One NFL scout on Sam Darnold/#Panthers: “I expect big things. It’s really a variation of Sean Payton’s offense: Very QB-friendly w/a lot of vertical routes and high-low concepts. DJ Moore takes another step. Anderson is a beast. Marshall gives them a jump ball threat/slot guy.”
Words of warning to all those picking Week 1 NFL games: Expect the unexpected.
Even with three preseason games this year, compared to none last season because of COVID-19, it's always tough to try and get a gauge on how good teams are in Week 1.
That's why picking games is a challenge early in the season. Some teams played starters in the preseason, while others did not. Some showed stuff, while most did not. Evaluations are always tough coming out of the preseason.
There are no double-digit spreads this week, with three games tied for the biggest at 7.5 points. Those three games are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers favored over the Cowboys, the San Francisco 49ers over the Detroit Lions and the Los Angeles Rams over the Chicago Bears. I like the 'dogs in two of those games.
Last season was just OK for me picking games. I did do a nice job on my Best Bets as part of the Pick Six Podcast, which is a show that will return again this year. That's when I get to dominate host Will Brinson — who always finishes last.
Just be careful this week with the picks. The obvious isn't always the right way.
The Bucs return all 22 starters as the defending champions, which makes this a tough, tough road challenge to open for Dallas. The Cowboys do have Dak Prescott back, but the Tampa Bay defense will be better this year and Dallas will be without All-Pro guard Zack Martin. Something tells me the Cowboys will do enough on offense to hang around in this game. It's close, but the Bucs will win it.
Pick: Bucs 28, Cowboys 24
Jalen Hurts is the Eagles starter at quarterback and how he goes is how well the Eagles go. Hurts has the ability to create with his legs, which can be a problem for the Falcons. Matt Ryan doesn't have Julio Jones anymore, but he still can make big plays with Calvin Ridley and rookie Kyle Pitts. The Eagles will hang around, but the Falcons will find a way.
Pick: Falcons 23, Eagles 21
The Bills are my pick to win the Super Bowl, but this is tough way to open the season. The Steelers have won five of the last six at Buffalo, although the Bills won last year at home. The Steelers defense against Josh Allen will be fun to watch, but the game will be decided by the Buffalo defensive front against the Steelers offensive line. I think the Bills will get the best of that, which is why they win to open the season. But it's close.
Pick: Bills 24, Steelers 20
The Vikings should be much improved on defense this season, which I think will be the difference in this one. Joe Burrow hasn't looked great this summer, and the Vikings should be much better up front getting after the quarterback with Danielle Hunter back. The Minnesota offense will again feature Dalvin Cook, but I think it's the passing game that wins this one.
Pick: Vikings 30, Bengals 20
The 49ers head here as a big favorite, which can be challenging on the road in Week 1. Don't over-think it. The 49ers are the much better team, and while I think Jared Goff having familiarity with the 49ers will help the Lions, they aren't good enough. The 49ers will do their usual and run the ball and play good defense to win this one.
Pick: 49ers 28, Lions 16
This is a tough trip to open the season for the Cardinals. They have won five of the last six against the Titans. Look for both offenses to play well here, with Tennessee running it and Arizona throwing it. I am concerned about the Tennessee secondary, especially at corner, which is why Kyler Murray will find a way to keep this game under the number.
Pick: Titans 28, Cardinals 27
The quarterback edge is a big one in this game for the Seahawks with Russell Wilson against Carson Wentz. But the Colts get the defensive edge, which will be the difference here. They will control Wilson and Jonathan Taylor will control the clock with his running. The Colts will win a tough, hard-fought game.
Pick: Colts 24, Seahawks 23
This is a tough, long trip to open the season for the Chargers. The battle to watch here will be Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert against the Washington defensive front. The Chargers have made improvements on the offensive line, but this front is special. Ryan Fitzpatrick will play well on the other side of the ball. Washington takes the opener.
Pick: Washington 26, Chargers 20
This is the Sam Darnold Bowl as he gets to face his former team. The Jets will unveil rookie quarterback Zack Wilson, Darnold's replacement. It's tough to start on the road as a rookie, which gives Darnold the edge. Carolina is the better team, so they ruin the Wilson debut.
Pick: Panthers 24, Jets 17
The Texans might not have top-tier talent, but they have a lot of veterans who played a lot of football. That will matter against a rookie quarterback and coach playing their first NFL game for the Jaguars. Jacksonville will struggle early, but then find a way to pull this one out late. The Texans have won five straight against the Jaguars, but they won't make it six. They do get the cover.
Pick: Jaguars 27, Texans 26
This is a rematch from the AFC Divisional Playoffs last year, a game won by the Chiefs. Cleveland hung around in that game, and this is a better Cleveland team. But Kansas City is improved as well, especially up front. I think the Chiefs will win the game behind Patrick Mahomes, but the Browns will again keep it close.
Pick: Chiefs 28, Browns 26
This highlight of this game will be the two quarterbacks, Miami's Tua Tagovailoa against New England's Mac Jones, who will be making his first start as a rookie. The Dolphins and Brian Flores will throw a ton of looks at Jones, who saw a lot of vanilla stuff in the preseason. But it will be a challenge for Tagovailoa as well. This is a tough opener for Miami against an improved New England team. Jones will win his first start.
Pick: Patriots 23, Dolphins 17
This game was moved to Jacksonville because of Hurricane Ida, which has displaced the Saints. That's always a challenge for any team. But the heat will be a challenge for the Packers. Jameis Winston will start for the Saints, but he won't be able to keep up with Aaron Rodgers, who will take advantage of so-so corners for the Saints. These two have played a lot of high-scoring games. This will be no different. Packers win it and cover.
Pick: Packers 35, Saints 24
This is a long trip for the Broncos to open the season, but defense travels well and the Broncos will have a top defense. The difference in this game will be the Denver front against the Giants offensive line. They will make it a tough day for Daniel Jones. Teddy Bridgewater will do enough to win it.
Pick: Broncos 21, Giants 14
Andy Dalton and the Bears head to Los Angeles to play a Rams team that now features Matt Stafford, who is familiar with the Bears from his days with the Lions. Look for the Rams to show off Stafford against a Bears secondary that has issues at corner. But Dalton will make enough plays to keep it close. The line is bloated.
Pick: Rams 23, Bears 20
The Raiders will play their first regular-season game in their new stadium, which will be buzzing. But they still have issues on defense, even with a new coordinator in Gus Bradley and a new system. That will show up in this one with Lamar Jackson getting off to a fast start. The Raiders will score as well with Derek Carr, so look for a high-scoring game with a lot of big plays.
Pick: Ravens 34, Raiders 27
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