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September 09, 2016

Week 1 NFL picks

Eagles NFL
090816DakPrescott Steven Senne/AP

Cowboys QB Dak Prescott hopes not to choke in his first career start.

For the gambling degenerates, here are my NFL Week 1 picks. To note, the helmets indicate who I think will win the game, not cover the spread. At the end of the picks, I'll note a few teams that I like based on the spread.

Panthers (-3) at Broncos: Aaaaaaaand I start off the season taking an L.

Browns at Eagles (-3.5): Yes, the Eagles are starting a rookie quarterback who missed all but about two quarters of the preseason, and yes, said quarterback is making a huge leap from an FCS college to the pros. That's unquestionably why the line is just 3.5 against this junk Browns team. However, as we pointed out in our five matchups to watch, the Eagles have matchup advantages in three important areas:

  1. In games Robert Griffin III played the majority of the snaps in 2014, the Redskins went 1-6. He threw four TD passes on the season, was picked off 6 times, fumbled 9 times and was sacked 33 times. 33 sacks and nine fumbles in seven games is insane. The Eagles' talented front four should be able to get after one of the slowest decision-making quarterbacks in the NFL.
  2. The Browns were 28th in the NFL in sacks last season, with 29 of them. Worse, their two sack leaders a year ago – Desmond Bryant (6 sacks) and Armonty Bryant (5.5 sacks) – will both be out. There may not be a more favorable team in the NFL for Carson Wentz to start his career against.
  3. The Browns have 17 rookies on their roster and 10 second-year players. That means that a minimum of 10 rookies will be active on Week 1 of an NFL game, which should give the Eagles a huge advantage on special teams, and elsewhere.

If the Eagles can't take care of business at home against the Browns, it could be a loooooong season.

Packers (-5) at Jaguars: This game has sort of that "Week 1 upset" vibe to it, but you'd be dumb to predict it.

Bills at Ravens (-3): The Ravens have fallen back into mediocrity after an impressive run, while the Bills have climbed back into mediocrity after a very unimpressive run. I'll go Ravens, I guess, with zero conviction whatsoever.

Bears at Texans (-6): Jay Cutler had his best season in the pros under Adam Gase, who left to become Miami's head coach. I expect Cutler and the Bears to struggle once again offensively without Gase, and for their defense to resume being bad.

Buccaneers at Falcons (-2.5): The Falcons were last year's "early fraud" team, starting off 5-0, before going 3-8 the rest of the way. I believe the 2016 Falcons will more closely resemble the bad version of the 2015 Falcons.

Vikings (-2.5) at Titans: So it appears that Shaun Hill -- and not newly minted Viking Sam Bradford -- will be starting Week 1 for the Vikes in Tennessee. The point spread noted here was before that news broke (it has not yet updated), but we'll still go with the Vikings. I get that the Vikings want to give Bradford more time to learn the offense, buuuuuut, this can't be ideal for a team that just traded a 1 and a 4 for him, right?

Bengals (-2.5) at Jets: I believe the Jets are one of the more underrated teams in the NFL. Their defense is very talented, with a young front, and they have juuuuust enough offensively to put points on the board. Give me the home team in a minor upset.

Raiders at Saints (-1): The Saints' offense will put up huge numbers again this season, as it always does. Conversely, their defense will give up huge numbers this year, as they always do, although I do think they improved this offseason on that side of the ball. There's a lot of hype surrounding the Raiders this season. I'd like to see it first before I start picking them to win games in places like the Superdome.

Chargers at Chiefs (-6.5): Above, we noted how the Falcons started off 5-0, before falling apart. The Chiefs were the opposite. They started 1-5, before rattling off 10 straight wins to close the season. Big Red could be in for a big year.

Dolphins at Seahawks (-10.5): Next.

Lions at Colts (-3.5): The Colts had a miserable season last year with Andrew Luck battling injuries, and they still managed to win 8 games. I see them as an undervalued team right now.

Giants at Cowboys (pick 'em): This line surprised me, as oddmakers seem to believe the Giants are a notably better team than the Cowboys, based on a pick 'em spread in Dallas. The Giants are straight trash, as noted in our dumpster fire series.

Patri*ts at Cardinals (-6.5): The Patri*ts will of course be without T*m Brady, because he's a cheating cheater.

Steelers (-3) at Redskins: The Steelers' offense led the NFL a season ago in yards per play. They mostly did it without running back Le'Veon Bell, who will miss the first three games of the season due to suspension. The Redskins added Josh Norman this offseason, but Norman will have to prove that he's still a stud corner behind a far less talented front seven. Star receiver Antonio Brown will be his first test.

Rams (-2.5) at 49ers: It's going to be the same old three-play Chip Kelly offense that the rest of the league caught onto two years ago, except now with even worse talent.

• Picks against the spread: Eagles (-3.5), Saints (-1), Jets (+2.5), Cowboys (pick 'em), Patriots (+6.5).

• 2015 season, straight up: 163-93 (0.637)

• 2015 season, ATS: 46-30-2 (0.605)

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