Week 1 was ugly. That’s OK! It’s a long season.
We’ve got another full slate of games on the schedule in Week 2, including a pair of Monday night matchups. Let’s get to the picks. Lines are courtesy of FanDuel.
Season record: 6-10
Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs (-4.5)
Who wants a couple of ridiculous stats about just how good the Chiefs’ offensive performance was in Week 1 against the Cardinals?
- They’ve played 75 games, including the playoffs, with Patrick Mahomes as their quarterback. Only once have they been better offensively than they were in Week 1, according to TruMedia’s expected points added (EPA) per drive model.
- The Chiefs had by far the best offensive showing in the NFL in Week 1. The difference (when we use EPA per drive) between Kansas City and the no. 2 team, the Eagles, was the same as the difference between no. 2 and no. 21.
The Chargers, meanwhile, got a great defensive performance in Week 1 with six sacks and three interceptions against the Raiders, and Justin Herbert’s ability to avoid pressure and help his offensive line really stood out.
It’s possible that the Chiefs are just going to go on a tear. But I have a pretty simple rule: If I can ever get more than three points with either of these quarterbacks, I’m taking it.
The pick: Chargers (+4.5)
Washington Commanders at Detroit Lions (-1.5)
Last week offered the full Carson Wentz experience. He had interceptions on consecutive offensive plays in the fourth quarter. Then he threw two great balls for touchdowns as the Commanders rallied for a win against the Jaguars.
As for the Lions, two big positives from their loss to the Eagles: One, cornerback Jeff Okudah looked great. The third overall pick in the 2020 draft played in just one game last year before going down with an injury. He was considered a question mark coming into the season. But he was moving well and looked sticky in coverage in Week 1. The Lions need him to be an above-average starter, and the early signs are encouraging.
Two, Jared Goff and the offense moved the ball well. The Lions had the third-best offensive performance in Week 1, based on EPA per drive. And Goff’s numbers could have looked a lot better. The Lions had four drops and a botched snap. Had they been a little cleaner down the stretch, they could’ve completed the comeback victory.
The Lions are 3-14-1 since the start of last season. I am taking them to cover as favorites. What could go wrong?
The pick: Lions (-1.5)
New York Jets at Cleveland Browns (-6.5)
Jets head coach Robert Saleh told reporters this week: “We’re all taking receipts on all the people who continually mock and say that we aren’t going to do anything. I’m taking receipts and I’ll be more than happy to share them with all of y’all when it’s all said and done.”
Smart move to show his players he believes in them, or an unwarranted flex that will lead to more mocking as the Jets limp their way to a four-win season—who’s to say?
The Browns’ chances every week pretty much come down to: How much do they need Jacoby Brissett to do? Brissett threw for 147 yards and averaged 4.3 YPA last week, but the Browns beat the Panthers thanks to a last-minute, 58-yard field goal from Cade York.
I can’t believe I’m taking the Jets to beat the spread for the second week in a row. Consider this a cry for help.
The pick: Jets (+6.5)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints (+2.5)
This is all I can think about now when I see Jameis Winston:
King Jameis Winston talking about the human body is amazing pic.twitter.com/2qMGFvlJGP— Jordan Dajani (@JordanDajani) September 7, 2022
Last week’s performance by Winston had all of the ups and downs that have defined Winston’s NFL career. Through the first three quarters, he was 10-for-18 for 56 yards and four sacks. In the fourth, he was 13-for-16 for 213 yards and two touchdowns as the Saints rallied for a win against the Falcons.
The Bucs defense led the way against Dallas. They had Dak Prescott flustered even before the quarterback got injured. The Saints have owned the Bucs in recent years, but I like Tampa’s defense to keep Winston in check, and I’m not convinced that New Orleans’ defense is going to be as good as it’s been in recent years.
The pick: Bucs (-2.5)
Carolina Panthers at New York Giants (-1.5)
The good news for the Giants: They won in Week 1, and running back Saquon Barkley looked incredible with 194 yards from scrimmage. The bad news: Their offense still has a long way to go. The Giants produced a success rate of just 36.1 percent in Week 1, which ranked 28th league-wide according to TruMedia. They can’t count on getting multiple plays of 50-plus yards most weeks.
Quick question on the Panthers: Is it a good sign when the center and quarterback fumble the snap four times in one game? Feels like that basic operation should run a little smoother by the time Week 1 rolls around.
