Bleacher Report's Expert Consensus Week 1 NFL Picks
The COVID-19 pandemic isn't over, but the strange NFL offseason that resulted from it is finally behind us. Now, we can all sit back and distract ourselves with the beginning of a new decade of professional football.
The return of the NFL also means the return of betting for many. And whether you're picking games for fun in an office pool, for pocket change with friends or for big casino bucks, Bleacher Report has you covered with weekly selections against the spread.
B/R NFL correspondents Gary Davenport, Brad Gagnon, Kalyn Kahler, Matt Miller, Brent Sobleski and Master Tesfatsion will be making their picks here each and every Thursday, starting with 16 original kicks at the can this week.
Here's the first edition.
Lines are from DraftKings as of Wednesday, Sept. 9 at 9 p.m. ET. Check DraftKings for the latest odds info.
Houston Texans at Kansas City Chiefs
DraftKings Line: Kansas City -9
Since they started playing weeknight regular-season kickoff games in 2002, the road team has covered the spread only four times. But that happened when the Green Bay Packers defeated the Chicago Bears on the road in last year's opener, and it happened three years ago when the Kansas City Chiefs shocked the New England Patriots in Foxborough.
While our panelists aren't necessarily calling for another shocker, the majority believes a nine-point spread is too high for Kansas City in this case.
"The stench of a 51-31 Texans loss to the Chiefs in the divisional round of last season's postseason shouldn't linger into a new campaign," Sobleski said. "Besides, these two squads split their meetings last season. Many have poked fun of the Texans this offseason thanks to the DeAndre Hopkins trade, but Houston still features a talented roster as the reigning AFC South champs.
"Furthermore, the Chiefs will be without suspended cornerback Beshaud Breeland, which could allow Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson to exploit an unsettled secondary. The large spread is more an enticement for bettors than the actual discrepancy between these two squads."
Watson is one of the NFL's best performers late in close games, which is a big reason why the Texans have lost only three games by double-digit margins dating back to the start of 2018.
While the energy associated with a home opener following a Super Bowl victory typically boosts defending champions in these games, Arrowhead Stadium will be far from full Thursday night. Oddsmakers might have trouble weighing home-field advantage under the current circumstances, so you might want to play it safe with so many points on the line.
The backdoor cover could be your friend here.
Davenport: Kansas City
Gagnon: Kansas City
Consensus: Houston +9
Score Prediction: Chiefs 28, Texans 26
Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens
DraftKings Line: Baltimore -8
The Cleveland Browns earned a split with the Baltimore Ravens last season, and they might be better on paper now than they were then, but they're also trying to make many more adjustments than the Ravens. In such a limited offseason, that could be problematic out of the gate.
And it could explain why the majority of our experts are giving up eight points with Baltimore on Sunday afternoon.
"It feels a little rude that the Browns fan got asked to justify laying over a touchdown with Baltimore, but fine," Davenport joked. "I have no tears left anyway (again, Browns fan).
"Other than Earl Thomas and Marshal Yanda, the Ravens didn't suffer any significant losses in the offseason (and the significance of the Thomas loss is debatable). The additions, especially on defense, were numerous."
By comparison, Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield will be playing his first-ever game with two new offensive tackles and a new tight end, while Kevin Stefanski will be head-coaching his first-ever game period. On the other sideline, you know what you're getting with John Harbaugh.
"The Ravens are playing at home against the last team to beat them in the regular season for the first time since the Tennessee Titans stunned them in the playoffs," Davenport added. "Anything in single digits is easy money here. Payback is coming."
Consensus: Baltimore -8
Score Prediction: Ravens 31, Browns 20
Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Football Team
DraftKings Line: Philadelphia -5.5
This is our first "don't touch this with a 10-foot pole" game of the 2020 season. Those didn't exist when we had an odd number of predictors last year, but they could come in handy for those who want a feel for which matchups appear to be particularly unpredictable.
Some pools might require you to make a pick for every game, though, so we're here with some analysis despite the split decision.
First, why are our correspondents so divided? For starters, it's an always-chaotic NFC East matchup. But we're also looking at two teams dealing with major offensive line questions and big changes overall entering Week 1 following a wacky offseason. Few would be surprised to see a close game, an Eagles blowout or even a Washington victory. (Washington led the Eagles by two scores in the third quarter of Philly's 2019 home opener before choking.)
Gagnon on Washington: "This spread feels a tad high considering the Eagles' messy situation at guard following offseason injuries to Brandon Brooks and Andre Dillard (the latter of which forced Jason Peters back outside). That stacked Washington defensive front should have plenty of chances to get at Carson Wentz, and it's entirely possible Washington quarterback Dwayne Haskins woke up for good when he posted a 131.1 passer rating in his final two games as a rookie. No way I'm laying 5.5 with Philly on the road."
