NFL Week 1 Predictions: Who will win Giants-Cowboys, Eagles-Browns, all other games

By The Sports Xchange
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. Photo by Lori Shepler/UPI
1 of 2 | Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. Photo by Lori Shepler/UPI | License Photo

Chicago Bears (0-0) at Houston Texans (0-0)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET at NRG Stadium, Houston - TV: FOX, Thom Brennaman, Charles Davis


SERIES HISTORY: 4th regular-season meeting. Texans lead series, 3-0. The Bears haven't opened a season on the road since 2009.

GAMEDATE: 9/11/16

KEYS TO THE GAME: Houston QB Brock Osweiler, who escaped the unwanted task of following Peyton Manning at Denver, gets his first start as an NFL team's No. 1 quarterback and nobody really knows what to expect from the tall, talented athlete and now very rich after signing a $72 million free-agent deal. As Osweiler's luck would have it, the one man who may know him best is Chicago head coach John Fox, who coached him for the two years they were together at Denver. Fox says Osweiler is "highly intelligent" and "wired right from a mental standpoint." And he doesn't need to be a genius to know he has a great receiver in DeAndre Hopkins.


Bears QB Jay Cutler returns for his ninth season in Chicago with WRs Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White as top targets downfield. White is making his NFL debut because, after the Bears drafted him No. 7 overall last year, he missed his rookie season with a leg injury.

But Houston's hard-nosed defense will be rude hosts. The Texans set a franchise record in 2015 with 45 sacks, including 17.5 from J.J. Watt and 12 from Whitney Mercilus. A relentless pass rush was part of the reason Houston finished 9-7 and won the AFC South division title despite a revolving door of quarterbacks. Watt returned to practice this week after missing the preseason as he recovered from back surgery to repair a herniated disc.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins vs. Bears CB Terry Porter: Hopkins is one of the best receivers in the game, and he could present nightmares for a Bears secondary that has proved to be one of the weakest links on the team. Hopkins has a touchdown in two consecutive season openers and three consecutive home openers. His next receiving touchdown will be the 20th of his career. Porter is a savvy veteran, but lacks the raw athleticism that Hopkins possesses.


PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Texans DE J.J. Watt: Watt is a monster on defense when he is healthy. He is the only player in NFL history to tally at least 20 sacks in two separate seasons. However, Watt underwent offseason back surgery to repair a herniated disc, and he only returned to practice this week. Texans head coach Bill O'Brien said Watt would play, but he declined to specify what Watt's workload might be. If Watt feels good and plays the bulk of the defensive snaps, Bears QB Jay Cutler might want to look out.

FAST FACTS: Houston returns 10 of 11 starters on defense. ... Chicago will open the season on the road for the first time since 2009. ... Houston is 3-0 all-time against the Bears - the only team that never has won a game against Houston. ... Bears K Connor Barth will make his team debut six days after the team signed him to replace K Robbie Gould. ... Houston QB Brock Osweiler will become the fifth signal-caller in franchise history to start a season opener. He joins David Carr (2002-06), Matt Schaub (2007-13), Ryan Fitzpatrick (2014) and Brian Hoyer (2015).


INJURY REPORT: Chicago -- Questionable: Josh Bellamy (shoulder), S Deon Bush (hamstring), CB Bryce Callahan (groin), CB Kyle Fuller (knee), RB Paul Lasike (wrist), G Kyle Long (shoulder), WR Deonte Thompson (knee, ankle), DE Cornelius Washington (ankle, knee), WR Kevin White (hamstring). Houston -- T Duane Brown (knee).

PREDICTION: While all NFL teams want to end the 2016 season in Houston, where the league will feature Super Bowl LI), few should really want to visit there during the season. The Texans defense is an ugly welcoming committee.

OUR PICK: Texans 24-10.

--Frank Cooney

Cleveland Browns (0-0) at Philadelphia Eagles (0-0)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, at Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia - TV: CBS, Greg Gumbel, Trent Green, Jamie Erdahl

SERIES HISTORY: 49th meeting. Browns lead series, 31-16-1. The Browns lead the series by 15 games, but it is a lead built in the Paul Brown era. The Browns were 16-6 against the Eagles from 1950-60. The reborn Browns are 0-4 since 1999.

GAMEDATE: 9/11/16


KEYS TO THE GAME: First-year Eagles coach Doug Pederson proclaimed rookie Carson Wentz ready for primetime well before Philadelphia shipped starter Sam Bradford to the Minnesota Vikings. Pederson praises Wentz for his preparation and professionalism, but there's little NFL film - 39 total preseason snaps - for the Browns to use in scouting the No. 2 pick in the 2016 draft. Wentz, recovered from a rib injury, has good enough talent around him to move the ball - RB Ryan Mathews, WR Jordan Mathews and TE Zach Ertz - but the Eagles' defense must carry more than its share of the burden.

New defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is a sharpen-the-knives type of play-caller, and attacking with the front four and timely blitz packages puts the bull's-eye on Robert Griffin III and a rebuilt Browns' offensive line. Griffin looked to throw long in preseason, but taking the short throws underneath Philadelphia's coverage is a better way to live against the Eagles. Cleveland's speed is noteworthy: RB Duke Johnson and WR Corey Coleman have sprinter's wheels and can exploit zone coverage looks. The Browns need a consistent running game, which was lacking last season, to keep Schwartz honest.


MATCHUP TO WATCH: Eagles DT Fletcher Cox vs. Browns LG Joel Bitonio and C Cam Erving. Cox is one of the three or four best defensive linemen in the league. He had 9.5 sacks last season at defensive end in a two-gap 3-4 and is expected to really be dominating as a one-gap penetrator in Jim Schwartz's wide-nine 4-3.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Browns QB Robert Griffin III: The 25th different starting quarterback for the Browns since 1999, Griffin was voted a team captain and new coach Hue Jackson believes a resurrection of the 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year (Washington Redskins) is in the offing. Health is a factor, but Griffin must resist the urge to try winning games by himself, but also has five career starts against the Eagles.

FAST FACTS: The Eagles ran only 40.2 percent of the time in 2015, 18th in the NFL. ... The Browns are 1-16 in their last 17 season openers.

INJURY REPORT: Cleveland -- Out: Marcus Burley (groin). Philadelphia -- Out: WR Bryce Treggs (knee). Questionable: TE Trey Burton (calf), DE Vinny Curry (knee).

PREDICTION: Philadelphia gets the nod with a toothy defense that should be able to heat up the pocket and get the ball out of Robert Griffin III's hands.


