NFL Picks, Predictions for Every Week 1 Game: Eagles vs Lions, Steelers vs Bengals, More Bets To Make
Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images. Pictured: Jalen Hurts.
We made it, y’all!
Week 1. Real, live NFL football. We’re back!
I’m back too, and hopefully better than ever. We went the distance last year here at Action Network, picking every NFL game on the schedule against the spread (ATS). So how did we do?
Well, we finished 148-121-4 on the season — not bad! That’s a 55.0% cover rate, and we were especially good backing underdogs at 89-66-2. Of course, none of that matters now. Today, we’re all just 0-0, looking to make a buck.
Heck of a season y’all, thanks for coming along for the ride at @ActionNetworkHQ.
Total of 457 NFL bets logged in the @ActionApp this season…
+49.29 units won
337.75 units wagered
$100 bettor who tailed every pick would be up $4929 on season 💰💰 pic.twitter.com/oVLnl035HO
— Brandon Anderson (@wheatonbrando) February 14, 2022
The preseason is in the books, the previews have all been written, and I’ve made all my MVP (Patrick Mahomes!), season leaders (Mike Evans!), and longshot (Jaguars?!) bets. Now it’s time for some real football.
Normally on Wednesdays, we’ll dive deep into DVOA, EPA, and all sorts of fancy advanced metrics to help us out. But Week 1 is all about preseason reads. That’s why we did all the work after all, and we’ll adjust our priors as we get new data. That means you may want to refer back to my offense, defense, quarterback, coaching and offensive line rankings for some context.
If you’d like to know my big picture thoughts on each team and where I place them in the NFL hierarchy heading into the new season, you can check out my four-part season preview:
- The 8 Worst Teams
- The 8 Teams Taking a Step Backward
- The 8 Sleepers Trending Up
- The 8 Super Bowl Contenders
Okay, let’s dive into Week 1 and make some picks. As always, I’ll make a pick for every game each week, but not all games are created equal. After each pick, you’ll also see my confidence level: Bet, Lean, Pass, or Wait. We’ll circle back Saturday and make final decisions.
I missed you. Let’s start with a few trends and make some picks.
Key Week 1 Trends
There are no team trends yet, but we do know some important Week 1 trends. Here are four key Action Labs trends to keep in mind as we dig into the new slate. All since 2005 unless otherwise specified:
1. Week 1 underdogs that missed last year’s playoffs are 126-101-5 ATS (55.6%).
Since 2011, the trend is even stronger at 76-54-2 ATS (58.5%). Last year’s dogs went 9-2 ATS, and there’s only one year since 2011 where blindly betting this trend would’ve finished more than a game below .500.
2. Week 1 underdogs in division games are 61-41-2 ATS (59.8%).
This trend is an incredible 29-9-1 ATS (76.3%) since 2014.
3. Week 1 underdogs that won four to six games the prior season are 70-34-2 ATS (67.3%).
Betting on some of last year’s worst teams has returned a 30% ROI.
4. New head coaches making their team debut are 7-16 ATS (30.4%) the last four seasons.
It gets worse: those debut coaches are an ugly 3-19-1 straight up.
Thursday Night Football
Bills (-2.5) at Rams
Both of these teams are a bit overvalued in the market right now — especially the Bills. Buffalo is the Super Bowl favorite with the MVP favorite in Josh Allen, but are they really a road field goal favorite against the defending champs?
Super Bowl champions are 13-7-2 ATS (65%) in Week 1 this century, a pristine 19-3 straight up. Home field is not what it once was, but you only get one chance to welcome your champs home to open the following season, and history says that makes a difference.
Sean McVay always has this team firing on all cylinders to start the year. He’s a perfect 5-0 ATS in Week 1, winning by 16.2 PPG and covering by 12.2. Though his starters never really play in preseason, McVay has this offense ready and ahead of a defense playing catch-up with new tendencies.
This Bills defense is not easy to solve. I rate the full-strength Bills as the top defense in the league, and they ranked No. 1 in Defensive DVOA last season. But Buffalo is missing a key starter in corner Tre’Davious White. That leaves rookie Kaiir Elam potentially matched up against WR Cooper Kupp coming off an historic season. Buffalo might also not get 100% from safety Jordan Poyer. The Rams are not the opponent you want to see with a banged-up secondary.
I like defending champs to take care of business to open the season. I’m not even sure this should count as an upset.
