For The Win: Week 1 - Footballguys

NFL Picks Against the Las Vegas Lines

Here we are again this year, back for more NFL picks. Just like last season, this article will still be picking all of the NFL games each week, but will also 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. Games are rated based on preference for both the point spread and other angles (such as point totals, or Over/Unders) with 1-3 "Stars", which basically highlight the best bets for the week. Those games which have zero stars are not preferred one way or the other, but will still be covered, discussed and a winner will be predicted 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. It is very tempting to just take all of the overs this week with all the emphasis on offense, but two things have to be considered. 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. It is probably a good idea to 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) PHILADELPHIA (-1.5 to -2) vs. ATLANTA (Over/Under 45)
The defending Super Bowl champions open the NFL season with a Thursday Night Football special at home against an Atlanta team who is also seeking their first Lombardi Trophy. The Eagles are already banged up with Carson Wentz out (Super Bowl LII MVP Nick Foles will start) and Alshon Jeffery out for the first game or two at least, but this is going to be a madhouse in Philadelphia. Picture the victory parade Part 2 for the Eagles, as they coronate the home team after their first-ever Super Bowl victory. It would not be surprising at all to see Philadelphia take a big jump ahead and then cruise their way to victory behind an extremely underrated defense. Matt Ryan will do his best to keep up, but Philadelphia has had all summer to get ready for the biggest ever home opener in their history. It is hard to envision the Eagles disappointing their home crowd on opening night. PICK: Eagles

PITTSBURGH (-3.5 to 4.5) at CLEVELAND (Over/Under 45.5 to 46)
First off, Cleveland is going to be an improved team this year – at least in talent. The problem that the Browns face is that they have a very difficult schedule, so wins are still going to be hard to come by. Week 1 is emblematic of that problem with the rival Steelers coming to visit on the first Sunday of the regular season, same as last year. Cleveland has only beaten the Steelers twice all decade, and one of those times Ben Roethlisberger was not the starter. Now both wins for the Browns were at home, and Cleveland is getting better, but as long as Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown are playing - even with Le'Veon Bell likely out (still not reporting to the Steelers as of Wednesday morning) - you have to like Pittsburgh to overcome a margin of less than a touchdown, even on the road. Last year Bell did suit up but was hardly used and a relative non-factor in Week 1. The Steelers just have the Browns’ number, and the point total is lower due to Bell’s holdout. Either way, Pittsburgh feel like the right side here. PICK: Steelers

MINNESOTA (-6 to -6.5) vs. SAN FRANCISCO (Over/Under 46 to 46.5)
It would have been easier to be on the 49ers more here, as San Francisco has been getting plenty of nods as the NFC dark horse team to watch this year, but now that Jerrick McKinnon is done for the year with a torn ACL, the momentum (if there is such a thing in Week 1) swings to the Vikings. Minnesota may have a new quarterback, but Kirk Cousins can easily be considered an upgrade over Case Keenum. Both defenses are strong, but the 49ers are going to have a hard time with Alfred Morris as their top option in the backfield to start the season. PICK: Vikings

CINCINNATI (+3) at INDIANAPOLIS (Over/Under 48 to 48.5)
The Bengals have some nice weapons on offense this year, as John Ross and Tyler Boyd have shown some promise at wide receiver in the preseason to complement A.J. Green and the rest of the passing game. Of course it is always hard to trust Andy Dalton, but a road trip to the Colts should get the Bengals off on the right foot. Indianapolis will have Andrew Luck back, but their wide receiver depth is after T.Y. Hilton is next to nothing, and the running back position is also in flux with Marlon Mack likely out (and he is not exactly a top option as a feature back anyway). Even with Luck back under center, the Colts will struggle with a weaker offensive line. Line grades will really help you sway decisions on how good (or bad) teams will be, so keep that in mind. For now, a healthy Bengals team out of the gate looks better against a bad Indianapolis team, even with Luck back. PICK: Bengals

BALTIMORE (-7 to -7.5) vs. BUFFALO (Over/Under 40 to 41)
The Ravens are an early call of a team that will surprise this season. Baltimore was one play away from making the playoffs last year, and guess who got that spot? That’s right, the visiting Buffalo Bills. Joe Flacco has had a good preseason and has a lock on the starting job over rookie Lamar Jackson, who will be starting the year as the third quarterback. That should make Flacco a bit more relieved, as should better starting receivers this year with Michael Crabtree and John Brown added to the roster this offseason. Even Alex Collins adds some stability to the backfield, and the depth behind the starters is also better. Tight end will be iffy until rookie Hayden Hurst returns, but given how bad the Bills have looked so far in August, the Ravens may pitch a shutout against rookie starter Josh Allen in Week 1. PICK: Ravens

