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For The Win: Week 1

NFL Picks Against the Las Vegas Lines

Here I am again this year, back for more NFL picks. Just like last season, I will still be picking all of the NFL games each week, but I will try and help some of you with some confidence and rankings of the selections - which also may assist those of you with Las Vegas trips. I tend to rate games that I like (and some extras like Over/Unders) with 1-3 "Stars", which basically highlight my best bets for the week. Those games which have zero stars I don't truly like one way or the other, but will select to help those trying to get some advice for their weekly office pools or other contests that they may be participating in either this week or this season. Let's get started with Week 1, which can be a difficult week to make choices. If you have been on top of the NFL to this point and all through preseason, this might afford you a good advantage and help you to get off to a fast start. Hopefully, this will be the case this year.

Week 1 is one of the toughest to handicap in the NFL as we have not really seen any true live action. The preseason is the preseason and none of that matters. Some teams play vanilla offense and/or defense so the talents and the intangibles are where you really have to make your picks. I have to admit that I was very tempted to just take all of the overs this week with all the emphasis on offense, but two things are holding me back. First, Vegas knows that people love to bet the over, so the totals are usually going to be a little higher than one might expect.  Secondly, defenses tend to be ahead of offenses early in the season.  I think I will let a lot of this play out in Week 1 and then start to really dig in.  Remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint.  It is definitely going to be an interesting opening week.  Let's get started.

Note that the lines and Over/Unders are taken from VegasInsider.com.

(Thursday) NEW ENGLAND (-8) vs. KANSAS CITY
The defending Super Bowl champions open the NFL season with a Thursday Night Football special at home against Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs.  New England gets the honors again to start the season, and people are going to be wondering how the team will round into shape with LeGarrette Blount gone to Philadelphia and now Julian Edelman (knee) done for the year.  Both coaches do remarkably well with extra time to prepare, but for me this boils down to a few simple things.  Two stud tight ends are going to be in action, but Rob Gronkowski is going to be motivated to show that he is still the top dog, and Travis Kelce is a distant second.  Now, the tight ends do not face one another directly, so much depends on the defenses they face and the quarterbacks who target them.  That leads me to the biggest point of all - Tom Brady is better than Alex Smith.  I know, big stretch there, but sometimes the simple analysis is all you need.  Rookie Kareem Hunt is now the starting tailback for Kansas City, but Week 1 is a lot rougher than August preseason, and Foxboro is always a tough place to visit.  Look for a statement game here and for Belichick to make far better halftime adjustments than Andy Reid.  Of course I would love this game more if the spread was under a touchdown, but I am willing to eat it and take the Patriots, but I am not going to go all in or go crazy with this one - but a teaser is definitely in play.  PICK: Patriots

BUFFALO (-7) vs. NEW YORK JETS
Two of the bottom five teams (throw in Cleveland, San Francisco and Jacksonville) square off in a "state" rivalry between two AFC East teams.  The Bills traded away their top wide receiver (Sammy Watkins), a top cornerback and look to be one of the weaker teams, but the Jets make a "weak team" look formidable.  These New York Jets could easily lose most, if not all, of their games this season.  The Bills are at home and favored by a touchdown, which feels like a lot, but how exactly are the Jets going to get more than two touchdowns?  Bilal Powell is good, but he cannot carry this team, and Austin Seferian-Jenkins is suspended for this game.  Tyrod Taylor has to get the offense moving, and I like LeSean McCoy and Charles Clay to both find the end zone as Buffalo starts the season 1-0.  PICK: Bills

ATLANTA (-7) at CHICAGO
Sometimes you just keep things simple.  Atlanta is a good team visiting a bad team that just lost their top wide receiver.  The over/under is high in this one at 51 points, so I do think that the Bears can put up some points, but I certainly like the Falcons to win this one.  The only question is whether Atlanta can cover the number (seven points).  This is one where I am going to probably fade the game overall as I am picking a road favorite, but I believe that last year the frequency of where the point spread came into play was in the 10-15% range.  That means to keep it simple - pick a winner and forget about the number.  I am taking Atlanta and expect them to cover the touchdown.  PICK: Falcons

HOUSTON (-4.5) vs. JACKSONVILLE
The Texans come home to Houston for a ravaged area after Hurricane Harvey.  Now I know this is a football article and we don't need to have bad news brought up here, but all I want to point out is this - remember how the New Orleans community rallied around the Saints after Hurricane Katrina.  Houston starts the season against the division rival Jaguars at home, and Jacksonville could be struggling all season after Blake Bortles was nearly unseated by Chad Henne.  Now, Tom Savage is not that great a quarterback option himself, but we all know he is just holding down the fort until DeShaun Watson is ready.  This game is going to be all about the Texans' defense dominating Jacksonville and Lamar Miller running the ball all day long for Houston.  I like the home team to dominate all day long and get the home team and crowd a big win to rally Houston behind the Texans.  PICK: Texans

