The 2021 NFL season is finally here. Three NFL experts from the Prime Time Sports Talk staff came together to share their picks for Week 1.
These three writers will make their picks for the entire season, earning two points for any correct win-loss outcome and an additional three points for correctly predicting the exact score. (Failure to accurately predict a tie will be treated as a loss.) A cumulative points total and record will be listed at the bottom of every article. An archive of all 18 regular-season and four playoff editions can be found here.
Sam Schneider, Joe Heller, and Andersen Pickard contributed to this article.
Dallas Cowboys vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Sam: Buccaneers 33, Cowboys 24
Were this a game between two fully-healthy squads, I would have taken Dallas. It just feels like exactly the type of game that Tom Brady powerhouses would have dropped in the past, leading to questions predicting their demise. However, with the Cowboys’ loss of Zack Martin to COVID and questions surrounding the team being susceptible to transmission, it’s hard not to take TB12 and the champs over a rusty Dak Prescott on offense and a lackluster defense.
Joe: Buccaneers 31, Cowboys 17
Tom Brady and the Buccaneers begin their quest to go back-to-back by facing a Cowboys team with many question marks, none bigger than quarterback Dak Prescott and how he will look coming back from injury. Tampa wins this one.
Andersen: Buccaneers 27, Cowboys 21
The Buccaneers’ quest to defend their title begins in Week 1. Tampa Bay arguably got stronger this offseason after re-signing their entire core and having a full preseason to prepare together with Tom Brady at the helm. Meanwhile, Dallas’ preseason was impeded by a flurry of COVID-19 protocols and a shoulder injury that kept Dak Prescott off the field. The Bucs are clearly the stronger team here.
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Houston Texans
Sam: Texans 23, Jaguars 17
Questions abound for both teams’ offenses. Is Trevor Lawrence ready? Can Houston win without Deshaun Watson? Both teams have weapons, even if those weapons carry with them a lot of question marks. I’m rolling with ultimate game manager Tyrod Taylor to do just enough to control the time of possession and ruin Urban Meyer’s debut as head coach of the Jags.
Joe: Jaguars 27, Texans 24
Trevor Lawrence wins during his much-anticipated debut on the road against the Texans. The Texans are coming in off of another head-scratching offseason, to say the least. The Deshaun Watson saga also remains unresolved. Tyrod Taylor, barring any medical staff mishap, gets the start. He will play well … but not well enough to win.
Andersen: Texans 14, Jaguars 10
This is going to be an ugly football game, but Trevor Lawrence isn’t going to get his first win quite yet. The Texans will manage to scrape together a victory despite not having Deshaun Watson at the helm. They should cherish this because it could quite possibly be their only win of the season.
Los Angeles Chargers vs. Washington Football Team
Sam: Football Team 20, Chargers 17
Austin Ekeler and Antonio Gibson will be the early focal points for the offenses when this game gets underway. However, it’s hard to discount this eventually turning into a game that features Keenan Allen and Terry McLaurin receiving passes all over the field. I expect both defenses to show up for big stops, keeping the game a low-scoring affair before Ryan Fitzpatrick leads a late fourth-quarter drive resulting in the winning field goal.
Joe: Chargers 21, Football Team 20
The defending Offensive Rookie of the Year, Justin Herbert, will do just enough against Washington’s stingy defense to lead the Chargers to the win. Ryan Fitzpatrick will have a chance in the waning moments but fall just short.
Andersen: Chargers 21, Football Team 16
I’m all aboard the Washington hype train this year, but they’ll start the season 0-1 with a narrow loss against the Chargers and Justin Herbert. Don’t be surprised if Los Angeles asserts an early lead but is never able to pull away. This one could come down to the wire.
Seattle Seahawks vs. Indianapolis Colts
Sam: Seahawks 31, Colts 20
If Carson Wentz is anything less than 100 percent for this game, Seattle rolls. The Colts boast a capable defense (particularly in the secondary), but Russell Wilson has too many weapons in the passing game. Tyler Lockett and new addition Gerald Everett could have huge games before underrated back Chris Carson puts the game away.
Joe: Seahawks 24, Colts 17
Russell Wilson and the Seahawks will have success moving the ball, even against one of the better defenses in the NFL. On the other hand, new Colts quarterback Carson Wentz will struggle in his home debut with his new team. Much of that will be attributed to Wentz missing part of camp with an injury.
