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Week 1 predictions: 49ers top Packers; Cowboys edge Giants

So we did our first Power Rankings of the season this week, and a lot of you sounded off after the column was tweeted out. In between complaints about the New Orleans Saints being too low and intense fantasy questions about whether or not Kenbrell Thompkins should count as a sleeper in a "0.5PPR/dynasty/12-team/cosine over tangent" league, this tweet response was found ...

Gary clearly spent some resources making his Twitter picture look creative, but we love it anyway. At any rate, now it's time for the real deal ... the Triple Lindy.

Yep. We have games on Thursday, Sunday and Monday to forecast. That's awesome. My record in this space last season? OK, maybe not awesome -- but we'll take 146-72-1.

As we make our first foray into the Prognosticator's Ball this season, feel free to give your take ... @HarrisonNFL. (I read 'em all and highlight the best.)

With that said, let's get to it.

The Bills will squeeze out 27 points with a return by Leodis McKelvin (a better punt returner than a No. 1 corner, he is) and a big play made by the front seven -- but it won't be enough. With Stephon Gilmore out and Jairus Byrd suffering from plantar fasciitis, Kenbrell Thompkins and the Pats make hay in Buffalo. That's not to say this will be an easy game for Tom Brady. Expect Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen to combine for over 120 yards, keeping Buffalo's defense honest. In two games against the Bills last year, New England ran for 364. No bueno. As for C.J. Spiller? He'll pick up over 100 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown. #NEvsBUF

The Carolina Panthers are going to be better than you or your crusty neighbor think this year. Next time he invites you over to watch "Kung Fu", don't let him convince you this team can't play some defense. Sunday's matchup will come down to the fourth quarter, when Cam Newton -- who won't take too many risks early -- finally throws a pick, setting Seattle up with nice field position. Backup Seahawks running back Christine Michael pops one from 30 in relief of Marshawn Lynch (82 yards and a touchdown), and the 'Hawks take their season opener on the road. Carolina will hang tough with its rotation on the defensive line, bolstered by rookies Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei. Second-year linebacker Luke Kuechly will clean up the rest. Unfortunately, he can't cover everyone. Expect Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson to hit Golden Tate -- and whoever else -- on intermediate routes with regularity. #SEAvsCAR

Cincinnati -- everyone's AFC darling north of the Arrowhead Stadium -- will have a 23-20 lead late ... and that's when either Tim Jennings or Charles "Peanut" Tillman will strike for the Bears (it's hard to decide which, as both corners made so many clutch plays last season). Rookie Bengals running back Giovani Bernard and crew will find the Bears not as easy to run on as one would think (they ranked eighth against the run in 2012). Bears lead back Matt Forte, meanwhile, will get out in space. Will the Bengals' Vontaze Burfict be caught with his pants down? I suspect the Chicago offense will do that to a lot of linebackers; Forte should snag eight catches here and 88 on the season. #CINvsCHI

Dolphins coach Joe Philbin gets win No. 1 of the 2013 season ... on the road. Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden leads a do-or-die drive late, but it stalls in Miami territory. Dolphins corner Brent Grimes will lock up Greg Little. And with no Josh Gordon (suspended), look for Browns tight end Jordan Cameron to get nine targets. How will Trent Richardson fare? Give him 24 carries for 100 yards versus a solid -- if not spectacular -- Miami front seven. A much-improved Ryan Tannehill takes what the defense gives him in a two-touchdown, one-interception performance. Browns cornerback Joe Haden will probably bait Tannehill into making one errant throw, but that's not enough to deliver a victory. Expect a heavy dose of The Mediocre Express ... I mean, Miami running backs Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas. #MIAvsCLE

Christian Ponder shocks the football world and puts the Vikings in control with two touchdown throws to tight end Kyle Rudolph, taking advantage of safeties cheating toward the run. And then, lo and behold, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford shoves his uninspiring preseason performance (one touchdown pass in 18 possessions) to the side. His throw to Calvin Johnson wins this contest late, echoing that game in Minnesota two years ago. That said, the Lions' defensive front will be the story in this one, limiting Adrian Peterson to 76 yards before he breaks a long run at the end. Eclipsing the 100-yard mark will mean little, however, as the Vikings' own defense -- specifically linebacker Erin Henderson -- fails to shut down the running back on the Lions' side, Reggie Bush. Mark Bush down for six catches. #MINvsDET

Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor ain't scared, and he won't be running that way, either. Look for the young signal-caller to a) secure the snap and look at his first read, b) take a cursory glance at his second receiver, and then c) long-stride it through a crease or to the outside. On the other side, the Raiders' secondary isn't horrible, but facing Andrew Luck at home will be too much. And there is no one on the Raiders who can match up with Colts receiver Reggie Wayne on the outside -- he'll finish with 110 yards and a touchdown. Maybe the better question is, what can we expect from Darren McFadden in 2013? Is the veteran Oakland running back a lesser version of Fred Taylor, or will he put the injuries behind him to explode for 2,000 yards from scrimmage? (Would love your take ... @HarrisonNFL is the place.) #OAKvsIND

This game should be close most of the way, with Kansas City sealing the deal on a late touchdown drive. Jacksonville's linebackers will struggle with Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles. The Jags' pass rush -- which does more decomposing than providing pressure -- must get to Alex Smith. The former 49er is a proven commodity; last year, Smith led the NFL with a 70 percent completion rate. Perhaps the real determinant here is not the play of Jacksonville quarterback Blaine Gabbert, but that of Maurice Jones-Drew. The stud tailback seems to be a forgotten man among the national media. People need to be reminded of the three consecutive seasons in which he rushed for 1,391, 1,324 and 1,606 yards. Don't know about you, but those look pretty good. Still, I'm betting against MJD and Co. in this one. #KCvsJAX

A lot of peeps are expecting the Falcons to fall in New Orleans. After all, they did last year. Shoot, Saints coach Sean Payton has dominated Mike Smith's club, winning six of eight against the silver-haired non-candidate for Bosley Medical. Here's the thing, though: The Saints have to prove they can stop somebody. They don't have the corners to thwart Atlanta receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White, they lack the linebackers to match up with Tony Gonzalez, and they're starting the usual suspects at safety in Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper. Last season, the Saints allowed the most big plays in the NFL, finishing dead last in over a dozen defensive categories. Love Drew Brees. Really love Marques Colston. And I think New Orleans running back Pierre Thomas will do some damage against an average Falcons front seven -- just not enough. #ATLvsNO

This won't exactly be a barnburner. But that's OK. We'll find out if rookie Geno Smith can make former Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis look silly. Or not. Actually, the Jets' chances here hinge largely on what kind of production the club can get from the Bilal Powell- Chris Ivory contingent at running back, and whether rookie cornerback Dee Milliner can lock down his side of the field -- which likely will be where Mike Williams lines up for Tampa Bay. On that note, while all eyes will be on Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman and his ability to "carry the offense," Tampa Bay can really seal the game by getting pressure on Smith. Pass rush has been an issue for the Bucs. Will it continue to be on Sunday? #TBvsNYJ

These two clubs played an uninspiring kickoff game back in 2009, the first game yours truly ever worked on for NFL Network. Uh, other than that, it wasn't too memorable. On that Thursday night, though, Steelers safety Troy Polamalu did show he was pure greatness; he was literally all over the field. But the key to the Pittsburgh win was holding Titans running back Chris Johnson -- on his way to becoming CJ2K -- to 57 yards rushing. Who are the Steelers' playmakers on defense now? Sure, the D is solid, but if I were Tennessee quarterback Jake Locker, I would take off and test that Pittsburgh team speed. Of course, the Titans' receivers aren't going to beat the Steelers. To prevent Ben Roethlisberger from making streetball plays, the Tennessee defense must put his butt on the ground when it has the opportunity. Pittsburgh triumphs with a committee backfield and a couple of clutch throws by Big Ben. #TENvsPIT