OUR PICK: Eagles 24-20.

--Jeff Reynolds

Green Bay Packers (0-0) at Jacksonville Jaguars (0-0)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1.00 p.m. ET at Everbank Field, Jacksonville -- TV: FOX, Kevin Burkhardt, John Lynch

SERIES HISTORY: 6th regular-season meeting. Packers lead series, 3-2. The interconference opponents are meeting at Jacksonville for the first time since 2008, when the Jaguars rallied in the fourth quarter for a 20-16 victory. Green Bay had won the first two games played in Jacksonville, going back to the Jaguars' debut as an expansion team in 1995. The Packers prevailed in the teams' most recent meeting, 24-15, at Green Bay in 2012.

GAMEDATE: 9/11/16

KEYS TO THE GAME: With two-time MVP Aaron Rodgers at quarterback and Mike McCarthy as coach, the Packers enter their season-opening game at Jacksonville with a seven-year postseason streak - tied with New England for the longest current run in the NFL. While they are considered Super Bowl contenders, they are nagged by a couple of questions. First, can Rodgers rebound after the worst season of his career? And, in a related question, can WR Jordy Nelson rebound after missing all of last season? Without him, the Packers' offense went from leading the NFL in scoring in 2014 to ranking 15th in 2015. Nelson is back, but he didn't play a single snap in the preseason. Also, the offensive line will be without two-time All-Pro G Josh Sitton, who surprisingly was released on Saturday and replaced by fourth-year pro Lane Taylor, who has two career starts. Put it together, and this offense could be a work in progress to start the season.


Jacksonville hasn't made the playoffs since 2007, the last time it finished with a winning record. In each of the past five seasons, the Jaguars have lost at least 11 games. But some pieces are in place for a franchise that has given away home games to help the league expand its reach overseas. The Class of 2013, which includes head coach Gus Bradley, QB Blake Bortles and WRs Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Marquise Lee, will define where this franchise heads this season. Bortles was fantastic statistically last season. He ranked seventh with 4,428 passing yards and second with 35 touchdowns. He also was one off the league lead with 18 interceptions.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Jaguars RB Chris Ivory vs. Packers run defense: The Jaguars have a powerful duo with the 224-pound Ivory and the 223-pound T.J. Yeldon. They'll be facing a run defense with more questions than answers. The Packers have two defensive linemen who have ever played in an NFL game, Mike Daniels and Letroy Guion, with the depth chart supplemented by rookies Kenny Clark (first round) and Dean Lowry (fourth round). The inside linebacker tandem of second-year player Jake Ryan and rookie Blake Martinez is green, as well. If the Packers can't stop the run early, they'll face the possibility of melting under the Jacksonville sun.


PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Packers WR Jordy Nelson: He missed all of last season with a torn ACL and didn't play in the preseason. When Nelson was at his dominating best in 2014, the Packers led the NFL in scoring. Without him, their production dipped by more than seven points per game. Can he come back and be an immediate difference-maker against an improved secondary?

FAST FACTS: The Packers are 6-4 in season openers under head coach Mike McCarthy, but a sizzling 22-12 in September. The Jaguars have lost their last four openers. ... In the last matchup between the teams, in 2012 at Lambeau Field, Davon House blocked a punt that was recovered for a touchdown by Dezman Moses, a key play in the Packers' 24-15 victory. House is in his second season as a Jaguars cornerback. Last season, he finished third in the NFL with a team-record 23 passes defensed. ... Last season, the Packers and Jaguars tied for second in the league with 39 passing plays of 25-plus yards. ... According to a Philly Voice analysis of rosters following Saturday's cuts, the Packers had the third-youngest roster and the Jaguars the fourth-youngest. ... Jaguars QB Blake Bortles is one of three players in NFL history with 4,000-plus passing yards, 35-plus touchdown passes and 300-plus rushing yards.


INJURY REPORT: Green Bay -- Out: CB Josh Hawkins (hamstring). Doubtful: S Chris Banjo (hamstring), WR Trevor Davis (shoulder), LB Jay Elliott (hamstring). Questionable: WR Jeff Janis (hand), TE Justin Perillo (knee), T David Bakhtiari (back). Jacksonville -- Questionable: RB Chris Ivory (calf), DE Jared Odrick (jaw, head).

PREDICTION: Green Bay and quarterback Aaron Rodgers are eager to get rolling after a lot of disappointment last year and the return of WR Jody Nelson should ignite a fire. Packers RB Eddie Lacy seems to be in decent condition and will cause the Jaguars trouble if they pay too much attention to Rodgers and his passing game.

OUR PICK: Packers 34-21.

--Frank Cooney

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-0) at Atlanta Falcons (0--0)

KICKOFF: Sunday 1:00 p.m. ET, at Georgia Dome, Atlanta - TV: Fox, Sam Rosen, David Diehl

SERIES HISTORY: 46th regular-season meeting. Buccaneers lead series, 23-22. The Bucs swept the series last season. Quarterback Jameis Winston converted on a dazzling third down-and-19 scramble as he rambled through several Falcons for a 20-yard gain. With the Bus hiring former Falcons head coach Mike Smith as their defensive coordinator, the rivalry is expected to heat up.


GAMEDATE: 9/11/16

KEYS TO THE GAME: Tampa Bay QB Jameis Winston is on the way up as he enters his second NFL season and it is unclear what direction Atlanta QB Matt Ryan is heading. Ryan is entering the fourth season of a five-year, $103.75 million contract that he received after taking the Falcons to the NFC Championship Game in 2012. But Atlanta is just 18-30 since he placed his signature on the huge deal and he hasn't come close to etching his name into the upper tier of NFL quarterbacks. The 31-year-old Ryan is also coming off a campaign in which he threw the second-fewest touchdown passes (21) and second-most interceptions (16) of his eight-year career.

He is well aware he needs to cut down on the miscues and increase the big plays. But there are questions about Ryan -- particularly whether or not the image of "Matty Ice" is beginning to melt away. While Ryan must regain his stature to help Atlanta improve last season's 8-8 record, Winston gets the opportunity to continue his development after passing for 4,042 yards and 22 touchdowns as a rookie. Head coach Dirk Koetter meshed well with Winston last season and then was promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach when the Buccaneers fired Lovie Smith after a 6-10 campaign. Koetter continues to work closely with Winston and sees the quarterback fully entrenched as a team leader as well as a talented passer. Winston said he can see the strides he has made when it comes to the offensive system.


