Instead of doing full write ups for each week 1 game, I’m going to have all of my week 1 picks here. If I were to do full write ups, a lot of the material would be redundant to my season previews, so I’ll keep it brief and link to my previews. From week 2 on, I will have full write ups as usual.
For now, these are just my early thoughts, with a few picks locked in. I will have final updates, full score predictions, confidence rankings, and a Pick of the Week in the days leading up to the first Sunday of the season.
The Bears are favored by more than a field goal because they were the better team last season, but I could see that being flipped in 2019. The Bears had an easy schedule and no injuries last season and lost a pair of defensive starters this off-season. The Packers, meanwhile, should have a more productive passing game with a new offensive system in place and young receivers getting more experience. With a defense that was improved through free agency and what looks like a very promising running game, the Packers could be the most well rounded team in the league this season unless Aaron Rodgers continues to struggle by his standards. Even if the Bears are a tough opponent, I love getting more than a field goal with Green Bay here.
Final Update: This is one I’m glad I locked in early, as this line has shifted to 3 in most places. I still like the Packers at +3, but getting the extra half point is key here. As mentioned in my previews, I have the Packers slightly ahead of the Bears this year. The Packers should have as good of a running game and defense as they’ve had in a while and, if Rodgers can bounce back from a down season, they should be Super Bowl contenders. The Bears, meanwhile, lost a pair of key starters on defense this off-season and benefited from an easy schedule in 2018. I’m going to keep this at high confidence because there are other games I like later in the week for my Pick of the Week. I will finalize the rest of my picks on Saturday.
Green Bay Packers 24 Chicago Bears 23 Upset Pick +160
Pick against the spread: Green Bay +3.5
The Falcons went just 7-9 last season, but their defense was much better in the second half of the season when Deion Jones returned from injury and now they get safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen back as well. On offense, they get running back Devonta Freeman back and should be better on the offensive line. They could easily get back to the post-season and I have them a few spots better in my rankings than the Vikings, who still have offensive line problems and might not be as good on defense with Sheldon Richardson gone and several other key players getting up there in age. The Falcons have a good chance of winning this one outright even on the road, so getting 4 points with them is great value.
Week 1 Update: Not much has changed here. I still like Atlanta and I am considering this as Pick of the Week.
Final Update: The only notable injury in this game is Minnesota wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who could be limited with a hamstring injury. That just solidifies my pick of Atlanta, who will be my Pick of the Week.
Atlanta Falcons 27 Minnesota Vikings 24 Upset Pick +170
Pick against the spread: Atlanta +4
Confidence: Pick of the Week
This line is one of the highest of the week, but I don’t think it’s high enough, as this is a matchup between one of the worst and one of the best teams in the league. The Redskins will either be starting a rookie quarterback with just one year of college experience or veteran journeyman Case Keenum, with arguably the worst receiving corps in the league to throw to. Even with all of their quarterback moves this off-season, they will still really miss having a healthy Alex Smith. They weren’t bad defensively last season, but they weren’t good either, despite having next to no injuries, and they have big question marks at middle linebacker and safety after some off-season departures. The Eagles, meanwhile, should be much healthier this season, including Carson Wentz, who dealt with knee and back problems even when on the field last season. This line would be at least two touchdowns if these two teams were to meet in week 6, but I don’t think the public realizes how bad Washington is yet.
Week 1 Update: Despite Trent Williams not reporting to the Redskins, this line has stayed under 10. I’m going to lock this in now.
Final Update: I’m glad I locked this in at 9.5 because this line has gone up to 10 or 10.5 in some places. The Eagles should win this with ease, especially with the Redskins missing starting cornerback Fabian Moreau with injury.
Philadelphia Eagles 30 Washington Redskins 13
Pick against the spread: Philadelphia -9.5
I have these two teams about even in my roster rankings, so this line seems about right. The Bills are a little bit better, especially with the Jets missing tight end Chris Herndon to suspension, but I don’t think I’d bet on this one.
Week 1 Update: The Bills are the slightly better of these two teams, but not enough to bet them confidently.
