(All times Eastern, starters subject to change)
Pittsburgh Steelers (0-0) vs. Washington Redskins (0-0)
7pm ET Monday on ESPN
The Steelers’ playoff run last season ended in a rather ugly fashion. Leading the Broncos 13-12, and driving into Denver territory with 10 minutes to play, QB Ben Roethlisberger handed off to Fitzgerald Toussaint, who rolled to the left, and turned up field, making it as far as the 31 yard line before getting popped, only to have the ball squirt out, and eventually come to a rest in the arms of Broncos’ LB DeMarcus Ware. Roughly 7 minutes later, Denver running back CJ Anderson changed up the middle from the 1 and into the end zone, and then Peyton Manning found Demaryius Thomas for the 2-point conversion and a 20-13 lead – and after the teams traded field goals, Pittsburgh would lose 23-16. This year they bring back 2015 Pro Bowler Ben Roethlisberger, who somehow manages to get that battered pile of meat he calls his body to play football at a high level, and All World receiver Antonio Brown, who last year caught 136 passes for 1834 yards. The Steelers also welcome back Le’Veon Bell, who missed the second half and the postseason after tearing his ACL in a Week 8 loss to the Bengals – unfortunately, Bell will, for the second year in a row, start the season on the sidelines because of a suspension due to violating the NFL drug policy, not returning until October 2nd against the Chiefs. Moron. Joining Bell on the sidelines will be up-and-coming receiver Martavis Bryant, who’s lost for the whole season to a violation of the league’s substance policies.
Washington last season went 9-7, winning more games than they had in the previous two seasons combined, as QB Kirk Cousins had a breakout year leading the league in completion percentage at 69.8, and passing for 4,166 yards and 29 TDs. Funny thing about Washington, however, is that at home they 6-2, outscoring opponents by an average of 26-19, but on the road they were just 3-6 including a Wild Card game loss, getting outscored 29-22. At home, Cousins’ TD/INT ratio was 16/2, on the road 13/9; his rating was 117 vs. 87; his adjusted yard per attempt dropped from 9.3 to 6.4. Yes, two of their road losses came against Carolina and New England, but doesn’t this all seem a bit extreme? Even more extreme? They didn’t beat a single team with a winning record, and among teams they did beat, only Buffalo as as good as 8-8.
Washington shored up a mediocre passing defense with the addition of All Pro cornerback and former Panther Josh Norman, and they’ll be playing at home, but the Steelers should roll over them without too much trouble, giving that they’re, you know, actually a pretty good football team.
Los Angeles Rams (0-0) vs. San Francisco 49ers (0-0)
10:20pm ET Monday on ESPN
It’s the return of the Los Angeles Rams! After 21 seasons in St. Louis the Rams are once again representing the proud people of Los Angeles – by playing their first game in San Francisco. What a Funny/cruel joke. Funnier/crueler still, the thing most folks, save for America’s horde of fantasy football junkies, are most interested in seeing is whether or not backup QB Colin Kaepernick will continue to protest “bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder" by not standing during the national anthem. Once that terribly important bit of business is settled, the Rams and Niners will play a game of football featuring 2015’s fourth-lowest scoring offense vs. the lowest-scoring offense.
The Niners went 2-6 under Kaepernick to start the season, with then head coach Jim Tomsula handing the starting QB job to Blaine Gabbert, who went 3-5 in the second half – not much of an upgrade. Gabbert’s 26, has already played 5 seasons in the NFL, but started just 35 games, winning 8. And he’s the QB in this game with the pedigree, as he’ll be facing LA’s Case Keenum, a 27-year-old career backup who’s got a record of 5-10.
But Keenum’s got something Gabbert doesn’t: running back Todd Gurley. Gurley missed the first 3 games of 2015 while receiving from a torn ACL, and in his first game back ran just 9 yards on 6 carriers. But over the next 12 games, he rushed for 1,097 yards and 10 TDs on 223 carries. Given that the Niners gave up the fourth-most rushing yards in the NFL last year, and had the third-worst overall defense according to Pro Football Reference, and are by general consensus among the league’s worst teams, the Rams should take these guys.
And, still, Colin Kaepernick will be the story.
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