A Look Ahead: Week 1 NFL Point Spreads and Picks
NFL Football’s 2019 campaign is still a little way off, but lines are posted for the week 1 contests across the internet, so we can get some action on the books and get the football juices flowing. It’s way too early to put down a big stack of cash on any of these games until we learn more about the teams as the summer wears on, but there may be an egde to take advantage of with these early spreads. Here’s a look at each of the opening weekend games, starting with what we think are the best 5 plays.
San Francisco 49ers Pick’em at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last year at this time the 49ers were everyone’s darling pick to get behind Jimmy G and take the league by storm. Their offense was ready for that step, but the defense couldn’t hold up their end of the bargain, then Garoppolo tore his ACL in week 3 and the wheels fell off. San Fran comes into this year without any of the hype, but with a lot better roster than they entered 2018 with. Dee Ford was signed in free agency and Nick Bosa was selected 2nd overall in the draft to give the Niners what might be one of the top pass rush combos in the league. Coach Kyle Shanahan will have some new offensive weapons to utilize, most notably Tevin Coleman from the Falcons. Bruce Arians takes over as the Bucs head coach and will try to rehabilitate Jameis Winston’s career. Winston will not have DeSean Jackson on the outside as a deep threat and there was no off-season upgrade from Peyton Barber at in the backfield. Todd Bowles is the new Defensive Coordinator and will bring his blitz heavy defense to Tampa, but the talent level is low. Devin White was the number 5 pick and will patrol the middle of the field, but he is joining last year’s 31st ranked defense that won’t have their best player in Gerald McCoy.
I look for the Niners to be able to move the ball at will in Tampa and score in the 30s. This will allow the pass rushers to pin their ears back and get after Winston, which generally leads to some mistakes. The 49ers are the much better team coming into the season and we get them at Pick. Tampa has very little home field advantage, so this is the best play on the card.
Washington Redskins +8½ at Philadelphia Eagles
The Redskins opened up the 2018 season winning 6 of their first 9 games to lead the NFC East before losing starting QB Alex Smith and backup Colt McCoy to injuries. The season went downhill fast as Jay Gruden’s squad managed just one win in their final 7 games. Case Keenum comes over from Denver and is the likely week 1 starter unless rookie Dwayne Haskins is spectacular in August. Derrius Guice is expected to be ready for the opener and will lead the backfield with Adrian Peterson ready to fill in if Guice is not 100%. The defense was good last year and now will include Safety Landon Collins. Carson Wentz is spending another off-season in rehab, with all signs pointing to him being ready for the opener. Wentz has added speedster DeSean Jackson as a deep threat and Jordan Howard joins the running back committee. Philly added Malik Jackson but lost Michael Bennett so their middle of the pack defense should play at about the same level.
Philly was only 5-6 with Wentz starting behind center and although they played well in December, they were very fortunate to get into the post season and were really a middle of the pack team most of the year. There is a lot of recency bias in this game since the ‘Skins finished so bad and the Eagles finished so good in 2018 and 8½ points is too many to give to a division rival in the opening week. I like Washington to keep this game close and have a chance to win down the stretch.
Indianapolis Colts +3 at Los Angeles Chargers
Andrew Luck returned to the playing field last year after sitting out 2017 and proved he is still an elite quarterback. He fell just short of setting career bests for both passing yards and touchdowns while guiding the Colts to 10 wins and a wild card berth. Devin Funchess and rookie Parris Campbell join the receiving corps to add a big target and a speedster for Luck to look for when he is not throwing to T.Y. Hilton or Eric Ebron. The defense has added Justin Houston along with a host of rookies to strengthen the D that surprisingly finished 10th in the league in points allowed. The Chargers also come off of a wild card season. The only significant loss to the offense was receiver Tyrell Williams leaving in free agency, and they get Hunter Henry back from his ACL injury. LA’s defense was top 10 last year and will be strong again in 2019.
