2018 Week 1 NFL Picks

Instead of full write ups for my no confidence picks this week, I am doing short write ups here with links to my season previews. The previews are in depth and I don’t have much to say beyond that this week. I will have full write ups for all games as usual beginning next week.

Pick of the Week

CLE +4.5 vs. PIT

High Confidence

JAX -3 @ NYG

TEN -1 @ MIA

Medium Confidence

DET -6.5 vs. NYJ

CIN +2 @ IND

DAL +3 @ CAR

Low Confidence

NE -6 vs. HOU

BAL -7.5 vs. BUF

No Confidence

MIN -6.5 vs. SF

This line is about right, but I could see the Vikings winning by exactly a touchdown.

KC +3.5 @ LAC

I’d take the Chargers if this line was 3. The Chargers are the better team, but have no homefield advantage and have not fared well against the Chiefs in recent years.

CHI +7 @ GB

This is an accurate line. I wouldn’t be surprised by a push.

SEA +3 @ DEN

I have the Seahawks doing better than the Broncos this season, but the Seahawks will be without linebacker KJ Wright in this one, which is a big loss, so I can’t take them with any confidence this week.

ARZ -1 vs. WAS

This is an accurate line. This game is close to a toss up.

OAK +4.5 vs. LAR

I liked the Raiders a lot at +3.5 before the Khalil Mack trade, but this line didn’t move enough. Not only is Mack a huge loss on the field, but the team has to feel dejected that their best player was traded away a week before the start of the season. The Rams will take time to gel early in the season though, as they have a lot of new additions and did not play much in the pre-season.

TB +10 vs. NO

The Buccaneers played a lot of close games last year, with 7 of their 11 losses coming by a touchdown or fewer and they are an underrated team around the quarterback, but Ryan Fitzpatrick could be done as a capable passer in the NFL, so I can’t take them confidently against a good opponent.

PHI +1 vs. ATL

1-0!

Upset Picks

PHI +100 vs. ATL

CIN +115 @ IND

CLE +180 vs. PIT

DAL +130 @ CAR

Buffalo Bills at Baltimore Ravens: 2018 Week 1 NFL Pick

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

The Ravens had the best point differential of any team that missed the playoffs in 2018, but they also faced a very easy schedule and benefitted from a league leading +17 turnover margin, which is tough to sustain on a year-to-year basis. Teams that finish with a turnover margin of +15 or better, on average, follow that up with a turnover margin of +4.3 and win an average of 2.6 fewer games. It’s not hard to see how they could have a worse turnover margin in 2018. Not only do they face a significantly tougher schedule, but they’re also unlikely to do as well recovering fumbles as they did last season, when they led the league with a 65.85% fumble recovery rate.

Fortunately for the Ravens, they open the season with arguably their easiest game. The Bills made the post-season in 2017, but they were easily the worst playoff qualifier, finishing with a -57 point differential that was not only the worst among playoff teams, but also worse than 9 other non-playoff teams. Five of their 7 losses came by more than 10 points, as opposed to just 1 win by more than 10 points. That’s despite the fact that they finished with a +9 turnover margin. Only the Colts had a worse first down rate differential.

Not only that, but the Bills have gotten worse this off-season. They lost three starters on the offensive line and they traded capable starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor to the Browns for a 3rd round pick and opted to start over at the quarterback position. They traded up to take Wyoming’s Josh Allen with the 7th overall pick, but he’s a raw rookie who struggled in his one pre-season start, so the Bills will begin the season with 2nd year quarterback Nathan Peterman under center.

Peterman probably won’t throw 5 interceptions every game like he did in his first career start in 2017, but the 5th round pick was not in high demand on draft day and has shown nothing to prove the league wrong for passing on him. Good quarterbacks rarely fall that far in the draft because they’re in so high demand. This line is pretty high at -7.5, but the Ravens won 7 of their 9 games by double digits in 2017 and the Bills are going to get blown out a lot this year, especially early in the season. Baltimore is missing top cornerback Jimmy Smith, so I wouldn’t recommend betting them unless this line falls to 7, but this should be a pretty easy win.

