12 NFL Bets & Predictions For Week 1: Our Favorite Spread & Over/Under Picks For Sunday’s Games
Getty Images. Pictured: Alvin Kamara, Patrick Mahomes, D.K. Metcalf
Ready for the first NFL Sunday of 2021? Our NFL betting analysts sure are — they’ve outlined their favorite Week 1 NFL bets for Sunday’s slate below, featuring spread and over/under picks.
Week 1 NFL Picks
Chargers at Washington
Sean Koerner: 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.
Chargers at Washington
Stuckey: Look, there’s no doubt that Washington boasts one of the most ferocious defensive lines in the NFL. The team has done a phenomenal job of building that unit over the past five drafts led by the fearsome foursome of Chase Young, Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne and Montez Sweat. The secondary also undoubtedly benefits from the pressure generated by the defensive line.
Now, with all that said, I do think the defense is a bit overrated by the market after last season.
In 2020, Washington’s defense led it to a division title, but it only took seven wins to win the NFC East. Just take a look at the quarterbacks it defeated in those games:
- Andy Dalton (twice)
- Carson Wentz
- Jalen Hurts*
- Ben Roethlisberger
- Nick Mullens
- Ryan Finley**
*Nate Sudfeld replaced Jalen Hurts in the second half with the Eagles tanking
**Joe Burrow left with an injury with the Bengals in the lead
Not only is that one underwhelming group, but those six quarterbacks played for teams with either a horrid offensive line or one decimated by injury. That allowed the Washington defensive line to dictate the game.
However, if we also exclude two games against the Giants — who swept the season series with arguably the worst offensive line in the NFL — opposing offenses had success against Washington. And in those seven other games, opponents averaged 27.9 points per game with five of them scoring at least 30 points.
With an upgraded offensive line and talent all around second-year quarterback Justin Herbert, the Chargers fit the mold of a team that can have success against this Washington defense. Plus, Anthony Lynn is no longer around to squander scoring chances at the end of halves and games.
On the other side of the ball, Washington upgraded at quarterback by bringing in Ryan Fitzpatrick, which speaks more to whom he replaced than about his own ability. More importantly, they added more weapons on the outside to complement Terry McLaurin and Antonio Gibson:
- Curtis Samuel
- Adam Humphries
- Dyami Brown
Washington also boasts a vastly underrated interior offensive line. And based on early reports, they found a gem in rookie right tackle Samuel Cosmi. This offense should enjoy much more success in 2021, starting with this weekend against a Chargers defense that could struggle early on after losing a few key pieces and needing to adjust to a completely new defensive scheme that I’m not sure fits this roster.
Most might assume a low-scoring affair at first glance — and maybe it plays out that way — but I think both offenses will have opportunities with two aggressive quarterbacks. A Ryan Fitzpatrick pick-six wouldn’t hurt, either.
Eagles at Falcons
Chris Raybon: Most of the things wrong with the Eagles from last season are gone: Carson Wentz, Doug Pederson, Alshon Jeffery and, at least for now, the myriad injuries that plagued them last season.
What you do have is a lot of uncertainty about how things will look in Jalen Hurts’ first full year at QB. But that uncertainty could work in the Eagles’ favor early in the season. They have one of the best offensive lines in the league, anchored by center Jason Kelce and a premium right side of Brandon Brooks and Lane Johnson. They also have two of the better pass-catching tight ends in the league in Dallas Goedert and Zach Ertz.
While some look at Hurts as the weak link, I think the question marks about Hurts are overstated. Hurts was far from perfect in four starts last season, but remember his Week 17 benching not only tanked his per-start numbers, but they also made his efficiency numbers look worse than they will be this season, when he plays Washington once every 8.5 games instead of 25% of his starts, as he did last season.
The true biggest weakness of the Eagles offense is at wide receiver, but there’s upside both long and short term. DeVonta Smith and Jalen Reagor are first-round picks, and Quez Watkins made a player who led the NFL in receiving for a four-game stretch last year expendable. Hurts also fared well throwing to wide receivers:
- Hurts: 40-of-70 (57.1%); 668 yards (9.5 YPA); 6 TD (8.6% TD%)
- Wentz: 122-of-216 (56.5%); 1,377 yards (6.4 YPA); 8 TD (3.7% TD%)
The Eagles should be able to protect Hurts against the Falcons’ stud pass-rushing threat, Grady Jarrett, forcing new defensive coordinator Dean Pees to rely on his creative blitz schemes. The only issue with that: Hurts ranked fifth in YPA against the blitz (8.8) last season, according to PFF.
Like the Eagles, the Falcons should be better coached this season. But unlike the Eagles, the Falcons won’t have an edge in the trenches most weeks. That’s true this week, when Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and Josh Sweat take on PFF’s 24th-ranked offensive line.