Final Update: This line has shifted down to 2.5, so I’m actually going switch this pick to the Jets. The Bills are the slightly better team and could easily pull the upset, but the most likely outcome is the Jets winning by a field goal. This is a no confidence pick either way.
New York Jets 20 Buffalo Bills 17
Pick against the spread: NY Jets -2.5
Miami is probably going to be the worst team in the league this year, but Baltimore is also likely to be much worse than last season. Their offensive efficiency actually dropped when they went from Joe Flacco to Lamar Jackson down the stretch last season and their 6-1 record in Jackson’s starts was largely the result of an easy schedule and a dominant defense. That defense lost several starters in free agency this off-season, most of whom were not replaced, which really hurts a team that wants to be run heavy and hide Jackson’s accuracy problems. Jackson will likely have to pass much more than he did last season, in part to avoid the injury risk of carrying the ball 15-20 times, and he has a very unproven receiving corps to throw to. I probably wouldn’t bet on Miami, but this line is a little too high and Baltimore should be a good team to pick against for at least the first month of the season.
Week 1 Update: I don’t like betting on the Dolphins, but this line has gotten out of control. The Dolphins got even worse when they traded Laremy Tunsil to the Texans, but people don’t realize how much worse the Ravens’ defense has gotten this off-season, especially with cornerback Tavon Young now out for the season. This is only going to be a small bet, but I want to lock this in while we’re getting the full touchdown. The Dolphins won’t win many games this year, but I have this as their second most likely win of the season.
Final Update: I’m keeping this as a medium confidence pick.
Baltimore Ravens 20 Miami Dolphins 16
Pick against the spread: Miami +7
For now, I am assuming Tyreek Hill will not be playing in this game, as he seems likely to be suspended for at least some period of time. Without Hill and already without Kareem Hunt, suddenly Pat Mahomes’ weapons are not nearly as impressive. Mahomes should still be one of the top quarterbacks in the league this season, but this could be one of his worst games of the season, on the road, against a tough defense, without his top receiver. Jacksonville still has problems on offense, but they upgrade at quarterback with Nick Foles and they have a healthy Leonard Fournette and a healthier offensive line. Against a Chiefs defense that looks likely to be one of the worst in the league again in 2019, I like getting more than a field goal with the Jaguars at home.
Update: Tyreek Hill will not be suspended. I will update this pick near the start of the season once there is a new line.
Week 1 Update: This line has stayed at about 4. I still think we are getting value with the Jaguars, as I have the Chiefs calculated as 1.5-point favorites in this game, but I’m hesitant to lock this in right now until I see how much the Jaguars are able to practice this week with a hurricane about to hit.
Final Update: The hurricane did not affect the Jaguars’ practices much this week, but they will be without left tackle Cam Robinson after he re-aggravated his surgically repaired ACL in practice this week. Despite that, this line has shifted down to 3.5. I’m still taking the Jaguars, but this is a low confidence pick.
Kansas City Chiefs 26 Jacksonville Jaguars 24
Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +3.5
This line is about right. I think I’d lean towards Tennessee because Marcus Mariota is healthy for now and the Browns could take a few weeks to find their stride, with all of their new off-season additions, but the Browns have a clear talent edge and could easily win by a touchdown or more at home.
Week 1 Update: The Titans will be without left tackle Taylor Lewan in this one due to suspension, which definitely hurts their chances of covering this spread. I may decide to bet this one later in the week.
Final Update: This line is about right. I think we’re getting a little bit of line value with the Browns, but not enough to take them with any confidence.
Cleveland Browns 23 Tennessee Titans 17
Pick against the spread: Cleveland -5.5
The Panthers were 6-2 last season before Cam Newton got hurt and even when Newton was playing hurt many of their losses were close. The Panthers finished last season 12th in first down rate differential, 2nd best among non-playoff teams behind the Steelers, and Cam Newton should be healthy for week 1 after off-season surgery. They might not make the playoffs in the loaded NFC, but I like their chances of pulling the upset here at home week 1, as field goal underdogs. The Rams should still be good this season, but they lost a pair of offensive linemen in free agency and they still have question marks on defense around Aaron Donald.
