Five weeks of preseason games has given in to real matchups as the NFL prepares for Week 1 of the regular season. This initial slate of games promises to start the year off with a bang.
It opens up on Thursday Night Football with the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles hosting an Atlanta Falcons squad that’s looking to get back on top. What is the top matchup to watch in that one?
Meanwhile, the next nationally televised game will pit the division rival Packers and Bears against one another. With youngsters on both squads, there’s one particular matchup we’re looking forward to.
In what will once again be a season-long series of articles, we check in on the top matchup for each Week 1 NFL game.
Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles: Jason Peters vs Vic Beasley
The combination of Lane Johnson and Jason Peters allowed four sacks of franchise quarterback Carson Wentz last season. It’s one of the primary reasons Philadelphia earned its first ever Super Bowl title. It also has Wentz primed for yet another tremendous season as he returns from a torn ACL.
On the other side, the 26-year-old Beasley is looking to turn things around after a rough 2017 campaign that saw his sack total drop from a league-leading 15.5 in 2016 to just five. Eligible for an extension in March, Beasley is playing for a whole lot of cash. More importantly, the Falcons need him to perform at a high level in order to be considered a serious title contender. That starts with this Thursday Night Football matchup against a future Hall of Famer in Jason Peters.
Cincinnati Bengals at Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck vs Bengals pass defense
Given a nice amount of playing time during the preseason, Luck likely won’t be rusty as he makes his first regular season start since Week 17 of the 2016 campaign. It has to be sweet music for both the Colts and their fans. With Luck under center, Indy has continually proven to be a legit playoff contender. With him sidelined, it has been among the worst teams in the NFL.
Things certainly won’t be easy in Week 1 against a Bengals pass defense that finished in the top eight last season and yielded a lowly 82.8 passer rating. Luck will be tested in getting the ball to the likes of T.Y. Hilton, Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron in this one. A solid performance from him could be an indicator of things to come for the Colts.
Buffalo Bills at Baltimore Ravens: LeSean McCoy vs Ravens run defense
Baltimore’s defense is not going to respect Nathan Peterman in this regular season debut. That’s just not how it works in today’s NFL, especially when we look at the less-than-stellar group of receivers he has to throw to. That’s going to lead opposing defenses to stack the box early in Allen’s career.
For their part, the Ravens were surprisingly ineffective against the run last season. Boasting one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL, Brandon Williams, the team yielded north of 111 rushing yards per game. How this unit performs against a six-time Pro Bowler in Shady McCoy could be telling for the season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints: Mike Evans vs Marshon Lattimore
This is going to be one of the best matchups on a yearly basis for pretty much the next decade. Having put up 1,000-plus yards in each of his first four NFL season, Evans just received what was then the largest contract for a wide receiver in league history. He continues to be one of the most consistent pass catchers in the game, and should excel even with Ryan Fitzpatrick starting for the suspended Jameis Winston in Week 1.
On the other hand, Lattimore is coming off a Defensive Rookie of the Year performance for the Saints. The former first-round pick recorded 52 tackles, 18 passes defended and five interceptions while yielding a 45.2 passer rating when targeted. With the history these two already have stemming from an incident last year, there’s not a better way to get the 2018 regular season started. Popcorn worthy, one might say.
Houston Texans at New England Patriots: Patriots offensive line vs Texans pass rush
New England’s offensive line is going to be tested big time in front of Tom Brady this season. After all, the two-time defending conference champs lost starting left tackle Nate Solder and an important veteran in that Cameron Fleming during free agency. The new-look line now includes a player in Trent Brown — slated to play left tackle — that struggled during the summer.
There’s no better initial test than taking on a Texans pass rush that includes three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt, who is seemingly completely healthy after two injury-plagued seasons. Teaming up with him are the likes of Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus. What we see from New England’s offensive line in Week 1 will be telling.
