Bleacher Report's Expert Week 1 NFL Picks
It's been a long, painful, 214-day offseason, but the time has come to launch the most extensive season in NFL history.
They're giving us an extra 16 games to work with in 2021, which also translates to an extra 16 games on which to responsibly wager. And that's something that residents of nearly half of the states in this country can now do legally in one form or another, according to the Action Network.
As per usual, Bleacher Report's NFL team—this year comprised of national analysts Gary Davenport, Brad Gagnon and Brent Sobleski as well as national editors Ian Kenyon and Wes O'Donnell—will do its best to guide you on your betting journey.
Predicting who'll cover every single spread is no easy task, but we'll make a run at it while ideally sharing some helpful info along the way.
Here are the first 16 of 285.
Chicago Bears at Los Angeles Rams
DraftKings Line: Los Angeles -7.5
This one's much more definitive, with every member of the crew backing the Los Angeles Rams as a sizeable home favorite in a prime-time matchup with a Chicago Bears squad still inexplicably quarterbacked by Andy Dalton.
"The Rams' dominant defense hosts a Bears team turning to Dalton in the season's first Sunday Night Football matchup. That should probably be enough to sway you right there," O'Donnell said. "Sure, rookie quarterback Justin Fields will probably see the field for Chicago in the game too, but that's not nearly enough.
"This game isn't about the Bears and their quarterback situation, though. It is about Matthew Stafford reintroducing himself to the NFL world. The longtime Lion is now in L.A. with arguably the best supporting cast of weapons he's ever had. His talent has always been undeniable, but now he finally has the chance to make noise in the postseason, and it starts here. It also doesn't hurt that he has beaten Chicago more than any other team in his career."
It does sort of feel as though the Bears are phoning this one in to protect Fields from a potential embarrassment. O'Donnell sees it as a double-digit-margin game, which seems plausible considering that this Chicago team (with similar personnel and coaches) was consistently roasted in prime-time and high-profile matchups last season (including a 14-point loss to these Rams at SoFi Stadium).
Davenport: Los Angeles
Gagnon: Los Angeles
Kenyon: Los Angeles
O'Donnell: Los Angeles
Sobleski: Los Angeles
Consensus: Los Angeles -7.5
Score Prediction: Rams 28, Bears 17
Dallas Cowboys at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Editor's Note: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Dallas Cowboys 31-29 in the Week 1 season opener on Thursday night.
DraftKings Line: Tampa Bay -8.5
There was a time when it felt as though the defending champion was a lock to win handily at home in the Week 1 Thursday night kickoff game, but that hasn't exactly been the case in recent years. The Kansas City Chiefs may have won and covered a 9.5-point spread against the Houston Texans on this night last year, but the Chiefs stunned the defending champ New England Patriots in 2017, the Denver Broncos hammered the defending champ Baltimore Ravens in 2013, and the Pats, New Orleans Saints and Pittsburgh Steelers failed to cover in those spots in 2015, 2010 and 2009, respectively.
That might explain why the group is pretty split when it comes to backing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an 8.5-point fave Thursday night against the Dallas Cowboys. Still, the slim majority is laying the points.
"I don't love laying over a touchdown in Week 1," Davenport said. "And with a healthy Dak Prescott under center, the Cowboys should have more than a little success moving the ball Thursday night. But I'll believe that the Dallas defense will be able to consistently stop (or even slow down) opposing offenses when I see it, and the fighting Bradys have as much skill-position talent as any team in the NFL.
"Add in that Dallas will be short Pro Bowl guard Zack Martin (COVID-19) and that, per R.J. White of SportsLine, defending champs are 14-6 against the spread over the past 20 openers, and I'll begrudgingly give the points."
There's also the fact that the Cowboys covered a league-low five spreads last year while the Bucs covered in seven of their last nine games. But oddsmakers have certainly taken that into account with this large number.
Davenport: Tampa Bay
Gagnon: Tampa Bay
O'Donnell: Tampa Bay
Consensus: Tampa Bay -8.5
Score Prediction: Buccaneers 31, Cowboys 21
New York Jets at Carolina Panthers
DraftKings Line: Carolina -5.5
Sunday's matchup between the New York Jets and Carolina Panthers features two unproven quarterbacks in new settings, with rookie No. 2 overall pick Zach Wilson attempting to resurrect a Jets team that covered just six spreads in 2020 and former Jets No. 3 overall pick Sam Darnold trying to save his career for a Panthers squad that won just five games outright last season.
We wouldn't fault you for sitting this one out if given the choice, and another divide among the panel supports that idea. But if you've gotta pick 'em all, the slim majority is laying 5.5 with the home side.
