Houston Texans (+9.5) at Kansas City Chiefs
It’s a cruel world we live in that the Texans, who led the Chiefs 24-0 in the 2019 Divisional Round before collapsing to lose 51-31, ended their season in Kansas City and will have to open it in the same place to kickoff the 2020 season. It’s really, really fucked up that that has to happen. And at the same time it’s kind of cool because I’m a Chiefs fan and everything about that Divisional game was awesome. I’ve probably rewatched it on YouTube like 50 times during the offseason.
I’ve tried to talk myself into why Kansas City -9.5 is a good bet, but I just can’t get there. 9.5 points is too many. Sure, the Chiefs have the most loaded offense in the league and their defense could very well be in the upper-third of the league in 2020. Both of those things can be true, and yet it doesn’t mean very much if the Chiefs have to win by double digits to win this bet.
What this number comes down to is the potential of a letdown. Here we will be, on Thursday night, with the Chiefs being unveiled as the defending Super Bowl Champions. Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid will be feeling good about themselves. The defense will be patting themselves on the back. The offense probably won’t give a shit until the Texans take a lead.
DeShaun Watson is one of my favorite quarterbacks in the NFL, and I think he has enough of a chip on his shoulder — based on his recent massive contract extension and the fact that the Chiefs ended up coming back to beat him last January — to keep this game competitive. I like Kansas City to ultimately win, but I have a hard time picturing a beatdown like the spread suggests.
FInal score: Kansas City 29, Houston 21
Miami Dolphins (+6.5) at New England Patriots
To be fair, I like both the Dolphins (6.0 wins) and Patriots (9.5 wins) to go over their season win totals. I just think the two teams will start and end in different directions. New England is breaking in a new quarterback in Cam Newton, so it would make sense for them to need three or four weeks before they hit their stride. Meanwhile, the Dolphins will start the year with veteran QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, and assuming they aren’t in playoff contention come Week 11 or 12 they will likely phase him out for their 5th overall pick, Tua Tagovailoa.
That probably sounds more confusing than it really is, because all I’m saying is I believe the Patriots will be at their weakest in Weeks 1-4 (as Newton learns a new system), and I think the Dolphins will be at their strongest out of the gates (with Fitzpatrick as an obvious upgrade over Tua).
I picture this game being fairly sloppy with points hard to come by, but while I see the Patriots winning I think it’ll be closer to a field goal than a full seven.
Final score: New England 21, Miami 17
Los Angeles Chargers (-3) at Cincinnati Bengals
The Chargers get treated like chopped liver by football fans and the national media, but there’s an outside chance QB Tyrod Taylor is a sizable improvement over the guy he replaced, Phillip Rivers. Now, there’s a reason why Taylor has been a backup for most of his career, while Rivers will likely end up in the Hall of Fame someday. No one is questioning their bodies of work.
But Taylor is around my age, about 30, and Rivers has had a noodle arm for the last decade. Tyrod offers mobility and a stronger — if not more accurate — passing style that could work well surrounded by weapons like receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, and tight end Hunter Henry. We already know the Chargers defense is pretty stacked, even minus their all-pro safety Derwin James who is going to miss the year, but I actually think their offense has the chance to be a top-10 unit. All Taylor has to do is not fuck it up.
On the other side, rookie QB Joe Burrow is going to have to deal with a pass rush led by Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, as well as rookie linebacker Kenneth Murray. I’m expecting five or six sacks and a couple interceptions, as Los Angeles signals to the world that while they no longer have Rivers, they are more than capable of blowing out bad teams.
Final score: Los Angeles 27, Cincinnati 10
Las Vegas Raiders (-3) at Carolina Panthers
Unlike the Dolphins and Patriots, I actually went under on both LV (7.5) and CAR (5.5) season win totals. To varying degrees they are each going to be below average, though I do think Carolina has some upside in the second half of the year. Their problem in immediate terms is that they are breaking in a new coaching staff, and a new quarterback, in a COVID year where they don’t have nearly as much time to prepare during live games.
I’m bearish on Derek Carr’s ability to hold down the starting job in Las Vegas for the whole year, but in Week 1 he’s going to be facing off against a defense that is carved out of straight pudding. I could see running back Josh Jacobs having a monster game, and Carr adding a couple touchdowns to get the team feeling good about itself heading into Week 2.
I’m definitely buying stock in the Panthers looking towards the future, but the first few weeks of the year could be a complete dumpster fire. Their only shot of staying in this game is if running back Christian McCaffrey goes absolutely nuts, because I just don’t see Teddy Bridgewater being able to keep pace with a Las Vegas offense that should be able to move the ball at will.
Final score: Las Vegas 34, Carolina 21