The new NFL season has finally arrived. After a long offseason and an exhibition schedule that seemed to drag on forever, teams around the league are preparing for games that actually count. It's time to find out which teams will live up to the hype.
In terms of picking games, Week 1 is either the easiest or toughest depending on how confident you are about your seasonal outlook. Since the oddsmakers are still trying to get a grasp on the teams, there's definitely some opportunities available early on.
With that in mind, let's check out all of the lines for the opening week along with picks against the spread for each contest. The table is followed by a closer look at a trio of the most intriguing options available as the new campaign gets underway.
Week 1 NFL Spread Picks
|Sept. 4||Packers||Seahawks||SEA -6||GB|
|Sept. 7||Saints||Falcons||NO -3||ATL|
|Sept. 7||Vikings||Rams||STL -3.5||MIN|
|Sept. 7||Browns||Steelers||PIT -6.5||PIT|
|Sept. 7||Jaguars||Eagles||PHI -10.5||PHI|
|Sept. 7||Raiders||Jets||NYJ -5.5||NYJ|
|Sept. 7||Bengals||Ravens||BAL -1.5||BAL|
|Sept. 7||Bills||Bears||CHI -7||CHI|
|Sept. 7||Redskins||Texans||HOU -2.5||WSH|
|Sept. 7||Titans||Chiefs||KC -3.5||KC|
|Sept. 7||Patriots||Dolphins||NE -5||MIA|
|Sept. 7||Panthers||Buccaneers||TB -1||CAR|
|Sept. 7||49ers||Cowboys||SF -5||SF|
|Sept. 7||Colts||Broncos||DEN -7.5||IND|
|Sept. 8||Giants||Lions||DET -5||DET|
|Sept. 8||Chargers||Cardinals||ARZ -3||ARZ|
Odds via Odds Shark as of 9/2 at 2:45 p.m. ET
Chicago Bears (-7)
The main reason the Buffalo Bills' playoff drought has reached 14 seasons—three years longer than any other franchise—is poor quarterback play. It sure doesn't look like EJ Manuel is the answer, either. His lack of accuracy on deep passes and growing reliance on checkdowns is a major concern.
Now the Bills have to open up on the road against an offense that features Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. As if that weren't enough, Zach Zaidman of CBS Chicago notes Chicago's success in the matchup over the years:
The Bears' run defense should be improved after finishing at the bottom of the league last season, but there are still some question marks. C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson should be able to find enough space to keep it from becoming a total blowout.
That said, in order to mount a serious challenge, Manuel will need to come up with some key completions on third down and in the red zone. He's given very little reason to think he can do that consistently. So look for Chicago to pull away in the second half.
Miami Dolphins (+5)
If there's one team capable of ending the New England Patriots' run of five straight AFC East titles, it's probably the Dolphins. Miami made noticeable strides during the second half of last season, including a win over its dominant division rivals, and was a playoff contender before slipping up late.
Ryan Tannehill continues to make positive strides, Knowshon Moreno brings more versatility to the backfield, and the defense should once again be a strength after finishing eighth in points allowed last season. Tom Curran of CSNNE provided comments from defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, who believes his unit is ready for Tom Brady and Co.:
The fact that it is Week 1, we've known this since the spring and you're always able to spend more time on your first opponent. That goes back to spring. Certain things that we worked on and certain things that we exposed [our players] to, I think they have a better feeling now than they would have if this was game five or six during the regular season.
It's only Week 1, but the Dolphins know exactly how important this game is. The margin for error if they are going to unseat New England is thin. Not only would opening with a victory give them the early edge, but it represents the type of confidence-building win that can jump-start a season.
Whether Miami can pull it off is up for debate, but all signs point to a close contest. The Dolphins won the same matchup by four last December, and not a ton has changed. It should be a field-goal game one way or the other, and the Dolphins cover either way if that's the case.
Carolina Panthers (+1)
Carolina is one of the most undervalued teams coming into the season. The Panthers are coming off a 12-4 season led by a defense that ranked second in both points and yards allowed. Yet, they are underdogs to a team that went 4-12 in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Which team is the best pick for Week 1?
The main concern most people have is the lack of weapons for Cam Newton. It's a legitimate issue, but the rapid development of Kelvin Benjamin is a great sign. If he can emerge as a reliable top target, the Panthers have plenty of secondary options, led by tight end Greg Olsen.
Though the Bucs should make strides after a forgettable 2013, they lost the two meetings with Carolina by an average of nearly 20 points last year. They might be better but not by that much, and the Panthers haven't gone through a transformation that would suggest a massive drop-off.
In other words, the underdog in the opener is still the better team. The Panthers probably won't win by three scores like they did in both games last season, but the result should be the same. Perhaps opening on the road with a victory will earn them some respect back.