Throughout the 2021 NFL season, NFL Network analysts will provide one bold prediction heading into each week’s slate of games (see the full Week 1 schedule).
Shaun O’Hara: Jameis Winston goes into Week 1 without three of the Saints’ top four receivers from last season — Jared Cook, Emmanuel Sanders and Michael Thomas, who begins the season on the PUP list — but he’s up to the challenge. The former No. 1 overall pick outthrows reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers, who returned all of his weapons and then some, giving confidence to Saints fans in the new era.
DeAngelo Hall: In a clash between Alabama QBs, Mac Jones outshines Tua Tagovailoa with 330 yards and two TDs through the air, and he’s aided by three takeaways from the Patriots’ D. The Mac Jones Era in New England begins with a win.
Maurice Jones-Drew: The Pittsburgh Steelers don’t have to wait long for their first-round selection of Najee Harris to bear fruit. The rookie running back starts the season with a bang, rushing for 120 yards and two scores against the Bills.
Marc Ross: Andy Dalton has the second-worst win percentage in prime-time games (.261) since 2000 — and those struggles continue Sunday night in Los Angeles. The veteran is benched at halftime after being shut out and mustering just 100 yards of total offense. In steps rookie sensation Justin Fields, who leads the Bears to a comeback win against a Rams defense that can’t overcome the offseason losses of Brandon Staley, John Johnson, Troy Hill and Michael Brockers. Fields’ debut includes one passing TD and another on the ground.
Joe Thomas: In the “Who said it’s too early to be vying for the No. 1 overall pick?” bowl, the expected cellar dwellers of the NFL battle it out, with the Texans topping the Jaguars, 24-13. In his NFL debut, Trevor Lawrence records one TD pass and two picks to help Houston’s David Culley earn his first win as an NFL head coach.
Brian Baldinger: To me, preseason matters and Washington played most — if not all — the starters at some point in the preseason. That’s why I like the Football Team to begin the season 1-0 with a win over the Los Angeles Chargers. They improved the league’s No. 2 overall defense from a year ago (albeit vs. many inferior teams in 2020) at all three levels. They return their best interior pass rusher in Matthew Ioannidis, who missed most of 2020 with a torn biceps. They drafted Jamin Davis to add speed and play-making ability at the second level. On the back end, they return a healthy Landon Collins and added great corner William Jackson III in free agency. The Chargers’ offense will have its hands full and struggle to move the ball Sunday, and the Washington defense will keep its place in the top five against a much more difficult schedule this season.