MATCHUP TO WATCH: Falcons WR Julio Jones vs. Buccaneers CB Brent Grimes: Part of the reasoning for signing Grimes in the offseason was about figuring out how to match up better with Jones, who carved up Tampa Bay in both of last season's meetings. Jones caught 20 passes for 255 yards in the two games, including 12 receptions for 162 yards in the first one. The 27-year-old Jones has been bothered by an ankle injury and anything that slows him up a bit gives Grimes a better chance at limiting the downfield damage.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Falcons QB Matt Ryan: Atlanta has sputtered over the past three seasons and the quarterback with the $100 million contract is receiving his share of the blame. He looked like a guy set to join the upper stratosphere of NFL quarterbacks after the 2012 season but instead he has regressed and last season's 16 interceptions were the second most of his career. If Ryan recaptures his form, the Falcons have a chance to contend in the NFC South.

FAST FACTS: New Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Mike Smith was Atlanta's head coach from 2008-14. ... Falcons RB Devonta Freeman led all NFL running backs with 14 total touchdowns (11 rushing, three receiving) last season. ... Buccaneers LB Lavonte David ranked third in the NFL with 147 tackles last season.


INJURY REPORT: Tampa Bay -- Out: LB Devante Bond (hamstring). Questionable: S Ryan Smith (hand), TE Luke Stocker (back). Atlanta -- Out: S Keanu Neal (knee). Questionable: S Dashon Goldson (hamstring), RB Terron Ward (ankle).

PREDICTION: Although Atlanta, and especially QB Matt Ryan, have the experience, Tampa Bay gained momentum with two wins against the Falcons and made improvements in the offseason. Young, maturing and gaining the attitude of a winner, the Bucs will be an unruly guest in the dome.

OUR PICK: Buccaneers, 32-21.

--Frank Cooney

Buffalo Bills (0-0) at Baltimore Ravens (0-0)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore - TV - CBS, Spiro Dedes, Solomon Wilcots

SERIES HISTORY: 7th regular-season meeting. Series tied, 3-3. The Bills have won only once at M&T Bank Stadium, that in the first game the teams played against each other in 1999. Doug Flutie threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Jonathan Linton with 1:35 left to play to give Buffalo a 13-10 victory. The last time the teams played in Baltimore was in 2010, a 37-34 overtime victory for the Ravens that dropped the Bills' season record to 0-6.


GAMEDATE: 9/11/16

KEYS TO THE GAME: Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco is coming off a season-ending left knee injury suffered Nov. 22 against the then-St. Louis Rams and the Ravens never recovered, finishing 5-11. Buffalo quarterback Tyrod Taylor is building off the best year of his career, but the Bills missed the playoffs for the 16th consecutive time -- the longest drought among active teams. Taylor spent 2011-14 as Flacco's backup in Baltimore before leaving to take the starting job in Buffalo.

Buffalo had the top rushing attack in the NFL last season, and that unit could help control the clock against the Ravens. Bills head coach Rex Ryan also has some familiarity with the Ravens, spending nine seasons on their coaching staff, including four years as defensive coordinator. Ed Reed, the Bills' assistant defensive backs coach, is in Baltimore's Ring of Honor and is regarded as one of the best safeties in the history of the NFL.

The Bills could get a boost with the return of safety Aaron Williams, who returned to practice after missing almost a month with a concussion. He provides effective support for Bills cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby. Baltimore will be without linebacker Elvis Dumervil, who had offseason foot surgery and has not been able to practice since Aug. 29.


MATCHUP TO WATCH: Ravens wide receivers Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman vs. Bills cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby: The Ravens are going to aggressively attack opposing secondaries. Wallace is a veteran and appears revitalized in Baltimore. Perriman has yet to play in a regular-season game since being a first-round pick in 2015, but has the speed to get behind defensive backs. Gilmore and Darby, however, are two playmaking corners and they will pose a tough challenge for the Ravens' new-look offense.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Ravens left tackle Ronnie Stanley: The first-round pick is the first rookie to start at left tackle in the history of the franchise. He will be facing a swarming Bills defense that wants to provide him with his welcome-to-the-NFL moment with several blitz packages. Stanley graded out high throughout the preseason and should be ready for the challenge.

FAST FACTS: The 2016 campaign marks head coach John Harbaugh's ninth season in Baltimore (87-56 overall). ... The all-time regular season series is tied 3-3 between the teams. ... Buffalo's Rex Ryan is looking to win his sixth consecutive regular-season opener as a head coach. ... Baltimore placed 20 players on IR last season -- second most in the NFL. ... The Ravens are one of only five teams with at least six playoff berths in the past eight seasons.


INJURY REPORT: Buffalo -- Out: S Colt Anderson (foot), CB Kevon Seymour (hamstring). Questionable: G Ryan Groy (ribs), QB Cardale Jones (right shoulder), RB Jonathan Williams (ribs). Baltimore -- Out: RB Kenneth Dixon (knee), LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), CB Jerraud Powers (ankle). Questionable: TE Dennis Pitta (finger), G John Urschel (shoulder), TE Maxx Williams (knee), CB Shareece Wright (foot).

PREDICTION: With Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco looking to be in top form in the preseason, he should show Tyrod Taylor their master-mentor juxtaposition is the same as it was when they were teammates.

OUR PICK: Ravens 28-17.

--Frank Cooney

Minnesota Vikings (0-0 at Tennessee Titans (0-0)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Nissan Stadium, Nashville - TV: FOX, Dick Stockton, Chris Spielman

SERIES HISTORY: 13th regular-season meeting. Vikings lead series, 8-4, going back to the Titans' days as the Oilers in Houston. But the Vikings are only 1-3 on the road versus this franchise. The last meeting, which the Vikings won 30-7, came in 2012 at the Metrodome. Tennessee won the last game in Tennessee, 30-17 in 2008.


GAMEDATE: 9/11/16

KEYS TO THE GAME: The key to any game in which the Vikings play running back is the greatness of Adrian Peterson. But erstwhile starting Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater blew out his knee in practice last week, leaving 36-year-old Shaun Hill as next man up. Minnesota opted to get Sam Bradford from Philadelphia for a first-round pick in next year's draft and a conditional fourth-round pick in 2018. Bradford had eight days to learn coordinator Norv Turner's offense. Hill will likely start; after that the only thing for sure is to expect Peterson to carry the ball a lot.

