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NFL Week 1 picks: Giants a lock vs. Jaguars, Jets keep it close; Browns stun Steelers

Saquon Barkley makes his NFL debut for the

Saquon Barkley makes his NFL debut for the Giants when they take on the Jaguars Sunday.  Credit: Daniel De Mato

The Week 1 games in the NFL are the most unpredictable, so bettors beware. There are so many new faces in new places, new schemes and regimes, that you really don't have a sense of things until the end of September. Last season five underdogs opened the season by winning outright, and the belief here is that number could be duplicated to start 2018. Look out for teams trying to start fresh after bad years, and teams with new coaches. 

And remember, I pick every game so that you don't have to. Pick your spots wisely. 

My most-confident picks ATS: Giants, Broncos, Bears, Texans and Ravens. Two games to avoid: Redskins-Cardinals and Cowboys-Panthers.



Sunday, 1 p.m., Ch. 5

Jaguars by 3; O/U: 43

Quick, when was the last time a team went to the playoffs after a 3-13 season? Answer: In 2017, when the Jaguars made a surprise run to the AFC title game. The Giants should be vastly improved after so many offseason moves have made last year's debacle feel like ages ago. New coach Pat Shurmur, a healthy Odell Beckham Jr., Saquon Barkley and a new defense have the Giants in win-now mode. It will all depend, of course, on how well Eli Manning plays. The Jags' defense is one of the best, and Jalen Ramsey vs. Beckham should be a fun matchup. But their offense could be one-dimensional after losing WR Marqise Lee to season-ending left knee surgery last week. Barkley's immediate impact will be in the passing game as Shurmur will put him in situations to succeed against overmatched defenders. The Giants will be motivated to win for Shurmur, and what better way to do it as a home underdog right out of the gate. The only thing about this game that will resemble last season will be the final score: 20-17 Giants.

The pick: Giants


Monday, 7 p.m., Ch. 11, ESPN

Lions by 6.5; O/U: 45

Monday Night Football. On the road. Facing a team whose new coach knows a thing or two about beating rookie quarterbacks from his days in New England. You ready, Sam Darnold? The youngest QB (21 years, 97 days) to start a season opener since the merger in 1970 has shown why the Jets handed him the keys to the franchise. It's the right move, and while it likely won't result in a win the first try, there's no reason to think this can't be a close game. The Jets have underrated receivers, and Darnold also has the luxury of a solid defense that can keep this a one-score game. Matthew Stafford should do enough to give Matt Patricia a win in his Lions coaching debut, but look for Darnold to keep the Jets inside the number.

The pick: Jets



Steelers by 4; O/U: 44

The Browns went the entire 2017 season without a win. Now, before 2018 even kicks off, they've already secured one: Steelers star running back Le'Veon Bell won't play. His contract issue is tearing up the locker room, another distraction for a Pittsburgh team that can't escape drama. Tyrod Taylor, Jarvis Landry and Carlos Hyde give the Browns some name recognition, and the Steelers defense could be in for a long day. Pittsburgh won, 21-18, at Cleveland in last year's opener, and has a tendency to play down to lesser teams on the road. The Bell drama is too much to overlook. The Dawg Pound erupts as Cleveland opens 1-0 after 0-16.

The pick: Browns


Vikings by 6.5; O/U: 46

If these teams met in Week 1 last season, Minnesota would've been favored by double digits. One word and one letter why it's a smaller spread now: Jimmy G. The 49ers went 5-0 to finish 2017 with Jimmy Garoppolo running the show. This is a tough spot, on the road against one of the NFL's best defenses, but until Jimmy G loses (7-0 career record), why bet against him? Kirk Cousins should win his Vikings debut, but this is too many points. 

The pick: 49ers


Patriots by 6; O/U: 50.5

This is the game of the week. Deshaun Watson and Houston had New England beat last season in Week 3 before Tom Brady worked his magic to pull off the win at home. With Watson and J.J. Watt returning from injuries, the belief here is that Houston takes care of unfinished business. The key to beating Brady always has been to pressure him, and Watt and Jadeveon Clowney can do that. New England won't have Julian Edelman (suspension), and lost a number of key pieces in the offseason. The Texans aren't getting enough respect in Vegas. That changes after this opening-statement win. 

The pick: Texans


Ravens by 7.5; O/U: 40.5

Most of the Week 1 games are toss-ups. Not this one. Nathan Peterman on the road against that Ravens' ball-hawking defense? Baltimore's always-opportunistic 'D' could outscore Buffalo's offense on its own. It's going to be a long season for the Bills, who are staring at an 0-6 start with this brutal schedule: Ravens, Chargers, Vikings, Packers, Titans and Texans.

