See how much better this is already?
The 2019 NFL season finally starts for the New England Patriots, after going an amazing 12-0 during their preseason schedule.
Gone are the dregs of the NFL that are the Jets, Dolphins, and Browns. On Sunday night, the Patriots begin one of the most difficult schedules (i.e., competent opponents) in the league, taking on the 5-2 Baltimore Ravens. John Harbaugh’s team is coming off a bye (during which, we hope, it spent some time reading the rule book), after an impressive win over the Seattle Seahawks on the road. That came three weeks after a 40-25 loss against the Cleveland Browns, a team coached by a man who replaced the 16-0 banner as the dumbest inhabitant of Gillette Stadium for a day.
Harbaugh teams are 8-3 after a bye week and 12-1 in primetime home games. Those are some impressive numbers.
Likewise, Bill Belichick is looking for his 22nd straight-win against a first-or-second-year quarterback. And while the ultra-mobile Lamar Jackson might be the Jyn Erso the rest of the league needs to figure out a weakness in the Patriots’ defense, New England can at least exploit his passing deficiencies.
Oh, boy. Real football.
This week’s picks
Childs Walker, Baltimore Sun: Patriots 24, Ravens 23. “With their league-best running game, the Ravens are as well-equipped as anyone to dent New England’s overwhelming defense. But the Ravens have been vulnerable to short, quick passes all season, and Brady is the master of controlling a game with such throws. The Patriots force many more mistakes than they make, and that will be the difference in a nail-biter.”
Baltimore Sun staff picks: Three out of four pick the Ravens.
Joe Giglio, NJ.com: Ravens (+3). “The game of the year! Baltimore, with two weeks to prepare, concocts a game plan on both sides of the ball to knock of the AFC’s best team. I know, I know. Bill Belichick’s teams has won 21 straight games vs. first or second-year year quarterbacks. But Lamar Jackson is special.”
ESPN staff: Seven out of 10 pick the Patriots.
Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: Patriots 22, Ravens 17. “This is the game of the week. The Patriots are playing outstanding football on defense, which will make for a tough go for Lamar Jackson. I expect the Pats to limit his running and keep him in the pocket to beat them. He won’t. Pats keep rolling.”
CBS Sports staff: Eight experts split their decisions both with the points (Baltimore +3.5) and straight-up.
Jimmy Kempski, Philly Voice: Patriots (-3.5). “While their schedule has been pathetically easy so far this season, the Patri*ts are still chbeating their opponents by an average margin of just under 23 points, winning six of eight games by at least three scores. The only one-score game they had was their six-point win in Buffalo, and their only two-score game was their 16-point win over the Jets in a game that was at one point 30-0. 3.5 points feels like reasonable cost.”
Tadd Haislop, Sporting News: Patriots 27, Ravens 20. “One of two things will happen in this game. Either New England’s league-best defense will contain the NFL’s top rushing offense and force quarterback Lamar Jackson into uncomfortable situations on its way to another win, or Jackson will have his national TV coming out party as one of the league’s best players to anybody who still doubts him. Thanks primarily to their dangerous QB, the Ravens are one of five teams capable of keeping the Pats from going undefeated this season. But Bill Belichick’s teams have won 21 straight games against first- or second-year QBs for a reason.”
Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: Patriots 23, Ravens 16. “The Patriots’ offense isn’t all that explosive at the moment with a limited running game and short on deep threats. The Ravens can be explosive, using the power running of Lamar Jackson and their traditional backs to set up downfield shots off play-action. This feels like a low-scoring defensive struggle as Tom Brady will see the field compressed and Jackson will be contained more in the pocket by Bill Belichick’s coverage and spying schemes. Brady is more adept at getting the ball out quickly in the short-to-intermediate passing game, while Jackson will be hung out to dry more trying to escape the pocket and hit on home runs.”
Michael Hurley, CBS Boston: Patriots (-3.5). “It’s possible that the Patriots get run over by Lamar Jackson on Sunday Night Football. It’s also possible that some magic fairy is going to seek you out and make your debt disappear. It’s also possible that I could still grow tall enough to dunk a basketball. A lot of things are possible.”
MassLive staff: Four out of five pick the Pats. “What do the Ravens have that the Patriots other opponents haven’t? 1. A competent coach. 2. a competent quarterback. 3. Some history of success against the Patriots. 4. Legitimate playoff hopes. The result of this game will produce huge overreactions either way.”
Mike Florio, Pro Football Talk: Patriots 23, Ravens 15. “The Patriots haven’t seen a quarterback like Lamar Jackson this year, but Jackson has never seen a defense like New England’s.”
Michael David Smith, Pro Football Talk: Patriots 20, Ravens 14. “Lamar Jackson and the Ravens will be the toughest opponent the Patriots have faced this season, but not tough enough to hand them their first loss.”
USA Today staff: Six out of seven pick the Pats straight up, but only one thinks they’ll cover.
Five Thirty Eight: Patriots, 57 percent (-2).
Gregg Rosenthal, NFL.com: Ravens 20, Patriots 17. “The Patriots‘ offense still appears undercooked. Left tackle Isaiah Wynn is weeks away from returning from IR, and guard Shaq Mason may miss another week. New receiver Mohamed Sanu will help, but it is disarming to see a Patriots offense rank 23rd in yards per play, 30th in yards per rush and third in punts. As transcendent as Bill Belichick’s defense is, Lamar Jackson could be the difference Sunday night by exposing New England’s biggest weakness: team speed. The Patriots-Ravens matchups have taught me for most of the decade that the better offense usually wins.”
It says here: Patriots 27, Ravens 24. Just a reminder that Freddy Kitchen’s team beat Baltimore.
Video: Can the Ravens beat the Patriots?