Week 1 Picks

Posted: 09/10/2017 by levcohen in Football

Week 1 needs no introduction. It’s the first week of the NFL season! All of the problems we have with the NFL — concussions, misconduct from players like Joe Mixon and Zeke Elliott, power-hoarding by commish Roger Goodell, etc. — are very real, but they all somehow mysteriously disappear at 1:00 EST today. There are eight early games, so it’ll be very easy for us to drown ourselves in football. Let’s do it.
BYE teams: Miami, Tampa Bay (game postponed due to Hurricane Irma)
*- upset pick

New York Jets at Buffalo Bills:
Spread: Bills favored by 8.5
Over/under: 40
My prediction: I’m actually pretty shocked that the Bills are giving this many points — even in the plushest spot imaginable for the home team. The Jets obviously stink, but I think the Bills stink too. And New York actually matches up pretty well with Buffalo in that their run defense ranked first in DVOA last year and was actually on pace to break records for a while. It won’t be as dominant this year, but it’s still the strongest part of this team. There’s a reason the Jets went 2-0 against Buffalo last year. If Buffalo isn’t able to run the ball, they have nothing. That’s especially true this year after the Bills discarded Sammy Watkins. Both of these teams are angling for the #1 pick, and I think this spread should be under a touchdown. I’ll take the Bills by a score of 20-14.
Jets cover
Under

Atlanta Falcons at Chicago Bears:
Spread: Falcons favored by 6.5
Over/under: 48.5
My prediction: Many people believe there’s nothing more dangerous than a heavy road favorite. I can understand that sentiment, but teams have actually done surprisingly well in those situations over the last two seasons, with winning records against the spread both years. So I’m not going to be scared away from picking a big road favorite to win big when I think the matchup is favorable. And this is a very favorable matchup for the Falcons. They won’t be bothered much by Chicago’s defense, and their own defense is given a nice first matchup in Mike Glennon and Chicago’s offense. Assuming the Falcons really are over their Super Bowl meltdown, I think the Falcons will win by a couple of scores, and I love that I’m getting 6.5 instead of 7. Falcons win 28-14.
Falcons cover
Under

Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals:
Spread: Bengals favored by 3
Over/under: 41.5
My prediction: AFC North battles between the Bengals, Ravens, and Steelers are almost always tight and are often decided by a field goal. Given that these two teams are pretty even talent-wise, the spread makes perfect sense. Cincy has actually had Baltimore’s number of late, winning six of seven overall and five straight at home (only last year by more than a score, though). I think this game hinges on whether the Bengals’ pass-rush can get pressure on Joe Flacco. If they can, they should win the game. If not, it’ll be a dog-fight, because the Bengals are shorthanded in the secondary and because Jeremy Maclin and Mike Wallace will cause them problems. I’m bullish about Cincinnati’s offense, though, so I’m going to take the Bengals by a score of 26-20.
Bengals cover
Over

Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns:
Spread: Steelers favored by 9.5
Over/under: 46.5
My prediction: The Steelers generally play a very different game on the road than they do at home. Including the playoffs, they hit the over on only three of 10 road games last season, and two of 10 in 2015. I don’t think people have quite adjusted to that yet, as this over/under feels just a smidge high. The biggest thing to watch in this game, of course, is how involved Le’Veon Bell is. Bell joined his team at camp on September 1, which gave him only a week to practice with the team before this game. I’m not worried about Bell’s knowledge of the playbook or his effectiveness, but I do fear that he could pull a hamstring or something after an abridged preseason. The second thing to watch is DeShone Kizer’s debut. It’s a tough spot for Kizer against a team that has historically given rookie QBs fits (although that was mostly when Dick Lebeau was the defensive coordinator). I don’t think he’ll be particularly effective, but we can learn a lot about his talent and makeup by how he responds to a likely deficit. Also, losing Myles Garrett stinks for Cleveland. Steelers win 24-17.
Browns cover
Under

Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins:
Spread: Eagles favored by 1
Over/under: 48
My prediction: It annoys me that the Eagles are road favorites, and this would be a reasonable time to pick the home team if you think the teams are pretty even talent-wise. The Redskins actually got more love this preseason than the Eagles did, so I’m surprised by this spread. But I agree with the sharps in Vegas and like Philly in this game. Washington’s offense looked off this preseason, as Kirk Cousins surely misses leading receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. Sure, adding Terrelle Pryor helps, and Pryor is perfectly capable of making some big plays in this game. But it takes a while for quarterbacks and receivers to build chemistry, and I don’t think Cousins and Pryor are there yet. The Redskins will still score some points, especially since they have (for now) a healthy Jordan Reed. The Eagles were the best team in the NFL against the tight end last year (they averaged just 29.2 yards), but Jordan Reed is going to be tough for anyone to stop. On the other side of the ball, this is will be an interesting test for Philly’s revamped offense. With Josh Norman likely to shadow Alshon Jeffery, Carson Wentz is going to have to lean on some of his other guys. This is where we see if Zach Ertz is ready to take the next step, if Torrey Smith can be effective deep, if Nelson Agholor’s improvements are real, and if rookie receiver Mack Hollins can make an instant impact. I think the Eagles will win the turnover battle thanks to an improved pass-rush, and they’ll win the game 28-24.
Eagles cover
Over

Arizona Cardinals at Detroit Lions:
Spread: Cardinals favored by 2.5
Over/under: 48.5
My prediction: This is a tough one. I don’t like the matchup for Detroit’s offense, which has probably been getting hyped up a little too much after Matthew Stafford was given a massive extension. I think it’ll be a good offense, but this is a brutal matchup against a defense that’s been one of the best in football for years. The Cardinals really get after the opposing quarterback, because they can blitz and still survive with single coverage and no safety help over the top. Patrick Peterson is a tremendous cover corner, and Justin Bethel isn’t too shabby himself. Tyrann Mathieu is healthy, and the defense will be boosted by the team’s first two picks in 2017, linebacker Haason Reddick and safety Budda Baker. Meanwhile, Detroit’s defense is going to be the worst unit on the field, and I expect Carson Palmer and David Johnson to take full advantage. Cardinals win 31-21.
Cardinals cover
Over

Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans:
Spread: Texans favored by 5.5
Over/under: 39
My prediction: I said yesterday that I believe these two teams are pretty similar and that I was only predicting a better record for the Texans because they’ve proven that they can win with a bad quarterback before (three times in a row, in fact). This spread is a little too rich for me, though, because I love Jacksonville’s defense and think it will make a big impact today. Also, maybe Blake Bortles will surprise people? I wouldn’t bet on it, but I’m also not ruling it out. And Leonard Fournette will have opportunities to tear apart a defense that was actually only 18th in run defense DVOA last year. I’ll pick the Texans to win, but only by a score of 23-20 (because I can’t bring myself to pick under 39).
Jaguars cover
Over

Oakland Raiders at Tennessee Titans:*
Spread: Titans favored by 3
Over/under: 51
My prediction: The public loves Oakland, with 62% of public bets on the Raiders. That’s not surprising given how much the Raiders have been talked up this preseason. But the sharps aren’t fooled, and this spread has actually been pushed from Oakland -1 to Tennessee -3. These teams played last year, and the Raiders won 17-10 in Tennessee in a game that was very atypical for Oakland last season. They shut down Marcus Mariota, rendering Tennessee’s success in the run game (DeMarco Murray had 16 carries for 114 yards and a score) moot. Derek Carr didn’t have his best game, but it didn’t matter. Vegas is expecting a much different game this year, as this is tied for the highest over/under of the week. Mariota has improved weapons, but this is still a run-first team that will try to run the Raiders into submission. For that to work, they’ll have to jump out to an early lead. Can their pass defense hold up against Oakland’s passing game? I’m not so sure. This is going to be a close game, and while I think Tennessee’s the better team, I also believe that the Raiders match up fairly well against them. For that reason, I’m picking the Raiders to win in a squeaker. Oakland wins 28-27.
Raiders cover
Over

Indianapolis Colts at Los Angeles Rams:
Spread: Rams favored by 4
Over/under: 42
My prediction: Rule number one in life is do not pick the Colts when Andrew Luck is out. Luck missed one game last year, and it was a 28-7 loss against the Steelers. Scott Tolzien threw for 205 yards and two picks in that one. Without Luck, the Colts’ offense is bad, and when the offense is bad, the defense’s struggles are magnified. Even the Rams should be able to capitalize on this matchup and win the game fairly easily. It’s a great spot for Todd Gurley and LA’s revamped offensive line. It’s unfortunate that Aaron Donald won’t play in this game, but the Rams’ defense is still good enough to make Scott Tolzien look like Scott Tolzien. Rams win 23-14.
Rams cover
Under

Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers:*
Spread: Packers favored by 3
Over/under: 51
My prediction: This is clearly the game of the week, and it could decide who’s home in the NFC Championship Game. It’s that important, because these are probably the two best teams in the NFC right now. It’s probably stupid to bet against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers at Lambeau in Week 1, but I think so highly of Seattle that I’m going to do it anyway. The Seahawks’ defense will return to form, and it’ll start here. They won’t shut down Rodgers, but they’ll put pressure on him and dominate against the run. On the other side of the ball, Seattle will get anything it wants when Russell Wilson is protected. Doug Baldwin and Jimmy Graham will have room to work against Green Bay’s secondary, and Wilson will find them. Can the offensive line hold up? It probably won’t against good front sevens, but I’m not sure how good Green Bay’s is. This is going to be a rock fight between two great teams. If we assume that Green Bay’s offense and Seattle’s defense play to a draw, I think it’s pretty easy to pick Seattle’s offense to do enough against Green Bay’s defense to give the Seahawks the crucial road win. Seahawks win 26-23.
Seahawks cover
Under

Carolina Panthers at San Francisco 49ers:
Spread: Panthers favored by 5
Over/under: 47.5
My prediction: This is kind of a scary line, because it seems like Vegas is encouraging a lot of bets on Carolina by keeping the spread relatively low. The public has obliged, betting on the Panthers at a 79% clip. I like the Panthers, but I have a feeling this is going to be a close game. The Niners aren’t devoid of weapons, as Pierre Garcon is a good receiver and Carlos Hyde is an underrated running back. It’s still a pretty barren San Francisco team, which is why I’m fairly confident that the Panthers will win the game, but I’m going to trust my gut and say it’ll be a close one that may throw people off of Carolina’s scent. Panthers win 24-21.
Niners cover
Under

New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys:
Spread: Cowboys favored by 4
Over/under: 48
My prediction: Cowboys fans will be happy coming in, because they now know that Zeke Elliott will play for the entire season (yay). They will exit with shorter fingernails but smiles on their faces, because the Giants, who held the Cowboys to 26 cumulative points in two games last year (both New York wins) will again make life difficult for Dak Prescott but this time will fall short in Dallas on Sunday Night Football. These teams have played each other on Sunday night twice in a row, and both games have ended with the difference being one point. It’s going to be another close one, but I can’t pick the Giants to win because I’m not sure that Odell Beckham will be on the field and I’m certain that he won’t be 100%. New York’s defense is legit, but so is Dallas’s offense, especially now that Zeke will be on the field. This won’t be a huge Dak or Dez game, but I think even Dallas’s mediocre defense will do enough to slow down a Giants team without a healthy Beckham and without much of a run game. It’s hard to win on the road without your top weapon, especially if you have a one-dimensional offense. The Giants will learn that tonight. Cowboys win 21-20.
Giants cover
Under

New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings:
Spread: Vikings favored by 3
Over/under: 48
My prediction: It’s the Adrian Peterson revenge game! More importantly, it’s strength against strength as Minnesota’s stacked defense faces Drew Brees and the always-good New Orleans offense. Who’s Brees going to throw to? With Brandin Cooks gone and Willie Snead suspended, that’s a good question. But I’m not too worried about Brees. He still has Michael Thomas, the team’s top receiver last year, and he has a knack for throwing guys open. This is a tough first matchup for him, but the Saints will put up points. I like the Vikings in this game, though, because I think their offense is a bit underrated at this point and believe it’ll be able to move the ball at will against New Orleans’s defense. Dalvin Cook is better than anything Minnesota had at running back last year, and Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are proven chain-movers at the very least. Sam Bradford isn’t the most exciting quarterback in the world, but he takes what’s given to him, and the Saints have been known to give a lot to quarterbacks over the past few years. Vikings win 31-24.
Vikings cover
Over

Los Angeles Chargers at Denver Broncos:*
Spread: Broncos favored by 3
Over/under: 43
My prediction: I predicted that the Chargers would win the AFC West and that the Broncos would finish last, so it would be really off brand for me to pick the Broncos to win this game. It’s a tough place to play, but Philip Rivers has never been scared of playing in Denver. I know that the Chargers are only 2-10 in their last 12 games against Denver, but they always put up at least 20 points at Mile High (well, 19 last year, but you get the point). 20 points might be enough given that Denver’s offense is, um, not the most explosive in the world. Chargers win 21-17.
Chargers cover
Under

Upset picks:
Chargers over Broncos
Seahawks over Packers
Raiders over Titans

I’m not going to do locks of the week this year, because I did so poorly on them last year that it seems kind of pointless.

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