NFL Week 1 game picks: Broncos top Ravens; road 'Hawks soar

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Ninety years ago, the biggest college football star in the country, Red Grange, went on a 17-game barnstorming tour to help George Halas promote his young football team. The Bears gained instant pub, as did the still-fresh-out-of-the-box NFL. That football train trip played a huge part in why we are all here today, wondering who is going to win in Week 1 and, ultimately, who will end up in the San Francisco Bay Area for Super Bowl 50.

While Grange provided the NFL with a rush of popularity, the league has never been more prominent than it is today, as evidenced by the wall-to-wall coverage of this past offseason's biggest stories: from the Jimmy Graham trade to the draft in Chicago to, of course, Deflategate.

Yet, now the games are the story, and man, that's a good thing.

Speaking of good things ... Shoutout to Rand Getlin, my colleague on "NFL HQ," who joined our media team this summer. More welcome additions: Cole Wright, Maurice Jones-Drew and Ike Taylor. (Taylor can be seen wearing smedium shirts around the office often.)

MJD and I recently argued about the current NFL pecking order, yet neither of us could nudge the Seahawks out of the top spot in the Power Rankings. Even without Kam Chancellor in the fold, it's hard to believe Seattle will lose in St. Louis -- for the second year in a row -- this Sunday. But I'm getting ahead of myself here, tipping my picks in the intro. Take a look below, and feel free to share your take: @HarrisonNFL is the place.

Now, let's get to it!

Elliot Harrison went 181-85-1 on his predictions last season. How will he fare in the 2015 campaign? His picks for Week 1 are below.

Green Bay can't be stopped -- well, at least not in Week 1. The Bears' defense will come around at some point in 2015, but the unit will suffer early growing pains, with a scheme change and a secondary that has much room to improve. Shrewd move by Ted Thompson to go grab James Jones, by the way. Now watch him go catch 15 touchdowns, because, well, that's the law of Rodgers. Instead of being forced to rely on rookie Ty Montgomery as the WR3, the best quarterback in the league now has a receiver who can step right in and know the play calls. Don't underestimate established rapport between QB and WR. Jay Cutler could have zero rapport with anybody, given all the injuries for Chicago at wideout. (I don't think rapport is really his deal, anyway.) Matt Forte must run for 100 yards for Chicago to compete. #GBvsCHI

Thinking most fans will say Houston wins at home, so consider this a vote of confidence for Alex Smith and company. Jamaal Charles should help keep the Houston pass rush at bay, even if he is not able to put up monster numbers at Reliant, er, NRG. Love the stadium naming-rights game.

Or not.

For the Texans to win, either Brian Hoyer is going to have to make plays downfield or Alfred Blue must run amok. Hoyer threw three touchdown passes and four picks on passes of 20-plus yards last season, while completing less than half those attempts. As for Blue, well ... Dontari Poe's status is still a bit of a question mark, but K.C.'s front seven is healthier overall than it was for most of last season, when the Chiefs finished 28th against the run. By day's end, Houston's RB might be Alfred Black-and-Blue. Don't forget to tip your waiter, folks. #KCvsHOU

Jets defense dominates at home. The front seven should be too much for a Cleveland running game that doesn't scare anyone -- at least not yet, anyway. Josh McCown can be scary ... for Browns fans. Cleveland's offense is going to get as strong a test as it will get all season, opening up against Todd Bowles' defense. On the flip side, there hasn't been too much chatter about Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall this preseason, with Ryan Fitzpatrick delivering the football. Not expecting jaw-dropping production or anything against the Browns' secondary, but ... Sorry. I couldn't stop myself. Again, tip your waiters! #CLEvsNYJ

Maybe the coolest matchup of Week 1. Can't wait to see this high-powered Colts offense, with Andrew Luck driving the bus and newcomers Frank Gore and Andre Johnson along for the ride. Except maybe Luck should be the kind of bus driver that Bill Parcells used to refer to -- a game manager, in Tuna-speak. Luck has thrown many interceptions in his young career, but that high volume of turnovers has been the result of a high volume of pass attempts. Buffalo's pass rush will be champing at the bit to force Luck into mistakes. And make no mistake, the front seven is a mismatch for Indy's offensive line. Gore earns his paycheck this week. By the way, is he too old yet? (No.) #INDvsBUF

