B/R Expert Consensus NFL Picks for Week 1
Regulated sports betting is now legal in some form in more than a dozen states, according to ESPN.com's Ryan Rodenberg, and a handful of states and Washington, D.C., are on the cusp of joining that group.
For the first time in history, legal bets were placed by Americans outside of Nevada on NFL games last season. But we're breaking from the early stages of legalization, and any stigma associated with betting on NFL action is dissipating quickly.
According to ESPN.com's David Purdum, survey results released Wednesday by the American Gaming Association project that 7 million adults will bet at a casino sportsbook this season, which is up 20.6 percent from the 2018 campaign.
It's a new world, and we're here to 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 from Caesars as of Wednesday, September 4.
Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears
Road teams are 3-14 in Thursday night Week 1 kickoff games, but our experts figure that trend is due to be bucked by the revamped Green Bay Packers in their prime-time, season-opening matchup with the rival Chicago Bears.
Or they're at least unwilling to lay three points with Chicago.
The Bears went 12-4 against the spread last season, but the element of surprise is gone. In fact, you could argue that dynamic has transferred to their Week 1 opponent.
"Green Bay will have an entirely different look on both sides of the ball this season, and I think they're a hell of a lot better than they were in 2018," Gagnon said. "Nobody knows exactly what to expect, whereas we now have tape on the Matt Nagy-led Bears. Throw in that Aaron Rodgers is healthy and likely motivated and I think the Packers pull off the upset here. Regardless, it'll be a close game."
Chicago lost to the Packers despite the fact Rodgers suffered a knee injury in last year's season opener. The Bears did beat Green Bay by a touchdown (covering the spread as a 5.5-point favorite) at home later in the year, but at that point, the Packers were a wreck with an interim coach.
It's fair to approach this pick timidly because we have no idea what the Packers' new offensive system and new defensive personnel will look like this early, but our guys are willing to bet they'll put up a fight Thursday night.
Davenport: Green Bay (+3)
Gagnon: Green Bay (+3)
Sobleski: Green Bay (+3)
Consensus: Green Bay (+3)
Score Prediction: Packers 24, Bears 21
Atlanta Falcons at Minnesota Vikings
Both the Minnesota Vikings and Atlanta Falcons disappointed last season, but most of Minnesota's struggles came in big prime-time games. The Vikes were actually 6-1-1 straight up and 5-2-1 against the spread in 1 p.m. ET Sunday kickoffs, which might partly explain why they're laying more than a field goal for Sunday's opener against Atlanta.
Still, the majority of our analysts aren't on board.
"Maybe it's a lack of trust in a Vikings team that raised disappointment to an art form in 2018," Davenport said. "Maybe it's that I think with Deion Jones and Keanu Neal healthy, the Falcons are a better team than they showed a year ago. Or maybe it's a matter of giving more than a field goal in a Week 1 game expected to be pretty close. Whatever the reason (it's that last one), I'll take Atlanta and the points."
Sobleski agrees. The Falcons had a tied-for-league-low five wins ATS last season, and a talented Atlanta team isn't getting much respect considering the defense is healthier and the interior offensive line looks to be much improved.
This is a tricky spread in a tricky game to handicap, so you might be better off focusing elsewhere. But if you need action here, give the replenished Falcons a shot with four points in your back pocket.
Davenport: Atlanta (+4)
Gagnon: Minnesota (-4)
Sobleski: Atlanta (+4)
Consensus: Atlanta (+4)
Score Prediction: Vikings 24, Falcons 23
Baltimore Ravens at Miami Dolphins
Originally a 3.5-point underdog, the Miami Dolphins gutted themselves late in the offseason and are now laying a full touchdown at a lot of books for their home opener against the Baltimore Ravens.
Two of our three panelists don't feel that's enough.
"I'm not sure how high the spread would have to be in this game for me to consider taking what's left of the Dolphins, but I do know this isn't nearly high enough," Davenport said. "That the home team is getting almost a touchdown and I still wouldn't touch them with a 10-foot pole says all you need to know about the 2019 Dolphins."