PHILADELPHIA (EVEN) at WASHINGTON
One of two NFC East clashes this week to start the season, and both Washington and Philadelphia have playoff hopes for this year.  Gone from Washington is DeSean Jackson, so the narrative of him stepping up to face his former team is gone.  The Eagles have added plenty of talent on offense with Alshon Jeffery and LeGarrette Blount, while their opponents did add Terrelle Pryor as their new wide receiver to help with losing both Jackson and Pierre Garcon to free agency.  This should be a closely contested matchup but I believe that the Eagles will get the slight nod with a better front four on defense and more depth at running back and also better special teams.  PICK: Eagles

ARIZONA (+1) at DETROIT
Arizona visits Detroit to start the season and lots of points (Over/Under of 48) are expected in this near “Pick ‘em” matchup.  Carson Palmer and Larry Ftizgerald are as healthy as they will be this year, and David Johnson should be ready to go against a Lions defense that may struggle choosing which avenue to defend.  If Arizona is to contend at all this year, they need to make a statement on the road, and I think they get it done.  I am very interested to see how Arizona looks as they could be a favorite pick going forwards as long as their key players are healthy.  PICK: Cardinals

TENNESSEE (-1.5) vs. OAKLAND
This is the game I am circling from the early matchups as I believe both teams have a realistic shot at double digit wins this year.  The Titans have balance on offense and were an improving team right up until they lost Mariota in Week 16 with a broken leg.  Tight end Delanie Walker remains a top receiver for Tennessee, but several options are emerging at wide receiver including Eric Decker and Rishard Matthews.  Oakland has a strong offense as well behind another quarterback coming off of injury in Derek Carr, but they lack a strong run attack, which could be the difference in this one.  I agree with plenty of offense in this game and I see a 34-27 type win for the home team.   PICK: Titans

TAMPA BAY (-2.5) at MIAMI (we think) (postponed - Hurricane Irma)
This game has been postponed until Week 11 due to Hurricane Irma.  Fortunately for the schedule makers, both teams had Week 11 off, but that will impact the ability for these teams to rest later in the year.  Be safe if you are in the path of that big storm. 

CINCINNATI (-3) vs. BALTIMORE
Justin Tucker might save Baltimore the first few games this year.  Seriously.  The most accurate kicker in the history of the NFL right now has hit 11 of 12 in his career in Cincinnati, and he hit three from 50+ last November to lead Baltimore over the Bengals 19-14 in Baltimore.  The guy hit seven 50+ yard field goals last year and he just does not seem to miss a big kick.  Every point will matter for the Ravens this season with question marks at running back, tight end and also now at both wide receiver after Mike Wallace and also about Joe Flacco’s health.  Cincinnati needs to get the win here at home and move out quickly in the AFC North, and I think that they get the job done, but just barely.  17-13 Cincinnati.  PICK: Bengals

PITTSBURGH (-9) at CLEVELAND
Ben Roethlisberger does not have a good track record in Cleveland, but the Browns are just what the doctor ordered to get LeVeon Bell tuned up after holding out all preseason.  The Steelers are the biggest Week 1 favorite despite being on the road, which reflects how much Pittsburgh has dominated Cleveland in the Mike Tomlin era.  The Steelers are 17-3 against Cleveland over the past 10 years, and one of those losses was a game where Charlie Batch was the starting quarterback.  Roethlisberger and Bell will likely tune up for the rest of the season in Ohio on Sunday in a comfortable win, something like 27-10.  PICK: Steelers

LOS ANGELES RAMS (-3 to +3) vs. INDIANAPOLIS
This line really does not make much sense to me, but now that I look at what the books have done, I see that the line has moved a ton since it was first published back in August.  Clearly this is a reflection of Andrew Luck’s injury and him not starting this game (the original line was based on Luck playing).  If you can get the Rams at +3, do it.  If you are forced to give three points, still do it.  The Colts revolve around Luck on offense, and the Rams have improved on offense behind Jared Goff, rookie Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods and Sammy Watkins.  I fully expect the Rams to be very up for this game and the Colts to struggle, making this a rather one-sided contest.  Rams by at least a touchdown at home.  PICK: Rams 

