WEEK 1 NFL. Can you believe it? The NFL regular season officially starts this Thursday, so it’s time for me to roll out my spread picks for Week 1. There’s a lot of great games to look forward to, highlighted of course by the Carolina Panthers taking on the Denver Broncos in a rematch of Super Bowl 50.
This will be a weekly segment throughout the regular season, releasing typically in the early portion of the week before the Thursday night games. Feel free to follow me on Twitter for constant updates on games throughout the NFL, as well as insight into all things NFL. I’ll be updating my record throughout the season, giving out my Top Five, aka the picks I’m most confident in. I’ll also be offering my Mortal Lock pick, which will be my most confident pick of each week. And without further ado…
Here. We. Go.
Carolina Panthers (-3) at Denver Broncos:
You can bet that the Panthers have been mentally preparing for this rematch since the NFL schedule was released in the early off-season. They should be well-prepped to handle the Denver pass rush that caused headaches for Cam Newton in last year’s Super Bowl. While the Denver D will be among the league’s elite once again in 2016, it won’t be as good as it was last season. They lost some integral parts of their front seven, including defensive lineman Malik Jackson, who bolted to Jacksonville for $90 million, and linebacker Danny Trevathan.
As far the line goes, it opened as Panthers -1, but consistent money on Carolina (currently collecting more than 63% of the money on Sportsbook.ag) has moved the line to -3. This will likely be one of the heaviest bet games of the entire weekend given the Super Bowl rematch narrative, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the line move further up in favor of Carolina. If it moves above -4, look for sharps to pile on the points with Denver.
The only bet I’m extremely confident in is the under in this game. Two great defenses, + one Trevor Siemian, equals a low-scoring affair. But, as it lays right now, I can’t wager on Siemian and feel comfortable about it. Carolina -3, in a vengeance game.
The Cleveland Browns made significant changes to their personnel both on and off the field since the curtains closed on another morbid season in 2015. In comes head coach Hue Jackson, a run-first offensive coordinator from Cincinnati, along with a plethora of other coaching changes and front-office changes. The guy who Jonah Hill loosely portrayed in ‘Moneyball’, a baseball drama, was hired from the New York Mets to help give Cleveland an analytical advantage.
But Cleveland isn’t the story in this game.
The Eagles will be starting the second overall pick in 2016 NFL Draft on Sunday in Carson Wentz, who didn’t expect any playing time this season but was named starter after Bradford was shipped away to Minnesota on Saturday. Listen, I don’t know if Wentz is going to be any good. He could be great, he could be terrible. But he’s not going to be good in Week 1. He hasn’t taken any reps with the first team offense in training camp leading up to this week, and he’s barely played thus far in the preseason. He has a new offense to learn, and chemistry to build with his new teammates. New Eagles head coach Doug Pederson is throwing Wentz into the fire much earlier than we all expected, and I can’t say I’m too enthralled by that idea. I can’t see Wentz having much success against an NFL defense with such little prep time, so I’m taking the points and going with Cleveland +4.
The loss of Teddy Bridgewater was obviously a crushing blow to Minnesota. Head coach Mike Zimmer thinks everyone is going to write them off, and he’s probably not wrong. He’s yet to name a starting quarterback, even though backup Shaun Hill is listed as number one on the team’s depth chart and took the majority of the snaps with the first team on Tuesday. Here’s what Zimmer had to say about Sam Bradford today.
“He throws the ball great. He’s been a starting quarterback and a No. 1 pick in the draft,” Zimmer said. “I said after Teddy [Bridgewater] got that hurt that we were going to try to figure out how to continue to win and play good. And we’re going to do everything we possibly can.”
I wouldn’t be surprised to see Bradford on the field on Sunday at some point.
The spread opened at Vikings -3, but moved to Vikings -2 despite the majority of bettors taking Minnesota. Reverse line movement is typically a good sign of what side the sharps are on, and it’s clear they like Tennessee in this game. According to Vegas Insiders, Tennessee is receiving 68% of the money, despite 58% of bettors picking Minnesota.
I don’t like betting against the sharps, and I certainly don’t like betting on Shaun Hill, so give me Tennessee plus the points. Tennessee +2
Green Bay Packers at Jacksonville Jaguars (+4.5)
Everyone’s darling of the off-season. The Jacksonville Jaguars.
As much as I love the Jags, I don’t like this match-up against Green Bay. It’s going to take time for the defense to gel, and I don’t see that happening against one of the best offenses in the league. The return of Jordy Nelson will be huge for Aaron Rodgers, and Eddie Lacy seems to be in great shape heading into 2016, which wasn’t the case in 2015. The defense will be good, but will likely struggle against the Pack. It pains me to say this, but give me the Packers -4.5.
Detroit Lions at Indianapolis Colts (-3)
The Colts offensive line is gross. The Colts defense hasn’t been good in what feels like forever. According to several of their beat reporters this pre-season, the team will likely struggle with offensive balance in 2016. Frank Gore is another year older, and the offensive line still has a ton of question marks when it comes to pass protection along with run blocking. I could see the offense consistently falling back on their star quarterback Andrew Luck for upwards of 35+ passing attempts per game.
Unfortunately for the Colts, the Lions have a great defensive line. Haloti Ngata and Ezekiel Ansah anchor a front line that will attempting to pressure Luck into mistakes (which he struggled with) last season.
The defense doesn’t get much better. Their best defensive player, Vontae Davis, will miss the game with an ankle injury. Their pass rush doesn’t improve much, if at all, from last season. 35-year-old outside linebacker Robert Mathis, who is the Colts’ best pass rusher, didn’t see the field in the preseason as a way to make sure he’s healthy for this game. He struggled with health last season, and given his age, the holdout doesn’t come as much of a surprise. He finished with only seven sacks last season, the lowest output since his rookie season (3.5). Even if he can stay healthy all season, can he make a big enough impact to change games?
The public loves the Colts, but smart money is on Detroit. Give me the Lions +3.
My Picks for Week 1 NFL:
Green Bay -4.5
Mortal Lock: Panthers -3