The NFL is back and let’s get after it in Week 1! We will recommend a five pack of picks every week. This week our plays focus upon a couple expected playoff teams in favorable spots, a pair of home teams against West Coast opponents and a defensive stalwart looking to regain lost luster.
After they surrendered fewer yards than any team last season (292.9 per game), the Ravens will rely on defense again. Baltimore has so many athletes and the ability to pressure the passer, and the defense gives it a chance to win every game.
John Harbaugh on the Ravens’ pass rush, which is considered the biggest question mark on defense: “I’m certainly not as worried as you all are. What little I read is all I read about. I appreciate your concerns. We’ll see what happens.”
— Jamison Hensley (@jamisonhensley) September 4, 2019
Miami will be a hot mess to start, and the Baltimore offensive line will punish a rebuilt Miami defensive unit. The youngest team in the league will also utilize a limited playbook and every facet of the offense is eligible to struggle this weekend.
The game won’t be close. The Ravens, who enter on an 8-0 ATS run against Miami, finally upgraded one of the league’s worst running back situations, and quarterback Lamar Jackson has the players and system around him to improve significantly in his second season as starter. Baltimore will start fast and win by double digits. Lay the points!
Pick: Baltimore -6.5
Minnesota will aim to rewrite the script after a throwaway season, and we like them to start fast with a big win and prove best in the NFC North in 2019. Atlanta doesn’t cover openers (0-3 ATS last three years) and has many questions after a campaign ravaged by injuries.
Minnesota will show how serious it is in the opener. This defense has the opportunity to be the organization’s best of the modern era—an elite unit with skill and depth at every level. The Minnesota offense failed to score points despite being loaded with skill players in 2018, and it’s a make-or-break year for strong-armed quarterback Kirk Cousins, who won’t last if his production doesn’t improve.
People keep harping Kirk Cousins about his 4-24 record against winning teams in his career.
Anybody wanna talk about Aaron Rodgers record vs winning teams since 2012?
Matthew Stafford in his career?
2 sides to every story.
— Vikings Central (@MNVikesCentral) August 28, 2019
The Vikings have started fast in previous seasons under head coach Mike Zimmer. They are 4-1 ATS in the last five openers and 9-3 ATS in their last 12 September games.
Atlanta had the 27th-worst run offense last season (98.3 yards per game) and a rebuilt offensive line will face a severe test in a difficult road environment. The Atlanta linebackers and defensive backs are talented, but Atlanta applied little pressure to opposing quarterbacks last year and the defensive line remains a concern.
Atlanta is 0-3 ATS against Minnesota in their last three meetings and the Falcons are 1-4 ATS in their last five road games. Atlanta will be exciting on offense at times this season, but has too many shortcomings to match up effectively at Minnesota in Week 1.
Pick: Minnesota -4
After a 6-10 season, it’s easy to overlook the difference Carolina offensive coordinator Norv Turner made in his first year. The Panthers outperformed expectations by starting 6-2 with a hobbled quarterback and didn’t fall apart until Cam Newton was sidelined because of a shoulder injury. With his shoulder repaired, the 2015 MVP is back at full strength under a system he relishes. The offense will continue to make big strides if Newtown stays healthy, because he has quality skill players at his disposal.
Christian McCaffrey on how protecting Cam Newton isn’t just about the offensive line, it’s a team effort. pic.twitter.com/36RLx0sXgq
— Carolina Blitz (@KeepBlitzin) September 6, 2019
A West Coast team playing in the dreaded 1 p.m. ET time slot, the Rams are 5-13 ATS in their last 18 openers. Carolina has dominated this matchup for bettors, with a 6-1-1 ATS mark against the Rams, including 5-0 ATS run at home, and coach Sean McVay doesn’t mind starting slowly. After experiencing Todd Gurley aggravate his knee in the 2018 season opener and sit out games late in the year, the Rams will be in no hurry to rush the star running back into a heavy workload, and they’ll miss C.J. Anderson (Detroit), who became the team’s late-season MVP when he carried the offense down the stretch.
Trends really favor Carolina, with losing Super Bowl teams 3-16 ATS in the last 19 season openers, including 1-12 ATS road record.
Pick: Carolina +2
Two seasons after going 9-7, the Dirk Koetter experiment blew up in Tampa Bay. The Bucs still ran a high-powered offense in 2018 (third in total yards), but despite investing most of their recent draft picks on defense, Tampa featured the least efficient stop unit according to total DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) efficiency rankings.
Head coach Bruce Arians and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles represent an enormous upgrade, and make the Bucs eligible to take major strides forward on both sides of the ball.
Quarterback has the tools, with a strong arm and stable of outstanding weapons, but lacked the proper direction. He now has one of the best offensive minds teaching him, and we expect the offense to be better from the get-go.
— Cam Inman (@CamInman) September 5, 2019
Bowles failed as a head coach but remains a talented defensive coordinator. His specialty is stopping the run, and we saw a new attitude during the preseason, as defenders played fundamentally sound and with confidence.
Trends favor the home team, and San Francisco looks like a work in progress. Tampa is 4-1 ATS against San Francisco in their last five home games and the Niners are 0-6 ATS in their last six games versus the NFC South. After an injury-plagued campaign, The 49ers are glad to put 2018 behind them, but roster turnover over the last couple years makes cohesion difficult to envision.
Tampa has been a young team in desperate need of quality coaching, and while it isn’t realistic to expect a complete turnaround, the Bucs will provide optimism in Week 1.
Pick: Tampa Bay -1
Von Miller and Bradley Chubb pressure quarterbacks and disrupt offenses. You won’t find a more fearsome duo, and they are licking their lips in anticipation of playing for a defensive genius, new head coach Vic Fangio.
— Troy Renck (@TroyRenck) August 28, 2019
The Broncos weren’t healthy last year, but are back at full strength. The returning players know how to start fast, as they’ve won the first two regular-season games the last six years, and face a division rival in transition.
Oakland, which has won only one of its last eight division games, underwent a massive offseason overhaul. Head coach Jon Gruden has no pressure, with a long-term contract and the move to Las Vegas next year, and will continue to implement his system and shuffle the roster. We saw how that went last year, and while the Raiders are better positioned from a personnel standpoint this season, expect another slow start to the season.
It may not be pretty, but Denver will prevail via time of possession, field position and turnover margin.