The pick: Ravens


Colts by 2.5; O/U: 48

Andrew Luck is back, the Colts addressed their offensive line woes and they're home against an average Bengals team. Easy pick, right? Not so fast. Geno Atkins and Cincy's front seven will still be too much for Indy's O-line. This spread is a tad inflated because of Luck's first game back, so scoop in and grab the Bengals as one of this week's best value bets. Look for speedy receiver John Ross to make a big play as the Bengals win it outright.

The pick: Bengals


Titans by 1; O/U: ??

Tennessee is one of only five road favorites. The Titans, or as I like to call them, Patriots South, hired former New England linebacker Mike Vrabel as coach and also brought in former Pats Malcolm Butler and Dion Lewis. Miami gets Ryan Tannehill back, but he's a question mark. Look for Marcus Mariota and Derrick Henry to be the answers for the Titans in a grind-it-out win. 

The pick: Titans


Saints by 9.5; O/U: 49.5

The Saints are my pick to win the Super Bowl, while the Bucs could be in the mix for  the No. 1 pick. With Jameis Winston suspended the first three games, the Bucs open with New Orleans, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Good luck, Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Saints beat the Bucs, 30-10, in New Orleans last season and should win again by double digits.

The pick: Saints



Panthers by 3; O/U: 42.5

No Dez Bryant. No Jason Witten. Who exactly will Dak Prescott throw to? Yes, Dallas has Zeke Elliott, but the Cowboys are without center Travis Frederick. Luke Kuechly and the Carolina defense will stack the box and make Prescott beat them. Give me Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey to make enough big plays for the win. 

The pick: Panthers


Chargers by 3; O/U: 48

The Chiefs have owned the Chargers, winning eight in a row. That streak ends Sunday. Patrick Mahomes is my choice for breakout star of 2018, but it will be a tough start against a deep Chargers defense. The Chargers, who finished last season 9-3 after an 0-4 start, need a fast start in 2018. Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates connect for another TD pass as they bolt out of the gate with an impressive win.

The pick: Chargers


Broncos by 3; O/U: 42.5

Denver is one of the toughest places for opponents to play. This matchup favors the Broncos, with their biggest strength lining up directly against the Seahawks' weakest link. Von Miller and rookie Bradley Chubb will dominate Seattle's offensive line and have Russell Wilson on the run. Expect Case Keenum to be his efficient self against a secondary that isn't what it used to be. This is also a strong under play.  

The pick: Broncos


Cardinals by 1; O/U: 43.5

This is the "no feel" game of the week. It's Alex Smith vs. Sam Bradford making their debuts with new teams in a battle of former No. 1 picks. Arizona is always a tough out at home, and with Steve Wilks making his coaching debut, the Cards get the slight edge. But if you want to flip a coin, we won't blame you.

The pick: Cardinals



Packers by 7.5; O/U: 47

The Bears are my surprise team of 2018. Think of the 2017 Rams. Chicago has an offensive-minded, first-time head coach in Matt Nagy. If Mitch Trubisky is ready to take that next step like Jared Goff last season, then look out NFC. The Bears brought in two new receivers, have a talented backfield . . . and oh, traded for a defensive game-changer in Khalil Mack. Now, about those pesky Packers. Quite simply, they own the Bears, having won four in a row, eight of nine and 14 of 16. Aaron Rodgers is healthy, has a new weapon in TE Jimmy Graham and should continue his mastery of Chicago. Only it will be a lot closer than most think. 

The pick: Bears



Rams by 4; O/U: 49.5

For the 10th straight season, Jon Gruden begins with a Monday Night Football contest. But this time the former broadcaster is back on the sideline in Oakland. Gruden will look across and see a version of his younger self in Sean McVay in what is by far the best coaching matchup of Week 1. The shocking Khalil Mack trade hit Derek Carr and his teammates like a Mack truck and that could translate to the field. Plus, the Rams had one of the best offseasons in recent memory and improved from last year's playoff team. 

The pick: Rams


(best bets in bold)


Giants Jets Browns 49ers

Texans Ravens Bengals Titans

Saints Panthers Chargers

Broncos Cardinals Bears Rams


Jaguars Lions Steelers Vikings

Texans Ravens Colts Dolphins

Saints Panthers Chiefs

Seahawks Cardinals Packers Rams 


Jaguars Jets Steelers Vikings

Texans Ravens Bengals Titans 

Saints Panthers Chiefs

Seahawks Cardinals Packers Rams


Giants Lions Steelers Vikings

Patriots Ravens Colts Dolphins

Saints Panthers Chargers

Seahawks Cardinals Packers Rams

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