B/R Expert Consensus NFL Picks for Week 1
Regulated sports betting is now legal in some form in more than a dozen states, according to ESPN.com’s Ryan Rodenberg, and a handful of states and Washington, D.C., are on the cusp of joining that group.
For the first time in history, legal bets were placed by Americans outside of Nevada on NFL games last season. But we’re breaking from the early stages of legalization, and any stigma associated with betting on NFL action is dissipating quickly.
According to ESPN.com’s David Purdum, survey results released Wednesday by the American Gaming Association project that 7 million adults will bet at a casino sportsbook this season, which is up 20.6 percent from the 2018 campaign.
It’s a new world, and we’re here to help.
Without making any guarantees (in other words, don’t send us invoices for your losses), we’ve tasked Bleacher Report NFL analysts Gary Davenport, Brad Gagnon and Brent Sobleski with picking every game this season — against the spread.
Here are the first 16.
Lines from Caesars as of Wednesday, September 4.
Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears
Road teams are 3-14 in Thursday night Week 1 kickoff games, but our experts figure that trend is due to be bucked by the revamped Green Bay Packers in their prime-time, season-opening matchup with the rival Chicago Bears.
Or they’re at least unwilling to lay three points with Chicago.
The Bears went 12-4 against the spread last season, but the element of surprise is gone. In fact, you could argue that dynamic has transferred to their Week 1 opponent.
“Green Bay will have an entirely different look on both sides of the ball this season, and I think they’re a hell of a lot better than they were in 2018,” Gagnon said. “Nobody knows exactly what to expect, whereas we now have tape on the Matt Nagy-led Bears. Throw in that Aaron Rodgers is healthy and likely motivated and I think the Packers pull off the upset here. Regardless, it’ll be a close game.”
Chicago lost to the Packers despite the fact Rodgers suffered a knee injury in last year’s season opener. The Bears did beat Green Bay by a touchdown (covering the spread as a 5.5-point favorite) at home later in the year, but at that point, the Packers were a wreck with an interim coach.
It’s fair to approach this pick timidly because we have no idea what the Packers’ new offensive system and new defensive personnel will look like this early, but our guys are willing to bet they’ll put up a fight Thursday night.
Davenport: Green Bay (+3)
Gagnon: Green Bay (+3)
Sobleski: Green Bay (+3)
Consensus: Green Bay (+3)
Score Prediction: Packers 24, Bears 21
Atlanta Falcons at Minnesota Vikings
Both the Minnesota Vikings and Atlanta Falcons disappointed last season, but most of Minnesota’s struggles came in big prime-time games. The Vikes were actually 6-1-1 straight up and 5-2-1 against the spread in 1 p.m. ET Sunday kickoffs, which might partly explain why they’re laying more than a field goal for Sunday’s opener against Atlanta.
Still, the majority of our analysts aren’t on board.
“Maybe it’s a lack of trust in a Vikings team that raised disappointment to an art form in 2018,” Davenport said. “Maybe it’s that I think with Deion Jones and Keanu Neal healthy, the Falcons are a better team than they showed a year ago. Or maybe it’s a matter of giving more than a field goal in a Week 1 game expected to be pretty close. Whatever the reason (it’s that last one), I’ll take Atlanta and the points.”
Sobleski agrees. The Falcons had a tied-for-league-low five wins ATS last season, and a talented Atlanta team isn’t getting much respect considering the defense is healthier and the interior offensive line looks to be much improved.
This is a tricky spread in a tricky game to handicap, so you might be better off focusing elsewhere. But if you need action here, give the replenished Falcons a shot with four points in your back pocket.
Davenport: Atlanta (+4)
Gagnon: Minnesota (-4)
Sobleski: Atlanta (+4)
Consensus: Atlanta (+4)
Score Prediction: Vikings 24, Falcons 23
Baltimore Ravens at Miami Dolphins
Originally a 3.5-point underdog, the Miami Dolphins gutted themselves late in the offseason and are now laying a full touchdown at a lot of books for their home opener against the Baltimore Ravens.
Two of our three panelists don’t feel that’s enough.
“I’m not sure how high the spread would have to be in this game for me to consider taking what’s left of the Dolphins, but I do know this isn’t nearly high enough,” Davenport said. “That the home team is getting almost a touchdown and I still wouldn’t touch them with a 10-foot pole says all you need to know about the 2019 Dolphins.”
But oddsmakers are astute. Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has a significant experience advantage over still-developing Ravens signal-caller Lamar Jackson. Neither are overly trustworthy at this point, but let’s not forget that Fitzpatrick posted a triple-digit passer rating with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season.
And the Ravens experienced a tough offseason as well, losing key cogs C.J. Mosley, Za’Darius Smith, Terrell Suggs and John Brown in free agency.
Both teams still have some quality pieces on defense, which is why this should be a low-scoring game. That’s also why you might want to think twice about spending more than pocket change on a road team laying 6.5 or seven.
This is probably another game to stay away from entirely, but our experts are leaning in favor of the Dolphins imploding after a tumultuous Labor Day weekend in which they gave up several key players.
Davenport: Baltimore (-6.5)
Gagnon: Miami (+6.5)
Sobleski: Baltimore (-6.5)
Consensus: Baltimore (-6.5)
Score Prediction: Ravens 23, Dolphins 13
Buffalo Bills at New York Jets
The similarities between the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets are undeniable. Not only do they represent cities from the same state, and not only are they trying to break free from the prison that is the New England Patriots-dominated AFC East, but both teams reloaded in the offseason and are looking for breakout campaigns with second-year top-10 picks at quarterback.
It makes sense that the hometown Jets are laying three points for their season-opening meeting Sunday because that essentially means oddsmakers and the public figure they’re evenly matched.
Even though the Sam Darnold-led Jets beat the Josh Allen-quarterbacked Bills in Orchard Park in December, the majority of our experts are siding with Buffalo here.
“While I believe the element of surprise will help the experienced Packers on Thursday, I wonder if big changes might slow down the young Jets a bit against Buffalo,” Gagnon said. “It might take some time for Darnold to get acclimated to Adam Gase’s offense and new running back Le’Veon Bell, who could also need some time after a 20-month stretch without game action. The Bills made a lot of (very exciting) personnel changes as well in the offseason, but they’re not making as big an adjustment.”
The Bills also hammered the Jets 41-10 at this venue last season, but Darnold didn’t play for Gang Green that day and had yet to experience his late-rookie-season breakout.
Davenport has a dissenting opinion.
“I can’t shake the feeling that if Darnold takes a step forward in his second NFL season, these Jets could be a better team than many think,” he said. “Of course, that could also be the leftover Burger King I ate at 2 a.m. while making this pick.”
For what it’s worth, those burgers served Davenport well last year. He beat the tar out of his two colleagues with a 133-116-7 record ATS. And t hose among this group who picked against the majority as lone wolves were 64-61-1 during the 2018 regular season.
Davenport: New York (-3)
Gagnon: Buffalo (+3)
Sobleski: Buffalo (+3)
Consensus: Buffalo (+3)
Score Prediction: Bills 21, Jets 20