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N.F.L. Week 1 Predictions: Our Picks Against the Spread


In the quiet moments before Week 1 begins in the N.F.L., every team believes it is destined for the Super Bowl. (OK, maybe not the Jaguars or the Giants, but certainly most teams.) While almost no football-related questions will be completely answered this week, as Week 1 usually has a lot more noise than signal, the mere fact that the 2020 season is on track and will proceed as planned is a thrilling development for fans who have anxiously been awaiting the sport’s return.

Here is a look at N.F.L. Week 1, with all picks made against the point spread.

Browns at Ravens, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Ravens -8 | Total: 48.5

These teams were the biggest surprises of 2019, but in very different ways. The Browns, a fashionable pick for a major breakout, fell flat on their faces. The Ravens faced some uncertainty as to whether their atypical offense could stand up throughout the regular season, but ended up dominating, setting an N.F.L. record with 3,296 rushing yards even as Lamar Jackson threw a league-leading 36 touchdown passes.

On first glance this game doesn’t offer much opportunity for the Browns’ offense to get their redemption tour going, but Football Outsiders ranked the Ravens’ run defense as fairly middling in terms of efficiency last season, so Cleveland running back Nick Chubb might be able to keep his team in the game.

The teams split their meetings last year, with each winning one on the road in convincing fashion. But the version of the Ravens team that lost to Cleveland, 40-25, in Week 4 last season, hasn’t been seen since that game. After that wake-up call, Baltimore won the rest of their regular season games, and they should run that streak to 13 games with this one. Pick: Ravens -8

Buccaneers at Saints, 4:25 p.m., Fox

Line: Saints -3.5 | Total: 49

The quarterbacks in this one have combined for 151,987 passing yards and 1,088 touchdown passes in their celebrated careers, but they are also a combined 84 years old. While both Drew Brees of the Saints and Tom Brady, now with the Buccaneers, had seemed like the football versions of Dick Clark before last season, injury (Brees) and age (Brady) seemed to catch up with them, casting some doubt over how well they will perform.

The good news for both is that there is a lot of talent around them. Brees, already blessed with running back Alvin Kamara and wide receiver Michael Thomas, now has Emmanuel Sanders in the mix as well. Brady, after struggling to find any reliable receivers last season in Boston, has an embarrassment of riches at the position in Tampa Bay, with Chris Godwin and Mike Evans, as well as a safety net in the gigantic form of tight end Rob Gronkowski, who came out of retirement to team up with his old pal.

This is also a fairly interesting matchup defensively. New Orleans’s defense has shown steady improvement, working its way toward being a top-10 unit, and Tampa Bay had the most suffocating run defense in the N.F.L. last season. The Buccaneers also have one of the most disruptive defensive players in the game in linebacker Shaquil Barrett, who had 19.5 sacks last season. Pick: Saints -3.5

Cardinals at 49ers, 4:25 p.m., Fox

Line: 49ers -7 | Total: 47

The Cardinals were inconsistent last season, but they played their best in two games against the 49ers, giving the eventual N.F.C. champions a run for their money in both meetings. And that was before Arizona added wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who joins the aging Larry Fitzgerald in one of the more intimidating tandems in the N.F.L.

The 49ers, with center Weston Richburg expected to miss the first few weeks and wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk both working their way back from injuries, are less predictable than usual. Those absences, combined with a Super Bowl hangover, make a full touchdown point spread seem a bit generous, even in a game they should be expected to win. Pick: Cardinals +7

Cowboys at Rams, 8:20 p.m., NBC

Line: Cowboys -3 | Total: 51.5

Two of the most disappointing teams in the N.F.L. last season will square off in prime time, with the vultures circling around both to pick apart their performances. Can Coach Mike McCarthy do more with Dallas’s loaded offense? Can Coach Sean McVay rebound from a 9-7 season that took a lot of the shine off his star?

The biggest problem for Los Angeles is roster turnover. Running back Todd Gurley and wide receiver Brandin Cooks are gone, and the team’s defense, even after adding cornerback Jalen Ramsey last season, has never seemed to click. With Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott motivated to make up for last season’s disaster, the Cowboys should be able to start the McCarthy era off with a road win. Pick: Cowboys -3

Texans at Chiefs, 8:20 p.m., NBC

Line: Chiefs -9 | Total: 54.5

This should be a marquee matchup worthy of being the league’s season-opener, but the Texans seem determined to self-sabotage whenever possible. In a baffling trade this off-season, Houston traded away the franchise icon DeAndre Hopkins in exchange for draft picks and a running back (David Johnson) who turns 29 in December and last rushed for 1,000 yards in 2016.

