NFL Picks Week 1: Predictions for Weekend Games with Closest Lines

Andrew GouldFeatured ColumnistSeptember 7, 2013

Drew Brees and Sean Payton are seeking retribution after an ugly 7-9 season.
Drew Brees and Sean Payton are seeking retribution after an ugly 7-9 season.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Blowouts are fun when your team is on the winning side, but everyone loves a tightly-contested NFL duel.

Watching the Denver Broncos light up the scoreboard on Thursday night was a blast (as long as you're not a Ravens ran or facing Peyton Manning in your fantasy league), but NFL fans live for the nail-biters. These games leave us sliding off our seats, shaking in anticipation before every snap. 

When the fourth quarter starts, these contests will be nowhere near decided. It may take every available second before reaching an outcome to these affairs. These bouts appear too close to call, but let's try anyway.

Betting lines, updated as of Friday night, are courtesy of Vegas Insider.


Browns Will Edge Out Dolphins (-1)

In terms of the spread, Vegas pegs this matchup between the Cleveland Browns and Miami Dolphins as the week's most even game. They're probably right.

The Dolphins, while poor in their own right at 7-9, trumped the Browns' 2011 win total by two victories. They were the superior squad last year, and they filled some holes in free agency by adding Mike Wallace, Brent Grimes and Dannell Ellerbe. That gives the Dolphins the slight edge, but the Browns are tailing them with the unknown promise of a new offensive scheme. 

Norv Turner will now take over a dismal unit that ranked 25th in total offense last season. But don't worry, he's not in charge of managing the play clock during the fourth quarter. Cleveland will let him focus on harnessing its young talent into an improved group that can surprise a lot of people this season.

Shutdown corner Joe Haden will bother Wallace all day in his team debut, placing the emphasis on an otherwise shallow receiving core and giving untested Lamar Miller a full slate of carries. Cleveland's offense only needs to show a little to out-class Miami in a low-scoring bout.

Prediction: Browns 16, Dolphins 13


Saints (-3) Will March Past Falcons 

Usually teams coming off a season in which they clinched the No. 1 seed earn enough respect to enter the following season's opening week as the favorite. 

Fresh off a 13-3 season during which they held a lead with less than a minute remaining in the NFC Championship Game, the Atlanta Falcons are underdogs headed into their Week 1 clash with the 7-9 New Orleans Saints.

It seems odd, but the Saints did topple the Falcons at the Superdome last season.

Atlanta flourished in close games last season, with six wins by six points or less, while New Orleans struggled, dropping four bouts by a touchdown or less. Such success, however, is not sustainable from season to season, varying with little rhyme or reason.

A top-shelf quarterback can often fend off such regression, which means the Falcons shouldn't fall too far from grace with Matt Ryan in charge. But it does mean Drew Brees is too good to lead another 7-9 campaign.

Expect the Saints to end more shootouts on the winning side under Sean Payton's watchful eye. What better time to start than Week 1 against a divisional foe in what has "Match of the Week" potential.

Prediction: Saints 38, Falcons 34  


Cowboys (-3.5) Will Emerge Victorious in a Sunday Night Battle Against Giants

Your guess is as good as mine for who will escape the NFC East in first, unless you pick the New York Jets or any team in another division.

The quadrant of squads will attempt to offer some clarity with two divisional matchups to kick off the season. Despite both teams missing out on the playoffs, the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants will strut their stuff on Sunday Night Football.

This game also should feature a bounty of points (should have used that earlier, eh?) between two teams loaded with skill players, but lacking in overall substance. In the end, expect Dallas to replicate last year's result and start the season with a win over the G-Men.

New York is hobbling to the starting gate. Stevie Brown, who led the team with eight picks last season, will miss the season with a torn ACL, and Jason Pierre-Paul is still not at 100 percent. Considering the Giants' weak secondary (a receiver just flew past Corey Webster while typing this sentence), their only shot stems from Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck finding some energy boosters and wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks.

Until either of those two can show something close to full-strength, Tony Romo, the guy who amassed 4,903 passing yards and was still labeled an utter failure, should have a field day as Dez Bryant burns Webster deep and Jason Witten picks on a lackluster linebacker group.

New York's offense should improve if Cruz and Hakeem Nicks are healthy, but look for Demarcus Ware to fluster Eli Manning just enough to spawn a costly turnover or two.

Prediction: Cowboys 31, Giants 24