Jacksonville at Tennessee
I like the Jaguars to open the season with a win by margin. QB Leftwich is finally gone and so is the quarterback controversy in Jacksonville. Although an injury to Garrard may spell doom for the Jag’s season, give HC Jack Del Rio credit for having the bullets to go all-in by releasing Leftwich. If it doesn’t work out and Del Rio goes down, at least he’s going down swinging. I don’t think Garrard is an upgrade at QB. In my book it’s a wash as what Garrard gives Jacksonville in mobility he gives up in arm strength. There is one benefit to the move…call it addition by subtraction but having an unquestioned No. 1 signal-caller has got to benefit if not spark the team at least in the short-term.
The situation favors the Jaguars. Tennessee dealt the Jags a blow late last season in Florida (24-17) when Jacksonville was playing to make the Playoffs. Jacksonville has historically started quickly and, in fact, has covered eight straight season openers. They have beaten Tennessee 40-13 and 27-7 in Tennessee the past two seasons.
Despite all the flash that Vince Young has brought the team, Tennessee has real issues. It doesn’t appear the Titans have any running game to speak of and QB Vince Young has no proven wide receivers to throw to. That puts tremendous pressure on the Tennessee QB to win games by himself and we’ve seen that act before (e.g. Bret Favre). If Tennessee can’t run the ball and their receivers can’t get open, you can expect the Titans young quarterback to force the football into places it shouldn’t go. One of those mistakes may result in a pick-6 on Sunday.
The Jaguars are the more talented team, especially on defense. If the Jag’s defense wins the turnover battle and gives their offense a short field, Jacksonville will score plenty on the Titans rebuilding defense. Jacksonville wins by two touchdowns 27-13.
Atlanta at Minnesota
Ugh! What a way to start the season. There is a joke running around Las Vegas Blvd. that with QB Tarvaris Jackson and QB Joey Harrington taking snaps, each team may line-up in an 11-0-0 alignment on defense. There’s no way to sugarcoat this…this game is going to suck something awful unless you like aggressive defenses punishing fleeing quarterbacks, running the football until your back drops from exhaustion, and lots and lots of punting. And if that does appeal to you…time to have a chat with a professional.
I don’t like either team and the best fantasy play may be the defenses. That puts me on the under. Minnesota wins 13-10.
Miami at Washington
These are two very similar teams. Both teams have questions at quarterback, both teams look to play solid defense, and both teams played like crap in the Preseason. Needless to say that is not the recipe for a high-scoring opening game.
Miami QB Trent Green does not look like he’s recovered from a serious concussion. If you watched the Dolphins Preseason games, Green not only played poorly but looked dazed and confused on the field. If the Dolphins weren’t laying down a smokescreen when its coaching staff said that they showed only 25% of their playbook, then Trent Green has no shot of executing the other 75% for the time being. If Green can’t physically and mentally execute on the field, look for more vanilla offense out of the Dolphins until Green recovers or the Dolphins pull the plug.
Washington has its own issues at quarterback. If you believe the Redskins, then HC Joe Gibbs held QB Jason Campbell on a short leash all Preseason. Washington’s passing game has been pedestrian at best both in 2006 and in August. Given that information, you have to ask yourself this: if Gibbs really believes Campbell is all that and a bag of chips what’s he waiting for? If Washington isn’t going to cut him loose now then when? I think you know where I’m going with this and it has something to do with pigs flying.
There is a slight difference between Green and Campbell in this game. Miami’s defense gets after the quarterback while the Redskins hang back. If the Dolphins can get Campbell to make mistakes, then the Dolphins may steal this game.
If this game comes down to running the football then you have to favor Washington. The Redskins have solid talent at RB where Portis and Betts are a powerful tandem. The same can’t be said for Miami where RB Ronnie Brown struggles behind what is possibly the worst offensive line in football. Big edge to the Redskins.
I can’t make a case for either team to put up solid offensive numbers. The Redskins should have enough running game and the home field edge to prevail in this game, but the best fantasy plays may be the defenses. Give me the Redskins to cover the field goal is a low-scoring game. Washington 17-13.
Philadelphia at Green Bay
It’s hard to imagine that the Packers and Eagles would fight a defensive battle in a game not played in a December blizzard, but that’s exactly what I expect on Sunday.
Who, if anyone, is going to step-up and run the ball for the Packers? I frankly have no idea who that back is and neither does Packers management. Neither RB Vernand Morency nor RB Brandon Jackson rocks my world. This may be a season-long ugly situation that doesn’t get resolved until one back or the other goes down with injury. This represents a missed opportunity for Green Bay as the Eagles defense doesn’t shine against the run. Without a credible running threat, it puts all the pressure on QB Brett Favre to win the game while dodging blitzing Eagles (and boy will they blitz). If Favre doesn’t have his favorite target (WR Donald Driver) this week, and that could be a disaster. I can’t see how the Packers are going to put together 80 yard drives without a running game and a go-to receiver, which puts me on the under.
The only way Favre doesn’t throw a pick in this game is if the Packers are patient on offense and rely on their defense…and that may not be a bad thing. For the first time in years Green Bay looked pretty decent on defense. The defensive line looks aggressive and if the Packers can generate a little pressure on the opposing quarterback, that will take the pressure off their secondary. Green Bay’s defense may be one of the surprise units of 2007.
That defense will be put to the test this week. Philadelphia QB Donovan McNabb is back and looking healthy (at least for the time being) and his presence on the field is a huge upgrade. But given McNabb’s injury history, I just can’t see the Eagles putting him at risk this early in the season. Look for Philadelphia to run the ball and feature the short passing game here. That should translate to a lower scoring game. Eagles win 20-17.
Upset of the Week
Buffalo 21 Denver 20
More questions than answers for both teams. Both rosters have had huge turnover this off-season and judging from the preseason neither team has been improved. Both the Bills and the Broncos struggled on defense over four preseason games. Denver’s defense gave up two touchdowns in the first six games of the 2006 season and then gave up 27 touchdowns in the final 10 games. Not good and they don’t appear to have fixed the problem in the off-season despite dumping their entire front four. On the other side of the football each of Cutler’s five starts have gone over the total while the Bills defense have replaced their entire starting linebacker corps.
Last season Buffalo was a point spread covering machine while Denver has lost each of their last three opening road games. Make that four in a row as the Bills ambush the visiting Broncos.