THE PICK: Lean Rams +2.5
Early Sunday Afternoon
Eagles (-3.5) at Lions
The Eagles are my NFC sleeper pick. Philadelphia found its footing midseason last fall with a run-first, smash-mouth offense, and now the Eagles added A.J. Brown to the attack and upgraded significantly on defense. I rate the Eagles as the top roster in the entire NFL outside of quarterback.
Let’s talk about Philadelphia finding its footing last year, because that’s key. The Eagles started 2-5, ranked 21st in Offensive DVOA, before unleashing a run-first attack that piled up 236 yards on 46 carries, controlling the clock en route to a dominant 44-6 win. From that game forward, Philadelphia ranked 6th in Offensive DVOA the rest of the season, a transformed offense.
The team Philadelphia faced that day? You guessed it: the Detroit Lions.
For all the Hard Knocks love and offseason hype, the Lions still don’t have that much talent, especially on defense. Detroit rates as my worst defense in the league, and the Lions were bottom-five against the run last season. Philadelphia is arguably better at every position on the field.
Jared Goff is 5-0 ATS in Week 1, but that’s not enough to stop me from two teams I couldn’t be further apart in my preseason reads. This is one of those lines that might be over a touchdown a month from now.
THE PICK: Bet the Eagles
Saints (-5.5) at Falcons
I spent all offseason trying to talk myself into an NFC South sleeper to fade the Bucs and never quite got there. Neither of these teams is particularly scary, but the Saints have by far the best unit on the field with a dominant defense that’s mostly intact.
Normally I’d just side with the one good unit, but instead I’ll take the opportunity to play our Week 1 trends. Atlanta is a non-playoff underdog in a divisional matchup facing a debut coach. Even better, home division dogs are 22-13 ATS (63%) in Week 1.
This is also a chance to fade Jameis Winston in his first action since tearing his ACL. Winston is 8-18-1 ATS (31%) as a favorite. I’ll follow the trends and back the dog at a high number.
THE PICK: Falcons +5.5 (Pass)
Ravens (-6.5) at Jets
It’s only Week 1, but that doesn’t mean there are no injuries yet.
Zach Wilson is a major question mark for the Jets, and we still don’t know which of the many returning Ravens will be ready either. Check back Saturday.
THE PICK: Wait on injury news
Steelers at Bengals (-6.5)
The Bengals are flying high after a magical Super Bowl run, but now Cincinnati has a target on its back. Super Bowl losers are a disastrous 4–18 ATS (18%) this century in Week 1, including just 9–13 straight up. History tells us the public badly overvalues teams coming off a Super Bowl loss, putting too much stock into our last impression.
Cincinnati’s biggest strength is its passing attack, but Pittsburgh’s pass rush and secondary match strength-for-strength. The Bengals overhauled their offensive line, but it takes time for those new starters to develop chemistry, and T.J. Watt and Cam Heyward should make life difficult.
Besides, aren’t you ready to start the season with another rah-rah Mike Tomlin underdog spot? Tomlin is 45–23–2 ATS as an underdog, and that improves to 19-6-2 ATS (76%) as a division underdog. This is a huge mismatch for Tomlin against Zac Taylor, an advantage that’s only bigger with a whole offseason to prepare. It’s also another Week 1 division underdog spot.
The Steelers shocked everyone with an upset Week 1 win over the Bills last fall. I’ll back Pittsburgh and sprinkle the +240 moneyline for a possible Week 1 upset special.
THE PICK: Bet the Steelers
Patriots at Dolphins (-3.5)
Believe it or not, this is the first time the Dolphins have been favored against New England since December 2013. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t had success. The Dolphins have won four of the last five meetings, and Bill Belichick’s guys have lost seven of their last nine in Miami.
Both teams hope to learn more about their young quarterbacks this season, and both Mac Jones and Tua Tagovailoa should have some opportunities this week. New England’s secondary is young and green, and Miami is missing CB Byron Jones and short on depth. The Pats should run the ball though, while Miami’s supposedly improved line and run game were anemic this preseason.
At the end of the day, Miami history or not, it’s tough not to back Belichick getting 3.5 points in a division rivalry game. Belichick is 30-15-2 ATS (67%) as an underdog with a winning 25-22 record straight up. We know how good Belichick is against rookie QBs — what about rookie coaches? Mike McDaniel is unproven, and Belichick always has something ready.
An underdog division spot backing Belichick above a key number is just too good to pass up. Even if the Patriots can’t win in Miami, they should at least keep it close.
