The 2009 season kicks off with a Thursday evening prime time matchup between the defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers and last year’s top regular season team, the Tennessee Titans. With the beginning of a new season, I have a fresh start in my weekly predictions. Last year, I finished with an overall record of 166-99 — postseason included — just one loss short of the century mark. This year, I’m hoping to do even better, but only time will tell.
Here’s a look at this week’s matchups and how I think they’ll play out.
The full week’s predictions will come out on Saturday.
Last Week: 0-0
This Week: 12-4
Tennessee Titans (0-0) at Pittsburgh Steelers (0-0)
Seldom do teams that make historic runs come out and duplicate that success the following year. Although they have a solid run game anchored by Chris Johnson and LenDale White, the Titans didn’t do so well against the physical defense of the Baltimore Ravens in last year’s AFC divisional playoff game. The defending champions, meanwhile, will have all the momentum from the opening kickoff in this prime time matchup and will find a way to neutralize the Titans’ ground game. Not to mention, having lost Albert Haynesworth to free agency, the Titans’ defensive line will be less effective against the run and it could be a vulnerability for them against a physical offense like Pittsburgh’s.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 24, Tennessee 13
Actual Score: Pittsburgh 13, Tennessee 10
Jacksonville Jaguars (0-0) at Indianapolis Colts (0-0)
I’m curious to see the new version Colts and how different they’ll look from the Tony Dungy-led teams. My guess is that even minus offensive coordinator Tom Moore and wide receiver Marvin Harrison, they won’t be that different. Peyton Manning still will have control over what the offense runs (in the past, he was given three plays and he’d choose what he thought was the best to run according to what the defense was showing). The Jaguars have a lot to prove after flopping last year.
Prediction: Indianapolis 23, Jacksonville 17
Actual Score: Indianapolis 14, Jacksonville 12
Detroit Lions (0-0) at New Orleans Saints (0-0)
The Saints finished last in the NFC South last year — but still were 8-8 — and could be the latest “worst-to-first” success story. They made improvements to their defense and still have an explosive offense. This isn’t much of a fair matchup for the new-look Lions in Week 1.
Prediction: New Orleans 31, Detroit 20
Actual Score: New Orleans 45, Detroit 27
Dallas Cowboys (0-0) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-0)
Tampa Bay should keep this close, and could pull off the upset, but they’re a rebuilding team that will likely face bumps along the road. The Cowboys are minus playmaker Terrell Owens, but still have plenty of weapons that will give the Bucs fits.
Prediction: Dallas 20, Tampa Bay 14
Actual Score: Dallas 34, Tampa Bay 21
Denver Broncos (0-0) at Cincinnati Bengals (0-0)
I’m not sure what to make of the Bengals this year. One would think that a healthy Carson Palmer means big points for their offense, which is why I have them winning this game. But questions on defense still remain. Denver could take a nose-dive following the Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall sagas this off-season, but they’ll still be competitive.
Prediction: Cincinnati 27, Denver 20
Actual Score: Denver 12, Cincinnati 7
Kansas City Chiefs (0-0) at Baltimore Ravens (0-0)
The Ravens lost defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, but their core is still intact. They should still be a formidable defense and their run game should keep them in most games. The Chiefs may be without Matt Cassel in this one. Their offense showed great promise at times last year and should be able to put up points with offensive-minded Todd Haley as the new head coach. But I don’t think they get it done in this one.
Prediction: Baltimore 22, Kansas City 20
Actual Score: Baltimore 38, Kansas City 24
New York Jets (0-0) at Houston Texans (0-0)
This could be the year the Texans sneak into the playoffs, but it all comes down to what their divisional foes do. The Texans have a high-octane offense and their defense continues to improve. The Jets will be tough under the guidance of Rex Ryan, but they have a rookie starting at quarterback and adequate personnel missing on defense.
Prediction: Houston 27, New York Jets 13
Actual Score: New York Jets 24, Houston 7
Minnesota Vikings (0-0) at Cleveland Browns (0-0)
I don’t like the Browns much at all. I was soured when they received 5 prime time games when the 2008 schedule came out because of their successful 2007 campaign and they showed their true colors last year. For those who believe in “storybook” seasons, this one is laid out for the Vikings. They have one of the league’s top defenses, the best runner in the NFL, and now have a competent quarterback. The Vikings should cruise in this one.
