The 2016 NFL season gets underway on Thursday night and the theme of the week is missing quarterbacks. The New England Patriots will be without Tom Brady, who is suspended, while the Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys will be without Teddy Bridgewater and Tony Romo, who are both injured. These absences have already had a significant impact both on the futures and on the lines this week. Here is a look at the five most important games of Week 1:
Carolina Panthers @ Denver Broncos
Odds: Panthers -3
This is not only a rematch of Super Bowl 50, but also a heat check for both teams. Are the Panthers really as good as the team that went 15-1 last year? Or will they revert back to what they were two years ago when they started the season 3-8-1? As for the Broncos, can the defense and running game continue to carry them? Yes, Peyton Manning retired but he – and the offense – were barely effective by the end of the season. Maybe starting second-year player Trevor Siemian, who has never thrown a regular season pass, won’t be such a downgrade. The Broncos have covered five of their last six as an underdog.
Cincinnati Bengals @ New York Jets
Odds: Bengals -2.5
The Bengals are a team that’s trying to take that final step from playoff participant to elite AFC contender, but they’ll have to prove that their offense hasn’t taken a step back. Remember that two of their top wide receivers signed elsewhere in the offseason as Mohammed Sanu left for the Atlanta Falcons while Marvin Jones signed with the Detroit Lions. On top of that, Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert is out. Both teams will rely on their ground games and defenses to get the job done in what should be a very physical game.
Minnesota Vikings @ Tennessee Titans
Odds: Vikings -1
The Vikings were supposed to be a playoff team who might challenge the Green Bay Packers for the NFC North division title, but that changed when starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater blew out his knee in practice. Now the Vikings’ Week 1 contest in Tennessee takes on more intrigue. Minnesota acquired the Philadelphia Eagles’ Sam Bradford, but journeyman backup Shaun Hill is expected to start. It’ll be interesting to see if the Vikings can hold it together in what was supposed to be a winnable game. Tennessee looked strong in the preseason, particularly their ground game. They’d love nothing more than to kick Minnesota while they are down.
Detroit Lions @ Indianapolis Colts
Odds: Colts -4
The Lions and Colts both made the playoffs two years ago, and then fell off the map last year. How they start this season will go a long way in showing whether they’re back to their contending form or if it’ll be more of the same. Both teams somewhat mirror each other as they have questionable offensive lines and shaky running games but are fairly capable through the air. This could prove to be one of the higher scoring matchups of the week.
New England Patriots @ Arizona Cardinals
Odds: Cardinals -6
These two teams are among the top five Super Bowl favorites in most places, so this matchup carries some clout. However, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is suspended for this contest (and three others), so we know that we won’t be getting the best version of New England here. Even so, this is an important matchup on both sides. This will be our first look at Jimmy Garoppolo in extended live, regular season action. The Patriots have covered six of the last seven times they’ve been an underdog.