It’s always difficult to predict the first week of each NFL season. For that matter, it’s not easy to predict the first few weeks. Simply put, we have less information than we think about the league’s 32 teams. Sure, we can go on what certain teams did last year and project how they might fare in the new season depending on adjustments they made in the offseason, injuries, etc. But in the words of Walter White, tread lightly when making any declarative statements this early in the season. Trust me….I know.
Anyway, let’s get on to my Week One picks. In addition to my predictions for each game, I’ll also have a section where I give my best bets for the weekend.
*Note – DVOA stands for Defense-adjusted Value Over Average: It’s Football Outsiders’ primary efficiency statistic and I believe it to be the best and most predictive measure of assessing the strength of NFL teams
**Note – All betting odds courtesy of Bovada
***Note – Public betting refers to the amount of wagers taken on the spread
Now we can get started.
RECORD: 0-1 (I had Carolina beating Denver by a field goal on Thursday….so close)
LOCKS (teams that I think will definitely win): 0-0
BEST BETS: 1-0
Spread: ATL -3 Over/Under: 47.5
’15 DVOA: TB (21) > ATL (26)
’16 DVOA (Projected): TB (22) > ATL (24)
Public Betting: ATL 53%
The three-point spread indicates that Vegas thinks these two teams are even if this game were played on a neutral field (home-field advantage typically amounts to a three-point swing). But the Buccaneers look to be better than Atlanta. Tampa was ranked in the top ten in both yards per play and opponent yards per play last year, suggesting that their offense and defense are better than you might think. Jameis Winston also had two of his better games against the Falcons last year, posting Total QBR’s north of 75 in each contest. The Falcons defense doesn’t project to be much better in 2016, either. Pro Football Focus ranked their front-seven and secondary as two of the worst units heading into this season. Plus, they’ll also be starting two rookie linebackers in De’vondre Campbell and Deion Jones. That poses trouble against a Bucs offense that has two very capable running backs in Doug Martin and the underrated Charles Sims.
Tampa Bay 24, Atlanta 17
Spread: MIN -3 Over/Under: 40.5
’15 DVOA: MIN (11) > TEN (31)
’16 DVOA (Projected): MIN (15) > TEN (25)
Public Betting: MIN 55%
To those who think they’ll be a massive drop-off now that Shaun Hill, Minnesota’s new starting quarterback, is in for the injured Teddy Bridgewater, I’d rethink that. It’s not like Bridgewater is an elite quarterback. In fact, I’d hesitate to say he’s even good. The Vikings were only 25th in yards per play last year offensively and Bridgewater ranked just 18th in Total QBR. Will Hill, who let’s not forget has Adrian Peterson lining up behind him, really be that much worse? At least against a poor Titans defense, he won’t on Sunday.
Minnesota 23, Tennessee 14
Spread: PHI -3.5 Over/Under: 41
’15 DVOA: CLE (30) < PHI (22)
’16 DVOA (projected): CLE (32) < PHI (27)
Public Betting: PHI 58%
Tough game to call. Cleveland, obviously, has a lot of holes. But even though the Eagles are decent defensively, I don’t trust rookie Carson Wentz because he didn’t play much in the preseason due to injury. The scheduling Gods may have made his debut a friendly one, but can you imagine the anxiety at Lincoln Financial Field if Wentz gets off to a poor start and Robert Griffin III gets the Browns off to an early lead? Plus, Hue Jackson has some tremendous bulletin board material after he was asked in an interview about his thoughts of Brian Billick’s prediction that the Browns would go winless this year. It won’t take too long for Billick to be wrong about that.
