The kickoff of the 2018 New Orleans Saints season begins with an anticipation not seen around Who Dat Nation for a few years now. This Saints team is arguably the deepest and most talented of the Sean Payton era. The front office has built a contender, which made themselves known last season, when they finally shed the stain of a franchise suffering from three consecutive 7-9 seasons and an eternity strapped by the salary cap. They kick off their highly anticipated campaign this week at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Now the Saints are poised to bring New Orleans its second Lombardi title. With the combination of a health and luck, this team may just do it. This has the makings of a team fueled to win the title. Fueled to win as the Drew Brees era comes to its close. Fueled to make good on the promise set in January in Minneapolis. Fueled to “prove ‘em right” when it comes to expectations this season. The Saints have all the fuel they need to get them to Atlanta next February for Super Bowl LIII. Their journey is set to begin, it’s time to set course for a championship, and their time is now.
All season and postseason, Wallace Delery of Canal Street Chronicles will be presenting you with each and every game on the NFL schedule along with my pick for each game. It’s been a long wait for this season to begin, so lets get started.
Thursday, September 6th - NFL Kickoff 2018
The City of Philadelphia finally gets to unveil the championship banner that most of the faithful have waited their entire lives for. To say the atmosphere will be electric would be a severe understatement. Local police may need to grease the lampposts before kickoff in anticipation of this one. The fans will be at a fever pitch from the moment they enter the stadium.
This is a rematch of last season’s Divisional Playoff which Philly won over Atlanta, 15-10. That one basically ended when Julio Jones let a touchdown pass slip through his hands with just over a minute remaining. Just like in that game, Carson Wentz will not be starting at quarterback. The Eagles will have to settle for Super Bowl LII MVP quarterback Nick Foles instead. Tough break. This would be a tough situation for any team to find themselves in, but it’s even tougher for a franchise that has such a knack for shrinking in the biggest moments, like the Falcons. Philadelphia wins 21-17.
Sunday, September 9th - Early Games
Buffalo enters this season coming off their first playoff appearance since the Clinton administration, and although hope is renewed in Orchard Park, it will likely be a return to form this season. Baltimore was the team that saw their playoff spot go to Buffalo when they were torched for a game-ending touchdown in the regular season finale against Cincy. There are still pieces there, but Buffalo isn't as good as a year ago, Baltimore may be making their way to fulfilling that Wild Card spot they lost last season. Baltimore wins 17-14.
The matchup of Leonard Fournette vs. Saquan Barkley will be the biggest story of this game, followed closely by the matchup of Jalen Ramsey one-on-one against Odell Beckham, Jr. Ultimately though, this game will come down to the Giants’ offensive line and their ability to protect Eli Manning from the Jacksonville pass rush, which they won't. Jacksonville will be the favorites to win the AFC South again, but they face stiff competition from a much improved division. Jacksonville wins 24-14.
New England has flat-out owned Houston for years now, and although Houston is primed for a rebound season behind returning quarterback Deshaun Watson. Even with their franchise quarterback under center, it won't be enough to complete the daunting task of pulling out a win in Foxboro, against the class of the AFC. New England wins 35-24.
No quarterback enters this season with the expectations and pressure faced by Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins. The former Washington starter comes to the Twin Cities with a fully guaranteed contract and expectations to lead his new team to a Super Bowl. There is little doubt the talent is in place and the Vikings are contenders, but a lot rests on this teams shoulders, and as seen from the opening bell in Philly in last season’s NFC title game, they may struggle with the expectations.
Jimmy Garoppolo and Kyle Shanahan look to continue the high level of play they showed since Jimmy G made his first start in the Bay Area last year. The Niners look to continue their resurgence this year and that starts with a very surprising win in very hostile territory here. This game will come down to the very last play and San Francisco will squeak out a huge win to start the season. San Francisco wins 23-21.
Tennessee comes into this season off the heels of an uneven, yet ultimately successful campaign last season. Miami looks destined for another season of somewhere between 6 to 8 wins, stuck in the purgatory of aggressive mediocrity, led by returning quarterback Ryan Tannehill. While Jacksonville is still better, and Houston will be back in the mix, Tennessee will be a player in the AFC South, and they’ll start off this season with a win. Tennessee wins 20-17.
Indianapolis was flat-out terrible last season, finishing with just 4 wins, but fortune has shined on Indy this season, with franchise quarterback Andrew Luck returning this year to pull the franchise from the abyss. Luck’s talent along with a new head coach in Frank Reich may just propel Indy to an 8 win season if everything breaks just right. Cincinnati has been trending downward for the past few seasons and has given little reason to believe that trend would not continue. Home field and the emotional return of Luck will be the difference in this close one. Indianapolis wins 21-20.