Tennessee's quarterback has no such issues. Marcus Mariota enjoyed a good rookie year despite missing time with injuries, and has looked sharp during training camp and exhibition games. He completed 23 of 31 attempts this summer for 319 yards, playing to a passer rating of 104.1. The Titans' preseason, unlike Minnesota's, has been mostly positive. Head coach Mike Mularkey's run-first approach appears to be taking shape as the line has shown signs of being physical, while backs DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry could be a dangerous 1-2 punch. Murray has looked more like the guy who led the NFL in rushing and won Offensive Player of the Year honors two years ago as Dallas won the NFC East, while Henry appears to be a second-round steal, based on averaging more than six yards per carry in exhibition play.


MATCHUP TO WATCH: Vikings DLE Everson Griffen vs. Titans LT Taylor Lewan: Griffen has become one of the top pass rushers in the NFL, registering double-figure sacks in the last two seasons and making his first Pro Bowl in 2015. Lewan has talent, but too often takes penalties and puts his team in difficult situations. If Lewan can keep Griffen away from Mariota, Tennessee could have success in the passing game.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Vikings QB Shaun Hill: Thrust into a starting job in Week 1 for the second time in three years, thanks to a season-ending injury to Bridgewater in practice last week, Hill offers experience and game management skills. But he probably needs to get off the mark fast or last weekend's trade acquisition, Bradford, may hit the field sooner instead of later.

FAST FACTS: Mularkey played 72 games for Minnesota from 1983-88, catching 42 passes for 464 yards and five TDs. ... Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph needs six TDs to match Steve Jordan's team record for TDs by a tight end with 28.

INJURY REPORT: Minnesota -- Out: C Nick Easton (ankle), TE MyCole Pruitt (knee). Questionable: WR Charles Johnson (quadriceps), RB Jerick McKinnon (foot). Tennessee -- Out: WR Kendall Wright (hamstring).


PREDICTION: With all the attention on quarterbacks, the Vikings will use running back Adrian Peterson and a solid defense to take the steam out of a Tennessee team that enters the season with high expectations. They will be improved this year, but in this game the defending NFC North champion Vikings should prevail.

OUR PICK: Vikings 28-21.

--Frank Cooney

San Diego Chargers (0-0) at Kansas City Chiefs (0-0)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City - TV: CBS, Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon

SERIES HISTORY: 112th regular-season meeting. Chiefs lead series, 56-54-1 and swept both games last season, winning 33-3 in San Diego and 10-3 at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs have won four straight in the series, but San Diego is 5-5 in their last 10 visits to Kansas City. The teams met in the playoffs only once, when the Chargers grabbed a 17-0 victory in the first round of the 1992 AFC playoffs.

GAMEDATE: 9/11/16

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Chargers had one of the worst rushing defenses in the NFL in 2015. That unit allowed the most runs over 20 yards in the entire league. The drafting of first-round DE Joey Bosa is a step in the right direction. But Bosa missed all of training camp and will play spot duty. The trio of starting defensive linemen -- Darius Philon, Brandon Mebane and Corey Liuget -- for San Diego must be able to contain the Chiefs' rushing attack. According to Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, four-time Pro Bowl RB Jamaal Charles may not play. That puts the onus on backups Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware. These two stepped in admirably in 2015 when Charles was injured and helped the Chiefs win 10 straight games. If the Chiefs, behind a rebuilt offensive line can run the football and control the clock, the outcome of the game leans heavily in their favor.


The Chargers need to establish any type of rushing attack. The key cog in the engine is second-year RB Melvin Gordon. In what was a throwaway rookie campaign, Gordon never was a factor in 2015. That needs to change against Kansas City. The Chargers have one of the biggest offensive lines in the NFL and need to establish their dominance at Arrowhead. If LT King Dunlap, LG Orlando Franklin, C Matt Slauson, RG DJ Fluker (if healthy) and RT Joe Barksdale can move the Chiefs' defensive line off the line of scrimmage, Gordon must hit the holes with explosion and fight for every yard. If the Chargers can get the Chiefs defense on their heels with some sort of rushing attack, the passing game can open up for quarterback Philip Rivers and tight end Antonio Gates.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Chiefs LT Eric Fisher and RT Mitchell Schwartz vs. Chargers OLB Melvin Ingram: Last season, San Diego posted only 32 sacks, with Ingram producing one-third of that number with 10.5 sacks. Ingram can rush off either edge, and that's why Fisher and Schwartz will have to control the pressure. Last year, quarterback Alex Smith was sacked 45 times and improved pass protection is a major key for improvement by the 2016 Chiefs.


PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Chargers wide receiver Travis Benjamin: The free-agent signing from the Cleveland Browns has never had a quarterback passing him the football like Philip Rivers. Starting opposite Keenan Allen, Benjamin should draw lesser defensive matchups each week and could have a career year.

FAST FACTS: Chiefs have opened a season playing the Chargers 10 times, twice as many as any other team. In the previous nine openers, the Chiefs posted a 5-4 record, including a 21-14 victory in the last meeting between the teams to start the season in 2010 ... The Chargers were 0-6 in AFC West games last season.

INJURY REPORT: San Diego -- none. Kansas City -- Doubtful: RB Jamaal Charles (knee).

PREDICTION: Even with a new offense and the Chiefs' defense missing Pro-Bowl OLB Justin Houston due to injury, the Chargers still lack weapons on offense. Until Gordon can prove his NFL worth, the Chargers will rely on the pass too much. Chiefs QB Alex Smith will lead his team to a home victory and a major jump-start to the 2016 NFL season.

OUR PICK: Chiefs 24-14.

--Marc Lillibridge

Oakland Raiders (0-0) at New Orleans Saints (0-0)


KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans - TV: FOX, Chris Myers, Ronde Barber

SERIES HISTORY: 13th regular-season meeting. Saints lead series 6-5-1. The Saints own a three-game winning streak in the series and have won four of the last five meetings dating to a 13-10 victory in Oakland in 1997. In their three-game winning streak, the Saints have outscored the Raiders 103-46 and have scored at least 30 points in each -- prevailing 31-26 in Oakland in 2004, 34-3 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in 2008 and 38-17 in Oakland in 2012.

GAMEDATE: 9/11/16

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Saints have spent the better part of the past six weeks trying to find the right combination on the offensive line, which could be a key to the season opener with the Raiders. The Raiders have been building on defense under head coach Jack Del Rio and last season they ranked 13th against the run in allowing 104.9 yards per game. The Saints will need to get something going early on the ground and won't want to be one-dimensional considering the Raiders finished in the top half of the league in sacks and interceptions.