Indy kept getting better throughout 2018 and that should continue into this season. The Bolts are a solid team and could be on top of the AFC West in January. But in this contest, we can get the best quarterback, the best coach and get 3 points. The Colts offensive line should be able to control the line of scrimmage and give Luck time to work his magic. The Colts +3 is the play in this one.
Houston Texans +6½ at New Orleans Saints
Another dog in the top 5. This one is a match-up of 2018 division winners, with Houston coming to New Orleans. Houston hopes to fortify their offensive line in the off season by signing tackle Matt Kalil and drafting tackle Tytus Howard. Will Fuller will work to get back for week 1 after tearing his ACL midway through last year but Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins will continue to be the focal points of this offense. The Texans brought in safety Tashaun Gipson and Bradley Roby to improve the secondary. Who Dat will come into this game still bitter over their loss to the Rams in the playoffs last year. The Saints had little cap space and no first round draft pick, so the team will look much the same in ’19 as it did in ’18. The biggest addition tight end Jared Cook who will give Drew Brees another option in the passing game.
This play is primarily a play against Saints. Sean Payton’s squad have lost their season openers in the last 5 seasons. It’s hard to explain why the Saints have struggled so much in previous week ones, but getting 6 ½ points with the Texans is the right side.
Chicago Bears -4 vs Green Bay Packers
Chicago and Green Bay went in different directions last year with the Bears winning the NFC North and the Packers finishing 3rd and missing the post season. In week 15 when the two teams played the Bears dominated both lines of scrimmage and handily beat their division foe. Now these two teams will play in the Thursday night season opener to commemorate the NFL’s 100th season. The only major change in Chicago is Chuck Pagano taking over the defensive coordinator position from Vic Fangio. Da Bears defense was arguably the best in the league, and all of the key players have returned. Fangio rightly gets a lot of credit for play of the Chicago Defense but there shouldn’t be a let down under Pagano. Offensively Jordan Howard has moved on but is replaced by Mike Davis and rookie David Montgomery. For Green Bay, Mike McCarthy finally outstayed his welcome and is replaced by former Titan Offensive Coordinator Matt LaFleur. LeFleur’s most notable head coaching quality is that he worked under Sean McVay. Aaron Rodgers played a big part in the coaching change, but there is no guarantee that Rodgers embraces his 39 year old coach and such a radical change to the offensive playbook. The Pack have moved on from Randall Cobb and will come into the year with only Davante Adams as a proven target. Green Bay invested in some defensive help in the draft, but did not improve their pass rush.
If this game were played in week 17 last year, Chicago would have been a 7 point favorite (at least). Maybe LaFleur can turn the pack around, but he gets the best defense in the league to open the season and brings an offensive line that will be overmatched. Chicago should frustrate Rodgers’ and the Cheeseheads new attack and cover the 4 points.
Here is a look and a lean for the other 11 week one contests in no particular order.
Pittsburgh Steelers +6½ at New England Patriots
New England has to settle for the Sunday Night Football stage in week 1 despite winning the Lombardi Trophy last year. Bill Belichick will bring his team into 2019 without their second best player from the last 5 years in Rob Gronkowski. Gronk has hung up his cleats and leaves Tom Brady to throw to Julian Edelman and a host of unknowns. The Pats will bring back a strong running game but the loss of Gronkowski cannot be minimized. Even with Gronk playing at far less than 100% last year, opponents game plans were centered on stopping the big Tight End, and he was often double teamed freeing up the other targets. New England also lost on the defensive side of the ball with Trey Flowers leaving in free agency and only adding Michael Bennet to the defensive front. Pittsburgh comes into the season trying the addition by subtraction strategy. Gone are both Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. Both top 3 players at their respective positions, but also top pains in the neck for rest of the Steelers. Pittsburgh fortified their defense by selecting Devin Bush out of Michigan to address their most glaring weakness – a linebacker that can make tackles all over the field. QB Ben Roethlisburger has a lot to prove this year as he played a role in the 2 superstars leaving and I look for him to play at a high level in 2019.
