By Shaun Morash
As we prepare to embark on the best time of the year, two potential playoff teams are already dead. The Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings were hyped most of the summer, but after a season ending injury to Teddy Bridgewater and a potential career questioning injury to Tony Romo I see no way either one of these teams are dancing come January.
For Dallas, the future remains bright even if this season is not. Dak Prescott has earned the hype he has received for his preseason performances. However, his struggles as a rookie in this league are inevitable, particularly now that defenses will have tape on him and time to scheme. However, if Jerry Jones has managed to find a franchise QB without making a big trade or using a 1st round pick then the franchise has hit the lottery.
For Minnesota, the future is dimmer this week than it was a week ago. The “All-In” mentality this franchise had after losing Teddy Bridgewater was admirable, but it led to stupidity. Sam Bradford is what he is, a career 7-9, 8-8 QB that is always a hit the wrong way from Injured Reserve. A QB like Sam Bradford is NEVER worth trading a 1st round pick for. Yet, that is exactly what the Vikings did. This defense is great, but they smell like 8-8 with no chance at premium 1st round talent come the 2017 NFL Draft.
10 Yard Gain
1- Of any playoff contender, nobody has a more daunting early season schedule than the Jets. New York City should throw a parade of they escape playing the Bengals, Bills (on the road on a short week,) Steelers, Cardinals, Seahawks, and Chiefs at 3-3. The reality is this team is more likely 1-5 and could be dead from being a playoff team before Halloween.
2- Howie Roseman and Doug Pederson are gambling with Carson Wentz. For a QB who was not an FBS player, it was expected Wentz would take most of this year to sit back and learn. Rather than be able to do that, Wentz is now the Week 1 starter, despite the fact he only took preseason snaps in the opening preseason game because of fractured ribs. The Eagles have a lot invested in the young man and are putting him in a situation to sink more than swim.
3- Life after “Beast Mode,” has begun in Seattle. Many experts have the Seahawks as a Super Bowl team; I have them as the NFC West Winner. Begging the question, if a team loses an elite running back yet remains a Super Bowl favorite just how truly great was Lynch? Were we victims of the moment when watching some of his memorable runs?
4-The Raiders hype is real. The defense adding Bruce Irvin to rush the opposite side of Khalil Mack is a move that should not go unnoticed. No longer is Oakland about paying washed up veterans to reach the salary cap floor. This team is as talented top to bottom on the roster as any team in the AFC, including the Patriots. Whether coaching and inexperience derails them is another story.
5- John Elway gambled and lost for the 2016 season, and that’s ok. I can’t remember a time in my life in which I felt the defending Super Bowl Champion had no shot at the post season, but that’s exactly how I feel about this Broncos team. Their QB situation is laughable, but long term Paxton Lynch may prove to be the man, but that won’t happen in this his rookie year, even if he takes over sooner rather than later. I have no problem with Elway letting Brock Osweiler walk, as long as he has no problem watching the playoffs from home, at least for this year.
6- I made the mistake of buying into the Ravens last season and I won’t make that mistake again. Expect another down year in the Inner Harbor. Baltimore’s days as a dominant defense are long gone; in fact the team is almost unrecognizable on that side of the ball. There are too many eggs in the basket of Joe Flacco throwing to an old Steve Smith and a very unproven Breshad Perriman.
7-The Kelvin Benjamin return on Carolina has been a story line not really discussed much over the last month. He was part of probably the best wide receiver draft class we have ever seen in 2014 before tearing his ACL last year. Carolina took off without him and while the eye test would say the team can only get better WITH him now I would give pause to that thought. Cam Newton had a tendency to force throws to Benjamin in 2014, in fact over throw him a lot. There is a chance, as crazy as it sounds, the offense and Newton are actually more of a well-oiled machine without Benjamin.
8-Last year the NFC East was the worst division in football. This year that award will go to the NFC North. The Bears are as bad on paper as the franchise has seen in a long time. The Lions without Calvin Johnson are scary in a bad way. The Vikings with Bradford are .500 at worst. Because of that, the Packers should fatten up in their division games and coast to the 1- seed in the NFC.
9-Hard Knocks this summer was the worst the show has ever been. This pains me to say as I look forward to it every single August. The NFL, to me, sold out to make the show all about publicizing the league’s move to LA and not enough about the intrigue that goes into making roster decisions. Also Jeff Fisher can put you to sleep, it is no wonder he never makes the playoffs. How can anyone be motivated to play for that man?
10- Mike Mularkey’s Titans would be looking forward to having an awesome season, if the year was 1934. Their 2 power back run 1st offense simply does not work in the 2016 NFL and I am now legitimately concerned Marcus Mariota’s career will be jeopardized because of it.
