win

J.J. Watt

It’s quite simple, really. Just don’t turn the ball over a bajillion times.

Let Brock Osweiler loose. Let him have fun against Chicago’s mediocre defense. Call 20 running plays for Lamar Miller in between taking shots down the field to DeAndre Hopkins, Braxton Miller and Will Fuller.

And let Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus and Co. feast on a juicy cutlet.

Verdict: Texans win 31-6

Cleveland Browns vs. Philadelphia Eagles

How the Browns win

Robert Griffin III

It’s absolutely imperative that Robert Griffin III gets protection up front. He’s already taken some huge shots, and the Eagles have a tremendous defensive front. With enough time to throw, he’ll have a heyday throwing bombs to Terrelle Pryor (watch here) while connecting with rookie Corey Coleman and tight end Gary Barnidge underneath.

Cleveland’s defense just needs to rattle Carson Wentz’s cage. He’ll do some good things, but he’ll also cough up some turnovers. Turn those into points and it’s a win.

How the Eagles win

Fletcher Cox

Fletcher Cox could have a monster game against Cleveland’s squishy interior offensive line. If the defense can dominate the line of scrimmage, force turnovers and punts, then Doug Pederson can let the rookie quarterback hand the ball off for the win.

Verdict: Browns win 23-13

Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Atlanta Falcons

How the Buccaneers win

Jameis Winston

The Bucs have enough offensive firepower to win on the road in the dome. With a balanced approach, they have the edge over Atlanta’s defense.

The real test will be to see if Winston can avoid the critical turnover in the red zone.

On the other side of the field, it’s all about containing Julio Jones. Matt Ryan isn’t the same quarterback he used to be, and he’ll start to crumble if he gets pressured up the middle by Gerald McCoy and Co.

How the Falcons win

Devanta Freeman Falcons

Forget about trying to bombard through the air as an opening salvo. Let Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman do the heavy lifting early. That’s the approach the Falcons need to take offensively. Ryan cannot get off to a poor start this year, and he’s been awful during the preseason.

Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford are excellent cover men, and they’ll have to be on point in this one. Going up against Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson is no small task. Shut them down and you give yourself a legit chance to win.

Verdict: Buccaneers win 27-17

Minnesota Vikings vs. Tennessee Titans

How the Vikings win

Given the current situation at quarterback, the offense will be heavily reliant on Adrian Peterson to have a huge game. Head coach Mike Zimmer won’t name the starter until Sunday (but he knows who it will be). Shaun Hill or Sam Bradford, it matters not. This game will be won or lost on the ground.

Minnesota’s defense has to come up with a stalwart performance to make up for a one-armed offensive attack. This isn’t a far-fetched notion, but the Titans are a beast of a different stripe than most NFL teams these days.

How the Titans win

DeMarco Murray

Exotic Smashmouth is the word of the day, for those uninitiated. This is the run-heavy offensive philosophy of Titans head coach Mike Mularkey. He’ll employ a two-back approach with DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry (don’t forget about Marcus Mariota, either) that is designed to pound defenses into submission.

By controlling the clock and keeping Adrian Peterson on the sideline, Tennessee can get the season started out right.

Verdict: Titans win 20-13

Cincinnati Bengals vs. New York Jets

How the Bengals win 

Geno Atkins

In a battle of AFC heavyweights, this is all about ball control and ball security. Andy Dalton cannot make a critical error, and he needs to be sharp against one of the top defensive secondaries in football. A healthy dose of Jeremy Hill will help things tremendously.

Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson need to consistently pressure Ryan Fitzptrick and dominate the line of scrimmage on running plays.

How the Jets win

Matt Forte

Forcing turnovers is the biggest key to this game. Dalton can be baited a bit, but his turnovers went down significantly last year. It’s going to take a group effort from the guys up front to force pressure.

On the other side, Matt Forte is the glue that will hold New York’s offense together this year. The receivers will get their numbers, but moving the chains consistently will not happen if he’s not getting involved.

Verdict: Jets win 23-17

Oakland Raiders vs. New Orleans Saints

How the Raiders win

Derek Carr

Attacking New Orleans’ defense should be a joy for Derek Carr and his gang. Even on the road, they’ll have a huge advantage against the Saints, who are atrocious at all three levels defensively.

Oakland’s defense should give Drew Brees fits, too. Look for Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin and the other pass rushers to have a field day.

How the Saints win

Courtesy of USA Today Images

If, by some chance, the Saints can force Carr into some bad mistakes, this is a winnable scenario for the defense. Offensively, Brees is going to need to have a monster game against a very good Oakland secondary.

Verdict: Raiders win 27-24

San Diego Chargers vs. Kansas City Chiefs

How the Chargers win

Melvin Gordon

Philip Rivers is going to need to go off, which seems improbable being that the Chargers are heading into one of the loudest venues in the NFL and playing against one of its best defenses.

A big game from second-year running back Melvin Gordon could tip the scales in favor of the Chargers.

The Joey Bosa-less defense needs to somehow shut down Kansas City’s running game — no easy task. And it needs to get pressure on never-rattled Alex Smith.