There’s no way to feel good about either side here. I wish I could bet against myself getting this game right.
The pick: Giants (-1.5)
New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers (+2.5)
Week 1 was pretty much the worst-case scenario for Patriots fans. There were some people (raises hand) who believed that Bill Belichick would just take over the offense from Matt Patricia and Joe Judge and it’d be fine. Whoops. The Patriots scored one touchdown on eight possessions and had three turnovers.
The Steelers eked out a win over the Bengals, but they’ll be without star edge rusher T.J. Watt (pectoral injury) for an undisclosed amount of time.
On one hand, it’s Belichick coming off a loss going up against Mitchell Trubisky. On the other, it’s Mike Tomlin as an underdog going up against Patricia.
One bad week of picks to start the season and I’m already in my own head.
The pick: Patriots (-2.5)
Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars (+4.5)
Jaguars fans should be encouraged by their Week 1 performance. Jacksonville moved the ball well but just missed on some opportunities in high-leverage spots. The Jags had back-to-back, goal-to-goal possessions in the second quarter and failed to score any points on those drives. I have questions about their offensive line and their defense, but at the very least, it looked like a competent operation, which is a welcome change from last year.
As for the Colts, tying the Texans and then waiving kicker Rodrigo Blankenship is not exactly an ideal way to start the season. Indy produced 517 yards of offense and 33 first downs, yet they scored just 20 points.
After the Colts lost to the Jaguars in Week 18 last year, it was clear that owner Jim Irsay didn’t want Carson Wentz back in the building. How would he feel here if the Colts lost as favorites and began their season 0-1-1?
I like Jacksonville to at least keep it close.
The pick: Jaguars (+4.5)
Miami Dolphins at Baltimore Ravens (-3.5)
This feels like a game where we’re going to learn a lot about how different this Ravens offense is compared to last year’s version. In 2021, Lamar Jackson’s biggest issues came against the blitz and against man coverage—two areas in which the Dolphins specialize, and the Ravens got hammered by the Dolphins, 22-10, in Week 10 last year. In the 54 games that the Ravens have had Jackson as their starter, that 2021 offensive performance against Miami ranked 53rd in EPA per drive.
Of course, the Ravens defense held the Jets without a touchdown for 59 minutes last week. It’d be no surprise to see them give Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins offense plenty of problems. In what feels like it could potentially be a low-scoring, ugly game, I’m taking the points.
The pick: Dolphins (+3.5)
Atlanta Falcons at Los Angeles Rams (-10.5)
A good exercise for me would’ve been to write I will not overreact to Week 1 on a whiteboard 100 times before making these picks. Coming into the season, I had the Rams on the short list of Super Bowl favorites in the NFC, and the Falcons on the short list of teams that could be drafting first overall.
The Rams looked terrible in their opening loss to the Bills, while the Falcons outplayed the Saints for three quarters before eventually falling apart. I hated Arthur Smith’s decision to punt on fourth-and-1 from the New Orleans 42 with 1:40 left and the Falcons up 26-24. Why not be aggressive and send your players a message that you believe in them and are going to play to win?
Physically, Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford did not look great in Week 1, and that is a legitimate concern. But I still believe in that Rams defense. Sean McVay’s team bounces back with a two-touchdown win here.
The pick: Rams (-10.5)
Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers (-8.5)
I might go 6-10 with my picks again this week. But in Week 11, when I get back over .500, you’d better believe I’ll be tweeting this out roughly 400 times:
“They wrote me off, I ain’t write back though.”— ESPN (@espn) September 13, 2022
Geno Smith with a message pic.twitter.com/R1EaKpW3Dt
The Seahawks are coming off of an emotional victory and are on a short week. It’s hard to glean much from the 49ers’ loss at Chicago, given the weather conditions. I could see this one being close for a while, but San Francisco gets a defensive touchdown late for the cover.
The pick: 49ers (-8.5)
Cincinnati Bengals at Dallas Cowboys (+7.5)
Dak Prescott’s injury is the worst-case scenario if you’re a Cowboys fan. Now if they miss out on the playoffs, Mike McCarthy has a built-in excuse for why he should be back in 2023. Remember, Jerry Jones gave Jason Garrett nine and a half years before moving on. McCarthy launched one of the great PR campaigns the NFL has ever seen just to land the job. Don’t underestimate what this man is capable of!
