There are no more beach trips, the sunburns have peeled, and it feels like we lose another hour of daylight every day, but there’s a light at the end of summer’s tunnel: Football season is here.
As summer gives way to fall, the NFL gears up for its return, which officially begins Thursday night in Denver, where the Broncos begin their Super Bowl defense against the Carolina Panthers in a Super Bowl 50 rematch.
The return of football also signals the return of NESN.com’s weekly pick column. NESN.com’s Mike Cole and Ricky Doyle are back at it this season making their weekly picks, and this year, they’re joined by Andre Khatchaturian. Make sure to check back every week for their weekly picks against the spread (in full below), and be sure to watch “The Spread: NESN.com’s Football Picks Show” in the video above and/or subscribe to the audio podcast on iTunes or Soundcloud.
With that, on to the Week 1 picks, with lines and odds courtesy of OddShark.com.
THURSDAY, SEPT. 8
(-3) Carolina Panthers at Denver Broncos, 8:30 p.m. ET
Mike: Panthers. Beating Denver’s defense is tough enough, let alone covering, but even if the Broncos can slow Cam Newton and Co., I can’t back Trevor Siemian just yet.
Ricky: Panthers. If I had a choice, I wouldn’t touch this game with a 10-foot pole, as weighing Denver’s vaunted defense/home-field advantage versus its obvious quarterback conundrum really doesn’t appeal to me. But since you asked, give me the Panthers. I just can’t back a Trevor Siemian-led offense in a Super Bowl rematch, mostly because I’m still wrapping my head around who the heck he is.
Andre: Panthers. These teams allowed the fewest yards per pass attempt last season. The difference now is that the Broncos have lost pieces on defense. Oh, and unproven quarterback Trevor Siemian is going against a Panthers defense that hasn’t changed much from last year.
SUNDAY, SEPT. 11
Buffalo Bills at (-3) Baltimore Ravens, 1 p.m.
Mike: Ravens. Damn you, Vegas. A half-point one way or the other would make this a much easier pick, but the Bills are the Bills, and they’re coming off one crummy offseason. Baltimore squeaks this out late behind a nice game from Joe Flacco.
Ricky: Bills. Everyone is just kind of assuming the Ravens will be better this season, given how many injuries they dealt with last season. That might be true, but I’m not sure how much better. Baltimore has an aging roster and seems like a team on the decline. The Bills, for all of their issues, seem like a good bet as an underdog in Week 1.
Andre: Bills. Buffalo is known as a defensive team, but its offense was highly efficient last season, thanks to Tyrod Taylor (8 yards per attempt — 5th). Taylor also doesn’t turn over the ball (1.6 percent interception rate — 5th). Flacco loves to throw deep, and the Bills have two great corners in Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby to stop him.
Chicago Bears at (-6.5) Houston Texans, 1 p.m.
Mike: Bears. The Texans should be better this season, and Brock Osweiler had a nice preseason, but 6.5 points is far too high for a team that has covered just twice in its last nine games as favorite of that spread or better.
Ricky: Texans. The spread scares me here, but not nearly as much as Chicago’s shuffled offensive line and the idea of Houston’s defense teeing off on everyone’s favorite whipping boy, Jay Cutler.
Andre: Bears. Chicago played in plenty of close games last season, as 11 of its last 13 games were decided by six points or less. The Bears are good enough to win this game because of an improved defense, and do we really trust Brock Osweiler yet? (7.2 yards per attempt — 23rd.)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at (-3) Atlanta Falcons, 1 p.m.
Mike: Bucs. It’s a little concerning that probably everyone is siding with Tampa Bay in this situation, but it beats betting on the Falcons, who feasted on a cupcake schedule early last season.
Ricky: Bucs. I’m expecting a shootout here, and I’ll roll with Jameis Winston to make some plays down the stretch. The Falcons’ defense could be better than last season’s unit, but that’d be a big assumption for me to make, given the roster turnover, and I’m not ready to go out on that limb.
Andre: Bucs. The Falcons had just 19 sacks last season (3.28 percent sack percentage — lowest in the NFL), so Jameis Winston should have time to make plays with his arm and with his feet. Doug Martin also should feast on a very mediocre Atlanta defense that allowed four yards per rush attempt last season.
Oakland Raiders at (-1) New Orleans Saints, 1 p.m.
