New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings: 2017 Week 1 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (0-0) at Minnesota Vikings (0-0)

This line favors the hometown Vikings by a field goal, suggesting these two teams are more or less equal. I have the Saints with two fewer wins than the Vikings in my season preview (10 vs. 8) and I have the Saints a few spots below the Vikings in my rankings, so I think we’re getting some line value with the home team. The Vikings finished last season 8-8, but improved both their offensive line and their running game in significant ways this off-season and should have better injury luck than last season. Those two things should add a couple wins to their total if Sam Bradford can have another solid season under center.

The Saints, meanwhile, traded away one of their top offensive players Brandin Cooks this off-season for a first round pick, which they eventually used on offensive tackle Ryan Ramcyzk, who will have to make the week 1 start in place of left tackle Terron Armstead, who is also one of the Saints’ best offensive players and will miss the start of the season after off-season shoulder surgery. In addition, they are without wide receiver Willie Snead for the first 3 games of the season with suspension, cornerback Delvin Breaux for the first half of the season with injury, and defensive tackle Nick Fairley for the season with a career threatening heart condition.

They finished last season 10th in first down rate differential despite a 7-9 record, but are not the same team as last season and could get a lot of worse if quarterback Drew Brees shows his age in his age 38 season. There isn’t enough here for me to put money on the Vikings as field goal favorites, especially since they are a heavy public lean this week for some reason, but they should be the right side. I think there’s also a strong possibility of a push in this game, especially if Brees leads a garbage time touchdown down 10 late in the 4th quarter.

Minnesota Vikings 27 New Orleans Saints 23

Pick against the spread: Minnesota -3

Confidence: Low

Los Angeles Chargers at Denver Broncos: 2017 Week 1 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Chargers (0-0) at Denver Broncos (0-0)

The Chargers have won a combined 9 games over the past 2 seasons, but they have had so much bad luck in terms of injuries and close losses. They’ve ranked 26th and 31st over the past 2 seasons respectively in adjusted games lost to injury and are a ridiculous 4-16 in games decided by a touchdown or less over that time period. That type of bad luck tends to even out in the long run though and the Chargers have ranked 14th and 7th in first down rate differential over the past 2 seasons, so they definitely have hope going into 2017.

The Chargers have already had some injuries and enter this game without their top-2 draft picks (Mike Williams and Forrest Lamp) and starting middle linebacker Denzel Perryman. However, getting wide receiver Keenan Allen and cornerback Jason Verrett back from mostly lost seasons in 2016 is still going to have a huge impact on this team, as those are two of their best players. Even without them last season, the Chargers still managed the move the chains at a noticeably better rate than their opponents (+1.58%). Now with those two back, a new head coach in place in Anthony Lynn, and hopefully some better luck in close games coming along with him, the Chargers have a good chance to make the post-season in 2017.

Despite that, this line favors the home team Broncos by 3.5 points, suggesting they are better than the Chargers, which is not accurate. The Broncos still have major problems on offense and are not the same defense as they were when they won the Super Bowl, especially without defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who joined the Rams this off-season. The Broncos have lost 5 starters from their defense over the past 2 off-seasons (Malik Jackson, Sylvester Williams, Danny Trevathan, DeMarcus Ware, and TJ Ward) and 2015 1st round pick Shane Ray, who was supposed to replace the retiring Ware, will miss at least the first half of the season with injury.

They still have a good defense, but they won’t finish 2nd in first down rate allowed like they did last season, so their offense will have to play better, after finishing 30th in first down rate in 2016. With 2016 1st round pick quarterback Paxton Lynch still unable to beat out the mediocre Trevor Siemian for the starting job and with talented left tackle Russell Okung now on the Chargers, that seems unlikely. I have the Chargers as 2 wins higher than the Broncos in my season previews and I would take them as 3.5 point underdogs in a heartbeat, considering 1 in 4 games are decided by a field goal or less. The Chargers are also worth a bet as field goal favorites and they are one of my favorite picks of the week. The money line is also worth a bet as the Chargers have a good chance to win this straight up.

