The time is finally upon us! Christmas came early for some teams yesterday....others drafted lumps of coal. Regardless of how the draft went, or who you overpaid for in free agency, EVERYONE in Hard Knocks feels confident heading into Week 1. One of my personal favorite things to do at the beginning of every season is checking out the schedule. Although I am primarily concerned with who I play, who is playing who around the league the first couple weeks is intriguing as well. Keeping an eye on who is BEATING who early on gives you a very good idea on who the pretenders are....and who the contenders are. A good start to the season is a MUST (especially in this years release....you don't want low confidence...trust me...it ain't fun). So, with the 2016-2017 schedule finally released last night, lets delve into some of the more entertaining and important match ups the first three weeks of this upcoming season..... WEEK 1 GAME TO WATCH BROWNS @ PATRIOTS What a way for both these teams to start the year. The Browns and Patriots met in the AFC Championship Year 1, a game which I believe went into overtime (don't quote me on that, and don't let facts get in the way of a good story G_T_G Ryty .) Anyway, obviously these two teams have been world beaters all release. The coaches are both veteran players who have seen it all before. They have both had their share of victory and defeat. I give no edge with the STICKS to either team. This one will come down to strategy, play calling and limiting mistakes. Quickly, lets take a look at who my PICKS TO CLICK are for this week 1 battle: CB Joe Haden Cleveland Browns MG's Production Prediction: TY Hilton 3 catches 28 yards The Patriots went out of their way to find a real #1 receiver this off season. That man? TY Hilton. While this may turn out to be a great move by the Pats, this week I believe New England QB Charles Garrett will have to look to someone else in the pass game. Haden is a legit "shut down corner". Hilton may have the speed advantage, but I still think Haden wins this match up and takes away New England's top off-season acquisition for the duration of this contest. TE Rob Gronkowski New England Patriots MG's Production Prediction: 5 catches, 107 yards 1 td Ok. So TY Hilton will get shut down. Who does that leave for New England to throw the ball to? Brandon LaFell? Nah. Santonio Holmes? Yeah, no. Gronkowski is the clear answer. Cleveland Browns fans still have nightmares of what this guy pulled on them in the playoffs season 1. The Patriots will look to get Gronkowski going early and often to hopefully help open up the run game. RB Schon Moorehouse Cleveland Browns MG's Production Prediction: 31 carries, 130 yards, 1 td Mr. Moorehouse's portrait in Madden and Daddy Leagues leaves him looking like a locked character in a video game. The truth isn't far off, as sometimes this man plays like he is a human cheat code. No one can really stop Moorehouse, but I think the Patriots won't even try. I see the Patriots trying to contain Josh Gordan, Jordan Cameron and Caleb Glears. The Patriots always choose the slow death over the quick one, so I believe Moorehouse gains plenty of yards going up and down the field on slow efficient drives for the Browns (in a Patriots-esque way). PREDICTION: Browns 17 Patriots 13 I believe both teams run the ball with some success. I think Moorehouse breaks out a big run in the 4th quarter to take the lead and the Patriots stall on the final drive to end the game. Garrett will throw up a hail mary to Gronk, and Jerald Gonzalez will pick it off with 0 on the clock. WEEK 2 GAME TO WATCH REDSKINS @ BUCCANEERS I predict both of these teams being 1-0 heading into this match. Defending Superbowl Champs led by HotRod travel on the road against a perennial NFC contender. Two very good players with great stick skills, once again I can give no edge. Instead, lets dive into some of the players who will make the difference in this game. PICKS TO CLICK for this week 2 Game: DEFENSIVE LINE OF THE REDSKINS MG's Production Prediction: 4 Sacks, 6 TFL, 1 Safety, Under 100 rushing for TB The Redskins defensive line is stacked. Trent Cole....Ryan Kerrigan...Brian Orakpo..Terrance Knighton....Barry Cofield. I think they win the war in the trenches and slows down the run game and distrupts some of the Bucc's rhythm in the pass game. MLB Immanuel Alva Tampa Bay Buccaneers MG's Production Prediction: 8 solo tackles, 1 ff, 1 int Oh boy. Probably the most dominant defensive player league history. In two seasons this release Alva has 184 tackles, 16 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 13 interceptions for Jmustang1968 . He will make his presence known in this one. Best believe the Redskins will want to know where he is on the field at all times. RB Alfred Morris Washington Redskins MG's Production Prediction: 22 carries, 90 yards, 2 tds Morris is the only answer here. As dominant as the Skins defensive line is, the Buccaneers corners might be the most impressive collection of players on either team. I expect Tampa Bay to be one off the best pass defenses in the league this year. Washington needs to run the ball and make it easy on themselves. As long as they contain Gerald McCoy, they should find some success. This is going to be another defensive battle, and I can't wait to watch. PREDICTION: Redskins 21 Buccaneers 20 Redskins put together a long, clock killing drive late and Dustin Hopkins puts one between the uprights as time expires for a walk-off road W. WEEK 3 GAME TO WATCH TEXANS @ VIKINGS HOLD ON! JUST WAIT ONE SECOND! Before you call me crazy and close this thread, just listen to what I am saying. I believe both these squads are 2-0 heading into this game. This is a real CONTENDER vs PRETENDER match-up. This game is my dark horse GOTW for Week 3. Two HK vets who I have a lot of respect for. I give the slight stick skills edge to controllerabuser , but really it is too close to call. Both these guys know the game and lately pitt4life21 has been on a roll with his favorite team. PICKS TO CLICK for this Week 3 clash of Undefeated Teams: HB CJ Spiller Minnesota Vikings MG's Production Prediction: 15 carries 68 yards 1 td, 5 catches 91 yards 1 td The Vikings opted for picking up CJ Spiller in free agency over drafting a young workhorse in the draft. I believe he is going to be a HUGE part of their offense this year...CJ still has that lightning quick speed that can turn a routine run or pass into a score before you can blink. Really, Patterson and Spiller are the Vikings only offensive weapons heading into this season, so I think they both are going to produce big time numbers this year. WR Andre Johnson Houston Texans MG's Production Prediction: 8 catches 98 yards 1 td Andre Johnson is a forgotten man these days in HK. Even the Texans seem to have moved on, going out in free agency and spending big money on Michael Crabtree (and Matt Forte+Demarco Murray). Sure, he might not be the deep threat he once was. Believe you me, this guy can still move the chains. He has maintained 99 CIT, 96 CTH, 96 RLS, 95 RTE and 91 JMP. He won't beat you deep much this year, but he is THE GUY for Alex Smith/Ryan Mallett (yikes) on 3rd down. I expect a lot of balls his way this year, more than people think. TEXANS PASS RUSH MG's Production Prediction: 4 Sacks, 2 FF (1 returned for a TD by JJ WATT) This is the type of defense the front office in Houston imagined when they took Clowney #1. Both of these guys are 99 OVR and complete MONSTERS. I think the pressure they create will end up being the difference in this game. Wow, who can contain both these guys? PREDICTION: Texans 23 Vikings17Texans defense creates turnovers in the second half and come back from a 10-point halftime deficit to steal one in Minneapolis and move to 3-0.