JACKSONVILLE (-3) at NEW YORK GIANTS (Over/Under 43.5)
Odell Beckham Jr Jr. may have signed a big deal, but that does not mean Eli Manning is getting any better. Saquan Barkley will be the new starter for the Giants, but New York faces arguably the best defense in the NFL as the Jaguars come to New Jersey. Jacksonville did lose Marqise Lee for the year, but wide receiver was never really a big part of the offense. The Jaguars much prefer to run the ball behind a strong line and two top options – primarily Leonard Fournette and some T.J. Yeldon sprinkled in – and add a handful of passing while playing very strong defense. Defenses tend to be ahead early in the year, and they say that good defenses travel well. Jacksonville needs a good start to the season, and the Jaguars are likely to dominate time of possession and win a lower scoring affair where the Giants may struggle to put up points. Jacksonville 23-6. PICK: Jaguars

NEW ORLEANS (-9.5) vs. TAMPA BAY (Over/Under 49.5)
A showdown in the Big Easy kicks off the year for two teams in the NFC South, as the Buccaneers head to New Orleans. Both teams are going to be missing starters as Ryan Fitzpatrick replaces Jameis Winston (suspended) at quarterback for Tampa Bay, while the Saints will lean on Alvin Kamara more with Mark Ingram II also suspended. Fitzpatrick has a history of playing big as a backup and fill-in starter, but Drew Brees will have his team ready for a big opening weekend. The spread is a big number, but if New Orleans has any expectations of making the postseason, they have to win games like this – at home, against what should be the weakest team in the division, and with their road opponent starting a backup. Brees is aging quickly, but he should be good enough to get the Saints a double-digit win in the Crescent City. PICK: Saints

HOUSTON (+6 to 6.5) at NEW ENGLAND (Over/Under 51)
Oh, this one could be the game of the week for Week 1. The Texans travel to Foxboro with Houston at full strength for the first time since last September. Deshaun Watson and J.J. Watt will be suiting up as they face a thin offense with ageless Tom Brady missing Julian Edelman (suspended) in Week 1. The Texans are young and hungry, but you can never count out the Patriots. This game has the highest point total for the weekend, and it is easy to expect plenty of fireworks. New England feels like the play here, but it could come down to the final possession. The lean is towards the visitor in what should be a higher scoring affair but do not count out the road team at all. PICK: Texans

TENNESSEE (-1 to 1.5) at MIAMI (Over/Under 45.5 to 46)
From a must-see contest to one where the term must-avoid comes to mind, as the Titans visit Miami in Week 1. Tennessee has some hopes at a playoff spot, but there is little sex appeal for the Titans this season. The backfield could easily be a timeshare with Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis, while the best receiver for the Titans is tight end Delanie Walker. Marcus Mariota is about as pedestrian an option in fantasy or any other metric at quarterback, but the good news for Titans fans is that even less is expected of their opponent. Miami is also likely to split carries between another ageless wonder in Frank Gore, who is sharing duties with Kenyan Drake. Jarvis Landry is now in Cleveland, so Ryan Tannehill is hoping for the best from Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker and rookie tight end Mike Gesicki. This one has one big yawn written all over it, but the Titans should take care of business on the road. PICK: Titans

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (-3 to 3.5) vs. KANSAS CITY (Over/Under 47.5 to 48)
The late set of games is a little light for Week 1, but it is a bit understandable with Thursday Night Football, Sunday Night Football and two Monday Night Football contests on the slate. A good AFC West battle gets things going later with the Chargers hosting the Chiefs, as Patrick Mahomes takes over for the departed Alex Smith. Much is expected of Mahomes as Andy Reid has been working all offseason with the new starter in Kansas City, but the proof will come quickly against a strong Los Angeles defense. Philip Rivers has three strong receivers (Keenen Allen, Tyrell Williams, and Mike Williams) and an old favorite in Antonio Gates who is back for another season with his old team. This one could be a big offensive display, but defenses can make a big difference, and the Chargers are expected to be a Top 10 option again this year. Forcing Mahomes to make a mistake or two can set up short fields for Rivers and Melvin Gordon III, which should put the Chargers in line to start the year with a big divisional win at home. PICK: Chargers

