2021 Week 1 NFL Picks

Pick of the Week

NE -3 vs. MIA

High Confidence Picks

BUF -6.5 vs. PIT

WAS -1 vs. LAC

Medium Confidence Picks

ARZ +3 @ TEN

SF -8.5 @ DET

NYG +3 vs. DEN

Low Confidence Picks

LV +4 vs. BAL

HOU +3 vs. JAX

IND +3 vs. SEA

TB -8 vs. DAL

No Confidence Picks

ATL -3.5 vs. PHI

NO +3.5 vs. GB

CAR -4 vs. NYJ

MIN -3 @ CIN

CLE +5.5 @ KC

LAR -7.5 vs. CHI

Upset Picks

ARZ +135 vs. TEN

NYG +145 vs. DEN

Baltimore Ravens at Las Vegas Raiders: 2021 Week 1 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (0-0) at Las Vegas Raiders (0-0)

The season hasn’t begun yet, but the Ravens have already lost significant talent to injury, most shockingly their top-3 running backs JK Dobbins, Gus Edwards, and Justice Hill, who are all out for the season. On top of that, cornerback Marcus Peters is out for the year, while tight end Nick Boyle and Rashod Bateman are beginning the season on injured reserve and will miss at least the first three weeks of the season. Veteran defenders Jimmy Smith and Derek Wolfe are also unlikely to play through nagging injuries. This line has somewhat adjusted, but the Ravens are still favored by 4 points on the road in Las Vegas. 

I don’t like the Raiders that much and have them finishing sub-.500, but I still have this line calculated at Baltimore -3, so we’re getting some line value with the Raiders, who also have a big advantage in their first home game with fans in Las Vegas, on Monday Night Football against a banged up Ravens team that has to travel cross country for a night game. Pacific time zone teams cover at about a 2/3rds clip against Eastern time zone teams night games and the Raiders will have the added benefit of a rapid crowd behind them. I wish I liked the Raiders more and haven’t decided if I want to bet on them yet, but I might decide to do so before gametime. Even getting +4.5 might be enough for this to be worth betting.

Baltimore Ravens 24 Las Vegas Raiders 22

Pick against the spread: Las Vegas +4

Confidence: Low

New York Jets at Carolina Panthers: 2021 Week 1 NFL Pick

New York Jets (0-0) at Carolina Panthers (0-0)

Both of these teams are likely to miss the post-season, but the Panthers have the slight edge. That is reflected in this line, which favors them at home by 4, which is right around my calculated line. I have gone into both of these two teams in depth in my season previews, so I don’t feel there is anything more I have to say about either team in a game that is a coin flip from a spread perspective. My numbers have the Panthers as marginally more likely to cover, but there is nothing to bet on here.

Carolina Panthers 22 Philadelphia Eagles 17

Pick against the spread: Carolina -4

Confidence: None

Philadelphia Eagles at Atlanta Falcons: 2021 Week 1 NFL Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (0-0) at Atlanta Falcons (0-0)

Both of these teams are likely to miss the post-season, but the Falcons have the slight edge. That is reflected in this line, which favors them at home by 3.5, which is right around my calculated line. I have gone into both of these two teams in depth in my season previews, so I don’t feel there is anything more I have to say about either team in a game that is a coin flip from a spread perspective. My numbers have the Falcons as marginally more likely to cover, but there is nothing to bet on here.

Atlanta Falcons 24 Philadelphia Eagles 20

Pick against the spread: Atlanta -3.5

Confidence: None

Seattle Seahawks at Indianapolis Colts: 2021 NFL Week 1 Pick

Seattle Seahawks (0-0) at Indianapolis Colts (0-0)

The Colts enter the season as one of the most banged up teams in the league. Both Carson Wentz and Quenton Nelson are expected to play after suffering foot injuries early in training camp and those are their two most important players, but they might not be at 100%, while left tackle Eric Fisher, top wide receiver TY Hilton, and top cornerback Xavier Rhodes are all out for at least this week with injury.

However, this line has shifted to compensate for that, as the Colts, once 1.5-point favorites, are now field goal underdogs at home against the Seahawks. I don’t like the Colts enough to bet on them, but they are the better side for pick ‘em purposes, as it’s a lot to ask even a strong team like the Seahawks to go on the road and win by more than a field goal against a Colts team that is still at least an average team, even with all of their injury issues.

