Green Bay Packers at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2016 Week 1 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (0-0) at Jacksonville Jaguars (0-0)

The Packers are normally a much better team at home than on the road, but I actually like them on the road this week, as 5.5 point favorites in Jacksonville. Jacksonville is improved, but is likely still at least a year away and they could have easily been at least 7-point underdogs here. I think people might forget how good Green Bay’s offense was in 2014. They’re unlikely to be that good again, but all of their skill position talent is healthy, including the Aaron Rodgers/Jordy Nelson combination that was so deadly 2 years ago. Their offensive line isn’t nearly as good as 2014, given the ridiculous release of long-time guard Josh Sitton at final cuts and injuries to both center Corey Linsley and left tackle David Bakhtiari, though the latter might still play, after being listed as questionable. However, this line is still a little too low overall. It’s a no confidence pick, but I expect the Packers to win by at least a touchdown.

Green Bay Packers 34 Jacksonville Jaguars 27

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -5.5

Confidence: None

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Cincinnati Bengals at New York Jets: 2016 Week 1 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (0-0) at New York Jets (0-0)

The Bengals were one of the best teams in the league last season before Andy Dalton went down with an injury. Dalton is now healthy, but doesn’t have the same team around him. The Bengals lost 2 of Dalton’s top-3 wide receivers this off-season and also lost a pair of starters in the secondary. In addition, they had no next to injuries around Dalton last season, finishing with the fewest adjusted games lost to injury. Not only does that mean they don’t have any key players returning from injury to give them a boost, as most teams do, but they’re already without tight end Tyler Eifert, linebacker Vontaze Burfict (suspended), first round pick cornerback William Jackson, and fourth round pick defensive tackle Andrew Billings. That puts them at a major disadvantage.

The Jets, meanwhile, actually finished last season with the best rate of moving the chains differential in the AFC, finishing 4th overall, but didn’t even make the playoffs at 10-6. Just one of their losses came by more than a touchdown, while 6 of their wins came by 13 or more, so they were definitely better than their record and could have easily won 11 or 12 games. However, like the Bengals, they may have missed their opportunity and seem due for a regression this season. This is a very veteran-laden team without much young talent, particularly on offense, so they’re unlikely to be as good as they were last season. I disagree with them being home underdogs here, even if only by 1.5 points, but I would need the full field goal to put any money on them.

New York Jets 17 Cincinnati Bengals 16 Upset Pick +105

Pick against the spread: NY Jets +1.5

Confidence: Low

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New England Patriots at Arizona Cardinals: 2016 Week 1 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (0-0) at Arizona Cardinals (0-0)

When this line opened at 6, I was thinking I was likely going to take New England. It probably wouldn’t have been for any money, but they had a good team around the quarterback and seemed like they could have made it close. However, that changed when Rob Gronkowski was ruled out with a hamstring injury. The line moved to 7, but that doesn’t seem like nearly enough compensation, especially considering left tackle Nate Solder and right guard Jonathan Cooper are also both out.

In addition to Tom Brady, the Patriots are already missing 3 starting offensive lineman (including right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, who could be done for the year), top pass catcher Rob Gronkowski, and pass catching running back Dion Lewis. Their defense is still strong and could help them keep this one close, but they don’t look like they’d have much of a shot in a shoot out. Arizona is once again a legitimate contender with a top level offense and could easily win by over a touchdown. It’s not enough for me to put any sort of confidence on the Cardinals, but they’re my pick here.

Arizona Cardinals 27 New England Patriots 17

Pick against the spread: Arizona -7

Confidence: None

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Buffalo Bills at Baltimore Ravens: 2016 Week 1 NFL Pick

Buffalo Bills (0-0) at Baltimore Ravens (0-0)

Here’s another line that started at 3 and then moved, but this one has actually moved up to 3.5. When the line was originally at 3, it was a tough line because these two teams are both more or less equal. I have both finishing 8-8 in my season previews and both are missing a key defender right now (Marcell Dareus for the Bills, Elvis Dumervil for the Ravens). I was leaning towards the Ravens, simply because they’re a solid home team, but this line moving off of the field goal makes matters easier. There’s not enough here for me to put any money on the Bills, but 1 in 6 games are decided by a field goal or less, so I’ll take the visitor and hope they can at least keep it within 3 points.

Baltimore Ravens 23 Buffalo Bills 20

Pick against the spread: Buffalo +3.5

Confidence: Low

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons: 2016 Week 1 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-0) at Atlanta Falcons (0-0)

When I saw this line was at 3 in favor of the home team Atlanta Falcons earlier this week, I immediately sided with the Buccaneers. It might not have been enough to put money on it, but a 3-point line suggests that these two teams are more or less even and I think the Buccaneers are a noticeable better team. The Falcons finished 2 games better than the Buccaneers last year, but Tampa Bay could take another step forward with a 2nd year quarterback under center, improvements on defense, likely bounce back years from top defensive players Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David, and the return of a couple players from injury, including right tackle DeMar Dotson.

