By: Shaun Morash
On the cusp of yet another NFL season where many naysayers will tell you the NFL doesn’t have parity thanks to the monster that is the New England Patriots, I must tell you to breathe, relax, and stop that nonsense. Yes, the Patriots are once again the favorite to win the Super Bowl, but let’s not forget no team has repeated as Super Bowl champions in 13 years. (Ironically, the Patriots accomplished that feat.)
Thirteen years is a long time without a repeat in sports, which is why Week 1 of the NFL brings excitement and hope to fans of every team not named the Jets in 2017. On this very date last season, there wasn’t a soul picking the Falcons to make the Super Bowl. On this date two seasons ago, there wasn’t anyone picking the Panthers to make the Super Bowl. The NFL lives for parity and even with Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and company ready to roll again, we should all be excited for the great unknown that will unfold over the next 5 months.
On that note I will get my Super Bowl prediction on paper so it can be crucified later in the season. It should be noted only once in my life have I accurately predicted a Super Bowl matchup and champion; that was Super Bowl 45 when the Packers beat the Steelers. For this season, I am going with the Pittsburgh Steelers over the New York Giants. Why the Steelers? More on that in your “Ten Yard Gain:”
Ten Yard Gain
1- I believe the tea leaves are there for Ben Roethlisberger to finally hang it up after this season, and I think he will. When there is smoke, there is fire. Much like Jerome Bettis’ final year in Pittsburgh, I think Roethlisberger is ready for a storybook ending. He will go out on top of his game, similar to Elway. Also, going out by beating a quarterback picked ahead of him in the 2004 draft in Eli Manning.
2- The Giants are my pick to win the NFC. They have the most dominant defense on paper in the NFL, just edging out the Seahawks. Offensively, many dismissed Eli Manning’s season from 2016, but upon further review, three of his top six targets are no longer deemed worthy or talented enough for NFL jobs on opening day 2017 (Larry Donnell, Victor Cruz, and Rashad Jennings.) Another, Will Tye, was only signed to the tanking Jets. With the additions on this offense, Eli should be prepared to be the “Mann,” again.
3- The Cowboys’ offseason was interesting, as always. Ezekiel Elliott continued to act like an immature college student while under investigation with the NFL, and you were in the minority if you were a member of the Cowboys defense that didn’t get popped for a suspension. That team goes as the offensive line goes, and La’el Collins and Jonathan Cooper now take that offensive line back just a bit. That “bit” may be enough to make Dallas the most disappointing team in terms of failed expectations in 2017.
4- The Jaguars didn’t know which end was up when it came to Blake Bortles in training camp, but the leash should not be long for him. The Jaguars are too damn talented all over the defense and offense to waste another season. I have no problem admitting I think Colin Kaepernick is not a worthy franchise quarterback in terms of talent, but ironically he could be the perfect caretaker for this franchise once Bortles fails this season until they find their next quarterback in April’s draft.
5- Speaking of April, on the eve of the Final Four, I ran into Aaron Rodgers at a watering hold in Scottsdale, Arizona. After a few glasses of whatever was tickling my taste buds that night, I built the courage to approach Rodgers to show him a picture of me paying off a bet he caused me to lose with his performance over the Giants in the playoffs. Rodgers was not thrilled with what I showed him and told me “Get away from me, buddy.” Should I have let him be? I suppose. Could he have been nicer? Absolutely. With that, I am officially imposing a “Get Away From Me Buddy” curse; Rodgers will not win another Super Bowl in his career. Sorry, Packers fans.
6- My eyes bleed when I read the Jets roster, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. An aging Matt Forte, a dumped-off Jermaine Kearse, Robby freaking Anderson, and Will Tye make up some of Josh McCown’s weapons, all behind a pathetic excuse for an offensive line. The Jets, in an offensive league, will score the fewest amount of offensive points the league has seen in 25 years.
7- As bad as the Jets are, another team in their division will actually hold the 1st overall draft pick next April. That team will be the Bills, who have traded away piece after piece to not only stink themselves, but have multiple draft picks in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd rounds. This is enough equity to move up and trade for the top overall pick and a quarterback with that pick. I expect them to do just that.
8- Hard Knocks on HBO is always one of my favorite shows each year. However, I was disappointed in the last two years that included the Rams and Texans. The NFL and HBO brought the series back from the dead with the enjoyable Bucs this summer. Jameis Winston came across as a sometimes-corny-but-enthusiastic leader, while Gerald McCoy won the hearts of parents everywhere when dancing with a child attending camp. This season had everything you’d want from the series and I encourage anyone who hasn’t watched it to go to HBOGO or HBONOW to check it out.
9- The one team in the NFL I feel can surprise and make the playoffs is the LA Rams. The truth is I am a coward and won’t officially pull the trigger in doing so. I was skeptical on hiring the very young Sean McVay, but loved the way he came across in the final episode of All or Nothing. His offense, I do believe, will have a positive effect on Jared Goff, whom too many were too quick to write off as a potential stud quarterback. Inevitably, the Rams are more likely to be the 2016 Bucs, and the team everyone picks for the playoffs this time next year.