For the Raiders, if RB Latavius Murray and the young runners are gaining ground, it will be a classic power run, play-action approach. Given the presence of Karl Joseph at safety and Reggie Nelson at free safety, look for the Raiders to play it fairly conservatively defensively and force QB Drew Brees to complete as many passes as possible to score rather than hit the quick strike. That means Khalil Mack's pressure from the outside will be vital, with the Raiders needing more of a natural rush than one that is schemed. The Raiders had some issues against the run in the preseason, but New Orleans isn't the big-back power-type offense that should hurt.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Saints LT Terron Armstead vs. Raiders RDE Khalil Mack: Armstead is generally regarded as one of the top young tackles in the league because of his footwork and quickness. He'll have his hands full to keep Mack, who had 15 sacks a year ago (including five in one game against the Denver Broncos), from coming off the edge and pressuring Drew Brees from the back side.


PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Raiders RT Menelik Watson: A third-year player who remained healthy for a change and beat out Austin Howard to draw the starting assignment, Watson may be the most agile, athletic lineman on a Raiders front wall that has considerable power.

FAST FACTS: The Saints are 5-5 -in season-opening games since Sean Payton took over as head coach in 2006. ... The Raiders have been overwhelmed by Saints QB Drew Brees and the last two regular-season games the teams have played. Brees completed 46 of 56 passes for 539 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions forn a passer rating of 142.4.

INJURY REPORT: Oakland -- Out: T Austin Howard (ankle). New Orleans -- Out: LB Dannell Ellerbe (quadricep). Questionable: T Terron Armstead (knee, quadriceps), TE Chris Manhertz (head), WR Michael Thomas (ankle).

PREDICTION: The expectations are sky-high for a Raiders teams that believes they have a legitimate chance at winning the AFC West. This will be an early litmus test on the road against a New Orleans group that has been a disappointing 7-9 the last two seasons. The Raiders haven't had much success in recent seasons traveling two or three time zones to play in Sunday's early time slot. Of course, they also haven't been a good team. That will begin to change from the outset.


OUR PICK: Raiders 27-21.

--Howard Balzer

Cincinnati Bengals (0-0) at New York Jets (0-0)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J. - TV: CBS, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms

SERIES HISTORY: 24th regular-season meeting. Jets lead series, 15-8. The teams last played Oct. 27, 2013, when the Bengals returned two Geno Smith interceptions for touchdowns in a 49-9 rout. The Jets are 2-0 in the playoffs against the Bengals, whom they beat 44-17 after the 1982 season and 37-0 following the 2009 season. Both wild-card round wins propelled the Jets to the AFC Championship Game.

GAMEDATE: 9/11/16

KEYS TO THE GAME: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick can't do it all by himself, so the Jets will need their first-team offense -- Fitzpatrick and RBs Matt Forte and Bilal Powell and WRs Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker were never on the field together in the preseason -- to click in its debut in order to provide the Bengals a varied look and keep Fitzpatrick from putting too much on his plate.


The Bengals expect to have everyone healthy and ready for the opener except tight end Tyler Eifert, who's out for several more weeks with an ankle injury. QB Andy Dalton will look to get his running backs involved in the passing game, something they showed throughout the preseason. Gio Bernard is a playmaker out of the backfield and could help loosen up the defense in the absence of Eifert. Cincinnati will try to pressure Fitzpatrick behind dynamic pass rushers Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Bengals WR A.J. Green vs. Jets CB Darrelle Revis: Green is one of the top receivers in the NFL and Revis has long been one of the best corners. Revis isn't as fast off the break as earlier in his career so he will likely lay a little further off the line of scrimmage to be quicker to react to Green's routes. Green had 1,297 yards last season to join Randy Moss (six) as the only receivers in NFL history to begin a career with five or more consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons.


PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Jets RB Matt Forte: He is now 30 years old and coming off a career-low 898 yards so there are questions regarding how much he has left in the tank. He had hamstring issues during the preseason but is healthy entering the opener. Forte had five 1,000-yard seasons during eight seasons with the Chicago Bears, including a career-best 1,339 in 2013.

FAST FACTS: Jets WR Brandon Marshall set franchise records for receptions (109) and receiving yardage (1,502) last season. ... Cincinnati RB Jeremy Hill tied for first in the NFL last season with 11 rushing touchdowns. ... Joe Namath (4,007 in 1967) is the only New York quarterback to throw for more yards than Ryan Fitzpatrick's 2015 output of 3,905.

INJURY REPORT: Cincinnati -- Out: TE Tyler Eifert (ankle). Doubtful: CB Darqueze Dennard (ankle). New York Jets -- Out: QB Bryce Petty (right shoulder), CB Darryl Roberts (foot). Doubtful: LB Jordan Jenkins (calf). Questionable: LB Bruce Carter (shoulder), LB David Harris (shoulder).

PREDICTION: Both teams have designs on achieving this season, and both rosters are filled with talent. Games like this usually come down to mistakes, big plays and often special teams. Each will be playing with a lot of confidence. Go with the home team on an emotional day in New York on the 15th anniversary of 9/11.


OUR PICK: Jets 20-17.

--Howard Balzer

Miami Dolphins (0-0) at Seattle Seahawks (0-0)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET, at CenturyLink Field, Seattle - TV: CBS, Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts, Evan Washburn

SERIES HISTORY: 12th regular-season meeting. Dolphins lead series, 8-3. Miami has been Seattle's most troublesome opponent in franchise history. Winning percentage of 27 percent against Miami is lowest mark of any NFL team. Next-worst mark is a 5-11 record in 15 games against the Washington Redskins. Seattle lost last two meetings in Miami. The Dolphins have not played in Seattle since 2004, a 24-17 Seahawks victory. Miami has won five of the last six meetings.

GAMEDATE: 9/11/16

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Seahawks defense led the league in points allowed each of the past two seasons. First-year Dolphins coach Adam Gase has a history of elevating the play of various quarterbacks, and embattled Ryan Tannehill looked mostly comfortable running the no-huddle offense during the preseason.

However, questions remain along the offensive line, in the backfield and with Tannehill's ability to be productive in the red zone. Answering all of those in one of the league's most notoriously loud stadiums in a season opener against a stout defense will be a challenge.


The Dolphins expect to start veteran Arian Foster in the backfield, and his versatility as a receiver will be a bonus. But Seattle also led the league in run defense last season, so the onus will fall on Tannehill to run Gase's attack efficiently in the face of a strong pass rush and the Seahawks' "Legion of Boom" secondary.

Seattle's offensive line performed surprisingly well during the preseason, but is still considered one of the most vulnerable blocking units in the league. And that vulnerability can be quickly exposed when facing the likes of Dolphins defensive linemen Ndamukong Suh, Cam Wake and offseason addition Mario Williams.