Cleveland 23, Philadelphia 20
Spread: CIN -3 Over/Under: 42
’15 DVOA: CIN (2) > NYJ (9)
’16 DVOA (projected): CIN (9) > NYJ (18)
Public Betting: CIN 69%
The Jets look to be catching the Bengals at the right time. Cincinnati will be without tight end Tyler Eifert (ankle) and linebacker Vontaze Burfict (suspension) in this matchup. This is also the Bengals’ first game without offensive coordinator Hue Jackson as well as receivers Marvin Jones and Mohammed Sanu, who both left in free agency. Simply put, Andy Dalton will have to figure things out quickly without some of his key personnel from years past on the field. That will be a tall task against New York’s defense.
New York Jets 20, Cincinnati 17
Spread: NO -1.5 Over/Under: 52
’15 DVOA: OAK (14) > NO (28)
’16 DVOA (projected): OAK (21) < NO (16)
Public Betting: NO 54%
Will New Orleans’ defense be as horrific as it was a year ago? After all, their defensive DVOA was the worst of all-time and they allowed 0.5 more yards per play than the Giants, who finished 31st in that category. At least their secondary projects to be better–Pro Football Focus graded it as the 15th best unit heading into 2016. But even if the Saints’ defense improves, I think Oakland’s acquisitions of former Bengal Reggie Nelson and cornerback Sean Smith to deepen its secondary will provide just enough resistance to slow down Drew Brees and the Saints. Latavius Murray, who projects to be running behind one of the NFL’s best offensive lines this season, will take it from there.
Oakland 27, New Orleans 24
Spread: KC -7 Over/Under: 44.5
’15 DVOA: SD (24) < KC (5)
’16 DVOA (projected): SD (11) < KC (5)
Public Betting: KC 58%
I came across a great article yesterday about the profitability of non-playoff teams against playoff teams in Week One, and that’s exactly the matchup we have here. The Chargers offense struggled due to the absences of Keenan Allen and Antonio Gates throughout last season, but now both of those guys are back, which means we should see the San Diego offense we’ve been accustomed to seeing. Meanwhile, the Chiefs will be without star edge rusher Justin Houston, who remains on the PUP list. All the more reason why the Chargers offense will keep this game close. However, let’s not discount Kansas City’s offense, which faces a favorable matchup of their own against one of the league’s weakest defenses.
Kansas City 30, San Diego 27
Spread: BAL -3 Over/Under: 44.5
’15 DVOA: BUF (12) > BAL (17)
’16 DVOA (projected): BUF (10) < BAL (7)
Public Betting: BAL 54%
Tricky game to call because there are a lot of question marks on both sides. Buffalo, though, seems to have more of them due to the suspensions of key players Marcell Dareus and offensive lineman Seantreal Henderson. Meanwhile, the Ravens will look entirely different than the team that finished the 2015 season now that the likes of Joe Flacco, Steve Smith, and Terrell Suggs are back healthy. It’s hard to imagine that more can go wrong for Baltimore after last year, so since I don’t have much of an idea as to how this game is going to play out, I like the Ravens to get off to a nice start to the 2016 season.
Baltimore 27, Buffalo 21
Spread: HOU -6 Over/Under: 44
’15 DVOA: CHI (19) < HOU (18)
’16 DVOA (projected): CHI (29) < HOU (23)
Public Betting: HOU 67%
I like what the Bears have done on the defensive side of the ball by adding players like Danny Trevathan and Akiem Hicks to complement outside linebackers Willie Young and Lamarr Houston. I bet this new-look unit will give Brock Osweiler a little bit of trouble in his debut. With that said, the Texans have a very good defense of their own; that will keep Alshon Jeffrey and the Chicago offense in check.
Houston 20, Chicago 16
Spread: GB -6 Over/Under: 48
’15 DVOA: GB (10) > JAC (25)
’16 DVOA (projected): GB (6) > JAC (26)
Public Betting: GB 80%
The Packers will outpace the Jaguars in 2016 in terms of record, but this particular contest will be close. Green Bay hasn’t necessarily excised all there offensive demons from last year. Their offensive line still could be shaky, as they just cut their most experienced lineman in Josh Sitton, and Jordy Nelson still may not be 100%. The line could especially be a problem against the Jaguars, who added Malik Jackson in free agency and have the services of young-guns Dante Fowler and Myles Jack. However, I’ll stop short of picking Jacksonville to win outright because I have faith in Green Bay’s underrated secondary, which DVOA measured as the sixth best pass defense in 2015.
