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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

NFL, NFLPA Announce Zero Positive Cases Among Players

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The NFL had zero positive cases among players and just five among staff members in their last round of COVID-19 testing, the league and NFLPA announced Tuesday.

This week’s results mark a slight improvement from the last testing period, where two players and five staff tested positive.

In the period spanning from Sept. 13 – 19, the league administered 36,664 total tests to 7,845 players and staff.

14,074 tests were distributed to 2,438 players. 5,407 staff members received 22,590 coronavirus tests.

Tier 1 and 2 individuals continue to be tested daily, while Tier 3 staff across the league are being tested on a weekly basis.

As the 2020 season approaches week 3, the league’s COVID-19 protocols appear to be working perfectly with no significant virus outbreaks to date.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have not had any virus-related issues since running back Jaylen Samuels was removed from the COVID-19/ Reserve list on Aug. 13.

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Around the NFL: Ravens Roll as Texans Fall to 0-2

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Welcome to Around the NFL, where Cale Berger of Steelers Now will recap the week’s action and take a look ahead at some of the most important matchups from the Pittsburgh Steelers perspective.

Baltimore Ravens 33, Houston Texans 16

Houston’s nightmarish start to the 2020 season went from bad to worse Sunday, as they have now started 0-2 with losses to the Chiefs and Ravens.

The Texans did fairly good job of keeping quarterback Lamar Jackson contained on the ground, but Baltimore’s plethora of running backs picked up the slack. Gus Edwards, Mark Ingram II and J.K. Dobbins combined for 176 yards and a touchdown, averaging a startling 8.38 yards per carry.

Jackson still found a way to make an impact with his arm, throwing for 204 yards and a scores. He completed 75% of his passes and connected with nine different receivers.

Baltimore’s defense did their part as well, making like difficult for quarterback Deshaun Watson. They sacked him four times and intercepted him once. Former Steelers linebacker L.J. Fort also returned a Keke Coutee fumble for a touchdown.

With the Ravens firing on all cylinders and Pittsburgh also sitting at 2-0 on the year, their Oct. 25 meeting cannot come soon enough.

Things will not get easier for either team in Week Three. The Ravens are set for another heavyweight slugfest on Monday Night Football next week versus the Chiefs, while the Texan’s brutal opening slate continues against the Steelers at 1 p.m. Sunday.

Los Angeles Rams 37, Philadelphia Eagles 19

A week after he was sacked eight times by Washington in the season opener, Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz struggled again on Sunday, but the pass protection was not to blame this time. Philadelphia’s patchwork offensive line did not allow a single sack to star defensive tackle Aaron Donald and company, yet Wentz still looked inaccurate and inconsistent.

The former No. 2-overall pick went 26 of 43 for 242 yards and no scores with two costly interceptions. Wentz was even booed off the field after missing a wide-open receiver on a crucial third down. Unfortunately for Wentz, there were no fans in attendance at Lincoln Financial Field.

Even in a pandemic, Philly gonna Philly.

The man picked prior to Wentz in the 2016 NFL Draft looked great in contrast, as quarterback Jared Goff completed 20 of 27 passes for 267 yards and three touchdowns. All three of Goff’s touchdown tosses went to tight end Tyler Higbee, who made his fantasy owners across the country jumping for joy.

Former Steelers defensive tackle Javon Hargrave made his Eagles debut yesterday, but played sparingly and recorded no stats. In comparison, Hargrave’s replacement on the Pittsburgh defensive line Tyson Alualu was a problem for the Broncos’ offense all afternoon, posting a sack, a tackle-for-loss, batting down one pass and hitting the quarterback twice.

The Rams will travel to Buffalo next weekend. The Eagles will host the Bengals and visit the 49ers, before travelling to Pittsburgh in Week Five.

Arizona Cardinals 30, Washington 15

Reigning NFL Rookie of the Year Kyler Murray was stellar again on Sunday, accounting for three total touchdowns (one passing, two rushing) and accounted for 353 yards of offense, as the Cardinals improved to 2-0 to start the year.

Murray also looks to have seamlessly built a rapport with his newest weapon DeAndre Hopkins, who had eight receptions for 68 yards and touchdown in the win. The duo has already combined for 22 completions and 219 yards through two games.

Running back Kenyan Drake also rushed for 86 yards, as Arizona looks like a contender in a stacked NFC West division.

Washington’s offensive duo of the future did not disappoint either, with quarterback Dwayne Haskins completing 19 of 33 passes for 223 yards and a score. Fellow Ohio State Buckeye Terry McLaurin was the biggest beneficiary Sunday, catching seven passes for 125 yards and the score. Still, their connection was not enough to overcome their porous defense.

Washington will battle a pair of AFC North foes in the Browns next Sunday and the Ravens Week Four. Arizona faces Detroit next at home.

REST OF THE SCHEDULE

Cleveland Browns 35, Cincinnati Bengals 30 (Thursday)

Chicago Bears 17, New York Giants 13

Dallas Cowboys 40, Atlanta Falcons 39

Green Bay Packers 42, Detroit Lions 21

Tennessee Titans 33, Jacksonville Jaguars 30

Indianapolis Colts 28, Minnesota Vikings 11

Buffalo Bills 31, Miami Dolphins 28

San Francisco 49ers 31, New York Jets 13

Pittsburgh Steelers 26, Denver Broncos 21

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31, Carolina Panthers 17

Kansas City Chiefs 23, Los Angeles Chargers 20 (OT)

Seattle Seahawks 35, New England Patriots 30

New Orleans Saints at Las Vegas Raiders, 8:15 p.m. Monday, ESPN

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Around the NFL: The Browns’ Backs Pummel Bengals

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Welcome to Around the NFL, where Cale Berger of Steelers Now will recap early-week action and take a look ahead at some of the most important matchups from the Pittsburgh Steelers perspective.

