Bleacher Report's Expert Consensus Week 1 NFL Picks
With Week 1 in the NFL upon us, it's time to fire up the picks!
Here at Bleacher Report, we've spent the last year adding a ton of talent on the NFL front, and so, we've decided to put all of our picks front and center to provide a consensus for every game of the NFL season.
The major storyline of Week 1 is that football is back! On top of that, the NFL has provided a number of divisional games to whet our appetites—perhaps none bigger than Cowboys-Giants on Wednesday night.
So, let me introduce you to our panel of experts. Get to know them, love them and debate them ferociously.
Our B/R Panel of Experts
On to the picks!
Note: All betting odds are for informational purposes only and courtesy of Statfox.com. Although spreads are provided, all picks are straight-up.
Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants
B/R Consensus: New York Giants (10-1)
Vegas: Giants -4
Most defending Super Bowl champions don't fly this far under the radar.
The Cowboys should be improved in 2012, but the Giants are still a step ahead. While anything can happen in such a huge rivalry, New York is the better team at every position.
The Dallas Cowboys head into the season opener with questions on offense (Miles Austin, Jason Witten, Dez Bryant), while the New York Giants bring a pass-rush that will constantly pepper Tony Romo will hits.
The defense will be the difference-maker as the Giants move to 1-0.
The Dallas defense should be much improved, especially the secondary, but can they put enough pressure on Eli Manning to get him out of his comfort zone?
Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and all their friends will simply be too much for an incoherent offensive line that will need time to gel.
Neither team is particularly healthy, but Jason Witten's absence will be the biggest loss felt by either team. Plus, the defending champion has won the prime-time kickoff game eight years in a row.
Other Votes: Frenz, NYG; Hangst, NYG; Hansen, NYG; Dunlevy, DAL; Garda, NYG; Langland, NYG; Bardeen, NYG.
Indianapolis Colts at Chicago Bears
B/R Consensus: Chicago Bears (Unanimous)
Vegas: Bears -9
The Bears defense is aging pretty rapidly, but are good enough to dominate a Colts offense that won't have its sea legs quite yet.
Andrew Luck’s first regular season game will be a tough one. The Chicago Bears, even with a banged-up Brian Urlacher, are good enough to provide constant pressure against a Colts offensive line that’s average at best.
Julius Peppers and Henry Melton will have big days, while Cutler and Forte should be able to move the ball with ease against the Indy defense.
Luck's NFL debut will be competitive for a while, but as the game goes on, the talent discrepancy will become apparent.
The Colts have a chance at keeping things close using Coby Fleener down the seam against the Bears' Tampa 2, but the Bears' offensive playmakers will be way too much for the Colts secondary.
Philadelphia Eagles at Cleveland Browns
B/R Consensus: Philadelphia Eagles (Unanimous)
Vegas: Eagles -8.5
Bright future ahead for the Browns, but not Week 1 against the much-improved Eagles.
The Browns defense won't be able to keep up with the speedy Eagles, and the Philly D should have a field day rushing a rookie passer.
This one could get ugly.
The Cleveland Browns are overmatched at every position, and the Philadelphia Eagles see a Super Bowl season in their sights. Brandon Weeden and Co. will get a true “welcome to the NFL” moment against Andy Reid’s squad.
Michael Vick and the Eagles offense should have a field day in this one.
The Browns have an underrated offensive line, a powerful new rookie running back and a decent defense. The Eagles are a legitimate Super Bowl contender—at least until Mike Vick gets hurt.
The Eagles simply have too much talent on both sides of the ball for the Browns to handle.
Learning curves for rookies are steep, and the Browns are starting a lot of them. It's not the worst thing—they are going to become a good team—but the Eagles might be a little much in Week 1.
Philadelphia should get off to a much better start this time around. Its pass-rush should feast on Brandon Weeden in his pro debut.
Other Votes: Unanimous, Eagles
New England Patriots at Tennessee Titans
B/R Consensus: New England Patriots (Unanimous)
Vegas: Patriots -6
Say anything you want about the Patriots defense, but they spent a lot of draft capital improving it this past offseason, and it should be more than enough to stop Jake Locker and company.
At worst, does anyone really think Tom Brady doesn't win this shootout?
The speedy Jake Locker at quarterback may give the New England Patriots defense a great first test, but the Tennessee Titans defense won’t be able to slow down Tom Brady’s offense.