Green Bay 24, Jacksonville 20
Spread: SEA -10 Over/Under: 44
’15 DVOA: MIA (29) < SEA (1)
’16 DVOA (projected): MIA (30) < SEA (1)
Public Betting: SEA 59%
The one area where I don’t see this game being a mismatch is in the trenches. Seattle’s offensive line struggles are well-documented while Miami’s strongest area probably is their front-seven, which features the likes of Ndamukong Suh, Cameron Wake, and the newly-acquired Mario Williams. Even if the Dolphins give the Seahawks trouble up front, I still don’t see this game coming down to the wire. Seattle opens the season with a relatively easy win at home.
*Seattle 31, Miami 17
Spread: IND -3 Over/Under: 51
’15 DVOA: DET (13) > IND (23)
’16 DVOA (projected): DET (14) > IND (20)
Public Betting: IND 62%
One big weakness for the Colts in the first half of the season should be their secondary. Vontae Davis, their best corner, projects to be out for the immediate future while Darius Butler, who normally starts opposite Davis, will be out on Sunday as well. That’s good news for the Lions, who not only closed last season strong by winning six of their final eight games, but are looking to start the post-Megatron era off on a good note.
Detroit 28, Indianapolis 20
Spread: NYG -1 Over/Under: 46
’15 DVOA: NYG (20) > DAL (27)
’16 DVOA (projected): NYG (19) < DAL (17)
Public Betting: NYG 69%
Does anyone know what to expect when these erratic teams meet? Will Dak Prescott continue to perform like he did in the preseason? Is the Giants defense better after all those offseason acquisitions? Is Ezekiel Elliott the real deal? There are far more questions than answers in this game, but here is what I could see happening: Dallas, with their mightly offensive line, controls the clock for most of the game and keeps New York’s offense off the field; then, they’ll back into one, maybe even two, Eli Manning mistakes and capitalize to pull out a thrilling Week One victory.
Dallas 26, New York 23
Spread: ARZ -10 Over/Under: 47
’15 DVOA: NE (6) < ARZ (3)
’16 DVOA (projected): NE (3) < ARZ (2)
Public Betting: ARZ 72%
This would normally be my favorite game to analyze, but, for the first time in ages, I can’t in good conscious pick my Patriots. Have you seen their injury list? No Gronk. Probably no Nate Soldier. Shaq Mason, Jonathan Cooper, Chris Hogan are all questionable as well. Beating Arizona on the road would be a tall enough task with Tom Brady, let alone Jimmy Garoppolo. However, I do trust the Patriots defense–and whatever Belichick’s game-plan is–to keep them in it. But the Cardinals will ultimately be too much.
Arizona 24, New England 16
And lastly, here are my Best Bets for Week One…
- Carolina vs Denver UNDER 41.5 (win)
- JACKSONVILLE (+6) over Green Bay
- Green Bay vs Jacksonville UNDER 48.5
- TAMPA BAY (+3) over Atlanta
- NEW YORK JETS (+3) over Cincinnati
- Oakland vs New Orleans SECOND HALF HIGHER TOTAL THAN FIRST (-115)
- SAN DIEGO (+7) over Kansas City
- DETROIT (+3) over Indianapolis
- Detroit vs Indianapolis UNDER 51
- New England vs Arizona UNDER 47
- undisclosed MNF bet (revealed tomorrow)
- undisclosed MNF bet (revealed tomorrow)
That’s all for my Sunday NFL Predictions. Stay tuned for my reaction article to today’s games tomorrow morning, in which I’ll also make predictions for the two Monday Night games that will cap off Week One.
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