Betting against the Patriots is always risky as they have won 59% ATS in the last 10 years. But the time to pull that trigger is early in the year when Belichick is figuring his squad out. This game should come down to the last possession so getting 6½ is definitely the right side. If the line moves to 7, this game goes in the top 5.
Kansas City Chiefs -3 at Jacksonville Jaguars
Here is a matchup of 2 teams with significant changes coming into the new season. Nick Foles takes over as quarterback in Jacksonville with expectations that he and Jags elite defense can combine to lift Jacksonville back to the playoffs or beyond. Coach Doug Marrone cleaned house in the offensive coaching room and will bring in John DeFelippo to coach the offense. DeFelippo was with Foles in Philly for the Super Bowl run so he has seen Foles at his finest and understands his strengths. The problem is there wasn’t any other pieces added for Foles, so he will work with a B team of receivers. There weren’t any major changes on defense but none were really needed. KC will unquestionably be without star wideout Tyreek Hill to start the season. The Chiefs selected Mecole Hardman in the 2nd round of the draft to fill some of the gap, but Hill’s skill set is elite in a league with the greatest athletes in the world. The Chiefs D will look different this year and the hope is that will be a good thing. Long time coordinator Bob Sutton is gone and replaced by Steve Spagnuolo. Also gone are stud pass rushers Dee Ford and Justin Houston. They take 22 sacks with them and Spagnuolo will have to find a way to replace them. Chris Jones became the best player on this defense last year, and should remain constant.
I’m not buying into the Jags with Nick Foles being much better than last year’s Jags. And I am really not looking for Foles to be able to keep up with Patrick Mahomes in week 1. Reid is one of the best coaches in the game with extra time to prepare and he will scheme up ways to score, even against the vaunted Jags D. I think the Chiefs is the right side.
Atlanta Falcons +4 at Minnesota Vikings
These teams had very disappointing 2018 campaigns and will look to get the 2019 season started on the right foot. Kirk Cousins put up some good stats in his first season in Viking Purple, but only converted those stats into 8 wins. The only significant change on the offensive side of the ball for Minnesota is the promotion of Kevin Stefanski to Coordinator. Mike Zimmer wants an offense with Dalvin Cook running the ball as the cornerstone and he will keep on shuffling through coordinators until he finds one. Defense will again be the Vikings strength, but there were no significant additions on that side of the ball. Atlanta is also starting 2019 with a new offensive coordinator after the Steve Sarkisian experiment didn’t end well. Dirk Koetter comes back to Atlanta to lead the same group of skill players less running back Tevin Coleman. Atlanta invested heavily in their offensive line during the off season in an attempt to sustain more consistency. Multiple injured players return for Atlanta, that could breathe fresh life into the team. Keanu Neil, Deion Jones and Ricardo Allen all missed significant time that left the secondary in shambles and running back Devonta Freeman should be at 100% after carrying the ball only 14 times last year.
I think the pendulum may have swung too far on Atlanta. A lot of bettors kept believing in the Dirty Birds last year but the injuries were too much to overcome. Now this line implies the Vikings are a better team. I look for the Falcons to cover the 4 points and possibly win the game outright.
Buffalo Bills +3 at New York Jets
This game is very intriguing as I expect one of the teams will make a run at the playoffs and maybe even give the Pats a run for the division title in December. However, I don’t have a great feel for which one that would be. Both bring back sophomore QBs that have instilled hope into their fan base by living up to high first round pick expectations. Josh Allen returns to Buffalo with deep threat John Brown and slot guy Cole Beasly joining the receiving squad that will help to spread the field and give Allen one of the league’s better deep threats. Sam Darnold will have Le’Veon Bell to hand and pass the ball to which will make any quarterback more dangerous. New coach Adam Gase has stated he didn’t agree with Bell’s contract, but that shouldn’t stop him from finding ways to get Bell the ball 20 plus times per game. Both teams bring in defenses on the rise that added a defensive tackle in the first round, though Buffalo lost their icon DT Kyle Williams to retirement.