Points could come early and often in this game, but ultimately, the Patriots are the better team.
It all starts up front, and Vince Wilfork will cause all sorts of problems for the interior of the Titans offensive line, which will make life difficult for Chris Johnson.
Expect Locker to throw the football a bunch, as the Patriots—whose protection issues are greatly overblown—start to pile on the points.
The Titans offense could surprise people this year, and this could be a coming-out party for them if the Pats aren't ready for Locker. But New England's run defense has been stingy this preseason.
In the end, the Patriots just score too much and should be able to make enough key stops to pull out the win.
The Titans will struggle to get pressure on Brady, and that's a recipe for giving up 30-plus points. The Tennessee offense isn't in a place where they can keep up with that pace.
Other Votes: Unanimous, Patriots
Atlanta Falcons at Kansas City Chiefs
B/R Consensus: Atlanta Falcons (7-4)
Vegas: Falcons -2.5
The Chiefs have a lot of great football ahead of them, but they're running into a bit of a buzzsaw in Week 1.
The Falcons just have too much offensive firepower to be stopped by a Chiefs defense that will be shorthanded without the suspended Tamba Hali.
Two teams with major playoff aspirations face off in what should be a great battle.
The Falcons will look to exploit the Chiefs by using their speed on the outside, while Kansas City will look to ground and pound the Falcons defense. The key here is how well the Atlanta offensive line protects Matt Ryan.
In the hostile environment of Arrowhead Stadium, Ryan and Co. will be under constant attack.
Atlanta looks ready to lean on Ryan rather than its running game, which is obviously what you want to see with the weapons at its QB's disposal.
But can they protect him? The Chiefs have plenty of weapons of their own and will be able to score against a transitioning Falcons defense.
Tony Gonzalez returns to where it all started in 1997 to face the Chiefs for the first time since leaving Kansas City.
The pass-happy Falcons look to open up an aerial assault against a good Chiefs pass defense that might not be completely healthy by Week 1.
Without Tamba Hali and Brandon Flowers, the Chiefs will not be able to stop Julio Jones and Roddy White. Kansas City's offense is not good enough to win shootouts, even at home.
Other Votes: Frenz, Chiefs; Hangst, Falcons; Dunlevy, Chiefs; Gagnon, Falcons; Garda, Falcons; Langland, Falcons
Jacksonville Jaguars at Minnesota Vikings
B/R Consensus: Minnesota Vikings (8-3)
Vegas: Vikings -5
People overlook the Vikings, but this is a team that went through a lot in 2011 and still managed to stick with teams more than critics give them credit for.
What the win-loss record didn't always indicate is that this is a team on the rise. The Metrodome is a rough place to play for visitors, and Jacksonville Jaguars QB Blaine Gabbert just isn't ready for that pressure.
In this battle of two second-year quarterbacks, the better defense will win out.
Jared Allen and the Vikings should be able to get to Gabbert, but ultimately, the Jacksonville defense is the better overall unit.
Christian Ponder could have a rough day if his backfield can’t bail him out.
Blaine Gabbert has certainly looked better this preseason, but as mentioned, Week 1 in the Metrodome is a tough draw. The noise will give Jared Allen and Minny a big advantage.
For the Vikings, Toby Gerhart and Adrian Peterson will get plenty of carries to keep the pressure off of Christian Ponder.
I don't believe Blaine Gabbert is ready to win a high-pressure game on the road. Maurice Jones-Drew likely won't be in the game for the Jags, and while Gabbert is improved, he's not ready for this one.
It's a loss and a bad omen for the Jags' season.
Minnesota's defensive front will ultimately be too much for Gabbert to overcome. While Rashad Jennings is a solid runner, he's no Maurice Jones-Drew, who, even if he returns, won't start.
Meanwhile, Christian Ponder will be able to move the ball well using Percy Harvin, Kyle Rudolph and a combination of Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart.
Other Votes: Frenz, Vikings; Hangst, Jaguars; Hansen, Vikings; Gagnon, Vikings; Langland, Vikings; Bardeen, Jaguars
Washington Redskins at New Orleans Saints
B/R Consensus: New Orleans Saints (10-1)
Vegas: Saints -9.5
It's easy to get caught up in the RG3 hype, but it's important to remember that he's still a rookie, and this is a ridiculously talented Saints team.
The offense can beat the Redskins through the air and (with Mark Ingram healthy) can do it on the ground as well.