Five Games To Chew On
5 Peruvian Subs Game of the Week: Packers @ Jaguars: While many will be quick to jump on the Packers in their various knockout pools across the country, I believe you should think twice. These aren’t the same old Jaguars, at least on paper. The Jacksonville playoff hype is real as their roster on both sides of the ball appears loaded. The Packers may be the best NFC bet to reach the Super Bowl, but an early road struggle as the offense plays without recently released pro bowl guard Josh Sitton seems reasonable here.
4 Half-Smokes Game of the Week: Steelers @ Redskins: The Redskins enjoyed a surprise Division Title last season on the back of their old but new franchise QB Kirk Cousins. One knock on the 2015 Washington Redskins was that they never beat a team with a winning record all season. They will be out to prove their worth early in 2016 vs a Steelers team who will look to pass 1st without Le’Veon Bell.
3 Whataburger’s Game of the Week: Giants @ Cowboys: The Cowboys playing the Giants in a season opener is suddenly becoming a tradition for Dallas more so than playing on Thanksgiving is. (Kidding of course) When these two teams get together expect the unexpected, including the 2015 season opener that saw the Giants miss-manage the clock at the end of the game as if Andy Reid was their head coach. Dak Prescott is set to make is debut under center in Big D while the Giants will play just their 5th game ever with both Odell Beckham Jr and Victor Cruz on the field together.
2 Knishes Game of the Week: Bengals @ Jets: As stated earlier, the Jets 1st 6 games are the most deadly gauntlet any team will have to play in the 1st two months. For New York, this may be as must win a game as there could possibly be in Week 1of the NFL season. The Bengals are looking to put the sour taste of another playoff disaster behind them. For Andy Dalton, getting off to a fast start in 2016 is essential as AJ McCarron fans are now in existence in Cincinnati.
1 Southwestern Burrito Game of the Week: Patriots @ Cardinals: The worst part of this game is that NBC has a new song to intro Sunday Night Football. The best part is we get to watch the Patriots without Tom Brady, who deservedly is finally serving his punishment for cheating. The Cardinals don’t lose at home, but Bill Belichick is the only head coach in the NFL who is better at his job than counterpart Bruce Arians. Even if Carrie Underwood isn’t singing it, I will be waiting all day for Sunday Night.
Last season, after the playoffs I finished at 33-31-2. Mediocre at best, especially after I was 10 games over .500 through the 1st 6 weeks. For Week 1, here is who I like..
Browns +4 @ Eagles: Picking the Cleveland Browns as my 1st pick of the season is likely an omen of a horrible season, but I’m doing it anyway. The Eagles turning to Carson Wentz in Week 1, after only seeing him play in Week 1 of the preseason, may prove to be a great long term move. However, in this game asking him to beat a team by more than 4 is way too tall a task, even if that team is the Cleveland Browns. RG3’s act may wear thin in Cleveland by December, but I expect a highly motivated QB for the Browns out of the gate.
Giants -1 @ Cowboys: The New York Giants have never beaten the Dallas Cowboys in a season opener. I fully expect that to change on Sunday. The idea the Giants are only laying a point in this game is a gift from the Vegas gods as Cowboys fans continue to blindly bet their team and move the line. Dak Prescott has yet to face a defense in the NFL that schemes for him, which is why we should all pause before anointing him the next Roger Staubach. The Giants one major weakness is their offensive line, but Dallas will start 4 people you have never heard of on their defensive front thanks to suspensions.
Colts -3.5 vs Lions: The Indianapolis Colts are a tea, I do not trust to win the AFC South. However, they get their opener and Andrew Luck healthy at home here vs a Lions team with a serious talent deficiency. Life after Calvin Johnson will not be easy for Detroit and they should run out of gas by the 2nd half of this game, leaving Indianapolis to an easy double digit victory.
Football Food of the Week
Sausage and Potato Pockets. The key to a Week 1 food is to avoid spicy. There will plenty of time for that as the season goes on. Think of the sweet taste of thinly sliced potatoes, chicken sausage, and spinach baked to perfection inside a pocket of pizza dough.
Think of these as a mini-calzone so to speak. Have you ever sat down at a pizzeria and savored the buttery taste of perfectly baked pizza crust? Well you get that here, only when you bite into it a combination flavor of sausage, potatoes, spinach, and oh yeah cheese burst into your mouth.
These are sure to be a hit at your Week 1 viewing party, but plan ahead because with prep these should take about an hour to make.
I have attached a recipe here. (Note I exclude the mushrooms because hey, who needs a fungus among us?) http://www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/browse-all-recipes/sausage-potato-pockets
Thanks for reading and enjoy Week 1. You can follow me on Twitter @MrazCBS.