Their Week 1 opponent, the New England Patriots, has more questions than usual too. It should make for a fascinating matchup.
The Texans got at least some peace of mind with quarterback Deshaun Watson, who is coming off a torn ACL. He played significant snaps in only one of the Texans’ preseason games, but looked good in that second preseason game against the 49ers. Since he threw only seven passes combined in the other three playoffs combined he’s still a bit of a mystery — and could start the season a bit slow as he knocks more rust off — but at least we’ve seen him look like the player we saw last year.
J.J. Watt, on the other hand, got only eight snaps this preseason. Maybe he’s the same great player and maybe not. We won’t know until we see him play. There are other Texans questions, most notably a really poor offensive line, that we’ll find out about on Sunday.
The Patriots have gotten off to slow starts in previous seasons as they figure things out, most notably in 2014 and 2017, and perhaps that happens again. A lot of good players left in the offseason: offensive tackle Nate Solder, running back Dion Lewis, cornerback Malcolm Butler, receivers Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola. Julian Edelman is suspended four games, and the receiving corps seems pretty thin without him. The Patriots will figure it out because they always do, but they’re worth watching early in the season.
I’ll pick the Texans plus-7 in this fantastic opening-week matchup. The Texans did come about as close as you can to winning in Foxborough last year, before Cooks’ touchdown catch in the final moments. I’ll trust that what we saw of Watson in the preseason carries over and he picks up to some extent where he left off last season. At very least, this should be one of the best games on a very interesting Week 1 slate.
Here are the rest of the against-the-spread picks for Week 1 of the NFL season (as always, I use the lines from the Yahoo Pro Football Pick’em):
Bengals (+3) over Colts: The last few years I’ve led off the picks each week with my five SuperContest picks. A quick intro: The SuperContest is a famed handicapping contest at the Westgate in Las Vegas. Last year it drew 2,748 entries (and yes, I’m proud to say I finished tied for 33rd). I’m back in the SuperContest again with Team OddsShark, and hopefully regression doesn’t hit me too hard. I’ll post my picks here each week.
My first SuperContest pick this week is also my strongest. I liked what I saw from the Bengals this preseason on both sides of the ball. And I don’t get why Indianapolis is favored here. I see a team with Andrew Luck back (let’s not act like there are no questions left about Luck just because he played in the preseason) and around him it’s … not good.
Titans (-1.5) over Dolphins: Tennessee is easily the better team here. I wish I had seen better performances out of the Titans in the preseason, but I’ll take a leap of faith. (The line is a pick ’em on the Yahoo Pro Football Pick’em.)
Jaguars (-3) over Giants: I don’t particularly like road favorites but I’m fine with this one. I don’t understand the Jaguars skepticism. Their over/under win total most of the offseason was just nine, which means under bettors need them to go 8-8 to cash those tickets. Unless injuries hit the defense hard — and we need to acknowledge they had great injury luck on that side of the ball last season, and that usually doesn’t repeat — then I’m not sure why the Jaguars can’t be at least as good as they were last season. If the Giants can move the ball on the Jaguars, we’ll have to take them seriously this season.
Chargers (-3.5) over Chiefs: I picked the Chargers to make the Super Bowl, because this team is loaded. I tried talking myself into the Chiefs’ defense having a rebound this season, but the preseason was scary. And it’s looking more and more like safety Eric Berry won’t play. Maybe Patrick Mahomes announces to the world he’s going to take the NFL by storm this season, but I’m fine doubling down on my Chargers love in Week 1. (The line is Chargers -3 on the Yahoo Pro Football Pick’em.)
Broncos (-3) over Seahawks: Everyone talks about the Raiders’ crazy offseason, mostly because Jon Gruden is a lightning rod, but the Seahawks had a worse offseason. Take a moment and realize all the talent Seattle lost in the offseason — Jimmy Graham, Paul Richardson, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Sheldon Richardson, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman. They will also be without linebacker K.J. Wright on Sunday and we don’t know about safety Earl Thomas, who just ended his holdout this week. The Broncos looked pretty good in the third preseason game, like the offense started clicking with quarterback Case Keenum. Russell Wilson could pull a magic act and carry the Seahawks to a win here, but they’re asking him to do more than ever. (The line is Broncos -2.5 on the Yahoo Pro Football Pick’em.)
