We made it. The 2021 NFL season is here, and it's time to get back to making picks. We had a decent year last season, going 125-120-9 against the spread. That record would look a lot better if I didn't go 4-11-1 in Week 17 when we were trying to figure out which playoff teams were trying and which were not. Betting preseason football is more lucrative than Week 17.
As you can also tell from that record, we are missing a couple of games due to rescheduled matchups thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. When my weekly column was published, there were not lines out for every game, and a couple were pushed into the middle of the week. Hopefully that does not happen again in 2021.
Week 1 of the NFL season is actually one of my favorite weeks to bet. There are no trends to go off of or advanced stats from previous games. It's your own analysis or pure gut feeling. This can be both a good and bad thing, so just remember not to throw the mortgage payment on a rookie quarterback.
Below, are my top five ATS picks of Week 1. If you're looking for more Week 1 picks, I gathered the entire CBS Sports NFL staff together and had them give me one ATS pick, so definitely check that piece out, here.
Top five picks record: 0-0
Overall ATS record: 0-0
Straight up record: 0-0
2020 ATS record: 125-120-9 (2 official picks missed due to COVID rescheduling)
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET (FOX)
The 49ers have the third-highest odds to win their Week 1 matchup, but I'll go ahead and jump on this spread. Kyle Shanahan and Co. opened up as the largest favorites in the NFL for Week 1 but were passed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their seemingly ever-increasing line against Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys.
The 49ers went 6-10 last year, but that should really be a throwaway campaign considering the injuries San Francisco suffered on both sides of the ball. This team was in the Super Bowl a couple of years ago and could be a contender again if they can shoo away the injury bug. They do have a quarterback controversy, but that just means Jimmy Garoppolo is going to look to show out against a down team with a first-year head coach. I'm expecting a double-digit victory.
The pick: 49ers -7.5
Projected score: 49ers 28-10
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Sunday, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)
Sam Darnold didn't have to wait long for his revenge game against the Jets. Take a second and think about who Ryan Tannehill turned into once he escaped Adam Gase. That could happen with Darnold, especially considering the kind of weapons at his disposal. Robby Anderson, D.J. Moore, Terrace Marshall Jr. and Christian McCaffrey? Come on. Plus, I think Carolina's young defense has potential.
I'm not saying Darnold is Carolina's savior. I have to at least watch him for a couple games before making a claim like that, but I do think he can outplay a rookie quarterback and a first-year head coach in front of his new home crowd.
The pick: Panthers -4
Projected score: Panthers 26-20
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET (FOX)
Carson Wentz is going to play for the Colts, but is that really the smart decision? His recovery timetable was five to 12 weeks, and he just passed five weeks since his surgery. Is he rushing back? Maybe. Either way, I'm not exactly confident Wentz is the long-term answer in Indy. It seems reasonable to fade him in Week 1 -- especially given his opponent. Seattle has won 12 of its past 13 games in the Eastern Time Zone. In those 13 games, Russell Wilson has a 117.9 passer rating, 3,598 passing yards, 26 touchdown passes and five interceptions. I think the Seahawks should be favored by more.
The pick: Seahawks -2.5
Projected score: Seahawks 30-23
Green Bay Packers at New Orleans Saints (Jacksonville)
Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET (FOX)
I may be the biggest Jameis Winston fan at CBS Sports. Twitter's own @jameis1of1 and I follow each other and everything. Still, I am a big believer in the Packers this year, especially with Aaron Rodgers entering what could be his "last dance." Honestly, I believe he finishes his career in Green Bay, but there is still a different vibe with the Packers this year -- and I think it's a positive one.
The Packers have made the past two NFC Championship games but haven't been able to get over the hump. Rodgers staging his "holdout," or whatever you want to call it, definitely shook some things loose in the organization in my opinion. That doesn't necessarily guarantee this team will be better in 2021, but I do think it was a "reset" in some way. So, why do I think the Packers will be better than they were in 2021? Well, I think two rookies could play big roles. I love wide receiver Amari Rodgers out of Clemson, who could turn into an intriguing slot weapon for Rodgers, and then cornerback Eric Stokes could carve out a role for himself as well.
As for this Week 1 matchup, the Saints were displaced due to Hurricane Ida and Winston won't have Michael Thomas to work with. Additionally, this Saints team has some serious issues at cornerback, which is why they traded for the suspended Bradley Roby on Wednesday. Both the Packers and Kansas City Chiefs will be looking to extend the league's longest active winning streak on Kickoff Weekend. Each club has won their first game in six consecutive seasons. Give me Green Bay in Week 1 by a touchdown.
The pick: Packers -4
Projected score: Packers 31-24
Sept. 13, 8:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)
This week, I wrote about 17 reasons why this season could be one of the best NFL seasons of all-time. No. 3 on that list was fans in Sin City. COVID-19 derailed the the Raiders' inaugural season there, but the passion that city possesses for sports has not gone away. If the NHL's Las Vegas Knights were any indication, then the Raiders could end up having one of the best home-field advantages this season. Do the Raiders have an consistency problem? Yes. But I bet they come out Monday night chomping at the bit.
Another reason I like the Raiders to cover is that the Ravens have two of their top four wideouts on IR and lost starting running back J.K. Dobbins for the year due to a torn ACL. I still think the Ravens are a playoff team, but I don't think they cover in Week 1. In fact, I'll go as far to say they lose this game -- but just sprinkle on the moneyline.
The pick: Raiders +4.5
Projected score: Raiders 28-24
Other Week 1 picks
Buccaneers 33-28 over Cowboys (+9.0)
Falcons (-3) 27-23 over Eagles
Titans (-3) 30-26 over Cardinals
Washington (PICK) 24-21 over Chargers
Vikings (-3) 24-20 over Bengals
Jaguars 21-20 over Texans (+3)
Bills 30-27 over Steelers (+6.5)
Broncos (-3) 20-14 over Giants
Chiefs 30-26 over Browns (+6)
Dolphins (+3) 27-24 over Patriots
Rams (-7.5) 26-18 over Bears