Welcome to the first edition of MTS’ weekly NFL picks for the 2016 season. Each week, one of our seasoned betting experts will give you his take on the entire slate, picking each game on tap against the spread. Without further ado, Lawrence will kick-off Week 1 (no pun intended).
Week 1 ATS Picks
Thursday, Sept 8
Carolina (-3) at Denver
This season could be a rocky road for the Super Bowl-champ Broncos, who transition from having one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history (even though he didn’t play like it last year) to some combination of Mark Sanchez and Trevor Siemian – neither of whom has looked all that great in the pre-season. Denver’s defense will once again be dominant, but will be spending a lot of time on the field. Carolina gets a small measure of payback and will cover easily.
Sunday, Sept. 11
Tampa Bay at Atlanta (-3.5)
No bird bones about it, the Falcons have to play better at home in their final season at the Georgia Dome if they are going to challenge Carolina in the NFC South; Atlanta is a sub-.500 team at home (7-9) over the past two seasons. Problem is, Bucs QB Jameis Winston looks like he finally has his head on straight and is ready to wreak havoc, at least within a weak division.
Minnesota (-3) at Tennessee
Two young QBs will be on display in this one as Teddy Bridgewater battles Marcus Mariota. It’s hard to pick against a home dog in an opener, but the Vikings have too much talent – especially on the defensive side of the ball — and should cover the three-point spread pretty easily in this one. Minnesota’s D line has the ability to both stop the run and get after the QB.
Cleveland at Philadelphia (-6)
Can anyone explain why the Eagles signed Sam Bradford to a $35-million contract, spent more money to bring in Chase Daniel as the backup, and then burned five draft picks to move up six spots and grab Carson Wentz with the no. 2 overall pick? Doug Pederson will be Coach of the Year if he can cajole this group to a Wild Card spot. At least the NFL gave the Birds a soft opener. Even if RGIII is back to his rookie form, the Browns are replete with holes.
Cincinnati at New York Jets (PK)
When we last set eyes on the Bengals, they were destroying themselves in a playoff game they should have won easily. Well, the same cast of characters is back for another run. The Jets’ 6-2 home record last season was a bit deceiving. They beat the Pats when NE was stumbling around late in the year, and NY’s other five wins in East Rutherford were against teams that were a combined 26-54.
Oakland at New Orleans (-1)
This has the look and feel of a field-goal game. New Orleans needs the Panthers to stumble to make another run at the NFC South, and this is the first of four winnable games to open the season for the Saints. Hopes are high in Oakland, where the Raiders may be playing their final season before moving to Las Vegas. But they’re still a young team with a mediocre defense, and Drew Brees is primed for a big year with Brandin Cooks, Michael Thomas, and Mark Ingram to lean on.
San Diego at Kansas City (-7)
The Chiefs didn’t get nearly enough credit for their incredible 11-game winning streak last season, and they figure to be major factors in a wide-open AFC West this year. The absence of Justin Houston will really hurt their pass rush, but San Diego is San Diego; they have one of the worst O-lines in the league – especially in pass protection – and it’s hard to see the Chargers going into Arrowhead and causing KC any problems in the opener.
Buffalo at Baltimore (-3)
The headline said, “Flacco’s knee good, but he’s not 100-percent.” Well, which is it? If your starting QB’s surgically-repaired knee is not 100-percent, that’s a bad sign. Flacco will take a few snaps in the preseason, but he’s pointing toward the opener as his first real test for his body. The Bills will do everything they can to test that knee. Their league-best pass rush from 2014 was a massive disappointment in 2015, though, and now Mario Williams is gone and injuries are already mounting. The healthy(ish) Ravens should roll at home.
Chicago at Houston (-4)
The Texans knew that 9-7 wasn’t going to win the division again, so an upgrade was needed. Brock Osweiler replaces Brian Hoyer at QB, and that switch no doubt will be good news for Bill O’Brien’s stomach. Chicago, meanwhile, has problems too numerous to list here. Even though JJ Watt likely won’t be in the lineup, the Houston defense is too good for Dowell Loggains’ crew.
