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One of the most exciting features about Week 1 in the NFL (besides holy crap football is back!!) is getting an early glimpse at how the biggest offseason moves will change the landscape of the league and the fortunes of a franchise. Here are the moves and subsequent Week 1 matchups on my radar, along with how they could impact the outcome of these season openers.
The beauty of this move? It will be felt on both sidelines in the NFL‘s kickoff game Thursday. Von Miller gives Buffalo the closer they desperately needed, after they went 0-6 in one-score games last year. Including playoffs, Miller actually had more sacks in the fourth quarter and overtime of one-score games last season (3) than the entire Bills team (2).
This is exactly the type of game where Miller’s addition could prove valuable. While Buffalo’s pass rush ranked second in the NFL in pressure rate last year, it fell off to 25th against playoff teams. Miller led the NFL in pressure rate (17%) against playoff teams in 2021 (among 47 players with 200 pass rushes in those games) and could rattle Matthew Stafford, who threw the second-most interceptions against pressure (7) last season.
The Rams, of course, will also be hurt by Miller’s loss. The one area I’m specifically looking at is Josh Allen’s ability to create havoc once he breaks the pocket against the Rams’ dominant defense. It’s truly strength meets strength. Allen threw the most touchdown passes outside the pocket (12) last year, while the Rams were the only defense that didn’t allow one in those situations. They also allowed the lowest completion rate (40%) and yards per attempt (4) outside the pocket. It’s hard to imagine Los Angeles will be as stout in that area without one of the game’s best edge rushers.
While it will take all year to see if Miller is indeed the missing piece who can elevate the Bills from Super Bowl hopeful to Super Bowl champ, we should get a glimpse of his impact on Thursday. His presence on the Bills side, and lack thereof on the Rams, gives me confidence Buffalo makes a statement on opening night.
Pick: Bills -2.5
The Chiefs wide receiving corps was almost completely overhauled this offseason with the trade of Tyreek Hill and additions of JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Skyy Moore. Hill and Travis Kelce accounted for half of the Chiefs’ receiving yards last season, meaning the Cardinals’ defense should be zeroed in on Kelce.
That could signal a slow start in Week 1 for Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offense, depending on how quickly Mahomes and Co. can build chemistry. The Cardinals are one of the best defenses in the league at defending tight ends. In two seasons since drafting linebacker Isaiah Simmons in 2020, the Cardinals have allowed the fewest touchdowns to tight ends (5), along with the third-fewest receptions (133) and receiving yards (1,419). Simmons, the Cardinals’ Swiss Army knife on defense, has allowed the third-lowest completion percentage (55%) to tight ends over that span, among 49 players to defend 30 attempts.
Of course, the adage “you can’t stop him, you can only hope to contain him.” applies to Kelce here. He will probably get his, but Arizona clearly has the defense to contain Kelce and the Chiefs’ speedy wide receivers in this strength-vs.-strength matchup. The Chiefs’ offense and Cardinals defense both ranked third-best in yards after catch average last season.
The Cardinals’ strength on defense should be able to limit Kelce and the Chiefs’ bread-and-butter on offense: YAC. Plus, Patrick Mahomes’ familiarity with his new wide receivers does not yet inspire a lot of confidence.
Pick: Cardinals +6.5
All eyes will be on the Bengals’ revamped offensive line in Week 1. It could have four new starters, three from free agency (Alex Cappa, Ted Karras, La’el Collins) and one draft pick (Cordell Volson). So of course, the unit will be tested right out of the gate. Joe Burrow was the most sacked QB in the league last year and the Steelers’ defense led the NFL in sacks.
Sounds like a recipe for disaster, right? Well, this gigantic mismatch on paper did not play out as you would expect in their two head-to-head matchups last year. The Bengals won both games, outscoring the Steelers 65-20, and Burrow was only sacked twice. Pittsburgh’s pass rush was not even close to getting home. “Joe Cool” was pressured on 20 percent of his dropbacks against the Steelers, compared with 35 percent against all other teams last season.
“Blitzburg” was nowhere to be found, either. Three of Burrow’s four touchdown passes against the Steelers last season came against their blitz, including two 30-plus-yard scores. One potential excuse for the Steelers was the absence of Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt in their first meeting. However, he played 52 snaps and recorded just one pressure in the Steelers’ 41-10 loss in Cincinnati later in the year.
If Cincinnati’s weakness last year wasn’t even exploited by a vaunted Steelers pass rush, it stands to reason Pittsburgh’s best chance to win will be neutralized again by an improved Bengals O-line.
Pick: Bengals -6.5
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