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Milt Northrop’s Sunday Playbook: How Brady-less Pats shape up vs. Cards - and more

Thursday’s Panthers-Broncos opener lived up to all the NFL ballyhoo about close games – an all-time high 51.2 percent in 2015 were decided by seven or fewer points. It’s a good bet you can expect more of the same in the other Week One openers and just as much controversy about concussions, instant replay and who is sitting or standing for the national anthem.

Changing head coaches is the remedy most NFL teams resort to after a disappointing season and there are seven head coaches who will debut in their new positions Sunday and Monday. Rookies without previous NFL head coaching experience are Adam Gase (Miami), Dirk Koetter (Tampa Bay), Ben McAdoo (New York Giants) and Doug Pederson (Philadelphia). Back after going through the wash, rinse and spin cycle are Hue Jackson (Cleveland), Chip Kelly (San Francisco) and former Bills head man Mike Mularkey (Tennessee). Aside from four divisional matchups, it’s not a real jazzy schedule for kickoff weekend. An otherwise attractive looking New England at Arizona game lost some luster with Tom Brady’s suspension and the likely absence of Pats tight end Rob Gronkowski, who played his college ball at Arizona.

A thumbnail look at the Week One games:

Game of the week

Patriots (13-5) at Cardinals (14-4)

TV: NBC, 8:30 p.m.

The line: Cardinals (-7).

The scoop: Would have been a dream matchup if Brady were not under suspension, but this still is possible Super Bowl LI preview. … Jimmy Garoppolo will make first NFL start in Brady’s place against Cards, who won a franchise record 13 games last season. … Carson Palmer of Cardinals coming off tremendous regular season with 35 TDs, 4,671 yards and 104.5 rating. Cards led league in offense and were fifth in defense in 2015. Pats were in top 10 in both categories.

Outlook: Bill Belichick has had five months to prepare. Cards struggle for 27-24 win.

Top attractions

Packers (11-7) at Jaguars (5-11)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Packers (-6).

The scoop: Jaguars debut three high draft picks on the defensive side and are counting on QB Blake Bortles to continue his improvement. … Packers started 6-0 last season then saw Vikings come from behind and win NFC North. … Green Bay counting on revitalized and slimmed down RB Eddie Lacy.

Outlook: Pack gets a rough ride in opener. Green Bay, 31-28.

Giants (6-10) at Cowboys (4-12)

TV: Fox, 4:25 p.m.

The line: Pick’em.

The scoop: One of the four divisional matchups on the schedule. Giants were very unimpressive on offense in 2-2 preseason under Ben McAdoo. Only Browns (44) produced fewer points than Big Blue’s 48. … Most interesting about this one is debut of Cowboys’ rookie QB Dak Prescott, who may prove the fallibility of all-knowing NFL scouts who missed badly on Russell Wilson, Tom Brady and some others.

Outlook: Tough to pick against the Joneses at home in opener. Dallas, 20-16.

Raiders (7-9) at Saints (7-9)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Saints (-1½).

The scoop: Oakland on rise with some super young talent, while Saints seem to be in decline despite Drew Brees, who passed for 32 TDs and 4,870 yards last season. … If Raiders have progressed as much as many believe, it will show in front of hostile Big Easy crowd.

Outlook: Sean Payton loses to Raiders for first time in NFL head-coaching career. Oakland, 31-28.

Bengals (12-5) at Jets (10-6)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Bengals (-2ø).

The scoop: Only Denver was tougher to run against than the Jets among AFC teams last season. That means Bengals will have to count on Andy Dalton’s passing to A.J. Green. … Jets have added ex-Bears RB Matt Forte to offense and are counting on Ryan Fitzpatrick duplicating his 31-TD season of 2015.

Outlook: Bengals only 2-4 against Jets under Marvin Lewis. Jets, 27-20.

Steelers (11-7) at Redskins (9-8)

TV: ESPN, 7:10 p.m. Monday.

The line: Steelers (-3).

The scoop: Last time Pittsburgh ventured to D.C., Willie Parker (remember him, Bills fans?) ran for 70 yards and TD. … Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is 2-0 against Redskins. … Washington went 5-1 down stretch last year to win weakened division. Not sure if they are the real deal. … Jon Gruden doing analysis on ESPN for game involving his brother, Jay, head coach of Redskins.

Outlook: Antonio Brown tears up Redskins’ secondary. Steelers, 30-20.

Best of the rest

Bills (8-8) at Ravens (5-11)

TV: CBS, 1 p.m.

The line: Ravens (-3).

