Green Bay Packers at Seattle Seahawks
The Super Bowl champions host the Packers in a rematch of the infamous "Fail Mary" contest at CenturyLink Field. A classic matchup featuring a lethal offense (Green Bay) pinned against a stellar defense (Seattle) kicks the 2014 NFL season off in style. The Seahawks—looking to become the first NFL team to repeat as champions since the Patriots won consecutive Super Bowls in the 2003-2004 seasons—start their title defense off in victorious fashion.
Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens
The Bengals have not won in Baltimore since 2009, and furthermore, Andy Dalton is 1-2 in regular season openers with three interceptions and just two touchdown passes. On the opposite site, the Ravens boast a revamped offense with the additions of WR Steve Smith and TE Owen Daniels. New targets could be deadly for Joe Flacco, who is 5-1 in regular season openers. Flacco is a perfect 4-0 in season openers at M&T Bank Stadium with a 100.8 passer rating, throwing eight touchdowns and one interception.
New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons
The Saints have owned this NFC South rivalry of late, winning 13 of 16 against the Falcons since coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees arrived in 2006. Under Mike Smith, the Falcons have posted a grim 3-9 record against New Orleans. The Falcons did little to improve their pass coverage in the offseason, which could come back to haunt them versus the Saints. Jimmy Graham, who recorded TD receptions in both contests against the Falcons last year, could go off for a monster day in what will likely be a high scoring affair.
Washington Redskins at Houston Texans
Both clubs enter 2014 with hopes of erasing the agonizing memories of last season. The Redskins won just three games last year, a season after grabbing the NFC East title in Robert Griffin III's rookie campaign in 2012. The Texans, a popular preseason Super Bowl pick a year ago, lost their final 14 contests in 2013 to finish with the league's worst record. Both clubs are spearheaded by rookie head coaches, likely making this a highly competitive, nail-biting contest.
Minnesota Vikings at St. Louis Rams
The Mike Zimmer era opens against the Rams, who feature one of the most talented front seven's in the NFL. Adrian Peterson should thrive in Norv Turner's system, which has produced the league's leading rusher five times. Yet, I envision the Vikings' Matt Cassel-led offense to struggle against the Rams' ferocious defensive unit.
New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins
This is the best roster the Patriots have assembled since their perfect regular season in 2007. The Patriots will avenge their Week 15 loss at Miami from a season ago, defeating the Dolphins to commence their annual dominance of the AFC East.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Philadelphia Eagles
The Jaguars have steadily bolstered their defense over the past two years, and the play of rookie QB Blake Bortles in the preseason gives the franchise hope moving forward. However, Chad Henne will start for the Jaguars on Sunday against an Eagles' squad expected to grasp the NFC East crown for a second straight year.
Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers
The Browns defense is playoff-ready, but their anemic offense will make it hard for the team to win close games. The loss of Josh Gordon is devastating for the Browns, who will start Brian Hoyer as Johnny Manziel awaits in the wings. Ben Roethlisberger posts a whopping 16-1 record against Cleveland, giving little reason to believe the Browns can pull off the road upset.
Buffalo Bills at Chicago Bears
Losing Kiko Alonso—the 2013 Defensive Rookie of the Year—to a season-ending ACL tear was a devastating blow for the Bills, who could be in store for another long season. The Bears, one of the most talented offenses in football, should win this contest easily.
Oakland Raiders at New York Jets
Rookie Derek Carr gets the nod at QB for the Raiders, who look for their first winning season since 2002. Carr could be the answer for the Raiders under center long term, but it may be asking too much for a QB making his NFL debut to take down Rex Ryan's vaunted defense.
Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs endured a rough offseason, losing many of their core pieces (via free agency) from a team that grabbed a wild-card spot a season ago. Nonetheless, Kansas City plays substantially better at rowdy Arrowhead Stadium.
Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last year's cellar-dwelling Tampa Bay Bucs could surprise this season under Lovie Smith if their offense is up to par. The Panthers, heavily scrutinized this offseason for failing to retain a single wideout from their receiving corps from a season ago (cutting the franchise's all-time greatest player in Steve Smith), could have their hands full against an underrated Bucs' defense.
San Francisco 49ers at Dallas Cowboys
Expect a shootout in this NFC clash. The 49ers are gutted at defense at the moment. NaVorro Bowman is out for at least the first half of the season recovering from his ACL and MCL tear in his left knee that occurred in last season's NFC Championship game. Nose tackle Glenn Dorsey was placed on the Injured Reserve/Designated to Return list on Monday as he rehabs from his torn left biceps.The 49ers are also without Aldon Smith, who will begin serving his nine game suspension on Sunday. The Cowboys, meanwhile, likely possess the league's worst defense. They ranked 30th in the league in passing and 27th against the run a year ago. With DeMarcus Ware defecting to Denver and Sean Lee gone for the season after tearing his ACL in May, the Cowboys will struggle stopping opponents all year.
Indianapolis Colts at Denver Broncos
Peyton Manning lost his first matchup against his former team last season. Don't expect him to drop another to the Colts, even with Indianapolis creeping towards AFC supremacy.
New York Giants at Detroit Lions
Eli Manning suffered his worst season of his career last year, forcing the Giants to shake up their personnel on offense. The Giants' preseason woes under new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo suggest the team will endure immense growing pains on offense this year. The Lions' faithful will be rewarded on "Monday Night Football" as the Jim Caldwell era in Detroit begins on a winning note.
San Diego Chargers at Arizona Cardinals
Arguably the most intriguing matchup of Week 1, the Cardinals and Chargers clash in the second game of the special opening week "Monday Night Football" doubleheader. The Cardinals ranked No. 1 in rushing yards allowed in 2013, but the departure of Karlos Dansby to Cleveland and the season-ending injury to Darnell Dockett makes the defensive line a tad vulnerable. Still, the Cardinals' tenacious secondary consisting of Patrick Peterson, Antonio Cromartie and Tyrann Mathieu should give their opponents fits in the passing game. The Chargers appear primed for a second straight trip to the postseason, but the playoff-hopeful Cardinals grab a tight win in this contest.