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Your Week 1 Matchup Guide: The Patriots-Steelers Rivalry Defines Modern Football

The point spreads, injuries, story lines, and everything else you need to know for every Week 1 game

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Football is back. A lot has changed since we last checked in. Le’Veon Bell is on the Jets. Odell Beckham Jr. is on the Browns. Joe Flacco is on the Broncos. Antonio Brown is on the Raiders (for now). Andrew Luck doesn’t play football anymore. Neither does Rob Gronkowski, who has pivoted to selling CBD oil. Jon Gruden is trying to save Nathan Peterman’s career. Yet for all that has changed, everything is still the same. The Patriots are the defending Super Bowl champions. The Cowboys gave someone a lot of money. The Raiders trusted the wrong player. The more the NFL changes, the more it remains the same, and the same is true of us. Every week we will paste our eyeballs to our glowing rectangles and watch football for between three and 12 hours with intermittent breaks to look at our other glowing rectangles and put food of dubious nutritional value into our faceholes.

The NFL will dominate each of the next 22 Sundays until Super Bowl LIV in Miami Gardens, Florida, on February 2. It’s safe to assume the Super Bowl LIV champions will then head to LIV, the finest nightclub in Miami Beach. For each and every one of those 22 weeks between now and that Super Bowl afterparty, this column will serve as your guide previewing the week’s games. Let’s dive into Week 1.

Tennessee Titans @ Cleveland Browns

Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Tony Romo, Tracy Wolfson (sideline reporter), Gene Steratore (rules analyst)
Line: Cleveland -5
Over/under: 45
Key Titans injuries and absences: Running back Derrick Henry (left calf, questionable), left tackle Taylor Lewan (suspension), kicker Ryan Succop (knee, injured reserve)
Key Browns injuries and absences: Odell Beckham Jr. (hip, expected to play)
What to watch: Baker to Odell

Come to see Baker Mayfield’s first touchdown pass to Odell Beckham Jr., stay for the second and possibly the third. This is the main event of Sunday afternoon and the hype has nothing to do with the Tennessee Titans, who are basically Jason Segel walking the red carpet with Sarah Marshall in this matchup. The Browns are a movie script come to life. Two years after going 0-16, they’re Super Bowl contenders. We here at The Ringer devoted an entire week to the Browns’ version of the Process. Quarterback Baker Mayfield has the sixth-best odds to win MVP in 2019. Defensive end Myles Garrett has the fifth-best odds to win Defensive Player of the Year. Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. teams up with Jarvis Landry after the two became best friends at LSU.

Everything about the Browns offense screams juggernaut except their offensive line, which looks bad outside of guard Joel Bitonio. They’ll be pushed onto their heels this week by an underrated Titans front seven that includes four-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jurrell Casey, talented second-year pass rusher Harold Landry, and the immortal Cameron Wake. How Baker and Beckham connect will be the story of this game, but how the Browns’ blockers perform could become the story of their season.

Kansas City Chiefs @ Jacksonville Jaguars

Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Announcers: Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts, Evan Washburn (sideline reporter)
Line: Kansas City -3
Over/under: 52
Key Chiefs injuries and absences: Receiver De’Anthony Thomas (suspension)
Key Jaguars injuries and absences: Linebacker Telvin Smith (sitting out season), receiver DJ Chark (concussion, questionable)
What to watch: Nick Foles trying to keep up with Patrick Mahomes

Here is a list of where the Chiefs offense ranked in just about every stat that matters last year.