GREEN BAY (-3) vs. SEATTLE
Here is another big game right out of the chute with the Seahawks traveling to Green Bay to start the season.  If there is ever a good time to visit Wisconsin, September is the better alternative to later when the weather really starts to turn.  Both offenses should be able to produce in this one, so it comes down to which one has the better fire power and can pick apart the opposing defense.  Seattle is known for strong defenses, especially in the passing game, but Aaron Rodgers has a long history of success against the Seahawks with a 4-2 regular season record with a 9:1 TD:INT ratio including the two most recent wins at home in each of the past two campaigns.  That is what is comes down to for me – can Rodgers pick apart the Seahawks.  I think he can, and he gets a big home win to start the year, 27-23.  PICK:  Packers

CAROLINA (-5) at SAN FRANCISCO
The Panthers kick off the season with a road trip to the bay area to take on the 49ers in San Francisco in Week 1.  Cam Newton has not thrown in a game yet in the preseason, so questions are out there about his arm and health as we enter the season.  The 49ers have had recent success in opening games in the past few seasons, including a one-sided 28-0 win last year over the Rams.  That victory gave San Francisco their sixth straight Week 1 victory, the longest active streak in the NFL.  The caliber of opponents may have increased for the 49ers, but is Cam Newton healthy enough?  I think the big wild card, x-factor here is actually the rookie running back for Carolina.  Christian McCaffrey returns to the area where he had huge college success while at Stanford, and I am calling for him to have a big NFL debut behind strong supporters.  Carolina ends the 49ers Week 1 win streak in a close battle, but one where the visiting team prevails, 27-20.  PICK: Panthers

NEW YORK GIANTS (+4) at DALLAS
Sunday Night Football wraps up the main day of NFL action with the second NFC East clash, and this one should be a very entertaining matchup.  The Giants have improved on both sides of the ball, while Dallas still awaits a decision on the Ezekiel Elliott appeal.  Even if Elliott is a go, I like Eli Manning with Brandon Marshall as one of the best WR2s in the NFL this season.  The Giants will get after Dak Prescott on defense, and if Elliott is out I believe that the Giants win this game on the road, which will make things extremely interesting in the NFC East this year, with the rematch at the Giants not coming until Week 14.  I like the Giants to win and love them getting a head start of four points.  PICK: Giants

 (Monday) NEW ORLEANS (+3.5) at MINNESOTA
This is a gut feel pick, as I am not sure what to make of either of these teams just yet.  The Saints have Adrian Peterson in tow now as their second running back, and you can be certain that he wants to do well (and find the end zone) against his old team.  Drew Brees is also playing in a dome with plenty of rest, but the Vikings defense is not a pushover by any means.  Throw in that Willie Snead is suspended for this game and it becomes a question of what Minneota can do on offense.  If Dalvin Cook can perform well as the likely starting tailback and Sam Bradford can move the chains with Stefon Diggs, Adam Thelien and Kyle Rudolph, then the home team with the better defense has a realistic shot.  Overall though, I like the concept of Taking Drew Brees in a dome with points.  When I think of it that way, it makes much more sense to just take New Orleans.  PICK: Saints

(Monday) LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (+3.5) at DENVER
Who doesn't love double-header Monday Night?    Denver gets the honors this year to host the final game of Week 1 as the divisional rival Chargers make the trip to Colorado from California – but not from San Diego.  The newly branded Los Angeles franchise take on the Broncos in a contest that could go a long way towards deciding the AFC West championship this year.  Denver will try and use their strong defense and C.J. Anderson to move the ball on Los Angeles, but I think that their weakness under center with Trevor Siemian as their starter will be their downfall early in the season.  Philip Rivers is a strong quarterback, and I always like leaning towards a team getting points if they have the better quarterback.  I like the Chargers to win a close contest with Denver to close out a big weekend of NFL football.  PICK: Chargers

BEST BETS

Once again this year I will give not only the "Best Bets" but also a rating of each one on a 1-3 "Star" scale. The more stars, the more I like that side of the game.

