It’s been a long journey through a tumultuous offseason, but, believe it or not, Week 1 of the NFL season is here! Starting with Texans/Chiefs on Thursday night, and going through Titans/Broncos in primetime on Monday, we’re going to be entertained by a lot of fantastic matchups this season.
Week 1 is always a tough week to project, as we’re completely going completely off of prior information, but since we don’t know how “good” a team is until six weeks, per Pro Football Focus, that may not be as much of an issue as it’s made out to be.
All projections are computed based on a similar model that I used for my win total projections. In essence, it goes through the following steps:
- Computes the talent gap between the two teams
- Converts that to a win probability
- Converts that into a spread, factoring in home-field advantage (less this year)
- It also gives a score projection, though I’ll be allowing for a +/- 2 point change for those since certain scores are more likely than others.
In this article, we’ll be comparing the actual spreads to my model’s recommended spreads. Thus, we’ll order games by putting them into the following tiers:
Tier 1 (“Green Light”)- 3+ point difference. These games present immense value.
Tier 2 (“Yellow Light)- 1.5+ point difference. These games provide some value, though you should proceed with caution.
Tier 3 (“Red Light)- 1.5- point difference. There isn’t any value to be found with these point spreads, so stay away from them at all costs.
With that taken care of, let’s get to the games! We’ll start with an intriguing divisional matchup in tier 1, and finish with what many consider to be the best game of the week.
#1: Browns (0-0, 8th) at Ravens (0-0, 3rd)
Browns Win Probability: 42.2360024%
The Browns drastically changed their roster this offseason, solidifying their offensive line and adding depth on the defense, while also upgrading at head coach (Kevin Stefanski) and general manager (Andrew Berry). The foundation with Stefanski should be in place for Baker Mayfield and a talented group of weapon to reach their full potential, and if that’s the case, they’re going to be a tough team to beat.
Ravens Win Probability: 57.763976%
At the same time, the Ravens were 14-2 last season for a reason. They return practically the same roster, including an aggressive defense and an innovative offense that could exploit Cleveland’s shortcomings at linebacker and safety, while I’m also very confident in their coaching staff.
Spread Pick: CLE (+8)
Recommended Spread: BAL (-2.56)
Score Projection: Ravens 26 Browns 23
This is undoubtedly the most polarizing model projection, compared to Vegas consensus. Between overvaluing of the Ravens, underrating the Browns, and not taking into account less home field advantage, there are so many misconceptions that have led to this line being very inflated. Baltimore should be able to win this game, but this is going to be a hard-fought divisional game, so I’ll gladly take Cleveland with the points.
#2: Jets (0-0, 29th) at Bills (0-0, 22th)
Jets Win Probability: 42.22537192%
Right now, there isn’t a lot to be optimistic about they Jets. Still, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is excellent at elevating the play of his defense, and his aggressive tendencies should work well against a frantic quarterback in Josh Allen. Meanwhile, New York did add depth on the offensive line and at wide receiver, so perhaps Sam Darnold is poised to have a much better season.
Bills Win Probability: 57.7462808%
Outside of the quarterback position, the Bills may have a top-ten roster. Obviously, you cannot diminish the quarterback, but it’s unclear if Buffalo even has the worse quarterback in this matchup, and they’re a much more stable organization with a lot of continuity.
Spread Pick: NYJ (+6.5)
Recommended Spread: BUF (-2.57)
Score Projection: Bills 21 Jets 18
Listen, I understand that the Jets are a dysfunctional organization that just traded away their best player (safety Jamal Adams). Thus, consider this more of a fade on the Bills, who have no business being a 6.5-point favorite with Josh Allen at quarterback. This figures to be a low-scoring matchup between two poor offenses, and when that’s the case, games tend to be closer than even the gap in talent would indicate.
#3: Chargers (0-0, 20th) at Bengals (0-0, 26th)
Chargers Win Probability: 48.93743785%
The Chargers are the favorite to win this game by Vegas for a reason; they have a much higher floor. Tyrod Taylor isn’t a world-beater at quarterback, but he can be an effective game manager, and their defense is filled with versatile playmakers, even without safety Derwin James. There’s a chance that veteran defensive coordinator in Gus Bradley can exposed rookie Joe Burrow and a Bengals offense with a lot of moving parts, especially if Burrow holds onto the ball too long against a strong pass rush.