Davenport on Philly: "The Eagles have injury issues all over the place. The offensive line. The defensive line. The wide receivers. And Carson Wentz has missed practice time as well. It raises genuine concerns about the team's long-term prospects. But in Week 1, they still have more than enough firepower to dispatch a Washington team that might sport the worst offense in the NFL."
Score Prediction: Eagles 24, Washington 19
Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars
DraftKings Line: Indianapolis -8
When you consider that the Indianapolis Colts have lost six of their last nine meetings against the division-rival Jacksonville Jaguars, and that they've defeated Jacksonville by a double-digit margin only once since the start of 2015, it's easy to understand why Indy isn't a bigger favorite here.
But that lone blowout victory came last season, and the Jags have since gone completely into the tank. As a result, five of our six experts are riding with the fave.
"With the unloading of Leonard Fournette, Ronnie Harrison, Calais Campbell, A.J. Bouye and Yannick Ngakoue this offseason, the Jaguars look to be tanking for Trevor [Lawrence]," Kahler said. "Upon his trade to Cleveland, Harrison even tweeted that it was nice to be around a new team that is united around one common goal, implying that winning was not the focus in Jacksonville. This is an easy pick. I'll take the new-look Colts with Philip Rivers at the helm."
Jacksonville has home-field advantage, but that might not be as meaningful under current circumstances, and the Jaguars lost three of their last four 2019 home games by 17-plus points. And while you can never rule out "Minshew Magic" from Jags quarterback Gardner Minshew II, the 2019 rookie sensation also came back to earth with a sub-60 completion rate and a sub-90 passer rating in December last season.
You can probably feel safe spotting that team eight points in this spot.
Consensus: Indianapolis -8
Score Prediction: Colts 31, Jaguars 13
New York Jets at Buffalo Bills
DraftKings Line: Buffalo -6.5
Oddly, the Buffalo Bills have defeated the New York Jets in each of their last two matchups in New Jersey and lost to them while failing to cover the spread in each of their last two meetings in Orchard Park. This is another home game against Gang Green, but our entire crew is willing to bet that trend will end with a decisive Buffalo victory Sunday afternoon.
"The Jets might be the worst team in football," Miller said. "Meanwhile, Sean McDermott's Bills are among the toughest, most disciplined squads in the league with arguably the best cornerback in the world in Tre'Davious White. Buffalo -6.5 is easy money."
White could make it extremely difficult for Jets quarterback Sam Darnold to get off to a strong start in a critical third season, while the absence of departed superstar safety Jamal Adams should make it easier for Bills quarterback Josh Allen to operate under the same circumstances. It also doesn't help that the Jets are bringing an entirely new offensive line together with little preparation time for a matchup with a top-notch defensive front, while Buffalo should benefit from a lot more continuity throughout the roster.
Plus, the Bills never had a receiver like Stefon Diggs in those past meetings.
Consensus: Buffalo -6.5
Score Prediction: Bills 27, Jets 10
Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots
DraftKings Line: New England -6.5
With a first-round bye on the line, the New England Patriots famously laid a Week 17 egg against the Miami Dolphins last year. In fact, New England has struggled historically against its weaker division rival, with the Dolphins stealing victories in six of their last 13 matchups.
On paper, the Dolphins look better than they have in years, while the Pats were gutted by offseason losses. But most of our writers feel those circumstances are built into this line, which arguably creates good value for the Pats against an opponent that is still putting things together.
"Don't start throwing dirt on the Patriots dynasty just yet," Sobleski said. "Bill Belichick's squad is still capable of winning the AFC East, especially with a healthy Cam Newton leading the way. Yes, New England's roster took numerous hits this offseason, but the Patriots remain an experienced group with some of the league's best coaches leading the way.
"The Dolphins, meanwhile, will be relying on a rebuilt offensive line with four new starters, including a pair of rookies, to protect Ryan Fitzpatrick. You better believe Belichick will devise ways to create pressure throughout this contest. The Patriots can send a message by setting the tone against upstart Miami."
Throw in that New England might be out to prove a point with last year's loss and a brutal offseason in mind, and the Pats laying less than a touchdown are an obvious pick for the vast majority of our group.
Davenport: New England
Gagnon: New England
Kahler: New England
Miller: New England
Sobleski: New England
Consensus: New England -6.5
Score Prediction: Patriots 27, Dolphins 16
Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions
DraftKings Line: Detroit -3
"A Week 1 Chicago Bears-Detroit Lions NFC North matchup is a very degenerate game to bet on, even more so with fewer practices as a result of COVID-19," Tesfatsion said. "But the line has moved quite a bit.
