There’s nothing that can happen on the football field this fall that will change anything that’s happened in 2020. But it sure will be good to have pigskin back in our lives.
Week 1 of the NFL season is here, and with that comes the return of our weekly NFL picks column. NESN.com’s Mike Cole, Ricky Doyle and Andre Khatchaturian are back to make their weekly against-the-spread picks, beginning with the always-tricky opening week.
Here are their Week 1 picks, with odds selected from consensus data.
THURSDAY, SEPT. 10
Houston Texans at (-9) Kansas City Chiefs, 8:20 p.m. ET
Mike: Texans. Shootout city in this one. For all of Houston’s issues, it should be able to put up points and hang with K.C. Also, if Brandin Cooks plays, this might be the only time all season the Texans have a healthy Cooks, Will Fuller and Randall Cobb all at Deshaun Watson’s disposal.
Ricky: Chiefs. Only the Cardinals allowed more yards per drive than the Texans last season. Only five teams — with a combined 25-54-1 record — surrendered more points per drive. That’s a tough way to live against Patrick Mahomes and Co.
Andre: Chiefs. Kansas City’s rush defense was a weak spot last season, as it allowed nearly five yards per carry. Can Houston exploit it? The Texans did last year in their regular-season meeting, as Carlos Hyde went off for 116 yards in a Houston win. But Hyde is gone and David Johnson isn’t what he used to be.
SUNDAY, SEPT. 13
Chicago Bears at (-3) Detroit Lions, 1 p.m.
Mike: Lions. Mitch Trubisky always plays well against Detroit, but I’m just going to ignore that fact and remind you he is not a very good quarterback. The Bears’ defense is still good, but I’m more confident the Lions’ healthy offense can do something than I am the Bears’ iffy offense can exploit Detroit’s defense.
Ricky: Bears. There’s a sense of urgency surrounding both of these teams, especially with the door seemingly open for someone other than the Vikings or Packers to make noise in the NFC North. I’ll take the better defense and the points for now.
Andre: Lions. Jeff Driskel and David Blough were the quarterbacks in Detroit’s losses to Chicago last season. Despite the less-than-mediocre play at quarterback, the Lions were able to keep both losses within one score. Detroit had eight losses by eight points or less last season, and one has to imagine that a lot of those games would’ve been different if Matt Stafford was healthy.
Cleveland Browns at (-8) Baltimore Ravens, 1 p.m.
Mike: Browns. The number feels too high for me in a divisional game featuring a team, like Cleveland, ready to make a good first impression after a lost season. As long as the Browns can limit the big play — which they did in a win over Baltimore a year ago — they should keep it within the number.
Ricky: Browns. Just can’t justify laying this many points in a Week 1 divisional game, especially with no preseason and zero data as it relates to home-field advantage during a global pandemic. Also, are we sure the talent gap is this wide? Cleveland still has a deep roster. A coaching change and an improved offensive line make the Browns an interesting post-hype sleeper.
Andre: Ravens. It’s Kevin Stefanski’s first game coaching the Browns, so it’s going to take some time for Cleveland to jell. The Browns also allowed 413 rushing yards to quarterbacks last year, and Lamar Jackson had 169 of those rushing yards. Cleveland has difficulty stopping the run, and the Ravens, who led the league in yards per carry last season, shouldn’t have any problem moving the chains.
Green Bay Packers at (-2.5) Minnesota Vikings, 1 p.m.
Mike: Packers. Green Bay owned Minnesota last season, and not much has changed. In fact, the Vikings’ defense has gotten worse and received bad injury news with Danielle Hunter going to IR. Aaron Rodgers’ retribution season begins here.
Ricky: Packers. The Vikings are susceptible to an early adjustment period thanks to some personnel changes on defense. Rodgers will take advantage of an inexperienced group of cornerbacks after Green Bay establishes the run against Minnesota’s new-look D-line.
Andre: Vikings. Green Bay didn’t do much to address its rush defense woes in the offseason. If Dalvin Cook goes off, the Vikings rarely lose. They are 10-1 when Cook has more than 85 rushing yards.
(-8) Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars, 1 p.m.
Mike: Jaguars. Philip Rivers threw 20 picks last year, which is bad. It feels like he’s capable of a spread-ruining interception in this one, while Gardner Minshew’s all-or-nothing ways always are one play away from sneaking in the backdoor.
Ricky: Jaguars. Backdoor cover, maybe? Jacksonville sure looks to be tanking, while Indianapolis has built a strong foundation. Just don’t love laying more than a touchdown here. Feels like a game decided by Rodrigo Blankenship, the Colts’ new nerdy kicker.
