ESPN senior writer Mike Sando asks league insiders to pick winners in select games each week. Three evaluators joined the panel for Week 1. This week's games: Falcons-Eagles, Chiefs-Chargers, Cowboys-Panthers, Seahawks-Broncos, Rams-Raiders, and Falcons-Eagles, which has been moved to the bottom.
Sunday: 4:05 p.m. ET, CBS | Point spread: LAC by 3.5 | Insiders pick: LAC (3/3)
The Chiefs have won eight in a row against the Chargers, outscoring them by a 26-14 margin, on average, while coming out plus-12 in turnover differential. They picked off Philip Rivers six times in two games last season, allowing just one touchdown pass.
Despite the streak, all three insiders sided with Los Angeles.
"The Chiefs have a ton of talent on offense, but I don't think their ton of talent is up front, so I think the Chargers will be able to get to [Patrick] Mahomes," one insider said. "I don't think the Chargers can cover their receivers. I just think their pass-rushers will be the difference-makers."
Mahomes, having made his first career start in a meaningless Week 17 game against Denver last season, becomes the second quarterback since Andy Reid's early days with Philadelphia to make his second career start on Reid's watch. Chase Daniel was the other, starting in 2014, also against the Chargers, in a game Kansas City won 19-7 on the strength of a defense that picked off Rivers twice and did not allow a passing touchdown. The Chiefs' defense now is not as it was then.
"Kansas City will put up a good fight, but that defense struggled last year, and I didn't see them do a ton to get better," an insider said. "If they keep playing all that man coverage, Rivers and [offensive coordinator Ken] Whisenhunt can hurt them. Eighty-five [Antonio Gates] isn't what he was, but when you get those man matchups, he can still win, and then 13 [Keenan Allen] is my favorite receiver, who maybe is not a top-five receiver, against a secondary that is weak."
Sunday: 4:25 p.m. ET, Fox | Point spread: CAR by 3 | Insiders pick: CAR (2/3)
Two of the three insiders gave the Panthers a slight edge at home while wondering whether Carolina's offense could maintain consistency with so many issues up front.
"I just see Dallas loading the box and saying, 'Beat us, Cam [Newton]. Beat us with your arm,'" an insider said. "If Cam can do it, more power to him, they will get the W. That is how it could go early, with Carolina either going quick game or keeping in six or seven to protect. I just don't know if Carolina has enough on offense to do it consistently."
"Everything is banking on Zeke," another insider said. "I think he will have a big year, but they have zero depth behind him. If anything happens to him, even a sprained ankle, all the pressure is on Dak Prescott with limited weapons. It's just risky to me. Their D-line will be interesting, too, with David Irving suspended and [Randy] Gregory back. If Dallas hits its potential, it can win the division, but it can fall apart just from a lack of depth."
Sunday: 4:25 p.m. ET, Fox | Point spread: DEN by 3 | Insiders pick: DEN (2/3)
The Broncos' pass rush and a few lingering questions about Seattle led two of the three insiders to pick Denver at home, while the third leaned toward the Seahawks on the thinking that Russell Wilson was on the verge of a big season.
"Denver has Von Miller, and then they add [Bradley] Chubb to the rotation against those tackles, and then they are at home," an insider picking Denver said. "[Coach] Vance Joseph got it stabilized offensively, [offensive coordinator] Bill Musgrave will hand the ball off and do a couple things passing-game-wise."
The other insider picking Denver saw some "strong" pass-rushers for Seattle but thought Frank Clark was the only one with the speed that the Seahawks' rotation possessed for years. The Seahawks are counting on Dion Jordan as a nickel rusher. Their once-dominant rotation appears diminished, which could make it tougher for Seattle to close out games -- a problem the team faced back in 2012, when its season ended with a shootout loss to Atlanta in the playoffs.
"If it's a pretty balanced, even game throughout, then I want Russell Wilson with the ball to pull the game out," the insider picking Seattle said. "Seattle is just interesting this year. How will the defense be? And then the consistency in the run game. If it gets the run game back, it can win its division."
Monday: 10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN | Point spread: LAR by 4 | Insiders pick: LAR (3/3)
The insiders approached this game cautiously because the Raiders are an unknown under coach Jon Gruden, and there were no assurances that the Rams' new pieces would all fit together seamlessly in Week 1 after a preseason in which resting starters was a priority for both teams. Still, all three insiders did side with the Rams.
"Without Khalil Mack, there is nobody on the edge for Oakland to really scare the Rams," one of the insiders said. "I almost think Gruden wanted to lower expectations so he can work on the long-term build. He can say, 'My first year, we didn't have this, we didn't have that, but we got all these picks,' and he can build it the way he wants to build it with the guys he wants, and go from there."
Gruden has put together the NFL's oldest roster, which might not be a bad thing in the short term.
"I will lean toward the Rams, but I would not be surprised if Oakland won it, to be honest," another insider said. "Oakland still has pieces, at least to start the year. Long term, as the season goes, the age of its roster and injury history of its players will probably catch up to them. Oakland has run off a ton of role players. Maybe it just doesn't jibe from a personality standpoint, but these were players that can play on any NFL team."
Editor's note: This section has been moved to the bottom after the Eagles held on to beat the Falcons 18-12 on Thursday night.
Thursday: 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC | Point spread: PHI by 1.5 | Insiders pick: ATL (2/3)
Two of the three insiders are taking the Falcons to win, while the third conceded this was a 50-50 game after the Eagles announced that Nick Foles would start at quarterback for the still-rehabbing Carson Wentz. This was exactly how insiders expected Philly to handle the start of the season. (One said he knew Wentz wasn't ready after watching him work out before a preseason game.)