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Week 1 NFL Picks Against the Spread

Take it to Vegas, if you dare: The 49ers will cover the spread on the road in Chicago; the Jaguars will pull off an upset in Doug Pederson’s debut; and the Rams will win as home underdogs. Here are our picks for every NFL game in Week 1. 

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Week 1 is here, which can mean only one thing: It’s time for another year of picks against the spread! This column will run every Thursday. I’ll pick every regular-season game and every playoff game—285 in total. The goal will be to beat last year’s record of 151-132-2. If my luck runs out, you can just start fading me. It’s a real win-win for the reader. Now let’s get to the games. Lines are courtesy of FanDuel.

Buffalo Bills at Los Angeles Rams (+2.5)

I have contended all offseason that if we played out last season 100 times, the Bills would have won more Super Bowls than any other team. Of course, that’s not how this works. The Rams took care of business and were deserving champions.

There are so many questions we’re going to get answers to right away:

  • Does Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford look like himself, or is he hampered by his elbow injury?
  • What does the Bills offense look like with new play caller Ken Dorsey?
  • What kind of impact will edge rusher Von Miller have for Buffalo?
  • What about linebacker Bobby Wagner for the Rams?

I picture a scenario in which wide receiver Allen Robinson II converts a third down in the first quarter and is moved to tears from the feeling of having a good head coach and a good quarterback. The Rams might have to call a timeout just so he can go over and hug Stafford and Sean McVay.

These are two legit Super Bowl contenders, but the Bills go into the season without cornerback Tre’Davious White, and they’ll be leaning on either rookie Kaiir Elam or rookie Christian Benford (or both). I’ve got Buffalo as my Super Bowl champ, but in a toss-up game like this, I’m taking the points.

The pick: Rams (+2.5)

Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals (-6.5)

Mike Tomlin announced this week that Mitchell Trubisky will start at quarterback, and rookie first-round pick Kenny Pickett will be the backup. But earlier in the week, the Steelers released a depth chart that had Mason Rudolph ahead of Pickett as the no. 2.

Asked about the error, Tomlin said, “The cut-and-paste component was the cut-and-paste component.”

That will be my line for the foreseeable future whenever I make a mistake in this column. It’s also reason no. 729 Tomlin is the best.

Many smart people are predicting regression for the Bengals. I’m on the other side. Give me Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, and a competent offensive line, and I’m feeling pretty good about my chances. I’ve got Cincinnati winning the AFC North.

Having said that, I’m bullish on the Steelers defense, and I trust their coaching staff to make this one ugly. Pittsburgh keeps it close.

The pick: Steelers (+6.5)

New York Jets v Philadelphia Eagles
Eagles QB Jalen Hurts
Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Philadelphia Eagles at Detroit Lions (+3.5)

This preseason did not go according to plan for Eagles fans. Ideally, they wanted everyone to pick the Cowboys to win the division and say mean things about their team. Instead, pretty much everyone jumped on the Eagles bandwagon. Now, if the team is good, there will be no one to antagonize. And if the team is bad, it will feel like a huge letdown. This is pretty much the worst-case scenario, and the Eagles haven’t even played a game yet.

The bar is not nearly as high for Detroit, but Lions fans are feeling optimistic about a team that at least has the potential to be frisky and likable. The problem? I just don’t think this team has above-average talent on either side of the ball. If some of their young players have surprisingly significant impacts, maybe I’ll be proved wrong.

It won’t get as ugly as last year when the Eagles blew the Lions out 44-6, but I still like them to cover.

The pick: Eagles (-3.5)

Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans (+7.5)

This feels like a Colts team that’s pretty much in the same spot it’s been in for the past couple of years—good enough to be competitive and potentially win the division, but not good enough to make any real noise in the playoffs. Left tackle and wide receiver are big concerns. But Colts players sound pretty excited to be playing with Matt Ryan and not Carson Wentz.

The Texans are pretty much the NFL’s forgotten team. They’re only relevant when everybody’s making fun of them. But the offensive line isn’t bad. You can pencil Brandin Cooks in for at least 1,000 receiving yards. And I’m excited to watch rookie RB Dameon Pierce. I don’t think this team is going to be good, but I also don’t think it’s going to be a laughingstock. How’s that for a compliment? Houston keeps it close.

The pick: Texans (+7.5)

New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons (+5.5)

Is it a red flag that the Dennis Allen era in New Orleans began with the Saints giving up defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson for pretty much nothing because of a contract dispute? Feels like it, right?