The Falcons, meanwhile, made a couple of improvements this off-season, but also made significant reaches in the first two rounds of the draft and completely overpaid free agent wide receiver Mohamed Sanu. They also had next to no injuries last season, finishing with the 2nd fewest adjusted games lost in the league. That won’t continue and they’re already missing first round pick Keanu Neal with a knee injury. They have solid offense overall, but still lack a competent 2nd receiving option and the defense is one of the worst in the league. Tampa Bay should be a little bit better this off-season. It seems like sharp bettors agreed, as the line has since shifted to 2.5. Now that we’re not getting a field goal, I don’t have any confidence in Tampa Bay, but they should be the right side.

Atlanta Falcons 27 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 26

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay +2.5

Confidence: None

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New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys: 2016 Week 1 NFL Pick

New York Giants (0-0) at Dallas Cowboys (0-0)

As weird as it might sound, the Cowboys have had trouble at home in recent years, especially as home favorites. In fact, they’re 8-26 ATS as home favorites since 2010. They’re only favored by one point here (it’s also a pick ‘em in many places), but they haven’t been good in general at home in recent years. Their home field advantage over the past 6 seasons has only been about a point. That’s weirdly true of the entire NFC East, which is a combined 59-39 ATS as road underdogs since 2008, including 44-24 ATS as divisional road underdogs over that time period. The Giants are 39-26 ATS as road underdogs since 2004, including 17-10 ATS as road divisional underdogs over that time period.

In addition to all of the trends, the Cowboys could struggle at the start of the season and don’t deserve to be favored here at all, especially given that they don’t have much homefield advantage. Tony Romo is once again hurt and will miss at least the first month of the season, leaving 4th round rookie Dak Prescott to start in his absence. The Cowboys’ offense struggled mightily in Romo’s absence last season. Prescott looked good in the pre-season and should be better than any of their backup quarterbacks were last year, but he’s still completely unproven and could struggle through growing pains as a rookie. Prescott will have a healthy Dez Bryant and rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott, which the Cowboys didn’t have last season, but they’re offense takes a big hit without Romo.

The Cowboys also figure to once again struggle mightily on defense, especially early in the year with starters Rolando McClain, Randy Gregory, and DeMarcus Lawrence all suspended. McClain, a linebacker, might not play all season and the Cowboys are especially thin at defensive end without Gregory and Lawrence. Career backups Jack Crawford and Benson Mawoya will be every down defensive ends to begin the season. The Giants have issues on the right side of the offensive line, at linebacker, and at safety, but they’re improved from last season, especially on defensive line. I like them to pick up the early road win here, but I wouldn’t put any money on it.

New York Giants 31 Dallas Cowboys 27 Upset Pick +100

Pick against the spread: NY Giants +1

Confidence: Low

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Chicago Bears at Houston Texans: 2016 Week 1 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (0-0) at Houston Texans (0-0)

There are a few games this week where I think the line is too high and the underdog has a good chance to win. I think this line is too high at 6 in favor of Houston, but I still expect the Texans to win. They’re the slightly better team and they’re at home. I just think 6 points is too many to pass on. People like Houston because they added at the skill positions this off-season, adding quarterback Brock Osweiler, running back Lamar Miller, wide receiver Will Fuller, but Osweiler is overrated and unproven, while Fuller is still a rookie.

People also seem to be overlooking their issues on the offensive line. With talented left tackle Duane Brown out with injury to start the season, the Texans are missing 3 starters on the offensive line last year, including free agent departures Ben Jones and Brandon Brooks, neither of whom was adequately replaced. On defense, they need JJ Watt to be 100%, which is somewhat in question after off-season back surgery. On the other side, the Bears aren’t a great team either, but they’re comparable to Houston in terms of talent. This line should be closer to 3 than 6. It’s not tough for me to put money on it, but Chicago should be the right side.

Houston Texans 17 Chicago Bears 13

Pick against the spread: Chicago +6

Confidence: Low

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Minnesota Vikings at Tennessee Titans: 2016 Week 1 NFL Pick

Minnesota Vikings (0-0) at Tennessee Titans (0-0)

The Vikings caught a tough break when quarterback Teddy Bridgewater suffered a brutal knee injury in practice with less than 2 weeks before the first game of the season. Bridgewater dislocated his knee, tore his ACL, suffered additional ligament damage, and is out for at least the season. It must be especially frustrating for the Vikings because they’ve improved dramatically in each of the past 2 seasons, going from 5-10-1 in 2013 to a 11-5 NFC North title season in 2015, and appeared right on the cusp this season. Bridgewater is not the only reason for their improvement, but he’s been a big part of it in his 2 years in the league, since going in the first round in 2014.