Robert Griffin III makes his NFL regular season debut, but unfortunately, it’s against one of the better defenses in the NFL.
The Saints defense looks legit, and Cameron Jordan and Curtis Lofton have the speed and range to keep RG3 in check. For the Saints, Drew Brees will have no trouble picking apart the Redskins defense, especially if Brian Orakpo is sidelined.
The Us-Against-The-World Tour kicks off in the Superdome.
Drew Brees and the offense will have no trouble moving the football and scoring points. The Redskins will move the ball as well until the Saints are out far ahead, enabling the Saints defense to get after RGIII.
Washington will be much improved, but this is a tough spot for the Redskins. The Saints should be fired up for their home opener, especially considering what took place during the offseason.
Look for Drew Brees to prove he can run this offense while Sean Payton serves his one-year suspension by putting up monster numbers against an improved defense.
Other Votes: Frenz, Saints; Hangst, Saints; Hansen, Saints; Dunlevy, Redskins; Garda, Saints; Langland, Saints
Buffalo Bills at New York Jets
B/R Consensus: Buffalo Bills (Unanimous)
Vegas: New York Jets -3
The biggest question with the Bills this season is whether or not the defensive back seven will be able to capitalize on the pressure that the front four is sure to get.
Austin Howard is going to have his hands full with Mario Williams, and it's difficult to expect Mark Sanchez to stay upright and productive for long.
In a game that will tell the story of who the No. 2 in the AFC East will be, expect Buffalo to come out on top. The Jets offense has been woefully bad in the preseason, while Buffalo has looked good.
Mario Williams and the Buffalo defensive line should tee off against an overmatched Jets offensive line on their way to rattling Mark Sanchez.
Don’t expect many points in this one.
Stevie Johnson is one of the only receivers in the league with a history of success against Jets corner Darrelle Revis, and Ryan Fitzpatrick will look to him a bunch.
The Jets’ offensive struggles in the preseason are well-documented, but look for Santonio Holmes to get in the end zone at least once.
Can the Jets find a way to slow down Mario Williams? That could determine the outcome of this game, but I don't think they can.
The Bills were not at full health for either of their two meetings with the Jets last year. The blitz confused Fitzpatrick in the first meeting, but he looked much more comfortable the second time around.
Other Votes: Unanimous, Bills
St. Louis Rams at Detroit Lions
B/R Consensus: Detroit Lions (10-1)
Vegas: Lions -8
Jeff Fisher and Jim Schwartz are going to do their level-best to destroy each other's offense in this matchup, but it's going to come down to which team has the most firepower.
This game might go better for the Rams two to three years down the road, but they're in year one of a rebuild, and the Lions have had a big head start.
Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson will be tested by Chris Long, Cortland Finnegan and others, but the Lions are too dynamic at this point for a green Rams defense.
The Rams should be improved on offense, but this is a tough matchup for them in Week 1. The Lions defensive line coupled with the crowd will make life miserable for Sam Bradford.
For the Detroit offense, look for fireworks between Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Titus Young.
The Rams offensive line isn't skilled enough to stop the Lions front four—Bradford will be harassed all day long and Calvin Johnson will prove to be too much for Cortland Finnegan.
While the Lions secondary is a bit suspect, it's still solid enough to stop a quarterback like Bradford, who has few real offensive weapons. Even Steven Jackson can do just so much, and the Lions defensive front is fierce.
The Rams defense is solid, but the Lions offense is just too much for them, and they won't be able to slow them down.
Other Votes: Frenz, Lions; Hangst, Lions; Hansen, Lions; Dunlevy, Lions; Gagnon, Rams; Bardeen, Lions.
Miami Dolphins at Houston Texans
B/R Consensus: Houston Texans (Unanimous)
Vegas: Texans -10
While the Miami defense should be able to bend but not break in many games this season, a full-strength Texans squad should run away with it in the second half.
Meanwhile, Tannehill will have his hands full eluding a pass-rush that is sure to come from every angle.
The Houston Texans are a Super Bowl favorite by many. The Miami Dolphins are a favorite to hold the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft.
The Texans can’t take this game lightly, but they shouldn’t have to worry about getting their first win against a Miami team that they match up very well against.
The Dolphins are clearly chalking up 2012 as a time for young guys to grow, and they’ll get a ton of opportunity for growth going up against one of the AFC’s Super Bowl contenders.