That’s three members of the Saints secondary from last year (along with safety Malcolm Jenkins, who retired, and safety Marcus Williams, who signed with the Ravens) who are no longer on the roster. Oh, and losing Sean Payton feels like a big, big deal. I am not on board with the Saints as a legit Super Bowl sleeper. I’ve got them at 8-9 and missing the playoffs.

I think the Falcons will be one of the worst teams in the NFL, but they’re big home underdogs, Week 1 is tricky, and it’s a division game.

The pick: Falcons (+5.5)

Baltimore Ravens at New York Jets (+7.5)

The Ravens have a lot of players coming back after they were decimated by injuries in 2021. But it might take some time for those returning players to get close to 100 percent. Meanwhile, John Harbaugh eased up on his practice routine this summer, so the team might not be especially crisp in Week 1 and early in the season.

The Jets, meanwhile, will be without Zach Wilson for at least the first three weeks. According to TruMedia, the Jets performed like the 30th-ranked offense in terms of expected points added (EPA) per play with Wilson last year. They performed like the 13th-ranked offense without Wilson.

It’s reasonable to think that the Jets might have an edge on both sides of the line of scrimmage here. Taking Joe Flacco to beat the spread against Lamar Jackson—what could go wrong? This pick feels so bad that they might take my column away next week.

The pick: Jets (+7.5)

New England Patriots v Las Vegas Raiders
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick
Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images

New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins (-3.5)

I can’t believe I’m about to defend the Patriots here. I swear—this is not some sort of Ringer initiation thing.

On one hand, handing the offense over to Matt Patricia and Joe Judge feels like a predetermined disaster. If any other team did this, they would be getting relentlessly mocked. But here’s the thing: Do we really think Bill Belichick is going to give those guys full control? Or is it more likely that he just takes over the offense and makes sure it’s not a complete mess? The latter seems much more likely. According to The Athletic’s Chad Graff, Belichick “has been extremely hands-on with the offense this offseason.”

I think these are two evenly matched teams. I don’t have either in the playoffs. The Patriots go 9-8, the Dolphins go 8-9. I see a field goal game here.

The pick: Patriots (+3.5)

Cleveland Browns at Carolina Panthers (-1.5)

This Panthers roster is not a disaster. If I had faith in their coaching staff, I might even pick Carolina as a sneaky wild-card team. But any time a coach goes into a season clearly trying to save his job—as is the case with Matt Rhule—I get nervous.

I think both teams will be able to run the ball effectively, and I don’t think either quarterback will fill up the stat sheet. But I trust Baker Mayfield—especially given his weapons—to do a little more than Jacoby Brissett.

The pick: Panthers (-1.5)

San Francisco 49ers at Chicago Bears (+6.5)

The 49ers are probably the most intriguing team in the league. If second-year quarterback Trey Lance plays well, they are Super Bowl contenders. If Lance gets injured and Jimmy Garoppolo steps in, they’re still Super Bowl contenders.

The nightmare scenario is if Lance plays poorly. His teammates are not invested in his development. They’ll want to win this year. And if they feel like Garoppolo gives them the best chance to do that, well, Kyle Shanahan is going to have a tricky situation on his hands.

As for this matchup, I have the 49ers as a top-five defense, and I have the Bears as a bottom-five offense. Maybe Chicago will be more competitive than I’m predicting, but I can’t get there.

The pick: 49ers (-6.5)

Jacksonville Jaguars at Washington Commanders (-2.5)

Five years ago, Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz teamed up on the Eagles and took down Washington in Week 1 with a 30-17 victory. The Eagles would go 11-2 with Wentz as their starter that year and eventually win the Super Bowl with Nick Foles after Wentz’s season-ending knee injury. A lot has changed since then!

Wentz is now on his third different team in three years. Pederson was out of the league last year and seemed like a fallback option for the Jaguars this offseason after the brief but disastrous Urban Meyer era.

It’s possible that Wentz gives the Commanders competent quarterback play. It’s also possible that their season spirals out of control in a hurry. I think the Jaguars are going to be a competitive team. The roster is mediocre, and they get to play with a freedom that exists when you no longer fear that your head coach might kick you. That has to count for something.

The pick: Jaguars (+2.5)

Minnesota Vikings v Las Vegas Raiders
Raiders WR Davante Adams
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Las Vegas Raiders at Los Angeles Chargers (-3.5)

The new-look Chargers defense could be on hold with cornerback J.C. Jackson—one of the team’s big free agent additions—potentially missing this game because of an ankle injury. The battle between the Raiders offensive line and the Chargers defensive line should tell us a lot about both these teams. Will Vegas’s issues up front limit its ability to get the ball to its talented pass catchers (Davante Adams, Darren Waller, and Hunter Renfrow)? Will adding Khalil Mack give the Chargers a ferocious pass rush? Have they solved their run defense issues?

