NFL Preview
ESNY Graphic, AP Photo

The first edition of ESNY’s NFL weekly preview details everything you need to watch for in Week 1 of the 2019 season.

Welcome to the inaugural edition of Elite Sports NY’s weekly NFL preview. Each week, I’ll tell you what to watch for along with predictions for each of the week’s games around. I’ll also give a recap of the previous week as well as keep tabs on my predictions and if I was right or wrong.

Obviously, being that it’s Week 1, I don’t have a previous regular-season week to recap. Therefore, this edition will just be what to watch for and the predictions.

That being said, let’s do it.

What to watch for during Week 1 of the NFL

Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears — Thurs, Sept. 15, 8:20 p.m. ET

It’s the game we’ll all be tuning into—the kickoff for the NFL’s 100th season. Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, along with new head coach Matt LaFleur, will head into Chicago to take on Matt Nagy, Mitch Trubisky, and the Bears.

The Packers are looking to rebound this season after missing the playoffs the last two years. They’ve combined for a record of 13-18-1 over those seasons. Much of that has to do with Rodgers missing nine games during the 2017 campaign due to injury. Much of that also has to do with former Packers head coach Mike McCarthy’s outdated and unimaginative offense.

Now, Green Bay has a new head coach in LaFleur. The 39-year-old previously was the offensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans last season and the offensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams in 2017. The latter ranked 10th in the NFL that season with 361.5 total yards-per-game. However, the former only ranked 25th in the league in 2018 with 312.4 yards-per-game.

LaFleur has additionally been the quarterbacks’ coach for the Washington Redskins (2010-13), Notre Dame (2014) and the Atlanta Falcons (2015-16). He’s worked with successful quarterbacks before, such as Robert Griffin III (he was there when RG3 won Rookie of the Year in 2012), and Matt Ryan (including the year he won the NFL MVP in 2016). Rodgers is no exception to the great quarterback conversation either.

This game will set the tone for the NFC North division. Either one of these teams will win the North, and this game will be a good indication of who’ll take over the momentum going forward.

With the Bears, you have to ask, was the Pro Bowl season from Trubisky last year just a one-year thing? Will he and Nagy build upon their division-winning season last year and become one of the top-two teams in the NFC? They’ll need to utilize the firepower of that offense including running back Tarik Cohen to do it, and it’ll all start Thursday night at Soldier Field.

Kansas City Chiefs at Jacksonville Jaguars — Sunday, Sept. 8, 1:00 p.m. ET

After a 10-6 season complete with an AFC South title and an AFC Conference Championship appearance in 2017, the Jacksonville Jaguars were nothing short of a disappointment last year. They finished 5-11 and had numerous quarterback-related problems, with Blake Bortles relegated to the bench for Cody Kessler after a Week 12 loss to the Buffalo Bills.

With Bortles now backing up Jared Goff in Los Angeles, the Jaguars have brought in Super Bowl 52 MVP Nick Foles. If Foles can prove that his success with the Philadelphia Eagles wasn’t just a product of Doug Pederson’s system, then Jacksonville finally has their quarterback.

The Jaguars defense is still dominant. They finished fifth in the league last year with 311.4 yards allowed-per-game as well as finished second in 2017 with 286.1 yards allowed-per-game. The pieces are there, and Foles could be that one missing link to lift this organization back to the postseason.

As for Kansas City, we’ll see one of the most exciting players to watch in the entire league—2018 NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes. Will he build upon his 50-touchdown season from last year? Will he struggle against the Jaguars defense which includes All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey?

Additionally, Kansas City has a new running back in six-time Pro Bowler LeSean McCoy, who returns to play under Andy Reid’s wing. McCoy and Reid were together in Philadelphia from 2009-12. The Chiefs’ utilization of McCoy is an enticing early storyline for Kansas City.

Also, the Chiefs have a new defensive coordinator in former New York Giants DC Steve Spagnuolo. The defense is the main aspect of this team that desperately needs to improve. They finished 31st last year with 405.5 yards allowed-per-game and 24th in the league with 26.3 points allowed-per-game. If they improve that end of the field, this team can definitely be a Super Bowl team once February 2020 rolls around.

Buffalo Bills at New York Jets — Sunday, Sept. 8, 1:00 p.m.

Look, I understand if you think this will be a game between two teams who most likely won’t surpass the New England Patriots in the AFC East division. However, I wouldn’t look at it that way. I’d perceive this matchup at MetLife Stadium as two teams with up-and-coming quarterbacks both looking to make a statement in their second year.