Prediction: Minnesota 30, Cleveland 10
Actual Score: Minnesota 34, Cleveland 20
Miami Dolphins (0-0) at Atlanta Falcons (0-0)
Ironically, this game features the two teams that I think most overachieved last year — even more than the Cardinals. The Falcons have some good talent but I think Matt Ryan’s sophomore year will bring him down to Earth a little bit. Gimmick offenses rarely have prolonged success in the NFL so let’s see if the Dolphins can do a fraction of what they did last year. I don’t see that happening in Week 1.
Prediction: Atlanta 27, Miami 17
Actual Score: Atlanta 19, Miami 7
Philadelphia Eagles (0-0) at Carolina Panthers (0-0)
I think these are two potential playoff teams that could meet up in the postseason if all goes according to plan for them. This should be a very close game and I have to give the edge to the home team in this one. I don’t think the Eagles’ defense will be quite the same as it was under the late Jim Johnson, but they’ll still be good. The Panthers’ punishing run game should prevail in the end.
Prediction: Carolina 20, Philadelphia 17
Actual Score: Philadelphia 38, Carolina 10
Washington Redskins (0-0) at New York Giants (0-0)
The Redskins seem to meddle from one season to the next without showing much signs of improvement. The Giants, meanwhile, are still one of the most competitive teams in the league but faded a little at the end of last season due to some key injuries. With a healthy defense and a strong run game, the Giants should win this one.
Prediction: New York Giants 24, Washington 17
Actual Score: New York Giants 23, Washington 17
San Francisco 49ers (0-0) at Arizona Cardinals (0-0)
We all know the history of Super Bowl losers falling flat the next season. That’s one strike against the Cardinals. Strike two is that offensive coordinator Todd Haley left the team in the off-season to coach the Chiefs. Strike three is that while talented, they’re just not one of the best teams in the league. However, it’s the beginning of the season and they’re playing at home against a 49ers team that still doesn’t have an identity.
Prediction: Arizona 27, San Francisco 14
Actual Score: San Francisco 20, Arizona 16
St. Louis Rams (0-0) at Seattle Seahawks (0-0)
I’m expecting the Seahawks to surprise a lot of teams this year. After finishing with 4 wins last year, they could rebound to win the NFC West this season. As long as Matt Hasselbeck remains healthy and the defense lives up to a greater expectation than last year, they should be tough to beat. The Rams really can’t get any worse than they’ve been the past few seasons, but they’ve got a long way to go.
Prediction: Seattle 23, St. Louis 13
Actual Score: Seattle 28, St. Louis 0
Chicago Bears (0-0) at Green Bay Packers (0-0)
The NFC North should be a battle all season. It’s possible, although not probable, that three teams from the division could make the playoffs. I’m betting that the Vikings, Bears, and Packers all have double-digit win seasons, though. When the schedule first came out, my initial thought was that the Bears would enter Lambeau and sneak away with a victory while the Packers’ new 3-4 defense was still a work in progress. I know it’s just preseason, but the Packers looked like they had a pretty good feel for the new scheme and generated some turnovers and short drives. That, plus a talented offense that did some great things last year and looks just as good this year, should be a cause for concern for the Bears. It’ll be a much closer game than last year’s 37-3 loss in Green Bay, but I think the Bears fall short in this one.
Prediction: Green Bay 27, Chicago 24
Actual Score: Green Bay 21, Chicago 15
Buffalo Bills (0-0) at New England Patriots (0-0)
I have every reason to believe that the Patriots will be just as explosive — or pretty darn close — as the one that went 18-1 in 2007. As long as Tom Brady and Randy Moss stay healthy, this team will put up huge numbers. Dick Jauron’s days in Buffalo are numbered and I don’t think the addition of Terrell Owens will do much more than provide some additional fireworks — both good and bad. The Patriots should roll in their home opener.
Prediction: New England 31, Buffalo 17
Actual Score: New England 25, Buffalo 24
San Diego Chargers (0-0) at Oakland Raiders (0-0)
The Raiders may keep this one close because they have some young playmakers on offense and this is a home game, but there’s few other reasons for thinking that they’ll win this game. The Chargers have a deep roster of talent and their defense should get after the Raiders all night.
Prediction: San Diego 24, Oakland 10
Actual Score: San Diego 24, Oakland 20