Mike Asti: 11-4-1
Parker Hurley: 11-4-1
Ron Lippock: 8-7-1
Alan Saunders: 9-6-1
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers
Saunders: Panthers. Weird things can happen on Thursday night, especially in the season, and this could be a very sloppy game, but Carolina is the vastly better team.
Arizona Cardinals at Baltimore Ravens
Saunders: Ravens. As tough as the Steelers’ early-season schedule is, the Ravens’ has been the opposite. Steelers can’t afford to spot them too many games, though.
Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins
Saunders: Cowboys, even though they’re forever finding ways to lose games like this that they should win. Skins back Derrius Guice being back on the shelf should help Big D.
Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans
Saunders: Titans. There was a lot of LOL, Cleveland after Tennessee’s Week 1 upset, but the Titans earned that win. The Colts are still finding themselves after Andrew Luck’s retirement.
Seattle Seahawks at Pittsburgh Steelers
Asti: Steelers. While the Seahawks will be a contender this year, the Steelers will win this one. Pittsburgh is usually a safe bet in its home opener and will be especially motivated after what happened in New England. With that said, Russell Wilson won’t be easy to deal with and losing to Seattle wouldn’t necessarily be shocking by any means.
Hurley: Steelers. The Seahawks have the better record but we can all agree it is easier to beat the Bengals at home than the Patriots on the road. The Seahawks have questions in their defense, and Andy Dalton having a strong day without A.J. Green does not ease those concerns. If the Steelers offense cannot get right against an average defense at best on the road, then the Antonio Brown loss is more devastating than believed. Look for the Steelers to get their offense back on track while holding the Seahawks ground attack in check.
Saunders: When I made my pre-season prediction for the Steelers, I put this game down as a loss, but I’ve since changed my tune. Seattle was unimpressive in their home opener against Cincinnati and the Steelers will be highly motivated after an embarrassing defeat in New England.
Steelers 24, Seahawks 13
Buffalo Bills at New York Giants
San Francisco 49ers at Cincinnati Bengals
Hurley: Bengals. The 49ers will spend their second week on the road after beating Tampa Bay in Florida last week. Now, they get Zac Taylor, a young coach who is familiar with San Fransisco due to his time with the Rams in the last two seasons. Taylor had a great gameplan for another NFC West team in Seattle last week, and despite the loss, optimism came, as the team took Seattle to the final whistle in his coaching debut. In his home debut look for him to keep Dalton in comfortable situations, while the 49ers defense may not be as great as the interceptions from Jameis Winston suggested last week. The Bengals should be able to walk away with a win.
Los Angeles Chargers at Detroit Lions
Saunders: Lions. A matchup between two of the NFL’s most underrated quarterbacks. A similar matchup of dynamic tight ends in rookie T.J. Hockensen and Hunter Henry won’t happen, as the latter is out with left knee fracture.
Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers
Hurley: Vikings. The Packers survived a road division game but did not look impressive on offense with their new play-caller. Now, they get a defense as good as the Bears who knows them just as well in Minnesota. Minnesota established a dominant ground attack with a healthy Dalvin Cook and Gary Kubiak helping design plays. The Packers are very thin in their front and played dime almost exclusively against the Bears. Look for Minnesota to shake up an offense that is finding itself while having success on the ground for a second straight week. The Vikings make a statement and move into the driver’s seat of the NFC North with an impressive road win.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans
Saunders: Texans. After losing a heartbreaker, the Texans won’t let me down two weeks in a row, especially against someone named Gardner Minshew II. I actually like the Minshew, but not as a fill-in rookie quarterback playing his first game.
New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins
Saunders: Patriots. By 50.
Kansas City Chiefs at Oakland Raiders
New Orleans Saints at Los Angeles Rams
Chicago Bears at Denver Broncos
Hurley: Broncos. This is a fascinating matchup as the Bears have to travel to take on their former defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. On paper, the Bears are the better team. However, Fangio was around when the team drafted Mitch Trubisky, and he knows what makes the quarterback tick. We know that Trubisky struggles to read defenses and while Matt Nagy may have talent on his side, Fangio is going to make it tough on their quarterback. On top of that, thee Broncos have a deadly home-field advantage in the early season due to the heat and altitude of Denver. If the Bears win, it will be because their defense shut down Joe Flacco and the offense squeaked by. If the Broncos do not turn the ball over, they could benefit from a rattled Trubisky.
Philadelphia Eagles at Atlanta Falcons
Saunders: Falcons. Atlanta always plays well at home, and after being stifled by Minnesota’s defense, which was No. 4 in the league with five yards per play against in 2018, they’ll find the sledding easier against Philadelphia’s 23-ranked unit.