The Eagles were second in pressure rate last season, according to PFR Advanced Stats, while Matt Ryan was middling versus pressure last season, ranking 16th in YPA (6.3) and 19th in passer rating (68.1) — and that was with a half-season of Julio Jones.
New head coach Arthur Smith should be able to get the most out of Ryan over the course of the season, but it could be a tall task in Week 1. Calvin Ridley will get his regardless, but the Eagles should be improved at corner, where Steven Nelson will start opposite Darius Slay. Safety Rodney McLeod is out, however, so No. 4 overall pick Kyle Pitts could start his career with a bang against a defense that ranked 26th in DVOA versus tight ends last season.
Falcons team owner Arthur Blank brought Smith in because he liked his run-heavy approach, but I’m not sure how much it will work in Week 1 with Mike Davis — who averages 3.7 yards per carry for his career — against a Philly defense that was a pass funnel last season, ranking 13th in DVOA against the run but 24th versus the pass.
With Washington now a 1.5-point favorite against the Chargers, Eagles +3.5 is my favorite spread bet of the week.
Seahawks at Colts
Brandon Anderson: Let’s start with the most obvious play on the slate, which also makes it the most terrifying.
The Colts are a mess. They traded for Carson Wentz to be the savior, but the early returns are very worrisome. Wentz was hurt instantly, initially expected to be out a month or more into the season. He’s reportedly healthy enough to play but just missed a week with his team in COVID protocol. And remember, he wasn’t good last year anyway.
But it’s not just Wentz. The offensive line is a disaster. Quenton Nelson has the same foot injury as Wentz, with the same nebulous timeline. He’s Indy’s best player, and he’s questionable.
Indianapolis will also be without last year’s left tackle Anthony Castonzo (retired) and his replacement Eric Fisher (injured), and center Ryan Kelly missed time in protocol too. Now CB Xavier Rhodes is out as well. The injuries and lack of continuity are a serious problem.
Still, Seattle loves to play with its food. Seahawks played one-score affairs 11 times in 16 games last season. This should be close late. But if it’s close, would you rather have Russell Wilson and an offense that actually knows each other or whatever the Colts will roll out with Wentz and a makeshift line?
Jaguars at Texans
Mike Randle: Even at age 32, Tyrod Taylor can still run. The Texans are a 3-point home underdogs to the Jaguars in a game with a 45-point over/under. Houston has limited offensive weapons, especially at wide receiver. Taylor has averaged 47.2 rushing yards per game in the last 36 games as a starting quarterback.
His last year as a consistent starter was 2017, which is helping to suppress this low rushing total prop. Taylor’s instinct when pressured is to run, and the Jaguars won’t be concerned with Taylor cresting just 17 rushing yards to hit this prop.
Jacksonville allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks in 2020, including 310 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns. Whether the Texans are trailing in the second half or trying to secure a lead at home, Taylor’s rushing will be a substantial part of an offense with limited talent. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this prop hit in the first half after a few designed runs by Taylor.
This is an 8-rated prop (out of 10) on our FantasyLabs Player Props Tool based on projections by Sean Koerner.
Packers vs. Saints
Sean Koerner: 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.
Packers vs. Saints
Stuckey: I’m backing the Saints at this price in their home opener, which will take place in Jacksonville due to Hurricane Ida. After the announcement of the new venue, I obviously adjusted the spread in the Packers’ favor, but the new surface may actually benefit New Orleans based on the structure of both teams.
With the return of Aaron Rodgers, the Packers enter the season as one of the top contenders in the NFC. However, there are some questions with this roster — starting with the offensive line. Green Bay develops offensive linemen as well as any team in the NFL, so this unit should be fine as the season progresses.
However, there could be some major growing pains early on with star left tackle David Bakhtiari sidelined for at least six weeks on the PUP list.
Since the Packers also lost Pro Bowl center Corey Linsley, they had to reshuffle this entire unit with Elgton Jenkins kicking out to left tackle and two rookies set to start on the interior in center Josh Myers and right guard Royce Newman. They could have their hands full against a stout New Orleans front seven.
And while the Saints do have major concerns at the second corner spot opposite Marshon Lattimore, that might not hurt them as much in this particular matchup. They can also rely on a trio of outstanding safeties to pick up the slack.
On the other side of the ball, the Packers will have a new defensive coordinator, so we will see what schematic changes follow. Regardless, they feature one of the best corners in the NFL and won’t have to worry about Michael Thomas in this one.
However, top pass rusher Za’Darius Smith is not 100% healthy, and teams can pick on No. 2 cornerback Kevin King. Most importantly, this is a defense that struggles to defend the run (partly by design in the recent past).