"I wouldn't feel confident betting money on Darnold needing to cover more than a field goal in most scenarios," Kenyon said. "But facing the Jets at home in Zach Wilson's first career NFL start is about as good of a spot as you'll get.
"Carolina returns a healthy Christian McCaffrey, who should be able to handle the bulk of the offensive touches, taking some of the pressure off Darnold. The Jets get to showcase their new-look offense but will likely ease their way into the Wilson era with some more conservative looks to build up his confidence early. The Jets are 3-13 on the road over the last two seasons, and there's no reason to think that trend shifts in Week 1."
Gagnon: New York
Sobleski: New York
Consensus: Carolina -5.5
Score Prediction: Panthers 27, Jets 20
Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills
DraftKings Line: Buffalo -6.5
One of the hottest games from Sunday's early slate features two teams going in opposite directions. The Buffalo Bills' win total shot up from six in 2018 to 10 in 2019 to 13 in 2020, while the Pittsburgh Steelers lost five of their last six regular-season and playoff games before going through hell in the offseason.
So while it's rare to see the always competitive Steelers getting 6.5 points, the vast majority of the gang is backing Buffalo in what should be a rocking home opener at Highmark Stadium.
"I'm having a tough time seeing how the Steelers will avoid a losing record for an 18th straight season in 2021," Gagnon said. "They might still have a slightly better defense than Buffalo, but quarterback Josh Allen is clearly turning the Bills into an offensive juggernaut.
"The key for me, though, is the fact that so little changed with the Bills this offseason, while Pittsburgh will be getting used to an almost entirely new offensive line. That'll make it tough in a brutal environment Sunday."
The Bills went 7-3 ATS at home despite a lack of fans for much of the 2020 campaign. Now, it'll be a full house as they attempt to make a statement right off the bat. Only O'Donnell believes they're unlikely to prevail by at least a touchdown.
Consensus: Buffalo -6.5
Score Prediction: Bills 28, Steelers 17
San Francisco 49ers at Detroit Lions
DraftKings Line: San Francisco -7.5
But O'Donnell is willing to lay a touchdown plus a hook with the San Francisco 49ers taking on the sorry-looking Detroit Lions in the Motor City, and he's not alone.
"I'm always hesitant with West Coast teams traveling east for an early game," O'Donnell said. "It's also worth noting that new Lions quarterback Jared Goff has thrown more touchdown passes (14) against the 49ers than any other team in his career. But this is Goff's first game with a rebuilding Lions team featuring far fewer weapons than he's ever had in his career.
"A spark from new Detroit coach Dan Campbell might force you to overthink this one: don't. The 49ers, coming off an injury-ravaged 6-10 season a year ago, are tied on DraftKings for the fifth-best Super Bowl odds for a reason. Their overall talent level will be enough to best the Lions by more than a touchdown on the road as they look to make their way back to the postseason."
There is a scary unknown element with the Lions, who could be motivated to hang at home for the inspiring Campbell. But the talent gap is indeed huge here, and 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan should have fun with a Detroit defense that ranked dead last in DVOA (defensive-adjusted value over average at Football Outsiders) in 2020 and doesn't look any better off defensively right now.
Aside from that, though, you might want to ignore most 2020-related trends with these teams. The Lions have a whole new look with Goff and Campell, while the 49ers were one of the most injury-ravaged teams in the NFL last year. Tread carefully.
Davenport: San Francisco
Gagnon: San Francisco
O'Donnell: San Francisco
Sobleski: San Francisco
Consensus: San Francisco -7.5
Score Prediction: 49ers 30, Lions 17
Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans
DraftKings Line: Jacksonville -2.5
Few teams are expected to do less this season than the Jacksonville Jaguars, but one of them is the Houston Texans. In fact, DraftKings' over/under win total for the Texans is a league-low four. And yet, 60 percent of the crew is riding with Houston simply because it's tougher to justify laying 2.5 points with a traveling Jags team that has a rookie quarterback and won just a single game in 2020.
"The Texans have nothing to lose but the game. Who cares? They're going to lose plenty this season. But this particular contest will be important to the players in Houston's locker room," Sobleski said. "They surely heard all offseason how they're going to be the worst team in football and capable of winning maybe one or two contests. David Culley and Co. have something to prove.
"Besides, the Jaguars are another squad counted among the league's worst. Urban Meyer doesn't seem to have adjusted well to the pro game so far, which could drag into the regular season. It's easy to take the points for this home dog."