Chiefs Offensive Rankings 2018

Statistic (courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference and Football Outsiders) Chiefs Rank
Statistic (courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference and Football Outsiders) Chiefs Rank
Points per game 1
Points per drive 1
Touchdowns (from scrimmage) 1
Touchdowns per drive 1
Passing touchdowns 1
Rushing touchdowns tied-7
Yards per game 1
Yards per drive 1
First downs 3
First downs per series 1
Average starting field position 5
Punts per drive (First is Best) 2
Three-and-outs per drive (First is Best) 4
Third-down-conversion % 2
Fourth-down-conversion % 3
Time of possession per drive 13
% of red zone drives ending in a TD 2

There are so many “1s” on that list it looks like a computer speaking broken binary. The Chiefs were the fifth-most-efficient offense ever measured by Football Outsiders. Patrick Mahomes became the third player to throw 50 touchdowns in a season. The Chiefs offense vs. Jaguars defense is the main draw, including cornerback Jalen Ramsey shadowing Tyreek Hill, but the game could be decided on the other side of the ball. By moving from Blake Bortles to Nick Foles at quarterback, Jacksonville has made an upgrade nearly as big as the Chiefs did going from Alex Smith to Patrick Mahomes—moving from an average quarterback to an elite one is ideal, but upgrading from utter incompetence to average could be just as impactful.

New York Jets v Atlanta Falcons
Julio Jones
Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

Atlanta Falcons @ Minnesota Vikings

Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox
Announcers: Thom Brennaman, Chris Spielman, Shannon Spake (sideline reporter)
Line: Minnesota -4
Over/under: 47.5
Key Falcons injuries and absences: Tackle Kaleb McGary (cardiac ablation, questionable)
Key Vikings injuries and absences: Cornerback Mike Hughes (ACL recovery, doubtful), cornerback Holton Hill (suspended)
What to watch: Minnesota covering Julio Jones

This game is not the sexiest matchup on Sunday, but it could feature the best football. The Falcons have one of the most explosive offenses in football with Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, while Minnesota sports a stunning collection of talent executing the league’s most complex defense. But Minnesota’s famously deep defense has run thin at cornerback behind 2017 All-Pro Xavier Rhodes—and he looked nothing like an All-Pro last year or this preseason. Dealing with Jones will be an issue.

The Falcons defense vs. the Vikings offense may tell us more about these teams. Both of them have Super Bowl–level talent but missed the playoffs last season and will likely fire their head coaches if they miss the playoffs again this year. Both coaches, Atlanta’s Dan Quinn and Minnesota’s Mike Zimmer, are subsequently taking a heavier hand with their coaching staff. Zimmer brought on Gary Kubiak as offensive adviser to improve their running game. Quinn, the former defensive coordinator for the Legion of Boom Seahawks, fired his offensive, defensive, and special teams coordinators this offseason and will be calling the defensive plays himself. So when the Vikings offense faces the Falcons defense in this game, it’s a fight between the sides of the ball both Zimmer and Quinn vowed to fix this offseason. Only one can keep their word on Sunday.

Buffalo Bills @ New York Jets

Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Announcers: Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon
Line: Jets -3
Over/under: 40.5
Key Bills injuries and absences: LeSean McCoy (cut)
Key Jets injuries and absences: Cornerback Trumaine Johnson (hamstring, expected to play), tackle Brandon Shell (ACL recovery, expected to play), tight end Chris Herndon (suspension), linebacker Avery Williamson (ACL, injured reserve)
What to watch: Josh Allen vs. Sam Darnold

The Dolphins are expected to be the worst team in the league and the Patriots are the Patriots, so the Bills and Jets are in a two-team race for second in the AFC East and a potential wild-card spot. These two won’t meet again until Week 17, which makes this game fairly important for each team’s playoff hopes. When in doubt, pick the quarterback who wet willies, not the one who gets wet-willie’d.

Baltimore Ravens @ Miami Dolphins

Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Announcers: Andrew Catalon, James Lofton
Line: Baltimore -6.5
Over/under: 38.5
Key Ravens injuries and absences: Cornerback Tavon Young (injured reserve, neck), linebacker Jaylon Ferguson (concussion, questionable)
Key Dolphins injuries and absences: Left tackle Laremy Tunsil (traded) receiver Kenny Stills (traded), linebacker Kiko Alonso (traded)
What to watch: The birth of a rushing revolution

Don’t watch this game (or any game this season) for the Dolphins, who have traded away all their good players. The reason to tune into this contest is that Ravens head coach John Harbaugh has said Baltimore’s offense led by Lamar Jackson will revolutionize the sport with concepts not used since Dwight Eisenhower was president.