But oddsmakers are astute. Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has a significant experience advantage over still-developing Ravens signal-caller Lamar Jackson. Neither are overly trustworthy at this point, but let's not forget that Fitzpatrick posted a triple-digit passer rating with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season.
And the Ravens experienced a tough offseason as well, losing key cogs C.J. Mosley, Za'Darius Smith, Terrell Suggs and John Brown in free agency.
Both teams still have some quality pieces on defense, which is why this should be a low-scoring game. That's also why you might want to think twice about spending more than pocket change on a road team laying 6.5 or seven.
This is probably another game to stay away from entirely, but our experts are leaning in favor of the Dolphins imploding after a tumultuous Labor Day weekend in which they gave up several key players.
Davenport: Baltimore (-6.5)
Gagnon: Miami (+6.5)
Sobleski: Baltimore (-6.5)
Consensus: Baltimore (-6.5)
Score Prediction: Ravens 23, Dolphins 13
Buffalo Bills at New York Jets
The similarities between the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets are undeniable. Not only do they represent cities from the same state, and not only are they trying to break free from the prison that is the New England Patriots-dominated AFC East, but both teams reloaded in the offseason and are looking for breakout campaigns with second-year top-10 picks at quarterback.
It makes sense that the hometown Jets are laying three points for their season-opening meeting Sunday because that essentially means oddsmakers and the public figure they're evenly matched.
Even though the Sam Darnold-led Jets beat the Josh Allen-quarterbacked Bills in Orchard Park in December, the majority of our experts are siding with Buffalo here.
"While I believe the element of surprise will help the experienced Packers on Thursday, I wonder if big changes might slow down the young Jets a bit against Buffalo," Gagnon said. "It might take some time for Darnold to get acclimated to Adam Gase's offense and new running back Le'Veon Bell, who could also need some time after a 20-month stretch without game action. The Bills made a lot of (very exciting) personnel changes as well in the offseason, but they're not making as big an adjustment."
The Bills also hammered the Jets 41-10 at this venue last season, but Darnold didn't play for Gang Green that day and had yet to experience his late-rookie-season breakout.
Davenport has a dissenting opinion.
"I can't shake the feeling that if Darnold takes a step forward in his second NFL season, these Jets could be a better team than many think," he said. "Of course, that could also be the leftover Burger King I ate at 2 a.m. while making this pick."
For what it's worth, those burgers served Davenport well last year. He beat the tar out of his two colleagues with a 133-116-7 record ATS. And those among this group who picked against the majority as lone wolves were 64-61-1 during the 2018 regular season.
Davenport: New York (-3)
Gagnon: Buffalo (+3)
Sobleski: Buffalo (+3)
Consensus: Buffalo (+3)
Score Prediction: Bills 21, Jets 20
Kansas City Chiefs at Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jacksonville Jaguars covered the spread just five times during a tremendously disappointing 2018 season, but now they're getting more than a field goal for their home opener and quarterback Nick Foles' Jacksonville debut.
That isn't enough for the majority of our experts to side with the Jaguars against a Kansas City Chiefs team that shares the best odds to win the AFC with the New England Patriots.
The Chiefs had the third-highest-scoring offense in NFL history last season, and all their key offensive players (save Kareem Hunt) are back and healthy. Plus, they've added a pair of intriguing rookie weapons in Mecole Hardman and Darwin Thompson as well as veteran LeSean McCoy. Their defense was problematic last year, but they've got talent up front and are opportunistic, which could be an issue for a Jags offense that was mistake-prone in 2018.
Still, this is unlikely to be a blowout.
"The Jaguars have gone from Blake Bortles to Foles under center, and that defense is still one of the best in football," Gagnon said while disagreeing with his colleagues. "They've had an entire offseason to prepare for Patrick Mahomes and the stacked Kansas City offense, and they should be fired up to send a message. This is likely to be a field-goal game."
That hook is indeed terrifying. So if you're on the Chiefs and can buy half a point as insurance, strongly consider doing so in order to at least increase your chances of pushing.