Bengals Win Probability: 51.06256215%
Regardless, it’s not like Burrow played behind an elite offensive line in college, and he’s a pretty easy projection to the NFL after resetting the record books in his final season at LSU. Cincinnati has the better quarterback in this matchup, and their issues in the secondary won’t be exposed against a weaker receiving corps that’ll likely be without Mike Williams.
Spread Pick: CIN (+3)
Recommended Spread: CIN (-0.35)
Score Projection: Bengals 23 Chargers 22
As I said, the Bengals have the better quarterback, and when you can that from three-point home underdog, you don’t think twice. There’s a lot of uncertainty with this organization, but, if all goes as planned, this will spark the beginning of an exciting era for them.
#4: Raiders (0-0, 19th) at Panthers (0-0, 25th)
Raiders Win Probability: 50.39623255%
Despite all the turbulence around this organization, the Raiders did make some key improvements this offseason. The addition of a true vertical threat in Henry Ruggs III should add a much-needed explosive element to this offense, while a revamped linebacking corps will vastly improve their middle-of-the-field coverage. Their offense should have success against a talent-deficient defense.
Panthers Win Probability: 49.60376745%
With a new head coach, coordinators, and quarterback, the Panthers are going through major changes in their organization. That said, that theoretically could give them a wide range of outcomes; they’re relying on young defensive players and have some intriguing weapons on their offense. If Teddy Bridgewater’s more-aggressive tendencies stick from the end of his five-game run with the Saints last year, he’ll have opportunities to exploit Las Vegas’ lackluster pass defense.
Spread Pick: CAR (+3)
Recommended Spread: CAR (-2.87)
Score Projection: Raiders 24 Panthers 23
I don’t think the talent gap between these two teams is sufficient enough to warrant the Raiders being a three-point favorite on the road, but I do think they’ll probably win this game. These two teams have a lot of similarities, so I could see it going either way, which presents some value on Carolina’s side. If you can get them as a 3.5-point underdog, then I’d gladly take them- the movement in this line is key.
#5: Bears (0-0, 30th) at Lions (0-0, 13th)
Bears Win Probability: 32.311478%
Had the Bears gone with Nick Foles, this would’ve been a much more intriguing game, but if you think Chicago is going to win, you’re hoping for their 2018 formula of winning to work: Mitch Trubisky not screwing up while the defense dominates. Really, though their path to winning is Matthew Stafford struggling in his first game back as the Lions quarterback following a season-ending back injury last year.
Lions Win Probability: 67.688522%
It’s easy to forget that until Stafford got hurt last season, Detroit was a very competitive team, engineered by a dynamic offense. All the pieces from that offense remain in place, and with Chicago’s issues in the secondary, I could see Stafford having an absolute field day. Plus, their improved defense is also in position to succeed against Trubisky.
Spread Pick: DET (-3)
Recommended Spread: DET (-5.77)
Score Projection: Lions 24 Bears 19
Even after this line moved dramatically following the announcement of Trubisky starting, it’s clear that the public is still undervaluing the Lions compared to the Bears. In my opinion, these two teams are on different levels, so I’d be perfectly fine backing them as a favorite here.
#6: Eagles (0-0, 14th) at Washington Football Team (0-0, 31st)
Eagles Win Probability: 60.0601916%
The Eagles are more of a mediocre team that many would believe, but they’re clearly the better team in this divisional matchup. Honestly, there’s not one spot where they’re at a disadvantage.
Washington Win Probability: 39.99398084%
Still, Washington always plays the Eagles tough, and since Philadelphia is a middle-of-the-pack team, they’re certainly capable of pulling off an upset. They’re relying on a lot of volatile players in the secondary, but if they pan out, and Dwayne Haskins takes a step forward at quarterback, then this game could get interesting.
Spread Pick: WSH (+6)
Recommended Spread: PHI (-3.32)
Score Projection: Eagles 26 Washington 22
I’m not convinced Philadelphia is capable of covering that overpriced spread, so, despite Washington’s dysfunction, they’re still the proper bet here.