Both teams have high expectations for 2019 and need to get off on the right foot. I tend to favor the Jets to have a better season than the Bills but this division game should be close. Taking the 3 points with the Bills is the right play. My favorite play on this game would be to take over the total of 38½. Both teams should get to the 20s in this one.
New York Giants +7 ½ at Dallas Cowboys
Is it possible the Giants can be as bad as the internet world thinks they are going to be this year? Odell Beckam Jr. is gone, Landon Collins is gone, and Eli Manning is back. Although Big Blue drafted Eli’s heir apparent Daniel Jones with the 6th pick, Eli will definitely be starting in week 1. Golden Tate was brought in to fill part of Beckam’s shoes and Kevin Zeitler was brought in to help the O-line. There is no doubt that the offense will flow through running back Saquon Barkley. Dallas meanwhile will come into 2019 with mostly the same squad. Randall Cobb replaces Cole Beasley in the slot but the biggest addition to the offense should be the expected return of Center Travis Frederick. The defense acquired Robert Quinn to add a pass rusher with both Randy Gregory and David Ivring will be unavailable.
I think the Gmen’s game plan will be to keep the ball on the ground and keep the score close. Coach Pat Shurmur will keep the chains moving and the clock running and have a chance to win in the 4th quarter. I like taking the points in this division clash.
Tennessee Titans +5 ½ at Cleveland Browns
With all of the reading about how good the Browns are going to be this year, I can’t believe this line is not double digits for the home team. When Cleveland acquired Odell Beckam Jr., many felt he was the final piece required to make the Browns unstoppable. And the offense is definitely loaded, with OBJ, Jarvis Landry and David Njoku receiving passes from 1st overall pick Baker Mayfield, and Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson Jr manning the backfield. Todd Monken brings an aggressive approach as the new OC so everything looks good. But let’s see it on the field before we crown them. The defense lost coordinator Gregg Williams when he lost the head coaching sweepstakes to Freddy Kitchens, and he is replaced by Steve Wilks. The Titans will mostly bring back the same lineup in 2019, with former tight end coach Arthur Smith taking over as OC. Cameron Wake joins the defense to add a pass rusher to the defense that allowed the third fewest points in the league.
The Titans have won 9 games in each of the last 3 years and know how to keep games close and win in the end. Cleveland hasn’t won 9 games total in the last 3 years. They have talented players at the high profile positions but can Kitchens lead a squad of strong personalities to grind out a win against a solid opponent? Tennessee is the right side in this one and there is a good chance the number goes up after we get some training camp or pre-season highlights of Beckam catching a bomb from Mayfield.
Seattle Seahawks -8 vs Cincinnati Bengals
Cincinnati enters 2019 with the change many have been expecting for quite some time, Marvin Lewis being relieved of his head coaching duties. Zac Taylor will take over the Bengals after serving as quarterback coach under Sean McVay. Taylor inherits a team that has been dysfunctional the last 2 years and ended 2018 as possibly the worst team in the league. QB Andy Dalton was injured and will return to open 2019, but there is not much additional talent for Taylor to deploy. The Bengals only significant free agent signing was OG John Miller. They also invested their first draft choice in the offensive line which may help Dalton and RB Joe Mixon. Seattle had major changes to their vaunted defense last year and started slow but got better as the year went on. They gave QB Russell Wilson the big contract he has was looking for to stay in the Pacific Northwest so the team will now go as far as he can take them. They didn’t have a lot of money for free agency so there were no major signings and the early draft picks were used to rebuild the defense. Wide Receiver D.K. Metcalf was selected and will join the corps that replaces Doug Baldwin who announced his retirement during the off-season.
If this game were at the end of last season – even with Dalton playing – the line would have been double digits. Seattle has a huge home field advantage and the best QB and coach by a mile. I think the Hawks blow out the Bungles and easily cover 8 points.