Week 1 Update: This remains a Pick of the Week candidate.
Final Update: This is another one I’m glad I locked in because sharp action has dropped this down to 2 or 1.5 in some places. The Panthers should be favored in this game as there isn’t much of a talent gap between these two teams.
Carolina Panthers 30 Los Angeles Rams 27 Upset Pick +135
Pick against the spread: Carolina +3
The consensus seems to be that the Bengals will struggle this season, but I wouldn’t be so sure. Remember they were one of the better teams in the league last season before injuries struck, especially on offense when Andy Dalton, Tyler Eifert, and AJ Green were all healthy. They’re not necessarily a playoff team, but neither are the Seahawks and I have these two teams about even in my rankings, so we’re getting great value with the Bengals at +8. The Seahawks made the playoffs last season on the strength of a +15 turnover margin, but turnover margins are inconsistent on a year-to-year basis and the Seahawks continued shedding talent this off-season, with Frank Clark and Doug Baldwin no longer on the team. They have one of the weakest rosters in the league around quarterback Russell Wilson.
Week 1 Update: So much for the Bengals being healthy on offense. Not only is AJ Green out for the first few weeks of the season, but the Bengals lost first round pick Jonah Williams for the season, had left guard Clint Boling retire due to injury, and will likely be without left tackle Cordy Glenn due to a concussion. I’m not happy about having locked this one in, but I am glad I was able to lock in Green Bay before they went down to field goal underdogs.
Final Update: Even with all of the Bengals’ injuries, we’re getting a little bit of line value with the visitors here. Obviously I’m not happy about locking this in before the Bengals’ injuries, but Cincinnati should still be the pick for pick ‘em purposes. The Seahawks have Jadeveon Clowney, but they’ll be without first round rookie LJ Collier with injury, while Ezekiel Ansah is questionable with a groin injury.
Seattle Seahawks 23 Cincinnati Bengals 17
Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +8
These should be two of the best teams in the AFC in 2019 and no one should be surprised if this ends up being an AFC Championship preview, but the Colts are the better of the two teams, even if only slightly, and the Chargers have never gotten much help from their home crowd in Los Angeles, so they shouldn’t be getting the full field goal here. I probably wouldn’t bet on the Colts, but they look like the right side.
Week 1 Update: This game has probably had the most changes since I originally did these picks. The big difference is the Colts are without quarterback Andrew Luck after his surprising retirement, but the Chargers have lost key players as well, with Derwin James, Russell Okung, and holdout running back Melvin Gordon all out indefinitely. The Chargers have good running back depth, so Gordon isn’t a huge loss, but Okung was their only functional starting offensive lineman and James is one of the best defensive backs in the league. Those three losses should almost equal the loss of Luck, especially since the Colts have a good backup in Jacoby Brissett, but despite that this line has shifted all the way to a touchdown. I have these teams about even in my roster rankings and the Chargers don’t get full homefield advantage in Los Angeles, so we’re getting a lot of value with the Colts at +7. I’m locking this in and considering it for Pick of the Week.
Final Update: I still like the Colts a lot this week, but they’ll be without defensive end Jabaal Sheard with injury, so I’m not going to make this my Pick of the Week.
Los Angeles Chargers 23 Indianapolis Colts 20
Pick against the spread: Indianapolis +7
This line is about right as this game is close to a toss up, but I have the 49ers projected to win just slightly, so they would be my pick for pick ‘em purposes.
Week 1 Update: I still don’t have a strong lean on this one.
Final Update: Tampa Bay missing safety Jordan Evans, arguably their best defensive back, tips the scales in San Francisco’s favor in this one, but this is a no confidence pick.
San Francisco 49ers 31 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 30
Pick against the spread: San Francisco PK
This line seems about right, but I like the Lions for two reasons. For one, this will be the first NFL start for Kyler Murray, who was only a starter for about a year in college. Two, the Lions have dominated against non-playoff teams in recent years and that’s what I expect the Cardinals to ultimately end up being. In the past three seasons, the Lions are 22-9 against non-playoff teams and just 2-16 against playoff qualifiers. I like their chances of covering in a game in which they basically just need to win to cover.