In a perfect world, Texans bettors will get a full field goal here. And buying half a point back is worth consideration if it's on the table. Both the Jags and Texans have gone through a lot of change this offseason, but the risk is pretty limited when you're getting points from a team that was as horrible as Jacksonville in 2020.
That said, this one is so repelling that passing on a bet wouldn't be a bad call.
Consensus: Houston +2.5
Score Prediction: Texans 24, Jaguars 23
Seattle Seahawks at Indianapolis Colts
DraftKings Line: Seattle -2.5
By a narrow margin, the gang once again isn't willing to back a 2.5-point road 'dog with the Seattle Seahawks taking on the Indianapolis Colts in the Midwest on Sunday afternoon. It's another West Coast team playing a 10 a.m. PT game, and three of our five experts are siding with the home squad with nearly a field goal in their back pockets.
"The Colts were once a clear favorite in this game, and then Carson Wentz and Quenton Nelson went down and the line shifted significantly in Seattle's direction," Gagnon said. "But now, both Wentz and Nelson look as though they'll be good to go for Sunday. I'm not going to pretend Wentz is on Russell Wilson's level, but he's got better support than he used to have, and there is a chance a reunion with Frank Reich will prove his 2020 struggles were an aberration.
"The Seahawks remain a huge public fave, which is probably why this line hasn't moved back toward a pick'em. But I think that spread is for suckers right now. Indy is on Seattle's level overall, and Wentz gives them extra upside. At home, I'll take any points you'll give me with the Colts."
Of course, as with the case above, consider buying half a point to cover off a potential three-point victory for the road team.
Consensus: Indianapolis +2.5
Score Prediction: Colts 27, Seahawks 26
Arizona Cardinals at Tennessee Titans
DraftKings Line: Tennessee -3
There are very few unanimous or near-unanimous calls from the panel this week, and we have another 3-2 decision with the Tennessee Titans giving a full field goal to the Arizona Cardinals in Nashville on Sunday.
You could argue that some of the hedging here has to do with the fact that we have a lot to learn about a lot of teams, but the Cards and Titans haven't changed much at their cores. We're just dealing with a somewhat predictable three-point spread in favor of the slightly more accomplished home team.
Still, the Cardinals are traveling for an early kickoff, and their defense looks like the most vulnerable unit in this game. That being the case, we're leaning Tennessee's way.
"The Titans defense was brutal last year, ranking in the bottom 10 in both points allowed and yards allowed, and they are facing an explosive Kliff Kingsbury offense led by Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins," Kenyon said. "But the Titans also have one of the league's best offenses after acquiring Julio Jones in the offseason to pair with A.J. Brown on the outside. The trio of Derrick Henry, Brown and Jones gives Ryan Tannehill plenty to work with, and this game should be a shootout. The most enticing part of this game would be betting the over (52 points), but in the end, I think the Titans prevail at home."
This arguably isn't far from a toss-up, but the Cardinals haven't been consistently reliable under Kingsbury and Kyler Murray while the Titans continue to deliver. They also have the top matchup edge with that aforementioned offensive core facing a soft defense, and they're the hosts with a full stadium against a team from two time zones over.
Keep it simple and lay the three points.
Consensus: Tennessee -3
Score Prediction: Titans 28, Cardinals 24
Los Angeles Chargers at Washington Football Team
DraftKings Line: Los Angeles -1
"This is one of the toughest games of the week to get a read on—as evidenced by the tight spread—and should be one of the better matchups of Week 1," O'Donnell said of the quasi-pick'em between the Los Angeles Chargers and Washington Football Team.
"Another West Coast team traveling east for an early game is always a cause for concern, though, and the defending NFC East champion WFT has a new rabbit in their hat named Ryan Fitzpatrick along with one of the best defenses in football," O'Donnell added. "Behind 2020 Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert at quarterback and the return of arguably their best defensive playmaker in safety Derwin James, the Chargers have all the makings of a potential playoff team themselves, but give me the home side in an opener between two teams that should get better as the season progresses."
He's not alone. Seventy-five percent of the rest of the panel sees eye to eye with O'Donnell. It's important to beware of the hype surrounding the Bolts, who have undergone a lot of change on both sides of the ball this offseason and are traveling across the country to face one of the fiercest defensive fronts in the NFL.
This line in this location indicates the Chargers are the better team here, but Washington had a substantially higher DVOA than L.A. in 2020. Even if they are indeed better on paper, don't let hype trick you into laying even a point with the Chargers in this spot.
Sobleski: Los Angeles
Consensus: Washington +1
Score Prediction: Washington 24, Chargers 17
Minnesota Vikings at Cincinnati Bengals
DraftKings Line: Minnesota -3.5
The Minnesota Vikings might have been better than the Cincinnati Bengals last season, but the Vikes still won just seven games. And unlike Cincy, they didn't lose their franchise quarterback in the first half of the season.