As I said earlier, Week 1 is tough.  I think Las Vegas has done a very good job of making lines, even with all the personnel changes in recent weeks.  The way I would play this week is to look at the teams I think would win and then tease them together (similar to how I play the NFL playoffs).  That narrowed my focus down to eight games for 6-point teasers.  Here is how I rank them: 

(Thursday) NEW ENGLAND (-2) vs. KANSAS CITY

HOUSTON (+1.5) vs. JACKSONVILLE

NEW YORK GIANTS (+10) at DALLAS

LOS ANGELES RAMS (+3) vs. INDIANAPOLIS

OAKLAND (+7.5) at TENNESSEE

(Monday) LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (+9.5) at DENVER

With these “likes” in mind, here are my selections:

* ONE STAR GAMES *

  • 6-POINT TEASER: OAKLAND (+7.5) at TENNESSEE (OVER 45.5)
  • 6-POINT TEASER: NEW YORK GIANTS (+10) at DALLAS  (OVER 42)
  • 6-POINT TEASER:  (Monday) LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (+9.5) at DENVER (OVER 37.5)
  • 3-TEAM, 6-POINT TEASER (9-5 ODDS):
    • HOUSTON (+1.5) vs. JACKSONVILLE
    • (Thursday) NEW ENGLAND (-2) vs. KANSAS CITY
    • LOS ANGELES RAMS (+3) vs. INDIANAPOLIS
  • 4-TEAM, 6-POINT TEASER (3-1 ODDS):
    • HOUSTON (+1.5) vs. JACKSONVILLE
    • (Thursday) NEW ENGLAND (-2) vs. KANSAS CITY
    • LOS ANGELES RAMS (+3) vs. INDIANAPOLIS
    • LOS ANGELES RAMS vs. INDIANAPOLIS (UNDER 53)
  • 5-TEAM, 6-POINT TEASER (5-1 ODDS):
    • HOUSTON (+1.5) vs. JACKSONVILLE
    • (Thursday) NEW ENGLAND (-2) vs. KANSAS CITY
    • LOS ANGELES RAMS (+3) vs. INDIANAPOLIS
    • LOS ANGELES RAMS vs. INDIANAPOLIS (UNDER 53)
    • HOUSTON vs. JACKSONVILLE (UNDER 46.5)
  • 6-TEAM, 6-POINT TEASER (7-1 ODDS):
    • HOUSTON (+1.5) vs. JACKSONVILLE
    • (Thursday) NEW ENGLAND (-2) vs. KANSAS CITY
    • LOS ANGELES RAMS (+3) vs. INDIANAPOLIS
    • LOS ANGELES RAMS vs. INDIANAPOLIS (UNDER 53)
    • HOUSTON vs. JACKSONVILLE (UNDER 46.5)
    • (Thursday) NEW ENGLAND vs. KANSAS CITY (OVER 35.5)
  • 7-TEAM, 6-POINT TEASER (15-1 ODDS):
    • HOUSTON (+1.5) vs. JACKSONVILLE
    • (Thursday) NEW ENGLAND (-2) vs. KANSAS CITY
    • LOS ANGELES RAMS (+3) vs. INDIANAPOLIS
    • LOS ANGELES RAMS vs. INDIANAPOLIS (UNDER 53)
    • HOUSTON vs. JACKSONVILLE (UNDER 46.5)
    • (Thursday) NEW ENGLAND vs. KANSAS CITY (OVER 35.5)
    • NEW YORK GIANTS (+10) at DALLAS
  • 8-TEAM, 6-POINT TEASER (15-1 ODDS):
    • HOUSTON (+1.5) vs. JACKSONVILLE
    • (Thursday) NEW ENGLAND (-2) vs. KANSAS CITY
    • LOS ANGELES RAMS (+3) vs. INDIANAPOLIS
    • LOS ANGELES RAMS vs. INDIANAPOLIS (UNDER 53)
    • HOUSTON vs. JACKSONVILLE (UNDER 46.5)
    • (Thursday) NEW ENGLAND vs. KANSAS CITY (OVER 35.5)
    • NEW YORK GIANTS (+10) at DALLAS
    • NEW YORK GIANTS at DALLAS  (OVER 42)

** TWO STAR GAMES **

  • 6-POINT TEASER:  (Thursday) NEW ENGLAND (-2) vs. KANSAS CITY (OVER 35.5)
  • 6-POINT TEASER:  HOUSTON (+1.5) vs. JACKSONVILLE (UNDER 46.5)
  • 6-POINT TEASER:  LOS ANGELES RAMS (+3) vs. INDIANAPOLIS (UNDER 53)
  • 2-TEAM, 6-POINT TEASER:
    • (Thursday) NEW ENGLAND (-2) vs. KANSAS CITY
    • NEW YORK GIANTS (+10) at DALLAS
  • LOS ANGELES RAMS (-3) vs. INDIANAPOLIS

*** THREE STAR GAMES ***

  • None this week.

PICK(S) OF THE WEEK:  New England, Houston, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles Rams, New York Giants, Los Angeles Chargers

Good luck this weekend!

Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to pasquino@footballguys.com