Week 1 NFL Pick’em: Now that all of your fantasy teams have been drafted and your favorite players are reporting to training camp (well, most…c’mon, Le’Veon!), it’s time to sit back and enjoy the best 17 weeks of the year.
Every year, I do this picks league against the spread with some old coworkers. There’s a weekly winner and winners at the end of the year, so while you could get lucky and go 16-0 in one week, season-long savviness pays off. I do this league on cbssports.com and the lines lock at around Tuesday of each week. That means by the time you’re reading this, the line may have shifted depending on news throughout the week, or sharp money flooding the market, so keep that in mind.
Sunday 1:00 PM EST
Pittsburgh at Cleveland, +5.5
After laying a goose egg in the 2017-2018 season, the Browns are back with a vengeance. Analysts are high on Cleveland after the many personnel changes they’ve made, with some even calling them playoffs contenders. I may not be that bullish on this squad, but you’ve got to love some of their big offseason moves.
Pittsburgh is (once again) the favorite to win the division and are currently at 10/1 odds to win the Super Bowl. They have a rockstar offense led by Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, but there’s a good deal of drama surrounding star running back Le’Veon Bell, whose contract holdout has soured many of his teammates, including his offensive linemen. If he’s out, then it’s the James Conner show, but does raise questions as to if off-field drama may affect on-field play.
This divisional matchup opened with Cleveland as 5.5 home underdogs, but the line has already moved to 4/3.5 at other books. While it may be tough to take any 0-16 team over the Steelers, I have to go with the Browns in this spot.
Tennessee at Miami, +1.5
Titan up! A myriad of changes in the Titans organization include Mike Vrabel taking the reins at head coach and Matt LaFleur as the new offensive coordinator. Despite a nagging injury, Marcus Mariota was still able to lead the team to a nine-win season and the playoffs. He’s healthy this year, and Heisman trophy-winner Derrick Henry is poised to take over that backfield. The Titans also added Dion Lewis to pick up some third-down work, and in addition to Corey Davis and Delaine Walker, I think this is shaping up to be a solid offense.
Miami’s franchise quarterback Ryan Tannehill missed all of the 2017-2018 season with a knee injury suffered during training camp. He looked sharp in training camp, but with their star pass catcher Jarvis Landry gone, he’ll have to rely heavily on the likes of Kenny Stills and Devante Parker in a game in which I think they’ll be trailing.
While I think this could be one of Miami’s few winnable games of the season, I think the Titans win this game outright.
Buffalo at Baltimore, -6.5
Nathan Peterman was named the Bills’ week 1 starting quarterback over first rounder Josh Allen. You’re probably thinking to yourself, “hey, isn’t this the guy that Tyrod was benched for and caused five turnovers in the first half?” While that is true, he has looked better in the preseason, and Allen wasn’t exactly a stunner.
It should come as no shock that veteran quarterback Joe Flacco was named the starter above first round pick Lamar Jackson on Tuesday, and Jackson will probably have a red shirt freshman year. Fantasy experts are high on running back Alex Collins, and with the added pressure to stay relevant from Jackson and the addition of Michael Crabtree, I think Flacco will lead a competent offensive unit this season.
I get the Bills’ logic here: why send the kid out to start in a game that probably isn’t winnable in the first place? That being said, this all bodes well for the Ravens, and while I don’t love a line this high this early in the season, this feels like a “lay it or don’t play it” game.
Houston at New England, -6.5
There is a lot of hype around sophomore quarterback Deshaun Watson, who was on record pace in his rookie year before tearing his ACL in week 5 versus the Seahawks. Watson will have a stacked personnel of Deandre Hopkins and Will Fuller at wide receiver, and Lamar Miller in the backfield. Additionally, with rockstar pass rushers J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney back, their 3-4 defense remains one of the best in the league.
The Patriots are the clear Super Bowl favorites according to SportsLine at 6/1 and honestly who can blame them with weapons such Rob Gronkowski, who just got a big contract, and Chris Hogan. That’s not to say that the Patriots are without fault: with the loss of Danny Amendola to the Dolphins, Eric Decker’s retirement during training camp, and Julian Edelman’s four-game suspension, they have only four wide receivers on their 53-man roster.
Not too much movement on this line yet, with some books down to six. Tom Brady may be a 41-year-old quarterback, but he’s still Tom Brady at home. I think we’re all excited to see Watson come back from his second ACL tear, but one has to worry if he’ll be less effective, especially as a mobile quarterback. I am bullish on the Texans this year, but this also feels like a “lay it or don’t play it” situation.
Pick: New England.
Jacksonville at NY Giants, +3.5
Blake Bortles may not be the quarterback that Jacksonville needs, but he’s the one it has right now. With the loss of receiver Marquise Lee for the season, they’ll likely want to lean on the run game and second year running back Leonard Fournette. Their defense is what earned them a playoff berth last year and their rightful nickname, “Sacksonville.” With returning stars like Calais Campbell and Jalen Ramsey, I don’t see that changing year-over-year.