The Seahawks' 2015 season shifted when offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell moved quarterback Russell Wilson out from under center primarily, allowing him to see the pass rush coming at him and distribute the ball to an array of playmakers.

Miami was vulnerable to big plays in the running and passing games last season, with missed assignments and gap-fitting a constant source of frustration. There were still signs of similar issues during the preseason, and Wilson's ability to keep plays alive with his feet puts an enormous amount of pressure on the defense.


Rawls is coming off a season-ending ankle injury last season and will play a limited amount of snaps. Veteran Christine Michael will split the duty, with rookies C.J. Prosise and Alex Collins potentially fitting into the mix as well.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Dolphins CB Byron Maxwell vs. Seahawks receivers: Maxwell left Seattle after four seasons for a six-year, $63 million contract with Philadelphia in 2015. He struggled shadowing elite receivers in the Eagles' scheme and was dealt this offseason to Miami, where he will return to the right side and be allowed to play aggressively at the line. He battled Baldwin and Kearse for years in practice, and figures to see plenty of both come Sunday.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Seahawks RG J'Marcus Webb/Rees Odhiambo -- The Seahawks were forced to scramble when rookie Germain Ifedi suffered a high-ankle sprain in practice Wednesday. The veteran Webb has been competing at right tackle but has experience inside as well. Odhiambo is a rookie third-round pick, and each could see action Sunday.

FAST FACTS: Tannehill is 3-1 in season openers, including 2-1 on the road. ... Seattle has won at least one playoff game in four consecutive seasons. Miami has not reached the postseason since 2008. ... Wilson led the NFL with a 110.1 passer rating last season.


INJURY REPORT: Miami -- Out: RB Jay Ajayi (not injury related), C Mike Pouncey (hip). Questionable: DE Terrence Fede (knee), LB Jelani Jenkins (knee), DT Earl Mitchell (calf), WR DeVante Parker (hamstring), RB Isaiah Pead (hamstring), T Laremy Tunsil (knee). Seattle -- Out: TE Nick Vannett (ankle). Questionable: TE Jimmy Graham (knee), G Germain Ifedi (ankle).

PREDICTION: This isn't the boat race most oddsmakers predict. Seattle has serious questions along the offensive line and QB Russell Wilson often takes a few games to get into a rhythm. The Dolphins can keep it close with strong defensive line play and some new looks offensively putting Seattle off-balance. But ultimately Adam Gase's Dolphins are a work in progress, while the Seahawks are a battle-tested, veteran group that rarely loses at home.

OUR PICK: Seahawks 23-20

--Derek Harper

New York Giants (0-0) at Dallas Cowboys (0-0)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, at AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas - TV: FOX, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews


SERIES HISTORY: 108th regular-season meeting. Cowboys lead series, 62-43-2. Cowboys have won the last three games against the Giants at home, and are 6-2 in the last eight regular season meetings.

GAMEDATE: 9/11/16

KEYS TO THE GAME: More than the trend of losing Tony Romo to injuries, the patterns that imploded the Cowboys last season were turnovers and woeful pass defense. Without the personnel to rattle QB Eli Manning, Dallas will have to be far more creative to show any tangible improvement from the 27th-ranked pass defense in the NFL in 2015. Manning had 35 touchdown passes last season, a career high, and WR Odell Beckham Jr. has dominated Dallas. The Giants' armor is not flawless - first-year coach Ben McAdoo claims he's satisfied with his offensive line but the group was leaky and inconsistent in preseason.

Dallas starts two rookies in the backfield - QB Dak Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott - behind one of the most complete offensive lines in the NFL. Head coach Jason Garrett warned not to read into the NFL-best 137.8 passer rating Prescott produced in preseason. With defenses planning for Prescott, the Cowboys will keep the plan basic, but permit him to look downfield to WR Dez Bryant and TE Jason Witten. Elliott runs with power and has breakaway speed when he finds an opening. The Cowboys are confident in their jumbo package with two tight ends on the line plowing the field for Elliott in an homage to throwback football. If the Giants stack the line, Bryant could have a field day.


MATCHUP TO WATCH: Giants DE Olivier Vernon vs. Cowboys LT Tyron Smith: In preseason, Vernon was been everything advertised and then some for the Giants as both a pass rusher and as a run stopper. This week, he gets a marquee matchup against Cowboys all-three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Tryon Smith, whom Vernon beat last year for a sack, four quarterback hits and two tackles for a loss as a member of the Dolphins.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Cowboys CB Brandon Carr: Permanently posterized by Beckham in New York - the one-handed grab to end all one-handed grabs - Carr's play will be critical to slowing down the Giants' passing game. Beckham's 2,755 receiving yards is tops in NFL history over his first two seasons.

FAST FACTS: Elliott is the first Cowboys' rookie running back to start since 1993. ... Since 1988, Prescott is only the fourth quarterback drafted outside the top 100 to start Week 1. ... Manning's 183 consecutive starts is the NFL's longest active streak.

INJURY REPORT: New York Giants -- Out: DT Robert Thomas (illness). Dallas -- Out: LB Mark Nzeocha (Achilles), QB Tony Romo (back), DE Charles Tapper (back). Questionable: G Ronald Leary (groin).


PREDICTION: The Cowboys are off and running with a 1-2 punch of Ezekiel Elliott and Alfred Morris topping 200 combined yards as the streak of close games in this rivalry continues.

OUR PICK: Cowboys 27-23

--Jeff Reynolds

Detroit Lions (0-0) at Indianapolis Colts (0-0)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, at Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis - TV: FOX, Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston

SERIES HISTORY: 42nd regular-season meeting. Colts lead series 21-18-2. Lions have lost four straight. Most historic meeting between the two teams was Dec. 4, 1960, when Jim Gibbons caught a 65-yard pass from Earl Morrall -- the longest play from scrimmage to end a regular-season game in NFL history -- as time expired to lift the Lions to a 20-15 win.

GAMEDATE: 9/11/16

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Colts wants to get off to a quick start offensively in their season opener. With a new system installed by offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, Indianapolis wants to work at a faster pace and with a desire to open up the passing game a bit more. Chudzinski is more into timing routes and dumping the ball off to avoid sacks and interceptions. But the Colts will take their chances down field whenever the opportunity presents itself.


