The NFL regular season kicks off tonight. I haven't followed off-season news as closely as years past so I'm less blithely confident in these predictions as usual but why not try? My main takeaway is that even though the Patriots lost their home opener, a very rare occurrence for a defending champ, they're a team that tends to get stronger as the season goes along and by the end they will be peaking and the most likely champions once again.
I think the Cowboys are due some karmic regression. Funny how everyone has flip-flopped their opinion on alleged domestic violence given the opportunity to rag on Roger Goodell. Mike Lombardi has long been one of the biggest blowhards in NFL media, not an uncommon approach for a former 'football person' but most of them are mercifully not taken very seriously whereas Lombardi is given a platform on the Ringer for his biased, near-sighted drivel where he does a podcast with an awestruck intern. He is on some sort of crusade lately against Doug Pederson of the Eagles, saying he's not qualified to be a head coach, as opposed to say for example Josh McDaniels. He is frequently made to look very silly and I think the Eagles are due and will soar again.
The rest of the Playoffs I envision being composed of the usual suspects though. The Packers meet the Seahawks on Sunday opening week and I believe they'll rematch for the conference title as the two most dominant teams in the NFC. I also like the S̶a̶n̶ ̶D̶i̶e̶g̶o̶ Los Angeles Chargers but that's probably mostly because they have an Asian kicker now. We'll see how long that lasts.
Picks after the jump.
[C] Amanda Nunes vs  Valentina Shevchenko
This bout was supposed to headline International Fight Week at UFC 213 in July but Nunes pulled out the day of with severe sinusitis. For what it's worth I believe she was genuinely ill and in no condition to get punched in the head. Sometimes it is very acute and appears out of nowhere but that doesn't sound like the case here. It's something she has battled with before and was already suffering during her weight cut and therein lies the frustration.
It's all very well for her partner Nina Ansaroff to jump in this week and whine about the money situation and how it is not worth it to fight at 50% and lost the belt but to withdraw at literally the eleventh hour really leaves everyone in the lurch and Nunes will have to accept that rebulding her equity with the fans and the company is a necessary process. I think back to the buildup to UFC 207 when Ronda Rousey pettily refused to do any media and the option was given to Amanda Nunes to do the same if she wished. She also decided to do no media and I thought it was a huge opportunity lost not to build her brand ahead of the biggest fight of her career. It all suggests to me that maybe she doesn't quite "get it" - I say that even as someone who finds some of the theatrics pulled by the Colby Covingtons of the world distasteful.
My analysis has not changed since UFC 213. If anything I feel affirmed because we know that if Nunes does not feel up to it, she won't bother. She will be extra motivated, impose her massive size and weight advantage and continue her early finish streak against future Women's Flyweight Champion Valentina Shevchenko.
 Neil Magny vs  Rafael Dos Anjos
Neil Magny was a popular call out target for victorious welterweights after his victory over a decrepit and overweight Johny Hendricks at the end of last year which led to his over-inflated ranking of #5. Magny is a good and very tenacious fighter but has many holes in his defense and if you're someone who believes in your skill you should believe you can post a dominant win over him.
In his debut at 170 lbs, former Lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos was matched against defensive expert Tarec Saffiedine and won a clear decision where I believe he showed his potential to be a threat in this division. Hidden away on a Singapore Fight Pass card I suspect matchmakers were unsure of how the transition would be but a win over Magny would give him a clear path to a title shot and I believe he can win in every area of this fight. Watch for Dos Anjos to throw a lot of kicks, particularly to the legs setting him up to seek a finish. Magny is tough and well conditioned but I don't foresee any controversy at the end of this one.
 Henry Cejudo vs  Wilson Reis
This fight was promoted to the main card after the main event of Demetrious Johnson vs Ray Borg was canceled as a result of Borg's illness. It's a battle of two vanquished title challengers struggling for relevance in the Flyweight division. Having said that, I think Cejudo was robbed of a decision in his last fight against Joseph Benavidez. While the fight was close enough to cause doubt in some minds, the first round unquestionably belonged to Cejudo. One judge however, the frequently unreliable Glenn Trowbridge, scored it for Benavidez.
Cejudo's credentials as a Olympic gold medal winning wrestler are known but in that outing he showed that his striking has improved several levels also. Reis, somewhat similar to Ray Borg, is a guy who got elevated to a title shot more because everyone else already got beaten than his own achievements. Ultimately even as a BJJ black belt he was out-grappled and submitted by the champ. I think Cejudo is a more talented fighter and wins in every area of the fight.
 Ilir Latifi vs  Tyson Pedro
With Junior Dos Santos vs Francis Ngannou pulled from the card, Tyson Pedro is given a stage on which to shine with Ilir Latifi serving as gatekeeper. Physically, this fight bears striking resemblance to Jones-Cormier, Latifi shorter but much thicker than the average Light Heavyweight while the Australian Pedro is tall and rangey. He has a lot of potential and killer instinct. After showing holes in his game on his UFC debut against Khalil Rountree, Pedro made short work of Paul Craig in his first international bout.
Latifi's last outing ended in a devastating knockout courtesy of Ryan Bader's knee. Sidebar, I bet the UFC is wishing now they would have kept Bader around. That kind of thing can play on your mind the next time you compete, making you conservativeand gun-shy in your performance, especially facing off against a prime finisher. I think that's what we will see and will contribute to a win and still undefeated for Tyson Pedro. I do think his streak of first round finishes comes to an end here though.
 Jeremy Stephens vs  Gilbert Melendez
This is a battle between two guys with bigger name than divisional relevance at this point in their careers. Melendez hasn't fought at this weight in over ten years so it will be interesting to see how he makes the transition. Bizarrely, he is ranked at lightweight despite having been unranked when he lost to Edson Barboza in his last fight. In that contest, his legs were brutalized by the Brazilian and I'm sure Jeremy Stephens will look to do the same with the way Dear old Giblert hangs his lead leg out there. The problem is, he is not fast enough to consistently land it. Melendez will be able to return fire and I expect both guys to sling a bunch of heat. This one shouid be good and I don't have a strong lean but I'll go with Gilbert because he is due a win... right?
I pick: Nunes, Dos Anjos, Cejudo, Pedro, Melendez
Chris picks: Nunes, Magny, Cejudo, Latifi, Melendez