Every Thursday, we’ll provide analysis and score predictions for every game on that week’s slate. This week, we start with the big one, as Kansas City hosts Detroit to kick off the 2023 season.
Thursday Night Football
Lions at Chiefs
Spread: Chiefs -5
Chris Jones and Travis Kelce are unlikely to suit up for opening night. In Kelce’s absence, Patrick Mahomes begins the year with one of the league’s thinnest groups of pass-catchers. Wide receiver Kadarius Toney is expected to play, but he’ll likely see a limited role coming off an injury. Skyy Moore is expected to see heavy slot usage against a Detroit Lions defense that was shredded in the slot last season. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Kansas City Chiefs leaned on their run game a little more if, as expected, Kelce misses this contest. Isiah Pacheco is the Chiefs’ primary runner heading into opening night.
Jones’ absence creates a significant advantage for the Lions’ premium offensive line in both phases. Running backs David Montgomery and Jahymr Gibbs could both exceed expectations on the ground and in the air. Outside of Detroit’s running backs, its passing attack runs through Amon-Ra St. Brown. Kansas City struggled against slot receivers in 2022, and St. Brown played the ninth-most slot snaps in the league last season.
Overall, the Chiefs will likely be without their two best players not named Mahomes. This figures to be a close game that could play out similarly to last year’s Thanksgiving matchup between the Bills and the Lions.
Score Prediction: Chiefs 28, Lions 24
Sunday Afternoon Slate
49ers at Steelers
Spread: Steelers +2.5
The San Francisco 49ers were on upset alert before George Kittle was trending toward missing this contest. No one could have asked for more out of Brock Purdy last season, but how reliable is he entering his second season? The Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive front has a line play advantage against the 49ers’ offensive line.
That creates a clear path to Purdy struggling in this matchup, especially if Kittle misses this contest. On the other side of the ball, Nick Bosa was just extended by San Francisco. With Bosa, the 49ers have the league’s best front and its best overall defense. San Francisco’s defensive front has a line-play advantage against Pittsburgh. We expect this contest to be low-scoring in nature, regardless of who comes out on top.
Score Prediction: Steelers 20, 49ers 17
Buccaneers at Vikings
Spread: Vikings -6
The Minnesota Vikings’ collection of pass-catchers is a matchup problem for virtually any defense in the league. The success of this team will be primarily driven by Kirk Cousins’ passing attack. The Vikings’ defense, however, is still a major question mark despite having new defensive coordinator Brian Flores in command. Thankfully for Minnesota, it hosts Baker Mayfield’s volatile Tampa Bay Buccaneers on opening day.
Score Prediction: Vikings 24, Buccaneers 20
Texans at Ravens
Spread: Ravens -10
The Baltimore Ravens have been a beacon of football stability throughout this century. On opening day, they host a rebuilding Houston Texans team with C.J. Stroud making his NFL debut. Baltimore has a below-average front four, but the Ravens will bring pressure and create problems for Stroud. Even if Lamar Jackson’s new look, pass-centric offense underwhelms, beating the Ravens is a massive ask for the Texans. No option is truly safe in survivor pools, but Baltimore is close in this spot.
Score Prediction: Ravens 23, Texans 13
Titans at Saints
Spread: Saints -3
This contest has two interesting matchups that will ultimately determine how this game plays out. Derek Carr’s passing attack could conceivably light up the Tennessee Titans’ very beatable secondary. If the New Orleans Saints exceed expectations on offense, it’s likely through the air.
Last season, the Saints allowed the ninth-most rushing yards per game to running backs. Derrick Henry isn’t just a successful runner, he’s a unique experience given his size and speed. Against New Orleans, the Big Dog has a good matchup against an uncommon opponent. On top of that, Tennessee is more of a threat to throw after signing DeAndre Hopkins this offseason. If the Saints load the box, Ryan Tannehill can hurt them, especially off play action.
Score Prediction: Saints 27, Titans 24
Jaguars at Colts
Spread: Colts +5
Anything can happen in division games, but the Indianapolis Colts go into the opener with a rookie head coach and quarterback. They’ll also be down star running back Jonathan Taylor, forcing Indianapolis to lean on Anthony Richardson even more in his NFL debut. Richardson has the type of skill set that can carry an offense, but that’s not something to count on just yet. The Colts’ defense could keep this game close, but the ascending Jacksonville Jaguars could realistically win this game with some distance.
Score Prediction: Jaguars 24, Colts 17
Bengals at Browns
Spread: Browns +2.5
Few teams have a wider range of outcomes than the Cleveland Browns this season. If the version of Deshaun Watson we saw last year is the new reality, Cleveland likely will miss the playoffs. If the pre-suspension 2020 version of Watson returns, the Browns will be a title contender. That alone makes Cleveland a tough team to bet on in Week 1.
For the Cincinnati Bengals, Joe Burrow is trending toward suiting up Sunday. That is not a complete guarantee at this juncture. Quarterback uncertainty on both sides makes this a game just to sit back and watch rather than one to bet on.
