NFL Week 1 odds, picks: Giants shock Jaguars, Darnold gets win in debut, Rams house the Raiders
After 213 days, the NFL is finally back
The offseason is officially over. After 213 days between meaningful games, football is finally back and the fun starts with Thursday night's season-opening matchup between the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles and the NFC Super Bowl representative in 2016, the Falcons.
It's Week 1, so every fanbase has hope and every game has interesting storylines, from the "Hard Knocks" Browns possibly being something other than terrible to the return of Deshaun Watson in Houston, Andrew Luck in Indianapolis and Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, to the new faces under center for the Chiefs and Jets.
Alright, let's get to our Week 1 picks.
Atlanta at Philadelphia
Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET (NBC)
The Eagles may be without Carson Wentz, a legit contender for MVP honors last season until he suffered an ACL injury in December, but they can trot out Nick Foles, Super Bowl MVP in his place. Up until as recently as a month ago, that was as solid a Plan B as you'll see in the NFL but if we learned anything in the preseason it's that Foles is more replacement-level backup than franchise quarterback. The Eagles are hoping those struggles are more about knocking the rust off after a long offseason than indicative of bigger problems.
The Falcons may have finished third in the NFC South last season but they still won 10 games and made the playoffs. They're also entering Year 2 with Steve Sarksian as the offensive coordinator, and quarterback Matt Ryan has another big-play weapon in first-round pick Calvin Ridley, who joins Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Austin Hooper, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.
Pick: Falcons 20, Eagles 17
Buffalo at Baltimore
1 p.m. ET (CBS)
Last season the Bills broke a 19-year drought and returned to the playoffs for the first time since 1999. This season will reset the playoff clock for many of the same reasons the team was mired in mediocrity between 1999-2016: Huge questions at quarterbacks. Buffalo shipped Tyrod Taylor to the Browns in the offseason; traded AJ McCarron to the Raiders last week, months after signing him; have decided to keep rookie first-rounder Josh Allen safely on the bench, at least for the brutal stretch of games to open the season; and will roll with 2017 fifth-rounder Nathan Peterman, the same poor soul who tossed five interceptions in 30 minutes of football in his first NFL start against the Chargers in Week 11 last season.
The Ravens, meanwhile, are hoping the Joe Flacco Revitalization Project continues into the regular season after a strong preseason, aided by the additions of wide receiver Michael Crabtree, and first-rounders, quarterback Lamar Jackson and tight end Hayden Hurst. Hurst will be sidelined with an injury to start the season but the Ravens won't need him against a punchless Bills offense that is worse in every way from the same unit that made it to the postseason a season ago.
May God have mercy on Peterman's soul against this Ravens defense.
Pick: Ravens 17, Bills 6
Pittsburgh at Cleveland
1 p.m. ET (CBS)
We've been beating this drum for a few months now -- most recently on Monday night's Pick Six Podcast -- but what looks like a blowout on paper may be something else entirely on Sunday afternoon. In the last four years, the Steelers and Browns have played twice in Week 1; both times -- in 2014 and 2018 -- the Steelers were heavily favored (by seven and 10 points), and both times eked out a 3-point win. In the '14 game, they needed overtime to do it and in '17 they started strong before letting then-rookie DeShone Kizer lead Cleveland on a late rally.
Pittsburgh should win but If nothing else, be wary of the 5.5-point spread. Then again, these are the Browns. And while "Hard Knocks" was the perfect month-long pep rally for a downtrodden fanbase, this is still Hue Jackson's team, the very same one that is 1-31 since he took over in 2016.
The Steelers are coming off a 13-3 mark that included a division title, and their biggest questions concern running back Le'Veon Bell's readiness for the opener after another holdout, and how this revamped defense will respond without linebacker Ryan Shazier.
Pick: Steelers 24, Browns 21
Cincinnati at Indianapolis
1 p.m. ET (CBS)
The Bengals spent the offseason upgrading an offensive line that had Andy Dalton grading out worse than Eli Manning in 2017 after ranking among the top-10 passers the season before. Joe Mixon could end the season as one of the league's best backs, and if 2017 first-round pick John Ross can step into the No. 2 job opposite A.J. Green, this offense could be among the most balanced in the AFC. In Indy, we have no idea what to expect from Andrew Luck, mostly because we haven't seen him play since the '16 season. The fact that he made it through the preseason in one piece is fantastic news, but questions loom about if he'll ever return to his pre-shoulder-injury form. He looked more like Chad Pennington over the last few weeks, and while you can certainly win like that (Chad Pennington did it), can Luck adjust to playing that way?
