NFL Week 1 game picks: Cowboys upset 49ers; Saints start hot

Take the shot, Ice ... take the shot ...

Yeah, I've felt like Mav for about a week now. No one wants to take a shot at Viper -- er, I mean, the games on tap for Week 1 of the 2014 NFL season. Well, I'm not scared.

There are a myriad of tough contests to predict. Can Ken Whisenhunt's revamped Titans offense pull off an upset in Kansas City? Are the Lovie Smith Bucs for real? What the heck do you make of Robert Griffin III's game? How he will perform against what was one of the worst teams in pro football last year? All of these questions are answered below -- but not without some serious deliberation -- and consumption of Mountain Dew (not Baja Blast).

Regardless of your leanings, this is the time to get excited. We've waited since the first weekend of February for real football to resume -- and it's here. Then again, your leanings do matter. Hit us up with your thoughts or predictions on the opening set below ... @HarrisonNFL is the place.

Let's go.

This could end up being a real shootout -- like 37-34 or higher -- but let's allow for some ramp-up time for highly touted Saints rookie receiver Brandin Cooks and Falcons running backs Steven Jackson and Devonta Freeman. That said, 61 total points is still 61 total points.

The key will be how much the Atlanta pass rush can disrupt Drew Brees' pass protection, because if the answer is "not at all," he'll pick apart the host team. Speaking of protection, we'll all find out together if Matt Ryan will get more help this year from the Falcons' linemen, starting with newly minted left tackle Jake Matthews. And knowing is half the battle. #NOvsATL

Close contest in Baltimore, unlike the Ravens' blowout that resulted from this same matchup in Week 1 of the 2012 season. Whether Joe Flacco has a chance to again bomb the Bengals into submission (21-for-29 passing for 299 yards and two scores on that night two years ago) depends largely on how much time he gets. The Baltimore offensive line has been a topic of conversation; after all, you can't blame all of 2013's running woes (the Ravens had the 30th-ranked rushing attack) on Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce. Meanwhile, talk all you want about Andy Dalton, but Cincy's Giovani Bernard-Jeremy Hill Express could very well decide who starts the year one game down in the AFC North. #CINvsBAL

"Rare it is, an NFL game with no field goals." -- Yoda, talking picks.

Buffalo's offense will have trouble getting within range of the uprights, and I'm not sure Chicago's special teams unit can do anything correctly. Thus, it comes down to the Bears' offense vs. that underrated Bills defense. Jay Cutler will throw a pick-six early on, but ultimately, the trio of Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery will be too much for Buffalo. This will be especially true if EJ Manuel can't get things going, in which case the field-position advantage will reside squarely with the home team.

Thinking veteran running back Fred Jackson will have a nice afternoon for Buffalo. It's hard to take him off the field. #BUFvsCHI

Washington wins a close game in Houston determined by a couple of key Ryan Fitzpatrick turnovers. The Texans need to run the football early and often -- how well they'll be able to do that depends on the Redskins' front seven, which can rush the passer but probably won't be as effective against the run this season. If I were Houston, I'd punish Robert Griffin III until he learns how to slide. Then again, backup Kirk Cousins might get into the game before that happens ... which would make Washington a better team. Nah, better to just let RGIII tackle himself. #WASvsHOU

Here is your upset of the week. Coach Ken Whisenhunt will get that Titans offense going, and with the host Chiefs' offense having sputtered for the majority of the preseason, this contest could come down to special teams. Kansas City scored all sorts of return touchdowns last year; perhaps rookie De'Anthony Thomas can get his club on the board early on Sunday.

I'm anticipating a quietly efficient effort from Tennessee quarterback Jake Locker (17 for 25, 225 yards) with some nice runs -- but not too many -- out of the pocket. #TENvsKC

New England will be up 34-17 in the fourth quarter when the Dolphins' passing attack gets going. Sure, it won't be enough, but at some point, we need to see some urgency from Ryan Tannehill, Mike Wallace and Co. Of course, that will be much easier for the Fins to accomplish if someone emerges in their running game.

The 34 points for the Pats stems from the expectation that Tom Brady comes out fast and Rob Gronkowski is on the field in Miami. But we will see. It'll also be interesting to learn how much Bill Belichick trusts Stevan Ridley, or if Shane Vereen ends up being the man. Alternately, Belichick could turn some previously unknown half-assed mountain boys into fantasy heroes. #NEvsMIA

Ah, a rematch of the 1968 AFL title game. That was an all-timer of a showdown, folks, with Jets quarterback Joe Namath making one of the great throws in postseason history and Daryle Lamonica -- aka, "The Mad Bomber" -- tossing the rock on the other side for the Raiders. If Geno Smith vs. Derek Carr at MetLife Stadium is the sequel, it sure feels like *"Rocky V."*

Actually, two huge figures in this matchup will be the veteran running backs. How much pop will Chris Johnson give the New York offense, and how much does MJD have left in the keg for Oakland? #OAKvsNYJ

Fully expecting this one to be close through three quarters, with Philly pulling away in the fourth. LeSean McCoy, who will consistently test the Jaguars' run defense, should put up 125 rushing yards for the host Eagles.