Green Bay (-4) at Jacksonville
J-Ville is on the rise, and the Jags see an opening in the South with Houston, Indy, and Tennessee all flawed. A strong showing against the Packers (who started 6-0 last season) at home would raise some eyebrows. QB Blake Bortles has become as durable as he is talented. That said, Aaron Rodgers is the best QB in the league; Jordy Nelson is healthy; Eddie Lacy is skinny. The Packers are Super Bowl-caliber.
Miami at Seattle (-10.5)
Traveling 3,329 miles to play your opener is no fun; it’s even less fun when that game is in Seattle against a Seahawks team which felt it underachieved last year and has some repair work to do. Seattle still has an A-plus defense and figures to rattle Dolphin QB Ryan Tannehill before this game reaches halftime. On offense, the suddenly pass-happy Seahawks should exploit a weak Miami secondary as long as Russell Wilson can scramble and find time to throw.
New York Giants at Dallas (-3.5)
Interesting news out of Dallas: Dez Bryant has given up his pet monkey, Jerry Jones no longer is showing interest in party boy Johnny Manziel, and there’s a backup QB named Dak Prescott who opened a lot of eyes in the Boys’ first two exhibition games. Whether that moves the needle any closer to a playoff berth is anyone’s guess, but all change is welcome after last season’s 4-12 debacle. Of course, the biggest change is that Tony Romo is healthy. Dallas romped to a 12-4 record in his last full season. The Giants made a ton of off-season acquisitions on D, but it will take some time for them to become a cohesive unit.
Detroit at Indianapolis (-4)
Bad drafts caught up with the Colts last season. Indy was a disgustingly mediocre 8-8 SU, 8-8 ATS, 4-4 at home, 4-4 on the road, and 8-8 on the O/U. Houston and Jacksonville will continue to put pressure on the Colts this season, and a loss to the Lions in the opener would cause Jim Irsay to run to his in-office medicine cabinet. Lucky for him, Andrew Luck is healthy and looking the like MVP contender we all expected last season. The Lions don’t have the offensive weapons to exploit Indy’s talent-less defense.
New England at Arizona (-6)
All eyes will be on interim QB Jimmy Garoppolo in his first start in place of suspended Tom Brady. But Bill Belichick has been quietly building the Patriot defense into a powerhouse, and the deep and talented front-seven may be the best in the NFL this year. The linebackers, in particular, have a combination of power (Dont’a’ Hightower), speed (Jamie Collins), and veteran savvy (Rob Ninkovich). That said, Arizona has a phenomenal defense, in their own right, especially with ex-Patriot Chandler Jones boosting the pass rush. And they’ll have a Pro Bowl QB under center throwing to a star-studded cast of weapons.
Monday, Sept. 12
Pittsburgh (-2.5) at Washington
Any time a division champ gets points at home, you have to raise an eyebrow, and this is not your father’s Washington team. RGIII is in the rear view mirror; now Kirk Cousins leads an offense that should be productive if not overly exciting. Pittsburgh has some playmakers, but will be short-handed because starting RB Le’Veon Bell is facing a drug suspension.
Los Angeles (-2.5) at San Francisco
Just like the old days. Roman Gabriel vs. John Brodie at Kezar Stadium. Not quite. But there’s plenty of interest in the Rams’ first game in LA uniforms since pulling up stakes and heading to St. Louis just over two decades ago. Both teams are trying to regain their footing and become factors in the league, but neither has the chops to supplant either Seattle or Arizona in the upper level of the NFC West. The best unit in this game is the Rams’ defense. Chip Kelly might eventually get some production out of his no-name offense, but Aaron Donald, Robert Quinn, and company are a tough test out of the gate.
Photo credit: Steve Jurvetson (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.