Pick: Bengals 28, Colts 21
Tennessee at Miami
1 p.m. ET (Fox)
We continue to be disappointed by Marcus Mariota, an unbelievable talent who hasn't come close to living up to expectations. Part of that my be due to lingering injuries, which resulted in an inconsistent and ultimately disappointing 2017 campaign. But Mariota is healthy heading into '18 and his preseason raised many of the same questions that had critics clamoring for much of his career. Perhaps new offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, who is from the Sean McVay coaching tree, can coax the best out of Mariota but so far we haven't seen it.
The Dolphins are a lot of folks' favorites to finish behind the Patriots and Jets in the AFC East but maybe this is the year things click for Ryan Tannehill and Adam Gase. To be fair, Tannehill showed glimpses of putting it together in 2016 and then the ACL injury derailed his '17 campaign.
Pick: Dolphins 24, Titans 16
San Francisco at Minnesota
1 p.m. ET (Fox)
The 49ers are everyone's darkhorse playoff favorites but this is also the same outfit that went 6-10 in Kyle Shanahan's first season. Of course, the counter-argument is that San Francisco reeled off five straight wins to end the season, which just so happened to coincide with Jimmy Garoppolo taking over the starting job.
The Vikings, who made it to the NFC Championship Game with Case Keenum's MVP-level season, decided to replace him with Kirk Cousins. The offense is stacked at the skill position though questions about the offensive line remain. This is also one of the league's best defenses and there's little reason to think Minnesota won't again find themselves in the playoffs in four months' time.
Pick: Vikings 28, 49ers 17
Houston at New England
1 p.m. ET (CBS)
We LOVE the Texans this season, mostly because Deshaun Watson is healthy. He was Rookie of the Year before a November ACL injury ended his '17 campaign. Also healthy: J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus to bolster what should be a much-improved defense. Houston's offensive line is among the big questions, but if that gets sorted, this team can win the AFC South and make a deep playoff run. None of this matters in Week 1 because the Texans will face the Patriots in Gillette Stadium. And while New England may not be hitting on all cylinders in the very first game of the season, they'll still have Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, the two names that have virtually guaranteed victory every week this century.
Pick: Patriots 31, Texans 24
Tampa Bay at New Orleans
1 p.m. ET (Fox)
The Bucs are without Jameis Winston, questions remain about the running game and the defense ranked dead last in rushing the passer last season. The Saints, meanwhile, are primed for a Super Bowl run. The defense was stifling in 2017 and they've added pass rusher Marcus Davenport to the mix. The offense may be without Mark Ingram for a month, but there's still Drew Brees and Alvin Kamara in the backfield, and Michael Thomas, one of the NFL's best young pass catchers, terrorizing secondaries.
Pick: Saints 31, Buccaneers 13
Jacksonville at New York Giants
1 p.m. ET (Fox)
Here's the deal: The Jaguars are going to be good in 2018. But the question is will they be as good as their '17 selves. Because even if Blake Bortles remains a replacement-level quarterback, which seems eminently reasonable, but the defense slips from No. 1 to somewhere between 5-10, the Jags could go from 10-6 to 8-8. The Giants have nowhere to go but up. They won three measly games last season but have upgraded the offensive line, drafted running back Saquon Barkley and have a healthy Odell Beckham who joins a passing attack that includes Evan Ingram and Sterling Shepard. And if the defense, which was a joke last season, can return to its 2016 form, the Giants can win the division. Stop laughing, we're serious.
Pick: Giants 17, Jaguars 16
Kansas City at Los Angeles Chargers
4:05 p.m. ET (CBS)
Second-year quarterback Pat Mahomes could throw for 4,500 yards this season. He has Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Sammy Watkins and Kareem Hunt, a group that has the makings of one of the league's most explosive offenses. Unfortunately, the defense could be at the other end of the spectrum and the Chiefs' fate could rest with just how far Mahomes & Co. can take them. Is this the year that everything comes together for Philip Rivers and the Chargers? Los Angeles will again be in the mix, thanks to Rivers and a nationally underrated defense, but we're still not sold that the Chargers won't shoot themselves in the foot when it matters.
