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NFL Picks Week 1

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THURSDAY

Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears

Mike Asti: While this historic rivalry has more often favored Green Bay during the Aaron Rodgers era, Chicago is entering the 2019 season as the best team in the NFC North. The defending division champion Bears have a defense led by Pro Bowl linebacker Khalil Mack that is built to deal with Rodgers. As long as quarterback Mitchell Trubisky continues his progression and doesn’t make any backbreaking mistakes, the Bears should be able to pull off the win.

Bears 26, Packers 20

Parker Hurley: Packers
Ron Lippock: Bears
Alan Saunders: Packers

SUNDAY EARLY

Los Angeles Rams at Carolina Panthers

Hurley: Super Bowl hangover? The Rams head to the East Coast to take on a Panthers team that was 6-2 before an injury to Cam Newton derailed their season. The Panthers added to their offensive line and have a strong ground attack that could be tough for the Rams, who lost Ndamakong Suh, and Mark Barron. Look for the Panthers to start off with a home upset of the defending NFC West champs.

Panthers 28, Rams 24

Asti: Rams
Lippock: Rams
Saunders: Rams

Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles

Saunders: Not everything is all right with the Eagles, but there is too much offensive talent between Carson Wentz, Jordan Howard, Miles Sanders, Darren Sproles, Nelson Agholor, DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery to fail to overcome a very average Washington defense. Staying away from turnovers will be key. The Skins were tied for sixth in turnover percentage a year ago.

Eagles 30, Redskins 13

Asti: Eagles
Hurley: Eagles
Lippock: Eagles

Buffalo Bills at New York Jets

Hurley: In a rivalry between two up-and-coming AFC quarterbacks, the Bills did more this offseason to put there’s in position to win than the Jets did. The Jets are changing their defensive scheme and have injuries at all levels of their defense. With a revamped offensive line, and skill plays, look for Josh Allen and the Bills to put up some offense in an AFC East win.

Bills 24, Jets 20

Asti: Bills
Lippock: Jets
Saunders: Jets

Atlanta Falcons at Minnesota Vikings

Saunders: These teams are fairly evenly matched, with Vegas liking the Vikings by four at home, and to win one-half more game over the course of the season. But Matt Ryan is the better quarterback and it’s Week 1 and I’ve already taken too many favorites.

Falcons 27, Vikings 24

Asti: Vikings
Hurley: Vikings
Lippock: Vikings

Baltimore Ravens at Miami Dolphins

Lippock: Too litle big play potential on offense and two few disruptors on defense for this Miami team. Fitzpatrick is a hit or miss quarterback who isn’t afraid to try to make the Ravens pay for being overly aggressive on defense, but he’s doesn’t have the weapons to succeed in doing so. The only way Miami can beat this Ravens team is by forcing turnovers and keeping the score low. But they just don’t have the playmakers on defense to accomplish this either. Miami is vanilla as they get as a team – these are the kinds of teams an aggressive Baltimore defense feasts on.

Ravens 30, Dolphins 10

Asti: Ravens
Hurley: Ravens
Lippock: Ravens

Kansas City Chiefs at Jacksonville Jaguars

Saunders: The Jaguars are a tough first-week opponent, and they may make this one closer than some may think, but Kansas City is still one of the best teams in the AFC.

Chiefs 24, Jaguars 20

Asti: Chiefs
Hurley: Chiefs
Lippock: Chiefs

Tennessee Titans at Cleveland Browns

Asti: Even though those picking Cleveland to win the Super Bowl are going a bit overboard, the Browns should be good. This roster should get Cleveland to the playoffs, something that hasn’t even been a possibility in years. Cleveland’s secondary and big play ability with Baker Mayfield and Odell Beckham Jr. should be enough against an average Titans team. Expect the Cleveland defense to force a couple turnovers and the Baker to OBJ connection to start out strong, especially thanks to their offensive line providing protection and winning the line battle. While this doesn’t mean I’m in any way buying all the Browns hype, Cleveland is the better team in this matchup.

Browns 30, Titans 16

Lippock: This is a good matchup between two teams trying to prove they can take big steps this season. For the Titans to win, their front 5 on defense has to be far superior to the Browns’ offensive line. It’s a home game for a revved up Browns team. If the Titans can survive the early part of the game and not get behind too much too early, they can pull of a mild upset here. It’s just very hard to feel good about the Titans quarterback situation. I think this will be a close game, but Cleveland’s offense will set a pace that Mariotta and company can’t match.

Browns 27, Titans 20

Hurley: Browns
Saunders: Browns

SUNDAY AFTERNOON

Indianapolis Colts at San Diego Chargers

Saunders: Even when Colts were supposed to be good with Andrew Luck, this was going to be a tough game. Jacoby Brissett is not Andrew Luck.

