It is the most wonderful time of year. NFL football is officially back and we have all survived another offseason. Picks are bolded, outright upsets have an asterisk. All spreads are from rtsports.com at the time of writing. Week 1 is always a difficult week to pick games, especially against the spread, but here goes nothing.
*Falcons at Eagles (-2) – Atlanta being a playoff team again is one of the safest bets in the league. Matt Ryan and offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian have had another offseason to fine-tune things and many of the other key pieces that have made the team so good for the last few years are still there.
Meanwhile, Nick Foles will start again as Carson Wentz continues to rehab last year’s knee injury. Despite his Super Bowl MVP run, there is a reason Foles almost quit football a few years back, he had a hard time finding a job. Guys who get on magical runs for 4-6 weeks despite pedestrian careers prior to those runs make for great stories, but they always regress back to the mean. Many Atlanta defenders also saw Foles in last year’s playoffs. Thus, expect the regression to start Thursday night. Atl 23 Phi 17
Bills at Ravens (-7.5) – This is a huge number to swallow on opening week. However, the Bills are going on the road to face a tough defense with a quarterback who threw five interceptions in one half of football last year in his only relevant game action. The Ravens are not great, but the Bills are in for a long afternoon with Nathan Peterman at the helm. This just is not a good matchup for a young quarterback who will no doubt be eager to erase what we all saw last year.
Some of the names have changed over the years, but defense is Baltimore’s calling card and this unit will not allow that to happen. Bal 24 Buf 10
*Bengals at Colts (-3)- Cincinnati now has a defensive coordinator that has gotten looks at head-coaching jobs in the past and a quarterbacks coach that Aaron Rodgers was upset to see leave Green Bay. Those are two massive coaching staff upgrades. Conversely, Indianapolis has a whole new staff and it has been a very long time since Andrew Luck saw meaningful action in an NFL game. Despite being an underdog, Cincinnati is the safer bet here. Cin 23 Ind 17
Texans at Patriots (-6) – The Patriots still have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Thus, they are still very good. If Deshaun Watson can pick up where he left off before the injury last year, the Texans will be too. The defense also needs to stay healthy. There are just too many ifs to feel good about taking this team to do well on the road in New England right out of the gate. NE 30 Hou 20
Jaguars (-3) at *Giants– Here, you have one team that caught a ton of breaks with injuries to division rivals, scheduling and winning close games last year and another who could not catch any sort of break last year. Expect the law of averages to kick in on Sunday. New York is much improved along the offensive line and in the backfield. Also, Blake Bortles will always put limitations on what Jacksonville is able to accomplish. You can only perform well without adequate quarterback play for so long. Look no further than the Broncos during each of the last two seasons. NYG 20 Jac 17
Steelers (-4) at Browns- Are the Browns better than the team that went winless last year? Yes, they might be the most improved team in the entire league. Is the improvement so great that they can play the mighty Steelers to this close a number on opening weekend? No. Pit 28 Cle 21
49ers at Vikings (-6.5) – This is the best game of the week. Jimmy Garoppolo and Kyle Shanahan ran roughshod over the league once they got together last year. The offseason could have only helped both. Unfortunately for the 49ers, they are up against a team that is as complete as you will find with the addition of Kirk Cousins at quarterback. This is too many points between two teams that will have great years. Min 28 SF 24
Bucs at Saints (-9.5) – For the first week of the season, last season is often the best indicator the public has to go off of. It is far from full proof. While the future for almost everyone in the Bucs organization is murky, they did split with a very stout Saints team last year and nine of their 11 total losses were by seven points or less. It is foolish to ignore that kind of value. NO 30 TB 23
Titans (-1.5) at *Dolphins- Neither one of these teams is anything special, but Adam Gase has always managed to keep Miami reasonably competitive in his two seasons there, despite a few really ugly performances and Tennessee has a brand new staff. With an okay but not great roster, there will be some growing pains. Mia 20 Ten 17
Chiefs at Chargers (-3) – No one has a clue what to expect from Patrick Mahomes as he takes the helm in Kansas City. However, we do know that Philip Rivers and the Chargers are fast starters and their pass rush is a nightmare for any quarterback. Lac 31 KC 24
Cowboys at Panthers (-3) – One thing that will not change in 2018 is Carolina coming at opponents with a quarterback who looks like a linebacker and multiple running backs. They are tough and physical on both sides of the ball. This is a style that Dallas can match, but change along the offensive line will make it hard for them to do so here. Car 19 Dal 13
Seahawks at Broncos (-3) – Can Case Keenum be anywhere close to the quarterback he was last year? Time will tell. Regardless, he is certainly an upgrade over what Denver had at that position last year. Denver’s defense can still be very good, if the offense does not put them in one bad situation after another like last year.
For this game specifically, Seattle has Russell Wilson and not much else. He will have to run for his life as Denver’s seemingly endless supply of pass rushers should fare very well against Seattle’s patchwork offensive line. That is a tough recipe when trying to win football games, especially on the road.
Redskins at Cardinals (-1.5) – These two teams are somewhere in the middle of the preseason NFC pecking order. They are evenly matched, and the line reflects that. In a coin flip game, it is smart to go with whoever has the best individual playmaker. That belongs to Arizona with a now healthy David Johnson. Despite the massive changes that went on for the Cardinals, this offseason that alone should get them through this one. Ari 21 Was 17
Bears at Packers (-7.5) – This is too many points in a rivalry game, especially one in the opening week. The Packers will win, but Chicago is moving in the right direction. The Bears actually ran the ball and played defense well enough to trip up some good teams like the Panthers and Steelers last year. The background of new head coach Matt Nagy suggests that he is the right guy to bring the rest of the offense up to speed. GB 28 Chi 27
Jets at Lions (-6.5) – Sam Darnold will be just fine as a rookie quarterback for the Jets, this pick has more to do with Detroit. If you think about it, the marriage between that organization and Matt Patricia should be a slam dunk.
The Lions have needed three things for what feels like forever. These are balanced offensive play calling, overall discipline and a defense in general. Patricia comes from New England where he cut his coaching teeth getting the most out of less than stellar defensive talent. New England is also where balance and discipline have been taught best for the last two decades. Patricia also has a borderline top ten quarterback in Matthew Stafford. If a Belichick assistant is ever going to work out, it is going to be this one. Det 31 NYJ 20
Rams (-4) at Raiders- The Rams are clearly thinking big this year. It will be interesting to see how putting so many strong personalities like Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib among others on the same team works out when adversity hits, which it should not Monday night. Whether it is the Khalil Mack trade or new old head coach Jon Gruden assembling one of the oldest NFL rosters in years, it is hard to get a good feeling about Oakland’s upcoming season. Lar 28 Oak 17