With that in mind, it strikes the majority of our group as odd that Minnesota is laying more than a field goal on the road against an improved and exciting Bengals squad.
"Cincinnati's biggest weakness is its potential inability to properly protect quarterback Joe Burrow, who is coming off a season-ending knee injury," Sobleski said. "Fortunately, the Vikings' front lacks a consistent pass-rush punch. Beyond Danielle Hunter, the threat of a consistently collapsing pocket should be nearly nonexistent. Cincinnati can key on the defensive end and slide protection his way. If Burrow gets comfortable, we know he can throw the ball all over the yard."
This might simply represent a poor matchup for the Vikings, who make their money running the ball with Dalvin Cook but are going up against a defense that at least fared OK against the run despite struggling overall last year. They also have D.J. Reader back and added Larry Ogunjobi at defensive tackle.
Oh, and in the nine games that Burrow played in fully last season, they lost by more than five points just twice. And those losses came on the road against playoff teams. Against non-playoff teams, Burrow and Co. went 1-1-1 with a positive scoring margin.
Consensus: Cincinnati +3.5
Score Prediction: Vikings 24, Bengals 23
Philadelphia Eagles at Atlanta Falcons
DraftKings Line: Atlanta -3
Our final matchup from the early slate of Sunday games might be the most unpredictable one yet. The Atlanta Falcons have been a thorn in bettors' sides for years, and there's little reason to be enthusiastic about them at the moment. But the majority of our pickers are no more confident in the retooling Philadelphia Eagles as a mere three-point road underdog.
"Picking Falcons games is about as much fun as a trip to the orthodontist minus the novocaine," Davenport said." Make no mistake: this is not an especially good football team. But neither are the Eagles. Philly's receivers remain a big-time question mark. Jalen Hurts completed just 52 percent of his passes in 2020. And while the Eagles have a decent front seven defensively, the secondary isn't scaring anyone.
"It's that last part that makes the Falcons the play here. There's a lot more reason to trust Atlanta's ability to move the ball through the air than Philadelphia's. Matt Ryan has a day, Kyle Pitts shines in his NFL debut and Atlanta's new-look defense makes just enough plays for the Falcons to win the home opener."
Philly covered just a single spread as a road team in 2020. Without a hook to worry about, the Falcons are the safer play in yet another potentially traumatizing game involving Matt Ryan and Co.
Consensus: Atlanta -3
Score Prediction: Falcons 27, Eagles 23
Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots
DraftKings Line: New England -3
The New England Patriots weren't their dynastic selves last year, but they still went 1-1 in their season series with the quickly emerging Miami Dolphins, outscoring Miami by a double-digit margin in their meeting at Gillette Stadium.
Both teams improved this offseason, but the Pats did a lot more than Miami on paper. Put it all together and the majority of the panel is fine laying a mere field goal with New England at home Sunday afternoon (even in a breakout season, Miami was just 4-4 ATS on the road).
"The Patriots made a point this offseason when they splurged in free agency and took advantage of everyone else's restricted salary-cap space," Sobleski said. "New England didn't like missing out on the playoffs for the first time since the 2008 campaign. The choice to anoint rookie Mac Jones instead of Cam Newton works in the Patriots' favor, too. Obviously, first-year signal-callers will make mistakes. But the Patriots can run their preferred scheme with Jones behind center.
"They're significantly better than a year ago with plenty of time for Bill Belichick to prepare for the rival Dolphins. Week 1 is a statement game in New England."
Jones is a mystery as a rookie, but you can still say the same thing about second-year Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who struggled in limited action as a rook. It's again far from unanimous, but our guys are leaning toward the more accomplished team with its legendary coach, especially with just three points on the line in Foxborough.
Consensus: New England -3
Score Prediction: Patriots 24, Dolphins 20
Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs
DraftKings Line: Kansas City -6
The Kansas City Chiefs might remain the favorite to go to the Super Bowl in the AFC, but few view the continually improving Cleveland Browns as a team that is significantly far off. Cleveland also didn't lose by more than a score in any of its last seven road games in a breakout 2020 campaign, which has a slim majority of our experts thinking a six-point spread is too much for their matchup with K.C. on Sunday at Arrowhead.
"This is a weird one for me because I think the Chiefs are the best team in football," Gagnon said. "It's strange betting against them in Week 1, especially at home. But the Browns also continue to get better and aren't far from Kansas City's level. We saw that when they went toe-to-toe with the Chiefs on the road in last year's playoffs, and this squad is much better defensively.