The Giants did something right in signing Odell Beckham Jr. and I think I speak for the rest of New York when I say I’m excited to see Saquon Barkley in action. They’ve made some necessary improvements to their questionable offensive line with the addition of Nate Solder to left tackle, while moving Ereck Flowers to the right side. All that being said, I could see the number of interceptions outnumbering touchdowns not in the Giants’ favor.
I think Jacksonville’s defense dominates in what some are calling the “Tom Coughlin Bowl.” While I’d like this line more at under a field goal, I’m still going with the Jaguars at -3.5.
San Francisco at Minnesota, -5.5
This is Kyle Shanahan’s second year as head coach of the 49ers and I am excited to see what he can do with Jimmy Garappolo. Unfortunately, they are thin at RB with the loss of Jerick McKinnon to an ACL tear and losing Carlos Hyde the Browns in the offseason. Garappolo will most likely have to throw a lot in a game I anticipate they’ll be trailing in quickly.
In perhaps the biggest offseason trade, the Vikings acquired Kirk Cousins from the Redskins for a whopping $84 million guaranteed over three years. He has three great pass catchers in Adam Thielan, Stefon Diggs, and Kyle Rudolph, as well as sophomore running back Dalvin Cook returning from injury. Their defense is rated number 1 on Bleacher Report with a loaded front four and one of the best cornerbacks in the league in Xavier Rhodes.
This line has moved to 6/6.5 since its open. While I am cautiously optimistic about Jimmy G and Kyle Shanahan’s offense, I think you have to lay the points with the Vikings, who are absolutely stacked on both sides of the ball.
Tampa Bay at New Orleans, -9.5
Following some offseason drama, Jameis Winston is suspended for the first three games leaving the team in the hands of Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Although New Orleans will be without star running back Mark Ingram for the first four games of the season due to suspension, I think Brees will be just fine with Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas. They are the favorites to win the extremely competitive NFC South division, and I don’t see the Bucs putting up much of a fight in this one.
This line is huge, especially for a intra-divisional season opener. Maybe the Bucs can muster some “Fitzmagic” and keep it close. The more likely scenario, Saints win, Saints cover the spread at 9.5.
Pick: New Orleans
Cincinnati at Indianapolis, -2.5
No one really knows what to expect from Andrew Luck since we have yet to see him play in a NFL game in over two years. This game would be a push on neutral territory but neither team is a particular standout. If I could, I would stay away from this game, but since I have to pick it, I’d probably go Bengals getting the 2.5 points on the road.
Sunday 4:00/4:30 PM EST
Kansas City at LA Chargers, -3.5
Yet another intra-divisional showdown between two big offenses. While it isn’t surprising this line opened at 3.5 in favor of the Chargers, I think the Chiefs have the weapons to keep it within a field goal and may even win this game outright.
Pick: Kansas City
Dallas at Carolina, -2.5
This spread would basically be a pick em if the game were played on a neutral field. While I worry about Carolina’s offensive line, Dallas has their share of O-Line issues with fewer pass catches. Panthers win, Panthers cover the spread at -2.5.
Washington at Arizona, -0.5
I don’t love this game either since there are a lot of variables at play, but given that we have a healthy Sam Bradford for the time being with Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson, I would go Cardinals at -0.5.
Seattle at Denver, -2.5
I don’t think either of these teams will be particularly great this season, but this line puts it at a pick em if it were played on a neutral field. It feels like Denver has gotten palpably better in the offseason, while Seattle may be trending in the wrong direction. I think the Broncos win and cover the spread handily.
Sunday 8:20 PM EST
Chicago at Green Bay, -8.5
This line has shifted down to 7.5 and 7 at some books since opening. I think Chicago loses this game in Lambo, but keeps it at a touchdown. I’m going Bears with the 8.5 points.
Monday 7:10 PM EST
NY Jets at Detroit, -6.5
If I could, I would stay away from this game, but since I have to pick it for the pool, the Lions feel like the safer pick laying a touchdown against a rookie QB in his debut on the road.
Monday 10:15 PM EST
LA Rams at Oakland, +2.5
This line has moved up to 4 and 4.5 at some books, which means Vegas is begging you to take the points with Oakland. I’m honestly not sure what to expect from Jay Gruden’s offense, but I think the Rams win this game and cover the spread at 2.5.
Pick: Los Angeles
Thursday 8:20 PM EST
Atlanta at Philadelphia, -3.5
With Carson Wentz still recovering from last season’s ACL tear, Nick Foles has been named the Eagles’ Week 1 quarterback. While Foles doesn’t quite inspire “Wentzlmania,” he did lead the team to a Super Bowl victory last year over the New England Patriots. He’ll also have fewer personnel options on the deep ball: Injury-plagued wide receiver Alshon Jeffery will sit out Week 1 as he recovers from rotator cuff surgery.
The Falcons are an NFC favorite at 16/1 in Super Bowl futures odds, according to SportsLine. They’re projected to have an explosive offense, and offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian also returns for his second year in this role, which should bode well for Matt Ryan and the entire Atlanta offense.
-3.5 basically puts this game at a push if it were being played on neutral territory, and at the time of this writing, most books have this matchup at -2.5/-2, which tells me Vegas is begging you to take the Eagles in this spot. If I could get the Eagles at under a field goal, I think I’d take them there, but at -3.5, I’m going Falcons.