Andersen: Seahawks 24, Colts 17
The Seahawks should secure a win in Week 1 after the Colts had a difficult preseason. A slew of injuries forced players like Carson Wentz and Quenton Nelson to miss time. While the team is fairly healthy now, it might take more than a week before things start to look smooth and cohesive. Seattle is the safer bet this week.
New York Jets vs. Carolina Panthers
Sam: Panthers 26, Jets 17
I’m fully in on the spread for this game (-5.5) being too low and the anticipation for Zach Wilson being too high. He’s going to do some great things this year, but one of them is not going to be beating Christian McCaffrey and former New York quarterback Sam Darnold in Carolina.
Joe: Panthers 31, Jets 20
A healthy Christian McCaffrey is scary for any defense. Combine this with the revenge factor for former Jets quarterback and current Panthers signal-caller Sam Darnold and the Jets are going to be fighting to stay in this game. It could get ugly on the scoreboard.
Andersen: Panthers 24, Jets 13
Which version of Sam Darnold will we see this week? The Panthers’ defense is at least average, so everything hinges on how their offense can perform. With Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore, and Robby Anderson all healthy, Carolina should be favored in this one. You can’t count out Zach Wilson and the Jets, but I’m taking the Panthers.
Minnesota Vikings vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Sam: Vikings 37, Bengals 31
Shootout city, baby! Apart from the respective age of the quarterbacks, these offenses are pretty close to mirror-images. Both have talented running backs with the nod going to the Vikings’ Dalvin Cook (1,557 yards, 16 touchdowns in 2020) over Joe Mixon, who returns from injury. Playmakers galore exist in the passing game for both teams. Each franchise revamped its defense, but it’s too early for either to have jelled. Buckle up.
Joe: Vikings 30, Bengals 24
The Vikings will ruin Joe Burrow‘s second home opener. The LSU product will play well in his return from a torn ACL, but the Vikings are the better team this time around.
Andersen: Vikings 27, Bengals 24
This game features two exciting offenses with a plethora of LSU connections. While the Vikings are favored, look for this to be a back-and-forth affair all game long. In the end, Kirk Cousins and the Vikings have more experience and more firepower, so they’ll emerge from Week 1 as victors.
Arizona Cardinals vs. Tennessee Titans
Sam: Titans 27, Cardinals 23
What an intriguing matchup this is. The Cardinals have added a slew of veterans in the offseason and are getting a lot of under-the-radar hype entering 2021. Kyler Murray appears ready to take the next step with a host of capable wide receivers. The Titans made the biggest splash of the offseason by adding Julio Jones to a contender that also claims the best running back in the NFL, Derrick Henry. Arizona is coming, but the experience of Tennessee is too much.
Joe: Titans 37, Cardinals 30
Derrick Henry, the NFL’s back-to-back rushing champion and Offensive Player of the Year, begins his quest for a third straight season. Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray will keep his team in the game against a defense that has many shiny new pieces, but Ryan Tannehill will show up clutch in the end. That outcome will be the same once again for the defending AFC South champs.
Andersen: Titans 34, Cardinals 30
The Cardinals are a stacked team, but the Titans’ offense might be near-unstoppable after adding Julio Jones. This could be the game of the week, especially if the Tennessee defense can’t do enough to hold Arizona more than one score away.
San Francisco 49ers vs. Detroit Lions
Sam: 49ers 41, Lions 13
Keep it simple: San Francisco is returning key players from injury to a team that made the Super Bowl as recently as 2019. The defense should be back, and that’s bad news for the Lions, who look to be suffering from a severe lack of playmakers outside of D’Andre Swift, who isn’t likely to get much running room.
Joe: 49ers 24, Lions 17
The 49ers’ defense is healthy after being decimated by injuries last season. The unit is also familiar with Lions quarterback Jared Goff, having faced him two times a year. The new regime in Detroit drew a tough matchup to start the season.
Andersen: 49ers 34, Lions 10
Jimmy Garoppolo‘s job won’t be in jeopardy after Week 1. While the Lions should scrape together a few wins this season, they’ll have no such luck against the 49ers. San Francisco will take an early lead and proceed to pound the ball down Detroit’s throat in the running game. The Lions, meanwhile, will struggle to do much offensively.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Buffalo Bills
Sam: Bills 27, Steelers 24
Rumors of the Steelers’ demise have been greatly exaggerated … that is, until they haven’t been. Pittsburgh still lays claim to a potential monster of a defense while the offense has a few question marks, especially on the offensive line. Buffalo wins, but they get a close call at home thanks to a pair of huge turnovers forced by that defense.
