Game of the week
Green Bay at Minnesota
This spicy NFC North matchup is a 2:25 p.m. kickoff Sunday. The Packers are a 1 1/2-point favorite and their fan base will flood over the Wisconsin-Minnesota border to negate the home-field advantage. Aaron Rodgers leads his new group of receivers to an opening-day win.
Packers 27, Vikings 23
Lock of the week
San Francisco at Chicago
New quarterback Trey Lance and the 49ers are a 6 1/2-point road favorite over the rebuilding Bears, who are expected to contend for the top overall pick. This is a critical game for Lance (who labored in the preseason) and for the 49ers (who have the Broncos and Rams in Weeks 3-4).
49ers 37, Bears 14
Upset of the week
Jacksonville at Washington
The Jaguars are a 3 1/2-point underdog against the Commanders but we’re picking the upset even though the Jaguars haven’t won a true road game since Dec. 15, 2019. The Commanders will start 0-5 (losses to the Jaguars, Detroit, Philadelphia, Dallas and Tennessee).
Jaguars 17, Commanders 13
Around the AFC: Raiders, Chargers pick up in Week 1 where they left off in last year’s Week 18
Playing by committee. In six seasons for Kansas City, receiver Tyreek Hill had 61, 75, 87, 58, 87 and 111 catches and a combined 56 touchdowns. But Hill wanted a raise and was traded to Miami. The Chiefs are opting for a by-committee approach to replacing his production. They signed JuJu Smith-Schuster (Pittsburgh) and Marquez Valdez-Scantling (Green Bay) and drafted Skyy Moore (second round from Western Michigan). Smith-Schuster is key. He debuted with 111 catches in 2018 and had 92 in ’20, but only 15 in five games last year.
Bet against Cleveland. Why the Browns will lose to Carolina, part 1. Browns-turned-Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield will make sure his team doesn’t lose to the club that drafted him first overall and ran him out of town in favor of a disgraced Deshaun Watson. Why the Browns will lose, part 2. Cleveland is 0-for-the-last-decade in Week 1. Only three teams have won fewer than three of their last 10 openers. The Browns have a point differential of minus-126 in those games.
AFC West showdown. There is no soft launch for Las Vegas and the Los Angeles Chargers, who meet Sunday in L.A. If the Raiders win in coach Josh McDaniels’ debut, they will have a critical division road win. If the Chargers win, they will head to Kansas City on a short week, but that is followed by vs. Jacksonville, at Houston and at Cleveland. The Chargers are our pick to win even though SoFi Stadium will be pro-Raider. Quarterback Justin Herbert has 69 touchdowns in 32 games (15-17 record) and there is nothing not to like about his game entering Year 3.
Around the NFC: Cowboys turn to 40-year-old left tackle Jason Peters to fill in for Tyron Smith
Vikings missed Paton. Think Vikings general manager Rick Spielman missed former top advisor/current Broncos general manager George Paton during the 2021 draft? Months after Paton left for the Broncos, Spielman conducted his final draft with Minnesota. The new regime decimated that class last week. The Vikings selected 11 players … and only offensive tackle Christian Darrisaw is a starter. All three third-round picks (quarterback Kellen Mond, linebacker Chazz Surratt and guard Wyatt Davis) were cut. Meanwhile, Paton’s first four Broncos picks were cornerback Pat Surtain II, running back Javonte Williams, right guard Quinn Meinerz and outside linebacker Baron Browning.
Needless paranoia. When did declaring an offensive play-caller become so top secret? Evidently, this year and it’s yet another exhibit of how coaches think too much about the wrong things. In Detroit, coach Dan Campbell replied, “We’ll find out,” when asked if it will be him or offensive coordinator Ben Johnson calling the plays against Philadelphia. New England also hasn’t named its play-caller (Matt Patricia or Joe Judge) and it was only Monday that Giants coach Brian Daboll said that coordinator Mike Kafka will call the plays.
Cowboys scramble. We last saw Dallas when it committed 17 penalties in a preseason loss to the Broncos last month. Since then, the Cowboys have had to scramble for left tackle help after Tyron Smith sustained a torn hamstring that may keep him out until December. Enter 40-year-old Jason Peters. He was signed to the practice squad Monday and will begin a ramp-up period before being active. In Sunday night’s opener against Tampa Bay, first-round rookie Tyler Smith will get the start and have to block Shaq Barrett.
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