Los Angeles Chargers 23 Denver Broncos 20 Upset Pick +135

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers +3.5

Confidence: High

Oakland Raiders at Tennessee Titans: 2017 Week 1 NFL Pick

Oakland Raiders (0-0) at Tennessee Titans (0-0)

This line favors the Titans by 2.5 points, suggesting the Raiders are a little bit better than the Titans. I think that’s backward. The Raiders won 12 games last season, while the Titans won just 9, but I think the Titans enter the season as the better team. They finished last season 6th in first down rate and scored 10 more offensive touchdowns than their opponents, the 2nd best margin among non-playoff teams behind the Cardinals and the 6th best in the NFL overall. They missed the playoffs because of close losses and return touchdowns (-8 in that metric), but those tend to be fluky. They also addressed their only weaknesses this off-season, shoring up their secondary and receiving corps, and enter the season as arguably the most complete team in the NFL.

The Raiders, meanwhile, required a lot of luck to go 12-4, even though they lost Derek Carr with injury week 16. Eight of their 12 victories came by 7 points or fewer, including a 5-0 record in games decided by a field goal or less, and their point differential of +31 was just behind non-playoff teams in the Eagles and Ravens (both at +36). That’s despite the fact that they finished with a league best +16 turnover margin. Turnovers tend to be very inconsistent on a year-to-year basis, so the Raiders won’t be able to count on that as much in 2017. Before Carr went down, this team ranked just 12th in first down rate differential and likely would not have gone on a long playoff run either way.

They’re a young team that added more talent this off-season, so they should still be considered the favorites in the AFC West, especially with the Chiefs losing All-Pro safety Eric Berry for the season, but I have the Titans a few spots ahead of them in my rankings and I have them with one more win in my season previews (11 vs. 10). They are one of my favorite sleeper teams this season and this gives me an opportunity to take them before their price gets too high. As long as this line is lower than a field goal, it’s worth putting money on the home team. About 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal and I like the Titans’ chances of winning by a field goal or more.

Tennessee Titans 27 Oakland Raiders 23

Pick against the spread: Tennessee -2.5

Confidence: Medium

Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns: 2017 Week 1 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (0-0) at Cleveland Browns (0-0)

This is one of the games where I just don’t have a strong lean either way. The Steelers are arguably the most complete team in the NFL, while the Browns are one of the worst, but this line is right about where it’s supposed to be at 9.5. I thought about going against the Steelers, who are a heavy public favorite despite not travelling well last season, but the Steelers always play well in Cleveland with Ben Roethlisberger (10-2 straight up, 7-4-1 ATS) and I think they’re the right side in pick ‘em leagues as long as the line is less than 10.

Pittsburgh Steelers 30 Cleveland Browns 20

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh -9.5

Confidence: None

New York Jets at Buffalo Bills: 2017 Week 1 NFL Pick

New York Jets (0-0) at Buffalo Bills (0-0)

Ordinarily, I don’t like picking bad teams as big favorites, as teams that finish 6-10 or worse historically only cover the spread at about a 30% rate as favorite of more than 6 points. The Bills seem to be rebuilding, after trading away their top cornerback and top wide receiver before the start of the season, and could easily finish the season 6-10 or worse, but it’s also very early in the season and I think this line (-8) is justifiable against a team like the Jets.

The Jets were one of the worst teams in the league last season, finishing 29th in first down rate differential, and then they spent all off-season shedding expensive veterans in favor of unproven young players. On paper, they look like one of the worst teams in recent memory. I wouldn’t be confident in the Bills, who have major issues in the receiving corps and in the defensive back 7, but they should be able to put the Jets away pretty easily.

Buffalo Bills 20 New York Jets 10

Pick against the spread: Buffalo -8

Confidence: None

Arizona Cardinals at Detroit Lions: 2017 Week 1 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (0-0) at Detroit Lions (0-0)

The Lions made the playoffs last season, but they were arguably the worst team in the league to qualify for the post-season. Their 9-7 record was tied for worst among playoff teams and all 9 wins came against non-playoff teams, making them the only post-season qualifier to not defeat another post-season qualifier. Despite those wins coming against weak opponents, the Lions still only won one game by more than a touchdown all season. They finished 28th in first down rate differential, worst among playoff teams, and only made the post-season because they pulled out some close victories against bad teams. In the post-season, they were predictably destroyed in Seattle by the Seahawks in a 26-6 loss.

The Cardinals, on the other hand, did not make the playoffs, but were a much better team, even going into Seattle late in the season and winning straight up as massive underdogs. They finished 7-8-1, but their special teams swung more than a few games. They missed a game winning field goal against New England. They allowed a long punt return to set up the winning score against the Rams. They had a blocked punt and a number of missed field goals in the tie against the Seahawks. They allowed a kickoff return touchdown in a 6-point loss to the Vikings. And against Miami, in a 3-point loss, special teams cost them 7 points on 3 plays with a missed field goal, a missed extra point, and a blocked extra point that was returned for 2 points.