Sam Darnold and the New York Jets have a new head coach at the helm in Adam Gase. As an offensive-minded individual, Gase will be looking to bring a versatile offense to this team that includes a new All-Pro running back in Le’Veon Bell.

Last year, Darnold (No. 3 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft), threw 17 touchdowns to 15 picks in 13 games. If he stays healthy, look for him to have a big year with receivers Quincy Enunwa, Robby Anderson, and Jamison Crowder as targets).

Not to mention, the Jets have new defensive standouts in linebacker C.J. Mosley and rookie defensive lineman Quinnen Williams (No. 3 overall pick selection in the 2019 NFL Draft). Them, paired with All-Pro safety Jamal Adams should make for some creativity in coordinator Gregg Williams‘ defense.

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (No. 7 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft) will look to build upon his rookie season that saw only 10 touchdown passes to 12 picks in 12 games (11 starts). He also rushed for 631 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground.

As a team, Buffalo finished 6-10, in third place in the AFC East.

Allen didn’t have the best year but look at some of the quarterbacks in recent memory who improved mightily from their rookie year to their sophomore campaign. Mitch Trubisky, Jared Goff, and Carson Wentz are just a few names. You could also say Patrick Mahomes came to light in his second year, but he only played one game in his rookie year while sitting behind Alex Smith.

If Allen can improve greatly this year and come into his own as a productive NFL quarterback, look for the Bills offense to be a force in the AFC. Their defense is there (second in the NFL last year with 294.1 yards allowed-per-game), so an improvement in the offense could boost this team to around eight or nine wins this season.

Indianapolis Colts at Los Angeles Chargers — Sunday, Sept. 8, 4:05 p.m. ET

The Indianapolis Colts and the Los Angeles Chargers will enter this opening game each without an offensive weapon fans thought they may have. Colts quarterback Andrew Luck suddenly retired from football in August and Chargers running back Melvin Gordon is holding out in hopes for a new contract.

Indianapolis will now have Jacoby Brissett under center, who has previous experience in the starting lineup. Brissett, a North Carolina State product, began his NFL career in New England where he started two games in 2016. He then started in 15 games in 2017 for the Colts with Luck out for the year with shoulder injuries.

Thus, Brissett has learned behind Luck and Tom Brady. Pretty good company I’d say.

Brissett has a big arm and can be mobile when he needs to. Not to mention, he has a big frame for a quarterback at 6-foot-4, 238 pounds. He has the tools to be a good quarterback in this league and has a great opportunity ahead of him. Brissett will also have a decent running back in Marlon Mack and a Pro Bowl receiver in T.Y. Hilton to help him out.

The Chargers will go with Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson as their running backs while Gordon sits on his couch. Ekeler averaged 5.2 yards-per-carry last year with 554 yards and three touchdowns. He also caught 39 balls on 53 targets for 404 yards and three touchdowns through the air. Ekeler’s another guy who’ll have a big opportunity at his hands this season, at least until Gordon returns (if he ever does).

Was the Chargers’ 12-4 season last year just a one-time thing? Hopefully, even without their star running back, it won’t be. Third-year head coach Anthony Lynn will be looking to build off the success from last year in a division that includes Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, Derek Carr and the Raiders, along with Joe Flacco and the Broncos.

Detroit Lions at Arizona Cardinals — Sunday, Sept. 8, 4:25 p.m. ET

Let the Kyler Murray-Kliff Kingsbury era commence in Arizona.

Yes, we’re finally going to get a full-time look at Kyler Murray in a Cardinals uniform. After glimpses of seeing what he can do in the preseason, Murray will start his first-ever regular-season game in the NFL, and fans couldn’t be more excited.

The 2018 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback will work with a first-year head coach in Kingsbury, who previously coached Patrick Mahomes at Texas Tech.

Murray is an extremely-athletic weapon who could bring excitement to this offense. Not to mention, he has a future Hall of Fame receiver in Larry Fitzgerald to throw to along with running back David Johnson.

I don’t believe the Cardinals will make the playoffs this year. In fact, I predict them to finish last in the NFC West. However, if this team can get a good offensive line group together, this offense could be effective in this league for years to come.

With the Lions, it’ll be interesting to see how things play out for second-year head coach Matt Patricia. Will the mediocrity continue for this organization? Will they make it back to the playoffs for the first time since the 2016 season? There are a whole lot of questions for this organization going forward regarding if any growth within the group they have now is imminent.

