Bleacher Report's Expert Consensus Week 1 NFL Picks
There will be surprises.
Always are in this league, especially in Week 1. Five underdogs won outright in the first week of the 2017 NFL season, including the Kansas City Chiefs as eight-point dogs in New England.
It doesn't always mean much—the Cleveland Browns put up a fight against the Pittsburgh Steelers but lost and haven't won since, while the Oakland Raiders dominated the Tennessee Titans before slumping the rest of the year—but it's certainly a weekend to expect the unexpected.
So good luck this week if you're one of many Americans placing legal bets on NFL football for the first time ever.
Need help? Without making any guarantees (in other words, don't send us invoices for your losses), we've tasked Bleacher Report NFL analysts Gary Davenport, Brad Gagnon and Brent Sobleski with picking every game this season, against the spread.
Here are the first 16.
Lines based on consensuses at Odds Shark as of Wednesday, September 5.
Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles
Road teams are 3-13 in Thursday night Week 1 kickoff games, which might explain why the Philadelphia Eagles remain small favorites for their Week 1 matchup with the Atlanta Falcons. But this is tricky, because only three of the last six prime-time kickoff games have been won by the defending champion (the New England Patriots were crushed after raising their banner at home last year), and the Eagles look somewhat vulnerable entering their first-ever regular season as defending Super Bowl champs.
And our experts recognize that, which is why they've unanimously picked the Falcons to cover a two-point spread in what should be a closely contested game between the NFC's last two Super Bowl representatives.
Philly won't have franchise quarterback Carson Wentz. And yes, that didn't stop the Eagles from winning Super Bowl LII, but there's no guarantee hot-and-cold backup Nick Foles will be as effective this September as he was in January. For what it's worth, he struggled in the preseason. Plus, he won't have top receiver Alshon Jeffery, who caught three touchdown passes from Foles in the last two games of the 2017 postseason.
The Falcons didn't perform particularly well in the preseason either, but they're healthy, they're dealing with less pressure, and they should be over their Super Bowl hangover just as Philly's is at its peak.
Davenport: Atlanta (+2)
Gagnon: Atlanta (+2)
Sobleski: Atlanta (+2)
Consensus: Atlanta (+2)
Score Prediction: Falcons 24, Eagles 21
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints are the biggest favorites of Week 1, but that 9.5-point line isn't high enough for two of our three experts. Both Davenport and Gagnon think New Orleans will walk away with a double-digit victory over a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that is starting backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in place of the suspended Jameis Winston.
The increasingly strong New Orleans defense surrendered just 10 points in the team's last meeting with Tampa Bay at the Superdome, with Fitzpatrick also serving as the Bucs' primary quarterback after relieving an injured Winston in that affair.
"The Saints have only gotten stronger since then," said Gagnon. "They had a nice offseason, while the Bucs dealt with more Winston drama. Wrong place, wrong time for Tampa Bay."
But this isn't a unanimous pick, and Sobleski's prediction that this'll be a close game should give you caution. Divisional games are always tricky, especially in Week 1. The Bucs did beat the Saints 31-24 in the 2017 regular-season finale (albeit at home), and Tampa Bay has scored 60 points in back-to-back season-opening victories.
Essentially, tread carefully.
Davenport: New Orleans (-9.5)
Gagnon: New Orleans (-9.5)
Sobleski: Tampa Bay (+9.5)
Consensus: New Orleans (-9.5)
Score Prediction: New Orleans 27, Tampa Bay 16
San Francisco 49ers at Minnesota Vikings
The hype train for the San Francisco 49ers is fully fueled, but our experts don't think that'll be enough for San Francisco to slay the stacked Minnesota Vikings in Minneapolis on Sunday.
The Niners certainly look like potential contenders with new franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo coming off his first offseason with the team. After all, they won each of their final five games with Jimmy G under center last season.
But this might again be a case of wrong place, wrong time, because the Vikings look primed for a huge season with veteran quarterback Kirk Cousins joining the fray. Despite all the buzz, Gagnon doesn't believe San Francisco is in Minnesota's league.
"The 49ers gained so much momentum with Garoppolo late last season," he said, "but they didn't do enough to bolster his supporting cast this offseason. I like Garoppolo, but he doesn't have enough weapons, and he could be in trouble now that opposing defensive coordinators have taken plenty of time to watch his tape from December."
Throw in that Garoppolo recently lost projected No. 1 running back Jerick McKinnon to a season-ending knee injury, and this one has a chance to be one-sided.
