Week 1 of the NFL season is nearly upon us, but more importantly it brings with it the start of fantasy football leagues, survivor pools and, of course, good old fashioned betting against the spread each week.
NFL Week 1 Picks
Sunday Early Games
New Orleans Saints (-5.5) at Atlanta Falcons
With Sean Payton gone, the Saints face more questions than ever this season, but they get a favorable, in-division matchup to begin the schedule. And keep in mind that last season they blew the doors off of the Packers in Week 1 as 3.5-point dogs.
I'm not expecting big things in Michael Thomas' first game since January 2021, but the Saints have quality options behind him and, most important, a healthy Alvin Kamara. The Falcons' offense will be friskier than most expect, so I don't see this devolving into a total blowout, but I like the Saints to cover and move to 1-0 heading into next weekend's showdown against the Bucs.
The pick: Saints 27 – Falcons 17
San Francisco 49ers (-7.0) at Chicago Bears
Man-to-man, this matchup has the biggest gap in overall talent in Week 1. I'm on record that the Bears could finish with the league's worst record this season, so this line could easily be a point or two higher. However, the fact that it's holding at 7.0 is an indication that there's still a decent amount of wait-and-see factor when it comes to Trey Lance. In the long term, I love Lance's upside, but I'm willing to admit that it could be a bumpy ride early in the season.
I think we get a relatively low-scoring game that's ultimately controlled by San Francisco's defense. I see this one playing out similarly to last year's Week 17 matchup against the Texans, which Lance started in place of Jimmy Garoppolo.
The pick: 49ers 24 – Bears 10
Pittsburgh Steelers (+6.5) at Cincinnati Bengals
I love the Bengals as somewhat of a dark horse Super Bowl bet after nearly getting the job done last season. And while I think they escape with a win at home in Week 1, I don't see this being an easy victory. Starting Mitch Trubisky at quarterback may be Mike Tomlin's greatest challenge yet, but the Steelers are on the short list of teams that always find a way to keep games competitive.
The Bengals could give the home crowd a scare in the first half, but over 60 minutes their overwhelming talent at the skill positions — coupled with an improved offensive line — should barely win out.
The pick: Bengals 27 – Steelers 24
Philadelphia Eagles (-4.0) at Detroit Lions
It feels like everyone wants the Lions — the greatest three-win team in NFL history last season — to happen this season, but I think they're still another year away from making that leap. Defensively, I don't like their chances to slow the Eagles, who bulldozed Detroit for 236 rushing yards in last season's 44-6 beatdown.
Philadelphia still has one of the best offensive lines in the league and made a number of big-time additions, both through the draft and via trades, on both sides of the ball. I like Detroit's offense to find ways to move the ball, but it won't be enough to offset the defensive shortcomings.
The pick: Eagles 34 – Lions 24
New England Patriots (+3.5) at Miami Dolphins
The Patriots are coming in ice cold off of one of the worst preseason showings in recent memory. The question for me is do they still deserve the benefit of the doubt that inherently comes with a Bill Belichick-coached team? Remember, they started 1-3 last season before winning eight of their next nine.
I'm a card-carrying member of the Tua isn't that guy club, but it's tough to fade the Dolphins in Week 1, at home, against an opponent they always seem to play well (7-2 in last nine home games vs. NE). That said, it wouldn't be a shock if Mike McDaniel's offense takes a few games to fully click.
In the end, I don't think we come away from this game feeling great about either team, but I'll go with a near-repeat of last season's Week 1 matchup in Foxboro.
The pick: Dolphins 20 – Patriots 19
Baltimore Ravens (-7.0) at New York Jets
I love the Ravens in this matchup, and I'll love them even more if it's Zach Wilson under center for the Jets. Joe Flacco isn't exactly a daunting opponent in his own right, but it feels like there's just enough potential for the game to get weird if the 37-year-old, ex-Raven gets the nod.
Either way, I think the Ravens roll the Jets and John Harbaugh moves to 11-4 in season openers since taking over in 2008. Prior to last season's overtime loss to the Raiders, Baltimore had won its previous three openers by a combined 144-19.
The pick: Ravens 33 – Jets 14
Jacksonville Jaguars (+2.5) at Washington Commanders
After last season's top-to-bottom embarrassment, there's plenty of reason for optimism, but I'm not sure this team really improved all that much from a personnel standpoint.
Conversely, from a pure competency and preparedness standpoint, Jacksonville should be much, much better. It can't be overstated how poorly this team was prepared on a week-to-week basis last season. But in terms of the roster, it felt like the Jags loaded up on a bunch of B-minus-level players in free agency. Overall, they'll be a more competitive team week-to-week, but I know better than to have high expectations to begin the year.