Miami takes care of business in its quest for its first playoff berth -- and first winning season -- since 2008. Chad Pennington was the Dolphins' quarterback then -- a solid player who, due to shoulder injuries, never became an elite player. Ryan Tannehill looks to vault into that latter category this season. If he does, it starts opening day, with Jarvis Landry catching eight balls. Meanwhile, Kirk Cousins will fare much better than people think, but that Redskins O-line is at a disadvantage at just about every spot versus this Dolphins front. Even mighty Trent Williams might struggle with Cameron Wake. Miami, 1-0. #MIAvsWAS

This is the most difficult contest to pick (to watch?) in Week 1. Jacksonville's defense should finish better than last year's unit, which ranked 26th in points allowed. Meanwhile, Carolina's offense certainly will be weaker, sans Kelvin Benjamin. So can Jonathan Stewart pick up the slack in a Mike Shula attack that is crossing its football fingers that rookie Devin Funchess progresses quickly? Speaking of rookies, T.J. Yeldon could provide much relief to both Blake Bortles and the aforementioned Jags defense if he gets it going early. This pick reflects confidence that the Panthers' defense will pick up where it left off at the end of 2014 and force Bortles to try winning the game with a sterling effort of his own. #CARvsJAX

Remember this matchup in STL last year? The Rams' special teams won the game. Literally. Because the offense couldn't do jack. At least, that's what every shocked fan claimed after watching St. Louis employ a fake punt and fake punt return. Will Jeff Fisher and company pull a rope-a-dope with Tavon Austin faking another runback? Seattle ran up 463 yards on offense (to the Rams' 275) -- and still lost. The key matchup: the Max Unger-less Seahawks offensive line vs. the much-ballyhooed St. Louis defensive front. Everyone says the Rams' D-line will be able to control games this year. Let's see it. #SEAvsSTL

Predicting a low score, as the Saints will be running the rock, and both offenses will be working out the kinks. On that note, "You Really Got Me" was a Kinks song before Van Halen rocked it out. Oh, so you're not here for that kind of info?

The trick to Arizona winning games is how Bruce Arians' club fares in the fourth quarter. Last year, the Cardinals forced a staggering 14 fourth-quarter takeaways, posting a league-leading plus-10 turnover differential in the final stanza. New Orleans? Minus-five. Expect Drew Brees to throw less passes late in games this year, with Mark Ingram and friends involved more. With Arizona being at home, though, we're anticipating the Cards to force mistakes again in the late goings. And I like Kangol caps a lot. #NOvsAZ

Another difficult contest to predict ... The vote here is with the home Bolts -- specifically, little Danny Woodhead, who is going to have a big year in 2015. As for the Lions, Haloti Ngata should also have a large impact on his team this season, as touched on in the Power Rankings. Writing this blurb while watching "Missing Rings: The Story of the 1981 San Diego Chargers," it's not difficult to see the similarities between Dan Fouts and Philip Rivers. Both men are true field generals. As Rivers begins Year 12, I anticipate he will again call many of the plays at the line -- as well as protections, to avoid the RGIII beatdown Detroit can deliver. Can Joique Bell and Ameer Abdullah deliver on the road? #DETvsSD

Marcus Mariota vs. Jameis Winston -- seriously, what are the chances? In case you are wondering, this has never happened in NFL history, where the top two picks -- both quarterbacks -- face off in Week 1. Both will need their running games, and no one is quite sure if either player will get it. Tennessee is still looking for that breakout game from Bishop Sankey, whereas Doug Martin can be Tiki Barber 2.0 for the Bucs -- if he gets the blocking. We've seen it before with Martin. So I trust him more at this point, as well as the Tampa defense. Lavonte David's assault on J.J. Watt's Defensive Player of the Year award begins Sunday. #TENvsTB

