Football is finally here, and that means it’s time to start making some picks.
Predicting NFL games, as any fan should know by now, is like predicting the unpredictable. But let’s do it anyway.
SportsLine has all the latest odds and expert projections for Week 1’s opening slate of regular-season action, and here, you’ll find my five best bets for the first wave of action — the games and teams that most deserve your point-spread bets.
We’ve got some juicy matchups to kick off the 2019 season, including a prime-time affair between the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots, but we’ve got a blend of favorites and underdogs in this week’s batch of sure bets:
Steelers (+6) at Patriots
The Patriots have eaten the Steelers’ lunch for much of the last half-decade, and they’ve often done it in crucial situations. But New England’s 5-1 record vs. Pittsburgh in the AFC rivals’ last six meetings isn’t nearly as lopsided as it sounds. The Steelers won the most recent matchup, and without an overturned Jesse James core the year prior, they’d probably have two straight vs. Bill Belichick. Their last two games vs. the Patriots have been decided by one score, and the Kansas City Chiefs proved in 2017 that Belichick and Tom Brady can be beaten in Foxborough to open the year. Never doubt Bill and Brady, but don’t count on a blowout here. The Steelers still have more than enough talent to rival the reigning champions. Take the Steelers and the points.
Chiefs (-4) at Jaguars
Don’t be frightened by the fact Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City’s first-team offense were held scoreless against the Steelers in the preseason. OK, you weren’t anyway, were you? Look, Jacksonville should be better than a year ago, if only because the team’s locker room has cooled off and the excitement of an offense no longer weighed down by Blake Bortles is real. Nick Foles could defy the odds and play like he did down the stretch in 2017, however, and I’m still not sure he’s got enough help to take the Jags to the playoffs, let alone go blow for blow with Andy Reid’s trio of Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. I could see Jalen Ramsey and Co. coming out with a chip on their shoulder, but that defense is also in transition. K.C. is just too dangerous not to open this one up, so the Chiefs are worth a bet against the spread.
Call me crazy. Go ahead. Do it. Now hear me out: Dallas may be 4-1 vs. the G-Men in their last five home games against Big Blue, but this isn’t a straight-up pick. And 11 of the last 14 meetings of these NFC East rivals have been one-score games. That means, over seven years worth of divisional matchups, almost 80 percent of the games have come down to seven points or fewer. If that’s not an indication this opener could be close, then what is? Glad you asked. The Cowboys are pretty universally hyped right now, even with the uncertainty surrounding Ezekiel Elliott, but since the mid-1990s, they’ve fallen either below .500 or out of the playoffs every single year after posting double-digit wins. History says they’re about to disappoint, and who better to scare them than Eli Manning, who’s finally got something to prove again? Go with the Giants here.
Eagles (-8.5) vs. Washington
I don’t love challenging the bigger point spread here, especially considering this is a divisional game. But this also smells like a game that could stay close before getting out of hand in the second half. History is on the Eagles’ side, too. In every one of Philly’s four straight wins against the Redskins, the Birds have claimed victory by at least 10 points. Couple that with the fact that this year’s Jay Gruden-led squad is comparatively worse — maybe among the least-exciting rosters in the NFL — and all of a sudden an 8.5-point margin doesn’t sound so crazy. Carson Wentz will be itching to return with a bang, and he’s got more than enough weapons to drop 35 on Dan Snyder’s club if everything goes according to plan. The Eagles are the smart bet.
At this point, it’s almost scary to ride with Cleveland because of how much hype they’re getting. Baker Mayfield is the real deal, yes, and 2018 was a big step forward, yes, but the Pittsburgh Steelers still exist and, more importantly, lots of pieces still have to form chemistry — under a first-time, full-time head coach, no less! — before the Browns are legitimate contenders. All that being said, it’s hard to foresee Marcus Mariota winning a shootout vs. Mayfield, Nick Chubb, Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry and so forth. Tennessee’s defense should give the Browns some fits, but enough to prevent a touchdown deficit? Probably not. It’s OK to slow our collective roll on the Browns as a whole, but a six-point win against the Titans hardly seems like a stretch. Take Cleveland.