The Saints may take full advantage with one of the league’s best offensive lines. Alvin Kamara could have himself a day, and Winston should have time in the pocket in what I expect to be a simplified attack under head coach Sean Payton.
Ultimately, I make this game a hair under a field goal, so I pulled the trigger on +4.5 (the line is now at +3.5) in a game where I think the Saints hold a few matchup advantages in the trenches.
If you’re going to back Jameis Winston, do it when he’s an underdog. His high-variance nature makes him a nightmare to back when laying points but intriguing when catching over a field goal. Take a look at his career agains the spread (ATS) splits in those two situations:
- 7-14-1 ATS as a favorite
- 17-10-1 ATS as an underdog of more than a field goal
And we do get to back Payton as an underdog, which has paid off handsomely in the past. He boasts a 31-13-2 ATS record as a pup, making him the second-most profitable coach (out of 129) as an underdog since 2003, trailing only Mike Tomlin, per Action Labs.
I should note the special teams situation for the Saints does worry me a bit with punter Thomas Morstead gone and kicker Will Lutz injured. Throw in the departure of one of their top gunners and the fact that Deonte Harris may not return punts if needed to fill in for a banged up wide receiver group — and it’s certainly concerning. That said, the Packers really struggled overall on special team last year.
Broncos at Giants
Chris Raybon: Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham had to play more man coverage than he wanted last season in order to keep opponents from sicking their No. 1 recovers on New York’s black hole at No. 2 corner. Adoree Jackson is ticketed to fill that role, but he’s dealing with a low ankle sprain and is questionable to play.
This could put Graham in a pickle.
Jerry Jeudy is probably looked at as Denver’s top receiver right now, but James Bradberry matches up better with the larger Sutton. That means Graham will likely have his hands tied with Jeudy, with some combination of a gimpy Jackson or worse on Jeudy. This could be a problem on early downs if the Giants devote resources to the run, and either way, slot receiver KJ Hamler — a more unsung second-year breakout candidate than Jeudy — could have a field day against slot corner Darnay Holmes.
The only way this matchup could be worse for Daniel Jones would be if it was in Mile High.
Jones will face a Vic Fangio defense that loves to play two-high shells. In terms of points above average per play against two-safety shells, Jones finished 35th of 35 quarterbacks with at least 50 attempts versus two-high shells as a rookie, and he was 28th of 37 qualifiers last season. Fangio has the personnel to run his scheme effectively: Safeties Kareem Jackson (sixth) and Justin Coleman (eighth) both graded out as top-10 safeties at PFF, while GM George Paton revamped the cornerback group with Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller. Darby was 28th of 121 qualifiers in PFF’s grades, and Fuller was 52nd.
Manning the inside will be Bryce Callahan, who was even better last season, grading out third. Fangio’s defense is designed to take away explosive plays from the likes of Kenny Golladay and Darius Slayton, but with Callahan inside, the usually reliable Sterling Shepard may struggle to win his matchup as well. After not practicing most of the summer, there is a real chance Kyle Rudolph leads the Giants in receptions in Week 1. Though it’s not like Denver can’t lock down four receivers if need be: It has such an embarrassment of riches that first-round cornerback Patrick Surtain’s only way to crack the lineup has been as a hybrid in its Dime looks.
The NFL’s worst offensive line will fare just as poorly against Denver’s Von Miller-led front, which gets even more nightmarish if Bradley Chubb (questionable, ankle) also returns. This would be the ideal matchup to lean on your running back, but Saquon Barkley (questionable, knee) will likely be on a pitch count if he plays after his recovery from a torn ACL didn’t progress quite as fast as hoped. If Barkley can’t work his big-play magic, it’s difficult to find a path to offensive touchdowns for the Giants in this game.
This is my favorite total play of the week. The under was 13-3 for the Giants last year and 28-20 in Bridgewater’s career. I’d bet it down to 41.
Broncos at Giants
Michael Arinze: The Broncos got a major upgrade at quarterback this offseason when they acquired Teddy “Two Gloves” Bridgewater via trade from the Panthers. Bridgewater has evolved into much more of a complete quarterback since he entered the league.
You might be surprised to learn that in 2020, he finished fourth overall with a completion percentage of 69.1% last season. These aren’t necessarily just short throws, either. His 7.6 yards per pass were tied for 10th in the league.
But perhaps what was most impressive is he threw for more than 1,000 yards to two different receivers. Only two other teams in the league, the Chiefs and Seahawks, had two 1,000-yard receivers. The fact that both of those teams made the playoffs says something about the difficulty in that feat. This season, he’ll be throwing to the likes of Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton in Denver.
He’ll also be bolstered by a Broncos defense that should be improved this season, with Von Miller returning after missing last season. Without him, the Broncos still managed to finish in the top half of the league in Football Outsiders’ total DVOA. With his return, this Denver defense is one of six teams Pro Football Focus has in its tier one ranking.
