The first month of the NFL season is always bursting with hope and possibility.
Naturally, Detroit and Houston will have grabbed those warm fuzzy feelings of optimism, doused them with kerosene, and flicked a cigar butt at them by Week 3, but for the rest, dreams of hoisting the Lombardi trophy in Los Angeles, at Super Bowl LVI next February, abound.
Almost half will start with a different quarterback from the one who suited up for them in Week 1 last year. These include at least three rookie first rounders: Trevor Lawrence for the Jaguars, Zach Wilson for the Jets (the first and second overall picks) and Mac Jones for the Patriots, the next man up attempting to fill the void left by the evergreen Tom Brady in New England. And given the clamouring in Chicago to see new sensation Justin Fields, and expectation in San Francisco that Trey Lance will supplant the 49’ers incumbent gunslinger Jimmy Garoppolo sometime soon, we may well have five brand new quarterbacks doing their thing in the NFL before Thanksgiving.
Los Angeles Rams vs Chicago Bears preview
Veteran QB Andy Dalton is expected to start instead of the electrifying Justin Fields for the Bears, causing NFL fans to react in the same way the Glastonbury faithful would if told that The Jonas Brothers were headlining over Oasis.
Dalton may be an uninspiring choice, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a smart one. Head coach Matt Nagy has a lot riding on this season, and as such his hand may be forced to make a switch to Fields sooner rather than later. But affording him time to watch and learn from a seasoned pro as opposed to being thrust in too soon has merit. Patrick Mahomes understudied Alex Smith at Kansas, for example.
Dalton has over 33,000 passing yards and 200 career touchdowns and can move an offense which has some very capable players like receiver Allen Robinson and running back David Montgomery. Another receiver, Darnell Mooney, adds pace and is proving a hipster late round pick in many a fantasy draft.
The trouble is, not only is the Bears offensive line one of the weaker in the league – PFF rank them one of the five worst – but they’re up against an LA Rams defence that ranked number one in the NFL last season.
The changes to LA’s defence – including the loss of Brandon Staley their co-ordinator, safety John Johnson and Michael Brockers, a disruptive lineman – are noted, but the Rams still boast two All-Pro game changers in three-time defensive player of the year Aaron Donald, and cornerback Jalen Ramsay, who has formed a tag team with Darious Williams that’s among the most effective in the league. Donald – and his pass rushing partner in crime Leonard Floyd – will smell blood in the water against an and it could be a long afternoon for the Red Rifle.
The Rams are in full-on win now mode, meaning they’ve given up future draft capital to land players like Ramsay and their new quarterback Matthew Stafford. The former Detroit Lion offers a new dimension to Sean Mcvay’s offense including a deep threat and more effective ball control, something that plagued the outgoing Jared Goff. Stafford is undoubtedly an upgrade, but is he enough of a game changer in this offense to re-establish LA as genuine contenders?
How the Bears can win
Given their offense is unlikely to be able to handle a shootout, Chicago’s defence is key. Upside performances from Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks and the returning Eddie Goldman could make this a fair fight.
How the Rams can win
We witness chapter one of The Greatest Show on Turf II: Stafford + McVay. Expect outlandish play calling and freewheeling offensive execution
More on Squawka NFL
- Every NFL team’s MVP for the upcoming season
- 10 storylines to get you excited for the 2021 NFL season
- NFL odds & American football betting explained
New England Patriots vs Miami Dolphins preview
Outside of Mac Jones, who broke records at Alabama, and won’t be phased by the occasion, New England have a whole host of new acquisitions to bounce back to their usual standards after an abject year.
Receivers Nelson Agolohor and Kendrick Bourne, alongside tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith give Jones far more to play with than his predecessor Cam Newton, and defensively, the Patriots are significantly stronger. JC Jackson will have to make do without Stephon Gilmore alongside him in the secondary for the first 6-8 weeks of the season but Bill Belichick welcomes back some locker room leaders including Kyle Van Noy after his sojourn in Florida, Dont’a Hightower, and new addition Matt Judon. Rookie Christian Barmore – another Alabama graduate – has been getting rave reviews in training camp. This all adds up to a formidable unit, led by one of the greatest defensive strategists the game has ever seen.
