You’ve made it. The long offseason that got you excited about your favorite team’s acquisitions is now over as is the preseason. The NFL season officially begins on Thursday night as we pack away our beach chairs and find our favorite spot on the couch.
With its return comes the return of our weekly NFL picks against the spread column. Previously handled by my colleague Bryan Altman, he has graciously handed the reigns to me this year to try and guide you through the NFL slate. As in previous years, we’ll be picking both against the spread (ATS) and straight up for each game.
Bryan established a pretty good system for divvying up each week’s games and we’re going to keep it the same. So, in case you forgot:
No way we can lose – locks of the week: As you can guess, these will be the stone-cold locks of the week. The games that I’m so confident about that I’d put my life’s savings on them if I had a life’s savings to wager.
Feeling pretty… pretty good: Not quite willing to bet the farm on this batch, but as Mr. Larry David would say, I’m feeling pretty… pretty good about these games.
Heads or tails: These are your true toss ups: they can go one way or another and you should pick with caution even after heeding my expert advice.
Now, with that in mind, let’s get into it! Happy football season. All lines courtesy of CBSSports.com.
Kansas City Chiefs @ New England Patriots (-9)- Thursday, September 7th 8:30 p.m. ET
ATS & Straight Up – Patriots
Level of confidence – No way we can lose – locks of the week.
The Patriots are the defending Super Bowl champs opening up their season in front of the home fans. They ADDED weapons to an offense that averaged 27.6 PPG last year and came back from down 28-3 in the Super Bowl.
Oh, and Brady actually gets to start from Week 1 this year. Yeah, lock this one in.
The Pats added Brandin Cooks and TE Dwayne Allen in the offseason (though they did lose Brady favorite Julian Edelman to an ACL tear) and get a fully healthy Gronk for the first time in awhile. For the Chiefs, they fired their general manager during the summer, let go their best receiver, and lost top running back Spencer Ware. Plus, the Pats were 16-3 ATS last year (54-25-3 last five years) while the Chiefs were just 9-7.
Pats open the season 1-0 in both categories. On to the rest of the Week 1 games.
No Way We Can Lose- Locks Of The Week
Atlanta Falcons @ Chicago Bears (+7) Sunday 1 p.m. ET
ATS & Straight up- Falcons
Go ahead, insert your blown 25-point lead jokes here. I’ll wait.
Good? Not yet?
Okay, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, the Falcons offense should be just as good as last year and the young defense now has another year of experience. There’s every likelihood that the Falcons will be just as dangerous as last season. Now, does that mean another Super Bowl run? Unlikely. Does it mean clobbering a Bears team starting Mike Glennon without its top receiver in Cam Meredith? Yep.
Carolina Panthers @ San Francisco 49ers (+5.5) Sunday 4:25 p.m. ET
ATS & Straight Up- Panthers
The Panthers struggled through a Super Bowl hangover year season with Cam Newton posting the worst numbers of his career while dealing with multiple nagging injuries.
Heading into this season, the Panthers have been more cautious with Cam as he recovers from shoulder surgery and they added a pair of new weapons to the fold in Curtis Samuel and Christian McCaffrey. The pair of versatile running back/wide receivers should take some pressure off of Newton to hold the ball in the pocket trying to make big plays down field. It should also take away some of the load he was carrying in the running game which, in turn should keep him stay more healthy.
On the flip side, the Niners have zeroed out on their rebuild bringing in new GM John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan to try and rebuild the organization. There are some good young players here like Carlos Hyde and the three defensive linemen Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and Solomon Thomas. Still, with an offense led by journeyman Brian Hoyer, I wouldn’t expect much scoring.
Arizona Cardinals @ Detroit Lions (+2) Sunday 1 p.m. ET
ATS & Straight Up: Cardinals
The Cardinals struggled to a 6-10 mark last year. The “Carson Palmer is old” takes began in earnest. But, he actually wasn’t as bad as the narrative would suggest and he didn’t get much protection from his offensive line, getting sacked 40 times. He still threw for 4,223 yards and 26 touchdowns. I expect a bounce back year from him, especially with defenses gearing up to stop all-purpose back David Johnson.