THE PICK: Lean Patriots +3.5
Jaguars at Commanders (-3)
Both teams should take a step forward at QB. Jacksonville will hope for a sophomore Trevor Lawrence leap with the help of competent coaching with Doug Pederson is in town, while Washington turns to Carson Wentz. Wentz is no stranger to playing Jacksonville; he lost to the Jaguars as a 15-point favorite to end last season, and effectively his time with the Colts.
Wentz should be an upgrade over Taylor Heinicke, but he’s been brutal starting out the year. Since watching his Eagles win the Super Bowl, Wentz has covered just two of 12 September starts, failing to win the last five times as a favorite.
If the Jags are going to go worst-to-first, they have to start somewhere. Make sure to grab the +3 before you lose the key number.
THE PICK: Lean Jaguars +3
49ers (-6.5) at Bears
San Francisco came within one quarter of the Super Bowl, then sent Jimmy Garoppolo to the bench for Trey Lance. This will be Lance’s third start in almost 1,000 days, and he’ll do so with a shaky offensive line and the looming specter of Jimmy G still on the sidelines.
Luckily for him, he’s playing the Bears.
Chicago jettisoned most of its best defensive players, so the Bears look ripe for the picking as Lance begins the new season. Chicago also puts one of the worst offensive lines in the league up against a DeMeco Ryans defense that made mincemeat of opposing offenses last season.
Kyle Shanahan hasn’t been reliable as a favorite, but the Bears are 2-10 as six-point dogs or longer since 2019, and this is a rough debut spot for Matt Eberflus. The trends stop this from being a full 49ers bet, but I will remind you to get that Trey Lance +5000 MVP bet in before the game just in case.
THE PICK: Lean 49ers -6.5
Browns at Panthers (-2.5)
Baker Mayfield revenge game! The question is which side wants revenge? Let’s just say it was a mutual breakup, and neither of these teams had a particularly steady offseason.
But one roster is far better than the other, and that’s the Browns. Cleveland could actually be pretty good on defense, and the run game will be strong again. This is the perfect opponent for the Jacoby Brissett version of this team. Cleveland should be able to run at will, while Carolina likely leans pass-heavy under OC Ben McAdoo and plays right into the hands of an elite pass defense.
Week 1 road underdogs of three points or less are 18-5 ATS (78%) over the past decade, so this sets up well for a Browns team I expected to be favored. Matt Rhule is an ugly 3-8 ATS as a favorite and has lost five straight outright in that spot. Let’s just say we probably won’t get a chance to fade Rhule as a favorite too many more times. I’ll play the +120 moneyline too.
THE PICK: Lean Browns +2.5
Colts (-7.5) at Texans
If you followed those trends closely at the top, you saw only one team fit every one of them — the Houston Texans. Wipe that vomit off your shirt and stay with me: the Texans are the best bet on the Week 1 slate.
Remember, betting is like poker sometimes — we have to play the player not the cards. And in this case, we have to bet the number and the trends.
The Texans are non-playoff underdogs. They won four games last year. They’re division underdogs, and even better, they’re at home. Division underdogs at home in Week 1 are 22-13 ATS (63%). And if this line gets back to eight, Week 1 dogs of 8+ are 25-9 ATS (74%) and a perfect 9-0 in division games.
Oh you thought we were done? We’re not done.
Frank Reich is 0-4 lifetime in Week 1 and 0-3-1 ATS. The Colts are the worst Week 1 team in football since 2005 at 4-12-1 ATS, failing to cover in seven straight. And new Colts quarterback Matt Ryan is 5-9 ATS in Week 1, the least profitable QB in our entire Action Labs system. Ryan has failed to cover six straight Week 1 games and lost four in a row, three times as a favorite.
The Texans are bad and also not good, and you absolutely do not want to bet them. And that’s exactly why we’re going to.
THE PICK: Bet the Texans
Late Sunday Afternoon
Packers (-1.5) at Vikings
As a Vikings fan, I’ve had this one circled from the moment the schedule came out. It doesn’t get any bigger for Minnesota. The team opted against blowing the team up and instead decided to run it back with a new coach, and this is an immediate test to see if the Vikings made the right call.
Kevin O’Connell could elevate this Vikings attack, but he’s got his work cut out for him against a defense with huge potential and maybe the league’s best secondary now that Jaire Alexander is healthy. Rookie coaches have struggled in their debut, and Matt LaFleur is 8-2 ATS in September. This is obviously another division underdog spot, but they can’t all cover, right?