Davenport: Minnesota (-6)
Gagnon: Minnesota (-6)
Sobleski: Minnesota (-6)
Consensus: Minnesota (-6)
Score Prediction: Minnesota 27, San Francisco 13
Buffalo Bills at Baltimore Ravens
Our experts are a tad surprised that the Baltimore Ravens are mere seven-point favorites for their Week 1 home matchup with the Buffalo Bills, because it appears Buffalo is throwing second-year quarterback Nathan Peterman to the wolves.
At this point just one year ago, those wolves—also known as Terrell Suggs, Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Eric Weddle, Tony Jefferson, C.J. Mosley, Marlon Humphrey and the rest of the Baltimore defense—shut out the Cincinnati Bengals in their season opener and then surrendered just 10 points to the Cleveland Browns in their home opener.
They recorded 10 takeaways and eight sacks in those two games. And although they cooled off a little bit as injuries took their toll down the stretch, they still finished with the year with the sixth-fewest points allowed in the NFL.
Those wolves will be licking their chops when facing Peterman, who infamously threw five interceptions in one half in his first NFL start last November. Peterman has since shown signs of progress, but he's a bridge quarterback with a clear-cut ceiling, and the Ravens are a hell of a challenge out of the gate.
The Buffalo defense might have to do some heavy lifting for the Bills to keep this close, but Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has experienced a superb offseason, and he's got more support now than he's had in years.
Thus, Davenport, Gagnon and Sobleski don't buy that this'll be a one-score game.
Davenport: Baltimore (-7)
Gagnon: Baltimore (-7)
Sobleski: Baltimore (-7)
Consensus: Baltimore (-7)
Score Prediction: Baltimore 24, Buffalo 10
Jacksonville Jaguars at New York Giants
For years, Jacksonville Jaguars-New York Giants games were meetings between a mystery and a known commodity. That is arguably the case again now, but for once, the Jags are the known commodity and the Giants are the mystery.
Led by a new regime and coaching staff and featuring a retooled offensive line and running game, the Giants could be better than they were when they won double-digit games and made the playoffs in 2016, or as bad as they were when they lost 13 games in a 2017 campaign that exemplified Murphy's law.
That's why Sobleski is backing the Jags as three-point faves, even on the road against a talented opponent.
"The Jaguars are counted among the league's most talented teams," he said. "The Giants, on the other hand, are a new-look squad. They have a new head coach, new offensive and defensive play-callers, new schemes, entirely new offensive line, new running back, new defensive end, two new starting linebackers and new free safety. The Jaguars envision a Super Bowl run, while the Giants have no clue who they are."
Three points might seem low for a matchup between a consensus Super Bowl contender and a team coming off a three-win season, but the Jags have lost their last three regular-season road games, and the Giants have the more accomplished quarterback. That leaves Gagnon under the impression this'll be close, and the reality is that any Week 1 game involving this much "mystery" is a risky play.
Davenport: Jacksonville (-3)
Gagnon: New York (+3)
Sobleski: Jacksonville (-3)
Consensus: Jacksonville (-3)
Score Prediction: Jacksonville 17, New York 14
Houston Texans at New England Patriots
There's also plenty of mystery surrounding Sunday's matchup between the Houston Texans and New England Patriots.
The Texans won just four games last season, but that surely wouldn't have been the case had quarterback Deshaun Watson and defensive end J.J. Watt been healthy. Watson was tearing it up and had emerged as an MVP candidate before suffering a season-ending knee injury in November, but he's back now, and so is Watt.
The question is how effective both of those players will be. Watson relies heavily on his legs and is just 10 months removed from major knee surgery, while Watt has missed all but eight games the last two seasons.
The Patriots nearly won the Super Bowl last season, but they've since experienced an acrimonious offseason. MVP quarterback Tom Brady and superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski are back after weird springs, but the same can't be said for stalwart left tackle Nate Solder, flashy back Dion Lewis, accomplished cornerback Malcolm Butler and veteran wideouts Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola, all of whom are gone. And on top of that, they'll be without top receiver Julian Edelman as he serves a four-game suspension to start the regular season.
Despite all that is up in the air, there's still a unanimous consensus among our analysts that Houston will put up a fight against the defending AFC champions.
"I think my gambling nickname should be 'The Pancake,' because I flipped on a pair of games this week," said Davenport, who admits he was originally on the Pats as 6.5-point favorites. "I still think the Patriots have an excellent chance to win this game at home, because they're the Patriots and they very rarely lose at home. But a healthy Texans team has the weapons on offense and defense to keep things close enough that laying almost a touchdown just became a bit too rich for my blood.