They could have been 12-4 if not for those screw ups and they finished the season #1 in first down rate differential, for the 2nd season in a row. On top of that, their +56 point differential was 7th in the NFL and best among non-playoff teams. They should have better luck in close games in 2017, but they also had a tough off-season. They lost 5 starters on defense, including defensive end Calais Campbell and safeties Tony Jefferson and DJ Swearinger, all of whom were among the best in the league at their position in 2016. They also enter the season without linebacker Deone Bucannon and possibly without left guard Mike Iupati thanks to injury.

They did a good job of finding cheap replacements this off-season, but they are still significantly less talented than last season and they are one of the oldest teams in the league. They may end up winning more games than last season, but they are unlikely to be as effective overall and could be very vulnerable defensive early in the season without Bucannon. The Lions are also without a key player, with left tackle Taylor Decker set to miss the start of the season after having shoulder injury, and the Cardinals should be the right side, but we aren’t getting a ton of line value with them as 2 point road favorites.

Arizona Cardinals 27 Detroit Lions 24

Pick against the spread: Arizona -2

Confidence: Low

New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys: 2017 Week 1 NFL Pick

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

The Cowboys have had success in recent years and appear to have a strong squad again this season, especially with Ezekiel Elliott beating his NFL suspension (for now), but they haven’t had a lot of luck at home recently. They are just 29-29 straight up at home since 2010, with an average differential of 1.55 points per game. Contrast that with their road record of 30-26 over that time period, with an average differential of -0.25 points per game. Despite that, the oddsmakers usually don’t correct for that and the Cowboys are 20-37 ATS at home since 2010, including 12-29 ATS as favorite and 4-11 ATS as divisional favorites. Cowboys Stadium tends to attract a lot of road fans, which probably has a lot to do with that.

The Giants have had success in Dallas in recent years. In fact, Eli Manning is 7-6 straight up in Dallas in his 13-year career and 9-4 ATS. This year’s version of the Giants returns most of the core from last year’s playoff team and is good enough to keep this one close or possibly pull the upset as 4 point underdogs. The one concern is the doubt about Odell Beckham’s health. The Giants’ #1 receiver will travel with the team, an encouraging sign, but is officially a game time call for the Giants. It’s worth the risk for a small bet though if you can get 4.

Dallas Cowboys 26 New York Giants 24

Pick against the spread: NY Giants +4

Confidence: Medium

Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins: 2017 Week 1 NFL Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (0-0) at Washington Redskins (0-0)

The Eagles are one of my favorite sleeper teams for 2017. Their 7-9 record last season was largely the result of a 1-6 record in games decided by a touchdown or less. Their +36 point differential was 10th in the league, ahead of playoff teams like the Raiders and the Eagles. This season, they get top offensive lineman Lane Johnson back from suspension (with whom they were 5-1 last season) and they addressed needs at wide receiver and cornerback in a big way with Alshon Jeffery and Ronald Darby. This looks like a 10-win team with the upside for a lot more if #2 overall pick quarterback Carson Wentz can step it up in his 2nd season in the league.

Despite that, I don’t love them week 1 because I don’t think we’re getting much line value. The Eagles are favored by a point and a half here in Washington, which is about where this line should be. The Redskins are also an underrated team. Many people are down on them because they lost Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson this off-season, but they added Terrelle Pryor, they could get a breakout year from slot receiver Jamison Crowder, and they get Josh Doctson and Jordan Reed back healthy.

They have a lot of room for improvement in the red zone on offense (they ranked 30th in red zone touchdown down percentage) and could be much improved in that area now that they have taller receivers, so they could score more points this season even if they end up with fewer yards. Meanwhile, their defense should be improved with the additions of Jonathan Allen, Zach Brown, and DJ Swearinger this off-season. I’m taking the Eagles in this one, but I’d need an even line to consider putting money on them.

Philadelphia Eagles 23 Washington Redskins 20

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia -1.5

Confidence: Low

Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans: 2017 Week 1 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (0-0) at Houston Texans (0-0)

The Jaguars went just 3-13 last season, but could take a big leap forward this season. Their record last season was largely the result of a -16 turnover margin (3rd worst in the NFL) and a 2-8 record in games decided by 7 points or fewer. They got better defensively this off-season with free agent additions Calais Campbell and AJ Bouye and they have several young defenders who could take a leap forward in 2017. They also used their 4th overall pick on running back Leonard Fournette, which significantly improves this running game.

