Maybe more than we even realize, Week 1 of every new NFL season offers a blank slate, often with little or no carryover from the year before. For instance, home teams were a mediocre 7-8 last season in the opening week, with the Bucs at Dolphins game being postponed by Hurricane Irma.
The favorites won 10 out of the 15 games in Week 1, but were just 8-7 against the point spread, with four the 11 playoff teams from 2016 losing (minus the sidelined Dolphins).
Winning your opener mattered last season, in that nine of the eventual 12 playoff teams of 2017 were victorious, and two of three that lost were playing fellow postseason qualifiers-to-be. Only Tennessee lost its opener to a non-playoff team (at home no less) and managed to still make the Super Bowl tournament.
In case you've forgotten, the biggest Week 1 surprises were Kansas City's opening-night 42-27 blowout win at defending Super Bowl champion New England, Jacksonville going on the road to embarrass Houston 29-7 behind that monstrous 10-sack showing, and to a lesser degree, Philadelphia giving us a preview of coming attractions by laying a 30-17 road beating on Washington.
The story of the NFL's 2018 season starts tonight with the highly anticipated Falcons-Eagles rematch, and there will be 255 regular-season games to come after that. We're going to pick them all — straight up — and then look back to see how much Week 1 foretold.
Atlanta at Philadelphia
The Falcons had their season ended in Philadelphia in last January's NFC Divisional round, and this is an improved Falcons club. I'm predicting both clubs win their divisions, but for this week at least, the defending champions are going to handle an NFC Super Bowl contender's best shot and keep going. This win will be much more about Philly's defense than Nick Foles' work at quarterback, but the Eagles hold serve.
Houston at New England
Once again this is an early matchup of two teams that I see headed for division titles, and there's a ton to like about Houston this season if the Texans can stay healthy. Just like in Week 3 last season, Deshaun Watson will again give the Patriots defense fits, but New England's offense will again save the day.
Winner: New England
Jacksonville at New York Giants
The Giants offense got significantly better this offseason, but we might not be able to fully appreciate the improvement against the vaunted Jaguars defense. Can't wait to see Saquon Barkley debut his moves, and an Odell Beckham Jr. versus Jalen Ramsey matchup might be as good as it gets these days.
Buffalo at Baltimore
I'm buying it's bounce back time in Baltimore for both Joe Flacco and the rest of John Harbaugh's under-the-gun team. The Ravens' Week 17 loss last December put the Bills into the playoffs for the first time since 1999, but good fortune won't smile on Buffalo this time. The Bills have weaknesses at quarterback (Nathan Peterman) and offensive line and Baltimore will take full advantage.
San Francisco at Minnesota
The Jimmy Garoppolo winning streak was fun while it lasted, but it's about to end against one of the league's best defenses. The 49ers losing ex-Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon — their centerpiece free-agent acquisition — to an ACL injury last week was a cruel blow and it won't be overcome this soon.
Pittsburgh at Cleveland
Strangely enough, the Browns' chances to upset the Steelers might have actually been hurt by Le'Veon Bell's continued absence this week, because the Bell melodrama seems to have galvanized the Pittsburgh locker room in common cause. The Browns are better. The Browns will win some games this year. Just not this one.
Cincinnati at Indianapolis
The Colts have already won in Week 1 just by virtue of having Andrew Luck back at quarterback and his throwing shoulder ordeal over. But the Bengals talented offense will have too much firepower for the Colts defense, and Luck's comeback won't get the added bonus of producing a 1-0 start.
Tampa Bay at New Orleans
I wouldn't be surprised to see the Saints struggle longer than they should against a Bucs team forced to start backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick on the road. Tampa Bay in 2018 will be better than last year's dismal club, but if the Saints are legit Super Bowl contenders, they'll find a way to protect their home dome.
Winner: New Orleans
Tennessee at Miami
The Titans lost their opener at home to Oakland last year and still made the playoffs, and they're going to have to dig out of another 0-1 hole this year as well. Tennessee's offense wasn't crisp in the preseason, and the re-tooled Dolphins should be riding the emotional high of having Ryan Tannehill back at quarterback for the first time since early December 2016.
Kansas City at Los Angeles Chargers
Los Angeles is the consensus pick in the AFC West, but it'd be so Chargers-like to let this winnable home game slip away, thereby boosting the chances of the two-time defending division champion Chiefs. Kansas City might have some magic coming from second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes, but the Chiefs defense might be dreadful, and Philip Rivers should capitalize.
Winner: Los Angeles
Dallas at Carolina
I'm not convinced new Panthers offensive coordinator Norv Turner is the guy to fully maximize and rejuvenate Cam Newton's game, but Carolina should be able to tough out a win at home against the so-so Cowboys. I don't get Dallas cutting veteran kicker Dan Bailey and that move could come back to haunt the Cowboys right away in a game that could be a low-scoring and decided by defense. Look for the Panthers to make David Tepper undefeated as the team's new owner.
Seattle at Denver
The Seahawks got holdout Earl Thomas to return to the fold, and rookie linebacker Shaquem Griffin being in the starting lineup is another feel-good development. But Denver has a couple impressive rookie playmakers in running back Royce Freeman and receiver Courtland Sutton, and new quarterback Case Keenum will win his debut and for now put the Broncos passing-game issues aside.
Washington at Arizona
I'm projecting last-place finishes for both teams, but that doesn't mean they won't be entertaining. The Cardinals could be better than I'm expecting if they get the good Sam Bradford and David Johnson does his thing, circa 2016. Washington will hang up some solid offensive numbers with Alex Smith at quarterback, but he and Adrian Peterson will lose their debuts with Jay Gruden's club.
Chicago at Green Bay
Khalil Mack's blockbuster trade to the Bears makes this ancient rivalry considerably more interesting. But in the end, this is Aaron Rodgers against the Bears, and No. 12 owns Chicago. After the bitter disappointment of 2017, the Packers take a successful first step in attempting to start a new streak of playoff seasons.
Winner: Green Bay
New York Jets at Detroit
Knocking off the Lions in his NFL debut wouldn't register as the biggest of upsets for Jets rookie quarterback Sam Darnold. But a Monday night road game adds a little to the degree of difficulty. In the 50th anniversary season of the best Jets team ever, New York will like what it sees of Darnold, but the Lions and Matthew Stafford will find a way to get the Matt Patricia coaching era off to a winning start.
Los Angeles Rams at Oakland
One team got their all-world holdout defensive talent re-signed and locked up for the long term, and one team traded their all-world holdout defensive talent away in the prime of his career. That sums up the opposite directions the Rams and Raiders appear to be headed. Sean McVay personifies youth and forward thinking. Jon Gruden seems to be looking to the past as he begins his second Oakland coaching tenure.
Winner: Los Angeles