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When the NFL schedule was released in May, we highlighted the top 10 must-watch games. The answer for No. 1 hasn’t changed in four months.
It happens Sunday. The NFL schedule makers didn’t bother easing us into the season.
Tom Brady will be playing his first game for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the first time he will have suited up for anyone but the New England Patriots since he was at the University of Michigan. Brady’s Buccaneers will be facing the New Orleans Saints, who have Super Bowl dreams after three straight playoff heartbreaks.
You couldn’t ask for a better matchup. Brady and Drew Brees are Nos. 1-2 all time in passing touchdowns and passing yards, and they have faced off only five times over their long careers. The Saints and Buccaneers are fourth and tied for fifth in lowest Super Bowl odds at +1200 and +1400, respectively, over at BetMGM. The Buccaneers might be the most intriguing team in the NFL due to Brady, Rob Gronkowski and other stars on offense. The Saints could arguably have the most complete roster in the NFL with plenty of stars of their own, including defending NFL Offensive Player of the Year Michael Thomas.
There are 256 games on the NFL regular-season schedule, and this is the best matchup on paper. In Week 1. That’s a great way to get things started.
The Buccaneers were the buzzy team of the offseason, and their win total for the season at BetMGM rose to 10. I need to see it first. Brady is 43 years old, entering a brand new situation for the first time in 20 years, and doing so in the middle of the strangest offseason ever. Even if Brady is good as ever at an age in which no NFL quarterback has ever had success, it still might take a while to come together. Mike Evans’ hamstring injury isn’t great news either, even if we assume he plays. The Saints are 3.5-point favorites, and while it’s worrisome to lay the extra half-point over a field goal, I’m taking New Orleans. If the Buccaneers can go on the road and win at the Superdome, even with no fans in attendance, it will signal they’re a true contender this season. What a game. Welcome back, NFL.
Here are the rest of the picks for Week 1 of the NFL season, with the lines from BetMGM:
Texans (+9.5) over Chiefs
As discussed earlier this week, the favorite usually rules on opening night. But this is the highest line ever for a kickoff game with the defending champs. The Texans got a lot of negative headlines this offseason, but they’re still a capable team. I’m anticipating a relatively close game.
Bills (-6.5) over Jets
I don’t think the Bills will blow out many teams this season, but the Jets could be one. Buffalo’s defense shouldn’t allow too much to an offense relying on Jamison Crowder as its best playmaker. This could be a statement game from Buffalo, which has a chance to break the Patriots’ grip on the AFC East.
Washington (+5.5) over Eagles
I assume the Eagles will be a very popular bet. But their offensive injuries are worrisome. It’s possible Washington is just awful, but we see odd results every year in Week 1.
Seahawks (-2.5) over Falcons
It turns out among a collection of power rankings, my rankings have the Falcons the lowest among them. By far. So I better stick with that and take Seattle to beat them on the road.
Dolphins (+6.5) over Patriots
Obviously there was a lot of turnover in New England this season. There was a lot in Miami too, but most of it was adding better players. I need to see the new-look Patriots first before laying a touchdown with them.
Packers (+2.5) over Vikings
The effects of home-field advantage without fans will be tracked closely through the season, especially early on. Minnesota’s dome has historically been tough on the Packers, but how does that change this season? This might be the toughest game to pick on the slate (though the other NFC North game is just as hard), and I’ll lean on the road team and the points.
Jaguars (+7.5) over Colts
The Jaguars aren’t just bad, they might be trying to tank for Trevor Lawrence. But that tanking effort doesn’t extend to players or coaches. They are trying to save their jobs, not worry about a quarterback in college. You’ll get a good effort here, and the Colts don’t play the type of game that leads to many blowout wins.
Bears (+3) over Lions
You’ll hear the phrase in fantasy sports circles: post-hype sleeper. Basically everyone gets excited about a player, he disappoints, and everyone completely gives up on him. This Bears team is very similar to the one that was so good in 2018. Yes, Mitchell Trubisky might be a problem. But I’m going to start by being a little high on the Bears after everyone has given up on them, and adjust if they look as lost as they did in 2019.
Browns (+7.5) over Ravens
I like the Ravens this season. But the Browns won at Baltimore last season, and they’re going to be better this year after a coaching change. I don’t think Cleveland wins straight up but think it’ll be a fun, close game.
Raiders (-3) over Panthers
I don’t pick over/unders here, but let’s just say there should be a ton of points in this game. And mostly every Panthers game. I think Carolina will have the worst defense in the NFL, but an offense that will be able to move the ball up and down the field.
Bengals (+3) over Chargers
It’s hard to find any negative word about Joe Burrow out of Bengals camp. That’s usually noise. Most training camp stories are endlessly sunny. But I’m going to fall into the trap and believe the Burrow hype. He’ll be legit. There are reasons to be excited about Cincinnati’s offense (don’t forget how well they played at Seattle in Week 1 last year), and I’m not confident about the Chargers offense with Tyrod Taylor at quarterback. I think Cincinnati wins straight up.
Cardinals (+6.5) over 49ers
This is a fun one. The Cardinals played the 49ers tough twice last season, and that was without DeAndre Hopkins. The Cardinals had plenty of key players missing time through camp and that is a concern for the opener, but I’m buying them to take a step forward this season.
Cowboys (-2.5) over Rams
Jalen Ramsey can’t cover everyone. In a normal year, I might take the home underdog Rams as they open their new stadium. But if we believe home-field advantage is mostly erased, I think Dallas is the better team. They have seemingly endless targets on offense. The Dak Prescott MVP march begins.
Giants (+6) over Steelers
The Steelers opened up as 3.5-point favorites months ago. As the positive Ben Roethlisberger reports kept coming in, the line kept rising. I think the original line was the more accurate one. I need to see Roethlisberger and his reconstructed elbow against NFL competition before I fully buy in.
Broncos (+2) over Titans
Von Miller’s injury wasn’t a good one, of course. But the line moving 3.5 points toward the Titans at BetMGM after the Miller news is a huge overreaction. Miller is great but it’s rare to see any non-quarterback move the line more than a point. Denver has a famously tough home-field advantage early in the season, and that has to do with the thin air, not the fans. That could be especially true with no preseason.
BONUS: Some season predictions before we kick off ...
Division winners: Bills, Ravens, Colts, Chiefs, Cowboys, Bears, Saints, Seahawks
Super Bowl: Ravens over Saints
Prop bets at BetMGM: Dak Prescott MVP (+1400), Chandler Jones Defensive player of the Year (+2000), Terry McLaurin over 67.5 catches, Buccaneers under 10 wins, Patriots under 9.5 wins, Steelers over 9 wins, Bills over 8.5 wins, Jets under 6.5 wins, Cardinals to win NFC West (+800), Steelers to win Super Bowl (+3000)
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