Week 1 Update: Nothing significant has changed here. I may end up placing a bet on the Lions.
Final Update: The Cardinals will be without right tackle Marcus Gilbert with injury, a big loss as the Cardinals were counting on their off-season acquisition to give them much needed offensive line help. Instead, they’ll turn to undrafted rookie Brett Toth, who was released by the Eagles at final cuts last week. Kyler Murray is going to be thrown to the wolves in his debut against a very underrated defensive line. Despite Gilbert’s absence, this line has stayed at 2.5. Lock this in while you can.
Detroit Lions 24 Arizona Cardinals 19
Pick against the spread: Detroit -2.5
The Cowboys haven’t been great at home as big favorites in recent years, but I don’t think this line is high enough, as the Cowboys are one of the better teams in the league, with the Giants are one of the worst. One thing to monitor with this game is that Dallas defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence is still considered questionable for week 1 after off-season shoulder surgery. Missing him would be a big blow to the Cowboys’ chances of winning by more than a touchdown.
Week 1 Update: This line is off the board pending Ezekiel Elliott’s contract situation.
Final Update: Ezekiel Elliott will play after getting his extension. The full strength Cowboys should be favored by more than 7.5 points against a Giants team that is missing Golden Tate with suspension. I’m going to make a small bet on the Cowboys.
Dallas Cowboys 27 New York Giants 16
Pick against the spread: Dallas -7.5
I’ve gone back and forth on this one and probably will continue to do so over the next few weeks. On one hand, the Patriots have the talent advantage and have always played Pittsburgh very well. On the other hand, the Steelers beat the Patriots last year and this is probably a bigger game for them, as they’ll want a statement win to show they are still a threat, while the Patriots usually spend the first month of the season figuring things out.
Week 1 Update: I still don’t have a strong lean on this one.
Final Update: We’re getting a line bit of line value with the Patriots, but I’m not crazy about picking them early in the season.
New England Patriots 27 Pittsburgh Steelers 20
Pick against the spread: New England -6
I have the Saints as the most talented team in the league, but they’ll likely be without Sheldon Rankins, who is still rehabbing from a torn Achilles he suffered in the playoffs last season, and fellow starting defensive tackle David Onyemata will also miss this game, due to a suspension. On top of that, they’ve traditionally started slow, going 2-12 ATS in the first 2 weeks of the season over the past 7 seasons. Remember last year when they lost at home to the Buccaneers? The Texans are a tougher opponent than Tampa Bay and could steal a win here. At the same time, I don’t know if we’re getting enough line value at +7 to take the Texans with any confidence.
Week 1 Update: I still don’t have a strong lean on this one.
Final update: I think the Texans made themselves worse by getting rid of Jadeveon Clowney and adding Laremy Tunsil and Kenny Stills (Clowney played at a borderline All-Pro level in 2018, something Tunsil has yet to do), but the Saints usually take a couple weeks to hit their stride (3-14-1 ATS in weeks 1 and 2 since 2010), so this is a no confidence play.
New Orleans Saints 28 Houston Texans 20
Pick against the spread: New Orleans -7
This line seems about right. I have the Raiders projected to win, but only by a slim margin. That slim margin is more likely to be a field goal than a single point though, so Oakland is probably the right side for pick ‘em purposes.
Week 1 Update: I still don’t have a strong lean on this one. One of these teams is likely to win by a field goal, but I’m not sure which one. The line movement from Oakland -2 to Oakland +1.5 is largely insignificant.
Final Update: Antonio Brown’s release has moved this line to Denver -2.5. I have this line calculated at Denver -1, which is a pretty insignificant difference. Even though we’re getting a little bit of line value with the Raiders, the most likely outcome might by Denver winning by a field goal, so I’m taking the Broncos for pick ’em purposes. In addition to losing Brown, the Raiders will also be without starting left guard Richie Incognito with suspension and starting right guard Gabe Jackson with injury.
Denver Broncos 23 Oakland Raiders 20
Pick against the spread: Denver -2.5