This week sees the kickoff of the 2017 NFL Regular Season, BOOM!! About bleeding time! Naturally, all of the NFL London-bound teams play this week so I thought I’d give my opinion on who plays who and how I think they’ll do….for what it’s worth.
Arizona Cardinals @ Detroit Lions
As far as I’m concerned, this should be a good game and one that I’ll have to watch on the day as my missus is a Lions fan.
Neither of these teams excites me if I’m honest, but the Lions did surprise me last season by making it to the playoffs as an NFC Wildcard team and the Cardinals yet again disappointed by not doing so.
This is a difficult one to call as I don’t think we’ve seen the full potential of the Cardinals during the preseason and, as always, they have the potential to do some good things this year (but people have been saying that for a few seasons now and they’ve failed to deliver on that potential). Carson Palmer has looked very good in the preseason and has stood out for me. That’s a good thing as he’s the main-man on offense and if he’s playing well the whole team should. The starting defense, for me, has looked decidedly ordinary and has appeared to struggle to stop the opposition at times. Still, that was just the preseason so we’ll see what happens.
The Lions have just handed their QB Matt Stafford the fattest contract ever in NFL history so I assume they’ll be expecting him to deliver this year. He’s tried to play it down by saying nothings changed or feels different and, to be honest, he can only do so much and so long as he plays the way he has been, the team has a chance. It’s his supporting cast that is the worry again as his receivers aren’t anything spectacular but get the job done. RB Theo Riddick is one of the best pass-catching RB’s in the league and so long as they can keep Ameer Abdullah healthy this year, they could be going back to the playoffs now that the offensive line is also improved, especially on the right side with Wagner and Lang.
My Prediction: Lions win
Baltimore Ravens @ Cincinnati Bengals
This AFC North game should be a belter to kick off the season with. I’m looking forward to seeing the Bengals offense with all those weapons at the skill positions such as Green, Eifert and Mixon. It would have been good to see the fastest 40-yard rookie Jon Ross as well but he’s looking unlikely for this opener due to a knee injury he picked up during the preseason. TE Eifert has sat out a couple of the preseason games as he has been suffering from minor knee tendinitis but looks ready to go in this one and could be on for a big year.
The thing about this game I’m most looking forward to is how those weapons on the Bengals offense are going to do against yet another great looking Ravens defense. The Ravens always seem to sort their defense out to be one of the best, even when you think they are surely ready to go on the decline. They are probably the one unit I have most enjoyed watching this preseason with the new additions from both free agency and the draft.
It’s the Ravens offense that I’m not too sure about going into the season as their run game looks poor and if Joe Flacco doesn’t get back to his best form soon, their season could go to shit. He’s reported to be playing in this one but it remains to be seen whether he’s ready yet after his back injury.
This is a really tough one to call and could be a great game.
My Prediction: Bengals win
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Cleveland Browns
The second of the two AFC North division rivalry games sees the Steelers travel to Cleveland to face the Browns.
The biggest weakness the Steelers were reported to have is with their defensive secondary, but one of the Browns biggest weaknesses is their lack of quality depth at the receiver position. The Steelers have attempted to address their issue with the addition of CB Joe Haden from the Browns after he was released, but I think he’s a player who’s been on a steep decline for a couple of seasons now. Only time will tell if his change of scenery will unleash new life into his career but I for one am not worried that he’ll be facing the Browns in this and future seasons. If anything, I think I’d target him often considering how he’s played recently.
I’m intrigued to see how the Browns passing game turns out after they attempted to address their issues with the additions of Sammie Coates in a trade from Pittsburgh and Kasen Williams who was surprisingly released by the Seattle Seahawks. Both are over 6-foot and 210-pounds and can get after the ball well. They look like good additions to the Browns roster in a position of need, but it’s whether or not they’ve had enough time with the Browns before week 1 that will determine whether or not they are going to make rookie QB DeShone Kizer’s job easier against a good Pittsburgh defense that will likely put a lot of pressure on him.
My Prediction: Steelers win
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Houston Texans
The Jacksonville Jaguars start their season with a game against division rivals as well. They take on the Houston Texans who will be thinking of themselves as potential division champions. I personally think the Tennessee Titans have the AFC South in the bag but many would disagree with me.
I’m sure we all know about the woes the Jaguars have at the QB position now that everyone has decided that none of the guys they have on the roster is worthy of a starting job – I know how sports fans are in general but the Jags home supporters do amaze me with how quickly and aggressively they call for people’s heads. Blake Bortles may not be a great QB but he certainly is the best they have right now and I’m just glad it’s professional coaches making the decisions in Jacksonville and not the fans because if that were the case, God only knows who’d be starting at QB!
I think a lot will be put on rookie RB Leonard Fournette but he looked good in early preseason until he injured his foot. I think the coaching staff knows that a lot could be about to be put upon his shoulders and that’s why he missed a huge part of the preseason. I think Chris Ivory isn’t very good but between Fournette and T.J. Yeldon, they could take on a lot of the workload.
