2020 Week 1 NFL Picks

Pick of the Week

DET -2 vs. CHI

High Confidence Picks

SF -6.5 vs. ARZ

Medium Confidence Picks

IND -8 @ JAX

GB +2.5 @ MIN

ATL +2.5 vs. SEA

DAL -2.5 @ LAR

Low Confidence Picks

BUF -6.5 vs. NYJ

NE -6.5 vs. MIA

TEN -3 @ DEN

CLE +7.5 @ BAL

NO -3.5 vs. TB

No Confidence Picks

NYG +6 vs. PIT

LAC -3 @ CIN

PHI -5.5 @ WAS

LV -3 @ CAR

HOU +9.5 @ KC

Upset Picks

GB +120 @ MIN

ATL +120 vs. SEA

Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens: 2020 Week 1 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (0-0) at Baltimore Ravens (0-0)

The Ravens finished last season as far and away the top team in the league in first down rate differential at +8.87%, a significant edge over the 2nd ranked 49ers at 5.29%. They were even better after making some defensive additions, including cornerback Marcus Peters, with a 13.32% first down rate differential from week 7 (their first week with Peters) to week 16 (their last meaningful regular season game). 

That all fell apart in their first playoff game, when they lost 28-12 at home to the Titans, but that game was a lot closer than the final score suggested, with the game swinging on a -3 turnover margin and an 0 for 4 on 4th downs by the Ravens, two things that were both very uncharacteristic for the Ravens and that are highly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. The Ravens only lost the first down rate differential by 3.24% in that game and they were facing a Titans team that was playing at a high level at the time, so I don’t really hold that against them much.

The oddsmakers don’t seem to hold that against them much either, as the Ravens enter the season with the 2nd best odds to win the Super Bowl at +650 according to SBD, right behind the defending champion Chiefs who are at +600. I would like the Ravens’ chances better if they didn’t have to cut Earl Thomas for disciplinary reasons, but on paper the Ravens are clearly one of the top few teams in the league and I have them representing the AFC in the Super Bowl in my season preview

That being said, I do think the Ravens are a little overvalued in this one as 7.5-point home favorites over the Browns, without any fans in the stadium. I have the Browns as a top-15 team going into the season and about 5 points behind the Ravens in my rankings, as they should benefit from improved offensive line play and coaching. I have this line calculated at around 6, so we’re getting some line value with the Browns, though I wouldn’t be eager to bet on them in this one because of how the Ravens ended last year’s regular season.

Baltimore Ravens 30 Cleveland Browns 24

Pick against the spread: Cleveland +7.5

Confidence: Low

Las Vegas Raiders at Carolina Panthers: 2020 Week 1 NFL Pick

Las Vegas Raiders (0-0) at Carolina Panthers (0-0)

The Raiders should be better this season than last season, especially since their offensive line figures to be significantly healthier, but that won’t necessarily translate to more wins, as the Raiders were not as good as their 7-9 record suggested last season. All 7 of their wins were close games, decided by 8 points or fewer, including a few that easily could have gone the other way, while 6 of their 9 losses came by 18 points or more, giving them a -106 point differential on the season, which is much more in line with a 4-5 win team than a 7-win team. That is also the case with first down rate differential, in which they ranked 29th at -5.27%.. 

The Raiders start their 2020 season with a relatively easy one. They have to travel across the country, but the Panthers will have an empty stadium due to pandemic restrictions and the Panthers enter the season as one of the worst teams in the league. We’re not getting real line value either way with the Raiders favored by a field goal, which is my exact calculated line. I would take the Raiders if I had to, but the most likely result might be a push.

Las Vegas Raiders 34 Carolina Panthers 31

Pick against the spread: Las Vegas -3

Confidence: None

Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Mascots: 2020 Week 1 NFL Pick

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

The Eagles enter the season as arguably the most banged up team in the league. They’ve already lost a pair of expected starting offensive linemen in Andre Dillard and Brandon Brooks to season ending injuries and, while Dillard was replaced by Jason Peters, who could be an upgrade, Brooks is a massive loss and they have absences at other positions as well, including expected starting wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, a big free agent acquisition, starting defensive end Derek Barnett, and starting running back Miles Sanders. 

Fortunately, to begin their season, the Eagles get an easy trip to Washington to play the team that used to have a mascot. In addition to not having a team name, Washington enters the season as one of the worst teams in the league and has injury issues of their own, with top cornerback Kendall Fuller and top linebacker Thomas Davis both out this week. We’re not getting enough line value with the Eagles as 5.5-point road favorites to bet them in their current condition, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.

