There is a beautiful optimism to the start of every N.F.L. season. Just about every team believes it could be this year’s version of the 2022 Giants, who surprisingly stormed to a 9-7-1 record and the playoffs. Every newly acquired player, regardless of age or recent production, is the key to overall improvement and every player who left was probably at the end of their utility anyway.
Week 1 will open with Kansas City, the reigning champion, hosting Detroit on Thursday, and it will culminate in a wildly intriguing matchup between Buffalo and the new-look Jets on Monday. Between those games, a lot of teams are going to start the year 1-0, and their loyal fans will begin dreaming of a Cinderella-like run to the Super Bowl.
Reality can intervene in the weeks to come.
All times Eastern.
N.F.L. Week 1
- Thursday’s Matchup
- Sunday’s Best Games
- Sunday’s Other Games
- Monday’s Matchup
Detroit Lions at Kansas City Chiefs, 8:20 p.m., NBC
Line: Chiefs -4.5 | Total: 52.5
Kansas City seems to love to play a game within a game: How many players can be taken away before Patrick Mahomes can’t thrive? The speedy receiver Tyreek Hill, as demonstrated last year, was expendable. So were other receivers like Sammy Watkins, DeMarcus Robinson and JuJu Smith-Schuster. The team goes through running backs quickly enough that Mahomes doesn’t need to introduce himself. But through it all, Travis Kelce has been there at tight end. Beyond Mahomes’s very first start, which came with the team’s key starters resting in the final week of the 2017 regular season, Kelce has been on the field for all 79 of Mahomes’s starts in the regular season and all 14 of his postseason starts.
Kelce’s hyperextended knee has that streak in jeopardy and while no one would suggest the Chiefs are without options should he be forced to sit, his absence would certainly alter Kansas City’s game plan.
The defending Super Bowl champion, Kansas City is rightly the favorite at home, but with a tendency to start the season slow and then race to wins, the team may not want to mess around with the Lions. Detroit’s offense, led by quarterback Jared Goff, was a top-five unit last season and running back David Montgomery, a newcomer from the Bears, should make the team even more potent. Pick: Chiefs -4.5
Sunday’s Best Games
Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears, 4:25 p.m., Fox
Line: Bears -1 | Total: 43.5
On Oct. 25, 1992, quarterback Jim Harbaugh led the Chicago Bears to a 30-10 win in Green Bay, Wis., over the Packers and their first-year starting quarterback, Brett Favre. It was Chicago’s fifth consecutive win against Green Bay in a rivalry that had become decidedly one-sided. But that was about to change.
Since that fateful day, the Packers have gone 48-14 against Chicago. As Green Bay’s quarterback, Favre ended up going 22-10 against the Bears. His successor, Aaron Rodgers, went 25-5, including an N.F.C. championship game win in the 2010 season on the way to Green Bay’s fourth Super Bowl title.
But the opportunity is there to end that misery. Justin Fields, entering his third year in Chicago, has proved he can be a game-changer as a running quarterback, and with D.J. Moore serving as a legitimate No. 1 receiver, Fields is expected by many to make a big leap as a passer. The Packers have closed the door on the Rodgers era, handing the team over to Jordan Love, an unproven fourth-year player whose selection in the first round of the 2020 draft helped sour the team’s relationship with Rodgers.
Chicago closed last season with 10 consecutive losses, earning the No. 1 overall pick and using it to trade for Moore, and was ranked 23rd in offense and 32nd in defense, so expectations should be tempered. But for the first time in years the Bears are on roughly even footing with Green Bay, as oddsmakers have both teams at +5000 to win the Super Bowl and both with the over-under for their win total set at 7.5 games.
If Fields, who went 0-4 in starts against Rodgers, wants to dramatically improve his status with the Bears faithful, a win over Love and Green Bay would go a long way. Pick: Bears -1
Miami Dolphins at Los Angeles Chargers, 4:25 p.m., CBS
Line: Chargers -3 | Total: 51
While it is true that Kansas City proved it did not need wide receiver Tyreek Hill last season, Hill did not need Kansas City, either. In his first season in Miami, following an off-season trade, Hill set career bests with 119 catches for 1,710 yards. And he was hardly a one-man show, with Jaylen Waddle managing 1,356 yards and eight touchdowns as a No. 2 option in his second season.