Cleveland Browns at New York Jets
Saunders: Browns. I was leaning towards Cleveland before the Jets lost Sam Darnold to mono and Le’Veon Bell needed a shoulder MRI on Thursday.
Roger Goodell Continues NFL Reopening; Expects Coaches in Facilities Next Week
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has announced the next phase of league reopenings in a memo to teams Thursday.
Starting Monday, June 1, clubs will be permitted to reopen box offices, retail shops and other “customer-facing” locations “as long as the operation of such facilities fully complies with state and local regulation.”
Employees working in these newly opened location will count towards the limit per team set by the league. Clubs are permitted 50 percent of their normal staff, and cannot exceed 75 employees in facilities.
Rehabbing players will continue to be allowed access to team facilities, but healthy players and coaches are still not in the clear to return. Goodell added that the expectation is that coaching staffs can come back to facilities next week.
“We are actively working with Governors and other state and local authorities in those states that have not yet definitive plans and will confirm the precise date on which coaches can return to the facility as soon as possible,” Goodell said.
Coaches have been barred from team facilities in an attempt to ensure competitive equity around the league, considering different states are at different stages in their respective reopening processes.
Goodell added that the league is working alongside the NFLPA to develop protocols that would allow players to return to club facilities in a limited fashion.
The first phase of reopening began on May 19, and it appears to have been successful thus far.
“Clubs that have reopened their facilities have done so in a safe and effective way,” Goodell said.
The league is utilizing three different criteria as it continues with its reopening plan: state and local regulations must be followed, reopening must be consistent with protocols created by NFL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills and competitive fairness must be a priority throughout the process.
The NFL has not yet made announcements regarding training camps, or if games will be played without fans during the 2020 season.
NFL Adds to League Officiating Department; Alberto Riveron Remains Top Replay Official
The NFL has drastically altered the structure of its officiating office, but Alberto Riveron will remain the man in charge of league replay reviews.
The league announced on Thursday that longtime referee Walt Anderson and former NFL coach Perry Fewell have joined the NFL officiating department.
Fewell, 57, will oversee the officiating department, including communications with head coaches and general mangers, and be the league’s liaison to the NFL Referee Association and the NCAA.
He joins the league office after last serving as the Carolina Panthers’ interim head coach in 2019. He was also interim head coach of the Buffalo Bills in 2009. Fewell was the defensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills from 2006-09 and New York Giants from 2010-14 and was a defensive backs coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars (1998-02 and 2017-18), the St. Louis Rams (20030-04), Chicago Bears (2005), Washington Redskins (2015-16) and Carolina Panthers (2019). Fewell also worked as a collegiate assistant at North Carolina, Army, Kent State and Vanderbilt.
Anderson, 67, spent 24 years as an NFL official and the last 17 seasons as a referee before moving into the league office as senior vice president of officiating training and development, where one will oversee game officials, their development, training, education, recruitment and more.
That will leave less on the able other than his role as the league’s lead replay official, a role he will return to for his eighth season.
Each of Anderson, Fewell and Riveron will report directly to NFL executive vice president of of football operations Troy Vincent.
“Our intentions are to implement meaningful improvements to the game and officiating,” Vincent said in a press release. “We will continue to make every effort to improve officiating and pursue officiating excellence.”
NFL to Allow Three Players to Return from Injured Reserve
The NFL owners have voted to expand the number of players that can return from the injured reserve list during the virtual 2020 owner’s meetings, the second session of which was held virtually on Thursday.
NFL teams will now be able to place three players on injured reserve and allow them to return to competition in the same season. Teams had been allowed to return two such players since 2017. When the rule was first installed, only one player could return and he had to be identified beforehand.
Now, players are eligible to return from injured reserve after missing eight weeks, which was clarified in the updated rule for 2020 to mean eight missed team games, and not eight calendar weeks. A regular-season bye week will not count in the eight weeks required to be served. Postseason bye weeks will continue to count toward the minimum.
Players will still be allowed to practice with their teams for two weeks preceding their eligibility to return from the reserve list, and a total of 21 days before he must be added to the roster or remain on injured reserve for the rest of the season.
The proposal, which was submitted by the league office, was the only modification to the league’s bylaws approved during Thursday’s meeting. There were several changes made to the league’s playing rules.
The Steelers placed 10 players on the injured reserve list in 2019: defensive linemen Stephon Tuitt and LT Walton, fullback Roosevelt Nix, linebacker Ulysees Gilbert III quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Mason Rudolph, safety Sean Davis, tight end Xavier Grimble and wide receiver Ryan Switzer. None returned from the designation to play in 2019.