Rejoice: Football has returned.
The NFL season kicked off Thursday night in Chicago and the return of the sport we all dearly love means the return of the content we all dearly love: the NESN.com picks column.
NESN.com’s Mike Cole, Ricky Doyle and Andre Khatchaturian are back for another year of against-the-spread pigskin prognostication.
Let’s get right into their Week 1 picks.
THURSDAY, SEPT. 5
Green Bay Packers at (-3) Chicago Bears, 8:20 p.m. ET
Mike: Packers. If you were able to grab that half-point when the line opened and got Green Bay at +3.5, congrats. It’s a much better number. I think there’s a chance this game kind of looks like the opener between these two last season when the Bears’ new offense just marched down the field early, but this time, it’s the Packers’ new-look offense moving the ball. And Aaron Rodgers isn’t going to blow an early lead the way Mitch Trubisky and the Bears did last year.
Ricky: Bears. While it’s fair to assume Chicago’s defense will regress to some extent after an otherworldly 2018, it’s also reasonable to project a step forward for the Bears’ offense. That balance will be on full display in the season opener, with Matt Nagy outshining Matt LaFleur in a battle of two intriguing young coaches.
Andre: Packers. Aaron Rodgers is 16-5 lifetime against Chicago and the Packers have won 15 of their last 18 games against their NFC North rival. The Packers’ dominant offensive line anchored by David Bakhtiari (ranked No. 1 among all offensive linemen on PFF) and Bryan Bulaga will mitigate the Bears’ pass rush. The Bears also played in 11 games decided by one possession last season, so expect a close one.
SUNDAY, SEPT. 8
Atlanta Falcons at (-4) Minnesota Vikings, 1 p.m.
Mike: Vikings. The Falcons are going to be much better this year, but this is a tough draw to open the season. Expect Minnesota to pound the rock — offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski got the interim tag removed after a commitment to the run last season — and the Vikings now have a two-headed monster with Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison. That game control should put Kirk Cousins in position to not blow this thing.
Ricky: Vikings. The Vikings have a top-five defense and plenty of offensive weapons. They’re also well-coached. Atlanta and Minnesota might win the NFC South and NFC North, respectively, but the Vikings typically start strong and are well-equipped to do so again this season, whereas the Falcons are just the ninth team since 1986 to replace all three of its top coordinators while retaining its head coach and therefore might battle through some early hiccups.
Andre: Falcons. Matt Ryan and Kirk Cousins were two of four QBs last season that had more than 600 pass attempts. The difference this year is Devonta Freeman is back for Atlanta which should take some pressure off Ryan. Dalvin Cook, who has struggled to stay healthy and had just one 100-yard game last season for the Vikings, could struggle against a finally healthy Atlanta defense.
Washington Redskins at (-10) Philadelphia Eagles, 1 p.m.
Mike: Redskins. I know Ricky will make a similar point, but longtime sports betting expert Ralph Michaels pointed out that Week 1 divisional underdogs are 17-4-1 against the spread since 2015. Washington probably will stink, but it has enough defensive playmakers to stay within the number.
Ricky: Redskins. The Eagles are legitimate Super Bowl contenders and should take care of business at home. But that’s a lot of points to lay in a Week 1 divisional matchup. In fact, according to Josh Appelbaum of VSiN, divisional underdogs have gone 165-129 ATS (56.1 percent) in September since 2003, including 47-31 ATS (60.3 percent) in Week 1.
Andre: Eagles. Philadelphia played in 14 games decided by one possession last season. Two of the four that weren’t one-possession games were dominant wins over the Redskins. Keep an eye on Avonte Maddox. QBs had a 59.9 passer rating throwing toward Maddox, according to PFF. Maddox also allowed one reception per 21.7 coverage snaps — the best mark in the league among corners.
Buffalo Bills at (-2.5) New York Jets, 1 p.m.
Mike: Jets. One of the tougher games to predict this week, as I think these teams are pretty even. The Jets, in my humble opinion, have the slight edge at quarterback, so I’ll roll with Sam Darnold and Co.
Ricky: Bills. See above regarding divisional underdogs in Week 1. Also, Buffalo’s defense has the potential to be one of the NFL’s best this season and will pose problems for New York’s offense as the Jets figure out how to best implement their shiny new toy, Le’Veon Bell, alongside sophomore QB Sam Darnold.
Andre: Jets. Josh Allen and Sam Darnold combined for 27 interceptions last season, but Darnold finished the season strong, throwing six touchdowns and just one pick over the last four games. Both defenses will be strong this year, but the Jets are a more complete team and Darnold is showing more signs of growth.
(-6.5) Baltimore Ravens at Miami Dolphins, 1 p.m.
Mike: Ravens. Going against the home dog trends here, but John Harbaugh is 8-3 ATS in Week 1 games. Also hard to take the Dolphins when everything they’ve done recently indicates they’re trying to lose.