Mike: Raiders. The Saints’ defense still stinks, right? Operating under that assumption, I like Oakland’s explosive offense to run away with it, especially if I’m getting points.
Ricky: Raiders. Love what the Raiders did over the offseason. And I love the potential of Oakland’s offense. Add it all up, and I can’t figure out a reason to take the Saints. So I won’t.
Andre: Raiders. Derek Carr has weapons, and Drew Brees has no help on defense (allowed NFL-worst 6.6 yards per play last season.) The Raiders also are stacked defensively after adding Bruce Irvin, Reggie Nelson and Sean Smith. This should be a blowout.
(-4.5) Green Bay Packers at Jacksonville Jaguars, 1 p.m.
Mike: Packers. I expect this line to move a point or so before kickoff Sunday. The Jaguars’ pass defense last season was nothing special, and now that Aaron Rodgers has his best weapon back in Jordy Nelson, I think we’ll see a Packers team ready to send a message.
Ricky: Packers. The Jaguars might sneak into the playoffs this season, given they play in the nauseating AFC South. But their winning ways won’t start this week. It will take time for Jacksonville’s young, up-and-coming defense to jell as a unit, and facing Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay’s offense out of the gate isn’t ideal.
Andre: Packers. Green Bay averaged 5.1 yards per play (29th) last season, but Aaron Rodgers has his studs back. Jacksonville has improved, but Rodgers is angry after a sub-par (at least for Rodgers’ standards) 2015 campaign, and he should shred the Jags to pieces.
(-2) Minnesota Vikings at Tennessee Titans, 1 p.m.
Mike: Titans. The Titans are improved (keep an eye on Tajae Sharpe), and the Vikings are starting either Shaun Hill or Sam Bradford at quarterback. Give me the points.
Ricky: Vikings. Probably will regret this pick by about 1:15 Sunday, because I do think the Titans will take a step forward this season and everything points to the Vikings’ offense being in trouble without Teddy Bridgewater. But let’s screw around with fire and say Minnesota plays some inspired football — for at least one week — in its starting quarterback’s absence.
Andre: Titans. So much was made of the Vikings’ defense last season, but they actually were pretty average. They allowed 5.4 yards per play (16th in the NFL). Marcus Mariota, DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry should use their revamped offensive line to control possession and win.
(-2.5) Cincinnati Bengals at New York Jets, 1 p.m.
Mike: Bengals. The under probably is worth a look here (41.5), given the Jets’ defense still should be pretty good, but there are plenty of question marks on the offensive side after Ryan Fitzpatrick’s holdout. I think Cincy can win this by at least a field goal.
Ricky: Bengals. When I last checked my calendar, it said “September” and not “January,” so I feel OK taking the Bengals by a kick. Cincinnati also was very good against the spread last season (12-3-2), for whatever that’s worth.
Andre: Jets. New York’s defense allowed just 5 yards per play last season (fourth in NFL). The Bengals lost a ton this offseason on both sides of the ball (Hue Jackson, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Reggie Nelson). Offensively, the Jets have plenty of weapons (Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker and Matt Forte) that should take advantage of a defense that won’t be as strong this season because of the loss of Nelson (league-leading eight interceptions in 2015).
Cleveland Browns at (-4) Philadelphia Eagles, 1 p.m.
Mike: Browns. The Browns’ defense stinks, but it’s probably a little better than the likes of Weber State or Northern Iowa, the types of teams likely Eagles starter Carson Wentz faced one year ago.
Ricky: Browns. Carson Wentz could end up being a nice quarterback. Who the heck knows? But picking a rookie QB in his first career regular-season game by more than a field goal seems bold, even with the game being played in Philadelphia and the Browns being on the opposing sideline.
Andre: Browns. Four points is too much in a toilet bowl featuring inept quarterbacks and leaky defenses. The Browns should cover, but the Eagles should win because they have more offensive threats (Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham) and Cleveland is thinner defensively after losing Tashaun Gipson.
San Diego Chargers at (-7) Kansas City Chiefs, 1 p.m.
Mike: Chargers. The Chiefs are just 4-6 ATS when favored by seven or more since the start of the 2013 season.
Ricky: Chiefs. New season, same story for the Chargers: Philip Rivers and not much else. Smells like a cakewalk at Arrowhead.