I’ve got Chargers QB Justin Herbert as my MVP this season, and it’d be no surprise to see him light up this Raiders secondary. But I see two teams that can be efficient on offense, and it’s a division game. Vegas keeps it close.

The pick: Raiders (+3.5)

New York Giants at Tennessee Titans (-5.5)

Going into the summer, I was open to the idea that the Giants could be a much more competitive team in 2022. But it felt like pretty much nothing positive came out of their training camp. Wide receiver Kadarius Toney missed time with a hamstring injury. Giants beat writers put out daily video clips where it looked like receiver Kenny Golladay was moving in slow motion. Rookie edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux suffered a knee injury. And the team released linebacker Blake Martinez. The organization seems to be fully embracing 2022 as a rebuilding year.

The Titans got objectively worse this offseason. They traded wide receiver A.J. Brown, and edge rusher Harold Landry is out for the season with an ACL injury. But if there’s a time to pick them to cover 5.5, it’s in Week 1, when running back Derrick Henry is fresh and healthy. Mike Vrabel consistently does more with less. I pretty much always ride with him when the Titans are underdogs, and I’m comfortable taking Tennessee here as a favorite.

The pick: Titans (-5.5)

Kansas City Chiefs at Arizona Cardinals (+5.5)

Starting on November 9, the Cardinals will be featured on HBO’s in-season Hard Knocks. Just for fun, I looked up Arizona’s post-November 9 record over the past three years: it’s 8-16. I don’t know whose idea this was, but given how dysfunctional the Cardinals appeared to be this offseason, my expectations for that series are incredibly high.

I think the Chiefs defense could have a rough time in 2022—especially early in the season with rookies like defensive end George Karlaftis and corner Trent McDuffie playing such prominent roles. There’s a scenario where Kyler Murray lights the Chiefs up here.

But this Cardinals defense just doesn’t have a lot of talent, and Andy Reid vs. Kliff Kingsbury feels like a significant coaching mismatch. Give me Kansas City.

The pick: Chiefs (-5.5)

Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings (+1.5)

Let me come clean: I need to take the Packers here based purely on an emotional hedge. I picked the Vikings to win the NFC North. If they win here, I get the game pick wrong, but the season-long forecast gets off to a good start. If the Vikings lose, the season-long forecast takes a hit, but at least I get the game pick right.

Got all that? This is the type of analysis you can expect from the picks column all season long.

The pick: Packers (-1.5)

Cowboys QB Dak Prescott
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Dallas Cowboys (+2.5)

The Bucs had a weird summer. Tom Brady disappeared from training camp for 11 days, and they lost Pro Bowl center Ryan Jensen to a knee injury. But there’s still a lot to like about this team. Brady is still capable of playing at a high level and helping his offensive line out. They have plenty of weapons. And the defense could be a lot better than last season if the corners stay healthy.

The Cowboys, meanwhile, have easily the best quarterback in the NFC East, yet it’s hard to find anyone who believes they are serious contenders for a deep playoff run. They traded away wide receiver Amari Cooper and lost left tackle Tyron Smith to injury. The Cowboys last season benefited more from turnovers than any other defense in the past five years. That’s unlikely to repeat.

Aside from CeeDee Lamb, Dak Prescott’s just not going to have a lot of options unless a surprise pass catcher emerges. The Bucs’ secondary gives them an edge here.

The pick: Bucs (-2.5)

Denver Broncos at Seattle Seahawks (+6.5)

One of the most highly anticipated story lines of the season: Who’s going to be proved right—Russell Wilson or the Seahawks? Wilson felt limited in Seattle and now has the chance to show he’s capable of doing more during the second phase of his career. The Seahawks felt like they were getting out of the Wilson partnership at exactly the right time.

If Wilson lights it up for the Broncos and the Seahawks struggle to find a competent quarterback, Wilson wins the argument. If Wilson struggles in Denver, and the Seahawks show they can be competitive without him, it’s advantage Pete Carroll and John Schneider.

I’ve got the Broncos as a playoff team, and I have the Seahawks finishing in last place in the NFC West. There’s nothing I want more than to finish this column by saying simply, “Broncos Country, let’s ride.” But the truth is I think this is going to be a fun, ugly, weird game, and I’m taking the points.

The pick: Seahawks (+6.5)