That’s a scary proposition for a Giants team that’s still trying to sort out its offensive line that’s projected to be dead last. Even in late August, the Giants were still trading for offensive linemen.
I think this is a tough spot for them against a tough defense and a quarterback who has acquired a ton of experience in his tour around the league.
Bridgewater is one of the most impressive quarterbacks on the road against the spread, as he’s 21-3 for 16.9 units. He’s covered the number in the last seven games in this spot, and I think he gets another one on Sunday.
I locked this number in at -2.5 but would play it up to -3.
Broncos at Giants
Mike Randle: I took Denver -2 early in the week, but I still the current line of -3 in this Week 1 matchup at the Meadowlands.
The Broncos bring elite talent on both sides of the ball, yet they were being overlooked throughout the summer due to uncertainty at the quarterback position. They’ve now settled on Bridgewater, which is great news for Denver backers, as evidenced by the trend Michael highlighted above.
Bridgewater doesn’t make mistakes, keeping his team in the game and increasing their chances to cover.
This year, Denver brings an offense loaded with talent. Veteran Melvin Gordon and rookie Javonte Williams comprise a talented and versatile backfield. Wide receivers Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, and KJ Hamler provide explosive deep threats. Noah Fant is one of the most athletic tight ends in the NFL and serves as a great safety valve for the accurate Bridgewater.
Head coach Vic Fangio built an elite defense that is now solidified by the return of All-Pro OLB Von Miller. The Broncos’ rebuilt secondary with Ronald Darby, Kyle Fuller and rookie Patrick Surtain should contain a Giants offense that played the entire preseason without WR free agent signing Kenny Golladay. Lead running back Saquon Barkley should be active but could be limited after recovering from ACL surgery.
I also have concerns about a Giants offense line that failed to improve in the offseason. PFF ranked the New York front five as the worst in the league in 2021. Miller and Chubb should provide pressure on Giants quarterback Daniel Jones who threw 12 interceptions and had 11 fumbles last season. Giving the Broncos multiple turnovers with Bridgewater at quarterback will make a stiff challenge for New York.
Browns at Chiefs
Raheem Palmer: We’ve all read the trends: Cleveland’s struggles during the opening week of the season, Mahomes is a beast in the month of September, and, more importantly, Andy Reid dominates season openers. In Week 1 with the Chiefs, Reid is 7-1 straight up and 6-2 ATS with six straight wins and four straight covers.
How can anyone bet against that?
Well I’m here to tell you that I’m fading those trends. I’m not a fan of blindly betting trends because they’re not truly predictive — they just tell us what happened in the past. And just as there’s a trend on Reid in Week 1, there’s one to support the Browns in this spot.
The loser of the Super Bowl is 4-17 ATS in the last 20 openers the following season with the 49ers losing outright in Week 1 last year to the Cardinals.
The truth of the matter is this: Sharp money hit the Browns at +6.5 and +6, pushing this line down to where it sits now at +5.5 for good reason. They’re a legitimate Super Bowl contender with real advantages in this matchup. And their offense is based on running the ball and play action — areas in which the Chiefs struggle.
Although the Chiefs have a high floor given the presence of Mahomes, we’ve seen this team lose to the Raiders, who like to run the ball and dominate the time of possession. Take a look at the box score of their Week 5 loss against the Raiders last season. I believe we could see a similar result.
I played the Browns at +6.5 earlier in the week, but I believe they can win this game outright. I’m not typically in favor of playing games off key numbers, but in this case, it’s still worthy of a bet at the current number. I’ll take the Browns to cover down to +5 and their moneyline down to +200.
Dolphins at Patriots
The Dolphins’ greatest strength is its pair of elite corners, but Xavien Howard and Byron Jones are a bit wasted against a team without much at receiver anyway. New England was brutal against the run last year, but Miami hasn’t been able to run the ball in years.
This is a matchup of recent Alabama quarterbacks with Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones, but the difference is the supporting cast. Miami has terrible line play and that spells trouble against a revitalized Patriots defense that adds Kyle van Noy, Dont’a Hightower, and Matt Judon up front.
Meanwhile, New England added Trent Brown and has one of the best lines in the league, and Damien Harris and the new Pats tight ends give Mac Jones plenty of help.
Remember, the numbers say not to worry about Week 1 rookie QB starters who weren’t the No. 1 pick. Mac Jones beat out a former MVP to earn his job fair and square, and besides, Tua Tagovailoa isn’t much more than a rookie yet anyway after playing half a season with training wheels.
Bill Belichick teams typically dominate young QBs, and the Patriots have won 11 of their last 12 home games against the Dolphins. This is a great spot for New England and my favorite play of the week.