The Lions will try and attack the Colts through the air in their first game without WR Calvin Johnson. They still have Golden Tate, while adding receivers Marvin Jones and Anquan Boldin. The Colts will try and defense that passing game with a secondary missing its top three cornerbacks.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Lions DT Haloti Ngata vs. Colts C Ryan Kelly: Ngata may be 32 years old, but he's still capable of dominating a game inside. He'll face a rookie center in Kelly, who is well regarded but still a rookie. If the Colts have to give Kelly regular help inside, Ziggy Ansah and Devin Taylor will be licking their chops to get to QB Andrew Luck.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Lions LT Taylor Decker: The Lions' first-round pick, Decker gets thrown into the fire after an up-and-down preseason against OLB Robert Mathis, one of the game's best pass rushers, albeit an aging one. Mathis had seven sacks in 15 games last year.

FAST FACTS: QB Matthew Stafford had two interceptions in the second half of last season, with Jim Bob Cooter as offensive coordinator. Stafford, who threw 11 interceptions in the first eight games last year, spent the entire off-season digesting Cooter's offense. ... There are no players remaining on the Colts active roster from the 2013 draft. G Hugh Thornton was the last remaining member of the Indianapolis draft and he was placed on injured reserve with a foot injury.


INJURY REPORT: Detroit -- Questionable: TE Eric Ebron (ankle), C Graham Glasgow (toe), T Corey Robinson (ankle), WR Golden Tate (ankle). Indianapolis -- Out: DT Henry Anderson (knee), CB Darius Butler (ankle), CB Vontae Davis (ankle), S Clayton Geathers (foot). Questionable: T Joe Haeg (ankle), G Jack Mewhort (knee), LB Sio Moore (hamstring).

PREDICTION: The opener is finally here, which is the first true time Colts QB Andrew Luck will begin putting last season's disappointment behind him. To do that, though, his team has to win, and Luck will likely feel good after this game is over.

OUR PICK: Colts 30-21.

--Howard Balzer

New England Patriots (0-0) at Arizona Cardinals (0-0)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET, at University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz. - TV: ESPN, Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya

SERIES HISTORY: 14th regular-season meeting. Cardinals lead series, 7-6. Arizona broke a five-game Patriots winning streak with a 20-18 victory in the most recent meeting in this infrequent series in Foxborough in September 2012. New England has actually won on its last three trips to Arizona dating to 1993. The most lopsided game in the series came in December 2008, when a seemingly disinterested Kurt Warner-led Cardinals team arrived at a snowy Gillette Stadium and got blown out 47-7 by the Matt Cassel-led Patriots.


GAMEDATE: 9/11/16

KEYS TO THE GAME: Third-year quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo will make his first career NFL start when the Patriots take on the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday night -- under the lights in prime time. Garoppolo, 24, has thrown 31 regular-season passes since being selected in the second round out of Eastern Illinois in 2014, and none of them has come against a hungry, aggressive defense in a Week 1 showdown of two teams expected to be in the thick of the playoff hunt. But that's the situation Garoppolo is thrust into as he takes the reins for the first four games of the season for the suspended Tom Brady.

He'll be facing an Arizona defense that finished fifth in total yards allowed, sixth in rushing yards allowed and eighth in passing yards allowed season. Cardinals general manager Steve Keim then went out and traded for Patriots linebacker Chandler Jones to pair opposite promising pass rusher Markus Golden. Two-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman Calais Campbell admitted he's "licking my chops" in anticipation of facing a rookie quarterback.

So, too, is Tyrann Mathieu, the versatile defensive back who returns from his second ACL surgery in three years. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said he expects Mathieu to "play every single play" against the Patriots.


The goal will be to rattle the inexperienced Garoppolo, who will be playing behind a reworked offensive line that includes right guard Jonathan Cooper, who was acquired for Jones. However, the Patriots announced Friday night that Cooper (foot) and left tackle Nate Solder (hamstring) will miss the season opener, along with tight end Rob Gronkowski (hamstring).

The Patriots need to lean on their impressive depth during Brady's absence, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. New England has playmakers at all three levels of the defense, but Arizona also returns all of its skill position threats from a unit that led the NFL with an average of 408.3 yards per game last season.

Quarterback Carson Palmer is 36, but is also coming off a career year in which he threw for 4,671 yards and 35 touchdowns against just 11 interceptions during the regular season. He's supported not only by a dynamic group of wide receivers led by Larry Fitzgerald, but with versatile David Johnson and healthy Chris Johnson team in in the backfield and an offensive line fortified by the addition of veteran guard Evan Mathis. Arians will try to stretch the New England secondary with a handful of vertical passes in an attempt to soften the underbelly of the defense. Patriots coach Bill Belichick always puts a premium on preventing big plays, and his defense created 10 turnovers during the preseason.


MATCHUP TO WATCH: Patriots RT Marcus Cannon vs. Cardinals SLB Chandler Jones -- Arizona sought to beef up its pass rush after collecting 36 sacks last season, and swung an offseason deal with New England to acquire Jones, who is coming off a career-high 12.5 sacks last season and is versatile in where he can attack from. Cannon enters his fifth season as the Patriots' primary starter. The right side tandem will have its hands full with Jones and two-time Pro Bowl lineman Calais Campbell.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Cardinals CB Brandon Williams -- The rookie was a running back at Texas A&M this time last year. Now he's expected to start opposite All-Pro Patrick Peterson. And the Patriots are expected to test him early and often.

FAST FACTS: The Cardinals have the sixth-best winning percentage in the first month of the NFL season over the past 10 seasons, going 21-13 (.618). The only teams better over that span are the Patriots (24-9, .727), Broncos (23-11, .676), Cowboys (22-11, .667) and Ravens and Packers (22-12, .647). ... Tom Brady in 2001 and Matt Cassel in 2008 - the last two quarterbacks to make their first career NFL starts in a Patriots uniform in Bill Belichick's tenure in New England - had both attempted 23 passes before their first starts. ... Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald needs three touchdown receptions to surpass three Hall of Famers - Don Hutson, Tim Brown and Steve Largent - and move into sole possession of eighth place on the NFL's all-time list with 101.


INJURY REPORT: New England -- Out: TE Rob Gronkowski (hamstring), LT Nate Solder (hamstring), G Jonathan Cooper (foot). Questionable: DE Trey Flowers (shoulder), WR Chris Hogan (shoulder), G Shaquille Mason (hand), LB Shea McClellin (shoulder), WR Malcolm Mitchell (elbow), T Nate Solder (hamstring). Arizona -- Out: LB Kareem Martin (knee). Questionable: CB Justin Bethel (foot), LB Lamar Louis (knee), RB Stepfan Taylor (knee).

