Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Season 9 of my NFL picks.
Like the TV show "Manifest," I thought this thing was going to be canceled after three seasons, but the people demanded more, so here I am. Since this is the first week of the season, we're going to do my favorite Week 1 exercise, which is me telling you how my offseason went. If you're new here, this is generally the part of my picks that everyone skips due to the fact that my life is mostly boring.
For instance, I didn't see any UFOs this offseason and I'm starting to think that if I ever want to see one, I need to start spending more time hanging out with Baker Mayfield, who had what I'm guessing was the only UFO encounter by any NFL player this offseason.
Almost 100%, Em and I just saw a UFO drop straight out of the sky on our way home from dinner... we stopped and looked at each other and asked if either of us saw it... Very bright ball of light going straight down out of the sky towards Lake Travis. Anybody else witness this?— Baker Mayfield (@bakermayfield) March 4, 2021
I once saw a UFO, but it was at the movie theater while I was watching "Independence Day 2" so I don't think that counts. As for Baker, I can't decide if this UFO sighting is a good thing or a bad thing for the Browns, but I do know one thing: No one has ever seen a UFO and then quarterbacked a team to a Super Bowl win in the same season, so unfortunately, I can't pick the Browns to win it all this year.
So who am I going to pick?
That's a great question and you can find the answer by clicking here to see my predictions for the entire 2021 NFL season. If you click over, you'll see my final record predictions for all 32 teams plus who I'm picking to make the playoffs and win the Super Bowl. I really wanted to pick the Buccaneers to repeat and that's mostly because I wanted to see Tom Brady get drunk and throw the Lombardi Trophy again, but I ended up picking a different NFC team to win it all.
Anyway, before we get to the Week 1 picks, I have good news for the seven of you who emailed in and demanded to CBS that I do more this season. Not only will I be writing this weekly picks column, but I'll also be podcasting a lot this year. As a matter of fact, you should go ahead and circle every Monday, Tuesday and Friday on your calendar from now until February, because that's when I'll be joining Will Brinson and Ryan Wilson on the Pick Six Podcast (Click here to check it out). If that's still not enough of me, I'll also be joining CBS Sports HQ every Tuesday morning (8:45 a.m. ET) from now until February to talk about my weekly picks, so remember to set your alarm and be sure to bookmark this link so you can watch.
Alright, I think that's enough self-promotion for now, let's get to the picks.
NFL Week 1 picks
Dallas at Tampa Bay
Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET (NBC)
For the second straight year, it looks like COVID is going to have an impact on the NFL season and it's likely going to happen in the first game of the year. To be honest, I'm not even sure the Buccaneers are going to have beat the Cowboys this week because COVID might do it for them. Since Aug. 21, the Cowboys have had six players test positive for COVID, including starting right guard Zack Martin, who likely won't be able to play in this week.
Losing your best offensive linemen for a game is almost always bad, but for the Cowboys, it's especially bad. I mean, just look at their situation heading into Thursday night: Their starting quarterback (Dak Prescott) is coming off two injuries, he hasn't taken a game snap in 11 months and in his first game back, he has to go up be against one of the best defenses in football while missing one of his best linemen. If that's not a recipe for disaster, I don't know what is.
As for the Buccaneers, I'm not worried about Tom Brady at all, but maybe I should be, because he's also had some health issues this offseason: Not only did he undergo knee surgery in February, but he also tested positive for COVID at some point in the same month. If this was any other player, I would be slightly concerned about all that, but Brady is literally the healthiest person on the planet. His knee probably healed three hours after surgery and COVID probably willingly left his body after realizing it had a zero percent chance of surviving in there. That kind of recovery is what happens when you drink kale milkshakes every day for nine straight years.
Brady also drank himself silly at the Super Bowl parade, but I have to think he's recovered from that at this point. Of course, even if he still hasn't even completely sobered up from the parade, I would still pick the Buccaneers to win because I don't think Tampa Bay needs a completely sober Brady to beat the Cowboys. Super Bowl champs hosting the kickoff game are 13-2 since the NFL started letting them host the Thursday night opener in 2004 and although the Cowboys do have one of those two victories -- they beat the Giants in 2012 -- I think the Buccaneers are going to roll.
The pick: Buccaneers 31-20 over Cowboys.
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Jacksonville at Houston
1 p.m. ET (CBS)
I'll be honest here: I have no idea what to make of these two teams, I have no idea what the coaches are doing and I have no idea who's going to win, but I love the fact that two of the worst teams in the NFL are meeting in Week 1. This game is the food equivalent of putting mayonnaise on your pancakes. I have no idea why anyone would ever mix those two things, but if I ever see someone eating them together, there's a 100% chance I'm going to watch.
