After a two-week hiatus from the end of the preseason to the start of the regular season, the NFL kicked off its season Thursday night with the Bills playing the Rams.
That heavyweight battle aside – the defending Super Bowl champions against the prevailing favorite to win the Super Bowl this year – this week’s opening slate of games is seemingly all about revenge. Or at least games in which some key players are competing against their former teams.
And even Thursday night’s game featured one of those meetings, as Bills outside linebacker Von Miller played against the team with which he won a Super Bowl less than a year ago.
The NFL schedule maker showed a flair for the dramatic this week. Not only did Miller get to go back to Los Angeles, but Russell Wilson gets to open the season leading his new team, the Broncos, against his old team, the Seahawks. And Baker Mayfield gets an opportunity to quarterback his new team, the Carolina Panthers, against the team that selected him No. 1 overall in the draft just a few years ago, the Browns.
The Steelers even have one with defensive linemen Larry Ogunjobi, a former Bengal, going back to Cincinnati Sunday.
One thing that has happened in the past few years in the NFL is that teams seem more willing to pay whatever is necessary to pay quarterbacks – yes, I’m looking at you Cleveland and Denver – at the expense of everything else.
And stars are still getting big contracts, but lesser players? They’re moving around or signing short-terms deals more than ever before.
The Steelers are a perfect example of that. In just over 12 months, they gave big contracts to T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick and even made kicker Chris Boswell a deal that made him the highest-paid player at his position, albeit briefly.
Their other signings this offseason, even when they did something such as re-signing right tackle Chuks Okorafor, were two or three-year deals.
And that happened across the league. It seems teams and players are more interested in dating rather than they are long-term marriages.
Will the kind of movement that goes along with those contracts be good for the league? We’ll see.
But it should continue to lead to more player movement – and more instances where former players will be visiting the teams they played with previously.
It does, however, mean that teams can rebuild quickly – if they spend their money right.
- My picks to make the playoffs in the AFC are Buffalo, Baltimore, Indianapolis and the Chargers as division winners, with the Chiefs, Bengals and Steelers being the Wild Cards.
The Steelers? Yep. They’ll win at least nine games this season, which should get them into a tiebreaker to win the final Wildcard spot.
In the NFC, I’ve got Philadelphia, New Orleans, Green Bay and the Rams as the division winners, with San Francisco, Tampa Bay and Minnesota as the Wild Cards.
I’ll take the Chargers over the Bills in the AFC Championship and Philadelphia over Green Bay in the NFC Championship.
The Super Bowl winner will be the Chargers over the Eagles.
This week’s picks
Steelers (plus 6½) at Bengals: Cincinnati didn’t play any starters in the preseason, including a fully-revamped offensive line that has four new starters. That’s an interesting approach. The Steelers, meanwhile, played their starters in the preseason. Everyone assumes because the Bengals spent some money on their offensive line that it will be markedly better. I’m not so sure. The Steelers aren’t a good matchup for your line to still be figuring things out. The Steelers’ coaching staff tried to put a lid on the George Pickens hype in the preseason after the opener. They’ll let him out in this game. This has upset alert written all over it, much like the Steelers shocking the Bills in the opener last year. The Steelers are 19-7-1 ATS as a regular season underdog since 2018. Steelers 24-20
Ravens (minus 7) at Jets: This is another of those “revenge” games where a team’s former star lines up against the team that made him famous. In this case, though, it’s over-the-hill Joe Flacco quarterbacking the Jets against the Ravens. This could get ugly. Take the Ravens, 31-13
Browns (plus 1½) at Panthers: The Mayfield revenge game. Mayfield made news with a report that came out a couple of weeks ago on NFL.com when he told a reporter he would “(Mess) the Browns up,” in this game. Only he used a much harsher word than mess. Mayfield later denied he said it. But it just adds to the vitriol for this one. And the Browns don’t have Deshaun Watson, the player for whom they spurned Mayfield. Take the Panthers, 24-17
Jaguars (plus 2½) at Commanders: The Jaguars have had the No. 1-overall pick in the draft in each of the past two years. They’re starting to acquire some talent again. Trevor Lawrence should be much better in his second season than he was in his first. Take the Jaguars, 27-17
Raiders (plus 3½) at Chargers: Remember, this was the final game of the 2021 regular season and all both teams needed to do was tie to make the playoffs. That didn’t happen as the Raiders won outright in overtime and the Chargers missed the playoffs. The Chargers won’t make it that close this time around. Take the Chargers, 30-24.
Dale Lolley hosts The Drive from 4 to 6 p.m. weekdays on Steelers Nation Radio and writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.
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