"Along with trading Darius Slay, Detroit will have four former Patriots starters on defense. It's not Chicago's defense, but the familiarity to Matt Patricia's scheme should curb some chemistry issues and improve its front seven with Jamie Collins, Trey Flowers and Danny Shelton. But ultimately, I'm leaning on a healthy Matthew Stafford to cover at home over a (still, somehow) Mitchell Trubisky-led Bears offense."
The line has indeed moved from barely north of a pick'em earlier this summer, which means the Lions have trended well but the public money is now even. With Detroit at home but without fans, this spread is likely suggesting Detroit is slightly better than Chicago on a neutral field. To get behind Detroit, you have to believe that, and apparently nearly all of our panelists do.
Why? If Stafford is healthy—and there's little reason to doubt that right now—Detroit's quarterback advantage is huge. But the Lions also have fairly obvious edges at running back, wide receiver, tight end and along the offensive line. Khalil Mack might be the best defensive player in this matchup, but the Chicago D doesn't have a lot of elite talent beyond that. It's hard to argue that he alone can compensate for all of the aforementioned shortcomings in comparison to the Lions.
And so here we are.
Consensus: Detroit -3
Score Prediction: Lions 26, Bears 20
Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons
DraftKings Line: Seattle -1.5
The Seattle Seahawks are the biggest public favorite on Sunday's schedule, which is something bettors should be wary of, especially against an experienced opponent on the road. But they're laying only 1.5 points, which is something the majority of our pickers are willing to sacrifice by backing the Seahawks over the always unpredictable Atlanta Falcons.
"While I do think the Falcons will more closely resemble their late-2019 selves rather than early 2019, I'll give this one to Seattle," Kahler said. "Quarterback Russell Wilson's playmaking will give them an edge, and I expect the defense to be improved from last season, when they gave up the second-most yards in team history. The addition of Jamal Adams playing alongside Quandre Diggs gives Seattle a safety tandem they haven't seen since Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor."
Seattle does look stronger on defense than it has in years, and there's no doubt the team as a whole is more trustworthy than Atlanta. The Falcons woke up out of nowhere to post a 6-2 record down the stretch last season, but they're 13-19 against the spread over the last two seasons, and they didn't make any Adams-like splashes this offseason.
It's also worth noting that while Seattle is a famously strong home team, the Seahawks went 7-1 on the road last season, and there won't be any fans in the stadium Sunday.
Still, this is far from unanimous. Gagnon, for one, doesn't feel good about Seattle's notoriously sluggish Week 1 performances from the past. That's worth considering if you're trying to decide whether to get in on the action here.
Consensus: Seattle -1.5
Score Prediction: Seahawks 26, Falcons 23
Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings
DraftKings Line: Minnesota -2.5
In one of only a few acts of unanimity this week, the entire team of B/R correspondents is backing the Green Bay Packers on the road even though they're getting less than a field goal from an opponent that won a playoff game in 2019.
Why such little confidence in the Minnesota Vikings? As Davenport points out, home-field advantage might not matter much, and a healthy Aaron Rodgers might be well-positioned to pick on a rebuilding Minnesota secondary.
"The Packers swept Minnesota last season, but since 2016, the Vikings still have a 4-3-1 edge in this series," Davenport noted. "They also have (arguably) the better team on paper. What they won't have Sunday is fans making a ridiculous amount of noise at U.S. Bank Stadium or a secondary that can be trusted at all. Aaron Rodgers pulling out an ugly game in Week 1 against a division opponent is a phenomenon so rare, it hasn't been witnessed since last September in Chicago."
Rodgers committed late-game heroics in back-to-back Week 1 victories against the Bears over the last two seasons. Now he'll go against a defense that remains talented but might need time to adapt to a new-look cornerback depth chart and a defensive front that swapped out Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph and Stephen Weatherly for Yannick Ngakoue.
There's a little more stability with the Packers, who also have the pass-rushing talent to exploit a perma-vulnerable Minnesota offensive line.
Davenport: Green Bay
Gagnon: Green Bay
Kahler: Green Bay
Miller: Green Bay
Sobleski: Green Bay
Tesfatsion: Green Bay
Consensus: Green Bay +2.5
Score Prediction: Packers 24, Vikings 23
Las Vegas Raiders at Carolina Panthers
DraftKings Line: Las Vegas -3.5
Readers should consider how close this was to a split decision.