THURSDAY NIGHT HIGHLIGHTS

Cleveland Browns 35, Cincinnati Bengals 30 

An AFC North rivalry kicked off Week Two on Thursday night, as the Cleveland Browns rode their power running game to a victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.

Running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt made their case as the league’s best rushing tandem, carrying for a combined 210 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Hunt also caught a score. The Bengals, who had the worst rush defense in the league last year, had no answer for Cleveland one-two punch, which looks even better with the addition of fullback Andy Janovich this offseason.

Success in the running game led to play-action opportunities for quarterback Baker Mayfield, which he and his receivers took full advantage of. Mayfield finally got on the same page with wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., with the two connecting on a 43-yard score in the second quarter. Thursday showed that new head coach Kevin Stefanski’s system can work when the Browns are successful in the running game early and often.

The Browns defense battered quarterback Joe Burrow all night, sacking him three times and hitting on plenty more occasions. Still, Burrow was impressive in front of a national audience Thursday, remaining calm and collected under constant pressure from the ferocious Browns pass rush. He completed 37 of 61 passes for 316 yards and three touchdowns.

Cleveland will host Washington next, and Cincinnati will travels to Philadelphia for their second-straight road game.

AROUND THE NFL THIS WEEKEND

Los Angeles Rams at Philadelphia Eagles, 1 p.m. FOX regional

A week after allowing quarterback Carson Wentz to be sacked eight times by Washington, the Philadelphia Eagles will welcome the league’s most fearsome pass rusher to Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday when the Los Angeles Rams and defensive tackle Aaron Donald come to town.

Donald dominated the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday Night Football last week, recording a sack, a tackle-for-loss and four quarterback hits. His success opened up rush lanes for his teammates as well, as the Rams had three sacks, three tackles-for-loss and six hits as a team.

Luckily for the Eagles, reinforcements are on the way. Not only will they return tackle Lane Johnson, but they will also get back starting running back Miles Sanders. Both will have to provide a major boost in pass protection for Philadelphia to get back to their winning ways.

Also, former Steelers defensive tackle Javon Hargrave will make his Philadelphia debut on Sunday as well after missing their season opener with both a pectoral and hamstring injury. He should provide a big boost to an Eagles defense that allowed two rushing touchdowns to Washington last week.

Washington at Arizona Cardinals, 4:05 p.m., WPGH-TV

Following the Steelers’ home opener against the Broncos, fans in the Pittsburgh area will be treated to a duel of young quarterbacks in the late afternoon slot when Washington visits the Arizona Cardinals. Both teams are also coming off upset victories over division rivals.

Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray earned Rookie of the Year honors in 2019 behind 3,722 passing yards and 24 total touchdowns. Murray was just as good kicking off 2020, posting 321 total yards and two touchdowns in Arizona’s shocking 24-20 win over San Francisco.

While his numbers may not be as eye-popping as Murray, Washington quarterback Dwayne Haskins also led his squad to a Week 1 win behind 178 passing yards and a touchdown.

The two 2019 first rounders have been solid early, but both have struggled to protect the football throughout their short careers. Murray has 15 turnovers in 17 career games, Haskins has nine giveaways in ten.

As is often the case with young quarterbacks, success for Murray and Haskins on Sunday and going forward will be predicated on and determined by their ability to take care of the football.

Baltimore Ravens at Houston Texans, 4:25 p.m. Sunday, KDKA-TV

No team was dealt a tougher hand to start the season than the Houston Texans, who begin 2020 facing three AFC juggernauts. Sandwiched between their opening night loss to the Chiefs and a Week 3 visit to Pittsburgh, the Texans will battle reigning MVP Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens this Sunday.

Sunday’s matchup will be decided by which team dominates the redzone. The Ravens were phenomenal in the redzone offensively last season, scoring a league-leading 43 touchdowns. Houston was not as stellar defensively, allowing opponents to score touchdowns on 71.4% of their trips, the highest rate in the league.

The story was the same for Houston last week against Kansas City, as they allowed the Chiefs to score on seven of their eight redzone trips.

Baltimore also continued their trend of success from last season, scoring in the redzone at an 83% clip against the Browns last Sunday.

The Texans may have to do the impossible this week to get their first win of the season, which means stopping Jackson and Baltimore’s abundancy of running backs from finding the goal line.

REST OF THE SCHEDULE

New York Giants at Chicago Bears, 1 p.m. CBS regional

Atlanta Falcons at Dallas Cowboys, 1 p.m, FOX regional

Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers, 1 p.m., FOX regional

Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans, 1 p.m., CBS regional

Minnesota Vikings at Indianapolis Colts, 1 p.m., FOX regional

Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins, 1 p.m., CBS regional

San Francisco 49ers at New York Jets 1 p.m., FOX regional

Denver Broncos at Pittsburgh Steelers, 1 p.m., KDKA-TV

Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1:00 p.m., FOX regional

Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Chargers, 4:25 p.m., CBS regional

New England Patriots at Seattle Seahawks, 8:20 p.m., NBC

New Orleans Saints at Las Vegas Raiders, 8:15 p.m. Monday, ESPN

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