Chargers 17, Colts 6

Asti: Chargers
Hurley: Chargers
Lippock: Colts

Cincinnati Bengals at Seattle Seahawks

Lippock: The Bengals open with a West coast trip to Seattle, and both teams enter the game missing key players on offense. The difference is the Seahawks have a better defense and a quarterback that can help create big plays with his scrambling ability. This game will come down to a couple big Wilson plays and the defense forcing some key turnovers.

Seahawks 23, Bengals 17

Asti: Seahawks
Hurley: Seahawks
Saunders: Seahawks

San Francisco 49ers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Hurley: Bruce Arians is back and ready to sling the football down the field. Luckily for him, he gets a 49ers defense that was one of the worst in the NFL last season. They are still shuffling at all spots besides Richard Sherman, and their big offseason additions, Nick Bosa, and Kwon Alexander are coming off of injuries. With Jimmy Garoppolo shaking off rust as well, the 49ers may start slow while the Bucs come out firing at home to get Arians his first home win.

Bucanneers 31, 49ers 21

Asti: Buccaneers
Lippock: Buccaneers
Saunders: Buccaneers

New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys

Asti: Cowboys
Hurley: Cowboys
Lippock: Cowboys
Saunders: Cowboys

Detroit Lions at Arizona Cardinals

Asti: Lions
Hurley: Lions
Lippock: Lions
Saunders: Lions

SUNDAY NIGHT

Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots

Asti: This Steelers defense is better prepared to face Tom Brady and the Patriots than past years. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin even said as much during his weekly press conference on Tuesday. If Pittsburgh’s pass rush can get to Brady enough, it will actually assist an improved secondary. However, the returning Josh Gordon will also prove to be a type of big play receiver that can take the top of the defense, which is something Brady hasn’t really had since Randy Moss. New England owns the edge in big plays and gets by the Steelers to begin their title defense.

Patriots 23, Steelers 20

Lippock: Some are looking at this as a high-scoring affair, but I don’t think that happens. Pittsburgh’s offense is going to be more methodical — more “take-what-they-give” in 2019 — with Ben being more picky about his deep shots. And New England’s defense is superb – having held the high-flying Rams to 3 points in the Super Bowl. The Patriots are also going to run more power sets on offense to test the smaller, faster Steelers defense and to keep them on their heels. I think this starts off like two heavyweights testing each other early, with each looking for the right opening to knock the other out. The newness of this Steelers defense may keep New England on their heels just enough, and the offense will need some plays for role players like McDonald and Washington to put them over the top in a close one.

Steelers 20, Patriots 17

Hurley: The Patriots are a team that finishes stronger than they start. That can be highlighted by losses to the Lions and Jaguars in the first four weeks last season en route to a Super Bowl. The season prior they lost to Kansas City at home in Week 1. The team just lost their center, has a left tackle making his first career start off of an injury, and does not have a tight end.

Meanwhile, the Steelers have been counting down to Week 1 since trading up for Devin Bush. The Steelers beat New England last season in Pittsburgh and may be the more prepared team in Week 1. Do not expect Tom Brady and Pats to fade away, but look for the Steelers to have a shot to win it in the last seconds.

Steelers 24, Patriots 23

Saunders: The Patriots are the better team. The Steelers can win this game. That’s the way it worked in 2018, when New England won the Super Bowl. In fact, Pittsburgh is the last team to beat the Pats. But that was at Heinz Field. Gilette Stadium has been unkind to the Steelers over the years. Is this the breakthrough? It feels awfully close, but I’ll fall back to the better team winning a tight one.

Patriots 27, Steelers 24 (OT)

MONDAY NIGHT

Houston Texans at New Orleans Saints

Asti: Houston could not possibly have a worse matchup to start their season. JJ Watt and company will have one of their toughest tests all year in week 1 against the Saints. Drew Brees knows how to pick apart a defense as well as any quarterback. Brees’ quick release will help nullify the Texans pass rush. Watt will do damage as always, but the Saints offensive weapons will win the one-on-one battles. This could all result in a big game for Brees and the Saints offense.

Saints 34, Texans 23

Hurley: Saints
Lippock: Saints
Saunders: Texans

Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders

Saunders:  A home loss to the rival Broncos while Antonio Brown rips his GM from his couch on Instagram would be a fitting finale to Hard Knocks.

Broncos 13, Raiders 10

Asti: Broncos
Hurley: Broncos
Lippock: Broncos

NFL

Former Steelers WR Martavis Bryant Signs with CFL’s Toronto Argonauts

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Former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant is heading north for his next opportunity and signing with the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts, the team announced Monday.

While Bryant is currently suspended indefinitely from the NFL, he has nothing preventing him from continuing his career in Canada. He has not played since 2018 following multiple violations of the league’s drug policy.