Seattle Seahawks 24 Indianapolis Colts 23

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis +3

Confidence: Low

Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs: 2021 Week 1 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (0-0) at Kansas City Chiefs (0-0)

It’s possible that no unit has improved more from last year to this year than the Browns’ defense, up there with the Vikings’ defense, which has also added significant reinforcements. The Browns added safety John Johnson, cornerback Troy Hill, cornerback Greg Newsome, linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, while cornerback Greedy Williams and safety Grant Delpit are both back after missing all of last season with injury.

However, the Browns are starting from a lower base point than last year’s 11-5 record suggests, as they faced a relatively easy schedule and only had four wins by more than one score, as opposed to three double digit losses, leading to them ranking 25th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential. They could have won more than four games by more than one score if they didn’t play as conservatively as they did and they will likely have to open their offense up more against tougher competition in 2021, but that will put more pressure on quarterback Baker Mayfield, who remains an inconsistent, if high upside option under center. 

If Mayfield can take a step forward, this might be the most balanced team in the league, but the uncertainty with Mayfield keeps me from ranking the Browns up there with the top contenders in the league and they happen to be playing one of those contenders week one, with a trip to Kansas City on the schedule. The Browns could still make this a game, but my calculated line is Kansas City -5, so we’re not really getting line value with the Browns at +5.5. I would have liked them more at 6, but the line has dropped to 5.5 everywhere, so this will be a no confidence pick.

Kansas City Chiefs 31 Cleveland Browns 26

Pick against the spread: Cleveland +5.5

Confidence: None

Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans: 2021 Week 1 NFL Pick

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

The Texans are seen as a candidate to go 0-17, but, while they are one of the worst two teams in the league and unlikely to be favored in any of their games, I would actually be surprised if they didn’t pull a couple upsets. Rather than embracing a full rebuild, the Texans weirdly spent their off-season adding veterans on short-term contracts, rather than just counting this as a lost season and giving opportunities to younger players. It’s unclear what the long-term strategy is, but in the short-term it should help them not be completely awful this season. 

Given that, I think they’re a little underrated as field goal home underdogs against a Jacksonville team that should be better than last season, but still has a lot of issues and will be starting a rookie quarterback in his first game. I don’t want to bet on the Texans this week and probably won’t want to bet on them many weeks unless we’re getting clear value, but they should be the better side for pick ‘em purposes, as the Jaguars haven’t earned being field goal road favorites over anyone yet. I still expect the Jaguars to win, but it wouldn’t be a shock if this was one of the Texans upset victories this season.

Jacksonville Jaguars 27 Houston Texans 26

Pick against the spread: Houston +3

Confidence: Low

Green Bay Packers vs. New Orleans Saints: 2021 Week 1 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (0-0) vs. New Orleans Saints (0-0) in Jacksonville

The Saints lost Drew Brees to retirement after last season and had to navigate cap hell this off-season, but they did so in a way that kept the rest of their core intact, as the Saints continued borrowing future cap space, rather than going through a full rebuild. Brees actually had his worst season in years last season, but the Saints still had a strong season because of how much talent the Saints have on the rest of this roster and most of that talent was kept this off-season. On top of that, replacement quarterback Jameis Winston looked good in the pre-season and is an experienced starter with untapped upside if he can finally learn to take better care of the ball.

All that being said, I wouldn’t expect the Saints to get off to a good start. Two of their key players, wide receiver Michael Thomas and defensive tackle David Onyemata, are out for the start of the season, due to injury and suspension respectively, and kicker Will Lutz will also be out with injury, which is a big loss for the Saints’ special teams. Winston could also take some time to settle in as well and the Saints are notoriously slow starters anyway, even with Brees, going 4-17-1 ATS in the first two weeks of the season, dating back to 2010 (94-58-7 ATS in weeks 3-17). 

Further complicating things for the Saints is they won’t get to play their home opener until week 4 or later, as they’ll be on the road weeks 2 and 3 and will have to play this “home opener” against the Packers in Jacksonville, with New Orleans still dealing with the effects of Hurricane Ida. That situation has likely been a distraction for this team as well, further hurting their chances of getting out to a fast start.