San Francisco 49ers at Minnesota Vikings: Jimmy Garoppolo vs Vikings pass defense
That sound you hear? It’s the Garoppolo contingent making its way to Minneapolis in hopes that they don’t drown their sorrows in the Great Lakes. With unrivaled expectations for such a young quarterback, Garoppolo faces one of the most difficult tests in what will be his eighth career regular season start. He does so after showing out big time during the preseason and with a perfect 7-0 record as a starter intact.
On the other hand, Minnesota will look to defend its home turf to start a season it hopes will culminate in a first ever Super Bowl title. Sure Kirk Cousins and the offense is a story here. But it’s a dominant-level defense that will be looking to make a major statement in Week 1. Can Danielle Hunter, Anthony Barr, Xavier Rhodes and Co. hold back the surge of one Jimmy GQ and the up-and-coming 49ers? It’s a major Week 1 storyline.
Tennessee Titans at Miami Dolphins: Jack Conklin vs Cam Wake
Unlike some other teams around the NFL with young quarterbacks, Tennessee has made sure to surround Marcus Mariota with book end tackles. It started with selecting Jack Conklin in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. All he did as a rookie was earn All-Pro honors. It then continued by the Titans handing fellow former first-round pick Taylor Lewan the largest contract for an offensive tackle in NFL history. They represent the best offensive tackle duo in the entire AFC.
In order for Miami to have any real chance of winning its regular season debut, Cam Wake and the team’s defensive line will have to pressure a quarterback in Marcus Mariota who struggled big time last year. Limiting him in the passing game will enable an otherwise questionable Dolphins run defense to hone in on the likes of Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis. If that doesn’t happen, Miami will start the regular year on a down note.
Jacksonville Jaguars at New York Giants: Odell Beckham Jr. vs Jalen Ramsey
One could even conclude that this is the best overall matchup of the 2018 regular season. Two of the best all-around players in the game taking on one another to open up the year. Both of these players have massive talkers on them, which could lead to some early September fireworks in New Jersey.
From a tactical standpoint, Beckham Jr. returns healthy after missing all but four game sof last season to an ankle injury. He does so after inking an historical extension and with renewed expectations for the Giants. In order for New York to open the season on a high noted OBJ will have to come out on top in a matchup against a player in Jalen Ramsey who yielded a sub 50 passer rating when targeted last season.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns: Antonio Brown vs Browns secondary
At this point, there’s no telling who Cleveland is going to match Pittsburgh’s elite receiver up with. Even money is on rookie No. 4 pick Denzel Ward. Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams doesn’t shift his secondary to take into account matchups. That means Ward’s first game will more than likely be against Brown. Welcome to the NFL, kid.
For his part, Brown caught all 11 of his targets for 182 yards in last year’s season opener against Cleveland. All said, Brown has caught 54 passes for 817 yards in his past six games against the Browns. That said, it would be foolish to compare Cleveland’s defenses to those of the past. Their top-four cornerbacks on the depth chart are new to the team this season.
Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Chargers: Tyreek Hill vs Casey Hayward
This will be Hill’s first true regular season game with second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes under center in Kansas City. The two made sweet music with one another during the preseason. It really could be the next dynamic quarterback-wide receiver connection. And that starts Week 1 against a Los Angeles Chargers defense, led by Casey Hayward, that ranked No. 3 against the pass and yielded a 78.1 quarterback rating last season.
Among the best corners in the game, Hayward will likely attempt to follow Hill around the field in Week 1. That’s magnified with No. 1 outside corner Jason Verrett lost for the season. This certainly represents one of the best individual matchups of the opening weekend.
Dallas Cowboys at Carolina Panthers: Ezekiel Elliott vs Panthers run defense
Elliott enters Week 1 having not attempted a single preseason carry. That’s a rarity for a player there hasn’t been any injury concerns over. The issue for Dallas was an injury-plagued offensive line and wanting to make sure Elliott himself was 100 percent come the regular season. With said injuries still impacting Dallas’ offensive line, Elliott in for a major season-opening test. Led by Kawann Shirt and Luke Kuechly, Carolina finished last season third in the NFL against the run. It only improved by replacing Star Lotulelei with Dontari Poe.