DENVER (-2.5 to 3) vs. SEATTLE (Over/Under 42 to 42.5)
Once upon a time these two foes were in the same division, but the days of Jim Zorn and Steve Largent are long gone. Much has changed even in recent times for both teams, as Denver has a new quarterback for 2018 in Case Keenum and a revamped backfield with Royce Freeman and Devontae Booker. Seattle still has Russell Wilson under center, but their running game has been made over with Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny leading the way. The difference here is likely to be the Bronco defense, which is expected to be dominant once again, and should have little trouble limiting the Seahawks on offense, especially if Doug Baldwin is at less than 100% as he has recently stated. Both teams could struggle this year, but this matchup looks to favor the home team. PICK: Broncos

CAROLINA (-2.5 to 3) vs. DALLAS (Over/Under 42 to 43)
Carolina is one of those teams that can be best described as solid. Solid at quarterback (Cam Newton), starting running back (Christian McCaffrey), very good at tight end (Greg Olsen) and a very good defense. This is exactly the type of team that will win more games than they lose, and take care of business against weaker foes. Speaking of which, the Dallas Cowboys have lost their top receiving options from years past with the departure of Dez Bryant and the retirement of Jason Witten. Allen Hurns and rookie Michael Gallup should not scare anyone, at least not yet, so take the Panthers in Week 1. PICK: Panthers

WASHINGTON (+1 to EVEN) at ARIZONA (Over/Under 44)
Not every game is going to be a blast to watch, and Washington at Arizona looks to be one of those games that you can safely gloss over, but not so fast. David Johnson returns to action after losing most of 2017 to an injury, while Washington has two new faces in Alex Smith and Adrian Peterson on offense. Expectations are low for the Cardinals as Sam Bradford holds down the quarterback spot until rookie Josh Rosen is ready, but younger talents in Ricky Seals-Jones, Chad Williams and rookie Christian Kirk could surprise. Washington may have lost their starting quarterback from last season, but Alex Smith is not that far of a drop-off and he is more than capable of moving an offense. This is close to a “pick ‘em” game, so it is time to turn to another strong Footballguys article, Matt Bitonti’s offensive line rankings. This aspect of the NFL is overlooked by many, but if you cannot block, you cannot win – and Matt has Washington in the Top 10 and Arizona in the Bottom 3. That breaks the tie. PICK: Washington

(Sunday Night) GREEN BAY (-7.5 to 8) vs. CHICAGO (Over/Under 47.5 to 48)
Week 1 seems to be filled with divisional matchups, and Sunday Night Football has another with the longtime rival Packers hosting the Bears. Chicago has made improvements on offense with the additions of tight end Trey Burton and wide receiver Allen Robinson, while host Green Bay gave up on Jordy Nelson (Raiders) and still has uncertainty at running back. Despite the changes, Green Bay is always a tough place for any visiting team, and Aaron Rodgers will look to make use of his big addition of Jimmy Graham to put the Chicago defense on their heels all night long. The number is more than a touchdown, but Green Bay should be able to force Mitch Trubisky into a few costly turnovers that should allow the home team to win by 10 or more. PICK: Packers

(Monday) DETROIT (-6.5 to 7) vs. NEW YORK JETS (Over/Under 44 to 44.5)
The expected win totals for the Jets (6.0) vs. the Lions (7.5) would tend to steer more towards a comfortable victory for the home team on Monday Night Football (Game 1), but these are not exactly the most reliable franchises. New York is starting a young rookie in Sam Darnold, and the Lions will be gunning for him all game long. Detroit should win this game with so much in their favor – home field, raucous crowd on Monday night, Matthew Stafford and three solid receivers (Golden Tate, Marvin Jones Jr and Kenny Golladay) plus rookie Kerryon Johnson to lead the running game. Throw in a good defense and solid special teams and it all points to Detroit – but this one is not an easy pick with so many points to cover. At just under a touchdown it looks much better than at -7, so be careful here. PICK: Lions

(Monday) LOS ANGELES RAMS (-4 to 4.5) at OAKLAND (Over/Under 49.5)
Who doesn't love double-header Monday Night? Oakland gets the honors this year to host the final game of Week 1 as a former Los Angeles team faces one of the two newest as the Rams come in to visit. Jon Gruden is back on Monday Night Football, but this time he will be on the sideline. The Raiders are expected to be a bit of a mess this year as they both Gruden and the rest of the team grow through some learning curves together, while Todd Gurley and Jared Goff hope to get their young team back to the postseason. The Rams are looking to build on their 11-5 and NFC West divisional championship season from last year, which ended abruptly by losing to the Falcons on Wild Card Weekend. Los Angeles has high expectations, and a road win in their home state will get them off to the right start. They should get the job done on the road even in hostile territory thanks to a strong offense and an aggressive defense. PICK: Rams