Their pairing, along with the return to health of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, should make the Dolphins among the top offenses in the N.F.L. But a disturbing defensive decline has made the team far more one-dimensional than it was.
Running up the score while failing to make any stops is not a recipe for success on the road against the Chargers, a team that can easily keep up offensively and has defensive players like Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack who make game-changing plays. Pick: Chargers -3
Dallas Cowboys at Giants, 8:20 p.m., NBC
Line: Cowboys -3.5 | Total: 46.5
There is no reason the Cowboys should lose this game. They have a more explosive offense and, thanks to linebacker Micah Parsons, they have a defense to match. The Giants, meanwhile, took a huge leap last season, their first under Coach Brian Daboll, that felt unsustainable right up until they beat Minnesota in the wild-card round of the playoffs for their first postseason win since the 2011 season.
But in tight end Darren Waller, the Giants added an interesting option for quarterback Daniel Jones, and that, combined with a season of angry running from Saquon Barkley, could lead to some surprising results. A win at home against a division rival with Super Bowl aspirations would be great for the Giants and would probably result in the television personality Skip Bayless, once again, filming himself throwing some Cowboys merchandise in a trash can. Pick: Giants +3.5
Las Vegas Raiders at Denver Broncos, 4:25 p.m., CBS
Line: Broncos -3.5 | Total: 44
Coach Sean Payton had a winning record in 10 of his 15 seasons with New Orleans and right now that probably sounds pretty sweet for the Broncos, who have gone 44-70 in the regular season since their triumph in Super Bowl 50 in February 2016. Can Payton get Russell Wilson to focus less on being a brand and more on being a quarterback? Was the team’s top-10 defense of the last two seasons a result of actual talent or opposing teams not having to try very hard? Those are reasonable questions that can’t be answered in a single week. But playing at elevation at home against a similarly flawed team should provide a nice start. Pick: Broncos -3.5
Sunday’s Other Games
Philadelphia Eagles at New England Patriots, 4:25 p.m., CBS
Line: Eagles -4 | Total: 45
The days of the Patriots being an automatic pick any time a young, or even youngish, quarterback travels to Foxborough, Mass., have seemingly come to an end. Coach Bill Belichick undoubtedly still has quite a few mind games and strategies to combat the all-around play of a signal-caller like the Eagles’ Jalen Hurts, but he does not have the personnel to make it happen. And on the offensive side, Bill O’Brien seems like a good choice as a coordinator but the pickups of running back Ezekiel Elliott and JuJu Smith-Schuster are a few years past their sell-by date. Pick: Eagles -4
Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks, 4:25 p.m., Fox
Line: Seahawks -5 | Total: 46.5
A few years ago, the Rams seemed like a dynasty in the making thanks to an endless series of salary-cap moves that let the team acquire just about any veteran star they wanted. The bill seems to have come due, however, as Los Angeles is now in a transition period of sorts, with stars like quarterback Matthew Stafford and defensive tackle Aaron Donald surrounded by players nowhere near as accomplished, or talented. That said, the Rams are not as bad as they looked going 5-12 last season, and quarterback Geno Smith isn’t as much of a guarantee to repeat last year’s success as his new contract indicates. This one could be closer than expected. Pick: Rams +5
San Francisco 49ers at Pittsburgh Steelers, 1 p.m., Fox
Line: 49ers -2.5 | Total: 41
The 49ers are favored on the road despite their starting quarterback, Brock Purdy, being on the mend from major elbow surgery on his throwing arm in the off-season, and the team’s best defensive player, Nick Bosa, being a question mark for this week after missing all of training camp in a contract holdout. That is quite an endorsement of San Francisco’s general talent level, but might be giving the team slightly too much credit. Pick: Steelers +2.5
Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns, 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Bengals -2.5 | Total: 47.5
The Browns won’t be any fun to play against as long as Nick Chubb is blasting his way through the line of scrimmage on offense and Myles Garrett is doing the same on defense. There is plenty of talent surrounding both despite the team’s 15-19 record over the last two seasons, and this week’s betting line ignores a fairly amusing reality: Joe Burrow, Cincinnati’s terrific young, fourth-year quarterback, is not only nursing a calf injury but he is also 1-4 against the Browns in his career. Pick: Browns +2.5
Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons, 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Falcons -3.5 | Total: 39.5
Rookie quarterbacks, even the best ones, often struggle when tabbed to start in Week 1. Rookie running backs, on the other hand, have a tendency to surprise. So in a matchup that features Bryce Young, the No. 1 overall draft pick, under center for Carolina and Bijan Robinson in the backfield for Atlanta, advantage, for now, goes to the runner. Pick: Falcons -3.5
Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens, 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Ravens -10 | Total: 43.5
If Lamar Jackson was hoping to emphasize his value to the Ravens last season, going 8-4 as a starter while the team went 2-3 without him (then exited the playoffs quietly in his absence) wasn’t a bad strategy. Now Jackson has a big new contract and the team’s new offensive coordinator, Todd Monken, is back in the N.F.L. following two national championships in the same role with Georgia. Add in wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Zay Flowers, and expectations are off the charts.
