GOLD JACKET FEATURE
HOUSTON @ NEW ENGLAND, 1 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Patriots by 6-1/2
The weather: Cloudy, high of 68
The story: Deshaun Watson is back. J.J. Watt is back. Whitney Mercilus is back. Yep, a lot of reasons to be excited about the Houston Texans this year. Unfortunately for them, though, Tom Brady is back, too — this time at the age of 41 and talking about playing five more years (cue Ziggy Stardust). The reigning league MVP, Brady defies age, throwing for five touchdowns and 378 yards vs. the Texans a year ago in a last-minute victory. Of course, Watson responded with 301 yards and two TDs and would’ve pulled the upset had the Texans’ defense not wilted. With Watson in the lineup, Houston is a popular pick to win the AFC South. With Brady in the lineup, the Patriots are the choice to make it to another Super Bowl. But at some point, you know he has to crack … just don’t expect it here. In four career games vs. Houston, Brady has 13 touchdown passes, one interception and a passer rating of 124.7. Plus, the Patriots are 4-0 at home vs. Houston.
Something to consider: When leading at halftime in regular-season games, the Texans are 21-1 under coach Bill O’Brien.
THREE OTHERS SUITABLE FOR HALL-OF-FRAMING
SAN FRANCISCO @ MINNESOTA, 1 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Vikings by 6-1/2
The weather: Retractable dome
The story: The 49ers haven’t been to the playoffs nor had a winning season since 2013, but they’re a trendy pre-season pick to make it this year. So make this the first opportunity to take their temperature. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo hasn’t lost an NFL start … period … but he did lose former Vikings’ star and dual-threat running back Jerick McKinnon to a torn ACL, a setback that coach Kyle Shanahan conceded “changes things drastically.” How drastically? Check that thermometer Sunday. Minnesota is a defending division champion that made it to the conference championship game and led the league in defense, so the Vikings are formidable. Plus, they’re better at quarterback with the addition of free-agent Kirk Cousins and at running back with the return of Dalvin Cook, who missed all but four games a year ago. The Vikings are playoff worthy. They proved that. But the 49ers? Check with us Monday.
Something to consider: The 49ers finished last year by winning six of their last seven starts. According to Elias Sports Bureau, it’s the first time an NFL club won six games after starting 0-9.
KANSAS CITY @ L.A. CHARGERS, 4:05 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Chargers by 3-1/2
The weather: Sunny, high of 91
The story: The Chiefs are the defending AFC West champions and went to the playoffs four of the five years under Andy Reid. The Chargers, meanwhile, haven’t been a division champ … nor a playoff participant … since 2009. Nevertheless, all that’s supposed to change for L.A. this season because A) the rest of the division isn’t strong; B) there are legitimate concerns about a Chiefs’ defense that was porous in preseason play; C) the Chargers have two of the league’s premier pass rushers in Joey Bosa (who will miss Sunday’s game) and Melvin Ingram and D) people trust Philip Rivers more than the division’s other quarterbacks. Patrick Mahomes is the new starter in Kansas City, and, yes, he can do more as a passer than predecessor Alex Smith. But this is his second career NFL start, which means that includes more … and maybe a lot more … mistakes, because that’s what happens with inexperienced quarterbacks.
Something to consider: Kansas City won its last eight games vs. the Chargers.
CHICAGO @ GREEN BAY, 8:30 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Packers by 7-1/2
The weather: Sunny, high of 70
The story: Maybe Bears’ rookie Anthony Miller is right. Maybe this is “the start of a new era in Chicago.” But that’s not why I want to see this game. I watch for two people: Aaron Rodgers on one side, and Khalil Mack on the other. The Bears have Mack because Oakland thought he was too expensive. So it traded him. One question: If he was too expensive, what does that make Jon Gruden? Never mind. Anyway, Mack is a premier pass rusher who makes the league’s 10th-ranked defense better. How much better? Stay tuned. Rodgers, meanwhile, is as good as it gets at quarterback, one reason the Packers invested nearly as much money in their offensive line as the Bears did in Mack. So what happens? “I know those five guys can’t block Khalil Mack,” said Akiem Hicks, who led the Bears in sacks last year. Maybe. But Nostradamus he’s not.
Something to consider: Right tackle Brian Bulaga, the obstacle between Mack and Rodgers, is coming off a torn ACL. “I don’t think their best product can block Khalil Mack,” said Hicks.
BEATING THE ODDS
(NOTE: Each week we pick vs. the spread. Choices are against the spread ONLY).
RON BORGES — CINCINNATI (+3). The Bengals may not roar often this season, but they will on Sunday when they remind Andrew Luck what a sore shoulder really feels like.
CLARK JUDGE — SAN FRANCISCO (+6-1/2). Jimmy Garoppolo has seven career starts and hasn’t lost once. Check, please.
RICK GOSSELIN — CINCINNATI (+3). Andrew Luck is back, but his Colts are still a long way back from being a good team.
THE WEEKEND PLAY LIST
NEW ORLEANS QB DREW BREES. He has 34 touchdown passes in 16 career season openers and needs one to break the NFL record set by Peyton Manning.
PITTSBURGH QB BEN ROETHLISBERGER. He’s 21-2 in 23 career starts in Cleveland.
ARIZONA WR LARRY FITZGERALD. With one reception, he breaks a tie with Tony Gonzalez for most consecutive games with a catch. Both have 211, well behind career leader Jerry Rice (274).
MIAMI RB FRANK GORE — With 76 yards rushing, he becomes the league’s fourth all-time leading rusher, surpassing Hall of Famer Curtis Martin (14,101).
WASHINGTON RB ADRIAN PETERSON. He surpasses Hall-of-Famers Marshall Faulk and Jim Brown with 37 more yards rushing and cracks the Top 10 of NFL career leaders.
NEW ENGLAND QB TOM BRADY — With his next victory, he sets an NFL record for more wins by a quarterback 40 years of age or older. Brady has 13, tied with Brett Favre.
THE WEEKEND OMG
This one comes from our Rick Gooselin, who says that in 256 games last season there was only one with 24 or more penalties — the Tampa Bay-Miami contest in Week 11 where Tony Corrente’s crew walked off 26 of them for 205 yards. The 2018 opener between Atlanta and Philadelphia had 26 penalties for 236 yards.
TEN THINGS WORTH REMEMBERING
- Want to win a Super Bowl? Then win this weekend. The 52 Super Bowl winners have records of 42-9-1 in Kickoff Weekends.
- The Tennessee Titans won their last five road openers, the best current streak in the NFL.
- With Sam Darnold’s start Monday, at least one rookie quarterback will have started in season openers the past 11 years, the longest NFL streak dating back to at least 1950.
- At 21 years, 97 days, Darnold becomes the youngest quarterback to start a season-opening game in the Super Bowl era. Drew Bledsoe (at 21 years, 203 days in 1993) had been the youngest.
- San Francisco’s Jimmy Garoppolo is one of five quarterbacks since 1970 to start his career 7-0.
- The Ravens have won 18 of their last 20 home games in September.
- Deshaun Watson’s 19 touchdown passes last season were the most by an NFL rookie in his first seven games.
- Dak Prescott is 6-1 in his last seven road starts, with nine TDs and two interceptions.
- New England did not allow a 300-yard passer in its last 10 regular-season games in 2017 nor a touchdown in their last five.
- The Baltimore Ravens return all 11 defensive starters from a unit that last year led the league in interceptions (22), takeaways (34) and shutouts (3).