Selected in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft, Bryant spent the first three seasons of his career in Pittsburgh, catching 126 passes for 1,917 yards and 17 touchdowns. The Steelers traded Bryant to the Oakland Raiders prior to the 2018 season, but played in just eight games before the suspension.

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Steelers Connections Abound in Chiefs-Buccaneers Super Bowl

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While the Pittsburgh Steelers saw their Super Bowl LV hopes dashed two weeks ago, fans will recognize plenty of familiar faces when the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers meet on Feb. 7.

Six players with Steelers ties are expected to take the field in either red or pewter on Super Bowl Sunday, with the two most notable examples being Tampa Bay wide receiver Antonio Brown and Kansas City running back Le’Veon Bell.

Both missed their respective championship games due to injury, but could return to health in time for the Super Bowl with two weeks to recover.

In addition, the Chiefs also boast guard Stefen Wisniewski and punter Dustin Colquitt, who both spent time in Pittsburgh earlier this season.

Wisniewski is in line to make his second-straight Super Bowl start in response to injuries along the Chiefs’ offensive line suffered Sunday, while Colquitt is on Kansas City’s practice squad.

Former Steelers defensive back Ross Cockrell and nose tackle Steve McLendon will take the field for the Buccaneers defensively.

But Tampa Bay’s Pittsburgh connections do not stop on the field, as the Buccaneers will also have six coaches with Steeler ties on the sideline for the big game, including head coach Bruce Arians.

Arians, who is in his second season in Tampa, spent eight years in Pittsburgh, serving as wide receivers coach (2004-06) before being elevated to offensive coordinator (2007-11).

Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich played under Arians in Pittsburgh, and had three separate stints with the Steelers as a backup quarterback to Ben Roethlisberger.

Tampa Bay also boasts assistant head coach and run game coordinator Harold Goodwin, outside linebackers coach Larry Foote, offensive assistant Antwaan Randle El and assistant coach Tom Moore.

Even with the Steelers at home watching along with the rest of the country, Pittsburgh should have no shortage of rooting interests when the Chiefs meet the Buccaneers in Tampa in two weeks time.

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Around the NFL: Championship Game Sunday Features four Star QBs

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Green Bay Packers, 3:05 p.m., WPGH-TV

It will be a Battle of the Bays in the early slot Sunday, as Tom Brady and the Buccaneers visit Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.

Tampa and their athletic defense got the better of Green Bay back in Week 6, winning handedly 38-10 and holding Rodgers to his worst performance of the season.

The Bucs’ relentless pass rush had Rodgers under constant duress, sacking to probable MVP four times and picking him off twice. Rodgers was also held without a touchdown pass for the only time in 2020.

As for Brady and the Bucs, he tossed for 166 yards and two touchdowns of his own. Tampa Bay running back Ronald Jones II had 113 yards and two scores on the ground.

Playing the best football of his career since that loss to Tampa Bay, Rodgers will assuredly be looking to avenge his poor performance back in October to reach his second Super Bowl. He carved up a stout Los Angeles Rams defense for 296 yards and three total touchdowns a week ago, and has tossed one interception over his last 210 pass attempts.

He will try to keep that unblemished streak alive against a Buccaneers defense that picked off New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees three times a week ago.

Tampa’s Tom Brady can reach his tenth Super Bowl with a win over the Packers. No stranger to performing in the elements, Brady will look to carve up the improving Green Bay defense with his patented surgical precision.

Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs, 6:40 p.m., KDKA-TV

While two legends are squaring off in the NFC, a pair of rising stars will go toe-to-toe in the AFC Championship game, as Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs welcome Josh Allen and the Bills.

Cleared from concussion protocol after leaving last week’s win over the Cleveland Browns, Mahomes is still battling a toe injury that could hamper his signature mobility. Luckily for Kansas City, Buffalo is 22nd in the league in pressure rate.

Even without his scrambling, Mahomes is still a threat from the pocket, coming off a season where he threw 38 touchdowns and just six interceptions.

The Chiefs offense will get a boost to take the heat off Mahomes on Sunday night as well, with rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire set to make his return from injury.

Turning to the Bills, they are here behind an MVP-caliber season from Allen, who has made tremendous strides in his third season. His 45 total touchdowns this year are the most ever by a Buffalo quarterback, while he improved his completion percentage by 10.4 percentage points, now at 69.2%.

Allen has protected the football well this season with just ten interceptions, but he will have to be extra cautious opposing the safety Tyrann Mathieu and the Chiefs defense. The “Honey Badger” has five interceptions in his last six games.

Kansas City is looking reach their second-straight Super Bowl, while Buffalo is pursuing their first appearance since 1993.

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