Joe: Bills 24, Steelers 17
Josh Allen and the Bills’ offense was clicking on all cylinders last season. As for the Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger continued to show his age. Aided by a defensive score, the Bills start the season 1-0.
Andersen: Bills 28, Steelers 17
If the Steelers were home, this would be an intriguing pick for an upset. However, this game will be played in Buffalo, and the home team will emerge victorious. All eyes will be on Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs; can the duo meet or exceed how they performed in 2020 or is some type of regression in store?
Philadelphia Eagles vs. Atlanta Falcons
Sam: Falcons 30, Eagles 27
Against the Falcons’ defense, Jalen Hurts may have a huge game. Then again, his counterpart in Matt Ryan seems to explode to start every season, and I think that trend continues. Atlanta will need to put up big points to beat the Eagles, and with Calvin Ridley, Kyle Pitts, and Russell Gage… they will.
Joe: Eagles 24, Falcons 21
The Jalen Hurts era continues in this matchup between two first-year head coaches. Hurts’ legs will be the difference in this game. Arthur Smith will have to wait at least another week to get his first win as head coach.
Andersen: Eagles 21, Falcons 17
This will be a close battle of teams on the outside looking in. When all is said and done, Jalen Hurts will win this game for Philadelphia by passing for over 300 yards. Matt Ryan will be effective, too, but he’ll suffer too many critical sacks on third-down situations.
New England Patriots vs. Miami Dolphins
Sam: Patriots 16, Dolphins 10
This is possibly one of the most entertaining games on the slate … or it could be a blowout that goes either way. There’s a fourth option, though, and that’s where I’m headed. New England plays ground-and-pound with Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson. They limit Mac Jones to less than 20 attempts while intercepting Tua Tagovailoa three times en route to a snoozer to everyone but Bill Belichick.
Joe: Patriots 17, Dolphins 14
Mac Jones wins his NFL debut, making Bill Belichick once again remind everyone that he is a genius. Meanwhile, Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa will struggle during the first start of his sophomore season. Miami’s defense will keep them in the game, but they will come up short.
Andersen: Dolphins 14, Patriots 10
Week 1 pits former college teammates Mac Jones and Tua Tagovailoa against each other in Miami. Both teams also drafted complementary pieces from Alabama in the form of Christian Barmore and Jaylen Waddle. While Jones had a fantastic preseason and forced Cam Newton out of a job, the Dolphins will secure a victory at home. With that said, there will be plenty of opportunities for additional Jones vs. Tagovailoa battles down the road.
Cleveland Browns vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Sam: Chiefs 31, Browns 17
The Browns will make the playoffs again this season, but the opener is going to be one to forget. Pressing too hard and making mental mistakes (read: penalties) will get you in a mess of trouble against the Chiefs, who look to make a Super Bowl return. You can have an excellent defense and still get whooped by Patrick Mahomes and co. Cleveland will be fine, but this is one for Baker Mayfield to forget.
Joe: Browns 37, Chiefs 34
The Browns have had this game circled on their calendar since the schedule was announced. They were one fourth-down stop away from getting a chance to upset the Chiefs in the AFC Divisional Game. Now, Cleveland will get its shot at redemption in Week 1 at home.
Andersen: Chiefs 34, Browns 24
The Browns and Chiefs meet in Kansas City for an exciting rematch of their clash in the 2020 playoffs. The Chiefs won the playoff battle and they will win again in Week 1. Patrick Mahomes is healthy and many people view the Chiefs as favorites to win the Super Bowl. While Kansas City will win by two scores, this game will still feature plenty of excitement.
Green Bay Packers vs. New Orleans Saints
Sam: Packers 27, Saints 21
Aaron Rodgers is back; have you heard? He’ll be up to his old tricks of putting the offseason noise behind him. Meanwhile, Aaron Jones does not get the recognition he deserves at running back. Green Bay will look to hit the ground running against a New Orleans defense that is plenty able to make stops, just maybe not in this affair. Jameis Winston is under center for the Saints, but how many passes will he complete to Green Bay?