Green Bay winds up settling for Mason Crosby field-goal attempts too often in this showdown of NFC powers. Will the Niners' Colin Kaepernick roll for 181 yards on the ground again? Uh, no; that was an NFL record for quarterbacks. But how does 52 yards and a score sound? The youngster will have to find tight end Vernon Davis when it counts, which didn't happen much in 2012 -- Davis caught just 16 balls in the second halves of games last year. With receiver Michael Crabtree out, look for FrankGoreMania. The Niners' front line should dominate the Packers' defensive line, while San Francisco's defensive front seven should more than handle Green Bay's offensive line. Aaron Rodgers has to get the ball out in this game, and he can't hesitate to run when the opportunity presents itself. If Packers tight end Jermichael Finley shows himself to be more reliable than he was last year, that will be a pleasant bonus. #GBvsSF

While Cardinals- Rams might not offer the juice of Ravens- Broncos or Falcons- Saints, this should be an entertaining game. The central storyline here is this: Will Carson Palmer's offensive line be able to protect him against the Rams' front four? If Palmer goes down five times and averages just 6 yards per passing attempt (like he did in the preseason), the Cardinals will lose. The Rams should be able to run the football well enough with Daryl Richardson so that quarterback Sam Bradford doesn't have to put the whole game on his own shoulders. Arizona stays in this one with a big play from Patrick Peterson or Tyrann Mathieu, both extremely dangerous when they get their hands on the ball. #AZvsSTL

Would you believe the Cowboys have yet to beat the Giants in their own new park? Jerryworld has not been kind to its own team, at least not when it comes to hosting the rivals from New York. The Cowboys dropped the opening game at the new place to Big Blue in 2009. In 2010, the Giants knocked Tony Romo out for the season. In 2011, JPP put the DDT on the Cowboys' year. And in 2012, Dez Bryant came up a finger too long. This time around, however, expect Dallas to finally win, as Romo should exploit what likely will be a Jason Pierre-Paul-less defense (that also is suffering through multiple injuries in the secondary). Both Bryant and Miles Austin have looked great in the preseason. Still, second-year running back David Wilson will pop one for the Giants, with Eli Manning capitalizing on a Cowboys miscue (they always have one ... or two ... or ...) to keep New York close. Manning has torched the Cowboys throughout his career, putting up 32 touchdowns and six 300-yard games in 17 outings. If Jerry Jones or his son Stephen have any "secret sauce," now would be the time to put it on the celery. #NYGvsDAL

I'm so looking forward to this Monday Nighter. It should be informative. We'll learn together just what new Eagles coach Chip Kelly has in store for Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy and the rest of the NFL. Will Philly run 82 plays from scrimmage? That would be hard to do against a team that can run the football as effectively as Washington, with a 1,600-yard back in Alfred Morris. The Redskins will need Morris as much as they'll need Robert Griffin III; if those two falter, Washington's defense will be doing more panting than tackling. #CannotWait #PHIvsWAS

OK, don't snicker; the Bolts are going to give the Texans more of a fight than you think. San Diego's defense has the personnel to lock up with Houston, especially with Texans running back Arian Foster not at full throttle. Sure, Andre Johnson will give the Chargers' secondary some trouble, but who hasn't he caused problems for in his 10-year career? Look for defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to win this game for Houston by isolating Chargers backs and left tackle King Dunlap with linebackers. Brooks Reed and Whitney Mercilus will have two or three sacks between them. Oh, and then there's J.J. Watt. In the end, it'll come down to this: Philip Rivers just lacks the kind of go-to guy who can bring San Diego back in the waning minutes. Texans win. #HOUvsSD


The positive news for the Ravens: Von Miller is out and Elvis Dumervil plays for the good guys ... well, at least from Baltimore's perspective. So Joe Flacco should have time, especially with Marshal Yanda healthy again and Bryant McKinnie under contract. But who is the go-to guy on third down? It's not Torrey Smith. The best guess is Ray Rice. Meanwhile, expect Peyton Manning to be more than a little motivated to play at his highest level and eclipse 30 points. Baltimore's offense would need to match the seven third-down conversions and multiple deep balls it produced in last year's playoff thriller to win this one. #BALvsDEN

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter _@HarrisonNFL_.

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