Expert NFL Picks For Week 1: Patriots vs. Dolphins, Packers vs. Saints, More Sunday Spreads & Over/Unders
Sean Gardner/Getty Images. Pictured: Aaron Rodgers
Action's Director of Predictive Analytics, Sean Koerner, reveals the five biggest edges based on his Week 1 NFL Power Ratings. He has a 372-278-4 (57%) all-time record on NFL bets he's tracked in the Action App, where you can follow all of his picks.
Week 1 NFL Picks
|Chargers at Washington
|1 p.m. ET
|Jets at Panthers
|1 p.m. ET
|Dolphins at Patriots
|4:25 p.m. ET
|Broncos at Giants
|4:25 p.m. ET
|Packers at Saints
|4:25 p.m. ET
There are reasons to be bullish on each of these teams heading into 2021 — in fact, I bet both to go over their win total — but Washington has the edge in their Week 1 matchup for a few reasons:
- The Chargers' offensive line should be much better this season. However, since it's essentially a brand new unit, it could take a couple of games for them to jell. And Washington's defensive line will be the toughest test of all, so Justin Herbert is unlikely to have a clean pocket for much of this game.
- Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi is implementing a new scheme, which could result in Herbert getting off to a slow start as he learns a brand new offense.
- Austin Ekeler is shaping up to be a true game-time decision due to a hamstring injury. If he can't suit up or has a reduced role, it will make it even more challenging for the Chargers to move the ball against this stout defense.
Washington has one of the more complete rosters in the league. While Ryan Fitzpatrick is a league-average quarterback (at best), he is a significant upgrade over every quarterback the Football Team trotted out last season (Alex Smith, Dwayne Haskins, Kyle Allen).
The Football Team's offense could surprise many, and I will back them heavily early in the season.
The Sam Darnold Revenge Bowl has sneaky shootout potential.
The Jets defense suffered a massive blow when Carl Lawson ruptured his Achilles in August, ending his season. Lawson's absence will put even more pressure on this cornerback group to hold up now that opposing QBs will likely have more time to throw. It's still unclear who the Jets will have lined up across from Bryce Hall, but it's going to have to be 1-2 of their rookies (who were all drafted fifth round or later).
Darnold should be able to exploit this matchup with a supporting cast of D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, Terrace Marshall and Christian McCaffrey.
The Jets offense should be much better in the post-Adam Gase era, too. Rookie Zach Wilson has a gunslinger playing style and will be a very exciting rookie to watch. In addition, the Jets brought in Corey Davis and Elijah Moore, giving Wilson plenty of weapons to work with. His aggressive playing style should contribute to the Jets' games going over their total until the market adjusts.
I'm projecting this closer to 46 and would bet the over up to 45.
Mac Jones had such an impressive camp that the Patriots named him their Week 1 starter and cut Cam Newton, but Jones draws a difficult matchup for his debut.
Dolphins head coach Brian Flores — a Bill Belichick disciple — is one of the best defensive coaches in the NFL. With arguably the league's best cornerback duo in Byron Jones and Xavien Howard, the Dolphins run an aggressive defense that plays a ton of man coverage and blitzes at a high rate (41% blitz rate ranked second last season).
I expect Flores to come up with a game plan that lures Jones into making rookie mistakes.
I backed the Dolphins in their Week 10 matchup against the Chargers in 2020 based on a similar angle with Justin Herbert. Miami ended up winning 29-21 in what turned out to be Herbert's worst game as a rookie.
I'm also bullish on Tua Tagovailoa having a Year 2 breakout. He was below-average as a rookie, ranking in the 29-32 range (out of the 43 quarterbacks who played last season) in a few key metrics that I use to rank QBs. However, when you compare his performance to other rookie QBs over the past decade, Tagovailoa was above-average, ranking in the 13-18 range (out of 42) in those same metrics.
We have to remember that Tagovailoa was coming back from a significant hip injury entering his rookie season. He already looked significantly better in preseason action, and we should see that carry over into Week 1.
Stephon Gilmore will be sidelined for at least six games, due to a quad injury, which further improves Tagovailoa's outlook for Week 1. I'm taking the Dolphins +3.5 while it's still available at BetMGM, but you can buy the hook if needed.
The strength of both teams is their defense. Therefore, it shouldn't be a surprise that this is the lowest total for Week 1.
The Giants' offensive line is arguably the worst in the league, and it doesn't stand a chance against a Broncos' defensive front that will welcome back both Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. To make matters worse, nearly every Giants' pass catcher is entering the season at less than 100%.
Teddy Bridgewater getting the Week 1 start over Drew Lock signals to me that the Broncos intend to run a very conservative, run-heavy offense to open the season. As a result, I'm projecting this total closer to 40.5 points.
Forty and 41 are two of the most valuable numbers for NFL totals, so I'm only willing to bet the under down to 41 points.
Normally, the Packers at Saints would scream shootout. However, there are a few reasons this matchup will favor the under:
Because New Orleans lost power during Hurricane Ida, this game was moved from the Superdome to the Jaguars' home stadium in Jacksonville. Moving from a dome to an outdoor warm-weather stadium favors the defense.
The Packers' offensive line will take a step back — at least to begin the season. Stud LT David Bakhtiari is out for the first six games due to a knee injury, and they also lost C Corey Linsley to free agency. Even if second-round rookie Josh Meyers plays well at center, he'll still be a downgrade from Linsley. The Saints should be able to get pressure on Aaron Rodgers, which should help take some pressure off their thin cornerback depth.
The Saints offense should take a step back in 2021 following Drew Brees' retirement. Yes, Jameis Winston will provide a vertical element this offense has lacked the past few seasons. However, their WR depth will be an issue until Michael Thomas can return. Winston's top WR, Marquez Callaway, will likely be matched up with shutdown corner Jaire Alexander.
I'm projecting this matchup to be the slowest-paced game of the week. The Packers ranked dead-last in situation-neutral pace of play last season while the Saints ranked fourth-slowest. And I imagine the Florida heat will cause these teams to play even slower.
I'm projecting this total closer to 47.5 and would bet the under down to 48.5 points.