Summer vacation is over, and if you’re a football fan, you couldn’t be any happier … well, unless you’re a New York Jets fan, of course.
The football season starts anew Thursday night at Gillette Stadium, where the New England Patriots will raise Super Bowl banner No. 5. As soon as that celebration ends, to borrow a line from the head coach, we’re on to 2017.
That means the return of NESN.com’s weekly NFL picks, as Mike Cole, Ricky Doyle and Andre Khatchaturian are back to make their weekly against-the-spread selections. Also returning in 2017 is “The Spread,” NESN.com’s football picks podcast, presented by MyBookie.ag, which can be watched in the video above.
Now, onto the picks, with lines courtesy of MyBookie.ag. (All times Eastern.)
THURSDAY, SEPT. 7
Kansas City Chiefs at (-9) New England Patriots, 8:25 p.m.
Mike: Chiefs. Well, it took less than one week for me to abandon “Pick the Patriots until they give me a reason not to.” But I wonder whether there’s going to be a slight acclimation period for the New England’s offense with all those new pieces and in the fallout of the Julian Edelman injury. Patriots still win, though.
Ricky: Patriots. A wise man once said “Pick the Patriots until they give you a reason not to.” Oh, wait. That was Mike, who already changed course. Well, screw it. It makes sense to me. The Pats didn’t just win 17 of 19 games last season en route to a Super Bowl title. They also were an amazing 16-3 against the spread. It’s hard to imagine a letdown on Banner Night, especially against the Chiefs, who’ve been slow starters in recent years.
Andre: Chiefs. The over-under is 48.5, which means the projected score is 28-20 or 29-21. I think the Chiefs’ pass rush is strong enough to hold the Patriots under 30, and Kansas City has enough playmakers — as well as a quarterback who doesn’t make mistakes — to get to the 20-point mark.
SUNDAY, SEPT. 10
New York Jets at (-9.5) Buffalo Bills, 1 p.m.
Mike: Jets. That’s a lot of points to be laying for a team that lost at least three of its best players (Mike Gillislee, Sammy Watkins, Ronald Darby) in the offseason and has a quarterback coming off a concussion.
Ricky: Jets. As bad as the Jets project to be this season, their biggest issues reside on offense. In fact, there’s still some talent on the defensive side even after trading Sheldon Richardson to the Seattle Seahawks. Expect a low-scoring game, in which case this is too many points separating the AFC East rivals.
Andre: Jets. The New York Jets are not going 0-16. The fact that this is even a discussion has made the Bills an eight-point favorite in a football game — something that should never, ever happen. Josh McCown isn’t very good, but he’s a veteran who’s won in the NFL. Matt Forte and Bilal Powell also combined for over 1,500 yards last season and they’ll be going up against a defense that wasn’t very good against the run last season (4.5 yards allowed per carry).
(-7) Atlanta Falcons at Chicago Bears, 1 p.m.
Mike: Bears. I’m higher on Atlanta than a lot of people seem to be, but I can’t ignore that the Super Bowl runner-up is 0-11 against the spread in Week 1 the last 11 seasons. Hard to ignore that number.
Ricky: Falcons. See the number above. And then ignore it. The Bears’ defense stinks — Pro Football Focus wrote back in July that Chicago has the 30th-ranked secondary (ahead of only the New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles) and the 28th-ranked front seven. That doesn’t bode well against the Falcons’ offense, which still stands to be very good this season even if it regresses to some extent.
Andre: Bears. I love the Bears’ front seven, which was seventh in sack percentage last season despite a plethora of injuries. Jordan Howard and the Bears’ offensive line also is extremely underrated (5.2 yards per rush attempt last season.) They’ll eat clock, keep Matt Ryan off the field and keep the game close.
Jacksonville Jaguars at (-5.5) Houston Texans, 1 p.m.
Mike: Texans. The under might be the best play here, but there’s just too much going against Jacksonville here. Houston is playing its first game since Hurricane Harvey, and that city is going to be looking for something to cheer about — J.J. Watt’s return should do the trick, especially against an offense like the Jaguars have.
Ricky: Texans. The Texans, built on defense, actually have a fairly decent quarterback situation going into the season: Veteran starter Tom Savage is motivated to keep his job, while highly touted first-rounder Deshaun Watson is waiting in the wings to give Houston a spark if/when necessary. The Jaguars, meanwhile, do not have a “fairly decent quarterback situation.” Theirs sucks. Period.
Andre: Texans. Blake Bortles is a pretty bad quarterback. Now he’s going up against the league’s best defense from last year which just got the league’s best defensive player back on their roster. #TurnoverCity.
(-1) Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins, 1 p.m.