“We’re probably doing iPhone 1 now,” Harbaugh told ESPN’s Jamison Hensley in July. “We have a whole new idea. It’s not that there is anything new in there, concept-wise, that has never been done in football before. But the way we put it together, to me, is unique and different.”

Just as his brother Jim’s offense at the University of Michigan has caught up to the modern day, John is taking the Ravens back in time. He is probably just hyping the team up (the Harbaughs do that) when he says it might be a revolution on par with Bill Walsh’s West Coast offense 40 years ago, but it’s worth watching their first few drives in case he’s telling the truth.

Washington @ Philadelphia Eagles

Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox
Announcers: Kevin Burkhardt, Charles Davis, Pam Oliver (sideline reporter)
Line: Philadelphia -10
Over/under: 45
Key Washington injuries and absences: Left tackle Trent Williams (holdout), tight end Jordan Reed (concussion, questionable)
Key Eagles injuries and absences: None
What to watch: Carson Wentz’s return

The Eagles starting their season against Washington is like Alabama starting their season against Duke. Iron out the kinks, stay healthy, and don’t give up more than three points.

Super Bowl LIII - New England Patriots v Los Angeles Rams
Todd Gurley
Photo by Michael Zagaris/Getty Images

Los Angeles Rams @ Carolina Panthers

Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox
Announcers: Chris Myers, Daryl Johnston, Laura Okmin (sideline reporter)
Line: Los Angeles -2
Over/under: 50
Key Rams injuries and absences: Todd Gurley (knee, expected to play)
Key Panthers injuries and absences: Cam Newton (foot sprain, expected to play), tackle Greg Little (concussion, questionable), pass rusher Bruce Irvin (hamstring, questionable), kicker Graham Gano (knee, injured reserve)
What to watch: Todd Gurley and Cam Newton

The health of Todd Gurley’s knee has loomed over the Rams’ offseason. Gurley, the 2017 Offensive Player of the Year, who signed a contract with $45 million guaranteed last year, was eclipsed in December and the playoffs by C.J. Anderson, who the Rams signed off his couch. After the season, Gurley’s trainer acknowledged Gurley’s knee was arthritic. How head coach Sean McVay manages Gurley, who has scored 30 touchdowns in his last 29 games, will be the most notable aspect of this contest. The Rams drafted running back Darrell Henderson in the third round this year while making sure backup Malcom Brown didn’t leave, and it will not be surprising if one or both see a decent amount of snaps. After a year when McVay rarely substituted players, the Rams are expected to do so far more often this year.

Gurley is not the only player in this game whose health was at the center of his team’s demise last season. Panthers fans have been holding their breath regarding Newton’s shoulder all offseason after he played through the injury in 2018 to little success (he finished with a six-game losing streak) before missing the final two contests of the year. This preseason, he suffered a mid-foot sprain. He is not listed on Carolina’s official injury report, but his injuries are the main concern for Panthers faithful.

Cincinnati Bengals @ Seattle Seahawks

Kickoff time: 4:05 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Announcers: Spero Dedes, Adam Archuleta
Line: Seattle -9.5
Over/under: 44
Key Bengals injuries and absences: Receiver A.J. Green (ankle, out), receiver John Ross (hamstring, questionable), tight end Tyler Eifert (ankle, expected to play) left tackle Cordy Glenn (concussion, questionable), left tackle Jonah Williams (shoulder, injured reserve)
Key Seahawks injuries and absences: Defensive tackle Jarran Reed (suspension), receiver David Moore (arm, out), receiver D.K. Metcalf (knee, questionable), tight end Will Dissly (knee, expected to play)
What to watch: Whether Bengals fans miss Marvin Lewis

For the first time since December 2002, someone other than Marvin Lewis will coach the Bengals on Sunday. It may not go well. New head coach Zac Taylor is 36 years old and he may learn firsthand that wisdom comes with age against Seattle’s Pete Carroll, the oldest coach in the league.

