My 5 NFL Week 1 Picks Against the Spread

It feels incredible to have NFL games to eagerly consume again. After no preseason and a few laughable college football matchups, we finally saw Patrick Mahomes vs. Deshaun Watson last night, as the entire world collectively laughed at the Bears for passing on both in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Takeaways from Opening Night

In hindsight, the blowout win for the Chiefs was slap-yourself-in-the-face predictable. The Texans traded away Watson’s #1 target in DeAndre Hopkins and their offense stalled anytime they had to throw the ball. It didn’t help that the Chiefs have what should be a top 10 defense.

Watching Kansas City get their healthy D-line beasts back in Frank Clark and Chris Jones, it was a reminder that this team is not just an offensive juggernaut. The Chiefs defense stepped up in the second half of last year and it appears that the momentum is still building.

The Chiefs are incredibly talented. We didn’t need that reminder, but with the addition of running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, they could be better than anyone imagined. The Chiefs will be regularly favored by double-digit points and we shouldn’t blink an eye. They will likely be a team priced at a number where sharp bettors will hesitate to lay the points. All the while, the casual bettors will line up to take Patrick Mahomes.

Last night was also a reminder that the Texans were lucky to win 10 games a year ago and have a bottom-third defense in the league. Combine that with Watson searching for chemistry with his revamped wide receiver core, and it could be a while before the Texans are a team you want to bet on.

Chicago Bears +3 at Detroit Lions

The Chicago Bears were #10 in defensive DVOA a year ago, despite enduring a plethora of key injures. All-Pro NT Akiem Hicks missed most of the season, which allowed teams to double and triple-team Khalil Mack. Mack also seemed to be playing through an injury. Both starting middle linebackers, Roquan Smith, and Danny Trevathan, also missed significant time. When healthy, the Bears have a Super Bowl quality defense.

Bears Offense vs. Lions Defense

The Bears had no running game in 2019, and everyone knows what the national perception is of quarterback Mitch Trubisky. However, Trubisky absolutely owns the Lions. In his three games against the Lions with HC Matt Nagy, Trubisky has a 132.4 passer rating, with 9 TD, 1 INT, and 866 yards passing.

This Lions defense was ranked 26th by weighted DVOA a year ago. Detroit has no pass rush to speak of, and their secondary is a work in progress, to put it mildly. Mid-season, the Lions traded standout safety Quandre Diggs to the Seahawks. Then they traded their top cover corner Darius Slay to the Eagles. Of course, the Lions also drafted Jeff Okudah the All World prospect out of Ohio State with the #3 pick in the draft. He will be good, I have no doubt. But how good will he be in Week 1 with a lack of regular preparation?

Lions Offense vs. Bears Defense

Matthew Stafford was playing incredibly well until suffering his injury a year ago. He will be the reason that this game will be competitive, something we didn’t get to see from the Bears matchups with David Blough and Jeff Driskel a year ago. The problem is that the Lions have one of the worst offensive lines in football. If you don’t believe me, just check out their Madden 21 ratings. One player, LT Taylor Decker at 74, is rated above 68.

The Bears have one of the best front sevens in football. And they upgraded it in the offseason adding edge rusher Robert Quinn to replace the disappointing former top-ten pick, Leonard Floyd. Matt Stafford can only do so much, and the Lions do not have a running attack that can support him.

The Pick: Bears +3 – 4 units

The Lions are everyone’s darling pick in 2020, and that popularity is showing up by pushing the spread from -1 to -3. According to bets tracked by the Action Network, 53% of the tickets have been punched for Detroit. However, despite receiving just 47% of the bets, the Bears account for 73% of the money in the market. That difference of 26% is the second-largest this week, just behind the Dolphins at 31%.

It’s probably time to point out that I am a huge Bears fan and a homer at that. So, you can take the 4-Unit play with a grain of salt. But this became my favorite play of the week as soon as it hit the key number of +3. These next picks will be much quicker.

Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings -2.5

Everyone knows the Packers were lucky to win 13 games a year ago, which is why their over/under on the season is set at 8.5. The Packers did nothing to help out old man Aaron, and let their second-best CB Tramon Williams leave in free agency.

Similarly, the Vikings appear to have downgraded from a season ago. Edge rusher Everson Griffen is gone, but he wasn’t even one of the Vikings five best defensive players. The Vikings defense was #4 according to DVOA a season ago. And say what you want about Kirk Cousins, but he is a top 15 quarterback and one that the team does not rely on.

Dalvin Cook remains one of the most lethal running threats in football. And together with Alexander Mattison, the Vikings will run it down your throat while playing great defense. While they traded Stephon Diggs to the Bills, the Vikings were without a healthy Adam Thielen for the majority of the 2019 season. So I don’t expect their offense to be downgraded much from 2019.

The Packers also have one of the worst run defenses in football and did nothing to address it. I love the Vikings giving up less than 3 points.

The Pick: Vikings -2.5 – 2 Units

Tennessee Titans -1 at Denver Broncos

Is Drew Lock any good? He was against bad defenses, such as the Lions and Texans last year. But he was pretty bad against everyone else. I didn’t trust this Broncos team before hearing that Von Miller will miss the season. That news only makes the fade of the Broncos more enticing. This is a team on the decline on defense and has a questionable quarterback throwing to young, inexperienced wide receivers.

The Titans, meanwhile, have the Beast that is Derrick Henry. They also have a surprisingly effective and efficient quarterback in Ryan Tannehill, who was #9 in QBR a year ago. Tennessee had the 22nd rated pass defense last year, but I’m not sure Lock can exploit it. They also had the #11 rush defense, which should help to take away Lock’s crutch.

We’re getting the clearly superior team giving up just a point. This is a multiple unit play.

The Pick: Titans -1 – 2 Units

Arizona Cardinals +7 at San Francisco 49ers

This line was Cardinals +8 in the off-season, and +7.5 was available earlier this week. But despite the move down to +7, I still think a full touchdown is too many points. The Cardinals had the 6th best run defense in the league last year, and the 49ers run the ball more than any other team in football. The QB edge goes to the Cardinals, and the 49ers defense showed more than a few cracks in the Super Bowl.

The Pick: Cardinals +7 – 1 Unit

San Diego Chargers -3 at Cincinnati Bengals

This play is just a fade of the Bengals and Joe Burrow in his first NFL start. The Bengals had the third-worst defense in the year in 2019. While they did add several new starters in free agency, I don’t expect that unit to be much better in Week 1. The Chargers have the much more talented roster, and I don’t expect Cincy to keep this game close.

The Pick: Chargers -3 – 1 Unit

To recap:

  • Bears +3 at Lions
  • Vikings -2.5 hosting Packers
  • Titans -1 at Broncos
  • Cardinals +6.5 at 49ers
  • Chargers -3 at Bengals

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