Reluctantly, give me Carson Wentz.
The pick: Commanders 26 – Jaguars 20
Cleveland Browns at Carolina Panthers
The pick: Browns 15 – Panthers 20
Indianapolis Colts (-7.0) at Houston Texans
I have plenty of questions about the Colts' overall ceiling, but in bringing in Matt Ryan they essentially secured the exact opposite of Carson Wentz. It's easy to forget that Wentz was sneakily effective early on last season, but Ryan is a major floor-raiser at the position who will help keep Indianapolis from some of last season's disaster games.
I may be slightly higher on the Texans than most, and I wouldn't be surprised if they hang around in this game for two or three quarters, but eventually the better team will win out. It's as simple as that.
The pick: Colts 26 – Texans 14
Sunday Late Games
New York Giants (+6.0) at Tennessee Titans
The pick: Titans 17 – Giants 20
Green Bay Packers (-1.5) at Minnesota Vikings
While the Packers avoid a complete no-show like last season's Week 1 blowout against New Orleans, there's reason to believe the offense could get off to a pedestrian start to the post-Davante Adams era. I still like Green Bay to once again find its way to 12 or 13 wins and another playoff run, but this is a difficult spot against what should be an improved Vikings offensive attack.
Unlike in years past, the Packers' talent-loaded defense does give me some pause. But in the end, I don't think Green Bay's receivers make quite enough plays to offset a productive debut for the Cousins-Cook-Jefferson trio under Kevin O'Connell. These teams have split their last four meetings and Green Bay holds only a narrow 8-7-1 edge since 2014.
The pick: Vikings 23 – Packers 20
Kansas City Chiefs (-6.0) at Arizona Cardinals
This line is on the move in favor of Kansas City since sitting at Chiefs -4.5 earlier in the week. Arizona has gotten off to hot starts in recent years, but that will be a difficult task against Patrick Mahomes and Co. — even if the "Co." no longer includes Tyreek Hill. If DeAndre Hopkins were on the field for Arizona, maybe you could talk me into an upset. But the Cards will be down their top receiver and could very well be without Zach Ertz, as well.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs have questions at receiver, but I have too much faith in Mahomes and Andy Reid to believe they'll suffer a letdown in Week 1.
The pick: Chiefs 35 – Cardinals 23
Las Vegas Raiders (+3.5) at Los Angeles Chargers
After Jaguars-Commanders wraps up, this is the game everyone will be tracking closely in the late window. The Chargers come in with the most hype for a non-playoff team in NFL history, while the Raiders, with Davante Adams in the mix, are looking for a repeat of last year's Week 18 thriller.
Chaos always seems to follow the Chargers, regardless of coach or quarterback, so I'm trying to be wary of the possibility for some general absurdity in this game. Keep in mind that the Raiders took down the Ravens as home underdogs in Week 1 last season. And the Chargers could be missing one of their big offseason additions in J.C. Jackson. But for as much as I like what this Raiders offense can be, I can't talk myself out of backing Los Angeles to cover the 3.5.
The pick: Chargers 31 – Raiders 27
Sunday Night Football
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-2.5) at Dallas Cowboys
For as much as the Buccaneers' offensive line attrition concerns me, the Cowboys' line is in even worse shape. Dallas also lost a significant piece in Amari Cooper and will be without Michael Gallup to begin the year. CeeDee Lamb is a star and Dalton Schultz could be on his way to that status, but overall it feels like this is a decidedly worse Cowboys offensive unit than last season.
Again, the Bucs have some holes of their own, but for the most part they return the major pieces from a loaded 2021 team. If Chris Godwin is ultimately cleared for Week 1, I love the Bucs' chances to get off to a 1-0 start with a win over Dallas for the second consecutive year.
The pick: Buccaneers 29 – Cowboys 23
Monday Night Football
Denver Broncos (-6.5) at Seattle Seahawks
Unlike the Cleveland-Carolina game, this one is being played in the correct location. I'm having a difficult time figuring out just what kind of reception Russell Wilson will get in his return to Seattle. It won't be a LeBron-back-in-Cleveland or Favre-back-in-Green-Bay situation, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's a more hostile environment than most would expect. The man was boo'd at a Seattle Storm game last month.
On the field, I don't think Seattle will be a complete disaster. Hanging on to DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, combined with 2021 late-season breakout Rashaad Penny, should be enough to keep the Seahawks out of the basement. I think they'll be able to run the ball against what was a middle-of-the-road run defense for Denver last season. But in the end, the gap in quarterback play will be too much for Seattle to overcome.