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Football is Back: Heller’s Week 1 predictions

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It’s finally here! The 100th season of the NFL kicks off this week. From a most fitting matchup to start off the centennial season to six divisional games, plus the debut of six first-time head coaches and two coaches at the helm of new teams, the offseason and preseason talk and storylines can finally be put to rest. It’s Week 1 of the 100th season of the NFL.

Here’s my preview and predictions for the 16 kickoff weekend games.

Packers 24, Bears 20

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Khalil Mack and the stingy Bears defense host Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. This rivalry is 200 games old. Rodgers is 16-5 in his career against the Bears with 45 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions. This should be another classic to start the season off. While I think the Bears’ defense will keep it close, you can’t go against Aaron Rodgers in this matchup, earning head coach Matt LaFleur his first career win.

Chiefs 31, Jaguars 17

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With Hurricane Dorian barreling towards Florida, the Jaguars will lose at least two days of practice. That’s never good, but when you’re hosting Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, it can prove to be even more detrimental. The only thing that will keep the Jags in this game will be potentially sloppy field conditions.

Titans 24, Browns 13

Baker Mayfield and his fellow offensive studs are raring to go and so is the Dawg Pound. The Browns acquired Taywan Taylor from the Titans on a cut-down day trade. While he knows the Titans playbook, even when you know what’s coming, you still have to stop it. Marcus Mariota is playing for his future and without his blindside offensive tackle Taylor Lewan, so he will be on the move all day. A moving Mariota has at times proven to be a dangerous one. That along with the far from easy task of bringing down the freight train that is Derrick Henry, even if you know it’s coming, will force Browns rookie head coach Freddie Kitchens to have to wait for win No. 1.

Ravens 27, Dolphins 10

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Lamar Jackson begins his first season as 100% “The Guy” as the Ravens parted ways with Joe Flacco. Mark Ingram will be a key to this game. Meanwhile, the Dolphins and Ryan Fitzpatrick will have a rough game against the Ravens’ defense, even more with the trade of wide receiver Kenny Stills this past week. Brian Flores will come up on the short end in his head coaching debut.

Falcons 30, Vikings 42

Matt Ryan and Julio Jones visit Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook, and Adam Thielen. While both offenses will put up points, the Vikings have too many weapons for the Falcons’ defense to contend with. Ryan will be playing from behind all day.

Bills 21, Jets 20

Future Hall-of-Famer Frank Gore, who continues to prove he can still play, leads the Bills against Le’Veon Bell in his debut with the Jets. While this game will be a hard-fought divisional battle, this one will go to the only team that actually plays in the state of New York. Jets coach Adam Gase will have the same result as his successor in Miami: a Week 1 loss.

Redskins 10, Eagles 31

Carson Wentz and the Eagles host Case Keenum and the Redskins. While this will be another smash-mouth divisional matchup, I see the Eagles’ offense being more effective.

Rams 35, Panthers 24

The explosive Rams offense and stellar defense visit Cam Newton and speedster Christian McCaffrey. A top-five fantasy pick, McCaffrey will have a long day against Aaron Donald and company.

Colts 13, Chargers 35

Just two weeks ago, this matchup had marquee written all over it. But Andrew Luck retired and Melvin Gordon is still holding out. This will be the first look at the Colts, who built their team around a quarterback who is no longer there. Veteran Philip Rivers will be able to rely on familiar targets and the Colts won’t be able to keep up on the scoreboard.

Bengals 10, Seahawks 31

Cincinnati and first-year head coach Zac Taylor drew a tall order for their first game with him at the helm. They travel to Seattle to face a Russell Wilson-led offense with an upper-echelon linebacking core. Andy Dalton will have a long day, especially without A.J. Green on the field. Coach Taylor won’t get career win No. 1 this week.

Giants 21, Cowboys 17

This was another division rivalry matchup that had marquee potential with Saquon Barkley versus Ezekiel Elliott. But with Elliott still holding out, this game less intriguing. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott has struggled when Elliott hasn’t been on the field. His counterpart, Eli Manning, who some say is on a short leash, is playing his first game in a while without human highlight reel, Odell Beckham Jr. However, Barkley, much to Giants fans’ and his fantasy owners’ delight, will run his team to victory.

Lions 17, Cardinals 24

Time for the much-anticipated debut of No. 1 pick Kyler Murray and the less-anticipated debut of Cardinals first-year head Kliff Kingsbury. The Lions, behind veteran signal-caller Matthew Stafford and Co., will have a tall order, not only with the excitement in the stadium but also with an improved defense — one led by former Raven Terrell Suggs. Unlike Zac Taylor in Cincinnati, Coach Kingsbury will get his first win as head coach.

49ers 17, Buccaneers 10

This game is filled with many questions. Is Jameis Winston the Bucs’ franchise quarterback of the future? Is Jimmy Garoppolo the 49ers’ franchise QB? Both have been inconsistent at best. Both teams are evenly matched across the board. Bucs new head coach Bruce Arians won’t be victorious with his new club in Week 1.

Steelers 34, Patriots 38

The only player still in the league from the 2000 draft is Tom Brady, and without Rob Gronkowski, he hosts Big Ben Roethlisberger who is without Antonio Brown. This is the game of the week. Expect a ton of points. The X-factor in this game will be Josh Gordon.

Texans 30, Saints 34

DeAndre Hopkins and the Texans visit Michael Thomas in the Big Easy. Like the Steelers and Patriots matchup, expect the points totals for both teams to be high. This game comes down to the quarterbacks, and Drew Brees will get the better of Deshaun Watson.

Broncos 24, Raiders 27

Joe Flacco’s Broncos debut, and also that of first-year head coach Vic Fangio, comes against their division-rival Raiders in the last home opener at Oakland Coliseum. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr has a new target in Antonio Brown. That combination will prove to be just slightly too much for the Broncos defensive unit. Like most of his fellow first-year coaches, Fangio won’t get his first victory in week one.

That makes Kliff Kingsbury and Matt LaFleur as the only two rookie head coaches to get their coveted first NFL victory in their first game as a coach this year. We’ll see eight home teams and eight road teams starting off the new campaign 1-0; also, a few upset picks with the Bills, Giants, Packers, and 49ers all getting victories on the road, along with my upset of the week with the Titans over the Browns on the road.

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