NFL preview capsules for Sunday’s games
Texans at Ravens: First-year head coach DeMeco Ryans and rookie QB C.J. Stroud lead Houston into Baltimore eyeing a turnaround for a franchise with 11 wins the past three seasons. The Ravens loaded up at wide receiver after signing QB Lamar Jackson to a five-year contract, adding Odell Beckham and first-round pick Zay Flowers. Baltimore won 10 games last season for the ninth time during the John Harbaugh era and even without Pro Bowl CB Marlon Humphrey (foot) brings a veteran-laden defense to this fight.
49ers at Steelers: Second-year QB Kenny Pickett put up a brilliant preseason and graduates to a stern test from a San Francisco defense likely to have DE Nick Bosa in the fold. Bosa signed a monster contract on Wednesday and the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year joined the team for the first time since minicamp. The 49ers reached the NFC title game behind rookie QB Brock Purdy, whose elbow injury in that game led to offseason ligament surgery. He threw multiple TD passes in each of the final six games (five starts) in 2022 as defenses locked down on RB Christian McCaffrey. With at least two TDs and a win this week, Purdy would become the only QB in NFL history to go 6-0 with multiple TD passes in his first six career starts.
Packers at Bears: Welcome Jordan Love to the stage. The Packers intercepted the torch from Aaron Rodgers, trading him to the Jets and inserting Love into the starting lineup. A rivalry game at Soldier Field pits two solid defenses and unproven quarterbacks. Justin Fields rushed for 1,143 yards last season, but the Bears want him to prove he’s a pro passer with new weapon D.J. Moore matched up with Packers CB Jaire Alexander in a popcorn-worthy pairing.
Eagles at Patriots: A coach for twice the lifetime of Jalen Hurts, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick appreciates the unique challenge the running quarterback presents as the engine of the Eagles’ multi-faceted offense. New England changed offensive coordinators, bringing back Bill O’Brien, who is tasked with getting greatness out of QB Mac Jones while matching wits this week with former co-worker Matt Patricia, an assistant with Philadelphia. The Patriots invested their top three picks on defense, including CB Christian Gonzalez, and expect big things out of other rookies (DE Keion White, LB Marte Mapu, WR Kayshon Boutte).
Panthers at Falcons: Panthers OLB Brian Burns’ “hold-in” is a fancy way of saying he wants more money but plans to play as Carolina chases Atlanta first-round RB Bijan Robinson and QB Desmond Ridder around the dome Sunday afternoon. The Falcons put up a season-high 37 points and beat Carolina on Oct. 30 last season but lost 25-15 in Charlotte. No. 1 overall pick Bryce Young makes his first career start for the Panthers, who went 7-10 last season and hired Frank Reich as head coach in January. Carolina’s new look spans the roster. Active building the roster in the offseason, the Panthers added versatile RB Miles Sanders and veteran WR Adam Thielen and brought in SS Vonn Bell to anchor the back end of the defense.
Jaguars at Colts: A playoff team in 2022 with a 9-8 record, the Jaguars are widely expected to be the best in the AFC South. They split a pair of games with the Colts last season with a 34-27 loss at Indianapolis, then ended the season with a six-game winning streak, including the wild-card victory over the Los Angeles Chargers, before falling at Kansas City in the divisional playoffs. Indianapolis hit the reset button following a 4-12-1 season, hiring Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen and drafting Anthony Richardson No. 4 overall to end a run of musical chairs at QB. The Colts won’t have RB Jonathan Taylor (ankle), who was inactive for the 2022 home date with Jacksonville.
Buccaneers at Vikings: No Tom Brady means something new, or at least not as old, at quarterback for the Buccaneers. Baker Mayfield won the job over Kyle Trask and has a star-studded receiving corps, provided Mike Evans puts his contract rift with the club to bed. He’ll be operating behind a young offensive line. Both teams made difficult roster moves to work from under a growing salary-cap burden since they last played a game that counted. The Bucs also made a switch at offensive coordinator, hiring Dave Canales (Seahawks) to replace Bryon Leftwich and shuffling Rachaad White into the featured running back role. Minnesota, a winner of two of the past three meetings with its former NFC Central rival, has a new lead back, too. Dalvin Cook was released after four straight 1,000-yard seasons and replaced by understudy Alexander Mattison.