Score Prediction: Bengals 24, Browns 20
Cardinals at Commanders
Spread: Commanders -7
The Arizona Cardinals have one narrow path to stealing a win from the Washington Commanders. The first thing Arizona needs is an uneven game with a few turnovers from Sam Howell. The second thing the Cardinals need is to execute a traditional muddy, turnover-free offensive performance. A run-centric attack, with a shot play or two, tends to do the trick in these situations. From Washington’s end, the Commanders’ front four has a major trench advantage that could derail this game. If that happens and Howell plays well, the Commanders could blow out Arizona.
Score Prediction: Commanders 16, Cardinals 9
Panthers at Falcons
Spread: Falcons -3.5
The Atlanta Falcons are among the most improved teams in the league, and Bryce Young will be making his NFL debut for the Carolina Panthers. Brian Burns may miss this contest for the Panthers, while Young doesn’t exactly have the league’s best supporting cast. Desmond Ridder is a question mark for Atlanta, but the Falcons have an otherwise strong roster. This early in the season, Atlanta has more paths to victory than defeat.
Score Prediction: Falcons 24, Panthers 17
Eagles at Patriots
Spread: Patriots +4
The New England Patriots do not have a supremely talented roster like the Philadelphia Eagles do, but Bill Belichick has had a full offseason to prepare for Jalen Hurts. It would be no real surprise if the Eagles’ offense struggled in a game that finishes closer than most would expect. From a pure talent perspective, Philadelphia could beat New England with some distance. This contest will be a big test for Patriots quarterback Mac Jones, in particular.
Score Prediction: Eagles 23, Patriots 20
Dolphins at Chargers
Spread: Chargers -3
This is one of the better games on the opening day slate, as two loaded rosters square off in Los Angeles. An issue for the Miami Dolphins is that the Los Angeles Chargers have been a run sieve under Brandon Staley by design. The Dolphins have a below-average offensive line and one of the weaker running back rooms in the league.
They are less equipped to exploit the Chargers’ weakness than most teams. That puts this matchup on Tua Tagovailoa, who struggled against Staley’s defense last season.
Score Prediction: Chargers 24, Dolphins 21
Rams at Seahawks
Spread: Seahawks -5.5
Cooper Kupp won’t play in this game, so it’s hard to see the Los Angeles Rams’ offense exceeding expectations. The Seattle Seahawks have a solid offensive line, a talented pair of young running backs and one of the league’s best wide receiver trios. Seattle faces a Los Angeles defense with Aaron Donald and a roster filled with relative unknowns. If Geno Smith plays well, the Seahawks could march up and down the field through the air and on the ground.
Score Prediction: Seahawks 31, Rams 17
Packers at Bears
Spread: Bears -1
We should not expect a clean game in Chicago come Sunday because neither of these teams is reliable. The Chicago Bears have a considerable ceiling on offense, especially if Justin Fields can take a leap as a passer. He’s been given a strong enough supporting cast to do just that.
Jordan Love could very well be a rock-solid NFL starting quarterback, but he’s going to be a downgrade from Aaron Rodgers. If the Green Bay Packers finish with a league-average offense this season, that would be an accomplishment. The Packers’ defense, however, has enough talent to be a top-five group. As you can see, there are a lot of “ifs” in this matchup. From a betting perspective, it’s worth seeing who these teams are before betting on either in a relative pick’em.
Score Prediction: Bears 23, Packers 20
Raiders at Broncos
Spread: Broncos -4
We expect a bounce-back season from Russell Wilson. That doesn’t mean that he’ll be great, but the expectation is that he’ll be significantly better than he was last year. Sean Payton has bolstered the Denver Broncos’ offensive line, and Denver has been a rock-solid defense for years. If the Broncos play their best game, the Las Vegas Raiders are in trouble.
That said, Denver has a new head coach and a number of new players on offense. Vegas is in a similar boat, as Jimmy Garoppolo is the new Raiders quarterback. That has us leaning toward more of a muddy, close game between these division rivals.
Score Prediction: Broncos 23, Raiders 20
Sunday Night Football
Cowboys at Giants
Spread: Giants +3
Since 2017, the Dallas Cowboys are 11-1 against the New York Giants. Dallas has dominated in a number of those games. The Cowboys’ defensive front has an advantage in this matchup, and Dallas could light up New York’s questionable secondary. There are very real paths to the Cowboys winning with distance in this contest.
However, the Giants are improving for the first time in a long time under Brian Daboll; last season, New York made a habit of exceeding expectations. The Giants may not win this matchup but expect them to give the Cowboys a challenge on Sunday night.
Score Prediction: Cowboys 21, Giants 20
Monday Night Football
Bills at Jets
Spread: Jets +2.5
The pressure is on Aaron Rodgers and the New York Jets on Monday Night Football. With two high-caliber quarterbacks such as Rodgers and Josh Allen, a shootout is always on the table. However, when these division rivals met last season, both games were close, low-scoring affairs.
Both the Jets and Buffalo Bills’ defenses have high-end secondaries, and both fronts have at least a moderate edge against the opposing offensive line. There are more paths to a physical, defensive contest than a high-scoring one.
Score Prediction: Jets 23, Bills 20
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