Ricky: Dolphins. Some early season FitzMagic from Ryan Fitzpatrick? Why not? Miami’s home-field advantage — it’s supposed to approach 90 degrees Sunday — is real, and the Dolphins’ secondary, led by safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and cornerback Xavien Howard, will make life difficult for Lamar Jackson should the young quarterback look to throw more frequently to start the new season.
Andre: Ravens. The Dolphins allowed the third-most rushing yards to quarterbacks last season and their defense is significantly worse this season with the departures of William Hayes, Cameron Wake and Robert Quinn. Lamar Jackson will have a field day and the Ravens defense should feast on the turnover-prone Ryan Fitzpatrick.
(-3.5) Kansas City Chiefs at Jacksonville Jaguars, 1 p.m.
Mike: Jaguars. The Jags are a live dog here in the humid swamps of Jacksonville. Leonard Fournette, who has rid himself of the bad people in life, is poised for a bounce-back season against a KC defense that, while improved, certainly struggled with the run last year. The Jacksonville defense — with Jalen Ramsey and AJ Bouye locking down receivers — is still very good.
Ricky: Chiefs. A classic offense vs. defense showdown right out of the gate. Which means something fluky — like, say, Kansas City’s reshaped defense coming up with a huge play — is bound to happen. The range of possible outcomes for the Jags this season is extremely wide, huh?
Andre: Jaguars. The Jaguars had five losses by four points or fewer last season. Nick Foles at quarterback should improve that mark. I’m probably in the minority on this but I do think Patrick Mahomes regresses a bit in his sophomore season with more film on him. The strong Jaguars defense will keep this one close.
Tennessee Titans at (-5) Cleveland Browns, 1 p.m.
Mike: Titans. Am I an idiot for wanting to see more from the Browns before swooning like everyone else? If the O-line issues are real, Tennessee has the ability to expose it Sunday.
Ricky: Titans. One look at the Browns’ roster makes it easy to see why expectations are high in Cleveland. But the Titans are tough in the trenches on both sides of the ball and will push Freddie Kitchens’ team to the limit in what could be an early wake-up call for the overhyped Browns.
Andre: Titans. There’s more film on Baker Mayfield as he enters his second season and the Titans defense is solid (seventh in yards allowed per play in 2018). Tennessee’s strong backfield gives it the ability to eat clock, and five points could be too many for a highly hyped team led by a young quarterback.
(-3) Los Angeles Rams at Carolina Panthers, 1 p.m.
Mike: Panthers. Here come all the trends: The Super Bowl loser is 2-12-1 ATS in Week 1 since 2003, Carolina is 10-5 ATS in its last 15 as an underdog, and home underdogs in September are covering 67 percent of the time over the last two seasons.
Ricky: Rams. Which version of Cam Newton will we see? That unpredictability alone makes me shy away from the Panthers, who lost seven of their final eight games last season. The Rams’ offense, meanwhile, should benefit immensely from the return of wide receiver Cooper Kupp.
Andre: Rams. The Rams allowed the fourth-fewest receiving yards to running backs last year, which doesn’t bode well for Christian McCaffrey. Cam Newton should be ready to go, but starting the season already banged up is never a good thing.
Cincinnati Bengals at (-9.5) Seattle Seahawks, 4:05 p.m.
Mike: Seahawks. There are trends that indicate large favorites are a questionable bet in Week 1, but I like this trend even more: Seattle is 25-6 ATS at home in September since 2000. Cincinnati not having its best player (A.J. Green) and its left tackle might also prove to be a slight issue.
Ricky: Seahawks. The Bengals might be really, really bad this season. It would be stunning if they didn’t get their asses kicked in Seattle, where the Seahawks are 14-0 SU and 12-2 ATS in their last 14 September home games.
Andre: Seahawks. Seattle’s offensive line is questionable, but the Bengals don’t have much of a pass rush as they were 28th in sacks last year. Seattle had the fewest giveaways in the NFL last season and best turnover differential in the NFL. The Legion of Boom is gone, but the addition of Jadaveon Clowney bolsters their defense and allows the team to not rely on Russell Wilson as much.
Indianapolis Colts at (-6.5) Los Angeles Chargers, 4:05 p.m.
Mike: Colts. The Chargers are missing all-world safety Derwin James and Pro Bowl left tackle Russell Okung. Melvin Gordon remains away. There’s a lot of bad juju out there right now, and the Colts have a better roster right now save for quarterback.
Ricky: Colts. Could Andrew Luck’s retirement actually galvanize the Colts? Don’t rule it out, as Indianapolis boasts plenty of talent on both sides of the ball and Frank Reich has pulled most of the right strings to this point.
