Green Bay (+1.0) @ Chicago
Power Rankings: Green Bay 17, Chicago 29
Keys to the game: The Packers offense has entered a new era, trading Aaron Rodgers to the Jets. In comes Jordan Love, the 2020 26th overall pick out of Utah, who's selection resulted in tension between Packers and Rodgers. Love has played sparingly in his first two NFL seasons, attempting just 83 passes. Of those 83, 62 occurred in his rookie season, which was disaster-level bad, resulting in 6 turnover worthy plays (via PFF) and a completion percentage of 58.1%. Last year he played far better, but it's hard to make predictions from a sample size of 21 attempts. It's at least somewhat promising that Love played well in the pre-season, earning a 86.7 grade from PFF on 33 attempts. As for Love the prospect, his play dropped off in his last year in Utah, which was at least partially due to losing much of his offensive personnel and coaching staff. Even still, he panicked far too much under pressure and enjoyed throwing the ball at linebackers too often - it's more than fair to place some of the blame on Love rather than the situation around him. Some saw the 1st round pick as a reach, but his arm talent, which includes overall accuracy and arm strength, was enough for Green Bay to piss off their former sensitive quarterback and grab Love. Whether or not Green Bay has been able to fix his core issues in the last two years remains to be seen. As for the rest of the Packers offense, they continue to have one of the better offensive lines in football, although standout LT David Bakhtiari (knee) isn't practicing. The weaponry is about as young as it gets, with 2nd year receivers Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs are expected to get the bulk of the reps, along with rookies Jayden Reed (slot) and Luke Musgrave (TE). Watson, a 2nd round pick out of North Dakota St, had an excellent rookie season, which included a 4 game stretch where he got 7 touchdown passes. Doubs was a 4th rounder and didn't quite enjoy the same level of success, but it's clear out of camp that he should be a contributor. Both Doubs and Watson are battling hamstring injuries, but Doubs at least did return to practice Thursday, leaving the latter as likely to play and the former as a question mark. At the very least, with a strong line and a dynamic RB duo (Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon), the Packers will have a strong rushing attack. The good news for the young Packers team is they're up against the Bears, who have one of the worst defenses in football. Last year, the Bears produced pressure 22.3% of the time without blitzing (PFF), which was dead last in the league. They went out and grabbed DeMarcus Walker, Andrew Billings, and Yannick Ngakoue in free agency, as well as took multiple lineman in the first three rounds of the draft. However, it still looks like a work in progress defensive line that will likely remain as one of the worst in football. The Bears also made a splash in free agency by signing LB Tremaine Edmunds from Buffalo. Edmunds will be paired up with TJ Edwards, which does at least give them a strong 1-2 punch at linebacker. The secondary is young and has a chance to develop, but they were one of the worst in the NFL a season ago and I'd expect them to start out at the same rate.
QB Justin Fields "broke out" in his 2nd season, as the Bears fans have labeled him their franchise quarterback. I put "broke out" in quotes because Fields broke out as a runner only, gaining 1,143 yards on 89 attempts (7.2 average) and scoring 8 touchdowns. Fields still fumbled 17 times, good for most in the league, but he was a dynamic rushing threat that gave defenses problems. As a passer, Fields completed 60.4% of his passes, gained 7.1 yards per attempt, and earned a PFF grade of 54.4. He also had a high rate of turnover worthy plays (4.4%) and in general struggled with accuracy. The optimists will point to Fields's superb accuracy in college, something that he can hopefully develop to pair with his rushing ability. The Bears traded the 1st overall selection to the Panthers, where they were able to grab DJ Moore. Moore, Darnell Mooney, Chase Claypool, and TE Cole Kmet is a decent group of receivers, but I have questions along the offensive line. They've made changes at every position except LT, keeping Braxton Jones who turned out to be a steal from the 5th round in the 2022 draft class. Teven Jenkings will start at LG, who played RG in 2022. Lucas Patrick takes on the center responsibilities, who played LG/RG for the first 7 weeks of 2022 before injuring his toe, which ultimately sidelined him for the rest of the season. They're also starting Darnell Wright at RT, a rookie out of Tennnesee who the Bears took 10th overall in this years draft. Needless to say, there's a lot of questions on how this offense will perform this season. That all leads to a favorable matchup for the Packers defense, which may be mediocre, but should be able to exploit weaknesses in the Bears offense. The pass rush will look to Rashan Gary, a typical elite edge rusher, but is coming off a torn ACL suffered in week 9 of last year. Other defensive lineman include Preston Smith and Kenny Clark, who have shown flashes off success at times, but have yet to be consistent. They'll also look to Lukas Van Ness, the 13th overall selection in this years draft. It's a group of players that could lead to a lot of success, but there's more questions than answers. The key to the Packers defense is their 1-2 punch at corner (Jaire Alexander and Rasaul Douglas), who should match up well against the Bears receivers.
Las Vegas (+3.5) @ Denver
Power rankings: Las Vegas 18, Denver 21
Keys to the game: The Raiders' offense is brimming with potential. Jimmy Garoppolo provides a capable starting option at quarterback, and will at the very least be healthy for the start of the game. He's armed with a talented arsenal featuring Davante Adams, Hunter Renfrow, Jakobi Meyers, Austin Hooper, and Josh Jacobs. While there may be concerns about the interior of the offensive line, Kolton Miller at left tackle and Jermaine Eluemunor at right tackle are dependable assets. While I harbor doubts about the team's long-term cohesion, Head Coach Josh McDaniels has ample talent at his disposal for this particular game. The Broncos, on the other hand, present a formidable matchup. Despite the addition of DT Zach Allen, the Broncos still appear vulnerable on the defensive front. They've added DE Frank Clark, a name with prestige but little recent performance to back it up. The team's strength lies in their secondary, anchored by the likes of CB Patrick Surtain and S Justin Simmons.