Indianapolis Colts @ Los Angeles Chargers

Kickoff time: 4:05 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Announcers: Greg Gumbel, Trent Green, Melanie Collins (sideline reporter)
Line: Los Angeles -6.5
Over/under: 44.5
Key Colts injuries and absences: Quarterback Andrew Luck (retired)
Key Chargers injuries and absences: Running back Melvin Gordon (holdout), defensive back Derwin James (foot, injured reserve), left tackle Russell Okung (blood clots, injured reserve)
What to watch: The people who show up

This game is defined by who will not be there. Andrew Luck’s retirement just two weeks before the season has dropped the Colts from trendy Super Bowl pick to sad story. The Chargers have not reached an agreement with Melvin Gordon, who wants a new contract or a trade. Both of their backups may beat expectations. Jacoby Brissett was considered one of the better backup quarterbacks in the league, though matching Luck’s pocket shiftiness will be tough. Chargers backup running back Austin Ekeler, one of the most efficient running backs in football last year, will have a far easier time filling in for Gordon. Brissett will be helped by one of the league’s best and brightest offensive lines, led by second-year guard Quenton Nelson. Ekeler will be hurt by the Chargers’ offensive line, which is perhaps the weakest and most uncertain in football. Consider this game the battle between the people who showed up.

New York Giants @ Dallas Cowboys

Kickoff time: 4:25 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox
Announcers: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews (sideline reporter)
Line: Cowboys -7
Over/under: 45.5
Key Giants injuries and absences: Receiver Golden Tate (suspended), receiver Sterling Shepard (thumb, expected to play), cornerback Deandre Baker (knee, questionable),
Key Cowboys injuries and absences: Receiver Amari Cooper (plantar fasciitis, expected to play), defensive end Robert Quinn (suspension), defensive end Randy Gregory (suspension)
What to watch: Expensive running backs

Ezekiel Elliott ended his holdout and signed a contract that pays him $50 million over the next four years, making him the richest running back in the NFL (and by extension, NFL history). Meanwhile, quarterback Dak Prescott and receiver Amari Cooper still don’t have contracts despite being on deals that expire after this season. But while the Cowboys traded for a top-tier receiver to diversify their offense around Elliott last season, the Giants traded away Odell Beckham Jr. this offseason and quadrupled down on Saquon Barkley doing something, anything, on any given play.

There’s an obvious parallel between these teams: Both are building around the running game, proving they are stuck in the past. The difference is the Cowboys have an excellent roster built by drafting well (guard Zack Martin, tackles Tyron Smith and La’El Collins, center Travis Frederick, linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, cornerback Byron Jones) while the Giants have a terrible roster after drafting horribly. Elliott and Barkley will be on display on Sunday, but the massive talent disparity between them will decide the game.

San Francisco 49ers @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Kickoff time: 4:25 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox
Announcers: Kenny Albert, Ronde Barber, Lindsay Czarniak (sideline reporter)
Line: Tampa Bay -1.5
Over/under: 50.5
Key 49ers injuries and absences: Defensive end Nick Bosa (ankle, expected to play), defensive end Dee Ford (knee, expected to play), receiver Jalen Hurd (back, doubtful), receiver Trent Taylor (foot, out), guard Michael Person (foot, expected to play), cornerback Jason Verrett (ankle, questionable), running back Jerick McKinnon (knee, injured reserve)
Key Buccaneers injuries and absences: Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (neck, injured reserve), defensive tackle Vita Vea (knee, questionable), defensive back Deone Bucannon (knee, expected to play)
What to watch: All offense, no defense, color-clashing jerseys

The 49ers intercepted just two passes last year, the fewest ever for an NFL team, but instead of making additions in the secondary, the team added Dee Ford and drafted Nick Bosa, both of whom are already hobbled. They face interception machine Jameis Winston, so something has to give. San Francisco also has the league’s least experienced pass-catching group, but luckily they are facing perhaps the league’s least experienced secondary in Tampa Bay.