Baltimore Ravens 20 Buffalo Bills 9

Pick against the spread: Baltimore -7.5

Confidence: Low

Tennessee Titans at Miami Dolphins: 2018 Week 1 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (0-0) at Miami Dolphins (0-0)

The Titans made the post-season last season, but they were a major disappointment. On paper, they looked like one of the better teams in the AFC, but snuck into the post-season with just 9 wins, despite a 6-4 record in games decided by a touchdown or less and arguably the easiest schedule in the NFL. They managed to pull the upset in Kansas City in their first playoff game, but made the wise decision to let go of head coach Mike Mularkey regardless of the playoff win. Mularkey’s offensive scheme seemed to hold the Titans’ offensive players back, while new head coach Mike Vrabel brings an innovative young offensive mind with him in ex-Falcons and Rams quarterback coach Matt LaFleur, who will be their offensive coordinator. With a new coaching staff, this team could easily make the leap forward that many were expecting from them last season.

The Dolphins, on the other hand, look like one of the worst teams in the league. They get quarterback Ryan Tannehill back from injury, but lost their best offensive player (Jarvis Landry) and their best defensive player (Ndamukong Suh) this off-season and were not a good team to begin with. They went 6-10 last season and were even worse than that suggests, as their 6 wins came by a combined 47 points, while their 10 losses came by a combined 159 points, giving them a point differential of -112, 29th in the NFL. The Titans enter this game pretty banged up with right tackle Jack Conklin, outside linebacker Harold Landry, and middle linebacker Rashaan Evans out, which is the only reason this isn’t my Pick of the Week, but the Titans should still be favored by at least a field goal in this one and I like their chances of winning fairly easily.

Tennessee Titans 24 Miami Dolphins 17

Pick against the spread: Tennessee -1

Confidence: High

New York Jets at Detroit Lions: 2018 Week 1 NFL Pick

New York Jets (0-0) at Detroit Lions (0-0)

The Lions have gone 9-7 in back-to-back seasons, but they have struggled against playoff opponents, going just 1-11 against teams that went on to make the postseason. The flip side of that is that they’ve been close to automatic against non-playoff teams, going 17-4. The Jets are likely to be a non-playoff team, even in the weaker AFC. They have a little hype around them because rookie quarterback Sam Darnold looked good in the pre-season, but he should have some growing pains as a rookie. Besides, Josh McCown did not play badly when healthy last season, so Darnold is no guarantee to even be an upgrade over him and they still have major issues around the quarterback, so I wouldn’t expect this team to make a big leap in wins.

The Lions are favored by 6.5 points here, which I think is too short of a line. Not only have the Lions beaten up on opponents like this in recent years, they also play in the much tougher NFC and are more than 3.5 points better than the Jets on paper, which is what this line suggests. I think the Lions have a good chance to win by at least a touchdown in this one, so, as long as this line is less than 7, the Lions are worth a bet this week.

Detroit Lions 27 New York Jets 17

Pick against the spread: Detroit -6.5

Confidence: Medium

Dallas Cowboys at Carolina Panthers: 2018 Week 1 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (0-0) at Carolina Panthers (0-0)

The Cowboys come into the season as shorthanded as any team in the league. The big loss is center Travis Frederick, who remains out indefinitely with a rare illness, but the Cowboys are also without safety Xavier Woods due to injury and will be without defensive tackle David Irving for the first 4 weeks of the season due to suspension. Fortunately, they are playing another shorthanded team this week, as the Panthers will be without left tackle Matt Kalil and cornerback Ross Cockrell due to injury and linebacker Thomas Davis due to suspension, while right tackle Daryl Williams is highly questionable after suffering a major knee injury in training camp and only returning to limited practices this week.

