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In Run Your Pool’s 2022 NFL survivor pool, 60 percent of entrants exited in Week 1. Each year, a large chunk of competitors disappear immediately, which indicates the importance of escaping the initial week for survivor success.
Last year, the Broncos were the major opening pitfall. The Seahawks outlasted Denver by one point, 17-16, on the first Monday Night Football game of the season, and thousands of hopeful survivors whimpered into the abyss of abrupt failure.
This will inevitably happen again in 2023, and you want to be on the top of the cliff looking down at the fallen soldiers, not careening into nothingness yourself. To avoid that, be careful of these trap games arranged in Week 1 of the upcoming NFL season.
Trap Games in Week 1 of NFL Survivor
Detroit Lions at Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs are the defending Super Bowl champions and have played in each of the last five AFC Championship Games. They still have Andy Reid, Patrick Mahomes, and Travis Kelce. They’ll be very good again.
Meanwhile, the Lions showed massive signs of improvement in the back half of the 2022 regular season as they nearly made a push into the playoffs with eight wins in their final 10 games. It’s unlikely that Detroit will have a better record than Kansas City come the close of this campaign, but the team is expected to take a step forward in 2023 – these shouldn’t be the same old Lions.
It’s tempting to take last year’s champs at home against a franchise that historically flounders, and the Chiefs are rightfully favored by 6.5 points in the season opener. But that can be a dangerous trap. Any given Sunday is real (the Chiefs lost to the Colts in Week 3 last season, for example), and the start of the season can be notoriously volatile as even the best teams have to work out their new rosters and handle the new challenges and schemes thrown at them.
You can be pretty sure that the Chiefs will win most of their games this season, and their schedule contains two contests each against the Las Vegas Raiders, who haven’t beaten Kansas City since 2020, and the Denver Broncos, who haven’t beaten Kansas City since 2015. The Broncos go to Arrowhead in Week 6 – why spend your selection on Kansas City in Week 1 versus a formidable opponent when you have a much surer pick five weeks later?
Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens have been one of the most consistent teams in the NFL for years – they have experienced just five below-.500 seasons since 1999. Lamar Jackson is one of the league’s most dynamic playmakers, and he’ll now have Todd Monken providing instruction as offensive coordinator. His front office also acquired some shiny new targets for Jackson to throw to in Odell Beckham Jr., Laquon Treadwell, and Nelson Agholor.
In the other corner stands the Texans, who were absolutely terrible in 2022. In fact, they were so terrible that they couldn’t even lose right, and that’s why D.J. Moore plays in Chicago.
But there’s at least something to hold on to in Houston now with C.J. Stroud and Will Anderson Jr. acquired through the draft, Shaq Moore entering the fold, and a fresh coaching staff led by DeMeco Ryans. Does this mean the Texans will be knocking on the Super Bowl’s door? No. But there are at least things to point to that mean they could do better than 3-13-1.
Baltimore plays in a tough division, so that’s six games on its schedule that you’ll probably want to avoid, plus this one is at home. The Ravens will face either a rookie quarterback making his first start, a quarterback who threw 15 interceptions in 15 games last season, or the dilapidated husk of Case Keenum. There are sound arguments for why the Ravens are the choice here, but that’s what makes it a trap game.
What makes this even more of a trap game is Baltimore’s trip to Cincinnati in Week 2, a pivotal divisional date that could have serious ramifications come January. Maybe the Ravens will have their heads too focused on the Bengals and overlook the team that won three games all of last season. It wouldn’t be the first time something like that has happened in sports.
Coming up against an unknown quantity can be fantastic or awful, and naturally, you can’t know until it’s happening. Houston has a lot of unknowns heading into this season, and it doesn’t get more unknown than Week 1. The 2023 Texans should be different from the 2022 iteration, even if they’re still not so great. It sounds favorable to open a season against a rookie quarterback, but what if his freshness becomes an advantage? That’s the danger of Week 1: you don’t know what the other guys got.
Also: the Ravens host the Indianapolis Colts in Week 3, a juicy opportunity for survivor. You only have to make it two weeks to get that far, and with the injury histories a lot of Baltimore’s best players have, it would make sense to pick the team sooner rather than later, if you intend to.
San Francisco 49ers at Pittsburgh Steelers
The 49ers are favored by 2.5 points on the road in Pittsburgh to open their season after reaching the NFC Championship Game last time around. There are reasons for major optimism for San Francisco’s season. In the long term, the Niners aren’t a bad team to back.
But we don’t know who will start at quarterback for San Francisco. It could be Trey Lance, who the team had high hopes for last season until a right ankle injury knocked him out just a few weeks into the campaign. Maybe it’ll be Brock Purdy, “Mr. Irrelevant” who waltzed into the lineup late in the year and led the 49ers on an eight-game win streak that lasted until the conference championship contest. Or perhaps Sam Darnold will emerge as the starter with his third team in six NFL seasons. This dilemma will presumably be solved with certainty not long into the season, but with that full of a quarterback room, weird things could happen in the beginning.
The Steelers didn’t have their best season in 2022 in what was a transition year for the franchise after long-time signal caller Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement. The Mitch Trubisky experiment didn’t last long, and it’s Kenny Pickett’s team now. The 2022 first-round pick showed flashes last fall, especially at the end of a season that was interrupted in the middle by a concussion. With a clean bill of health to open the 2023 campaign, Pickett appears poised to successfully step into the role from the get-go.
We have more answers about the Steelers now than we do the 49ers, so to go with San Francisco here feels like a potential trap. Beyond that, the Niners take on the Rams in Los Angeles in Week 2, an important outing against an in-state rival that is expected to contend with San Francisco for the NFC West crown. If the 49ers do allow themselves to be lulled into that trap, then the Steelers will have a great shot at winning this one.
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