Mike: Redskins. The Redskins are 6-1 against the spread in their last seven games as home favorites, and Terrelle Pryor’s matchup against an iffy Philly defense will give him an early chance to prove he was an underrated offseason pickup.
Ricky: Eagles. There’s actually a lot to like about the Eagles this season — excellent offensive line, very good front seven, added some weapons on offense (Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith) — and they’ll soar in Week 1 thanks to steady quarterback play from sophomore Carson Wentz and the new thunder-lightning running back combo of LeGarrette Blount and Darren Sproles.
Andre: Redskins. Wentz was 1-7 with seven touchdowns and nine interceptions on the road last season. The Eagles made great offseason moves offensively, but I don’t know if they’ve done enough defensively to limit Cousins and the explosive Redskins offense, which ranked third in yards per play last season.
(-2) Arizona Cardinals at Detroit Lions, 1 p.m.
Mike: Cardinals. The Lions won just one game by more than a touchdown last season, and most of them were more along the lines of a field goal difference. That kind of trend eventually starts to even out; I’m expecting regression early and often this year.
Ricky: Lions. The Cardinals lost five starters on defense, creating some questions as to where the unit stands going into the 2017 season. Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer also is 37 years old — and not Tom Brady, who consistently defeats Father Time — and is coming off an up-and-down campaign. Slowing David Johnson is a chore for any team, but I’m not buying into the Cardinals just yet after last season’s letdown. Give me the Lions, whose defense stands to improve this season.
Andre: Cardinals. Arizona’s defense wasn’t a problem last season, as it allowed the second-fewest yards per play and highest sack percentage. Detroit, on the other hand, was atrocious on defense and didn’t really do much to address it this offseason. Who’s going to stop Johnson?
Oakland Raiders at (-2) Tennessee Titans, 1 p.m.
Mike: Titans. You’re gonna hear all about the Titans’ run game this week and how well it matches up against the Oakland defense. That’s certainly true; Tennessee has a big edge. But just wait until the Titans go over the top for a play-action dagger.
Ricky: Raiders. The Titans are going to be really good, but it could take some time for Marcus Mariota and his new offensive toys to get on the same page. The Raiders, meanwhile, showed in 2016 what they’re capable of with a healthy Derek Carr. Oakland will take some chances, create some turnovers (the Raiders had a plus-16 turnover differential last season; tied with the Chiefs for the best in the NFL) and ultimately squeak out a Week 1 win over an upstart AFC contender.
Andre: Titans. The Raiders allowed 6.1 yards per play last season, the most in the league, and masked that atrocious defense by forcing tons of turnovers. Mariota has developed quickly and doesn’t make many mistakes (just one interception in his final six games last year) and I think the Titans’ elite running game can eat the clock and propel them to victory.
Baltimore Ravens at (-3) Cincinnati Bengals, 1 p.m
Mike: Bengals. Vegas basically is telling us these teams are evenly matched if not for home field. I’m not so sure. The Ravens are kind of already in disarray, thanks in large part to injuries.
Ricky: Ravens. The Bengals lost a pair of really good offensive linemen in tackle Andrew Whitworth and guard Kevin Zeitler just one year after losing a pair of talented receivers in Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu. That’s not ideal, especially against the Ravens, who despite their offensive flaws still have a good defense under the guidance of Dean Pees.
Andre: Bengals. Joe Flacco’s health is a concern and the Ravens lost a ton of players this summer due to injury, suspension or retirement.
(-9) Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns, 1 p.m.
Mike: Browns. Gonna level with you here: I’m basically just fading the public. Nearly 3/4 of the spread bets are on the Steelers, and the Browns actually are getting better. They’ll hang with Pittsburgh, at least enough to cover.
Ricky: Browns. Myles Garrett’s ankle injury is worrisome, but there’s still some newfound optimism in Cleveland that’s hard to overlook. Jabrill Peppers looks like a game-changer on defense and special teams, and Cleveland made huge improvements along its offensive line. Don’t sleep on a Week 1 upset, especially with Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell coming off an offseason contract dispute.
Andre: Steelers. Pittsburgh’s defense thrived at the end of last season. They had 25 sacks in the final seven games and allowed just 4.7 yards per play during that stretch. The Browns allowed a season-high 66 sacks. Good luck, DeShone Kizer.
Indianapolis Colts at (-3.5) Los Angeles Rams, 4:05 p.m.
Mike: Rams. That half-point is scary, especially when you’re putting your faith in Jared Goff. But the Colts can’t block anyone and a new offense should have Todd Gurley excited about the prospects of returning to his 2015 form.