How the Chiefs win

Alex Smith Chiefs

Offensively, just stick to the game plan. Don’t make mistakes. Jamal Charles isn’t expected to play just yet (more on that here). But Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware should make do until he’s ready.

The crowd will be a 12th man for Kansas City’s outstanding defense. Keeping Gordon wrapped up on the ground should wrap up the win.

Verdict: Chiefs win 24-20

Miami Dolphins vs. Seattle Seahawks

How the Dolphins win

Ryan Tannehill

Ryan Tannehill needs to have an iron will. He’s never before experienced the noise about to assault his senses at CenturyLink Stadium in Seattle. If he can tune out the noise and take what the defense gives him, the passing game might survive without being demolished by the Legion of Boom.

The Dolphins actually have a good shot at roughing up Russell Wilson in this one if Ndamukong Suh and the big guys up front own the line of scrimmage.

How the Seahawks win

Richard Sherman, Bobby Wagner, Kam Chancellor

For the defense, just ride the wave of the crowd noise. Ride it right into Miami’s backfield and watch the Dolphins unravel.

Of course, things aren’t so easy offensively. Wilson was assaulted by defensive linemen as his offensive line crumbled last year, and he saw more of the same during the preseason. Getting Thomas Rawls going early will be a huge key.

Verdict: Seahawks win 35-17

Detroit Lions vs. Indianapolis Colts

How the Lions win


Matthew Stafford needs to be on the attack from the get-go to take advantage of the nonexistent Indianapolis secondary. This could be an epic shootout offensively if the Lions struggle to defend the pass as well. If Detroit’s defensive line can harass Andrew Luck on a regular basis, however, it will become a one-sided battle.

How the Colts win

Courtesy of USA Today Images

It’s all about pressure defensively up front to protect the depleted and talent-stricken secondary.

Luck needs some time to throw as well, and if the Colts can figure out how to run the ball (they haven’t yet this year), they could have something offensively.

Verdict: Lions win 30-24

New York Giants vs. Dallas Cowboys

How the Giants win

Odell Beckham Jr., Terron Beckham

Eli Manning needs time to throw, but if he gets it, New York’s offense should shred the Cowboys’ sketchy defense. With three dangerous weapons at his disposal in Odell Beckham Jr., Victor Cruz and rookie Sterling Shepard, it could be a huge game for Big Blue.

How the Cowboys win

Ezekiel Elliott

In order to protect rookie Dak Prescott from getting his season started off on the wrong foot, Jason Garrett needs to make sure his ‘Boys run the ball early and often. Utilizing Ezekiel Elliott and Alfred Morris on a regular basis not only protects Prescott, but it also keeps Manning and Co. off the field.

Verdict: Cowboys win 27-24

New England Patriots vs. Arizona Cardinals

How the Patriots win

The defense needs to come up big. The latest reports are that Rob Gronkowski didn’t even travel to Arizona with the Patriots and he’s been ruled out as he deals with his “week-to-week” hamstring injury.

Keeping the offense simple and running effectively are also big keys. Jimmy Garoppolo just needs to let the game come to him and not press. If he does press, the Cardinals will make him pay with points off turnovers. Calais Campbell has been licking his chops for weeks waiting for this opportunity (more here).

How the Cardinals win

Carson Palmer

First and foremost, Carson Palmer needs to exorcise his playoff demons from last year. He’s been atrocious this preseason and appears to be haunted by his playoff performance. Get him right and the Cardinals will be just fine offensively. And if the offense is fine, this team will win.

Verdict: Cardinals win 27-20

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Washington Redskins

How the Steelers win

Courtesy of Charles LeClaire, USA Today Sports

Offensively, it’s hard to imagine the Steelers are going to struggle much this year as long as Ben Roethlisberger remains healthy.

For Pittsburgh, this game comes down to getting Kirk Cousins to make mistakes and keeping Washington’s speedy receivers from going big over the top.

How the Redskins win

Matt Jones

Cousins has shown excellent accuracy and touch the past year. He appears to be coming into his own. But without a running game he’s doomed. That’s been a problem for the first-team offense during preseason. Matt Jones needs to step up, as does the offensive line.

If this team can run the ball effectively, then it has an excellent chance to win at home Monday night.

Verdict: Steelers win 31-30

Los Angeles Rams vs. San Francisco 49ers

How the Rams win

Todd Gurley

Todd Gurley could go off against a young 49ers front seven that has potential but lacks discipline. If he has a big game, then Case Keenum won’t have to press in the passing game. Los Angeles’ defense could absolutely demolish San Francico’s offensive line as well, and it’s going to be interesting to see if Carlos Hyde can make any headway in this one.

How the 49ers win

Blaine Gabbert

Blaine Gabbert has a nice connection with tight end Vance McDonald, and the running game can get going in a hurry in Chip Kelly’s hurry-up offense.

Defensively, if the 49ers can contain Gurley, the back end is talented enough to force turnovers and even score some points of their own (watch here).

Verdict: 49ers win 24-21