"The Chiefs are also stronger along the offensive line now, but the lack of continuity there could be somewhat problematic as everyone gets used to each other early on. Keep in mind that'll be happening with Myles Garrett bearing down on the other side of the ball. I expect the Browns to hang tight here."
Plus, with that line, the backdoor cover is always a possibility.
Davenport: Kansas City
Sobleski: Kansas City
Consensus: Cleveland +6
Score Prediction: Chiefs 30, Browns 27
Green Bay Packers at New Orleans Saints
DraftKings Line: Green Bay -3.5
The talk last offseason was that Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers would enter the year fired up to make a point after his team used a first-round draft pick on another signal-caller. Sure enough, Rodgers lit up his first four opponents—including the defensively stout New Orleans Saints—to the tune of 13 touchdown passes to zero interceptions and a 128.4 passer rating.
This year, Rodgers should be just as fired up following an even more controversial offseason in Green Bay. And now, his team doesn't have to worry about Drew Brees or the Superdome crowd for its early-season matchup with the Saints.
So, why are the Packers laying just 3.5 points? That's a question every one of our panelists is asking.
"Following Hurricane Ida, the Saints moved this game to Jacksonville over other alternatives, reportedly to avoid Green Bay fans. But expect this to feel like a home game for Green Bay with the number of Packers fans that reside in North-Central Florida," Kenyon said. "A warm-weather game doesn't necessarily favor the Saints, who play in a climate-controlled dome in New Orleans. They will miss Michael Thomas in this matchup, with Jaire Alexander likely to match up on preseason breakout receiver Marquez Callaway, leaving Jameis Winston to rely heavily on Alvin Kamara and Tre'Quan Smith.
"Aaron Rodgers and Co. are in their 'last dance' season and should be full steam ahead right out of the gate."
That sentiment is unanimous here.
Davenport: Green Bay
Gagnon: Green Bay
Kenyon: Green Bay
O'Donnell: Green Bay
Sobleski: Green Bay
Consensus: Green Bay -3.5
Score Prediction: Packers 31, Saints 17
Denver Broncos at New York Giants
DraftKings Line: Denver -3
Our panel has not enjoyed road favorites laying about a field goal this week, and that's the case again with the new-look Denver Broncos favored by exactly three points over the new-look New York Giants on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
"A choice in the Giants' favor comes down to two factors," Sobleski said. "First, the team should be fully stocked offensively with Saquon Barkley, Kyle Rudolph Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney in the lineup.
"Secondly, the Broncos surprisingly chose Teddy Bridgewater to start behind center. Bridgewater is a reliable and efficient option. At the same time, he's not going to threaten the entire field and often plays it safe. As long as New York's offense can get rolling in its first week together, the Giants will be fine, at least in this contest."
Both teams made significant personnel changes this offseason, but the Giants didn't shake things up at quarterback, and Daniel Jones has a higher ceiling than Bridgewater. He's also now got more support than ever, although it's fair for Davenport and Kenyon to wonder if that group can come together quickly enough following an injury-marred summer.
We're likely looking at another close call here.
Gagnon: New York
O'Donnell: New York
Sobleski: New York
Consensus: New York +3
Score Prediction: Giants 21, Broncos 20
Baltimore Ravens at Las Vegas Raiders
DraftKings Line: Baltimore -4
"This was one of the easiest calls of Week 1," Davenport said of the Monday Night Football matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and Las Vegas Raiders.
"Even without J.K. Dobbins, the Ravens should have little trouble running the ball against a Raiders defense that allowed the ninth-most rushing yards per game and 4.6 yards per carry last year," he added. "Conversely, the Raiders aren't going to be able to run on the Ravens nearly as successfully. That means Justin Houston and Baltimore's new-look pass rush pinning its ears back and going after Derek Carr. And Carr trying to throw on perhaps the league's best one-two punch at cornerback."
In this case, four of five B/R experts agree—even if the Raiders look improved on paper, the Ravens have been hit hard by offseason losses and preseason injuries, and Las Vegas could be fired up for its first home game with fans present in Nevada.
The Raiders have lost six of their last seven at home, so fans might not totally fix that. And Baltimore has won its last two road openers by a combined score of 92-26.
"I love a home underdog as much as anyone," Davenport concluded. "But it's a lot more likely that the Monday night opener this year gets out of hand than the Raiders make a game of it or win. Ravens cruise by double digits here."
Gagnon: Las Vegas
Consensus: Baltimore -4
Score Prediction: Ravens 31, Raiders 20
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