Arizona Cardinals v Denver Broncos
Kyler Murray
Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Detroit Lions @ Arizona Cardinals

Kickoff time: 4:25 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox
Announcers: Dick Stockton, Mark Schlereth, Jennifer Hale (sideline reporter)
Line: Detroit -2.5
Over/under: 46.5
Key Lions injuries and absences: None
Key Cardinals injuries and absences: Cornerback Patrick Peterson (suspended), cornerback Robert Alford (fractured tibia, injured reserve), linebacker Haason Reddick (knee, probable), offensive lineman Justin Pugh (shoulder, out)
What to watch: The birth of a passing revolution

The Cardinals’ circuitous route to having Kyler Murray at quarterback and Kliff Kingsbury at head coach is one of the strangest strings of events in any sport in recent history.

  1. April 26, 2018: The Cardinals trade up to draft Josh Rosen no. 10 overall.
  2. June 4: Kyler Murray is drafted no. 9 overall by the Oakland Athletics.
  3. June 6: The Athletics sign Murray to a contract that lets him play college football in 2018.
  4. November 26: Kliff Kingsbury is fired at Texas Tech.
  5. December 5: Kingsbury is hired as offensive coordinator at USC.
  6. December 8: Murray wins the Heisman Trophy.
  7. December 30: The Cardinals finish 3-13, earning the no. 1 overall pick in the draft after one of the worst offensive seasons in NFL history.
  8. December 31: Arizona fires head coach Steve Wilks.
  9. January 8, 2019: Arizona hires Kingsbury away from USC.
  10. January 9: A video emerges of Kingsbury at Texas Tech saying he would take Murray no. 1 overall if he had the first pick in the draft.

11. January 14: Murray declares for the NFL draft.
12. February 14: Murray does not attend spring training for the Oakland Athletics.
13. April: The Cardinals draft Murray no. 1 overall and trade Rosen to Miami.

This perfect storm has led to Kingsbury bringing a brand of Air Raid offense never attempted before in the NFL with a quarterback who never would have been taken first just a few years ago due to his height. This is a team of destiny, but whether that destiny is glorious revolution or spectacular failure remains to be seen.

Pittsburgh Steelers @ New England Patriots

Kickoff time: Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET
Channel: NBC
Announcers: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya (sideline reporter), Terry McAulay (rules analyst)
Line: New England -5
Over/under: 50
Key Steelers injuries and absences: Linebacker Bud Dupree (questionable, hand), safety Sean Davis (questionable, thigh)
Key Patriots injuries and absences: Center David Andrews (injured reserve, blood clots), safety Patrick Chung (out, broken forearm), receiver N’Keal Harry (injured reserve, hamstring/ankle/toe), tight end Ben Watson (suspended)
What to watch: History

These are the two best football teams of the 21st century. Since the Tom Brady–Bill Belichick partnership began in 2001, New England and Pittsburgh are first and second in regular-season wins, playoff wins, net points, and games in which they were favored by point spread. They are the only two teams this century with a winning percentage above 65 percent and the only two teams with fewer than 100 losses.

The story of the Patriots vs. Steelers over the last two decades is, in some ways, the story of modern football. And as in modern football, New England has dominated. These teams have met 15 times in the Brady-Belichick era and the Patriots are 11-4, including 3-0 in the playoffs. Six of their 15 matchups have been one-score games, but only one of those six was in Foxborough. Pittsburgh is 1-5 when traveling to New England, where Sunday night’s game will be played. That game will kick off the 19th year for this rivalry and part of a new phase: Old Brady. The Patriots are expected to return to the original formula that worked under Brady—a strong running game behind an excellent offensive line and a rigid defense that leads to steady but unsexy victories. Brady never looked his age as much as he did in Week 15’s loss to Pittsburgh last year, which broke a five-game and five-year Pittsburgh losing streak to the Patriots.