Few quarterbacks have stronger ability than Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson, but one of them is his counterpart on Thursday: Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs, whose supporting cast is far superior to the Texans’. Watson is good enough to raise eyebrows at a 9-point spread, but expecting a Houston upset would be unwise. Pick: Texans +9

Seahawks at Falcons, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Seahawks -1.5 | Total: 48.5

Matt Ryan’s career record at home is 60-33, a fact that seemingly gets forgotten every time Atlanta hosts a tough opponent. The Falcons have also upgraded at several positions, including running back, where they will hope Todd Gurley can provide steady production at 15-20 touches a game (but don’t expect him to return to his bell cow days). Seattle is a better and deeper team, Russell Wilson is a more complete quarterback than Ryan and safety Jamal Adams was perhaps the most significant off-season upgrade of any team, but Atlanta should almost never be an underdog at home. Pick: Falcons +1.5

Packers at Vikings, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Vikings -3 | Total: 45

With all of the turnover Minnesota has seen on defense entering this season, the fact that defensive end Danielle Hunter is listed as questionable for this game should be alarming. If Hunter plays, the Vikings should be tough at home, even against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense. If he’s out, this rivalry matchup could go sideways quickly. Pick: Packers +3

Dolphins at Patriots, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Patriots -6.5 | Total: 42.5

A new era begins in New England, with Cam Newton, already named a team captain, expected to start at quarterback. Newton hasn’t played since Week 2 of last season, is learning a new offense and hasn’t been 100 percent physically in years. But he has a chip on his shoulder, a supporting cast that would love to stop talking about Tom Brady, and an offensive coordinator in Josh McDaniels that once took a team to the playoffs with Tim Tebow at quarterback. The Dolphins are consistently a thorn in Coach Bill Belichick’s side, and would love nothing more than to pull off a road upset, but the hot takes will likely have to wait. Pick: Patriots -6.5

Jets at Bills, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Bills -6.5 | Total: 39

The Jets were a bit better than most people realized last season — the Bills were far better than most everyone realized. Buffalo’s defense is among the best in the game, and its offense just added a star wide receiver in Stefon Diggs. Even if an empty stadium takes away some of the team’s usual home-field advantage, Buffalo should be able to suck some of the air out of the Jets’ preseason optimism. They just are likely to do it by fewer points than oddsmakers are predicting. Pick: Jets +6.5

Chargers at Bengals, 4:05 p.m., CBS

Line: Chargers -3 | Total: 43.5

Joe Burrow will be the only rookie quarterback starting in Week 1, and he’ll have to do it with Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram and Linval Joseph — three of the finest defensive linemen in the game — chasing him. The Chargers are weakened significantly by a season-ending injury to safety Derwin James, but they have typically kept things together without him in the past. The thought of ruining the day of a prized rookie should also provide some extra motivation for the Chargers. Pick: Chargers -3

Eagles at Washington, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Eagles -6 | Total: 42.5

The most interesting on-field aspect of the Washington Football Team this season might be their uniforms, which have to work around the lack of an actual team name. The roster is not bereft of talent, and it could improve as the season goes along, but at least in Week 1 there is no reason to believe Washington can compete with the Eagles. Philadelphia, which has reached the playoffs three consecutive years, upgraded their defensive line and their secondary this off-season and should have no trouble getting off to a 1-0 start. Pick: Eagles -6

Colts at Jaguars, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Colts -8 | Total: 45.5

The Jaguars had the second-least efficient run defense in the N.F.L. last season, according to Football Outsiders, and in Week 1 they will have to find a way around a pickup truck known as Quenton Nelson, the Colts’ big guard who punches holes for running backs Marlon Mack and Jonathan Taylor. The Colts’ new quarterback, Philip Rivers, might want to take a few shots downfield to prove he still has some juice left in his big right arm, and the Indianapolis defense might want to stake a claim of relevance by showing up a mediocre offense, making this one of the safer large spreads of the week. Pick: Colts -8

Raiders at Panthers, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Raiders -3 | Total: 48

The Panthers being underdogs at home is interesting, considering that quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was solid in his starts for New Orleans last year and running back Christian McCaffrey is among the best in the game. In truth, both of these teams have some talent and also plenty of flaws, so going with the home team seems wise. Pick: Panthers +3

Bears at Lions, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Lions -3 | Total: 44.5

Why did the Bears announce so early that Mitchell Trubisky had beaten out Nick Foles for the starting quarterback job? How did the team, after seeing Trubisky flail for the last few years, think this was the right move? Can Detroit find a running back? Was reimagining the Lions’ defense to better reflect Coach Matt Patricia’s priorities the necessary step to rebuild this franchise? This game could help begin to answer a lot of those questions. Pick: Bears +3

Steelers at Giants, 7:15 p.m., ESPN

Line: Steelers -5.5 | Total: 47.5

Every team needs to be felt out at the beginning of a season to get a sense of player development and player decline, but the talent imbalance between these teams is among the most extreme of this week’s games. Pittsburgh nearly made the playoffs without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger last year, and now the team gets the two-time Super Bowl winner back. The Steelers start off against a team that might be unlocked by a new coaching staff but has yet to prove it is anything but an also-ran. Pick: Steelers -5.5

Titans at Broncos, 10:10 p.m., ESPN

Line: Titans -1.5 | Total: 41.5

Denver made some good moves on offense this off-season, and appear to have the pieces in place to support quarterback Drew Lock, but with linebacker Von Miller potentially out for the season, all bets should be off on Denver until people get a chance to see them play. Losing a player of the emotional and physical value of Miller can sometimes rally a team to pick up the slack, but it is more likely to deflate the Broncos like a balloon. Pick: Titans -1.5

A quick primer for those who are not familiar with betting lines: Favorites are listed next to a negative number that represents how many points they must win by to cover the spread. Steelers -5.5, for example, means that Pittsburgh must beat the Giants by at least 6 points for its backers to win their bet. Gamblers can also bet on the total score, or whether the teams’ combined score in the game is over or under a preselected number of points.

All times are Eastern.

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