In addition to their injury situation, the Panthers also figure to not be as good as they were last season went they won 11 games. Many of their wins last season were close, as they went 8-1 in games decided by 8 points or fewer, and they also lost arguably their best offensive lineman, left guard Andrew Norwell, to the Jaguars in free agency. Even with everyone the Cowboys are missing, I still have them a few spots higher in my rankings than the Panthers, while this line suggests these two teams are more or less even.

The Cowboys are also about as good as anyone in the league away from home because they have such a national fanbase. While they are just 32-34 at home with an average point differential of +1.11 since 2010, they are 36-29 on the road with an average point differential of 0.39 on the road, suggesting homefield advantage hasn’t even been worth a point for them in recent years. As a result, they are 36-26 ATS on the road over that time period, including 5-2-1 ATS last season. I like their chances of covering this week.

Dallas Cowboys 24 Carolina Panthers 23 Upset Pick +130

Pick against the spread: Dallas +3

Confidence: Medium

Houston Texans at New England Patriots: 2018 Week 1 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (0-0) at New England Patriots (0-0)

The Texans are a little bit overrated coming into the season. They have a huge upside and will obviously be better than last season, with the return of key players like Deshaun Watson, JJ Watt, and Whitney Mercilus from injury, but I don’t expect Watson to be as productive as he was when healthy as a rookie for a few reasons. For one, he had an unsustainably low drop rate from his receivers, who dropped just 0.98% of Watson’s passes, but 6.23% of passes from Houston’s other quarterbacks. I would expect that number to be closer to the league average of 5.28% in 2018, so even if he does play as well as he did last season, his numbers could take a hit simply because his receivers drop more passes.

He also might not play as well either. Not only is he coming off the injury, but now the league has had an off-season to study his tape and opponents likely won’t be caught off guard as much by his playing style. On top of that, we’ve only seen him for about 6.5 games. We’ve seen good quarterbacks look like elite quarterbacks for a 6 game stretch before and then look like a below average quarterback during another 6 game stretch (think Cam Newton).

Watson could prove me wrong and could continue developing into one of the top few quarterbacks in the league, but I don’t think we’ve seen enough of him to confidently say he’s going to be one of the top 3-4 quarterbacks in the league this year, which is where the MVP odds have him. Outside of DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller (the latter of whom could be out this week), Watson does not have much talent around him on offense, especially on the offensive line, and, while their defense should be better with Watt and Mercilus back, there’s no guarantee both return to their top form and they have other weaknesses on defense, especially in the secondary.

I have the Patriots 5 wins better than the Texans in my season previews. This line is only at 6, so we are getting some line value with New England, but I am not too eager to bet the Patriots early in the season. I think they will hit their stride by mid-season like they always do, but they don’t have Julian Edelman for 4 games and they have a lot of new faces, so it could take them a few weeks to get into the swing of things. They are my pick here, but this is a low confidence pick.

New England Patriots 31 Houston Texans 20

Pick against the spread: New England -6

Confidence: Low

Cincinnati Bengals at Indianapolis Colts: 2018 Week 1 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (0-0) at Indianapolis Colts (0-0)

When I first looked at the week 1 lines back in late July, Cincinnati +3 at Indianapolis caught my eye immediately and I locked a small bet in at that number. The line has since shifted to +2, so I don’t like the Bengals as much, but I would still recommend betting them this week. I have these two teams 3 wins apart in my predictions, while this line suggests that the Bengals are only about a point better. The Colts get Andrew Luck back from injury, but have arguably the worst supporting cast in the NFL around him and Luck could easily be rusty early in the season.

The Bengals, on the other hand, have an improved offensive line and should get more out of their skill position talent, while their defense remains an above average unit. They are without linebacker Vontaze Burfict due to suspension to begin the season, but the Colts could also be without left tackle Anthony Castonzo with a hamstring injury, which would be a huge blow to an already shaky offensive line. The Bengals should be favored in this one and have a good chance to pull the “upset.”

Cincinnati Bengals 20 Indianapolis Colts 17 Upset Pick +115

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +2

Confidence: Medium