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Predicting studs and duds for NFL Week 1

Rachel Wold
Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson is one of the top NFL players at any position
Courtesy of USA Today Images

Finally! Football is back and the NFL Week 1 schedule has plenty to offer fans who have waited with much anticipation. There should be no shortage in the excitement department when multiple players hit the field suited up with their new teams, just for starters.

Besides this, all eyes will be focused on the top rookie picks from the 2018 draft class. Which running backs might surprise in Week 1, emerging as more explosive options than their veteran teammates?

On the other end of the spectrum, we have predicted that a very popular quarterback might not fare so well facing one of last season’s most intimidating defenses.

Let’s get on with the show and present our stud and dud predictions for NFL Week 1.

Stud: David Johnson, running back, Arizona Cardinals

This star rusher is back in action at last and has an excellent home pairing against the Washington Redskins to kick off the season. Last year, Washington ranked dead last against the run, allowing a generous 134.1 rushing yards on average per game at 4.5 yards per carry. Since, the Redskins have done very little to improve a defense that we ranked 26th overall heading into 2018. Johnson should have a field day as he slices and dices his way through this Swiss cheese defense.

Dud: Jimmy Garoppolo, quarterback, San Francisco 49ers

Sorry Jimmy G. fans, but this quarterback opens the season with a daunting road game against the Minnesota Vikings. So, the brakes on the Garoppolo bandwagon need to be pumped. The Vikings defense is no joke considering it held opposing quarterbacks to only 192 passing yards on average per contest last year. Along the way, the Vikings ceded a league-low 13 passing touchdowns. If Garoppolo can defy these odds, then he will easily be the coolest guy in the locker room after the game.

Stud: Alex Collins, running back, Baltimore Ravens

Collins is primed for a awesome season as he looks to build on his 973 rushing yards from last year. Kicking off Week 1, Collins has a perfect home matchup and a chance to rack up a ton of rushing yards against the Buffalo Bills. Not exactly stout against the run, the Bills allowed 124.6 rushing yards on average per game last year as well as 22 rushing touchdowns. The small sampling we saw from Collins in the preseason was enough to assess that he will thrive against Buffalo’s sketchy run defense.

Dud: Eli Manning, quarterback, New York Giants

Eli Manning

It is only Week 1 and here we are already picking on Manning. The veteran quarterback might just have a tough go of things when the Jacksonville Jaguars come to town. This sack-happy defense will be looking to get at Manning hot and heavy to stop him from targeting his talented receiving corps. And might the Jags possibly intercept Manning? They certainly could after recording 21 interceptions last year — the second-highest total in the league. We all know that Manning is great at serving up turnovers when pressured.

Stud: Marcus Peters, cornerback, Los Angeles Rams

Peters is new to the Rams and is one of the best shut-down corners in the league. He stands a great chance to come out on the winning end when the Rams head to play the Oakland Raiders. Peters will likely be tasked with covering wideout Amari Cooper, who might not see too many targets come his way. Quarterback Derek Carr will be under heavy pressure and is bound to shy away from Peters, making the All-Pro cornerback the winner in this matchup.

Dud: Devonta Freeman, running back, Atlanta Falcons

Guess what? The Falcons hit the road to play the team that eliminated them from the playoffs this past January. That would be the Philadelphia Eagles, against whom Freeman last tallied seven rushing yards on 10 attempts. He did score a receiving touchdown, but Freeman could easily become neutralized when it comes to his rushing yards again. Philly gave up only 79.2 rushing yards on average during the regular season last year and allowed a mere seven rushing scores. Freeman is faced with an uphill battle.

Stud: A.J. Green, wide receiver, Cincinnati Bengals

We like Green to put up a knockout performance in Week 1. He and the Bengals travel to spar with the Indianapolis Colts, whose defense is a huge work in progress. Green should feast on a leaky Colts defense that ceded 257.7 receiving yards on average per game in 2017. He is capable of making huge plays against bad coverage, and this matchup presents the perfect opportunity for both Green and quarterback Andy Dalton — who’s been red hot this preseason — to shine bright.

Dud: David Njoku, tight end, Cleveland Browns

Njoku showed some spark just recently, handily catching two touchdowns in his preseason debut. Though, those who are thinking about starting Njoku in fantasy football in Week 1 might consider a backup plan. Njoku and the Browns host the Pittsburgh Steelers, whose defense is quite tough on opposing tight ends. Last year the Steelers yielded only two touchdowns to the position. So, Njoku may come up just a bit short-handed — especially in the red-zone — this time around.

Stud: Joey Bosa, defensive end, Los Angeles Chargers

Bills quarterback Nathan Peterman

Bosa is returning to the field after a tremendous 2017 season in which he registered 12.5 sacks, marking the fourth-most in the league. In Week 1, Bosa will get to feast his eyes on the young Patrick Mahomes when the Kansas City Chiefs visit Los Angeles. There surely could be a sack or two in this game to be had by Bosa, right? Mahomes plays behind an offensive line that allowed its former quarterback, Alex Smith, to endure 35 sacks last season. It might be a bumpy ride for Mahomes and his offensive line trying to fend off 280 pounds of solid pass rush.

