After a two-year layoff, it’s time to bring back the Golden Rules, Aunt Mabel and a whole bunch of sarcasm, all the while I try to help you with your weekly NFL picks.
The idea with the column began in 2014 to mainly assist with readers’ knockout pools, but it progressed into presenting logic for those just as interested in playing the spread (legally only, of course). We also are adding the over/unders this season should you choose to become a true degenerate like some of us here at bet.nola.com.
That said, let’s take a look at Week 1, which always seems to be the toughest week of the year. With one fewer week of preseason and starters playing even less than ever, it is really tough to get a feel for what we might see.
Not that I am making any excuses ahead of time in case I don’t have a great week in my opening picks column as The Advocate’s sports betting writer. How’s that for confidence?
WEEK 1 NFL PICKS
Picks are in order of confidence straight up (home team in bold):
LA RAMS over CHICAGO, Sunday at 7:20 p.m. (NBC)
So she has been away for two years, but everyone and their Aunt Mabel seems to be on the Rams this season, including me. While I think it would be far-fetched for Andy Dalton and the Bears to go across the country and win on Opening Night it certainly could be a little closer than some think.
The Rams are dealing with some injuries, and they are going to have to figure out their run game as they go along. A late score keeps this one just inside the spread. It also pushes the total over.
Against the spread: Bears plus-7.5. Over 44.5.
SAN FRANCISCO over DETROIT, Sunday at noon (FOX)
Another one that seems like a no-brainer, but I can’t stand betting with the public. And the public is overwhelmingly on the 49ers here. It’s easy to see why, as the Lions are the team I predict to have the first pick in next year’s NFL Draft.
Over the past decade, though, Detroit seems to play its best football early in the season while they (unrealistically) think they have a chance. Of course, they have replaced Matt Stafford with Jared Goff, but expect the Ford Field crowd to be thrilled to be back, and they could keep it close.
Speaking of the past decade, the Lions have won six games outright, tied one and lost two of the other three by five points or less in Week 1.
Against the spread: Lions plus-7.5. (Least-favorite pick against the spread.) Under 46.
BUFFALO over PITTSBURGH, Sunday at noon (CBS)
While I am high on the Steelers this season, I am not so high in this opener. There’s no reason to think the Bills won’t be competing to make a run at the Super Bowl once again, and with the uncertainty of TJ Watt, we have to wonder about if that will take a toll early on this team.
Can’t wait to see what my top Rookie of the Year candidate has to offer, as Najee Harris makes his debut, but unless Pittsburgh can get to Josh Allen early and often, I don’t see this one being all that close.
P.S. The Bills have won their last two games against the Steelers – both of them coming by seven or more points.
Against the spread: Bills minus-6.5. Under 48.5.
BALTIMORE over LAS VEGAS, Monday at 7:15 p.m. (ESPN, ESPN2)
The Ravens have won five consecutive regular-season openers (and covered in all of them), and it could stem from their long winning streak in preseason. (Who says preseason doesn’t matter?) And while the Raiders are 2-1 in season openers under Jon Gruden, their victories have come against Carolina and Denver, both of which finished those respective seasons under .500.
Josh Jacobs remains questionable as I type this, and Jalen Richard is out, which obviously presents a problem.
Baltimore has won six consecutive games as a favorite, and Golden Rule No. 2 is never bet against a streak of three or more until it’s over. (Golden Rule No. 1 is coming later if you don’t remember!) Lamar Jackson should have a wonderful debut, and the ESPN talking heads will be in their glory.
Against the spread: Ravens minus-4.5. (Favorite pick against the spread.) Under 51.5.
TAMPA BAY over DALLAS, Thursday at 7:20 p.m (NBC)
We all know the Super Bowl champs almost always win straight up on Opening Night. That being said, something about this game just stinks. Maybe it’s because I watched too much Hard Knocks. Maybe it’s because I think Dak is laying low. Maybe it’s because I am over-ranking Dallas, as many normally do this time of year.
Whatever it is, I just don’t think this Bucs team is as good as most others think they are. Truth is a lot of these openers are close, and many of them are low-scoring. I don’t think this one is any different, and I would not take this in a knockout pool.
Against the spread: Cowboys plus-7.5. Under 51.5.
ATLANTA over PHILADELPHIA, Sunday at noon (FOX)
Not that anyone is expecting special things out of the Eagles, but this really could be an underwhelming season up in Philly. Meanwhile, when is Atlanta at their best? When there’s no pressure on them.
Opening at home against a team that has very little air power, the Falcons should be able to concentrate on stopping Miles Sanders and Boston Scott. On the other side, Matt Ryan no longer has to worry about when Julio Jones is going to play or when he’ll be healthy, and he has some names who could be well known in a month or so to throw to.
Yeah, yeah, you hate the Falcons, but hold your nose and click their button this week.
Against the spread: Falcons minus-3.5. Under 48.
CAROLINA over NY JETS, Sunday at noon (CBS)
Here’s what we know: Everyone seems to be in love with Zach Wilson, and Christian McCaffrey coming back means the Panthers will be contenders. Question I have is, who is “everyone,” anyway?
Simply put, you cannot take this in a knockout pool, as we really don’t know how much better the Jets will be, and Sam Darnold will not make that much of a difference. Also, if you want to go with trends, both teams stink. The Panthers have lost five straight games against the spread as a favorite, while the Jets are 1-8 ATS in their last nine September games.
Leave this one alone, unless you want to take the under.
Against the spread: Jets plus-5. Under 45.
HOUSTON over JACKSONVILLE, Sunday at noon (CBS)
Who in the holy heck thinks the Jaguars should be giving points to ANYONE on the road? OK, so the Texans have been run through the gamut with their boneheaded quarterback’s off-the-field digressions and the changes on defense.