A team’s turnover margin and record in close games tend to be inconsistent on a year-to-year basis, so the Jaguars would have likely taken a step forward even without the added talent. They still have major issues at quarterback with Blake Bortles, but he won’t have as many chances to throw interceptions this season if the Jaguars play strong defense and run the ball frequently and they’ll probably also do a better job recovering fumbles, after recovering just 2 of 15 offensive fumbles last season. That should lead to them winning some of those close games and then some, in spite of their issues at quarterback.

Their opponents this week are an example of how teams can still be a threat for the playoffs even without competent quarterback play, as the Texans won the AFC South last season with Brock Osweiler starting most of the season. Houston starts this season with Tom Savage under center, who is only an upgrade over Osweiler by default. He isn’t much better than Bortles either, if he is at all. The Texans also have a less talented supporting cast around him than the Jaguars do around Bortles, despite winning the division last season.

The Texans went 9-7 last season, but that was largely as a result of a 8-2 record in games decided by 7 points or fewer. They finished the season 26th in point differential at -49 and 26th in first down rate differential at -1.48%. Arguably the worst offense in the league, the Texans managed a league low 23 offensive touchdowns they allowed 10 more offensive touchdowns than they scored. The Jaguars, despite being 6 games worse in the standings, were just -5 in offensive touchdown margin. Jacksonville has a better receiving corps, better running backs, and a better offensive line with Houston left tackle Duane Brown still holding out. With right tackle Derek Newton out for the season for injury, the Texans have arguably the worst offensive line in the league right now without Brown.

The Texans obviously get JJ Watt back from injury after he missed almost all of last season and he makes a tough trio with Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney, but the Jaguars duo of Calais Campbell and Malik Jackson is impressive as well and they also have young defensive ends Dante Fowler and Yannick Ngakoue providing rush off the edge. In addition, the Jaguars also have a significantly better back 7, with Houston losing top defensive backs Quintin Demps and AJ Bouye in free agency, the latter of whom is now on the Jaguars.

In spite of that, the Texans are favored here by 4.5 points, suggesting they are significantly better than the Jaguars. I think it’s the other way around and that we’re getting significant line value with the Jaguars. The Texans are also in a tough spot because have to turn around and play another game in 4 days when they go to Cincinnati for Thursday Night Football. Favorites are just 58-84 ATS before Thursday Night games since 2008, including 2-4 ATS in week 1. Even if the Texans win here, I think it’s unlikely to be by more than 4 points, considering how many close games these teams play. About 30% of games are decided by 4 points or fewer, so 4.5 is a more sizeable line than you’d think. This is my Pick of the Week.

Jacksonville Jaguars 17 Houston Texans 16 Upset Pick +190

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +4.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers: 2017 Week 1 NFL Pick

Seattle Seahawks (0-0) at Green Bay Packers (0-0)

This line is at 3 in favor of the hometown Green Bay Packers, suggesting these two teams are about even. I have these teams apart by 2 wins in my season previews, with the Seahawks winning 12 games and the Packers winning 10, so we’re getting good value with the visitors here. The Packers will always be competitive with Aaron Rodgers, but they’ve lost a talented guard in each of the past two off-seasons with Josh Sitton going to the Bears and TJ Lang going to the Lions and still have issues on defense and at running back. This is far from the best supporting cast Rodgers has had.

Meanwhile, the Seahawks still have issues on the offensive line and uncertainty at running back, but they should have fewer key injuries this season and should once again be one of the best teams in the league, after a slight down year in 2016 (10-5-1). Russell Wilson is healthy with good weapons and the defense is arguably as good as it’s ever been, with Sheldon Richardson coming in via trade from the Jets and Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, and Michael Bennett all ready to go after missing time last season.

The Seahawks are also in a good spot here, as they get the lowly 49ers next week, while the Packers have to turn around and play another tough game in Atlanta, where they figure to be underdogs against the reigning NFC Champs. Underdogs are 97-63 ATS since 2012 before being favorites when their opponents will next be underdogs, including 5-0 ATS before being double digit favorites, which the Seahawks figure to be. The Seahawks should cover this spread and they have a good chance to win the game outright.

Seattle Seahawks 24 Green Bay Packers 23 Upset Pick +145

Pick against the spread: Seattle +3

Confidence: High