Philadelphia Eagles 26 Washington Mascots 20

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia -5.5

Confidence: None

Los Angeles Chargers at Cincinnati Bengals: 2020 Week 1 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Chargers (0-0) at Cincinnati Bengals (0-0)

The Chargers won just five games a year ago, but they actually finished the season 7th in first down rate differential at +3.84%. How is that possible? Well, the Chargers went just 2-9 in games decided by 8 points or fewer and they also had a league worst -17 turnover margin. Turnover margins and a team’s record in close games tend to be highly inconsistent on a year-to-year basis. Case in point, the Chargers went 6-1 in games decided by 8 points or fewer in 2018 and had a +1 turnover margin, with a very similar roster. The Chargers’ impressive first down rate differential from last year should be much more predictive than their turnover margin or record in close games.

The Chargers first down rate differential is even more impressive when you consider that they frequently played in front of visiting crowds at home, if they played in front of any crowd at all, and that they had terrible injury luck. They had the 3rd most adjusted games lost to injury in the league and those injuries disproportionately affected their top level players, so you could argue they were the most injury affected team in the league last season. 

Safety Derwin James (11 games), center Mike Pouncey (11 games), left tackle Russell Okung (10 games), safety Adrian Phillips (9 games), edge defender Melvin Ingram (3 games), and tight end Hunter Henry (4 games) all missed significant time with injury and all were big absences. This year, the Chargers won’t have to play in front of fans at home at all (or possibly even on the road) and they should have better injury luck as well, as adjusted games lost to injury tends to be a highly inconsistent statistic year-to-year as well. Even though the Chargers are downgrading from Philip Rivers to Tyrod Taylor under center, I still liked the Chargers’ chances of being a playoff contender this off-season.

It’s not off to a good start for the Chargers injury wise though, as Derwin James is out for the season, Mike Pouncey will miss this week, and new offensive linemen Trai Turner and Bryan Bulaga could join him on the sideline as well, which would leave the Chargers very thin upfront. Wide receiver Mike Williams could be out as well, after topping 1000 yards receiving in 2019. The Bengals won’t have stud interior defender Geno Atkins, but it’ll be hard to pick the Chargers as three point road favorites here if they’re missing multiple offensive line starters and their #2 receiver. I’m taking the Chargers for now, but I’ll need to check injury reports before deciding on this one.

Los Angeles Chargers 24 Cincinnati Bengals 20

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers -3

Confidence: None

Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Giants: 2020 Week 1 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (0-0) at New York Giants (0-0)

I have these two teams about 7 points apart in my roster rankings, so this line is accurate, favoring the Steelers by 6 points on the road in New York against a Giants team that won’t have any fans. However, this is the kind of game the Steelers have not fared well in under Mike Tomlin. Since Tomlin took over as the head coach in 2007, the Steelers are just 4-15 ATS as non-divisional road favorites of 4.5 points or more.

I’m not sure that’s totally relevant this week though, for a couple reasons. The obvious one is the lack of fans, but also, because this is week 1, the Steelers are probably less likely to sleepwalk through a game against an underwhelming non-divisional opponent  (none of the previous instances that the Steelers have been significant non-divisional road favorites came in week 1). I’m still taking the Giants for pick ‘em purposes, but there isn’t nearly enough here for me to take them with any sort of confidence.

Pittsburgh Steelers 21 New York Giants 16

Pick against the spread: NY Giants +6

Confidence: None

Tennessee Titans at Denver Broncos: 2020 Week 1 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (0-0) at Denver Broncos (0-0)

The Titans got a big boost on the eve of the season, signing edge defender Jadeveon Clowney to a one-year deal to give them a much needed boost on the edge. The Broncos, on the other end, were dealt a crippling blow on the eve of the season, losing edge defender Von Miller, likely for the season, with an ankle injury. The Broncos also will be without linebacker Mark Barron and possibly #1 wide receiver Courtland Sutton, while Bradley Chubb, now their top edge defender, is expected to be limited in his first game back from a torn ACL that ended his 2019 season. 