Still, I go back to the question: Who in the holy heck thinks the Jaguars should be giving points to ANYONE on the road?
Oh yeah, Golden Rule No. 1 says to always take a home dog in a division game. No matter how bad they are.
Against the spread: Texans plus-2.5. (Second-favorite pick against the spread.) Over 45.
KANSAS CITY over CLEVELAND, Sunday at 3:25 p.m. (CBS)
Why do I have a weird feeling the Chiefs take a step backward this season? I’m not sure if my gut is telling me some sort of major injury is going to happen or if I ate too much for dinner. Maybe it’s the way K.C. played in the Super Bowl, who knows?
Either way, I am not putting a lot of stock early in this team. That being said, I also think Cleveland takes a step backward.
In other words, I am totally confused, and this game is a perfect example why I hate Week 1. You’re not going to take this in a knockout anyway, as one would hope the smart knockaholic would save Kansas City for something much easier than this.
I do love the under, because the betting public has forced the line to rise from 52.5 to 54.5, and it’s usually a good idea to bet against the public. (I know I said that already, and I will say it again.)
Against the spread: Browns plus-6. Under 54.5.
MINNESOTA over CINCINNATI, Sunday at noon (FOX)
It seems logical both these teams will be better in 2021, and maybe, just maybe, the Bengals are ready to get out of the top 10 in the NFL Draft order.
However, although while it’s great to see Joe Burrow back so quickly and with weapons, Minnesota could be a sleepy good pick in the AFC North. And if they are going to be successful this season and get Mike Zimmer off the hot seat, they simply have to win the games they’re supposed to win.
This is one of them.
Against the spread: Vikings minus-3. Over 48.
GREEN BAY over NEW ORLEANS (at Jacksonville), Sunday at 3:25 p.m. (FOX)
Uh oh, I am already stoking the fires, as the carpet riders will think I am just being a hater. If you believe that, then you haven’t read my predictions for the NFC South (which you can read by clicking here).
Still, whether you like it or not, this might be the least-ideal team in the NFC the Saints could open up against, That is especially true considering it was supposed to be in the Dome and it now will be played in Duval. (Which also means the Saints will be the only team in the NFL who will play 10 of 17 games away from home this season.)
Aaron Rodgers will be ticked off following his strange offseason and have something to prove, and he’ll try to do so against a shaky Saints secondary that is still adding pieces to the puzzle.
I will say this: If the Saints, who will find a way to keep this one close and indeed find a way to prove me wrong, it could be quite the start with four straight very winnable games after this one. Don’t count on it, though.
Against the spread: Saints plus-4. Under 50. (More coming on the Saints vs. Packers trends and series notes on Friday.)
WASHINGTON over LA CHARGERS, Sunday at noon (CBS)
I went back and forth on this one throughout the week, but early on I have found that defense seems to have the advantage over offense. And the Football Team has one of the best defenses in the NFL.
Justin Herbert should be ready to take the next step, but he has one of the toughest schedules in the NFL. Starting his sophomore season on the road against this fierce rush is less than ideal.
And, really, do you want to bet against Fitzmagic in his first game with his 46th new team? I don’t.
Against the spread: Washington plus-1. Under 44.5.
DENVER over NY GIANTS, Sunday at 3:25 p.m. (FOX)
Speaking of defenses, there’s a chance the Broncos end up with the best in the league, and like I said previously, I think defenses have the advantage in the opening part of the season.
Danny Dimes could make the Giants a surprise team this year, but it will have to come later in the season. Conversely, Teddy Bridgewater could pay dividends immediately.
Against the spread: Broncos minus-2.5. Over 42.5.
MIAMI over NEW ENGLAND, Sunday at noon 3:25 p.m. (CBS)
Anyone who pays attention knows for some unknown reason the Dolphins give Bill Belichick fits, even during the Tom Brady years. Now with the debut of Mac Jones, it is easy to think he will have an adjustment period.
The Fins have won four out of the past seven games straight up between the two teams, they are 5-1 in their last six September games, and they’re 4-1 in their last five games as a road underdog.
Not only do they cover, but they win outright here in a low-scoring game. 17-13ish.
Against the spread: Dolphins plus-3. Under 43.
INDIANAPOLIS over SEATTLE, Sunday at noon (FOX)
As we have talked about through the week, the Colts have a brutal schedule, and they know it. One might not think that would have an effect on how they play, but one can bet they will geared up for their opener, especially with it being at home.
This could be a low-scoring affair (and we like the under more than we like the line), as the Seahawks were great last year at stopping what the Colts do best, and that’s stopping the run. However, we’re going to give Carson Wentz the benefit of the doubt in his first game wearing the horse shoe.
Against the spread: Colts plus-2.5. Under 48.5.
ARIZONA over TENNESSEE, Sunday at noon (CBS)
What picks column would be worth anything without an upset special that makes no sense? Have a feeling this could be one of the knockout pool busters right off the bat, as the Titans weren’t exactly the best at stopping the run in 2020, which means Kyler Murray could have a field day.
It will be interesting to see how quickly the Titans get going with some new faces in the fold. Besides, the public loves Tennessee here, and you already know how I feel about the public’s opinion. (And they are 1-5 ATS in their last six September games.)
This is straight gut feeling, and we know what that means: Don’t put too much on it, but stay away from the Titans if you want to move on to Week 2 in knockout.
Against the spread: Cardinals plus-3. Over 51.5.
* Spreads were gathered from Caesars Sportsbook New Jersey as of Wednesday, Sept. 8.
RECORD OVER FIVE SEASONS (2014-18)
Straight up: 863-469 (.648); Against the spread: 679-614 (.525).