This game features two first-year NFL head coaches who both feel like they're in over their head. On the Jaguars' end, you have Urban Meyer, who seems like he's been involved in some sort of small controversy every week since he's been hired. He also insisted on holding a "quarterback competition" in training camp between Trevor Lawrence and Gardner Minshew, which made no sense, because no one thought it was an actual competition. All Meyer did in the end was take away precious first-team reps from Lawrence so he could give them to a QB who got traded away for a sixth-round pick.
On the Texans' end, I feel kind of bad for David Culley and that's because he was thrown into one of the worst situations possible. The Texans are trying to rebuild and the easiest way to do it would be to trade Deshaun Watson, but they can't do that because of his precarious legal situation. With Watson not suiting up for the Texans this year, it's almost like they forgot that they had to name a starting quarterback because they didn't end up naming one until Monday!
Texans coach David Culley: 'Tyrod Taylor will start for us at quarterback for sure. He will start for us.' That wasn't unexpected— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) September 6, 2021
If the Texans were playing anyone else, I'd probably pick them to lose, but the good news for Houston is that the Jags are literally the one team they're capable of beating. The Texans have have won six in a row against Jacksonville and I think they'll make it seven on Sunday.
Also, I should point out that No. 1 overall picks seem to struggle in Week 1. Over the past 15 years, there have been seven quarterbacks taken with the first overall pick who ALSO started in Week 1 during their rookie season and those quarterbacks have combined to win exactly zero games (0-6-1). That doesn't seem like a good thing for the Jaguars.
The pick: Texans 34-27 over Jaguars
Cleveland at Kansas City
4:25 p.m. ET (CBS)
After watching his star quarterback get beat up by the Browns -- and then beat up again by the Buccaneers in the Super Bowl -- Andy Reid decided to make some major changes this offseason.So what did he do? He replaced EVERY SINGLE PLAYER on his offensive line. I did that in Madden once and went 1-15 the following season, but for some reason, I feel like the Chiefs are going to win more game than that.
At left tackle, the Chiefs traded for Orlando Brown and then they followed that up by signing one of the best left guards in football (Joe Thuney). Am I slightly worried that the three other projected starters on the offensive line are expected to consist of two rookies and a second-year player who will be making his first career start? Yes, but overall, I think the Chiefs' line is better than it was last year, which is all that matters here.
Before Mahomes got injured last year, he was gashing up the Browns' defense: He was on pace to throw for roughly 350 yards and I won't be surprised if he gets near that number on Sunday. Yes, the Browns definitely upgraded their defense this offseason, but with so many new starters, it can be tough to gel quickly, and Patrick Mahomes is the last QB I'd want to face if my defense was trying to build chemistry.
Also, I feel like I should point out the fact that the Browns haven't won an opener since 2004. That's 0-15-1 over the past 16 years. (To put this in perspective, every other NFL team has won at least FIVE openers in that span). In light of this information, I feel like it's in my best interest to keep pick against the Browns in every opener they play in for the rest of time or until their streak ends, whichever comes first.
Speaking of streaks, the Chiefs also have one of their own. Not only have they won six straight openers, but they've averaged 37.4 points in their past five openers. I would predict them to score 37.4 points, but I'm told that's not mathematically possible in the NFL, so I'll go with 37.
The pick: Chiefs 37-27 over Browns
Green Bay at New Orleans in Jacksonville
4:25 p.m. ET (Fox)
Saints coach Sean Payton got married during the offseason, which is the opposite of Aaron Rodgers, who basically spent four months trying to divorce the Packers. It's now kind of fitting that this game is being played in Jacksonville since both newlyweds and divorcees tend flock to Florida.
If you're wondering why this game is being played in Jacksonville, it's because the Saints hand-picked the location after Hurricane Ida forced the game to be moved out of New Orleans. The Saints did some serious homework before making the decision on where to move the game. The game could have been moved to Tampa or Miami or Jacksonville, but the Saints settled on north Florida for five main reasons:
1. Money. Out of those three cities, Jacksonville is the most expensive for Packers fans to get to
2. Don't want to deal with Buccaneers fans cheering against them. The Saints didn't want to play in a division rival's city and possibly have to deal with a stadium-full of Buccaneers fans cheering for the Packers.
3. Didn't want Packers fans getting a weekend vacation. The Saints thought Packers fans would flock to South Beach for a weekend vacation, so they ruled out a game at Hard Rock Stadium.
4. Rodgers has struggled in Florida. Rodgers has played just seven career games in the state, going 3-4 with a QB rating of 78.1.
5. Florida has insane humidity. If you've ever been to Florida in September, you may have noticed that the air is so thick that you feel like you're going to suffocate anytime you breath. The Saints feel like they have an advantage in high humidity since they practice in that kind of weather in New Orleans.
If Payton spent was as detailed picking the location of his wedding as he was picking the location of this game, then I'm guessing he ended up having the most successful wedding in history.
Of course, the one problem for the Saints is that they went through all the trouble of picking a new location for the game, but I don't think it's going to help. Rodgers is at his best when he plays with a chip on his shoulder and I'm pretty sure he dumped an entire bag of chips on his shoulder during his spat with the Packers this offseason.