Not trusting 36-year-old career journeyman backup Shaun Hill to replace Bridgewater, the Vikings made a desperation move and traded a 2017 first round pick to the Eagles for Sam Bradford, a veteran quarterback who the Eagles will replace with rookie Carson Wentz, the #2 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. Built to win now, I understand why the Vikings made the move. Bradford’s skill set is comparable to Bridgewater, but it’s going to be tough for him to take over as Minnesota’s starting quarterback, after spending all off-season as the starter in Philadelphia. In fact, he won’t even start in this game, leaving Hill at quarterback for at least week 1. Hill didn’t play well in his last significant action in 2014 (63.3% completion, 7.24 YPA, 8 touchdowns, 7 interceptions) and now is two years older and going into his age 36 season, so he’s a major liability.

The good news for the Vikings is they’re a team built to play great defense and run the ball. Even last year, with a healthy Bridgewater, they only passed 454 times, fewest in the NFL. The bad news is they have major issues in the receiving corps and the offensive line has major issues in pass protection. Their passing game will have trouble doing anything if needed with Hill under center. Given that, I don’t understand why they are favored here on the road by an entire field goal against an underrated Tennessee team.

The Titans only won 3 games last year, but 5 of their losses came when quarterback Marcus Mariota was hurt and 4 of their other 8 losses when Mariota was healthy came by less than a touchdown. They added a lot through the draft, after trading down from #1 overall, and also made some underrated off-season acquisitions. Their offensive line and running game look much improved, while their defense is much deeper and could be much improved if the likes of Brian Orakpo, Jason McCourty, and Perrish Cox can all be healthier this season. I like their chances of at least getting a push, given that 1 out of every 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal.

Tennessee Titans 19 Minnesota Vikings 17 Upset Pick +130

Pick against the spread: Tennessee +3

Confidence: Medium

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Detroit Lions at Indianapolis Colts: 2016 Week 1 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (0-0) at Indianapolis Colts (0-0)

This line is at 3, which suggests these two teams are even. I disagree. The Lions finished last season just 7-9, but won 6 of their final 8 games and it easily could have been 7 if not for the longest game winning Hail Mary in NFL history in their loss to the Packers. Calvin Johnson is gone, but they added Marvin Jones and Anquan Boldin and their offense was great down the stretch last season, after Jim Bob Cooter took over as offensive coordinator mid-season. On defense, they get DeAndre Levy back from injury, after their talented linebacker missed essentially all of 2015. They have a good chance to continue playing well this season and push for a playoff spot.

The Lions’ schedule down the stretch last season was relatively easy (aside from Green Bay), so they’re unlikely to continue winning 3 out of every 4 games, but I don’t think the Colts are a tough opponent, especially with their top-2 defensive players, Vontae Davis and Henry Anderson, missing the start of the season with injury. The Colts get Andrew Luck back, but their passing offense wasn’t the problem last season, as they went 8-8. Their defense took a step back from the season before and they struggled mightily running the ball and protecting the quarterback.

Their running backs and offensive line remain a problem and the defense could take another step back. They lost top linebacker Jerrell Freeman in free agency and have the oldest defense in the league, which looks like one of the worst in the league on paper. They’re going to have a tough time stopping anyone with Henry Anderson and Vontae Davis. I like the Lions’ chances of at least pushing as 3 point underdogs, as 1 of 4 games are decided by 3 points or fewer, and I think they can also win the game outright.

Detroit Lions 27 Indianapolis Colts 23 Upset Pick +140

Pick against the spread: Detroit +3

Confidence: Medium

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Oakland Raiders at New Orleans Saints: 2016 Week 1 NFL Pick

Oakland Raiders (0-0) at New Orleans Saints (0-0)

Almost every season, one team goes from out of the playoffs to a first round bye. The Raiders are my pick to do that this year, or at least come close. A young team that has drafted well over the past few years, adding the likes of Derek Carr, Khalil Mack, Amari Cooper, and Gabe Jackson in 2014 and 2015, the Raiders have had a lot of money to play with in free agency over the past two off-seasons and have done well adding veteran talent in free agency to complement their young talent, adding the likes of Rodney Hudson, Michael Crabtree, Sean Smith, Michael Griffin, Bruce Irvin, and Kelechi Osemele over the past 2 off-seasons. On paper, this is one of the most talented teams in the AFC.

Meanwhile, the Saints have a strong offense, but a pathetic defense and figure to finish under .500 for the 3rd straight season. If the 37-year-old Drew Brees starts to show his age, the Saints could easily be one of the worst teams in the league in 2016. Despite that, they’re actually favored by a point and half here at home week 1. I obviously wish we were getting the whole field goal with the Raiders, but the Saints shouldn’t be favored by any amount of points here. There’s a very good chance Oakland would be favored by at least a field goal on the road in mid-season against New Orleans, after people realize how talented this team is. The Saints’ Superdome magic seems to have worn out in recent years, as they’re just 6-9 ATS at home over the past 2 seasons, after going 20-4 ATS at home during better times from 2011-2013, so I see no reason not to take Oakland.

Oakland Raiders 27 New Orleans Saints 20 Upset Pick +105

Pick against the spread: Oakland +1.5

Confidence: Medium

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