Andre: Chiefs. The Chargers failed to score a touchdown against the Chiefs last season. Kansas City allowed 6 yards per pass attempt (3rd fewest) last season and had the second-best turnover differential. Justin Houston is out, but the Chiefs should have enough to dominate this game.
Miami Dolphins at (-10.5) Seattle Seahawks, 4:05 p.m.
Mike: Seahawks. It’s a big spread, sure, but the Seahawks are 10-0 at home in the Pete Carroll era, and they’ve covered every time. It’s a bad matchup for the Dolphins, who likely won’t be able to run the ball, making it a long day for Ryan Tannehill.
Ricky: Seahawks. I know I’m supposed to believe Ryan Tannehill finally will reach his potential under new Dolphins head coach Adam Gase. But I also know Seattle still has one of the NFL’s best secondaries and things could turn ugly very quickly for Miami this weekend.
Andre: Seahawks. Seattle is 7-2-1 ATS when favored by double digits since November 2013. They’re at home. They should win easily.
New York Giants (PK) at Dallas Cowboys, 4:25 p.m.
Mike: Giants. The Cowboys were a miserable home team last season (1-7), and they would have gone 0-8 had the Giants not puked away a late lead in Week 1. The revamped New York defense won’t allow the same to happen this season.
Ricky: Giants. The Cowboys might have the NFL’s best offensive line, but it’s still protecting a rookie quarterback (Dak Prescott) and a rookie running back (Ezekiel Elliott). Mistakes are inevitable, and the Giants’ defensive front seems like a unit capable of forcing them.
Andre: Giants. Dallas’ record without Tony Romo is well-documented. But this team also has a limited front seven and had the worst turnover differential in the NFL last season.
Detroit Lions at (-3.5) Indianapolis Colts, 4:25 p.m.
Mike: Colts. The Colts are banged up in the secondary and on the offensive line, which could create some problems, but the Lions were bad enough last season when they still had Calvin Johnson. Indy should pull away late and cover.
Ricky: Colts. A show-me game for Andrew Luck, who’s looking to bounce back from a season in which everything seemed to go wrong. Plus, the game’s being played in Indy, so that should help.
Andre: Colts. Andrew Luck is talented enough to win plenty of games against teams with crappy defenses this season. Detroit is one of those teams.
New England Patriots at (-6) Arizona Cardinals, 8:25 p.m.
Mike: Patriots. The Cardinals probably will win this game, and I’m not entirely confident in this pick given how Jimmy Garoppolo played in the preseason. But the Patriots’ defense should be good, and Garoppolo should have Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola back in the fold, which should be enough to cover.
Ricky: Patriots. Six points against a Bill Belichick-led team is just way too many regardless of who’s playing quarterback for the Patriots. The Cardinals are my Super Bowl pick going into this season, but the Patriots should cover Sunday night, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if New England rides its defense to an upset win in the desert.
Andre: Patriots. The Patriots have lost only one season opener dating to 2004. That’s a testament to the way Bill Belichick has his team prepared after a long layoff. Arizona could win this game, but Belichick will have his team prepared to make it at least a close one.
MONDAY, SEPT. 12
(-3) Pittsburgh Steelers at Washington Redskins, 7:10 p.m.
Mike: Steelers. I’m always a little weary when more than two-thirds of the bets are on favored road team, especially when the home dog is a playoff team. That being said, the Steelers probably will take a hard look at what the Packers did in D.C. last season and look to replicate that.
Ricky: Steelers. The Redskins didn’t beat one team with a winning record last season. People don’t forget.
Andre: Steelers. Washington allowed a 96 passer rating to opponents last season. You have to think Ben Roethlisberger will post a better rating than that with all of his weapons.
(-2.5) Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers, 10:20 p.m.
Mike: Rams. Because they’re not the 49ers.
Ricky: 49ers. The NFL probably just forgot about these two teams, hence why they’re rounding out the Week 1 schedule. Give me the Niners, who are a perfect 5-0 straight up and against the spread in season openers since 2011.
Andre: Rams. There’s no reason to believe the 49ers’ offense will improve much from last season, when they averaged an NFC-worst 5 yards per play. The Rams have Todd Gurley, and their defense is good enough for them to cover in a boring, sloppy game.
Thumbnail photo via Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports Images