Pick: Chiefs 31, Chargers 28
Washington at Arizona
4:25 p.m. ET (Fox)
Back in July, we thought that Alex Smith could be an MVP candidate. We loved what he did in Andy Reid's offense in Kansas City and figured he might be even more successful in Jay Gruden's scheme. But the Redskins, one of the league's worst rushing teams a season ago, lost rookie Derrius Guice to injury in his first preseason game, and a No. 1 receiver remains a huge question. Yes, Adrian Peterson looked good in his preseason debut but let's revisit his effectiveness when he has six games between games instead of the eight months off he enjoyed between the end of last season and his first carry in Washington. The Cardinals could quietly be a playoff team, either with Sam Bradford or rookie Josh Rosen should (when?) Bradford get hurt. The defense is a top-5 unit and should make life difficult for Smith and the Redskins on Sunday.
Pick: Cardinals 21, Redskins 14
Dallas at Carolina
4:25 p.m. ET (Fox)
Which Cowboys team will show up in Carolina? The 2016 group that won 13 times or the inconsistent team that managed just nine wins a season ago? If the offensive line and Dak Prescott don't return to their '16 form, and the defense isn't something better than replacement level, we could see a repeat of 2017. The Panthers could be better than the unit that went 11-5 last season, and it starts with Cam Newton. Christian McCaffrey's role is expected to grow and rookie D.J. Moore has drawn high praise from Steve Smith. With one of the NFC's best defenses, Carolina should be in just about every game.
Pick: Panthers: 24, Cowboys 21
Seattle at Denver
4:25 p.m. ET (Fox)
We've spent the offseason calling the Seahawks the worst team in the NFC West. Save a disgruntled Earl Thomas ,they've dismantled the Legion of Boom, and done little to replace them. The offensive line is still a huge liability, and instead of addressing either need early in the draft Seattle used its first-round pick on running back Rashaad Penny. But the defense looked sharp in the preseason and if Russell Wilson is up for running for his life again -- with a little help from Penny -- then maybe the Seahawks can find a way to 10 wins and into the playoff conversation.
The Broncos finally have a quarterback in Case Keenum, and added rookie running back Royce Freeman and wideout Courtland Sutton to go along with playmakers Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas. The defense should again be a top-10 unit, which means that Keenum's play will determine if the playoffs are realistic.
Pick: Seahawks 17, Broncos 16
Chicago at Green Bay
8:20 p.m. ET (NBC)
We love everything the Bears have done this offseason, starting with dumping John Fox and ending with trading for Khalil Mack. But this is about AARON RODGERS' RETURN TO FOOTBALL and it's happening at Lambeau Field. The Bears could even be in the mix for a division title by season's end but right now, this is about Green Bay.
Pick: Packers 24, Bears 14
New York Jets at Detroit
Monday, 7:10 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Unlike Josh Allen in Buffalo, rookie quarterback Sam Darnold has a relatively friendly schedule to start his NFL career: At Detroit, Miami and at Cleveland. The Lions did win nine games last season but the defense has looked suspect under new coach Matt Patricia, who was previously the Patriots' defensive coordinator. Darnold looked like a grizzled vet during the preseason and while he may struggle initially against defenses actively game-planning against him, it won't take him long to settle into his role as franchise quarterback.
Pick: Jets: 20, Lions 17
Los Angeles Rams at Oakland
Monday, 10:20 p.m. ET (ESPN)
There is a conversation to be had about whether the Raiders are the NFL's worst team. It's silly to make such proclamations before they've even played a game, but new-old coach Jon Gruden hasn't exactly transitioned smoothly back onto the sidelines. He spent the offseason acquiring aging players like Jordy Nelson and Doug Martin, or trading for unworldly talents like Martavis Bryant (to the tune of a third-round pick) only to cut him last week. Then there's outside linebacker Khalil Mack. One of the league's most talented young players was holding out to be paid like ... one of the league's most talented young players. But instead of negotiating, the Raiders instead focused on signing other players, leaving them no budget for Mack.
The result: A below-average defense got markedly worse and Mack got what he was seeking from the Bears. The Raiders did get two first-rounders in return, though neither pick will help the team now, nor are there any guarantees that the team will be able to identify first-round talents with those selections in 2019 and 2020. Perhaps the only thing the Rams share in common with the Raiders is that their best player, defensive lineman Aaron Donald, also held out for a new contract. Los Angeles paid Donald what he was worth, and now the team heads into the season as favorites to win the NFC West, and are a lot of folks' favorites to represent the conference in the Super Bowl.
Pick: Rams 34, Raiders 9
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