Cleveland is hoping this is the year they can turn around their hopelessness, after going 1-31 over the past two seasons. Pittsburgh is hoping they can get past their devastating playoff loss to the Jags and also finally solve their New England puzzle. It won't be easy for the Steelers without All-Pro running back LeVeon Bell leading the way. Although things have changed for these teams, much remains the same. Exactly like last season, Pittsburgh opens their campaign in Cleveland. Also like last season, Pittsburgh’s talent, depth, and experience put them just behind New England as the best team in the AFC, and they’ll begin the season by doing what they consistently do, beating Cleveland. Pittsburgh wins 24-17.
Buccaneers at Saints
The Saints begin this season as one of the favorites in the NFC, and should be primed to repeat as NFC South Champions. Tampa was the odd team out in the NFC South last season as the other three teams in the division reached the playoffs. Common sense says this should be easy for New Orleans, but things are rarely ever as easy as they seem. The Saints enter Week 1 as the biggest favorites on the board, but they should expect to have a fight on their hands in this one.
The two most notable players in this game are the two players that will be notably absent from the field. They are Saints running back Mark Ingram and Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston, both serving suspensions to begin the season. Fans may discount the impact Ingram’s absence will have on this offense but that is foolish. Ingram will be missed, and it will be difficult to make up for his absence, but thankfully Drew Brees has a lot of weapons at his disposal this season, even without Ingram in the short-term.
The recipe for success in this one is clear for the Saints. They need to covert the majority of their third downs on offense, and they need to stop the Tampa running game on defense. If they can do this, they can and will control the game. This game will be much closer than most would imagine it would be, but it’s NFC South divisional play, it’s Week 1, it’s a familiar foe, and ultimately, it’s a win for the Black and Gold. Saints win 27-20.
Sunday, September 9th - Late Games
Kansas City enters the season fresh off a humiliating home playoff loss and will be fueled by that fire to start the year in Los Angeles. KC also starts last year’s first-round draft pick, Patrick Mahomes, at quarterback over former QB Alex Smith, who sealed his fate in January and was traded to Washington. Los Angeles should battle KC for the AFC West crown this season but KC has really owned LA in recent years and that trend won't end right here. Kansas City wins 30-17.
This is a battle of two of the preeminent defensive brands of the past five seasons, but those brands have been diminished since their Super Bowl seasons. While Denver has been able to retain their major players like Von Miller while adding to their defense with Bradley Chubb, Seattle has seen their once-vaunted “Legion of Boom” get decimated, with few of their stars remaining. Ultimately, the quarterbacks will be the key to victory here. Seattle’s Russell Wilson will need to carry the franchise on his shoulders for success, while Denver is holding out hope former Viking, Case Keenum, will be the answer they’ve desperately needed under center since the Peyton Manning glory days. A long season for Seattle starts with a loss in the Mile High city. Denver wins 27-21.
Dallas has lost a considerable amount of talent since last year and in a division that features a revitalized team in New York as well as the defending Super Bowl Champions, this doesn't bode well for their chances in the NFC East. Carolina, a playoff team a season ago, and runner-up for the division crown, has an even tougher task in the difficult NFC South, which produced three playoff teams a season ago. Dallas will have a long road to go this season and will depend on Ezekiel Elliott to carry them there. Cam Newton and the Panthers won't have it much easier but they’ll open the season with a victory at home. Carolina wins 24-17.
Here we have a matchup of two veteran quarterbacks making their first starts for their new teams, in Washington’s Alex Smith facing Arizona’s Sam Bradford. Both teams are hoping to sneak up on the teams in their respective divisions, as these two have been mostly overlooked coming into this season. This will be a close one, but Bradford’s Cardinals will pull out the victory at home. Arizona wins 24-23.
Sunday Night Football
Chicago has made quite a few changes to both their roster and coaching staff this year, in hopes of changing their fortunes in the treacherous NFC North. One thing that doesn't change is the fact that Aaron Rodgers has Chicago’s number. That fact won't change here, as Green Bay begins their rebound season with a primetime victory over their oldest rival. Green Bay wins 30-17.
Monday, September 10th - Monday Night Football
Behind rookie quarterback Sam Darnold, the Jets look to be the team with the second-best record in the AFC East this season, and although that may happen, they won't start the season with a win here. Detroit has had incredible luck pulling out close wins at home in recent seasons and that will continue here. Detroit wins 20-17.
If any game feels like a blowout in Week 1, it’s this one. Los Angeles has one of the most stacked starting lineups in the NFL, and although their lack of depth behind the starters will ultimately hurt them later in the season, that will be of no consequence here. Oakland on the other hand, has some big question marks to deal with, one being how they respond to new Head Coach Jon Gruden in real game situations, and secondly, how the team responds to the trade of their best defender and a top-three pass-rusher in the league, Khalil Mack. The Raiders, in a lame-duck situation in Oakland, with its own players questioning the maneuvering of the Mack trade by a new head coach will be too much to deal with against one of the NFC’s top powers. The Rams’ defense will give Derek Carr fits, and he’ll be begging for some protection from LA’s lethal front four. Los Angeles wins 27-3.
That’s how I see it, tell us how you see Week 1 of the 2018 NFL season unfolding. Leave your comments and insight below. Finally, Saints football is back! WHO DAT!!!