"I waffled but ultimately couldn't handle taking the Las Vegas Raiders facing a hook on the road," Gagnon said. "They're the better team right now, and I have no clue what home-field advantage amounts to under COVID-19 circumstances. The Carolina Panthers defense is a complete work in progress, and there's no telling how incoming quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and new head coach Matt Rhule will deal with a severely restricted offseason.
"That's why I'd be all over Las Vegas if the line were inside a field goal. But 3.5 points? Across the country against an unfamiliar opponent? The Raiders lost four road games by 18-plus points last year and aren't suddenly a contender because they added Henry Ruggs III, Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski in the offseason. This should be a pretty even matchup, especially since the Las Vegas D could be overwhelmed by Christian McCaffrey and DJ Moore."
A cross-conference Week 1 matchup involving a team with a new quarterback and head coach that may or may not possess home-field advantage and a team that is laying a field goal plus a hook across the country is probably a matchup to avoid.
Miller: Las Vegas
Sobleski: Las Vegas
Consensus: Carolina +3.5
Score Prediction: Raiders 24, Panthers 21
Los Angeles Chargers at Cincinnati Bengals
DraftKings Line: Los Angeles -3
Speaking of games to avoid, we also have a picking tie in the late-afternoon matchup between the constantly unreliable Los Angeles Chargers and mysterious Cincinnati Bengals. The Bolts are laying a full field goal on the road, which is too rich for three predictors but worth the risk for three others.
"I think a lot of us could have gone either way here," Gagnon said. "Or actually, neither win. I wouldn't go near this game. On one hand, Cincinnati's unproven offensive line could be plowed over by a strong Bolts pass rush, resulting in a disastrous debut for Joe Burrow following a limited initial offseason. But on the other hand, the element of the unknown could be a challenge for the traveling Chargers, who have no idea what to expect from a young, remade Cincinnati squad.
"No result would surprise me here, but I don't trust Tyrod Taylor and a Chargers team that is laying points on the road following the deflating loss of star safety Derwin James."
This game feels extremely likely to be decided by a field goal, and the Chargers are more established and talented. Our experts are essentially calling for a push.
Kahler: Los Angeles
Sobleski: Los Angeles
Tesfatsion: Los Angeles
Score Prediction: Chargers 23, Bengals 20
Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers
DraftKings Line: San Francisco -6.5
If you were on the Arizona Cardinals in their Week 1 matchup with the San Francisco 49ers and were able to secure them when most books—including DraftKings—had them getting a full seven points, congratulations.
Arizona played San Francisco tight in both of their 2019 meetings, and that was before the Cardinals added All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the fray. It was also before the 49ers were crushed by injuries and the prospect of a Super Bowl hangover this offseason.
With a limited home-field advantage as a result of an empty stadium Sunday, five of our six writers feel 6.5 points is still too much to give up with San Francisco.
"Consider me all-in on the Cardinals' offense," Miller said. "Kyler Murray was electric as a rookie, and he has even more talent around him now with the addition of Hopkins. Also, perhaps most importantly, head coach and offensive mastermind Kliff Kingsbury has had time to acclimate to the NFL. The 49ers are the team to beat in the NFC, but after a training camp full of injuries, it's foolish to think they will dominate the Cardinals to a point that this game is a blowout."
The icing on the cake for those siding with Arizona could be the fact 49ers wide receivers Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and Richie James, linebacker Fred Warner and tight end George Kittle have all been dealing with injuries. Wideouts Jalen Hurd and J.J. Nelson are already out for the season, and the Niners are also trying to replace trench starters DeForest Buckner and Joe Staley.
Consensus: Cardinals +6.5
Score Prediction: 49ers 26, Cardinals 23
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints
DraftKings Line: New Orleans -3.5
Dating back to 2013, the notoriously slow-starting New Orleans Saints have covered the spread in only two of the 14 games they've played in Weeks 1 and 2. Considering the buzz surrounding the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it's no surprise our experts are split and the spread remains in the field-goal range for Sunday's opener between the two.
But New Orleans still has the majority of the votes at minus-3.5 points.
"I'd obviously prefer to avoid the hook here and would consider buying back a half-point if that were available to me," Gagnon said. "That's mainly because we can't tell how the Saints will react to the usually cacophonous Superdome without fans.
"But New Orleans is still a much deeper team with far more proven continuity than a Tampa Bay team that is bringing a lot of new parts together with little prep. Throw in uncertainty surrounding the status of superstar Bucs receiver Mike Evans, and this isn't a tough call."
That continuity is something to watch for with the Buccaneers. New quarterback Tom Brady is obviously a brilliant veteran star, but it would be understandable if it took some game time for him to get on the same page as the rest of that offense. The Saints are the same old Saints, and you'd think they would eventually buck that early-season struggles trend.