Having said that, it’s not going to be all about the running game in Jacksonville as they still have their very good receivers with Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee. Something would appear to be going on with Hurns as they have him as WR2 #3 on the depth chart for some reason but they’ve also added Dede Westbrook from this year’s draft who has looked very promising so far. Bortles doesn’t look like he’s ever going to sort his throwing motion out but if he can get his head straight, I think the Jags will do ok and still be in the running for one of the many good QB’s coming out of college in 2018.
The Jags defense has the potential to be a good one to watch but they’ve not looked any good during the preseason in my opinion. They’ve given up yards way too easily in both the run and passing games and I have no idea what to expect from them. If I’m honest, it is starting to appear to me that this team is still suffering from the same issues it has for a while now – they have the personnel on the field but not on the sidelines wearing the headsets – the same could be said for the offense.
My Prediction: Texans win
Indianapolis Colts @ LA Rams
To be honest, this has the potential to be one of the most boring games of the week for me – which means it’ll probably be a blinder!
The Rams flashed some good offensive football in one game during the preseason but other than that it’s been same old same old from them. The jury is still out on Jared Goff as some are saying he’s a sleeper for a good season but he’s still not looking great right now. They’ve now got a decent receiving unit, though, with the additions of Cooper Kupp from the draft and Sammy Watkins from a trade with the Buffalo Bills. RB Todd Gurley hasn’t looked great to me either but the potential is there as he has proven in past years. As is the case with the Jaguars, it’s the offensive line that would be my main concern if I were a Rams fan. They are looking a bit better than they have in recent seasons but they still don’t fill me with much confidence.
The Colts are still without Andrew Luck and will be starting with Scott Tolzien up until new signing Jacoby Brissett is ready. The Colts defense is improved from last season with a few much-needed additions at each position such as Jonathan Hankins on the line, Jabaal Sheard, and Barkavious Mingo at LB with Malik Hooker in the secondary, but still doesn’t appear to be anything great.
This could be another tough one to call with regards to a winner but a major factor could be that the Rams are still without one of the best players in the league in their starting lineup, Aaron Donald. They’ve looked lacking in pocket pressure during the preseason and they are missing him badly.
My Prediction: Colts win
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Miami Dolphins
I’m sure that this battle of Florida is one that many people will tune in to watch, either live or on replay. I say that because the Dolphins have always been well supported over here in the UK and with their starting RB Jay Ajayi being London-born (as we are so often reminded), I’m sure their following has increased. The Buccaneers will draw their own amount of support and then some as I imagine they’ve got some more following now that they’re the darlings of the Hard Knocks series on the NFL Network.
I haven’t seen much from the Buccaneers so far to rave about but I have seen enough from Jay Cutler and Jay Ajayi to think that the Dolphins offense could be pretty explosive this year. Again, this all means that they’ll now probably be shite but again it comes down to their offensive line and how they perform as that has been a problem of late.
The Dolphins defense has looked less than impressive to me during the preseason but, take that for what it’s worth. Their stats don’t make them look very good but that doesn’t mean much at all. What I’m talking about is the physical watching of their starters against opposition offensive starters. It really is difficult to assess a great deal from the limited preseason game time and things could completely change during the regular season.
Another tough one to call as both teams to me at this stage are very similar in where they are at and what realistic goals they are reaching for.
My Prediction: Dolphins win
New Orleans Saints @ Minnesota Vikings
This has the makings of a fantastic game and not because RB Adrian Peterson is going back to his old hunting ground and has tried stoking the fire by saying he wants to stick it to ’em. That’s quite interesting and I’m intrigued to see where he’s at ability-wise, but that Saints offense going up against the Vikings defense is what’s really exciting for me.
Even though Drew Brees has lost a good target to the Patriots in Brandin Cooks, he still has plenty to throw to and that backfield of Ingram, Peterson, and Kamara could be super exciting to watch. The offensive line is much improved with the additions of Ryan Ramczyk at tackle and Larry Warford at guard but the loss of Terron Armstead is a blow.
The Saints defense has also shocked me with how brilliantly they’ve played during the preseason as they were one of the best units in the league for that period. They’ve upgraded it well with the likes of Manti Te’o and A.J. Klein at linebacker and rookie Marshon Lattimore at cornerback.
The Vikings still have one of the best defenses in the league and whilst DE Danielle Hunter, DE Everson Griffen and DB Harrison Smith are still there doing their thing, they’ve got the great potential to be going places.
The Vikings also got one of the steals of the draft when they took RB Dalvin Cook early in the second round. Latavius Murray is touted as being the starter but, if he is, I’m sure it won’t be long before Cook takes that job from him.
They’re another team with an average offensive line so it will be fun to see if the Saints improved defense can continue it’s preseason good form against this offense.
I might be going out on a limb here, but:
My Prediction: Saints win
So, that’s how I see week one with regards to the 2017 NFL London teams and how I think they’ll fair. What do you think will happen with these teams this week? Let us know in the comments below.