BEST BETS

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

As mentioned earlier, Week 1 is tough. As usual, Las Vegas has done a very good job of making lines, even with all the personnel changes in recent weeks. The way to best play this week is to look at the teams most likely to come away with a win and then tease them together (similar to how to best play the NFL playoffs). That narrows the focus down to seven games for 6-point teasers. Here is how they rank:

  • 1 MINNESOTA (EVEN) vs. SAN FRANCISCO
  • 2 BALTIMORE (-1) vs. BUFFALO
  • 3 CAROLINA (+3.5) vs. DALLAS
  • 4 (Sunday Night) GREEN BAY (-1.5) vs. CHICAGO
  • 5 JACKSONVILLE (+3) at NEW YORK GIANTS
  • 6 LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (+3) vs. KANSAS CITY
  • 7 (Thursday) PHILADELPHIA (+4.5) vs. ATLANTA

With these likes in mind, here are the Week 1 selections:

* ONE STAR GAMES *

  • (Thursday) PHILADELPHIA (-1.5) vs. ATLANTA
  • CINCINNATI (+3) at INDIANAPOLIS
  • LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (-3) vs. KANSAS CITY
  • (Sunday Night) GREEN BAY (-7.5) vs. CHICAGO
  • (Monday) LOS ANGELES RAMS (-4) at OAKLAND
  • 6-POINT TEASER: HOUSTON (+12.5) at NEW ENGLAND (Over 45)
  • 6-POINT TEASER: HOUSTON at NEW ENGLAND (EVEN) (Over 45)
  • 4-TEAM, 6-POINT TEASER (2.65-1 ODDS):
    • MINNESOTA (EVEN) vs. SAN FRANCISCO
    • BALTIMORE (-1) vs. BUFFALO
    • CAROLINA (+3.5) vs. DALLAS
    • (Sunday Night) GREEN BAY (-1.5) vs. CHICAGO
  • 5-TEAM, 6-POINT TEASER (4.1-1 ODDS):
    • MINNESOTA (EVEN) vs. SAN FRANCISCO
    • BALTIMORE (-1) vs. BUFFALO
    • CAROLINA (+3.5) vs. DALLAS
    • (Sunday Night) GREEN BAY (-1.5) vs. CHICAGO
    • JACKSONVILLE (+3) at NEW YORK GIANTS
  • 6-TEAM, 6-POINT TEASER (6.1-1 ODDS):
    • MINNESOTA (EVEN) vs. SAN FRANCISCO
    • BALTIMORE (-1) vs. BUFFALO
    • CAROLINA (+3.5) vs. DALLAS
    • (Sunday Night) GREEN BAY (-1.5) vs. CHICAGO
    • JACKSONVILLE (+3) at NEW YORK GIANTS
    • LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (+3) vs. KANSAS CITY
  • 7-TEAM, 6-POINT TEASER (8.9-1 ODDS):
    • MINNESOTA (EVEN) vs. SAN FRANCISCO
    • BALTIMORE (-1) vs. BUFFALO
    • CAROLINA (+3.5) vs. DALLAS
    • (Sunday Night) GREEN BAY (-1.5) vs. CHICAGO
    • JACKSONVILLE (+3) at NEW YORK GIANTS
    • LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (+3) vs. KANSAS CITY
    • (Thursday) PHILADELPHIA (+4.5) vs. ATLANTA

** TWO STAR GAMES **

  • MINNESOTA (-6) vs. SAN FRANCISCO
  • BALTIMORE (-7) vs. BUFFALO
  • JACKSONVILLE (-3) at NEW YORK GIANTS
  • TENNESSEE (-1) at MIAMI
  • CAROLINA (-2.5) vs. DALLAS
  • 3-TEAM, 6-POINT TEASER (1.65-1 ODDS):
    • MINNESOTA (EVEN) vs. SAN FRANCISCO
    • BALTIMORE (-1) vs. BUFFALO
    • CAROLINA (+3.5) vs. DALLAS

*** THREE STAR GAMES ***

  • None this week.

PICK(S) OF THE WEEK: Philadelphia, Minnesota, Baltimore, Jacksonville, New Orleans, Carolina, Green Bay, Los Angeles Rams

Good luck this weekend!

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