Davenport: New Orleans
Gagnon: New Orleans
Kahler: Tampa Bay
Miller: Tampa Bay
Sobleski: New Orleans
Tesfatsion: New Orleans
Consensus: New Orleans -3.5
Score Prediction: Saints 27, Buccaneers 21
Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams
DraftKings Line: Dallas -3
It isn't uncommon for teams like the Dallas Cowboys to lay extra points as a result of shading from books that want to take advantage of those backing "America's Team." And on the surface. that could appear to be the case with Dallas laying a full field goal on the road against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday night.
But again, with the crowd a nonfactor, the game site might not play much of a role. And while the Dallas offensive line has suffered some tough losses this offseason, there's been somewhat of an exodus from a cap-strapped Rams team that also missed the playoffs in 2019.
With that in mind, nearly all of our experts are laying three points with the Cowboys.
"The Cowboys are a better all-around squad, though some concern exists at right tackle with La'el Collins on injured reserve," Sobleski said. "If Dallas can properly protect Dak Prescott, the quarterback has so many options to exploit in the passing game with Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and this year's first-round draft pick, CeeDee Lamb. Yes, the Rams secondary still has Jalen Ramsey, but the unit is now without Nickell Robey-Coleman and Eric Weddle. Wade Phillips isn't calling the plays anymore, either."
The Rams have also lost Dante Fowler Jr., Cory Littleton, Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib and LaMarcus Joyner in the last 18 months. They're trending in the wrong direction, whereas the Cowboys remain fairly solid on both sides of the ball despite Collins' injury and Travis Frederick's retirement.
And thus, they're the pick.
Davenport: Los Angeles
Consensus: Dallas -3
Score Prediction: Cowboys 31, Rams 20
Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Giants
DraftKings Line: Pittsburgh -5.5
The Pittsburgh Steelers' fierce defense forced a league-high 38 turnovers last season and looks just as strong on paper headed into 2020, while New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones was one of only two players to record 30-plus combined interceptions and fumbles.
That doesn't bode well for the Giants' chances Monday night against Pittsburgh, especially with a questionable-at-best home-field advantage at MetLife Stadium. So while there's reason to believe New York could be better in 2020, all six of our experts are backing a Steelers team that is getting future Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger back, minus 5.5 points.
"This should be a very physical game," Tesfatsion said. "The Steelers defense, finishing third in defense DVOA last season, nearly carried the team into the playoffs with Mason Rudolph and Duck Hodges under center. That unit should be nasty again, maintaining much of its continuity outside of Javon Hargrave, and make it a long day for Jones and Saquon Barkley. Whatever Roethlisberger can do will be an upgrade over Rudolph and Hodges. And he has a good group of young receivers to target. Pittsburgh rolls."
When you consider Barkley's return to health, general improvements to the young Giants and questions about Roethlisberger's physical state, 5.5 points does feel like a lot. But at this point, none of Tesfatsion's colleagues are willing to gamble on the G-Men, either.
Consensus: Pittsburgh -5.5
Score Prediction: Steelers 30, Giants 17
Tennessee Titans at Denver Broncos
DraftKings Line: Tennessee -2.5
When Denver Broncos perennial Pro Bowl edge defender Von Miller suffered a potentially season-ending ankle injury Tuesday, this line swung from the pick'em range to Tennessee Titans -2.5, which would seem a little aggressive if not for the fact it didn't cross any key point markers.
"If you thought the Titans were going to cover as a one-point underdog, you'll likely stick with them minus 2.5 points with no Miller on the other side," explained Gagnon, who had Denver before the Miller injury and line shift. "The only question is whether Denver bettors are still confident the Broncos can win this game sans Miller, because you shouldn't bother with a 2.5-point underdog unless you believe they can win outright.
"I'd try to get this to Denver +3 if possible, and if not, I'd wait to see if it shifts higher just to be safe. But I'm still reluctantly sticking with the Broncos mainly because Miller wasn't a huge factor in my original call. The Broncos are ascending on offense and still strong up front on defense, and I don't trust that the Titans weren't an aberration with sudden breakouts from Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry in 2019."
The Broncos have been dealt several blows and can't guarantee us much from quarterback Drew Lock based on a small sample, but Tennessee lost stalwart offensive tackle Jack Conklin in free agency and can't assure us that Tannehill and Henry will keep it up. This isn't a strong play either way, and our group's close vote tally confirms that, but we're leaning in the direction of the home team in the late Monday Night Football opener.
Consensus: Denver +2.5
Score Prediction: Broncos 21, Titans 20
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