Titans at Saints: Tennessee tries to find its way back to a winning path on the heels of a season wrecked by injuries that ended with a seven-game losing streak. Two constants remain for the Titans: Derrick Henry and Ryan Tannehill, who is attempting to bring balance to the offense after Tennessee ranked 30th in passing last season. DeAndre Hopkins joined Tennessee to make a trio of weapons and could help the new-look scheme establish balance. New is fitting for the Saints. They signed QB Derek Carr, RB Jamaal Williams and TE Foster Moreau and must cope with the three-game suspension of RB Alvin Kamara. Carr could be busy considering the Titans ranked No. 1 against the run in 2022.
Cardinals at Commanders: Arizona plans to contend, but likely down the road after a cleaning house in January and starting over from the top, down. The Cardinals are keeping Washington guessing as to who’ll start at quarterback with Kyler Murray (knee) shelved for at least a month. It could be Josh Dobbs, the journeyman with two career starts, or rookie fifth-rounder Clayton Tune staring across at a Commanders’ defense drenched with first-round draft selections. If Dobbs starts, it will be after just five practices since he was acquired Aug. 24 from the Browns. Washington put its chips behind QB Sam Howell, a second-year quarterback making his second career start with new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy planning to spice up the attack to highlight WRs Jahan Dotson and Terry McLaurin. McLaurin (toe) is expected to play.
Bengals at Browns: Perhaps the Bengals pulled the appropriate levers in the offseason and the offensive line woes exposing QB Joe Burrow to 100-plus hits the past two seasons are in the past. Nothing like a face-to-face with Myles Garrett to test that theory. Garrett had 16 sacks in 2022, 3.5 of them in two games against Cincinnati. Burrow’s lead receiver, Ja’Marr Chase (2,501 receiving yards, 29 games), can pass Hall of Famer Randy Moss (2,527) for the third-most receiving yards in a player’s first 30 games on Sunday. Cleveland turned the defense over to spicy veteran coordinator Jim Schwartz, who emphasizes pressure.
Raiders at Broncos: The Raiders (6-11 last season) have beaten the Broncos six straight times and aim to extend the streak under new quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Denver is putting past history to bed, or at least that’s the plan under new head coach Sean Payton. The former boss of the Saints sat out last season and arrived with ideas on how to resurrect Russell Wilson from a serious downturn in 2022, his first with the Broncos. Injuries hit at wide receiver in preseason, but Wilson gets a reprieve thanks to a rebuilt offensive line and the return of RB Javonte Williams from an ACL injury. Garoppolo has two big-time playmakers to work with: RB Josh Jacobs and WR Davante Adams. Jacobs led the NFL with 1,653 rushing yards last season while Adams had an NFL-leading 14 scoring receptions.
Dolphins at Chargers: AFC wild-card playoff teams last season, the Chargers and Dolphins are connected by their 2020 draft decisions, when Tua Tagovailoa went to Miami ahead of Justin Herbert landing with L.A. Tagovailoa showed brilliance in moments but also experienced multiple frightening ones with two documented concussions. Tagovailoa was 10 of 28 for 145 yards in a loss to Herbert and the Chargers last season. Chargers RB Austin Ekeler needs one TD reception for 30 in his career, an achievement only five others at his position have accomplished. Marshall Faulk holds the all-time record for RBs with 36 TD catches.
Rams at Seahawks: Eastern Washington product Cooper Kupp was looking forward to returning home to play the Seahawks in Week 1. That won’t happen due to a hamstring injury in camp, putting the Rams in a hole after a 5-12 season and roster rebuild during the offseason. Gone are CB Jalen Ramsey, WR Allen Robinson, LB Bobby Wagner and DE Leonard Floyd. Wagner makes his homecoming by returning to the Seahawks and facing the Rams in the opener. Seattle re-upped with QB Geno Smith after his Pro Bowl campaign in 2022 helped make the Seahawks a surprise playoff entry. Seattle won two games by a combined seven points over the Rams last season. Smith was sacked seven times.
Cowboys at Giants: New York crashed the playoffs thanks to a 7-2 start last season. But the Giants have only one win in the past 12 meetings with Dallas. The Cowboys roll with Dak Prescott, who faced criticism after throwing 15 interceptions last season, and expected the revamped offense with head coach Mike McCarthy taking over play-calling to be a boost. Tony Pollard replaces Ezekiel Elliott as the RB1 and adds a big-play dimension. Dallas relies heavily on defense and revealed plans to move pass rusher Micah Parsons into a more traditional defensive end role. He has nine career games with two or more sacks.
–Field Level Media