Davenport: Kansas City (-3.5)
Gagnon: Jacksonville (+3.5)
Sobleski: Kansas City (-3.5)
Consensus: Kansas City (-3.5)
Score Prediction: Chiefs 28, Jaguars 23
Los Angeles Rams at Carolina Panthers
Are the Carolina Panthers back? If so, oddsmakers might eventually feel silly for listing Carolina as nearly a field-goal underdog for a season-opening home matchup with the Los Angeles Rams.
The wheels fell off for this Panthers team midway through the 2018 season, partly because quarterback Cam Newton lost the ability to throw the ball even 30 yards downfield. But prior to their November/December nosedive, they were 5-0 at home with a points-per-game average of 31.6, a run that featured impressive victories over the Dallas Cowboys and Baltimore Ravens.
With that in mind, the majority of our experts think the Panthers aren't getting enough respect in Vegas this week.
"The Rams received no favors from the NFL with a cross-country jaunt to open the 2019 campaign at 1 p.m. ET," Sobleski said. "On top of that, the betting line still favors the visiting team. The logistics don't even take into account the Panthers' viability as an improved squad after last year's 7-9 effort. Newton should be healthy. The Panthers now have more offensive weapons, while the defense added Gerald McCoy and first-round pass-rusher Brian Burns."
The Rams might be the defending NFC champions, but there's no telling how star running back Todd Gurley's reportedly arthritic knee will look, and they took hits in the trenches when they lost veterans Ndamukong Suh and Rodger Saffold in free agency.
Still, Davenport isn't convinced they'll take a step backward, and he'll need to see it to believe it with regard to the Panthers' revival. And thus we lack unanimity.
Davenport: Los Angeles (-2.5)
Gagnon: Carolina (+2.5)
Sobleski: Carolina (+2.5)
Consensus: Carolina (+2.5)
Score Prediction: Panthers 26, Rams 24
Tennessee Titans at Cleveland Browns
The Cleveland Browns: so hot right now.
They're so hot that for just the second time in the last four years, they're favored by five-plus points. That's despite the fact they're going up against a relatively talented opponent coming off three consecutive winning seasons.
Even with five points to give against a Tennessee Titans team that had the third-best scoring defense in the NFL last season, the majority of our experts are rolling with the Browns in their home opener.
But it's not all about burnt-orange hype.
"This pick has less to do with drinking the orange Kool-Aid in Cleveland and more to do with a lack of confidence in the Titans," Davenport said. "Tennessee's offensive line stunk up the joint in a terrible-looking dress-rehearsal loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and I don't expect it to be markedly better Sunday with Taylor Lewan sitting in his room thinking about what he did.
"Myles Garrett, Olivier Vernon, Sheldon Richardson and the Cleveland D-line will win the day in the trenches, and the Browns will win the game by at least a touchdown."
That said, the Browns offensive line could also be a liability this season, and there's no telling how this young team will deal with considerable preseason pressure. Freddie Kitchens is making his head-coaching debut, and his squad faces an opponent that beat the Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles in 2018.
That was enough to convince Gagnon this should be close and rob us of a unanimous decision in favor of the Browns.
Davenport: Cleveland (-5)
Gagnon: Tennessee (+5)
Sobleski: Cleveland (-5)
Consensus: Cleveland (-5)
Score Prediction: Browns 27, Titans 20
Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles
The Washington Redskins were outscored 52-13 by the Philadelphia Eagles in a pair of humiliating December losses last season. Since then, the Eagles have gotten healthier and arguably stronger, while the Redskins have experienced another painful offseason.
So while double-digit spreads for season openers between division rivals are horrifying, the majority of our experts are still getting behind Philadelphia minus 10 points Sunday.
"Big spreads like this make me especially nervous early in the season because there's just so much we don't know yet about teams," Davenport said. "But the Redskins look like a mess. The skill-position talent on offense is exceedingly meh; the only thing more meh than that skill-position talent is the prospect of Case Keenum at quarterback, and left tackle Trent Williams is nowhere to be found."
Still, this isn't unanimous, and Sobleski defended his decision to back the 'dog.