And here are the rest of the Week 1 picks …
Falcons (+2) over Eagles (picked Thursday): I assumed with a full offseason to work on red-zone offense, their one glaring weakness, the Falcons would do better in that department this season. I was wrong. That was a disheartening loss for Atlanta. Matt Ryan didn’t look right either.
Steelers (-4) over Browns: I kind of understand all the people taking the Browns’ future bets this offseason. There was a flood of bets on them to go over the win total of 5.5, win the AFC North and win the Super Bowl, the latter of which is insane. But I need to see it. I don’t care if Le’Veon Bell doesn’t play. Let’s take a step back and simplify this: Do we really think the Browns, 1-31 the past two seasons, are going to beat the Steelers?
49ers (+7) over Vikings: Yes, I picked the Vikings to win the Super Bowl and also droned on about how the 49ers’ winning streak last season might not have been as impressive as everyone remembers. But a touchdown seems like a lot in a season opener between two good teams, and if nothing else the back-door cover will be open for Jimmy Garoppolo and friends.
Buccaneers (+10.5) over Saints: Even with Ryan Fitzpatrick, I think the Buccaneers can score. An offense with Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Chris Godwin, O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate and a suddenly lively Peyton Barber will get some touchdowns. And when Jameis Winston comes back, it might be a really fun offense. In this one, the favorite is laying too many points for me to take them and again, the back door should be open if needed.
Ravens (-6.5) over Bills: This line has jumped over a touchdown just about everywhere, but if you’re in a Yahoo pick’em, it’s an easy choice. If Nathan Peterman leads an upset or even a near-upset on the road against the Ravens’ defense, tip your cap and move on. My only concern is the entire world seems to be on the Ravens, and we all know how that usually turns out.
Cardinals (pick ’em) over Redskins: This game won’t be a ratings bonanza, but it’s interesting mostly because it’s Week 1. These are two of those lurking NFC teams that probably aren’t bad, they’re just buried in a conference that’s deeper than it has ever been. I like what I saw out of Arizona this preseason. I’ll give them a slight edge.
Panthers (-2.5) over Cowboys: It wouldn’t shock me if the Cowboys won on the road, but I don’t want to just gloss over the loss of Dallas center Travis Frederick, who is dealing with Guillain Barre Syndrome. Losing a center is no small thing for any team, and Frederick has been on a Hall-of-Fame path. Hopefully we see him back soon. But to be very clear, it’s an enormous loss.
Bears (+9) over Packers: I don’t think we’ve seen the new Bears’ offense yet. The surprise factor will help Chicago, which has new coach Matt Nagy. And Khalil Mack, even in a limited role after he was traded last weekend, is a wee bit of a factor. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I think we’re going to get a great “Sunday Night Football” game.
Jets (+7) over Lions: If I was allowed to pass one game on the card, this would be it. But since we pick all 256 regular-season games, here it is. With so many really intriguing Week 1 matchups, I think ESPN was given the worst one.
Raiders (+4) over Rams: You can do OK in the NFL taking the one team on the board that nobody wants to pick. Well, this might be it. Ask any of your friends who follow the NFL if they think the Raiders can win. Heck, even ask Raiders fans who seem to be angry about the Khalil Mack trade. Nobody is taking the Raiders. We’ve spent the entire offseason dissecting Jon Gruden’s wacky offseason. But the Rams might start slow after treating the preseason like a nuisance (their starters might have set a record for fewest snaps in a preseason), the Raiders might not be quite as bad as we perceive, and the Rams are due for some regression anyway. And the second “Monday Night Football” game in Week 1 often gets weird. I’ll be on the Raiders island on Monday night.
Season to date: 0-1
Last season: 144-115-8
SuperContest last season: 50-30-5
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