New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys — Sunday, Sept. 8, 4:25 p.m. ET

It’s FOX’s America’s Game of the Week in Dallas. For the fourth time in the last five seasons, the New York Giants will travel to Texas to take on the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium in the opening week

Dallas is coming into the season having won the NFC East division last year, finishing with a 10-6 record and edging out the Eagles, who had a record of 9-7 and landed themselves in an NFC Wild Card spot. Dak Prescott is entering his fourth year and it’s a contract year for the veteran passer. He’ll be looking to have a productive season and show Jerry Jones and the Cowboys organization that he’s worth a big payday.

Speaking of “big payday,” the Cowboys finally gave running back Ezekiel Elliott the contract extension he’s been holding out for. After missing all of training camp and the preseason fighting for a new deal, Zeke received a six-year, $90 million deal. This keeps him in Dallas through the 2026 season. Yes, eight more years of Zeke running the football for the Cowboys.

With a great offensive line and a productive trio on that side of the ball with Prescott, Elliott, and receiver Amari Cooper, the Cowboys have the tools to be one of the top teams in the NFL this season. Will they ultimately get it done?

For New York, this could be the first last and last first for quarterback Eli Manning. The 38-year-old is heading into the final year of his current contract with his without-a-doubt successor behind him for the first time in his career. Daniel Jones had a great preseason (85.3% completion percentage for 416 yards, two touchdowns, and zero picks).

It’s only a matter of time before the Giants part ways with their longtime quarterback and thus begin the era with Jones under center.

This game in Dallas will be the first test to see if the Giants offensive line has improved as well.

After allowing 47 sacks last season (22nd in the NFL and the most Manning has ever had to endure in a season), the Giants brought in some new guys to their starting front five. They replaced center Spencer Pulley with Jon Halapio (who missed 14 games last year with ankle and leg injuries). They also replaced right guard Jamon Brown with Kevin Zeitler (brought in via the trade of Olivier Vernon to Cleveland). And lastly, they replaced right tackle Chad Wheeler with Mike Remmers (signed in May).

With left tackle Nate Solder and left guard Will Hernandez retaining their starting spots, this offensive line definitely has to improve if any offensive success wants to be seen.

The wide receiver corps definitely has to step up as well. With a banged-up Sterling Shepard (suffered a fractured thumb in July), a suspended Golden Tate and an injured Corey Coleman (out for the year with a torn ACL), the Giants will need help from guys who were believed to be reserve receivers initially. Bennie Fowler III and Cody Latimer will need to prove to be reliable targets in the passing game going forward.

Finally, let’s see if Saquon Barkley can build on that sensational rookie season that saw him lead the NFL with 2,028 rushing yards and win both the Pepsi Rookie of the Year and the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Predictions (In bold)

Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears — Thursday, Sept. 5, 8:20 p.m. ET
Los Angeles Rams at Carolina Panthers — Sunday, Sept. 8, 1:00 p.m. ET
Tennessee Titans at Cleveland Browns — Sunday, Sept. 8, 1:00 p.m. ET
Kansas City Chiefs and Jacksonville Jaguars — Sunday, Sept. 8, 1:00 p.m. ET
Baltimore Ravens at Miami Dolphins, Sunday — Sept. 8, 1:00 p.m. ET
Atlanta Falcons at Minnesota Vikings, Sunday — Sept. 8, 1:00 p.m. ET
Buffalo Bills at New York Jets — Sunday, Sept. 8, 1:00 p.m. ET
Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles — Sunday, Sept. 8, 1:00 p.m. ET
Indianapolis Colts at Los Angeles Chargers — Sunday, Sept. 8, 4:05 p.m. ET
Cincinnati Bengals at Seattle Seahawks — Sunday, Sept. 8, 4:05 p.m. ET
Detroit Lions at Arizona Cardinals — Sunday, Sept. 8, 4:25 p.m. ET
New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys — Sunday, Sept. 8, 4:25 p.m. ET
San Francisco 49ers at Tamba Bay Buccaneers — Sunday, Sept. 8, 4:25 p.m. ET
Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots — Sunday, Sept. 8, 8:20 p.m. ET (SLEEPER PICK OF THE WEEK)
Houston Texans at New Orleans Saints — Monday, Sept. 9, 7:10 p.m. ET
Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders — Monday, Sept. 9, 10:20 p.m. ET

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Ryan Honey is a staff writer and host of the Wide Right Podcast.