Scully's Week 1 NFL picks: Chiefs will capitalize on Browns defense
The 2021 NFL regular season kicks off with an excellent slate of games. Full stadiums are back, and optimism abounds. Let’s bet some winners!
My Week 1 plays are focused against three divisional heavyweights that appear vulnerable.
Cleveland Browns vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Sun, September 12 2021, 8:25 PM
After roster upgrades during the offseason, Cleveland looks poised to make a serious challenge for the AFC Championship Game, but the schedule maker did them no favors in the opener.
Kansas City starts fast with quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The Chiefs have averaged 37.3 points per game and covered three consecutive openers. They also addressed their biggest weakness (offensive line) during the offseason.
Cleveland brings a different profile. In two openers with quarterback Baker Mayfield, the Browns have been outscored by a 81-19 margin, but offense isn’t the concern for Week 1.
After they ranked 27th against the pass and 21st in total defense last year, the Browns will look to flip a switch with a new group of defenders.
The revamped defense has a possible high ceiling, but to expect a seamless transition, with a number of key players who didn’t take a snap for Cleveland last season, is a tall mountain to climb against the Super Bowl favorite.
Kansas City will win by double digits, and Cleveland should benefit from the setback.
NFL pick: Kansas City -6
Arizona Cardinals vs. Tennessee Titans
Sun, September 12 2021, 5:00 PM
I like the Titans to win the AFC South, but they’ll be a work in progress to start the season.
Cornerback and first-round draft pick Caleb Farley needs time to develop, which leaves a suspect secondary, and Arizona will light up the scoreboard.
Arizona made some important moves defensively during the offseason. The Cardinals signed high-profile free agent J.J. Watt, and if the buzz surrounding rookie linebacker Zaven Collins materializes on the field, watch out for this vastly improved unit.
The Cardinals also took pressure off superstar wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, with the addition of A.J. Green and rookie slot receiver Rondale Moore, and Arizona rates as my surprise team in the NFC.
Arizona came out the gate strong last year, when it defeated a pair of defensive stalwarts (San Francisco and Washington), but a shoulder injury to Kyler Murray slowed the Cardinals' progress. This is a make-or-break season for the third-year quarterback.
Tennessee better be ready. The Titans have outstanding offensive personnel, but the defense was awful at times last season and ranked 29th in yards allowed. Despite the presence of Bud Dupree and other new faces, Mike Vrabel won’t get things corrected overnight.
In a high-scoring game, Arizona will have too much offense for Tennessee.
NFL pick: Arizona +3
Green Bay Packers vs. New Orleans Saints
Sun, September 12 2021, 8:25 PM
New Orleans will apply heavy pressure upon Aaron Rogers, who has thrived behind one of the NFL’s top offensive lines in recent years. Circumstances are now different for Green Bay, which will feature a pair of rookies tasked to replace a pair of All-Pro performers on the interior of the offensive line.
Green Bay can still meet expectations in 2021, but it won’t simply pick up where it left off last season. Not against the New Orleans pass rush. Cameron Jordan anchors a ferocious defensive front, and Marcus Davenport is set for a breakout campaign.
Entering his fourth year, Davenport changed his diet and habits during the offseason, improving his body and mind, and he’s angling for a big-money contract. PFF had Davenport as the top-ranked defensive end in the preseason, and that’s the tip of the iceberg.
It’s an elite defensive unit, and the New Orleans offense has every chance to be more dynamic with Jameis Winston, Alvin Kamara, and Marquez Callaway. Don’t sell Sean Payton short.
Over the last two regular seasons, Green Bay has taken its lumps against the pass-rushing frenzy of San Francisco and Tampa Bay. New Orleans enters in revenge mode, as it surrendered 37 points in a home loss to Green Bay last year, and you better believe the Saints have had this game circled.
Green Bay may be the better team later in the season, but New Orleans will get off to a rousing start.
NFL pick: New Orleans +4