The one thing throwing a wrench into this game is Jameis Winston. I have no idea if 30-interception Jameis is going to show up this season or if Sean Payton is going to turn him into a powered-up version of Drew Brees, which is completely possible. I mean, Jameis threw for 5,109 yards in 2019 and he did that even though he couldn't even see the field. Jameis finally got LASIK recently and if he out-duels Aaron Rodgers on Sunday, Winston's LASIK surgeon better get the game ball.
The pick: Packers 31-24 over Saints
Baltimore at Las Vegas
Monday, 8:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)
For the first time since the Raiders moved to Las Vegas, fans will actually be allowed to attend an NFL game at Allegiant Stadium, which should automatically make this the craziest game of Week 1.
This game will be kicking off at 5:15 p.m. PT, which means fans are going to be drinking on the strip all day before making their way to the stadium. I once drank on the strip all day and I'm pretty sure I lost my phone, my wallet and my dignity that day, which is what I'm expecting to happen to every Raiders fan in attendance.
I think what I'm trying to say here is that this is either going to be the best home-field advantage in NFL history or the worst and we're about to find out which one it is. For the Raiders' sake, they better hope it's the best, because they need all the help they can get after going 2-6 at home last season.
A big reason the Raiders were so bad last year is because they had one of the worst defenses in football. To fix that problem, they signed several players (like Yannick Ngakoue and K.J. Wright), they made a trade (for Denzel Perryman) and they spent five of their first six picks of the draft on defensive players.
Of course, the most important move they made on defense was hiring Gus Bradley as their defensive coordinator. The last time we saw the Ravens go up against a Bradley defense came in January 2019 when he was the defensive coordinator for the Chargers. In that game, which the Chargers won in an upset, Bradley befuddled Lamar Jackson and the Ravens by putting seven defensive backs on the field for most of the game. That's not to say that Bradley will do this again, but he's one of the smartest defensive minds in football, he's already schemed a plan to slowed down Lamar once and he's had all offseason to figure out how to do it again.
If the Raiders do pull off the upset, Mark Davis should go ahead and give his new mansion to Bradley.
Although the Raiders defense isn't talented enough to completely stop Jackson, I do think Derek Carr and the offense will provide enough points to outscore a hobbled Ravens offense.
The pick: Raiders 34-31 over Ravens
Oh, and uh, if anyone in Vegas sees my wallet, phone or dignity, please let me know. My best guess is that I left one or all three of them at the Britney Spears concert.
I need to plan another trip to Vegas.
NFL Week 1 picks: All the rest
Falcons 24-17 over Eagles
Bills 31-27 over Steelers
Bengals 23-20 over Vikings
49ers 27-16 over Lions
Titans 27-24 over Cardinals
Seahawks 20-17 over Colts
Washington 26-23 over Chargers
Panthers 30-23 over Jets
Patriots 19-16 over Dolphins
Broncos 23-16 over Giants
Rams 27-20 over Bears
Best pick: If you just read through these picks while thinking, "Wow, I wish I could read this guy every day," you're in luck, because you can! I also write the daily NFL newsletter here at CBSSports.com and you can subscribe by clicking here and entering your email address.
By the way, this is usually the part where I brag tell you about my best pick from the preceding week, but since there weren't any regular-season games last week, that means there's no best pick for this section.
Worst pick: Although I'll have plenty of "worst picks" for this section starting next week, I have nothing for this week. Actually, wait, yes I do. Since this is the worst pick section, this is the perfect time to remind you that my preseason pick to win the Super Bowl last year was the Cowboys, which definitely qualifies as my worst pick of 2020 and possibly ever. Just to be safe, I'm never picking the Cowboys to win anything ever again.
Overall picks record since 2013
After watching my straight-up record plummet for two horrifying seasons (2015-2016), the tide has slowly been turning over the past four years (2017-2020), and I don't want to sound cocky, but I think I might go 272-0 picking games in 2021, although I'm already starting to regret that Raiders over Ravens pick.
Final 2020 regular-season record
Straight up: 170-84-1 (Ranked second overall at CBSSports.com)
Against the spread: 117-130-8 (Did not rank second overall)
Final 2019 regular-season record
Straight up: 163-92-1 (Ranked first overall at CBSSports.com)
Against the spread: 120-130-6 (Did not rank first overall)
Final 2018 regular-season record
Straight up: 166-88-2
Against the spread: 123-126-7
Final 2017 regular-season record
Straight up: 161-95
Against the spread: 124-121-11
Final 2016 regular-season record
Straight up: 147-107-2
Against the spread: 116-129-11
Final 2015 regular-season record
Straight up: 152-104
Against the spread: 126-130
Final 2014 regular-season record
Straight up: 164-91-1
Against the spread: 125-131
Final 2013 regular-season record
Straight up: 165-90-1
Against the spread: 124-132