Because of all of this, this line has shifted up to a full field goal in favor of the visiting Titans. What seems to be ignored is the injuries the Titans have, with top cornerback Adoree Jackson and starting edge defender Vic Beasley both out. The Titans also might not get a full game from Jadeveon Clowney, who is very new to the team. I still have this line calculated at Tennessee -4, so we’re getting some value with the Titans, but there isn’t enough here to bet the Titans as long as this line is at 3. If Sutton is ruled out, it’s possible I’ll reconsider.

Tennessee Titans 20 Denver Broncos 16

Pick against the spread: Tennessee -3

Confidence: Low

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints: 2020 Week 1 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-0) at New Orleans Saints (0-0)

This is the most anticipated game of the week, with Tom Brady making his debut with the Buccaneers after two legendary decades in New England, squaring off against fellow future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints, who are the reigning division champions. Adding Tom Brady to what was previously a talented roster kept down by inconsistent quarterback play makes the Buccaneers legitimate Super Bowl contenders, but I still have a pretty big gap between them and the Saints in my roster rankings, as the Saints enter the season with the most talented roster in the league on paper. 

The Saints historically start pretty slow, going 3-16-1 ATS in the first two weeks of the season since 2010, so I don’t want to bet them as favorites of more than a field goal in a stadium without a crowd, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the Buccaneers start somewhat slow too before gelling later in the season, given all of their off-season changes. I have this line calculated at New Orleans -5.5, so the Saints are the choice for pick ‘em purposes, but there’s not enough here to bet the Saints.

New Orleans Saints 31 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 26

Pick against the spread: New Orleans -3.5

Confidence: Low

Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams: 2020 Week 1 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (0-0) at Los Angeles Rams (0-0)

The Cowboys finished last season just 8-8, but that was primarily due to terrible luck in close games, going 0-5 in games decided by a touchdown or less. They finished 6th in point differential at +113 and 4th in first down rate differential at +4.28%, which both predict future success in 2020. The Cowboys lose free agent cornerback Byron Jones and their free agent additions HaHa Clinton-Dix and Gerald McCoy got cut and suffered a season ending injury respectively, but they did add a big upgrade on the edge in Everson Griffen. Right tackle La’El Collins and cornerback Jourdan Lewis are out with injury, but the Cowboys still rank 10th in my roster rankings even without them.

The Rams, meanwhile, lost significant players this off-season like Todd Gurley, Brandin Cooks, Dante Fowler, Clay Matthews, Cory Littleton, and Nickell Roby-Coleman and didn’t bring in players who can adequately replace them immediately. They should take a significant step back from last season’s 11th rank in first down rate differential. I have them 22nd in my roster rankings, 5.5 points behind the Cowboys, suggesting the Cowboys should be favored by about 4.5 points, in front of an empty stadium in Los Angeles. We’re getting good value with the Cowboys at -2.5, so they’re worth a bet, in a game in which they basically just need to win to cover.

Dallas Cowboys 24 Los Angeles Rams 19

Pick against the spread: Dallas -2.5

Confidence: Medium

New York Jets at Buffalo Bills: 2020 Week 1 NFL Pick

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

I am not as high on the Bills as most, as their success last season came almost entirely against easier opponents and now they have a much tougher schedule, but I’m surprised they are only 6.5 point home favorites over the Jets. The Bills’ schedule will get tougher this season, but it doesn’t start that way as the Jets enter the season with a bottom-5 roster. The Jets finished last season 26th in first down rate differential and, while that was partially due to their significant amount of games lost to injury, most of the players who missed time are either irrelevant or no longer with the team, including opted out linebacker CJ Mosley. 

The Jets also are already pretty banged up to start the season, missing starting wide receiver Denzel Sims and possibly safety Marcus Maye. The Jets are also without their other incumbent starting safety Jamal Adams, their top defensive player a year ago, who was traded to the Seahawks. The Jets have a healthy Sam Darnold under center, but their -1.42% first down rate differential in his 13 starts last season would have been just 20th in the NFL over the full season, despite the fact that the Jets faced a very easy schedule. 

Darnold will need to make a huge leap forward to carry the rest of this roster into playoff contention against a tougher schedule in 2020, without defensive leader Jamal Adams. They should be underdogs of more than 6.5 in Buffalo, even with pandemic restrictions limiting fans. I have this line calculated at Buffalo -8 and while I’m not going to bet on this one yet, if Maye is ruled out and this line remains the same, I would recommend betting the Bills.

Buffalo Bills 23 New York Jets 13

Pick against the spread: Buffalo -6.5

Confidence: Low