Andre: Jaguars. I love the Rivers-Colts marriage, and I think they’ll win the AFC South because they have so many weapons offensively. But it’ll take time for Rivers to adjust to his new team after so many years in the sun-baked valleys of Southern California. The Colts win this one, but it’ll be close.
(-3) Las Vegas Raiders at Carolina Panthers, 1 p.m.
Mike: Panthers. A fairly high total (47.5) indicates a shootout, and if that’s the case, give me the home team getting points with the best player on the field.
Ricky: Raiders. Just keep in mind, Vegas: It’s a long season, and the Raiders have six early road games in the Eastern Time Zone. Don’t party too hard after the Week 1 upset.
Andre: Panthers. All seven of the Raiders’ wins last season were by one possession. Their defense, which allowed 8.3 yards per pass attempt, didn’t improve much over the offseason. They also allowed the third-most passing touchdowns to running backs in 2019, so expect Christian McCaffrey to get his share of touches, per usual.
Miami Dolphins at (-6.5) New England Patriots, 1 p.m.
Mike: Patriots. I’ve got absolutely zero read on the Patriots right now, but I just have to believe Bill Belichick, with months to stew over his team’s Week 17 loss to Miami, won’t let it happen again.
Ricky: Dolphins. Actually love Miami to win this game outright. Not only is it unclear how Cam Newton will fare in Week 1 with a limited offseason, no weapons and an offensive line that lost its legendary positions coach. New England’s defense also is a shell of its 2019 self, particularly at the second level after losing four(!) good linebackers.
Andre: Dolphins. Miami has always given the Patriots fits, and it’s going to take some time for Newton to adjust to his new team and Belichick to adjust to his new quarterback. Having an established veteran in Ryan Fitzpatrick, who knows the Dolphins’ system already, is a huge benefit going into a regular season without any preseason games.
New York Jets at (-6.5) Buffalo Bills, 1 p.m.
Mike: Jets. New York did a nice job of tailoring its offense in the offseason, adding Breshad Perriman, Chris Hogan and Denzel Mims to the receiving corps while addressing an offensive line need with Mekhi Becton in the first round. The Jets will hang around in games like this.
Ricky: Bills. The Jets lost their two best defensive players, with safety Jamal Adams going to the Seahawks via trade and C.J. Mosley opting out over coronavirus concerns. It’ll be a long season in the Meadowlands.
Andre: Jets. Don’t sleep on the Jets this year. I’m not saying they’ll win this game, but the Jets finished last season 6-2 over their final eight games, with Sam Darnold totaling 13 touchdowns and four picks.
(-5.5) Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Football Team, 1 p.m.
Mike: Washington. Did a quick Google search for info on Philly’s offensive line and got an Eagles blog post that read “I’ve never been more scared about the Eagles offensive line.” Washington’s greatest strength is rushing the passer. Might even look at taking Football Team on the moneyline here.
Ricky: Washington. New name. New coach. New results? Washington is destined for the basement of the NFC East, but its front seven will be disruptive and that could be enough to keep certain matchups tight.
Andre: Eagles. The Eagles are the only team in the NFC East with a returning head coach from last season. This has to be a major benefit when there haven’t been any preseason games to help new coaches experiment with in-game situations.
(-2) Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons, 1 p.m.
Mike: Falcons. Injuries have killed Atlanta in recent years, but I’ll take the Falcons here when they’re as healthy as they’ll be all year, especially on the defensive side.
Ricky: Falcons. Maybe the most underrated matchup of opening weekend. Atlanta played inspired football down the stretch last season, probably saving Dan Quinn’s job. Let’s bank on that carrying over, as Seattle might not generate enough pass rush to make life difficult for Matt Ryan and Co.
Andre: Falcons. Seattle had one of the worst rush defenses last year, allowing nearly five yards per carry. Not good news when you have to go up against Todd Gurley. All the hype in the NFC South is for the Bucs and Saints, but Atlanta has a ton of weapons offensively. Also, Seattle historically has had a hard time protecting Russell Wilson and the team hasn’t done much to address its offensive line.
(-3) Los Angeles Chargers at Cincinnati Bengals, 4:05 p.m.
Mike: Chargers. If I’m Joe Burrow, I could think of better things to do than face Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram and Linval Joseph in my first taste of NFL game action.
Ricky: Bengals. Cincinnati will be a little bit of a problem this season. Not good, per se. But a problem.
