Monday Night – Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
Don’t look now, but the Bears are back in prime time. Either someone doing the NFL scheduling hates us or hates the Bears, but either way, it’s not looking good. This time around they’ll be at home in the Windy City as they host the Minnesota Vikings. That said, Chicago did manage to beat a talented Vikings team at Soldier Field last year, so we should keep that in mind coming into this matchup.
Keys to the Game
The Vikings can make this Monday night matchup a laugher by doing what they do best: running the football and overwhelming their opponent with a suffocating defense. This should be easy pickings against a Bears team without Alshon Jeffery and an established quarterback. If Sam Bradford is even serviceable, the Vikings might run away with this one. Chicago will be outmatched on all fronts.
Chicago is going to have to come up with turnovers and big plays in order to beat the Vikings on Monday Night Football. It won’t be easy, but it can certainly be done — I mean, we’ve already seen plenty of Sam Bradford-led teams take an L or two. The Bears can take advantage of that by pressuring Bradford and forcing him back into his old turnover-happy ways. Offensively, a big game from Jordan Howard will have Chicago in the driver’s seat, rolling to back to back home wins over their division rivals.
Sunday Night – Kansas City Chiefs at Houston Texans
This Texans vs Chiefs matchup seems likes it’s becoming a little bit of a rivalry over the last few years. They’ve played 3 games in the last 2 seasons and 2 of the 3 were decided by a touchdown or less. The other game was the 30-0 drubbing the Chiefs put on Houston at home in the playoffs. Ouch. Though Houston did win the last game, you can bet they still feel the sting of that loss every time they see Kansas City on the schedule. Get ready for nasty game from two of the league’s best defenses.
Keys to the Game
The Chiefs can’t afford to held without a touchdown again. They’ll lose that matchup every single time — even against a team as offensively-challenged as Houston. The key will be establishing the run game in order to keep those Texans pass rushers honest. There’s not a team in the league that can block those guys all game, so forcing them to respect the run is absolutely imperative. Alex Smith may not walk away from this game if he has to drop back and throw 45 times. Watt and company will brutalize him. If Spencer Ware can get 100+ yards and 2 scores, KC will have themselves a fun Sunday night in Houston.
Houston is going to need to find a way to score without going through DeAndre Hopkins. The Chiefs will have Marcus Peters shadowing Hopkins all night long and they’ll do everything in their power to take him out of the game plan. This is where players like Will Fuller will need to step up. Houston’s offense was embarrassing in 2016 and it will be again in 2017 if the role players aren’t able to take a step forward. If Fuller can make the defense respect his speed, it will open up opportunities for Houston to move the ball underneath and get on the scoreboard while their defense handles the rest.
Sunday Afternoon – Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Rams
This matchup is easily one of the more intriguing ones of the weekend. For some reason, the Rams have had Seattle’s number the last few seasons and have won 4 of their last 6 matchups. That includes seasons where Seattle went to back to back Super Bowls. Clearly, the Rams have found some sort of secret formula that the rest of the league hasn’t discovered yet. It will be interesting to see if that trend continues in 2017. For their sake, you hope so, because it’s just about the only positive thing LA had going for them last year.
Keys to the Game
To win this game, Seattle should prepare to dominate from the coin toss. They’ve made it a habit to lose these games against lesser opponents lately and to buck that trend, they need a strong showing from the beginning. Establish the passing game with Wilson and Baldwin, get points on the board and then focus on stuffing Todd Gurley. Without a running game, the Rams will be flustered once again and be forced to throw the ball much more than they’d like into a secondary featuring Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas. Force the inexperienced QB to throw against a talented, veteran secondary. That ‘s a key to victory if I’ve ever seen one.
It’s all about the defense for LA in this one. Everyone and their mom knows that the Rams offense is going to need a miracle to drop 30+ points against Seattle’s D, so limiting the amount of points they need to score will definitely be the better option here. The easiest way to do that is going to be pressuring Russell Wilson and capitalizing when he turns the ball over. Seattle’s offensive line has been one of the worst in the league and LA’s front seven will be licking their chops. Containing Wilson while pressuring him will be tough, but it will almost certainly lead to at least 1 turnover for the Rams and another surprising win over the Seahawks.
Thursday Night – New England Patriots at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The champs hit the road for a Thursday night matchup in the sunshine state with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This game will be a test for young Jameis Winston to see just how far he’s come in his development as we inch closer to the halfway mark of his third year in the league. Expect a strong showing from the Pats, but remember that playing on Thursday night can throw anyone off their game, even Tom Terrific…
Keys to the Game
New England needs to do their best not to fall into the trap that is a Thursday night game against a lesser opponent. These are the games that good teams overlook and often lose. On the other hand, the Patriots aren’t a team that falls into that trap very often. All they’ll need to win this one is a classic Tom Brady game where he tosses a couple scores and protects the ball. That alone should be enough to secure a nice little road win for the Pats. Everything is a little bit easier when #12 is taking snaps for your team.
This will be one of Tampa’s biggest games of the year and might be the biggest test of Winston’s young career. To earn a win here, and it truly would be earning a win, the Bucs will need Jameis to play to the best of his abilities and for Mike Evans to follow suit as well. You can’t expect the Bucs’ defense to slow Brady and company down too much, so Jameis and Evans will need to put points on the board early and often. The other piece of the puzzle will be maintaining possession of the ball. A few long, sustained drives by Tampa’s offense will keep Brady off the field, which is the best defense you can play against New England. Long drives and big scores is the key for Tampa to get a win here.