For the Lions, Matt Stafford and company were extremely lucky last year, winning eight games in comeback fashion. That’s not likely to happen again. The defense didn’t do much to improve this offseason and the offense lost left tackle Taylor Decker for a good chunk of the season due to injury. I think the Cardinals win this by a touchdown.
Feeling Pretty….Pretty Good
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Cleveland Browns (+9) Sunday 1 p.m. ET
Straight Up: Steelers
This may seem like a weird pick to have in this confidence level. Especially considering I’m picking one team to cover while the other wins. It’s probably even more concerning because you know, it’s the Browns.
But, for as bad as Cleveland was last year, this year we should start to see some improvement considering the additions they made in both free agency and the draft. They added guard Kevin Zeitler and center J.C. Tretter in free agency giving them one of the better offensive lines in the league, the lone weakness being right tackle. They should be able to run the ball and protect rookie QB Deshone Kizer.
The defense is still suspect, but, they’ve continued to add play makers like Myles Garrett (though Garrett is out for the first month with a high ankle sprain) and Jabrill Peppers. Plus, Big Ben hasn’t exactly looked the same on the road the past few seasons. This game being in Cleveland, I just have a feeling the Browns keep it under double digits. Call me crazy.
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Houston Texans (-5.5) Sunday 1 p.m. ET
Straight up: Texans
Blake Bortles vs. Tom Savage. What a great quarterback match-up. Ugh. Well, this game is likely to be a defensive affair especially considering the continued focus from the Jags on adding impact defensive players both in the draft and free agency. Look, I don’t think the Jags are particularly good, but the Texans ceiling with Savage is limited too. Overall, I see this being a 17-14 game with the Texans winning.
Oakland Raiders @ Tennessee Titans (-2.5) Sunday 1 p.m. ET
ATS & Straight up: Titans
This may be the best game of the weekend when all is said and done. A pair of preseason AFC darlings squaring off in Nashville.
It seems that people have soured on the Raiders somewhat due to their defense, and that’s understandable. Outside of Khalil Mack, the unit is really one big question mark. The offense should be able to put up points in bunches, but can they stop Tennessee’s run game? I don’t think so. Titans at home.
Indianapolis Colts @ Los Angeles Rams (+1.5) Sunday 1 p.m. ET
ATS & Straight up: Rams
Another phenomenal QB match-up featuring Scott Tolzien vs. Jared Goff. Yep, I couldn’t make it through typing that with a straight face.
The Colts defense doesn’t seemed to have improved and the offense will now be led by a guy who has a total of 128 passing attempts in his career. Jared Goff didn’t show anything overly promising in LA last year, but the Rams defense should be better under new coordinator Wade Phillips and I’d expect them to harass Tolzien all day long. Give me the Rams at home.
Baltimore Ravens @ Cincinnati Bengals (-3) Sunday 1 p.m. ET
ATS & Straight up: Bengals
The Ravens have been without their starting QB in Joe Flacco since the opening few days of training camp due to a back injury. The team says he’ll be fine to start Week 1, but how effective will he be with zero work in the preseason? It doesn’t help that the Ravens don’t have much of a running game to take the pressure off Flacco.
The Bengals have questions of their own as they let two of their best offensive linemen walk this offseason. Will their replacements be able to protect Andy Dalton and give new running back Joe Mixon holes to run? Or, will opponents be able to get more pressure on Dalton because of a drop in play? We don’t know yet, but I still have more confidence in a Bengals team that’s at least played together for a month versus a team bringing a QB back from injury.
New Orleans Saints @ Minnesota Vikings (-3.5) Monday 7:10 p.m. ET
ATS & Straight up: Vikings
Who’s ready for the Adrian Peterson revenge game?
Peterson was let go by the Vikings (understandably considering his cap hit) and signed with the Saints on a two-year $7 million deal. It was a bit of a surprising move mainly because the Saints offense revolves around Drew Brees whipping the ball all over the field with occasional Mark Ingram runs. Peterson has never been much of a receiver and the Saints are unlikely to line up with two tight ends and a full back in the formation.
