Tampa Bay (+6.0) @ Minnesota
Power rankings: TB 25, Minnesota 19
Keys to the game: The Bucs are in full on rebuild mode. You may have heard, but Thomas Brady is no longer taking snaps in the NFL, which led to the Bucs grabbing Baker Mayfield, who won the starting job in the offseason over 2021 2nd rounder Kyle Trask. Although you'll still see the same 1-2 punch at receiver in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, the offensive line projects to be a problem. With Shaq Mason (Texans), LT Donovan Smith (Chiefs), and C Ryan Jansen (IR, knee) no longer starting, there left with a number of holes and question marks. Dominant RT Tristian Wirfs slides over to the left side, while Luke Goedeke takes on the RT duties. Goedeke struggled as a guard last year, but played tackle at Central Michigan before being drafted in the 2nd round last year. With an interior of LG Matt Feiler, C Robert Hainsey, and RG Cody Mauch (2nd round rookie out of North Dakota State), the only sure thing is Wirfs, who happens to be playing a completely different position. This is a potentially dangerous area for Mayfield who has perpetually struggled under pressure. The good news is the Vikings have the worst projected defense by DVOA. The potential mismatch for the Vikings comes in the trenches, where newly acquired DE Marcus Davenport teams up with Danielle Hunter to provide a solid 1-2 punch off the edge. DT Khyiris Tonga and Harrison Phillips should also win easily along the interior. The issue for the Vikings comes from the secondary, where Evans and Godwin should be able to take advantage. Mekhi Blackmon, a 3rd round rookie out of USC, and Akayleb Evans, a 2022 4th rounder who was repeatedly torched last season, both project to start at outside corner.
Tennessee @ New Orleans (-3.0)
Power Rankings: Tennessee 26, New Orleans 15
Keys to the game: The Titans offense is going to rely strictly on the skill position players. The offensive line was train-wreck status last year, and although the Titans overhauled it, it looked equally train-wrecky. Starters include Peter Skoronski at LG, a rookie out of Northwestern who was drafted 13th overall this season. Although expectations are high for Skoronski, he played tackle in college, which could lead to some growing pains to start his NFL career. Aaron Brewer is playing center, a 2020 UDFA who played over 900 snaps at guard last season, and didn't do particularly well there, either. Chris Hubbard is starting at RT, who has struggled since entering the league in 2013 and hasn't been over 800 snaps in a season since 2019. The offense comes down to 35 year old Ryan Tannehill, DeAndre Hopkins, Treylon Burks, TE Chigoziem Okonkwom, and of course, the big dog, Derrick Henry. Bringing in Hopkins was the key move of the offseason, as it allows Burks, a 1st round pick from a year ago, to develop as the Titans 2nd receiver without the added pressure of being the top guy. Tennessee needs to get open fast, but that won't be easy against the Saints. Although I'd argue that the Saints defensive line isn't quite what it used to be, DE Carl Granderson (who broke out last year), and veteran DE Cam Jordan should be more than enough to get to Tannehill. Along with LB Demario Davis, S Marcus Maye, S Tyron Mathie, and CB Marcus Lattimore, it's the 4th best defense by projected DVOA.
The Saints offense features Derek Carr, who has produced a constant string of solid seasons that you're never overly impressed with, but still remains a legit starter in the league. The offensive line also looks to be solid, with Michael Thomas and Chris Olave leading the way at receiver. Thomas's injury woes are well documented, but the wonderful part of spread betting is we only need to project him for a single game, and when Thomas is on the field, he's productive. Olave is looking to build off of a rookie season where he gained 1,044 yards and an 82.5 PFF grade. Although they'll be without Alvin Kamara at running back (suspended for beating up a guy), they did bring in Jamaal Williams. Williams does't have the receiving prowess of Kamara, but he's a very effective runner. The Titans brought in DE Arden Key and got back DE Harold Landry from injury (missed all of 2022 with an ACL). The interior features Jeffery Simmons, Denico Autry, and Teair Tart, and together makes up one of the deepest defensive lines in football. However, the secondary could struggle. It's hard to feel too confident about anyone outside of S Kevan Byard. Their cornerback room is young and could develop down the line, but I'm glad to be on Thomas and Olave's side for this one.
Cincinnati @ Cleveland (+2.5)
Power rankings: Cincy 6, Cleveland 9
Keys to the game: The Bengals offense is well documented. Joe Burrow is a top 3 QB in the league and has a two legit number 1 receivers in Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins as well as a productive slot player in Tyler Boyd. The offensive line has had it's issues over the year, but the Bengals have spent resources in the last two years to help fix things. This year, they brought in Orlando Brown Jr from Kansas City to play LT. That moved Jonah Williams over to RT, a position he played in college. The only true hole left is LG Cordell Volson, which puts the Bengals line in the conversation for top 10 in the league. Cleveland was also busy this line fixing their defensive line -- the 2022 version featured Myles Garrett, arguably the best in the league, and quite literally nobody else. The 2023 version brings in Za'Darius Smith and Ogbo Okoronkwo, which should give Cleveland a legit pass rushing trio. The secondary also contains a number of strong players, including CB Denzel Ward, CB Greg Newsome, and S Juan Thornhill. CB Martin Emerson also impressed as a rookie last season. The Browns will have their work cut out for them against the Bengals, but the group improved over the offseason.
The Browns offense could be one of the better units in 2023 if DeShaun Watson can return to form. Due to sexually assaulting a LOT of women, Watson was only able to play 6 games last year. When he came back, I wrote a lot about how difficult it would be for him. While suspended, it isn't just that you can't play -- you can't access team facilities or participate in practices at all. It effectively meant that Watson had to join the Browns cold, and the results were horrendous. He completed a measly 58.2% of his passes, gained 6.5 yards per attempt, and earned a 55.3 PFF grade. With a full offseason under his belt, if Watson can at least sniff his pre 2021 abilities, Cleveland will be a monster. They have one of the best offensive lines in football, a true #1 receiver (Amari Cooper), and one of the better backs in the league (Nick Chubb). TE David Njoku, WR Donovan People's-Jones, and newly acquired slot WR Elijah Moore should give Watson plenty of options. On defense, the Bengals have a strong pass rush between Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard, as well as one of the better linebacking tandems (Germaine Pratt and Logan Wilson). DT DJ Reader, who the Bengals signed ahead of the 2020 season, continues to be a beast in the run game. The secondary is the likely weakness of the team, as the Bengals had to say good-bye to both starting safeties from last year (Jessie Bates and Von Bell). The Bengals had known for a while that they would be unable to hold onto their safeties, and drafted Dax Hill 31st overall in 2022, who will now be a starter with former Ram Nick Scott. CBs Chidobe Awuzie (outside), Cam Taylor-Britt (outside), and Mike Hinton (slot) are all above-average players. Taylor-Britt, a 2022 2nd rounder, is the biggest question mark. He flashed several big plays in his rookie year, but still allowed a 109.2 QB rating when targeted.