"Last season, the Redskins sat atop the NFC East standings until Alex Smith suffered a gruesome leg injury," he said. "The season spiraled out of control after that point. But last year shows Washington is a better team than it's given credit for. Yes, Keenum doesn't elicit much excitement as a starting quarterback, but the backfield is loaded and the defense is talented. Washington is good enough to keep a game against the rival Eagles close."
Gagnon, like Davenport, isn't convinced the Redskins can protect Keenum, who's only starting because Smith is injured and Dwayne Haskins isn't ready. He breaks the tie in favor of Philly.
Davenport: Philadelphia (-10)
Gagnon: Philadelphia (-10)
Sobleski: Washington (+10)
Consensus: Philadelphia (-10)
Score Prediction: Eagles 24, Redskins 13
Cincinnati Bengals at Seattle Seahawks
The always-scary-in-Washington-state Seattle Seahawks enter the 2019 season riding a five-game home winning streak, and two of those victories came in crucial late-season spots against the Kansas City Chiefs and Minnesota Vikings. That's nothing new, though, as Seattle has by far the NFC's best home record (44-12) since quarterback Russell Wilson came into the league in 2012.
Oddly, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton is 4-0 throughout his career during games played in the Pacific time zone, but he might be due for a dud against a Seattle team that has to be feeling pretty good about itself after an exciting offseason.
All our analysts have the Seahawks beating the Bengals by a double-digit margin.
"The spread couldn't be big enough to pick the Bengals over the Seahawks in Seattle," Sobleski said. "Cincinnati owns arguably the worst offensive line in football, and the group has to start its journey by playing in one of the league's loudest stadiums. Jadeveon Clowney should put together a dominant performance in his first appearance with the Seahawks. Furthermore, Andy Dalton won't have A.J. Green available to serve as a crutch in the passing game."
It does look as though this is a "wrong place, wrong time" scenario for a short-handed Cincinnati team that will be testing out a new offense sans Green and lost two veteran offensive linemen to sudden offseason retirements. These Seahawks might still be less powerful than the teams that went to back-to-back Super Bowls earlier this decade, but the reload happened fast and this looks like a statement game.
Seattle's going to be a damn popular survivor pool pick this weekend.
Davenport: Seattle (-9.5)
Gagnon: Seattle (-9.5)
Sobleski: Seattle (-9.5)
Consensus: Seattle (-9.5)
Score Prediction: Seahawks 31, Bengals 13
Indianapolis Colts at Los Angeles Chargers
When Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck suddenly retired late last month, the Colts went from about a three-point underdog to about a seven-point 'dog for their season-opening road matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers.
It appears our panelists feel that was an overreaction, especially considering the also-shorthanded Bolts—they're missing running back holdout Melvin Gordon, injured star safety Derwin James and veteran left tackle Russell Okung, who is recovering from a pulmonary embolism—were the only team in the AFC last season with a worse home record (5-3) than road record (7-1).
There's also a belief that Luck's replacement can do a quality job.
"Luck's retirement overshadows the fact Indianapolis still features a playoff-caliber roster," Sobleski said. "As long as Jacoby Brissett is efficient playing behind the game's best offensive line with numerous talented players at the skill positions, the Colts should be counted among the AFC's better teams.
"The Chargers faced offseason adversity, as well, which brings them back to the pack. Three key losses—Gordon, Okung and James—will have a major impact on Los Angeles' overall effectiveness. These two teams are much closer in quality than a 6.5-point spread indicates."
Davenport and Gagnon agree. The Colts have a shot at what is essentially a neutral site in Carson, California.
Davenport: Indianapolis (+6.5)
Gagnon: Indianapolis (+6.5)
Sobleski: Indianapolis (+6.5)
Consensus: Indianapolis (+6.5)
Score Prediction: Chargers 21, Colts 20
Detroit Lions at Arizona Cardinals
Nobody knows what to expect from the revamped Arizona Cardinals and their rookie quarterback-coach duo, which is why we wouldn't recommend opening up your wallet in favor of either the Cardinals or their Week 1 opponent, the Detroit Lions.