Despite the odd fit, many are expecting big things from AP in the Big Easy. He may accomplish that. But, the Vikings defense is one of the stronger units in the league when healthy. Plus, on the offensive side of the ball, the Vikings get a healthy Stefon Diggs and healthier offensive line to help Sam Bradford with the addition of Dalvin Cook at running back. I like the Vikings at home.
Heads Or Tails….Toss Up
New York Jets @ Buffalo Bills (-9) Sunday 1 p.m. ET
ATS & Straight up: Bills
Woof. This game is rough. The Jets have basically mailed in this season with their offseason moves, but the Bills have tried to do the same thing with some of theirs in the last month. They parted ways with Sammy Watkins, Ronald Darby and last year’s second round pick Reggie Ragland.
That said, the Jets are likely going to be bad with a capital B, this year so, give me the Bills….I guess.
Philadelphia Eagles @ Washington Redskins (+1) Sunday 1 p.m. ET
ATS & Straight up: Redskins
These teams feel very similar to me. They theoretically have good offenses with big questions marks (secondary for Philly, front 7 for Washington) on defense. It’s 100% why this game is in toss up territory. You could tell me that either team will win this game by a field goal and I’d believe you. Here, I’m surprised the Redskins are home dogs and due to that, I’ll roll with them.
Seattle Seahawks @ Green Bay Packers (-3) Sunday 4:25 p.m. ET
ATS & Straight up: Packers
This should be one of the better games of the weekend as these two teams have established a nice little rivalry in the NFC over the past couple of years.
Aaron Rodgers’ offense looks loaded once again with the addition of Martellus Bennett and a fully healthy Jordy Nelson. But, the defense was basically a piece of swiss cheese at the end of last season allowing an average of 400+ yards and 26.6 points per game over their final six regular season and playoff games. They are healthier and did draft some guys on that side of the ball that should help, but we still don’t know how good this defense will be.
For the Seahawks, the question, as it has been the past few years, is the offensive line. They drafted an offensive linemen in Ethan Pocic, but they’re relying on guys like Luke Joeckel, Rees Odhiambo and Germain Ifedi in crucial spots. We know the Seahawks defense will be good, particularly with the recent addition of defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson, but the offense is a question.
Here’s the thing. Rodgers has actually had a lot of success against the Seahawks in his career going 5-2 with a 9-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio and completing 69 percent of his passes. Combine that with his record at home (56-15) and I’ll take the Pack.
New York Giants @ Dallas Cowboys (-4) Sunday 8:30 p.m. ET
Straight up: Cowboys
Hey, it’s our annual Sunday Night Football game featuring the Giants and Cowboys in Week 1. This seems to have become a tradition.
The Giants actually have won three straight games in this rivalry including both of last year’s meetings. They were able to do so because they shut down the Cowboys running game allowing just 104.5 yards per game compared to the ‘Boys 149.8 average. The Giants defense hasn’t changed much from last year’s unit, so they should still be effective against the run. But, the Giants could be missing wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. who injured his ankle in the preseason.
I think the Cowboys pull this one out, by one, at home.
Los Angeles Chargers @ Denver Broncos (-3.5) Monday 10:20 p.m. ET
ATS & Straight up: Broncos
The Broncos defense is still really good. The offense is, well, not nearly as good with Trevor Siemian running the show.
The Chargers can’t seem to avoid the injury bug in the last several seasons. They seemingly suffer catastrophic injuries every year and this year has been no different so far with rookies Mike Williams and Forrest Lamp suffering lasting injuries. I consistently talk myself into the Chargers at the beginning of the year only to watch them all get hurt and will their way to 7-9 or 8-8.
Still, the Broncos offense has me concerned, particularly because they weren’t really effective in either the passing (21st) or running game (27th) last year, and they’ve now got a rookie left tackle. They did add Menelik Watson to handle the right side and they’ll have a hopefully healthy C.J. Anderson back at running back. I’ll take the Broncos by a touchdown, but I’m not overly confident in it.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Miami Dolphins
No snarky comments here. Just sincere wishes that everyone in the Florida area stays safe this weekend with the impending impact of Hurricane Irma.
We’ll be back next week when we’ll see just how well/poorly we did in predicting Week 1.