A double-digit point spread is almost always a bad pick, but Jackson’s teams have gone 3-1 in Week 1 starts, with wins of 49, 32 and 15 points. And the Texans are very bad.
Pick: Ravens -10
Arizona Cardinals at Washington Commanders, 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Commanders -7 | Total: 38
It would not prove much to win at home against a struggling team like the Cardinals, but in this new era of Washington football, in which the Commanders have Eric Bieniemy running their offense and Daniel Snyder not owning the team, a big win would go a long way to keeping up their fan base’s enthusiasm. Pick: Commanders -7
Tennessee Titans at New Orleans Saints, 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Saints -3 | Total: 41
The magic of Derrick Henry, the Titans’ star running back, does not rely on much help from the quarterback position, but it does need at least a little productivity for everything to work. For a few seasons, Ryan Tannehill was up for that task, but last year he took a major step back and the Titans did as well. A win on the road, however, is not impossible, owing largely to the three-game suspension of Saints running back Alvin Kamara. Pick: Titans +3
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Minnesota Vikings, 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Vikings -6 | Total: 45
Sit back and enjoy the Justin Jefferson show. There will be catching and scoring and dancing. Pick: Vikings -6
Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts, 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Jaguars -5 | Total: 45
The Colts do not think running back Jonathan Taylor is worth even close to as much as Taylor believes he’s worth. That is the root of an issue that got positively messy over the off-season and has now spilled into the season, with Taylor out for the first four games and the Colts being a sizable underdog at home. Having Jacksonville’s Trevor Lawrence thrash them might make the Colts reconsider the number of zeros on Taylor’s paycheck. Pick: Jaguars -5
Buffalo Bills at Jets, 8:15 p.m., ESPN & ABC
Line: Bills -2.5 | Total: 46.5
A young and hungry team that seemed a quarterback away from contention was able to trade for a shoo-in Hall of Famer who isn’t exactly in his prime but can still sling it when it counts. The Jets’ newfound situation created wild expectations, and a little caution might be in order, just in case they get off to a slow start.
Instead, the Jets were the focus of HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” Aaron Rodgers has seemingly been everywhere in New York City, and the Jets — the Jets — are rated by oddsmakers as the seventh most likely team in the N.F.L. to win the Super Bowl this season.
The N.F.L.’s schedule makers have a knack for chaos, and having Week 1 build up to a Monday night game in which the Rodgers Experiment takes on Josh Allen and the Bills feels almost too good to be true.
The game will be the Jets’ debut of Rodgers and running back Dalvin Cook. It will mark the regular-season return to the field of Bills safety Damar Hamlin, who went into cardiac arrest on the field during a “Monday Night Football” game last season. It will be two of the A.F.C.’s best teams, head-to-head and hype-to-hype, trying to gain an early edge in bragging rights in the East division.
If your TV isn’t on when the “Monday Night Football” theme music starts playing, you probably don’t like football. Pick: Jets +2.5