Andre: Colts. Brissett was sacked a league-high 52 times in 2017, but Indy’s offensive line is much-improved since then. Give Brissett time and he should be able to make some plays to keep the game close. The loss of James will also bite the Chargers.
San Francisco 49ers at (-1) Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 4:25 p.m.
Mike: Bucs. The 49ers have a bright future, but there are some new faces on each side of the ball, and Jimmy Garoppolo is coming off the ACL injury, so it might take some time for San Fran to find its way.
Ricky: Bucs. Bruce Arians takes over a Bucs team with plenty of offensive weapons, and he’ll make the most of his new arsenal in Week 1 against a 49ers defense that leaves much to be desired on the back end beyond Richard Sherman.
Andre: 49ers. San Francisco had only two defensive interceptions last year and could match that total against a Tampa offense that led the league in interceptions last season. Also, Richard Sherman is still nasty. According to PFF, opposing QBs threw at him once every 12.6 targets — the best mark among corners last year.
(-2.5) Detroit Lions at Arizona Cardinals, 4:25 p.m.
Mike: Cardinals. I don’t have a strong opinion on this one other than to say there wasn’t a whole lot I saw from Matt Patricia’s Lions last year that convinces me this won’t be a giant letdown for Detroit.
Ricky: Lions. The Cardinals are the sexy pick thanks to the arrivals of quarterback Kyler Murray and head coach Kliff Kingsbury. But the Lions are the safer pick, in one man’s opinion, thanks to how bad Arizona’s defense figures to be this season.
Andre: Cardinals. Arizona has some veteran names on defense like Terrell Suggs, Chandler Jones, Patrick Peterson, D.J. Swearinger and Jordan Hicks. If the defense steps up to its potential and David Johnson eats some clock, that could be enough to take pressure off Kyler Murray in his first start.
New York Giants at (-7.5) Dallas Cowboys, 4:25 p.m.
Mike: Giants. Just feels like a few too many points for a divisional game this early in the season.
Ricky: Giants. New York’s best bet for keeping this close? Give the ball to Saquon Barkley and get out of the way.
Andre: Cowboys. If the Cowboys get ahead early, which they can against a “meh” Giants defense, New York will be in trouble. If they’re trailing, they won’t be able to establish a run game and Eli Manning will have to throw the ball a lot, which might not be a good thing against a stellar Dallas defense.
Pittsburgh Steelers at (-5.5) New England Patriots, 8:20 p.m.
Mike: Patriots. Tom Brady has a 130.9 career passer rating at home against Pittsburgh. Kind of nuts. The Patriots are also very familiar with the Pittsburgh offense, meaning the Steelers won’t sneak up on New England like some other teams have in recent early-season games.
Ricky: Patriots. It’s just too damn hard to fade the Patriots at home, where they’re 16-0 SU and 13-3 ATS in their last 16 games as favorites. Especially against the Steelers, whose only victory at Gillette Stadium since its opening in 2002 came in 2008 when Matt Cassel was New England’s quarterback. Tom Brady historically has feasted on the Steelers in Foxboro.
Andre: Patriots. JuJu Smith-Schuster is great, but Antonio Brown’s departure means he’ll get more attention from the Patriots’ top defensive players. Stephon Gilmore was PFF’s top-rated cornerback last season. Ben Roethlisberger threw one interception per game in 2018 so you can almost guarantee a Big Ben turnover Sunday night. Also, even without David Andrews, the Patriots still have Shaq Mason, PFF’s No. 7 offensive lineman a year ago.
MONDAY, SEPT. 9
Houston Texans at (-7) New Orleans Saints, 7:10 p.m.
Mike: Texans. Drew Brees teams for whatever reason have problems kicking things into gear: His teams are 27-30 straight-up in September games for his career. New Orleans also had some issues covering the slot last season, so make sure you’re rolling with Keke Coutee in your fantasy league.
Ricky: Texans. The Saints are slow starters (1-9 SU in the first two weeks of the last five seasons) and will be forced to overcome a sizable hole on both their offensive and defensive lines, as center Max Unger abruptly retired over the offseason and defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins is working his way back from a torn Achilles.
Andre: Texans. Seven points is a lot considering the Saints are 1-9 in the first two weeks of the season over the last five years. Houston revamped its offensive line by adding Laremy Tunsil, which is huge considering Deshaun Watson was sacked more than any other quarterback last year. The team’s defense is still strong with guys like J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus. They should be able to keep this game close or even win.
(-2.5) Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders, 10:20 p.m.
Mike: Broncos. Love the Broncos’ defense this season … love it even more against an Antonio Brown-less offense.
Ricky: Broncos. The Raiders already are a mess and the Broncos are a sneaky dangerous team to open 2019.
Andre: Broncos. Maybe the last time we will ever see a Monday night game on a baseball field. Enjoy it.
Thumbnail photo via Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports Images