"There are too many questions surrounding the New England defense and receiving corps, and this is a team that's been known to stub their toe a little early, a la last year's opener against the Chiefs."
Davenport: Houston (+6.5)
Gagnon: Houston (+6.5)
Sobleski: Houston (+6.5)
Consensus: Houston (-6.5)
Score Prediction: New England 23, Houston 20
Tennessee Titans at Miami Dolphins
Vegas doesn't appear to be confident in either the Tennessee Titans or Miami Dolphins this week, probably because Tennessee won just three regular-season road games last season, while four of Miami's six wins came at home.
The Dolphins don't look like playoff contenders after losing star players Jarvis Landry and Ndamukong Suh in the offseason, but would anybody be surprised if they hung with an unpredictable Titans team in their home opener? Keep in mind quarterback Ryan Tannehill is healthy for the first time since December 2016.
None of our experts believe Tannehill's presence will be enough to give the Dolphins a small upset victory in South Florida, but Gagnon doesn't see the Titans pulling away either.
"I think this'll be a close, low-scoring game between two teams that few are rallying behind," he said. "Tennessee has a lot more talent and potential and is coming off a playoff season, so Marcus Mariota and Co. should come through, but I think this is close in the fourth quarter. Don't forget that Tannehill is back, and that the Titans allowed more points than they scored despite reaching the second round of the playoffs in 2017."
That's not exactly a huge limb, but it's fair to feel the need to wait before betting big on or against either of these teams in 2018.
Davenport: Tennessee (-1.5)
Gagnon: Tennessee (-1.5)
Sobleski: Tennessee (-1.5)
Consensus: Tennessee (-1.5)
Score Prediction: Tennessee 23, Miami 17
Cincinnati Bengals at Indianapolis Colts
In another AFC matchup that is arguably a toss-up depending on what happens with a franchise quarterback returning from a major injury, the Indianapolis Colts are favored by a field goal at home against a Cincinnati Bengals team that is also trying to get back into the playoff picture in 2018.
Our experts are somewhat divided.
Gagnon is riding the Colts because he trusts Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton more than he does Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, especially in Indianapolis, but he also believes this'll be a field-goal game between two teams desperate to start 2018 off on the right foot.
Davenport and Sobleski don't see it that way, with the latter giving the Bengals a shot to win outright based on the X's and O's.
"The Bengals are an intriguing play since they feature dynamic playmakers at the skill positions and a ferocious defensive front," Sobleski said. "But the team's offensive line continues to be a gigantic question mark. Fortunately, Cincinnati faces the Colts and their soft defense to open the season. The Bengals' issues up front will have far less of an impact against a defensive front that lacks legitimate pass-rushers."
Still, things could become complicated if that line drops below three.
Davenport: Cincinnati (+3)
Gagnon: Indianapolis (-3)
Sobleski: Cincinnati (+3)
Consensus: Cincinnati (+3)
Score Prediction: Indianapolis 24, Cincinnati 23
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns
We have an upset alert in the AFC North, where the Le'Veon Bell-less Pittsburgh Steelers could be running into trouble on the road against the new-look, highly touted Cleveland Browns.
Pittsburgh has won six consecutive meetings with Cleveland, but it beat the Browns by only a field goal when the two teams met in Week 1 last season. Since then, Cleveland has become significantly stronger with the additions of quarterback Tyrod Taylor, wide receiver Jarvis Landry, running back Carlos Hyde and 2018 fourth overall pick Denzel Ward at cornerback.
They didn't win any games last season, but they appear ready to compete—especially at home and against a team that looks like it'll be without one of its top players for the opener.
"Earlier in the week, I was a dissenter in this game, picking the Steelers to open the season with a win and cover on the road," Davenport said. "But I've flipped since. Against a Steelers team without their star tailback (potentially), and without linebacker Ryan Shazier, an improved Browns team has a real chance at winning this game outright and knocking off the Steelers at home. And in any event, I'm no longer comfortable laying four points on the road."
Neither are Gagnon nor Sobleski.
Davenport: Cleveland (+4)
Gagnon: Cleveland (+4)
Sobleski: Cleveland (+4)
Consensus: Cleveland (+4)
Score Prediction: Cleveland 21, Pittsburgh 20
Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Chargers
In many cases, how you bet will depend on the line you get. In most spots, the Los Angeles Chargers were three-point favorites over the Kansas City Chiefs when our NFL experts made their picks midway through the week. But the Bolts have become slightly larger favorites at plenty of books, with the line moving closer to four.