The scoop: For what it’s worth (not much), Ravens were one of four teams to go 4-0 in preseason. Texans, Eagles and Vikings were the others. … Bills QB Tyrod Taylor faces old team for first time. Ravens start two rookies in OL.

Outlook: Joe Flacco outduels his former backup. Ravens, 24-17.

Buccaneers (6-10) at Falcons (8-8)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Falcons (-2½).

The scoop: Last season’s 1-5 close and franchise’s fifth straight bottom finish in division sent coach Lovie Smith on his way to college job with troubled University of Illinois team. … Koetter got job because of his ability to work with second-year QB Jameis Winston, who started all 16 last year. Winston, RB Doug Martin and WRs Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson give Bucs four productive offensive performers. … Falcons began last season 5-0 and Dan Quinn was being acclaimed as a genius. Then came six-game crash.

Outlook: Bucs swept Atlanta last season. Tampa Bay, 27-24.

Bears (6-10) at Texans (9-8)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Texans (-6).

The scoop: We’ll see if Houston overpaid for QB Brock Osweiler, signed as free agent from Denver. Texans went 7-2 down the stretch to steal division championship in weak AFC South. … Bears picked for last in NFC North. They will be facing defense that was No. 3 in league last year but may be missing J.J. Watt.

Outlook: Bears have hands full against Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins. Houston, 20-10.

Chargers (4-12) at Chiefs (12-6)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Chiefs (-6ø).

The scoop: As bad as the Bolts were last season, they played Chiefs to 10-3 loss in KC after being routed at home. San Diego was 0-6 in AFC West games. … No. 1 pick Joey Bosa’s holdout and stadium situation in San Diego are distractions Chargers are dealing with. … Chiefs were banking on return of running back Jamaal Charles, but he will not play this week.

Outlook: Keeping it reasonably close is moral victory for Chargers. Kansas City, 17-13.

Browns (3-13) at Eagles (7-9)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Eagles (-3ø).

The scoop: Robert Griffin III makes first start for Browns against Eagles rookie Carson Wentz. … Browns stockpiling draft picks for rebuild. Cleveland fans may have to suffer some more. … Wentz completed 12 of 24 passes and had only 41.8 passer rating in preseason. Former KC backup Chase Daniel will start if Wentz can’t go or falters.

Outlook: Last Browns win over Philly was in 1994. New Browns are 0-4 against Birds. Eagles, 17-10.

Vikings (11-6) at Titans (3-13)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Vikings (-2ø).

The scoop: Minnesota carries on without Terry Bridgewater. Sam Bradford will end up as starter in Twin Cities, but journeyman Shaun Hill starts this one. Vikings looked like a Super Bowl contender before Bridgewater’s practice injury. … Marcus Mariota begins second year as Titans’ starting QB. He will be in charge of Mike Mularkey’s bag of trick plays.

Outlook: Both offenses struggle. Minnesota, 19-17.

Dolphins (6-10) at Seahawks (11-7)

Kickoff: 4:05 p.m.

The line: Seahawks (-10ø).

The scoop: If Dolphins get through their first four games 2-2, watch out. After Sunday, they go to New England and Cincinnati with home opener against Cleveland in between. … Miami becoming burial ground for coaches. Gase is seventh to lead the Fish since Don Shula retired in 1995, not counting two interim coaches.

Outlook: Remember Seahawks started 0-2 last season. Seattle, 17-10.

Lions (7-9) at Colts (8-8)

Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.

The line: Colts (-3).

The scoop: Andrew Luck and Matthew Stafford could light up the board in this one. Luck on verge of reaching 15,000 career passing yards and would be second-fastest in league history to get there if he does it Sunday. … Stafford has passed for 4,000 yards or more for five seasons in a row. Drew Bledsoe (4,359 in 2002) is only Bill to go over 4,000.

Outlook: Lions are bad road team. Indy, 20-14.

Dog of the week

Rams (7-9) at 49ers (5-11)

TV: ESPN, 10:20 p.m. Monday

The line: Rams (-2ø).

The scoop: Biggest question here: Will Colin Kaepernick of Niners sit or kneel during national anthem? Bigger question: Will he play? Blaine Gabbert, who washed out as QB for Jaguars, will start. … Case Keenum starts at QB for Rams, not No. 1 pick Jared Goff. … Chip Kelly determined go with hurry-up and no-huddle offense with Niners despite talent limitations.

Outlook: All-time rivalry is 65-64-3 in favor of Niners. Game will be that close. San Francisco, 16-13.

Last year’s record: 154-92 straight up; 127-117-5 vs. spread.


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