Over the course of his career, Dallas boasts a perfect 7-0 record when Elliott goes for 130-plus yards. It is just 12-6 when he fails to reach that plateau. For the Panthers part, they have yielded 130-plus yards on the ground just five times in their past 32 games. Their record on those five games is 0-5.
Washington Redskins at Arizona Cardinals: Adrian Peterson vs former team
Who isn’t looking forward to this? Peterson only played six games as a member of the Cardinals following a midseason trade with New Orleans. He put up a total of 293 yards in two of those games. In the other four, the future Hall of Famer gained a grand total of 155 yards. Needless to say, Washington is relying on the veteran to mirror the production we saw in those two huge outbursts from the aging Peterson.
Unfortunately for Alex Smith and the Skins, they’re taking on an Arizona defense that ranked sixth in the NFL against the run last season and yielded an average of just 3.5 yards per. Sure Washington’s offensive line is better than anything Peterson has worked behind over the past half-decade. But it’s still going to be tough sledding here.
Seattle Seahawks at Denver Broncos: Seahawks offensive line vs Broncos pass rush
Von Miller and Bradley Chubb should have themselves an absolute field day against what could very well be the worst offensive line in the NFL. Seattle has been a walking turnstile upfront for Russell Wilson. Since the MVP candidate entered the league back in 2012, he’s been sacked more than any other quarterback. Having the likes of Germain Ifedi, Ethan Pocic and even J.R. Sweezy on the field at any given time is going to prove futile for Wilson and Co.
The larger-scale issue in Week 1 is that Seattle is taking to the unfriendly confines of Mile High against a pass-rush duo that might finish the season as the best in the entire NFL. Miller’s a former Super Bowl MVP. Chubb is one of the best edge guys to enter the league in a decade. How fun.
Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers: Bears receivers vs young Packers cornerbacks
After both of them played well during camp and the preseason, we’re fully expecting to see a lot of rookie cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson come Week 1. Sure a reinvigorated Tramon Williams will play a role here. But Green Bay’s new front office didn’t exhaust its top two picks in Aprils’ draft on cornerbacks for them to sit.
It’s actually a somewhat perfect matchup for Alexander and Jackson here. Not only is Green Bay hosting a Bears team with a young signal caller in Mitch Trubiksy, the second-year quarterback has yet to fully mesh with new receivers Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and rookie Anthony Miller.
New York Jets at Detroit Lions: Sam Darnold vs Lions pass defense
With the exception of All-Pro Darius Slay, Detroit’s secondary leaves a whole heck of a lot to be desired. While Slay yielded just two touchdowns compared to eight interceptions when targeted last season, the Lions still ranked in the bottom six of the NFL in passing yards allowed. The good news? They were a big-play unit, yielding a total of 21 touchdowns through the air with 19 picks.
Making his first-ever NFL regular season start, Darnold will almost assuredly be in for a test here. He might have impressed a great deal during the preseason, but a Week 1 road date is a completely different story. How the rookie performs here could be telling for the remainder of his inaugural campaign.
Los Angeles Rams at Oakland Raiders: Amari Cooper vs Marcus Peters
Why not? It’s a matchup that came to define the AFC West since Kansas City made Peters a first-round pick back in 2015. The two had some epic battles in three seasons against one another with Peters himself coming out on top more often than not. In fact, he held Cooper to zero catches on one target in their last outing. Immediately prior to that, Cooper put up 11 catches for 210 yards and two scores against Peters and the Chiefs.
More than anything, this game will be defined by how Cooper performs in a new offense under first-year head coach Jon Gruden. On the same note, Peters heads to the Rams following a blockbuster trade during the spring. He should fit Wade Phillips’ scheme to a T. But there’s really only one way to found out. That’s on the field in the final game of Week 1 Monday night.