That doesn't matter to Davenport, who dissented by picking the Chiefs to cover as three-point road underdogs in Los Angeles. But on the other side of the coin, Gagnon is sticking with the Bolts regardless of line movement.
"I don't know if I'm completely sold on Patrick Mahomes as Kansas City's franchise quarterback yet," Gagnon said, "and I'm sure there'll be growing pains regardless. The Chargers are due for a breakout season, and they should cause trouble for Mahomes with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram up front and plenty of talent in the secondary."
That's a risky pick simply because the Chargers often feel perma-snakebitten, and they've lost each of their last eight meetings with Kansas City. But it's entirely possible the law of averages will give them a break at home against an opponent that is using a green quarterback and might not have star safety Eric Berry.
Davenport: Kansas City (+3)
Gagnon: Los Angeles (-3)
Sobleski: Los Angeles (-3)
Consensus: Los Angeles (-3)
Score Prediction: Los Angeles 27, Kansas City 23
Washington Redskins at Arizona Cardinals
Our analysts were essentially picking a straight-up winner in a toss-up between two NFC teams with low expectations. Two went with the slight favorite Arizona Cardinals at home, while Sobleski has the Washington Redskins pulling off the "upset" on the road.
What makes this one tricky is both teams feature new quarterbacks who were once No. 1 overall picks, and you rarely know what you're going to get from either one.
Washington's Alex Smith was the league's highest-rated passer with the Chiefs last season, but the Redskins offense doesn't have as many weapons, and it's possible that was an aberrational campaign (it was also an uneven one).
Meanwhile, the Cards are using the oft-injured Sam Bradford while first-round rookie Josh Rosen marinates. The last game Bradford started and finished with the Vikings was arguably the best outing of his career, but that came way back in Week 1 of the 2017 season.
The Cardinals are the safer pick with both Bradford and 2016 All-Pro running back David Johnson healthy for their home opener, but you can't blame Sobleski for siding with Smith and Co. because a healthy Redskins team might be more talented than a healthy Arizona squad.
Davenport: Arizona (-1)
Gagnon: Arizona (-1)
Sobleski: Washington (+1)
Consensus: Arizona (PK)
Score Prediction: Arizona 21, Washington 17
Seattle Seahawks at Denver Broncos
Remember that legendary defense that helped the Seattle Seahawks get to back-to-back Super Bowls earlier this decade? It's dead. Gutted. Swimming with the fishes. But all three of our experts are still on board with the Seahawks in their opener against the favored Denver Broncos on the road.
With Case Keenum starting at quarterback alongside rookie running back Royce Freeman on one side of the ball and Defensive Rookie of the Year favorite Bradley Chubb debuting on the other side of the ball, new-look Denver is giving Seattle three points.
That's at least three too many in Gagnon's eyes.
"I like the Broncos with Keenum, Freeman and Chubb joining Von Miller and Co.," Gagnon said, "but I think they'll have a lot to iron out. And although the Seahawks could be a mess on defense, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson has the ability to be a difference-maker in a game like this."
And while nobody expects a blowout here, it helps that these picks were made before superstar Seahawks safety Earl Thomas ended his summer-long holdout on Wednesday afternoon.
Davenport: Seattle (+3)
Gagnon: Seattle (+3)
Sobleski: Seattle (+3)
Consensus: Seattle (+3)
Score Prediction: Seattle 26, Denver 23
Dallas Cowboys at Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers won each of their last five home games last year, a streak that essentially coincided with the late-season emergence of rookie running back Christian McCaffrey. With McCaffrey primed to break out coming off a sensational summer, our experts unanimously picked the Panthers to beat the Dallas Cowboys by at least three points in Week 1.
It wasn't necessarily an easy decision, because Davenport, Gagnon and Sobleski are well aware that the Panthers seem to excel in odd-numbered seasons (12 wins in 2013, 15 in 2015 and 11 in 2017) while struggling in even-numbered campaigns (seven wins in 2012, seven in 2014 and six in 2016). They're also aware that the Cowboys went 6-2 on the road last season and probably would have been better than 9-7 overall had star running back Ezekiel Elliott not served a six-game suspension midway through the year.
But home-field advantage matters, and Panthers quarterback Cam Newton probably has more in him than Dallas signal-caller Dak Prescott, who is trying to fight off a horrendous sophomore slump. Until Prescott can prove that was an anomaly and show that he's able to excel without center Travis Frederick, it'll be hard to justify picking the Cowboys to hang with playoff-caliber teams on the road.