That doesn’t mean I want to take the Packers this week, however, as they could also get out to a slow start, due to the absence of left tackle David Bakhtiari. Bakhtiari is one of the top left tackles in the league and his presence is always missed, but he’ll be especially needed this season, given that the Packers are much thinner on the rest of this offensive line than they are used to being. With Bakhtiari’s absence, they are expected to start a pair of rookies upfront in week one, which will likely be a steep drop off for one of the best offensive lines in the league. 

The Packers could also be without Za’Darius Smith, who was very limited in practice this week with a back injury that has plagued him for several weeks now, which would be as big of a blow to their pass rush as Bakhtiari’s absence is to their pass protection. This line seems to be taking into account all of the tough circumstances the Saints are dealing with, giving them 3.5 points in a neutral site game, but ignoring the key absences for ther Packers. 

For that reason, I’m actually taking the Saints, as I think we’re getting line value with them if the line is higher than a field goal. If this game were later in the season, I would probably bet on the Saints, but it hard to be confident in them in week 1, given how slow of a start they usually get out to. If Smith plays and the line stays put, I will likely drop this down to no confidence, but it sounds more likely than not than he will be out for week one.

Update: Smith sounds likely to play, while cornerback Marshon Lattimore popped up on the injury report on Saturday, likely a bad sign for his status this week. That would leave the Saints even thinner at cornerback, a thin position group that is already missing Ken Crawley and Brian Poole with other injuries. I’m dropping this to no confidence.

Green Bay Packers 27 New Orleans Saints 24

Pick against the spread: New Orleans +3.5

Confidence: None

Denver Broncos at New York Giants: 2021 Week 1 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (0-0) at New York Giants (0-0)

The Broncos went just 5-11 last season, but they have a good chance to make a significant jump in win total. Their biggest problem last season was their turnover margin, dead last in the NFL at -16, but turnover margins tend to be highly inconsistent on a year-to-year basis and the Broncos should at least stabilize their quarterback situation with Teddy Bridgewater being added. They also should be significantly better on defense, with Von Miller returning and significant upgrades being added at cornerback, which was by far their biggest position of weakness on defense last year.

However, the Giants are also an underrated team, with a solid defense and more talent being added around young quarterback Daniel Jones, who played better than his statistics show last season, facing tough competition in the first half of the season, getting minimal help from his supporting cast, and then trying to play with a significant hamstring in the second half of the season when they schedule became easier. The Giants might not be a playoff team, but they won’t be an easy team to face either, so they shouldn’t be underdogs of a field goal at home against the Broncos. This isn’t a big play, but there is enough value with the Giants for them to be worth betting.

New York Giants 17 Denver Broncos 16 Upset Pick +145

Pick against the spread: NY Giants +3

Confidence: Medium

Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots: 2021 Week 1 NFL Pick

Miami Dolphins (0-0) at New England Patriots (0-0)

This matchup features one of my top overrated teams and one of my top underrated teams. The Dolphins won 10 games a year ago, but they faced a very easy schedule and they benefited from an unsustainably high turnover margin (+11), opponent’s field goal percentage (3rd lowest at 73.91%) and 3rd/4th down conversion rate allowed (33.02%), actually lower than the 34.07% conversion rate they allowed on 1st/2nd down (4th highest in the NFL). 

They improved their receiving corps this off-season, but they’ll be without veteran addition Will Fuller with a suspension this week and they will likely have worse quarterback play, as Ryan Fitzpatrick was by far their most effective quarterback a year ago and is no longer with the team. Tua Tagovailoa will likely be better than he was as a rookie in year two, but he’ll need to make a big leap to avoid this team having worse quarterback play. I have them as a below average team overall and significantly behind the Patriots in my roster rankings.

The Patriots only won 7 games a year ago, but they did so despite underwhelming play on both offense and defense, as they were led by a dominant special teams, which still remains and should now be complemented by significantly improved offensive and defensive units, with the Patriots getting a significant amount of talent back from COVID opt outs, as well as a significant amount of talent coming in through free agency after the Patriots off-season spending spree. 

They also should get better quarterback play from rookie Mac Jones, who was very impressive in the pre-season. If Jones can even be a league average starter as a rookie, this team should win a significant amount of games and they should be favored by a significant amount at home against the Dolphins. This line, favoring the Patriots by a field goal, suggests these two teams are about even, so we’re getting a lot of value here, enough for the Patriots to be my Pick of the Week.

New England Patriots 24 Miami Dolphins 16

Pick against the spread: New England -3

Confidence: Pick of the Week