Joe: Packers 34, Saints 27
The reigning MVP, Aaron Rodgers, and the Packers have historically struggled during games in Florida. Due to the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, what was supposed to be the Saints’ home opener will instead take place in Jacksonville. The Saints will struggle offensively in their first game post-Drew Brees. Jameis Winston will play well enough to keep New Orleans alive, but Rodgers and company will pull this one out late.
Andersen: Packers 31, Saints 14
The Saints have been through a lot lately, both in terms of football and non-football happenings. On the field, New Orleans passed the torch from Drew Brees to Jameis Winston and also lost Michael Thoms to an injury. Off the field, Hurricane Ida devastated the city and forced the Saints to temporarily relocate. This game will be played in Jacksonville, Fla., where the Packers should win handily.
Denver Broncos vs. New York Giants
Sam: Broncos 23, Giants 21
It’s become apparent that few outside of the Mile High City are buying the Broncos this season, and that falls squarely on the shoulders of a shaky quarterback room. After all, they have a bevy of other weapons at their disposal and likely one of the best defenses in the league entering 2021. If Teddy Bridgewater can simply out-manage Danny Dimes, the defense can hold Saquon Barkley in check and walk out of New York with a surprising victory.
Joe: Giants 24, Broncos 20
Saquon Barkley will return to pre-injury form, leading the Giants to victory in their home opener. Teddy Bridgewater will struggle in his Broncos debut, causing the quarterback chatter to resume yet again in Denver.
Andersen: Broncos 17, Giants 7
The Giants are going to falter in Week 1, especially if Evan Engram, Kenny Golladay, and Darius Slayton are all impacted by lingering injuries. Meanwhile, the Broncos made the right choice by picking Teddy Bridgewater as their starting quarterback. Denver is strong on both sides of the football. Now, they just need things to click. That will start in Week 1 against New York.
Chicago Bears vs. Los Angeles Rams
Sam: Rams 31, Bears 6
The Bears aren’t ready for this fire. Andy Dalton is an above-average quarterback but this game will have Chicago fans absolutely screaming from the rooftops for Justin Fields. Unfortunately for the Red Rifle, he makes his quarterback controversy Bears debut against an unforgiving Rams defense playing at home. Aaron Donald and the crew come out aces and Matt Stafford lights up his Los Angeles debut before Chicago gets on the board late.
Joe: Rams 27, Bears 10
The Rams will make a statement during primetime while playing in front of fans for the first time at So-Fi Stadium. Their top-notch defense will have less weight on their shoulders due to Matthew Stafford now leading the offense. Stafford will benefit from having faced the Bears’ defense twice a year throughout his career and seeing their different looks. The murmurs for Justin Fields to take over the starting quarterback job will grow even louder in Chicago.
Andersen: Rams 28, Bears 13
Andy Dalton and the Bears’ offense is going to struggle while facing the Rams in Week 1. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles offense should find success after receiving a massive upgrade at quarterback this past offseason. A lingering injury to Darrell Henderson could hurt the rushing attack, but that won’t be nearly enough to push Chicago over the top. The Rams should win handily.
Baltimore Ravens vs. Las Vegas Raiders
Sam: Ravens 28, Raiders 13
With all of the off-the-field talk about Lamar Jackson’s COVID troubles coupled with the losses of J.K. Dobbins and Justice Hill from the backfield, you’d think Baltimore would be ready to get on the field. You’d be right. They’ll be in Sin City, trying to spoil the Allegiant Stadium debut for fans to kick off 2021. They won’t have a problem. Jackson is efficient and eclipses 100 yards rushing while Gus Edwards and Ty’Son Williams keep Las Vegas’ offense off the field.
Joe: Raiders 27, Ravens 20
Similar to the Rams, the Raiders will play their first game in Las Vegas with fans in the seats. Meanwhile, the Ravens have lost a pair of running backs to season-ending injuries. Baltimore will struggle early and the Raiders will secure the win on Monday Night.
Andersen: Ravens 24, Raiders 13
The Raiders have a decent roster in place, but the Ravens are exponentially better. Baltimore should arrive in Las Vegas and win by two scores on Monday Night Football. This game will give viewers a glimpse into whether or not the Ravens can pass effectively after losing running back J.K. Dobbins to a season-ending ACL injury.
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