This is not a stamp of disapproval regarding the Raiders' 2015 prospects. The thought here is that the Bengals will get off to a fast start, while the Derek Carr- Latavius Murray- Amari Cooper triumvirate might take a few weeks to get rolling. As the talent level in Oakland rises, the rest of the AFC falls back to the pack. That said, Cincinnati carries as loaded a roster as any club in the league. Speaking of one of those talented guys, Jeremy Hill will be able to run on Oakland's front. 1,350 yards this year? Am I too hot dogs and apple pie over Hill? ( @HarrisonNFL) #CINvsOAK

Joe Flacco has delivered a doozy in Denver before, but not seeing it this time. Baltimore opened up at Denver in 2013 -- despite being the defending Super Bowl champs -- due to a scheduling conflict with the Orioles. That contest turned into a Broncos fantasy bash, as Peyton Manning lit up the Ravens' secondary for seven touchdown passes. Not seeing that take place, either. Expect the Ravens to still try to hit the deep ball -- even if rookie speedster Breshad Perriman isn't in the lineup -- while utilizing Justin Forsett 25 times to slow down that ferocious Denver pass rush. Wade Phillips' defense will be top-five this year. Mark it down. #BALvsDEN

You may or may not know that Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have not met the most times among active quarterbacks. Believe it or not, that designation belongs to Tony Romo and Eli Manning, who will be facing each other for the 17th time as starters come Sunday evening. (That's not counting Romo's first significant NFL game action, which came against the Giants when he subbed in for a pat-pat-pat-the-ball Drew Bledsoe.) While Dallas swept last year's series, it probably wouldn't have happened if a) Larry Donnell didn't fumble twice in Big D, and b) Manning didn't have a deflected ball go right into Barry Church's hands in N.J. Still, Dallas will win again because the Giants simply don't have horses up front that the Cowboys can't wrangle. #O-line #NYGvsDAL

Yet another Week 1 matchup that is no easy pickins'. I caught up with one of my NFL.com editors in an effort to lean on his sage advice in determining a winner.

"Eagles win," he said.
"Why?"
"Because they're a better team."


Hard hittin' analysis right there, people.

I, too, feel the Eagles will win, using the run game heavily in the first half while building a double-digit lead. Chip Kelly will have Sam Bradford take vertical shots once the game slows down, which actually might get Atlanta back into the contest. Matt Ryan's Falcons offense is more than capable of capitalizing off takeaways -- if Bradford forces a few throws -- but if Julio Jones gets blanketed, Tevin Coleman must provide balance. Defensively, the Falcons' pass rush will be the difference between winning and losing. Atlanta can ill afford to let Jason Peters pitch a shutout at left tackle. #PHIvsATL

Minnesota steals one on the road. Down three with 1:54 on the clock, Teddy Bridgewater takes the Vikes down the field and wins the game. Perhaps no player has impressed more over the last month of relatively insignificant football while displaying significant development. Let's hope Colin Kaepernick sees the touch Bridgewater puts on his deep ball and assimilates that skill set into his own game. OK, Patrick Willis and Chris Borland will come out of retirement before that happens. The 49ers' D is going to have to help out Kap by halting Adrian Peterson. With the grand attrition in the Niners' front seven and the rash of injuries on the Vikings' offensive line, it will be very interesting to see how the matchup in the trenches plays out. #MINvsSF

ALREADY COMPLETED


I trust the Steelers' defense about as much as I trust a fat kid circling Keebler Stripes. If there is one team in the NFL.com Power Rankings that could be much lower, it's Pittsburgh. The Steelers nabbed a top-five slot in that file, partially because of my lack of trust in Kansas City, Denver and Arizona. This Kickoff Game matchup should answer some big question, including ...

1) Does Tom Brady still have it at 38 years old?
2) Can the aforementioned Steelers defense rush the passer or cover any of Brady's pass catchers?
3) How effective will the Patriots' run game be this season?

Expanding on that last query ... With no LeGarrette Blount, it will be fun to see who gets the rock Thursday night. James White? Dion Lewis? Brandon Bolden? Watch Bolden rush for 200. Meanwhile, with no Le'Veon Bell to burn game clock, the Steelers' D could be on the field more than Pittsburgh would like. Disconcerting. #PITvsNE

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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