There’s a scenario here in which Micah Parsons wreaks havoc and the Cowboys defense keeps Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow in check. Burrow took seven sacks and 11 QB hits last week, and Cincinnati’s offense was on the field for 94 plays. But Dallas’ supporting cast around new starting QB Cooper Rush just has so many holes. I can’t see them scoring enough to really keep this one close.
The pick: Bengals (-7.5)
Houston Texans at Denver Broncos (-9.5)
Given the way Monday night unfolded, I have high, high hopes for Denver’s Nathaniel Hackett era from an entertainment standpoint. If you’re a Broncos fan looking for a bright spot, their offense moved the ball really well. The Broncos ranked fifth among all teams in Week 1 in EPA per drive. The offense had structure, and they schemed up a lot of easy throws for Russell Wilson. They’re not going to fumble inside the opponents’ 1-yard line multiple times every week—at least I don’t think they are.
Houston’s new head coach, Lovie Smith, played for a tie in overtime last week against the Colts. Rather than go for it on fourth-and-3 from the Colts’ 49 with 26 seconds left, he punted. If ever there was a coach who should be employing a “nothing to lose” approach, it’s Smith this year. I didn’t understand that one.
The Broncos could light up the Texans here, but they don’t have star safety Justin Simmons. I like Houston to be a little frisky.
The pick: Texans (+9.5)
Arizona Cardinals at Las Vegas Raiders (-5.5)
Congratulations to the Cardinals for winning the award for Most Rudderless Team in Week 1. After such a brilliant, smooth, well-thought-out offseason, I for one was shocked that they didn’t come out firing on all cylinders in a 44-21 loss to the Chiefs.
For the Raiders, the Derek Carr-to-Davante Adams connection was fun to watch, but Carr did not look comfortable overall, taking five sacks and throwing three interceptions in a loss to the Chargers.
I really don’t want to take the Cardinals, but at 5.5 points against a Raiders team I don’t trust yet, I think I have to. There’s no way I regret this come Sunday evening.
The pick: Cardinals (+5.5)
Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers (-9.5)
There’s no reason to panic about the Packers’ offensive performance after last week’s loss to the Vikings. It wasn’t pretty, but they had a likely touchdown dropped by rookie wide receiver Christian Watson, they were stopped at the 1-yard line on fourth-and-goal, and they were stopped later on a fourth-and-1. They’re not going to be as explosive and efficient as they were last year, but with Aaron Rodgers, they’ll still be tough to handle most weeks.
The defense, though? Well, that was bad. They played like a bunch of guys who had just met five minutes before kickoff.
Bears fans have not had a whole lot of reasons to feel good about their team in recent years. Sports fandom isn’t just about winning championships. It’s about enjoying the viewing experience and being entertained. Last week’s comeback against the 49ers checked those boxes, even if it doesn’t ultimately lead to anything.
In Week 2, the Packers get back on track, and the Bears come back down to earth.
The pick: Packers (-9.5)
Tennessee Titans at Buffalo Bills (-9.5)
The Bills have the look of a potential juggernaut. There’s no other way to say it. In their last three games, including last season’s playoffs, the Bills have had 25 offensive possessions. They’ve scored touchdowns on 16 of them and punted just four times. Buffalo’s defensive approach against the Rams was brilliant. Matthew Stafford carved up the blitz last year. The Bills knew that, felt good about their four-man pass rush, and didn’t blitz a single time all game, per TruMedia and Pro Football Focus.
The Titans blew a 13-0 halftime lead against the Giants, and Randy Bullock missed a 47-yard field goal as time expired. I don’t see the Titans as a playoff team, but there are a couple of coaches I generally ride with in the underdog role, and Mike Vrabel is one of them. Tennessee finds a way to make this game ugly and keep it competitive.
The pick: Titans (+9.5)
Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles (-1.5)
Last week’s performance was pretty much ideal for Eagles fans. The team won, but they still had plenty to complain about. The offense went up and down the field, piling up 27 first downs and 455 yards against the Lions. But the defense was a disaster, allowing the Lions to score touchdowns on four of their final five possessions.
The Vikings looked like one of the NFL’s best-coached teams in Kevin O’Connell’s debut. They schemed up explosive plays for wide receiver Justin Jefferson, and their defensive performance was encouraging. If last week was any indication, the Vikings defense will play a lot of zone and mix up their fronts to make life hard for opposing quarterbacks.
This is a toss-up game, but the bottom line is I have very little faith in the Eagles defense after what we saw last week.
The pick: Vikings (+1.5)