10- How badly have the Colts handled this Andrew Luck situation? You don’t trade for Jacoby Brissett if you think Andrew Luck will only miss one week. This already feels like a lost season in Indianapolis.
Five Games to Chew On
5 Chiefs @ Patriots: For the second time in his career, Alex Smith is winning games and looking over his shoulder at the next quarterback in line. It was Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco, and now first-round pick Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City. Mahomes “wowed” Chiefs fans in the preseason, and the moment the Chiefs struggle, their fans may be calling for him. That struggle could begin as early as this season-opener with Bill Belichick having months to prepare for a team New England has owned since that infamous Monday Night in Arrowhead seasons ago. Remember: Tom Brady should have extra juice after missing the 2016 season-opener due to suspension.
4 Eagles @ Redskins: Kirk Cousins begins the countdown of 16 games to prove his worth to the highest bidder next off season. Washington’s offensive line was a major issue in the preseason, and that could present a big problem versus a beefy Eagles front seven. Carson Wentz shined in week 1 versus Cleveland a year ago and has high expectations in year 2. NFC East games are always played down to the wire, and this has a chance to be the most thrilling fourth quarter in the early slate of games on Sunday.
3 Raiders @ Titans: Two refreshing bright spots in the NFL last year gave us a taste of winning football in places that haven’t seen it in too long. These teams feature two dynamic young star quarterbacks in Derek Carr and Marcus Mariota, and dare I say it, but we may be looking at a potential playoff matchup preview here. The Titans are more loaded than you realize, and it just may be one of these teams that are playing in an AFC Championship game come January.
2 Seahawks @ Packers: DA said on the show this week that this is a potential NFC Championship Game preview. It certainly has the makings. This has become a fun under-the-radar rivalry in recent years, from the “Fail Mary,” to the epic NFC Championship game that ended with Michael Bennett riding a bicycle. Defense usually travels, but Aaron Rodgers at home in good weather gives me doubts. All eyes will be on the much-maligned Seahawks offensive line to keep Russell Wilson from running for his life.
1 Giants @ Cowboys: Giants, Cowboys, Opening Night, a tradition as time honored as Dallas hosting a Thanksgiving Day game, it seems. Odell Beckham Jr. will likely be a game-time decision on his ankle leaving many to wonder if he can be a factor. Unlike past years, the Giants enter this matchup with more than a one-man show on the offensive side of the ball. Dallas should be seeking redemption for the sweep they felt at the hands of Big Blue. The matchup to watch this week will be Dez Bryant vs Janoris Jenkins. If Jenkins shuts Dez out of catches in the first half, there may be some forced throws by Dak in the second half that change this game for better or worse.
I finished last year 28-27-5, one game over .500 and would have been one game under if not for the most epic come back in Super Bowl history. A cold start to the season set me back last year, so I need a good pick me up off the jump here in Week 1.
Falcons -7 @ Bears: I am a believer in a Super Bowl hangover having a lasting impact on this Atlanta season. However, I am a bigger believer in the Bears being awful this season. You need firepower to keep up with the Falcons offense, and with Cameron Meredith now lost for the season, I am not sure the Bears have a slingshot on offense. Mike Glennon will struggle and Matt Ryan will be motivated at least for 1 week to right the wrongs of the Super Bowl.
Texans -5 vs Jacksonville: JJ Watt’s heroics following Hurricane Harvey have already ensured he will be the Walter Payton Man of the Year. Next up for the Texans? Giving that community something to cheer about. That defense is one of the best in football and should be prepared to feast on Blake Bortles. If this spread was a touchdown I would be stay away, but at 5, I am all over a loud building and inspired effort in Houston.
Lions +1.5 vs Cardinals: The Cardinals are a team I can’t seem to figure out. Many feel they will bounce back to their 2015 selves. While that may be true, let’s not sleep on the fact the Lions were a damn good home team last season, and a team that did make the playoffs. Matt Stafford is relieved to be paid big-time money, and the Lions getting points at home versus a team that disgraced itself in 2016 is too easy to pass up.
Football Food of the Week
Jalapeno Pillows. Let’s kick off the season with some heat in your mouth. If you love the classic finger-food – jalepeno poppers – and love Pillsbury biscuits, then you will be sure to love these. Diced jalepenos, warm cream cheese, gooey melted cheddar, some garlic, some pepper, and the flakiness and buttery taste of biscuits your grandma would make you all literally rolled into one.
These are very easy and I credit neighbor Richie Andretta for bringing them over to my fight party for Mayweather-McGregor. My mouth got the heat and flavor of a wing, without the messy fingers I wipe all over my fantasy football roster page. Here is the official recipe from Pillsbury: https://www.pillsbury.com/everyday-eats/drinks-appetizers/jalapeno-pillows-how-to
Thank you all for reading and enjoy Week 1. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MrazCBS.