It feels like this will come down to the wire; 14 of Minnesota’s 17 games were within one score last season. And if the game is close late, which quarterback do you want your money on?
Kirk Cousins is 2-5 ATS in Week 1 and 2-10 ATS against opponents coming off a bye week. In other words, Cousins is 4-15 ATS (21%) when opponents have extra time to prepare for him. Aaron Rodgers, meanwhile, is 42-24 ATS (64%) as a division favorite and 58-31-1 ATS (65%) as a one-score favorite.
Sometimes, it really is just about the quarterback.
THE PICK: Lean Packers -1.5
Raiders at Chargers (-3.5)
I’m very high on the Chargers new-look defense, but LA’s key CB acquisition J.C. Jackson is questionable for this week. He’s making a push to return, but considering he’d be the guy tasked with defending Davante Adams, I need to see the injury report before we make a decision.
THE PICK: Wait for Jackson injury news
Giants at Titans (-6)
The Titans are my favorite under play this season, with any number of potential regression signs — a faltering offensive line, a mediocre defense that just lost its best pass rusher, and an offense built entirely around a big RB with a ton of miles returning from his first major injury.
Brian Daboll doesn’t have much to work with in New York, but the defensive line is one real strength. The Giants fit two of our trends as underdogs that won four and missed the playoffs, and Daniel Jones is 12-6 ATS on the road.
I’m just not sure Tennessee deserves our respect as nearly a touchdown favorite at this point.
THE PICK: Giants +6 (Pass)
Chiefs (-6) at Cardinals
The Chiefs opened -3 on the road but have been steamed up as high as -6.5 at some books. I have a strong read on this matchup but need to see where the line settles and if this drops back down a bit.
THE PICK: Wait for the line to settle
Sunday Night Football
Buccaneers (-2.5) at Cowboys
We’ve been waiting all summer for Sunday night! It’s America’s Team vs. America’s QB, but I’m not sure this one lives up to the presumed hype.
Both teams enter in horrible shape on the offensive line. Each will start three new lineman in Week 1. Dallas lost two quality starters in Conner Williams and La’el Collins, then saw stud LT Tyron Smith go out injured this preseason. Tampa’s big injury was C Ryan Jensen, and the Bucs are also starting two new guards.
Continuity is huge for five men blocking, and these are makeshift lines with no rhythm with each other or their QB. Add in strong defensive fronts, great edge rushers in Micah Parsons and Shaq Barrett, and quality pass defense, and points could be at a serious premium. The best play on the board looks like the under 51, and I might even sniff around an alternate under.
I’m looking to fade both of these teams early with their offensive line woes, but we can’t fade them both against each other. Instead, I’ll back a surprising trend and take the reliable primetime quarterback — and it’s not who you think.
Tom Brady has covered just one of his last 11 road primetime games, and he’s an ugly 1-8 ATS in primetime with the Bucs. Bucs Brady has failed to cover by an average of 9.4 PPG and gone just 5-4 straight up as a favorite, with three of those wins by two points each — including the opener against Dallas last fall. Dak Prescott is 17-9-1 ATS in primetime games, including 10-4 at home.
THE PICK: Cowboys +2.5 (Pass, and play the under 51 instead)
Monday Night Football
Broncos (-6) at Seahawks
Hot diggity, it’s our second QB revenge game of the week! On one side, it’s Russell Wilson’s and his new mates, and on the other side it’s… a team that used to have Russell Wilson.
The Seahawks had one of the more depressing quarterback battles in recent memory and handed the job over to Geno Smith by default. Smith might not be one of the top 40 QBs in the league — and there’s still only 32 teams, for those of you counting at home. Seattle has nice receivers and a good pair of safeties but the rest is pretty barren.
Wilson got the better end of the breakup. He’s got two new receivers who might be just as good, a better line, a great RB duo, and a talented defense that could surprise. Seattle has bad corners and zero pass rush, so the Seahawks might make Russ feel right at home. The talent mismatch is massive, and I think Seattle could end up the worst team in the league.
Still, the trends are against Denver. The Broncos debut a new coach, and Seattle is another of those non-playoff underdogs. Home Monday night football dogs are 10-6 ATS in Week 1, and five of the last six to cover also won outright. And then there’s the unknown factor of Wilson returning to a place he called home for a decade.
On paper, this should be a blowout that gets everyone buzzing about Denver, but the trends give me enough pause to at least be cautious.
THE PICK: Lean Broncos -6