PREDICTION: Jimmy Garoppolo has spent enough time in the Patriots' system and has enough surrounding weapons to keep New England afloat during Tom Brady's absence. But even with Brady the Cardinals would be a tall task. Arizona has playmakers all over the field offensively and a talented defense that upgraded its pass rush and will throw a full serving of varied blitz packages at the young signal-caller.

OUR PICK: Cardinals 30-19

--Derek Harper

Pittsburgh Steelers (0-0) at Washington Redskins (0-0)

KICKOFF: Monday, 7:10 p.m. ET, at FedExField, Landover, Md. - TV: ESPN, Sean McDonough, Jon Gruden

SERIES HISTORY: 78th regular-season meeting. Redskins lead series, 42-32-3, but the Steelers have won five in a row, including 27-12 on Oct. 28, 2012. The Redskins have scored a total of 41 points in those five losses. In a schedule quirk, five of the past six games were played in Pittsburgh. The Steelers won 23-6 in their last visit to FedEx Field on Nov. 3, 2008.


GAMEDATE: 9/12/16

KEYS TO THE GAME: Even with Josh Norman, Bashaud Breeland and more quality depth behind them at cornerback, Washington's defense will be put under stress early and often. The Steelers' no-huddle offense will force the Redskins to use every defensive back on the roster. This is where having an inside linebacker who can cover -- rookie second-round pick Su'a Cravens -- is helpful. The Redskins didn't have that option in years past. Who wins this classic battle will go a long way to determining the outcome.

The same is true when the units are flipped. The Steelers have their own issues. The cornerbacks are young, and Washington's pass-catching options are strong -- DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Jordan Reed and Jamison Crowder. If quarterback Kirk Cousins has time to throw -- the Steelers' outside linebacking corps has been hit hard by injury this summer -- it is hard to see Pittsburgh's defense keeping Washington in check, either. It will be interesting to see if former Maryland star Sean Davis can cover Reed or Crowder from his safety position or as a slot cornerback.


MATCHUP TO WATCH: Steelers CB Ross Cockrell vs. Redskins WR DeSean Jackson: Cockrell had a breakthrough season in 2015. But this will be a challenge. Jackson still has the speed to make any cornerback nervous. Be physical with him at the line of scrimmage or pay the price. Whichever corner is on Jackson can't be given much help considering Washington's other weapons in the passing game.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Redskins LG Shawn Lauvao: As late as last week, Lauvao was no guarantee to start over Spencer Long. Lauvao had five surgeries last year to repair torn left ankle ligaments and right foot issues. He missed all but three games and the running game took a dive without him. But he was named the starter by head coach Jay Gruden on Wednesday.

FAST FACTS: The Steelers have the third-best winning percentage playing on Monday Night Football (.624) with a 43-24 record ... The Redskins last won on Monday Night Football to open the season in 1993 (35-16 over Dallas).

INJURY REPORT: Pittsburgh -- Out: WR Markus Wheaton (shoulder), FB Roosevelt Nix (back), OL Cody Wallace (knee), CB Senquez Golson (foot). Washington: Questionable: RB Matt Jones (shoulder), WR Josh Doctson (Achilles), DE Kendall Reyes (groin), G Spencer Long (ankle), T Ty Nsekhe (illness), NT Kedric Gholston (back).


PREDICTION: Under normal circumstances, the Steelers would have huge advantage in the running game with Le'Veon Bell at running, but he is on league suspension for three games. They hope DeAngelo Williams will carry the load, but Washington also has issues running. Footballs will be filling the air during this first Monday night game of the season.

OUR PICK: Steelers 31-27.

--Howard Balzer

Los Angeles Rams (0-0) at San Francisco 49ers (0-0)

KICKOFF: Monday, 10:20 p.m. ET, at Levi's Stadium, San Francisco - TV: ESPN, Chris Berman, Steve Young, Lindsay Czarniak

SERIES HISTORY: 133rd regular-season meeting. 49ers lead series, 65-64-3. The last time the Los Angeles Rams visited San Francisco, Steve Young threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Jerry Rice with 1:56 remaining to give the 49ers a 31-27 victory on Nov. 20, 1994. The clubs have met only once in the postseason, with the 49ers winning that game 30-3 on Jan. 14, 1990.

GAMEDATE: 9/12/16

KEYS TO THE GAME: Both teams need to ride their running games to victory. Rams RB Todd Gurley exploded onto the NFL landscape in 2015 and took home NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. With game-manager Case Keenum starting at quarterback, the Rams will look for Gurley to get 30-plus touches of the football behind a young, but improving offensive line.


Conversely, the 49ers need to get RB Carlos Hyde off to the fast start he experienced in 2015. In last year's opener against the Minnesota Vikings, Hyde ran for 168 yards and two touchdowns as the 49ers' ground game controlled the clock and the score 20-3. The 49ers need to duplicate that successful game plan.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Rams LT Greg Robinson vs. 49ers DRE DeForest Buckner: Two of the top college linemen in recent years face off in Buckner's NFL debut. Robinson has the experience edge, having started 28 games since being the No. 2 overall pick of the 2014 draft. The 49ers are expecting big things right away out of Buckner, the No. 7 overall pick of April's draft.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Rams MLB Alec Ogletree: The former first-round pick in 2013 is taking over as the leader in the middle for an already established defense. Ogletree has speed, quickness and coverage skills, but he is replacing savvy, smart play-caller James Laurinaitis. How Olgetree handles the new leadership role will greatly impact the effectiveness of the defense.

FAST FACTS: QB Blaine Gabbert passed for 354 yards in the 2015 regular-season finale against the Rams, a career best. ... Rams QB Case Keenum had a 111.1 passer rating during the preseason, which helped earn him the starting nod.


INJURY REPORT: Los Angeles -- Out: WR Pharoh Cooper (shoulder), WR Nelson Spruce (knee), CB EJ Gaines (thigh). Questionable: OL Rob Havenstein (foot), OL Bryce Hager (concussion). San Francisco -- Doubtful: CB Chris Davis (hamstring). Questionable: DL Arik Armstead (shoulder), DL Glenn Dorsey (knee), LB Nick Bellore (knee), DT Quinton Dial (knee), CB Keith Reaser (ankle), T Anthony Davis (not injury related).

PREDICTION: A defensive battle throughout will be decided by a defensive touchdown. Both teams will look to establish their ground games, but 49ers QB Blaine Gabbert will make more plays than his counterpart, Case Keenum, for the 49ers victory at home.

OUR PICK: 49ers 13-9.

--Marc Lillibridge

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