The narrative that Belichick is extra-motivated due to Brady’s success in Tampa doesn’t ring true considering the body of work that the head coach has laid out, and his typical approach and modus operandi.
That Belichick’s teams traditionally improve as the season goes on is testament to his exceptional coaching. But Week 1 provides an opportunity to land a major blow to divisional rival Miami, and also silence the critics.
Miami has uncertainty at quarterback too, with southpaw Tua Tagovailoa entering his sophomore season with the jury still out. There’s also the persistent speculation that Miami want Houston’s Deshawn Watson. It’s the equivalent of that person a party who’s constantly looking over their shoulder for someone more interesting to chat to. Just me? Fine.
How the Dolphins can win:
Tua shuts his critics up, supports the ground game, and leverages the variation in the talented receiving corp of Parker, Fuller, Waddle and Gesicki.
How the Patriots can win:
Simple offense: establish the ground game, protect the ball, let Mac lean on the tight end heavy 12 personnel sets.
New York Giants vs Denver Broncos preview
Denver is perhaps the most intriguing team in the NFL this year. Like Miami, they’ve been regularly linked with bringing in a new quarterback, often suggested as the team most likely to prise Aaron Rodgers away from Green Bay during his summer of discontent. They have moved away from last year’s starter Drew Lock in favour of Teddy Bridgewater, who’s just the right side of the journeyman pro tag, after a career full of promise but blighted by injury.
The return of number one receiver Courtland Sutton is fundamental for the Broncos. Outside of the production and attention he’ll garner, second year receiver Jerry Jeudy will benefit from more manageable assignments as opposed to having to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders and they provide a dangerous one-two combination for any secondary to contend with.
And speaking of that unit, on the other side of the ball, the Broncos boast one of the strongest in the league, an asset that carries even more value in the current pass heavy era of football. A beat writer that’s been covering Denver for 25 years told me that rookie Pat Surtain may be the best cornerback he’s ever seen during training camp – high praise indeed when you consider Hall of Famer Champ Bailey is on that list.
It’s a do-or-die season for Daniel Jones, and the Giants have given him a fair shot at cementing the job long term, adding in-demand free-agent receiver Kenny Golladay. Like their opponents in Week 1, not many are talking up their playoff chances. Unlike Denver, it’s highly unlikely they can mount a post season bid, even if they’ll have flashes of brilliance.
How the Broncos can win
The formidable Denver secondary keeps Danny Dimes in check. Keep an eye on rookie running back Javonte Williams, too.
How the Giants can win
Star running back Saquon Barkley, who missed last season, is cleared to play, does his thing, and delivers more balance to an otherwise one-dimensional offense.
|NFL Week One Predictions|
|Nat’s selections in bold | UK kickoff times|
|Friday, 10 September|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs Dallas Cowboys, 1:20AM|
|Sunday, 12 September|
|Atlanta Falcons vs Philadelphia Eagles, 6:00PM|
|Buffalo Bills vs Pittsburgh Steelers, 6:00PM|
|Carolina Panthers vs New York Jets, 6:00PM|
|Cincinnati Bengals vs Minnesota Vikings, 6:00PM|
|Detroit Lions vs San Francisco 49ers, 6:00PM|
|Houston Texans vs Jacksonville Jaguars, 6:00PM|
|Indianapolis Colts vs Seattle Seahawks, 6:00PM|
|Tennessee Titans vs Arizona Cardinals, 6:00PM|
|Washington Football Team vs LA Chargers, 6:00PM|
|Kansas City Chiefs vs Cleveland Browns, 9:25PM|
|New England Patriots vs Miami Dolphins, 9:25PM|
|New Orleans Saints vs Green Bay Packers, 9:25PM|
|New York Giants vs Denver Broncos, 9:25PM|
|Monday, 13 September|
|LA Rams vs Chicago Bears, 1:20AM|
|Tuesday, 14 September|
|Las Vegas Raiders vs Baltimore Ravens, 1:15AM|
|16-fold @ 657/1 with Betfair (Mobile)|
|16-fold @ 657/1 with Betfair (Desktop)|
|Odds correct at time of publication.
18+ only. T&Cs apply. BeGambleAware
Nat Coombs is a British writer, broadcaster and NFL expert who has been anchoring live sport across UK TV & radio for over ten years. Nat will be providing Squawka with predictions for the 2021 NFL season.