What we need to see is what Jacksonville coach Gus Bradley's pass rush can provide. That has been a major weakness for some time now, but if you were paying attention to Jags football outside of Blake Bortles and Toby Gerhart in the preseason (or at all, for that matter), you might've noticed the pass rush showed some life. By the way, it's imperative for Nick Foles to get off to a fast start, so the whole city of Philadelphia doesn't full-on soil their Ricky Jordan underoos. #JAXvsPHI

Brian Hoyer goes 34-for-56 passing for 491 yards and rushes for 53 more in Pittsburgh -- and then the Browns fan controlling him quietly shuts off his video game console so he can finish watching "American Pickers."

What can the real-life Hoyer do against this Steelers defense? Not much, especially if he doesn't get help from Cleveland's receivers. Andrew Hawkins has to catch 60 balls in the slot this year, while someone must replace suspended stud Josh Gordon's big-play ability. Miles Austin might be able to do it, at least until he has a hamstring injury in Week 3. As for Pittsburgh, I can't wait to see rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier join forces with veteran Lawrence Timmons to disrupt this struggling Browns offense. Watching tight end Jordan Cameron square off with Shazier and the Steelers' safeties should be fun. #CLEvsPIT

The idea that these two squads can put up this many points might be pie-in-the-sky thinking. The Rams' defense should be able to shut down Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel; St. Louis' offense, meanwhile, is relying on a journeyman quarterback in Shaun Hill and the most suspect receiving corps in the West (west of the Mississippi, that is, not just in the NFC West). Greg "Legatron" Zuerlein probably will be called upon early and often, but his Minnesota counterpart, Blair Walsh, will be the kicker who hits from 50-plus yards twice in this game. Overall, Adrian Peterson needs to dominate for the Vikes to pull off the road win. Still very curious about St. Louis running back Zac Stacy, though. #MINvsSTL

Yes, you read that score right: I'm calling another upset. The Cowboys' offense simply will be too much for a San Francisco defense missing some key playmakers. The Niners' back four, in particular, will be tested all day long in Dallas.

 Tony Romo might throw a boneheaded, late-game pick, but he'll have enough time to work behind a suddenly strong offensive line. 
 Dez Bryant, meanwhile, 
 is a mismatch against any player in the Niners' secondary. And to all those people burying veteran San Francisco running back 
 Frank Gore, I'll say that I think he'll pick up 90 yards on one of the worst defenses in football (including the college ranks, too). 

Low-scoring affair down in Tampa, as the slow-footed Panthers offense feels the effects of a) Cam Newton not being 100 percent, b) the running game lacking explosiveness (still) and c) rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin needing more time. One intriguing matchup for footballheads will be Carolina's Jordan Gross-less offensive line vs. a Bucs pass rush that hasn't been stout since Jon Gruden was roaming the sidelines.

Gruden's old position is now, of course, being filled by Lovie Smith, and the thinking here is quarterback Josh McCown does just enough against the NFC's top defense to make Smith's first foray as Bucs head coach a victorious one. #CARvsTB

Expect some growing pains for the new squadron of Broncos defenders coming out of the gate in Denver. Give it some time; running around in shells (jerseys and shorts) and playing a few series in the preseason isn't enough. That said, the group that will have the hardest go of things in Week 1 will be the Colts' secondary. While I see Peyton Manning struggling some early as he tries to do too much, that won't last long, as you know he wants to quickly wash away everyone's memories of that Super Bowl XLVIII loss.

And yes, we're aware Manning is playing his former team and rising young quarterback Andrew Luck ... but didn't we get 10 gallons of that when they faced off in Indy last year? Give me some Reggie Wayne, though. #INDvsDEN

Big Blue's offensive woes continue with what some are referring to as the "Ben McA- don't" scheme. We could go on all day about how Eli Manning must avoid committing costly turnovers -- like throwing picks or fumbling while trying to spin out of sacks -- on the road, but we won't. Giants running backs Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams presumably will be asked to test the alleged strength of the Lions' front four.

Expect Detroit coach Jim Caldwell to call on Reggie Bush between the 20s and Joique Bell in the red zone, so that this one doesn't turn into a Matthew Stafford 60-pass special. Methinks the Lions rush for more than 120 yards and win. #NYGvsDET

Philip Rivers shows a national television audience that last year's resurgence was no fluke. Now, this doesn't mean the Chargers quarterback will throw for 380 yards in the desert; that's not going to happen against this Cardinals secondary. Instead, look for a highly efficient game by the Bolts that includes a lot of Ryan Mathews, with short passes to Danny Woodhead mixed in; tight ends Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green should also be factors.

For Arizona, it is so important to get young running back Andre Ellington involved early, so that Carson Palmer can make things happen off play-action. Budding receiver Michael Floyd should be a huge factor for the Cards this season. But for this game, I'm thinking San Diego is a slightly better team. This should be one of Week 1's best. #SDvsAZ


Green Bay puts up 14 points in the first half in Seattle but can't control the game late. The Packers should be able to run the football some on this front, especially the way second-year pro Eddie Lacy has been going. The key matchup will be between that Seattle pass rush and Aaron Rodgers' protection. As for the Seahawks' offense, Russell Wilson should be able to get the ball to Doug Baldwin and Percy Harvin, at least to the point that they're converting key third downs. Otherwise, I'm not looking for a huge day from RWI.

If this does come down to a Hail Mary, Seattle is screwed, as Golden Tate -- the Seahawks' hero from two years ago -- will be pushing off as a member of the Detroit Lions on Monday night. #GBvsSEA

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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