In a turbulent 12 months in which the Steelers missed the playoffs for the first time since 2013, dealt with Le’Veon Bell’s absence, and then witnessed the Antonio Brown tornado afterward, Pittsburgh’s win over the Patriots was the year’s sole cathartic moment for Steelers fans. Beating New England on Sunday Night Football in Week 1 without Bell or Brown would taste even sweeter.

Houston Texans @ New Orleans Saints

Kickoff time: Monday, 7:10 p.m. ET
Channel: ESPN
Announcers: Joe Tessitore, Booger McFarland, Lisa Salters (sideline reporter)
Line: Saints -7
Over/under: 52.5
Key Saints injuries and absences: None
Key Texans injuries and absences: Running back Lamar Miller (torn ACL, injured reserve), tight end Kahale Warring (injured reserve), tight end Jordan Thomas (injured reserve)
What to watch: Two short-term Super Bowl contenders

Jeni’s ice cream and The Ted Bundy Tapes. That is how Saints head coach Sean Payton coped with New Orleans’s loss to the Rams in the NFC championship game, which eventually led to pass interference becoming reviewable. The loss came two years after the Minneapolis Miracle, so it’s the second consecutive revenge tour for New Orleans. That sounds tiring. What also sounds tiring is playing football at 40, which Drew Brees will do this season. This might be the last year this Saints team has a Super Bowl window with Brees, and their fate literally rests on his shoulders.

The Saints take on Houston, which has just mortgaged its future to protect Deshaun Watson by acquiring left tackle Laremy Tunsil from Miami last week. That type of short-term thinking is usually the Saints’ specialty, and it nearly led them to the Super Bowl last year. Bill O’Brien, the head coach and not-so-shadow GM for Houston, hopes the Texans can get even further.

The real team to watch here is the broadcast booth. Jason Witten and his toupee have left ESPN and Booger McFarland has been elevated from his Boogermobile. Root for Booger to crush it (and the MNF graphics crew to stay on acid).

Denver Broncos @ Oakland Raiders

Kickoff Time: Monday, 10:20 p.m. ET
Channel: ESPN
Announcers: Steve Levy, Brian Griese, Louis Riddick, Dianna Russini (sideline reporter)
Line: Broncos -2.5
Over/under: 42.5
Key Broncos injuries: Quarterback Drew Lock (hand, injured reserve), tight end Jake Butt (knee, injured reserve)
Key Raiders injuries and absences: Antonio Brown (lol)
What to watch: Whether the Broncos pass rushers eat Derek Carr alive

A lot has been written about Antonio Brown. Let’s focus on the players who will play on Monday instead. The Broncos are led by head coach Vin Fangio, the architect and genius behind Chicago’s Monsters of the Midway defensive revival last year. Now Fangio swaps in Von Miller for Khalil Mack and then gets Bradley Chubb, the no. 5 overall pick last year who had 12 sacks as a rookie. Blocking Miller and Chubb will be left tackle Kolton Miller, who was overwhelmed in an injury-riddled rookie year when he gave up the most sacks of any tackle and was graded 76th among the 81 tackles who played 300 snaps last year, according to Pro Football Focus. At right tackle will be Trent Brown, who tied for the second-most quarterback hits allowed by any tackle in 2018. That alone is a recipe for a Raiders shipwreck. On top of that, as Carr tries to get the ball out of his hands quickly, he will likely be looking to a litany of underwhelming and inexperienced receiving options who will struggle to get open quickly against anyone, let alone one of the deepest cornerback groups in football. For all the attention that has been paid to how the Raiders have bungled the Antonio Brown situation, this game may expose how much the rest of the roster has been mishandled too.