Aaron Rodgers, Photo by All-Pro Reels
The 2022 NFL season is finally here and every week CaptainPicks will bring you detailed breakdowns of three of the biggest games of the week. The NFL Week 1 matchups we’re breaking down today are three big divisional battles: Raiders/Chargers, Steelers/Bengals, and Packers/Vikings.
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Vegas Raiders at Los Angeles Chargers -3.5
Will the Raiders’ offensive line allow them to reach their potential offensively?
We’ll get some answers in Week one as Vegas will have to find a way to block Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack.
The trio of Davante Adams, Darren Waller, and Hunter Renfrow is exciting, but that excitement is tempered by the state of their offensive line.
This looks like one of the three worst groups in the league on paper, so Carr will have to get the ball out fast – something he is capable of. Josh McDaniels kept five running backs on the roster (which is weird), so we expect to see a lot of running and heavy personnel from Vegas. Their best personnel grouping has second tight-end Foster Moreau on the field and the Raiders are one of only a few teams in the league carrying a traditional fullback.
The Chargers upgraded their defensive talent significantly this offseason, and we struggle to see Vegas blocking Bosa and Mack unless they have extra guys to protect, though LA will be without one of those key additions, top cornerback JC Jackson.
So again, expect a lot of running and quick game; Hunter Renfroe could be a major target.
For the Chargers’ offense, we like their chances to neutralize Crosby and Jones up front, and if they can, they will win this game. Rashawn Slater should be able to take Chandler Jones out of the game; the greater concern is Crosby. With a weak right side of the line last year, LA showed a willingness to max protect when they needed to. They won’t need to in this game but can provide chip help on Crosby.
Raiders defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, much like Brandon Staley, wants to play with light boxes and invite the run – this could be a big Ekeler game. Graham likes to play two deep safeties but doesn’t really have a second safety, though Moerig is solid. Graham’s Giants defenses struggled to open the season, as they got used to the coverage multiplicity and verbiage. Raiders likewise could struggle in their opener against Herbert, who finds the open man fast and will take what the defense gives him.
The Raiders have a new staff and new schemes, while the Chargers have upgraded defense and have offensive/coaching continuity. We see the Chargers getting a few more defensive stops than Vegas in this one.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals -6.5
The Steelers’ offense is something of an unknown to kick off the year, as second-year coordinator Matt Canada couldn’t run his offense last year with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback.
More motion, misdirection, under-center play action, and deep shots are staples to expect out of this Trubisky-led group; those increased deep shots alone will make this a better offense.
Pittsburgh’s offensive line continues to be an issue throughout the preseason. Trubisky has won games in the NFL before and is an upgrade over Ben, but the Steelers tackle pair is in the bottom five in the league. Even though Cincy’s pass rush isn’t great, we expect them to create pressure – we’ll have to see if Mitch can make plays scrambling. In a divisional opener, you expect Canada to pull all the tricks out of their bag to try and come away with a win.
The Bengals’ new-look offensive line (with four new starters) will face a stiff test with TJ Watt and Cam Heyward up front.
In 2021, Cincy was heavily reliant on explosive plays, which are very volatile year to year. Those plays aren’t going to be as readily available this season – defenses are going to force them to be more patient and methodical. We expect to see Jamarr Chase moved around the formation, with an expanded route tree, and more opportunities for easy completions and yards after the catch.
The Steelers overhauled their defensive coaching staff this offseason. Teryl Austin is the new defensive coordinator, and former Dolphin head coach Brian Flores was hired as a defensive assistant. It doesn’t sound like the defense will be too much different, but with Flores on board, you would expect to see more blitzing.
In their last matchup in the latter half of 2021, the Bengals led Pittsburgh 31-3 at the half on their way to a 41-10 victory. It’s a new season – and the Steelers don’t have an ancient tree playing QB – but expect Joe Burrow to lead the Bengals to victory.
Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings +1.5
Minnesota head coach Kevin O’Connell comes over from Sean McVay’s staff with the Rams and will implement a more aggressive pass-first approach.
The Vikings were 27th in the league in a three-plus wide receiver formation rate in 2021, while the Rams ranked first in three-plus receiver formations.
Under O’Connell, Minnesota will become a primarily three-wide team. Moving Jefferson around the formation will make him that much more difficult to cover; Jaire Alexander could end up following him around in this one. The Packers have one of only a few secondaries talented enough to run with this Minnesota receiving core.
Both these defenses now employ the same Fangio/Staley two-high scheme with light boxes that’s spreading across the league. With the studs in the backfield for both teams, you could see both have success on the ground.
The Packers were among the worst run defenses in the league last year playing with those light boxes and so Minnesota would be smart to try to attack that with Dalvin Cook.
The Packers have a year under their belt in the system led by Joe Barry, and have better personnel, while Minnesota is in year one with new coordinator Ed Donatell.
All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari appears set to return after setbacks to his surgically repaired knee cost him all of last year and most of the preseason. He’ll be challenged immediately by former teammate Z’Darius Smith on the edge for Minnesota. Smith and Danielle Hunter form a formidable edge duo for the Vikings and a big key to the Fangio defense is the ability to rush with just four. However, both players have been injury prone.
All eyes will be on th Packers’ patchwork receiving corps after Davante Adams’ departure for Vegas.
Early in the season, we expect Allen Lazard to be Rodgers’ number one target until one of the rookies (Doubs or Watson) steps up. Lazard however, has missed practice all week with an ankle injury and his absence would be a big blow. Aaron Jones will likely see heavy usage in the passing game, not just in checkdowns but in routes.
The Packers have great offensive line depth and Rodgers is so adept at getting the ball out fast, we don’t worry too much in this game about pressure. But without Lazard, Rodgers doesn’t have much trust built up with any of his pass catchers.
We think the spread is on point in this one, with Rodgers, continuity, and elite defense in Green Bay against a team with a new coaching staff.
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