Arizona Cardinals at a Pick vs Detroit Lions
These teams could be the worst 2 teams in the NFC. Arizona has brought in a bad college coach Kliff Kingsbury to run his air-raid offense with first overall pick Kyler Murray. Murray brings great hope to the dessert but his offensive line and receiving corps that were not very good in 2018 got little help. The defense should be strong but Patrick Peterson will be suspended for the first 6 games. Detroit meandered through 2018 under their new coach Matt Patricia to win 6 games. Their biggest off-season move was adding ex Patriot Trey Flowers to replace Ziggy Ansah as their primary pass rusher. The offense added tight end T.J. Hockensen with the 8th overall pick to give Matt Stafford a target in the middle of the field.
Arizona with Kingsbury and Murray will be tough to plan for before there is some film on them. I think the Cards can outscore the Lions in this game and get a win. I’m leaning to the home team in this pick-em contest.
Baltimore Ravens -3½ at Miami Dolphins
The Brian Flores era begins in South Beach in week 1 as the ‘Phins will host the Ravens. Flores falls from the Bellichik tree and will be the latest to try to instill the Patriot Way outside of New England. Miami was 26th in offense and 27th in defense so there is almost nowhere to go but up. Along with Flores, the quarterback will be new as Ryan Tannehill was run out of town and will be replaced by last year’s number 10 overall pick Josh Rosen who was acquired from Arizona. Rosen won’t have much to work with the Dolphins didn’t add any skill players in free agency and drafted primarily defensive players. The Ravens enter 2019 as AFC North champs, but aren’t getting a lot of respect. They will play without Terrell Suggs, Za’Derius Smith, C.J. Mosley and Eric Weddle on defense, with the only notable addition being Safety Earl Thomas. On offense, Mark Ingram joins the rushing attack, but receivers John Brown and Michael Crabtree will not be back, leaving the receiver positions to be manned by rookies.
Baltimore looks set to struggle this year but I think they get out of South Florida with a win. Even with Baltimore’s losses they are still more talented than Miami, and should be able to cover the number in the opener.
Los Angeles Rams -3 at Carolina Panthers
Jared Goff and company head east to start the first game of their super bowl hangover year at Carolina. The Rams will try to build on their success of last year with basically the same team, as there were no major changes on either side of the ball. The biggest question for LA is the health of Todd Gurley. LA drafted running back Darrell Henderson in the third round which makes us think that Gurley is not expected to be 100%. Cooper Kupp will return from his ACL injury which should elevate the passing game. Carolina has their own injury concern with Cam Newton again rehabilitating his throwing shoulder. Newton says he will be ready for week 1 but he was obviously not himself in the second half of last year.
The Panthers were 1-7 in their final 8 games of 2018 and Newton is a big question mark for 2019. If Cam doesn’t play this line would move to Rams by more than a touchdown. At this stage the only play is laying the points with the Rams.
Oakland Raiders -2½ vs Denver Broncos
The Raiders enter 2019 trying to gather some momentum for their coming move to Las Vegas. Derek Carr will return to run Jon Gruden’s offense in year 2 and he will have significantly better skill players around him. Antonio Brown will be the go to option in the passing game and first round running back Josh Jacobs will carry the load out of the backfield. The offensive line is also improved which should help Carr and the offense to be more efficient. The defense drafted Clelin Ferrell to improve the pass rush that was last in the league in sacks in 2018. Vic Fangio has replaced Vance Joseph as the Broncos coach. Fangio orchestrated last year’s top rated Bears defense so look for Denver again to be stingy on defense. On offense, Joe Flacco takes over from Case Keenum, which is about a wash. Flacco showed some signs of playing better last year before he was hurt and then lost his Baltimore job to Lamar Jackson.
I think is a low scoring game that probably stays under the 43½ total, and that the Raiders come out on top. I like the Raiders to start strong, win and cover in the opener.