And that's why Carolina gets the nod with a safe three-point line here.
Davenport: Carolina (-3)
Gagnon: Carolina (-3)
Sobleski: Carolina (-3)
Consensus: Carolina (-3)
Score Prediction: Carolina 24, Dallas 20
Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers
Davenport might not be ready to buy the new-look Chicago Bears, at least against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers on the road, but Gagnon and Sobleski feel Chicago can keep things close Sunday night against its mighty division rival.
Chicago has been smoked in three of its last four games at Lambeau Field, but Gagnon is ready to tell anyone who will listen that these aren't your big brother's Bears.
"Are you kidding me with this line?" he asked, apparently rhetorically. "The Bears are substantially better than the Packers on defense, and they have just as much, if not more talent at running back and wide receiver. Green Bay will likely win this game thanks to Rodgers, but I believe in the element of surprise with new Bears head coach/offensive guru Matt Nagy, and Chicago looks like it could have a special turnaround on its hands. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is well-supported now, and Khalil Mack's presence could be a game-changer. They'll be in this thing in crunch time."
If they are but they still lose, there's a good chance the Bears fall by a touchdown or less. And if that's the case, they'll walk away with a moral victory while Gagnon and Sobleski walk away with ATS victories.
Davenport: Green Bay (-7.5)
Gagnon: Chicago (+7.5)
Sobleski: Chicago (+7.5)
Consensus: Chicago (+7.5)
Score Prediction: Green Bay 28, Chicago 23
New York Jets at Detroit Lions
No rookie quarterbacks will start on Sunday, but on Monday night, Sam Darnold of the New York Jets will become the 21st rookie signal-caller in the last decade to get the nod in the first week of his first NFL season. Naturally, nobody knows what to expect from the youngest Week 1 starter in modern NFL history, which is why the opposing Detroit Lions are no-doubter favorites at home.
But while Gagnon doesn't think that 6.5-point line is high enough, Davenport and Sobleski believe Darnold and the Jets will stick around in the first half of a Monday doubleheader.
"Yes, the Jets have a rookie quarterback making his first career start on the road in what should be a rowdy Ford Field (it's early in the season—Lions fans still have hope)," Davenport said. "But the Lions did nothing in the preseason to give me confidence in laying almost a touchdown.
"The Jets have talent at the skill positions and will probably run the ball in an effort to take pressure off Darnold and control the tempo of the game. Even if the Lions do manage to pull this game out, it's going to be a close one, so the pick is the Jets and that tasty pile of points."
Surely those picking the Jets would prefer to get seven or more points (seven of Detroit's nine wins last year came by seven or more points), but with the line just short of that mark, our experts are still leaning toward Gang Green.
Davenport: New York (+6.5)
Gagnon: Detroit (-6.5)
Sobleski: New York (+6.5)
Consensus: New York (+6.5)
Score Prediction: Detroit 23, New York 20
Los Angeles Rams at Oakland Raiders
The Los Angeles Rams and Oakland Raiders appear to be headed in opposite directions, figuratively and literally (the Rams came to California from St. Louis, while the Raiders are leaving California for Las Vegas).
L.A. has built on the momentum it had coming off a breakout 2017 by upgrading the roster on both sides of the ball this offseason, while Oakland reacted to a down year by going back to a retread caricature of a head coach, investing in several over-the-hill veterans and then trading their best all-around player in Khalil Mack.
That's why Davenport and Sobleski are surprised to see the Rams laying just four points in the Week 1 finale Monday night.
"This game has the makings of a bloodbath," Davenport said. "I don't know that I completely buy all the hype surrounding the Rams—the whole 'Dream Team' narrative makes this writer a little nervous—but there's no denying these teams are headed in very different directions.
"I don't see how a Mack-less Raiders team is going to stop, or even slow down, Todd Gurley on the ground or Jared Goff through the air. If the Rams are able to score at will, that's going to put a ton of pressure on Oakland to try to match score for score, which will both allow the Rams to pin their ears back and ramp up the possibility the Raiders turn it over. Rams by two touchdowns."
Gagnon would like to warn you about a potential Week 1 trap, but he's in the minority.
Davenport: Los Angeles (-4)
Gagnon: Oakland (+4)
Sobleski: Los Angeles (-4)
Consensus: Los Angeles (-4)
Score Prediction: Los Angeles 31, Oakland 20