Andre: Chargers. I’ll take the veteran Tyrod Taylor over the rookie Burrow, who hasn’t even taken a preseason snap. Taylor has a lot of weapons offensively, and the Chargers have enough continuity on both sides of the ball to stifle a rookie quarterback in his first NFL game.
Arizona Cardinals at (-7) San Francisco 49ers, 4:25 p.m.
Mike: Cardinals. The Super Bowl loser typically struggles in Week 1 (4-16 ATS last 20 years), and San Fran comes into this game with some injury issues, especially on offense.
Ricky: Cardinals. Everyone — especially Andre — will need to pump the brakes on Arizona at some point. But backing the Cards is appealing here given the number and the potential for a letdown from the defending NFC champs against an upstart divisional opponent.
Andre: Cardinals. Not only am I picking Arizona to win this game outright. I’m picking the Cardinals to win the division. The last six NFC champions have had an average of 3.5 fewer wins the following season. The 49ers, with inconsistency at QB, can easily fall into that trap — especially with a surging Cardinals team that has an incredible roster.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at (-3.5) New Orleans Saints, 4:25 p.m.
Mike: Bucs. Tip of the cap to OddsShark’s Joe Osborne for pointing out the slow-starting Saints are 2-15 ATS recently in Weeks 1 and 2. The half-point won’t scare me; this game feels like it will be decided by a field goal.
Ricky: Saints. I have no idea what the Bucs’ offense will look like with Tom Brady under center. (Are Brady and Bruce Arians on the same page? Will the offensive line hold up? Can will the ground game adequately complement the passing attack? How will the tight ends be utilized?) I do, however, know what the Saints’ offense — and defense, for that matter — looks like, and it’s pretty damn good. Take the known quantity to open the season.
Andre: Saints. Let’s not make this complicated. Drew Brees has seasons worth of experience with his coach and teammates. It’s going to take some reps for that Bucs offense to click.
(-3) Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams, 8:20 p.m.
Mike: Cowboys. Feels like this is going to be a low-scoring game, but I’ll take Dallas for two reasons: The first is I have questions about the Rams’ offensive line, and the second is the Cowboys have the clear advantage at quarterback in Dak Prescott. Those two factors will make the difference in a close one.
Ricky: Cowboys. Feels like everyone is writing off the Rams too early. That said, the Cowboys have the makings of a legitimate Super Bowl contender — offensively, defensively and now from a coaching standpoint after replacing Jason Garrett with Mike McCarthy.
Andre: Cowboys. The advanced metrics loved Dallas last year. The Cowboys finished second in yards per play differential despite not making the playoffs. They had some bad luck, as they finished 1-6 SU in games decided by eight points or less. It’s also a contract year for Prescott, who has a ton of weapons to work with. Finally, Wade Phillips is no longer in Los Angeles. The Rams’ defense might not be as great as it used to be.
MONDAY, SEPT. 14
(-6) Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Giants, 7:10 p.m.
Mike: Giants. The Steelers haven’t been very good in Week 1 under Mike Tomlin, and it might take Ben Roethlisberger a little bit of time to find his game — assuming he does.
Ricky: Giants. New York spent significant draft capital on its offensive line, and it’ll be tested early against Pittsburgh, which led the NFL in sacks and sack percentage in 2019. The spread just seems a little high, especially without knowing how Big Ben will look in his return.
Andre: Giants. Twelve of Pittsburgh’s games hit the under last year. It’s a defensive-minded team that plays in low-scoring games, which means there is a lower chance of a blowout. Eleven of Pittsburgh’s games last season were decided by one possession.
(-2.5) Tennessee Titans at Denver Broncos, 10:20 p.m.
Mike: Titans. I do wonder how a lack of preseason and “normal” training camp hurts Denver, especially as it attempts to tackle Derrick Henry — an unenviable task even in normal circumstances. Losing Von Miller so close to the season hurts, too.
Ricky: Titans. Can’t help but wonder whether the Broncos’ offense ultimately will peak right as the defense becomes old and mediocre. The units definitely seem to be trending in opposite directions, potentially capping Denver’s potential for Week 1 and the season.
Andre: Broncos. The Titans will have a bit of a hangover this year after their impressive playoff run. I’m all in on Drew Lock, who finished last year with a 4-1 record, seven touchdowns and three picks. (The only loss was against the Chiefs.) Denver also added Melvin Gordon, Jerry Jeudy, A.J. Bouye and Jurrell Casey to go along with Courtland Sutton, Noah Fant and Bradley Chubb. This is a sick roster that has a legitimate chance to make the playoffs.
Thumbnail photo via Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports Images