Things will get late real early in Miami this year.
Tannehill's first start could be a tough outing.
The Texans fielded one of the best pass defenses in the league last year and were a Super Bowl favorite before Matt Schaub went down. The Dolphins surrendered any hope of slowing down Houston's high-octane offense when they traded cornerback Vontae Davis.
Either Cameron Wake has a monster game or the Dolphins get blown out.
San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers
B/R Consensus: Green Bay Packers (9-2)
Vegas: Packers -5.5
Tempo is the name of the game in this one.
If the Niners can keep the scoring low and pound away with Frank Gore, they have a chance. However, Aaron Rodgers will be looking to turn this into a shootout, and Alex Smith doesn't have the ability or the help around him to keep up with the Packers offense.
The must-see game of the weekend, this one is a favorite to be a preview of the NFC Championship Game.
The 49ers offense is still a mystery, and they’ll get a tough test against the Packers secondary. The player to watch is tight end Vernon Davis, who could do very well if he’s working the seam. Aaron Rodgers needs his offensive line to play lights-out if he hopes to stay upright for this one.
Ultimately, that will be the difference.
Rodgers and the Packers offense will have their hands full keeping Justin and Aldon Smith out of the backfield, but Rodgers’ mobility should lead to big plays outside the pocket.
The 49ers will find success pounding the football with Frank Gore and friends. In the end, the Packers make one more play than the Niners.
Even after a 13-3 season in 2011, I still worry about Alex Smith and San Francisco's group of wide receivers. Green Bay's defense is improved, and its offense is as potent as ever.
The Niners have the defense to make things tough on the Packers, but they won't be able to stop them. Once the Packers get ahead, the Niners offense lacks the firepower to catch up. So even if they do slow Green Bay down, it won't be enough.
Other Votes: Frenz, Packers; Hangst, 49ers; Hansen-Packers; Dunlevy, 49ers; Gagnon, Packers; Bardeen, Packers.
Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals
B/R Consensus: Seattle Seahawks (Unanimous)
Vegas: Seattle -3
John Skelton is going to have an up-and-down season, but expect this to be a serious valley as he starts off against a tough Seahawks defense.
After splitting snaps with Kevin Kolb during the preseason, Skelton will need to engineer some chemistry with Larry Fitzgerald, and that simply isn't happening right off the bat.
A team with a rookie quarterback (Seattle) faces a team with no certainty on offense (Arizona).
The Cardinals offensive line will have a very tough day, as will the entire Arizona offense against one of the NFL’s most underrated defenses. Russell Wilson may struggle, but the overall talent in Seattle is enough to get a win.
Wilson gets his first NFL victory against a Cardinals team that is better on defense than they showed in the preseason and worse on offense than they have any right to be this far into Ken Wisenhunt’s tenure.
Expect a healthy dose of the run game from Seattle to open things up for Wilson.
Nothing like starting Week 1 off on the right note with a divisional game and victory.
Russell Wilson and the Seahawks' pressure defense will make this a landslide victory over the Cards. I could easily see John Skelton getting sacked four or five times by game's end.
Other Votes: Unanimous, Seahawks
Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
B/R Consensus: Carolina Panthers (10-1)
Vegas: Panthers -3
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are putting some great things together under Greg Schiano, but the Panthers already have a good thing going of their own.
Cam Newton aside, the Buccaneers are going to have serious trouble stopping the Panthers rushing attack. Add in a quarterback who can beat opponents any way he wants, and this could get ugly in a hurry if Josh Freeman doesn't keep pace.
Cam Newton starts his second NFL season against a defense that features a lot of young talent.
The trouble for Tampa Bay is that its already disappointing DT unit has been decimated by injury. Carolina can turn and hand the ball to DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart (if ready) and Mike Tolbert all day to take home the victory.
Cam Newton begins his sophomore NFL season as an unmitigated superstar, but is that enough for a Carolina offense whose other marquee offensive players are hurting? The Bucs will pound the football with Doug Martin and LeGarrette Blount against a suspect Carolina defensive line.
This should be a great game.
Three times in preseason games, Tampa Bay has given up 160 or more yards on the ground (twice 200-plus). Carolina brings one of the most proficient rushing attacks in the game to Raymond James Stadium, and the newly-retooled Bucs don’t have enough offense to compensate yet.
