Tampa Bay at New Orleans
The Saints are a 3 1/2-point favorite, but throw that out because there won’t be any fans rocking the Superdome and making it difficult for Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady to communicate. It will be the first time two quarterbacks in their 40s (Brady/Drew Brees) will start in the same game.
Buccaneers 34, Saints 30
L.A. Chargers at Cincinnati
The Chargers lost safety Derwin James for the season during training camp (knee). Look for the Bengals (three-point underdogs) and quarterback Joe Burrow to capitalize in his NFL debut. Each time the Bolts lose, the closer we are to the eventual move to rookie quarterback Justin Herbert.
Bengals 24, Chargers 20
Las Vegas at Carolina
The Raiders are a three-point favorite, but early in the season, the safe pick is going with teams with continuity. Carolina has none — new coach (Matt Rhule), new play-caller (Joe Brady) and new quarterback (Teddy Bridgewater).
Raiders 27, Panthers 17
No Fun League. Boo on the NFL office for reportedly nixing potential trades last weekend between New Orleans-Cleveland and Jacksonville-Baltimore. The target for the Saints and Ravens was outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney. It sounds like the Browns and Jaguars, respectively, would have signed Clowney for around $15 million. They would have then absorbed the signing bonus (say $5 million) and flipped him to the Saints and Ravens, respectively, for a decent draft pick (say second round). But the league office supposedly balked at the “buying” of draft picks. They should reconsider because it would have rewarded ingenuity. Clowney signed with Tennessee.
Big Ben returns. Before the Titans-Broncos nightcap Monday, Pittsburgh visits the New York Giants. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will start for the first time since elbow surgery cost him the final 14 games of last year. “You always have a little bit of jitters and nerves for the first game, but the way I feel now is more than I’ve felt in a very long time,” he told reporters. “I’m sure I’m going to be shaking like a leaf (Monday).” Roethlisberger turned 38 in the offseason and Pittsburgh remains all-in on No. 7; backup Mason Rudolph proved last year he’s not the answer. The Steelers host the Broncos in Week 2.
Raiders’ secondary overhaul. Credit Las Vegas for not being loyal to veterans it signed in free agency. The Raiders released cornerback Prince Amukamara and safety Damarious Randall (who had $1.5 million guaranteed) and are expected to start one rookie (cornerback Damon Arnette) and two second-year players (safety Johnathan Abram and cornerback Trayvon Mullen) against Carolina.
Early loss for Vikings. Minnesota acquired defensive end Yannick Ngakoue last month feeling he could team with Danielle Hunter as productive edge rushers. It will happen, but not until at least Week 4. Hunter, 25, was placed on injured reserve Wednesday (neck). Last year, Hunter became the youngest player in league history to reach 50 sacks (he has 54 1/2). The loss is significant because the Vikings face Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay), Philip Rivers (Indianapolis) and Ryan Tannehill (Tennessee) in the first three weeks.
Panthers turnover. Carolina hit the reset button during the offseason, hiring coach Matt Rhule from Baylor. How different is the roster? Only one of their team captains was a captain for the Panthers last year (defensive tackle Kawann Short). The other captains are quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (New Orleans last year), running back Christian McCaffrey, left tackle Russell Okung (Chargers in ’19) and linebackers Shaq Thompson and Tahir Whitehead (Raiders in ’19). By comparison, only one of Houston’s seven captains is new to the team (Michael Thomas).
Ramsey gets paid. Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey signed his five-year, $100 million contract ($71.2 million) on Thursday, something he had been talking about since he was a rookie for Jacksonville back in 2016. The Jaguars fleeced the Rams for two first-round picks in the Ramsey trade. Will the contract make Ramsey happy? Until the next cornerback signs a deal that exceeds his annual average. In 2021, the Rams will have three players with cap numbers of at least $20 million — Ramsey ($22.5 million), quarterback Jared Goff ($34.625 million — yikes) and defensive tackle Aaron Donald ($27.872 million).