Ricky: Rams. I still have some concerns about Goff in his second NFL season. But those concerns are mitigated by Indianapolis’ Week 1 starter, Scott Tolzien, who celebrated his 30th birthday earlier this week with three NFL starts to his name.
Andre: Rams. The Colts haven’t done anything to give their quarterbacks any protection. Having to go up against that Rams pass rush doesn’t help, either. Goff also should have plenty of time to throw against the Colts’ non-existent pass rush, which was last in the NFL in defensive hurries last season.
Seattle Seahawks at (-3) Green Bay Packers, 4:25 p.m.
Mike: Seahawks. Earl Thomas showed how valuable he was to the Seattle defense last year. Without him, the Packers stomped out the Seahawks, 38-10. Won’t be as easy this time around for the Packers, who still have to prove their defense is improved against Seattle’s sneakily tough outside weapons.
Ricky: Packers. Aaron Rodgers. Oh, and Lambeau Field. The Seahawks are 0-4-1 ATS in their last five road games against the Packers, and Seattle has been outscored 65-27 in its two previous trips to Green Bay under Pete Carroll.
Andre: Packers. Russell Wilson threw the ball more than he ever has last season and the results weren’t pretty: His completion percentage dipped, he had the second-lowest touchdown total in his career, he set a career high in interceptions and posted a career low in passer rating. Wilson didn’t have much protection then, and he still doesn’t now. With a questionable running game, the team is going to have to rely on him to a greater extent, thus becoming more predictable.
(-5.5) Carolina Panthers at San Francisco 49ers, 4:25 p.m.
Mike: 49ers. So, like, how do we know for sure Cam Newton is healthy? He’s coming off shoulder surgery and threw two preseason passes. I also like the Kyle Shanahan factor in San Fran. Panthers might win it late, but it will be close.
Ricky: Panthers. The 49ers allowed an NFL-worst 4.8 yards per carry and 165.9 rush yards per game last season. And although they went defense with their first three draft picks (defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, linebacker Reuben Foster and cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon), I don’t think we’ll see immediate results.
Andre: Panthers. Carolina’s defense is getting old, but they get an easy test against an anemic offense in Week 1. Newton is healthy and hungry as he tries to bounce back from a dismal year.
New York Giants at (-4) Dallas Cowboys, 8:25 p.m.
Mike: Giants. New York, which beat Dallas twice last season, is just a tough matchup for the Cowboys. They mostly bottled up Ezekiel Elliott last season, and the secondary locked down Dez Bryant and Co. These two teams always seem to play close — three of last four decided by a field goal or less — so I’ll take the three points.
Ricky: Giants. You know that whole “battle in the trenches” thing? Well, it’s incredibly important here, as the Giants’ front seven is one of the few units in football capable of shutting down the Cowboys’ rushing attack — Zeke or no Zeke.
Andre: Giants. In two games against the Giants last year, Dak Prescott was 0-2 while completing 51.2 percent of his passes. He also had more interceptions than touchdowns. Eli Manning has enough weapons to make it a long night for a Cowboys defense that is decimated with injuries and suspensions.
MONDAY, SEPT. 11
New Orleans Saints at (-3.5) Minnesota Vikings, 7:10 p.m.
Mike: Vikings. I’m more than OK with taking the loss here in order to see the Saints prove it before I believe they’re ready to contend again. Here’s a fun nugget, too: New Orleans is 1-5 ATS in its last six games as an underdog of 3.5 to 10 points.
Ricky: Saints. I’m not big on either of these teams, to be honest with you, but I trust Drew Brees to keep it within a field goal, which is good enough for the purposes of this exercise.
Andre: Saints. Adrian Peterson said he wants to “stick it to” the Vikings for not keeping him. Tell me something that’s scarier than a motivated future Hall of Fame running back. You can’t.
Los Angeles Chargers at (-3.5) Denver Broncos, 10:20 p.m.
Mike: Chargers. I’m so heavily on the Chargers here, it makes me feel like I’m missing something. Melvin Gordon is one of the best running backs in the league going up against a defense that San Diego averaged 111 yards per game on the ground against in two games last season. Los Angeles is also healthy … for now.
Ricky: Chargers. L.A.’s offense has the horses to crack Denver’s vaunted “No Fly Zone” D. But what really tips the scales in the Chargers’ favor is the Broncos’ shaky offense, which will have trouble moving the football against Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram and Co.
Andre: Chargers. This is not the same Broncos defense from a few years ago. Philip Rivers has all of his weapons back, including Keenan Allen. Chargers weren’t your typical 5-11 team last year as they had a positive yards-per-play differential. I like their pass rush, too, and they’ll give Trevor Siemian a tough time.
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