The Broncos' offensive success hinges on Russell Wilson's ability to rediscover his form. Wilson inked a substantial contract prior to last season, enabling him to acquire a luxurious residence in the Denver area, complete with an abundance of bathrooms, but his on-field performance must rise to the occasion. Last season, he ranked a lowly 29th among 39 qualifying quarterbacks in PFF grades, emphasizing the urgency for him to recapture the brilliance he displayed during his tenure in Seattle. While he operates behind an offensive line that has added Mike McGlinchey at right tackle and retained Garrett Boles at left tackle, the interior remains a vulnerable spot. Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy constitute a formidable one-two punch in the receiving corps. They are up against a Raiders defense that appears poised to rank among the league's weakest. Maxx Crosby remains a force to be reckoned with, consistently causing problems for any right tackle in his path. However, concerns arise when looking beyond Crosby, as the defensive line lacks the necessary depth, particularly given Chandler Jones's reported discontent with the team. In the secondary, the addition of CB Marcus Peters during the offseason has strengthened the unit, but there are still questions surrounding the starting cornerback position, where Jakorian Bennett, a fourth-round rookie from Maryland, is slated to begin.
Dallas (-3.0) @ NY Giants
Power rankings: Dallas 4, NY Giants 22
The Cowboys' offense is poised to emerge as one of the league's most formidable units. Dak Prescott, operating behind a dominant offensive line, boasts a wealth of weapons at his disposal, including CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup, and the newly acquired Brandin Cooks.
Additionally, Tony Pollard is now poised to take on the role of the work-horse running back, a welcome change for Dallas as they are no longer obligated to feed an underperforming Zeke Elliott due to a dumb contract. Despite facing criticism from the media, Prescott has consistently delivered solid seasons. Even in what could be considered his worst year since 2018, he still managed a completion rate of 66.2% and averaged an impressive 7.3 yards per attempt, earning a PFF grade of 72.0. Although the offensive line has shown signs of wear and tear in recent years, they now appear to have a robust combination across the board with Tyron Smith at left tackle, Tyler Smith at left guard, Tyler Biadasz at center, Zack Martin at right guard, and Terrence Steele at right tackle. This bodes well for the Cowboys, considering that the Giants boast an impressive defensive line. Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams form a formidable one-two punch at defensive tackle, possibly among the best in the NFL. They'll be complemented by DE Kayvon Thibodeaux, who aims to build upon a successful rookie season that saw him generate 40 pressures. However, the real advantage for the Cowboys lies in the skill positions. The Giants are set to field two rookie cornerbacks, Deonte Banks (25th overall, Maryland) and Tre Hawkins (6th rounder, Old Dominion). While they will have the experienced slot corner Adoree' Jackson alongside them, who has consistently performed well throughout his 7 year NFL career, they'll likely be overmatched by the Cowboys slew of weapons.
After initially declining to pick up Daniel Jones's fifth-year option ahead of the 2022 season, the Giants have since solidified him as their long-term starting quarterback. They signed him to a contract extension through 2026, guaranteeing $82 million with the potential for an additional $35 million in incentives. While Jones didn't experience a breakout season per se last year, with a PFF grade of 76.0, slightly lower than his career-best of 78.4 from 2020, he has consistently proven himself as a capable NFL starter. The most significant change in Jones's fourth year was his improved rushing ability. He amassed 703 total rushing yards, a significant increase from any of his previous seasons (with his second-best being 423 yards in 2020), and scored seven rushing touchdowns, surpassing his total from all his previous years combined. Despite his increased rushing workload, Jones managed to reduce his fumbles to a career-low of just 6.
Nevertheless, the Giants continue to grapple with a substantial issue on their offensive line. While they benefit from the presence of Andrew Thomas, one of the league's better tackles, there are lingering concerns at the other four positions. The team is relying on Evan Neal, the seventh overall pick from the 2022 draft, to make significant improvements after ranking 80th out of 81 qualifiers in PFF grades. John Michael Schmitz Jr., a second-round rookie from Minnesota, won the starting job at center and will be another player to watch.
In terms of skill position players, despite the addition of Darren Waller, there are still gaps to fill. Isiah Hodgins, Darius Slayton, and Parris Campbell are the top options. Saquon Barkley remains the workhorse back, but his effectiveness heavily relies on the performance of his offensive line.
The Giants' offensive line will face a formidable challenge dealing with the dynamic pass-rushing duo of Micah Parsons and Demarcus Lawrence. Parsons in particular firmly belongs in the conversation for best edge rusher in football - he collected an absurd 90 pressures last season, good for 14 sacks and 91.6 PFF grade. While Andrew Thomas is capable of holding his ground against either of them, the Cowboys possess the flexibility to shift their defensive pieces for favorable matchups. With the recent addition of Stefon Gilmore to complement Trevon Diggs, the Cowboys boast a legitimate top-five secondary. It's further strengthened by the presence of safeties Donovan Wilson and Jayron Kearse. The Cowboys are projected to have the third-best defense according to DVOA, and it's evident why they have garnered such high expectations.