Still, our experts are reluctantly but unanimously backing the slightly more predictable, reliable and accomplished Lions with only 2.5 points at stake.
"Giving points to take Detroit on the road creates a feeling of anticipation," Davenport said. "But for all the talk of Kyler Murray at quarterback and Kliff Kingsbury's Air Raid offense, the Cardinals remain a three-win team that was absolutely putrid offensively in 2018. The Lions were a top-10 unit in terms of total defense last season, and I expect Kerryon Johnson to have success on the ground against the Redbirds."
Johnson is indeed a potential centerpiece, and he's fully recovered from the knee injury that cost him the last six games of his rookie campaign. He figures to get a lot of work in Darrell Bevell's offense, especially against Arizona's vulnerable run D.
That could be the key in what is likely to be a low-scoring affair.
Davenport: Detroit (-2.5)
Gagnon: Detroit (-2.5)
Sobleski: Detroit (-2.5)
Consensus: Detroit (-2.5)
Score Prediction: Lions 21, Cardinals 13
New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys have defeated the New York Giants in each of their last four meetings, and the NFC East rivals appear to be headed in opposite directions after diverging offseasons.
Dallas got star center Travis Frederick back from illness and dodged a potential Ezekiel Elliott regular-season holdout, while the Giants essentially launched a rebuild by trading away Odell Beckham Jr. and Olivier Vernon and letting Landon Collins walk.
With that in mind, the majority of our analysts feel the Cowboys can safely clear a 7.5-point spread at home against the G-Men on Sunday.
"Because of the division's recent history, I think we've started to assume all NFC East matchups will be close," Gagnon said. "But there's actually no way the Philadelphia Eagles and Cowboys should be laying just 10 and 7.5 points, respectively, against the train-wreck Washington Redskins and Giants.
"Dallas really is one of the most talented teams in the NFL with plenty of strength at every position offensively and defensively. Meanwhile, until Daniel Jones gets his shot under center, the Giants are Saquon Barkley and pretty much nothing else."
That's a problem when you're going up against a stacked run defense featuring standouts Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith and DeMarcus Lawrence.
That said, Sobleski is still calling for a close game. That's something you can never rule out in a battle between these two familiar foes.
Davenport: Dallas (-7.5)
Gagnon: Dallas (-7.5)
Sobleski: New York (+7.5)
Consensus: Dallas (-7.5)
Score Prediction: Cowboys 26, Giants 17
San Francisco 49ers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Our panel doesn't trust the San Francisco 49ers, who are traveling across the country to take on the new-look Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their opener.
They're all on the Bucs to take care of business straight up.
"Even if we try not to read too deeply into Jimmy Garoppolo's preseason struggles, it's worth wondering how rusty and uncomfortable he might be in his return from ACL surgery," Gagnon said. "And it's also worth considering that Garoppolo completed fewer than 60 percent of his passes as the 49ers went 1-2 before he suffered that knee injury last year.
"I'm not convinced he's special, whereas I still believe in Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston. New Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians is a magician with passers, and Winston should be well supported by that coaching staff, a decent offensive line and a strong pass-catching corps. I expect them to go to town against a transitioning 49ers defense in their home opener."
Even without Jason Pierre-Paul and with Vita Vea's status up in the air, the Bucs defense could be well equipped to deal with star San Francisco tight end George Kittle and the rest of the 49ers offense. Our experts are looking for newbies Ndamukong Suh, Shaquil Barrett and Devin White to come up big as Tampa Bay prevails in Arians' debut.
Davenport: Tampa Bay (PK)
Gagnon: Tampa Bay (PK)
Sobleski: Tampa Bay (PK)
Consensus: Tampa Bay (PK)
Score Prediction: Buccaneers 27, 49ers 24
Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots
Both the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers suffered some tough losses this offseason, but both heavyweights are resilient. They've played a pair of close games the last two seasons, with Pittsburgh narrowly outscoring the Pats 41-37 in a 1-1 split.