Dud: Kenyan Drake, running back, Miami Dolphins

The running back roster in Miami is a bit complicated. But provided Drake gets the start, he looks to have a tough matchup at home against the Tennessee Titans. He will face a defense that gave up only four running back rushing touchdowns in 2017. Meanwhile, opposing running backs rushed at an average of only 3.6 yards per carry. If that is not gloomy enough, the Titans only enhanced their run defense by spending their first and second round picks on two more linebackers. Insert Frank Gore here if he gets the start over Drake.

Stud: Cam Newton, quarterback, Carolina Panthers

Newton and the Panthers play host to the Dallas Cowboys to kick off the season. This is a Cowboys team that managed to lose all four of its preseason games. We would like to think Newton will thrive facing a defense that we recently ranked 25th-worst in the NFL. Newton is excellent on his feet making plays and has so many talented players on offense to help him move the sticks. Also keep in mind the Cowboys allowed 28 passing touchdowns (the fourth-most) last year.

Dud: Trey Burton, tight end, Chicago Bears

The brief sampling fans got to see from Burton in the preseason was promising. But expectations should be tempered for Burton heading to Lambeau Field to face the Green Bay Packers. The Packers excelled at shutting down tight ends last season, allowing only 43.6 receiving yards on average per game and four total touchdowns. Plus, quarterback Mitch Trubisky — who was wildly inconsistent in the preseason — could easily put a damper on Burton’s production.

Stud: Emmanuel Sanders, wide receiver, Denver Broncos

When he is healthy, Sanders is a stud. He kicks off the season at home facing a depleted Seahawks secondary, which bodes well for his debut. Plus we should note that Sanders looked extremely sharp during the preseason, showcasing lightening bolt speed. He also has an upgrade at quarterback this year in Case Keenum. Noticeably, Keenum seemed to favor Sanders over both Demaryius Thomas and Courtland Sutton as well during the preseason. Sanders is slated for a comeback campaign.

Dud: Kelvin Benjamin, wide receiver, Buffalo Bills

Bills receiver Kelvin Benjamin

Benjamin and quarterback Nathan Peterman displayed some splashes of chemistry during the preseason. But in Week 1, expectations for Benjamin need to be tempered when the Bills travel to square off against the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens defense is a ferocious one that managed a league-high 34 takeaways last season. This defense will certainly challenge Peterman to shy away from targeting Benjamin, who easily warrants double coverage due to a lack of other receiving talent on Buffalo’s roster.

Stud: Marshon Lattimore, cornerback, New Orleans Saints

Lattimore returns after earning Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2017. What better way for this talented cornerback to build on his success than face off at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? The second-year corner will likely focus his efforts defending wideout Mike Evans and might easily pick off an interception-prone Ryan Fitzpatrick. At the very least, Lattimore stands to force Fitzpatrick into avoiding targeting his No. 1 wideout this weekend.

Dud: Deshaun Watson, quarterback, Houston Texans

Watson will make his much-anticipated return to football when the Texans travel to play the New England Patriots this Sunday. Though, we predict Watson might struggle some returning from an injury while trying to live up to all of his preseason hype. It also doesn’t help that Watson plays behind a suspect offensive line that allowed 54 sacks in 2017. The Patriots defense will be looking to strike fast to get at Watson to throw a monkey wrench into his passing game.

Stud: Kerryon Johnson, running back, Detroit Lions

Even though the Lions are claiming they’ll employ a running back committee, Johnson will be the the guy to quickly emerge ahead of his fellow backs. This could start as soon as Week 1 when the rookie is pitted against the New York Jets. This home-friendly Monday Night Football matchup favors Johnson against a Jets run defense that ceded 117.9 rushing yards on average per game last year. If the Lions can gain a solid lead, this would present the perfect opportunity to test Johnson and eat up the clock.

Dud: Adrian Peterson, running back, Washington Redskins

In Week 1, Peterson heads to the West Coast to face a team that was home to him for a partial season in 2017. A.P. will test his rushing skills out against the Arizona Cardinals, who were quite stout in defending the run last year. This defense allowed only 89.6 rushing yards per game at a pace of just 3.5 yards per carry when Peterson played in Arizona last year. It will now look to trip up Peterson, while making us forget all about his promising preseason efforts.

Stud: Bradley Chubb, linebacker, Denver Broncos

The Seattle Seahawks had better hold on tight when they travel to face the Denver Broncos in Week 1. We predict that Chubb will have an immediate impact fresh out of the gate in his regular season debut. He should feast, causing havoc against quarterback Russell Wilson and Co. all game long due to the Seahawks’ lousy offensive line. It would be surprising if Chubb (not to mention his teammate, Von Miller) came out on the losing end in this matchup.

Dud: Benjamin Watson, tight end, New Orleans Saints

We love that Watson is back as a Saint, catching passes from future Hall Fame quarterback Drew Brees. Though, Week 1 might be a rough one for Watson squaring off against the Buccaneers. The Buccaneers defense was nothing to write home about last year, but it was particularly good in defending the tight end position. From a fantasy standpoint, the Bucs gave up the second-fewest points to opposing tight ends last year, along with only three touchdowns. We might hear more crickets chirping rather than yards being gained by Watson this game.