Other Votes: Frenz, Panthers; Hangst, Panthers; Hansen, Panthers; Dunlevy, Buccaneers; Gagnon, Panthers; Garda, Panthers; Langland, Panthers.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos
B/R Consensus: Denver Broncos (7-4)
Vegas: Broncos -1
The Steelers have serious questions when it comes to the depth in 2012, but that won't matter in Week 1.
Dick LeBeau will dial up every exotic blitz package in his bag of tricks, and while it won't confuse Manning, it should befuddle the rest of the Broncos' young offense.
Peyton Manning’s return to the NFL will be a tough one, at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Even without Ryan Clark, Pittsburgh will be able to pressure Manning behind the Denver offensive line. Lamarr Woodley and the D will dominate this one as Manning gets off to a frustrating start.
Peyton Manning’s debut after a year away from football will be must-see TV.
Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau will undoubtedly test Manning early to see just how in-sync the Broncos are on offense early.
The Steelers should spread things out and let Big Ben throw it all over the yard.
The memory of last year's season-opener blowout in which the Steelers fell to Baltimore 35-7 is fresh in my mind for this week.
Pittsburgh's no stranger to Peyton Manning and should get some serious pressure. The question is the secondary; I'm worried they can't handle what Manning dishes out this early.
Reluctantly, I am going with Denver.
Manning is 2-1 lifetime against the Steelers, but only three teams have held him to a lower completion percentage.
Denver's defense will also be tested.
Other Votes: Frenz, Broncos; Dunlevy, Broncos; Gagnon, Broncos; Garda, Steelers; Langland, Broncos; Bardeen, Broncos.
Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens
B/R Consensus: Baltimore Ravens (10-1)
Vegas: Ravens -6
Defense has been the name of the game in Baltimore for so long that it's easy to forget that the Ravens offense has some serious potential this year.
Ray Rice, Joe Flacco and Torrey Smith are going to get rolling early and often in 2012, and the Bengals (while stout) won't be able to keep up.
Were it not for San Francisco vs. Green Bay, this would be the game of the week.
The Bengals are contenders in the AFC North, but the Baltimore Ravens are the reigning champs. Baltimore must find a consistent pass-rush without Terrell Suggs on the field, and the Bengals offensive line is pretty solid across the board.
This one has the scent of a possible upset.
The Ravens have looked fantastic on offense throughout the preseason, but the thinking here is that Joe Flacco and company will struggle with their no-huddle offense when coordinators are game-planning for it.
Andy Dalton and A.J. Green just won’t be enough on their own to beat the Ravens in their house at M&T Bank Stadium.
There are a lot of uncertainties for the Bengals on the interior of their offensive line, and though Terrell Suggs isn't on the field for Baltimore, they're going to get attacked. Passing could become difficult for Cincy with the Ravens' strong secondary.
It should be close, but I'm picking Baltimore.
Other Votes: Frenz, Ravens; Hansen, Ravens; Dunlevy, Ravens; Gagnon, Ravens; Garda, Ravens; Langland, Ravens; Bardeen, Bengals.
San Diego Chargers at Oakland Raiders
B/R Consensus: Oakland Raiders (6-5)
Vegas: Chargers -1
The Raiders are always a Carson Palmer mistake away from implosion, and the Chargers should be able to take advantage. Neither of these teams are world beaters and both have injury issues already, so this matchup has a bit of a "pick 'em" feel.
In the end, Philip Rivers is the better QB, and that should be the difference.
Two teams being counted out of the AFC West race square off in the last game of the week.
San Diego has an opportunity to pick apart the Raiders cornerbacks, but SD needs protection its offensive line first. That’s been an issue in San Diego, and if Philip Rivers isn’t getting protection, the Chargers will find themselves upset.
The Raiders have precious little depth, but that won’t matter in this Week 1 contest. Look for Darren McFadden to carry the ball a ton.
Dennis Allen’s defense will be a pleasant surprise all year, starting against a Chargers offense that is still trying to put all the pieces together.
Games within the division are almost always a 50-50 call, so the edge usually goes to the healthy team or the home team. Raiders are the healthier team and will be playing in front of the Black Hole.
Other Votes: Frenz, Chargers; Hangst, Chargers; Dunlevy, Raiders; Gagnon, Raiders; Garda, Chargers; Langland, Raiders; Bardeen, Raiders.
Michael Schottey is the NFL national lead writer for Bleacher Report and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff alongside other great writers at "The Go Route."