Both of those games were played in Pittsburgh, whereas this one is in Foxborough. So it's no surprise that the dominant-at-home defending Super Bowl champs are favored, but the majority of our analysts figure they're laying too many points as a 5.5-point fave.
"The Patriots started slow the last two seasons," Sobleski said. "New England began the 2018 campaign with a 1-2 record, while the Chiefs pummeled the Patriots to open the 2017 campaign. Bill Belichick's squad tends to get better as the year progresses.
"That's a likely path again this season since the Pats still have to figure who will be the top target in the passing game and how they will replace center David Andrews. Plus, the Steelers have something to prove without Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell."
While the Steelers have had nearly the entire offseason to adjust to life without Brown, the Patriots just lost Andrews last week. Since they still don't know what to expect from new starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn, the line charged with protecting the league's oldest quarterback is somewhat of a concern.
The Patriots have won 16 consecutive regular-season and playoff home games dating back to October 2017, but elite opponents such as the Chiefs, Jaguars and Chargers have all hung with them at Gillette Stadium during that stretch. Davenport is thus siding with the dominant home squad, but Gagnon and Sobleski outvote him on that 5.5-point spread.
Davenport: New England (-5.5)
Gagnon: Pittsburgh (+5.5)
Sobleski: Pittsburgh (+5.5)
Consensus: Pittsburgh (+5.5)
Score Prediction: Patriots 24, Steelers 21
Houston Texans at New Orleans Saints
Speaking of experienced Super Bowl contenders with 40-something-year-old quarterbacks who are known for slow starts, the Drew Brees-led New Orleans Saints have lost five consecutive season openers. In fact, they've covered only one Week 1 spread since the turn of the decade.
Our analysts are thus unanimously uncomfortable with New Orleans giving up a full touchdown Monday night against the Houston Texans, even if the Saints are at home and the Texans are coming off a brutal summer.
"I know, Lamar Miller is out for the year and the Texans were arguably fleeced in two late offseason trades," Gagnon said. "But there was a good chance that they weren't going to have Jadeveon Clowney in Week 1 anyway, and there's no denying that newcomers Laremy Tunsil and Kenny Stills make the offense better.
"The Saints are infamously slow starters, and I'm a bit concerned that Brees is slowing down after he posted a measly 84.7 passer rating in the last four games of the 2018 regular season and then struggled in a playoff loss to the Rams. This should be a close game."
The Saints are a powerful team at the Superdome, but the Steelers, Rams and Browns hung with them there last season, and Tampa Bay defeated them in New Orleans in the 2018 opener. Even if Houston doesn't follow suit Monday, a seven-point spread is pushing it.
Davenport: Houston (+7)
Gagnon: Houston (+7)
Sobleski: Houston (+7)
Consensus: Houston (+7)
Score Prediction: Saints 28, Texans 24
Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders
The Denver Broncos are still laying a point at some books to close out Week 1 Monday night against the Oakland Raiders. The majority of our analysts are happy to get behind defensively stout Denver as a pick'em, even on the road.
"I don't have a ton of faith in the Broncos in 2019," Davenport said, "but I do think they're going to play good defense and run the football, which should keep them in a lot of games. The Raiders should be better, but how much better remains to be seen. I'll take the road team in a game where the wagering has leaned toward the Broncos, even if it's without a lot of confidence."
The Raiders look better on paper than they did last season, and they should be more comfortable in Jon Gruden's second season back. But Antonio Brown was barely on the practice field this summer, and is facing a team suspension after an altercation with General Manager Mike Mayock on Wednesday. There remains more question marks in Oakland than in Denver.
Still, we lack unanimity here because Gagnon has no faith in new Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco. And it's worth pointing out that the Raiders beat both the Steelers and these Broncos at home last December.
The week closes on a tricky note.
Editor's Note: Line has moved after Antonio Brown was released by the Raiders and is now Broncos -2.5 as of Monday, September 9. Below picks remain unchanged.
Davenport: Denver (-2.5)
Gagnon: Oakland (+2.5)
Sobleski: Denver (-2.5)
Consensus: Denver (-2.5)
Score Prediction: Broncos 23, Raiders 20