#7: Steelers (0-0, 10th) at Giants (0-0, 28th)
Steelers Win Probability: 59.922614816%
Last season, the Steelers managed to go 8-8 with Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges at quarterback, so getting Ben Roethlisberger is a huge deal. Even with some regression, their defense is still exceptional, and there’s a chance that they could have a very competent offense to complement it.
Giants Win Probability: 40.77385184%
Yet, Roethlisberger is also coming off of a serious elbow injury, and Pittsburgh is not going to have the same turnover luck they did last year. Quietly, the Giants have some talent on offense for quarterback Daniel Jones to work with, and if Roethlisberger is rusty, their defensive woes won’t be as big of an issue.
Spread Pick: NYG (+5.5)
Recommended Spread: PIT (-3.04)
Score Projection: Steelers 24 Giants 21
Given all the uncertainty regarding the Steelers, they shouldn’t be such a heavy favorite. Still, they’re the favorite to win this game, and it’s not as though the Giants are a known product either. I’d probably stay away from this game, though if Pittsburgh continue to be backed by the public, New York is tempting here.
#8: Cowboys (0-0, 6th) at Rams (0-0, 16th)
Cowboys Win Probability: 52.14054808%
This has been a very exciting offseason for the Cowboys, who were fundamentally closer to a 12-4 team than the 8-8 team they were last year, based on their point differential. They’ve upgraded at head coach with Mike McCarthy, have all the pieces for an explosive offense, and also have a pass rush that could do damage against a long-developing Rams offense. They’re certainly the better team in this matchup.
Rams Win Probability: 47.85945192%
Yet, the Rams still have talent, especially at key spots- receiver, cornerback, safety, etc.. Plus, they also could have Aaron Donald line up against Cam Erving, who’ll start at right tackle for Dallas with La’el Collins hurt, and that could give Dallas some major offensive nightmares. The Cowboys are also weak in the secondary, so perhaps head coach Sean McVay can figure out a way for Jared Goff to take advantage in the first game (in primetime) at a new stadium.
Spread Pick: LAR (+3)
Recommended Spread: DAL (-0.71)
Score Projection: Cowboys 24 Rams 23
This is going to be a very close game, and it’s definitely one that I don’t have a good feel for. Thus, Rams (+3) is the safe pick, though, since I believe Dallas will ultimately win this game, it’s hard to find a lot of value. Similarly to Raiders-Panthers, this is one to keep an eye on if the spread moves past three points.
#9: Dolphins (0-0, 27th) at Patriots (0-0, 17th)
Dolphins Win Probability: 37.24%
The Dolphins aren’t a very talented team, but they did make some key additions to their defense last year, and also beat a Tom Brady-led Patriots team in New England last year. They have the better quarterback in this matchup, unless Cam Newton gets back to his peak form, and could certainly win this game.
Patriots Win Probability: 62.7601191%
That’s great, but New England also has my model’s top projected defense in the NFL, led by a secondary that won’t have issues against a very thin receiving corps. Even if Newton isn’t a world-beater, I’m not sure the Dolphins will score enough to win this game on the road.
Spread Pick: MIA (+6.5)
Recommended Spread: NE (-4.21)
Score Projection: Patriots 22 Dolphins 17
This appears to be an overvaluation of the Patriots and home field advantage, though New England should still win this game. In a low-scoring affair that this will likely be, picking a 6.5 point-underdog is a solid bet, but there’s a lot that we need to learn about these two teams.
#10: Colts (0-0, 12th) at Jaguars (0-0, 32nd)
Colts Win Probability: 67.63846663%
After adding quarterback Phillip Rivers, the Colts are the favorite to win the AFC South. They have a great foundation with enough playmaking depth, an elite offensive line, and a tremendous coaching staff, while they have enough on defense to be average. They also have the luxury of facing the projected worst team in football right away.
Jaguars Win Probability: 32.35153337%
The Jaguars could be a pesky team this year with Gardner Minshew starting at quarterback, and they may be motivated to combat the narratives that they’re trying to lose games this season. The Colts could struggle with so many new faces at key areas, so perhaps Jacksonville can take advantage.
Spread Pick: JAX (+8)
Recommended Spread: IND (-5.82)
Score Projection: Colts 27 Jaguars 21
For the reasons I mentioned regarding Indianapolis’ new pieces, it’s logical to back Jacksonville as such a huge home underdog. Still, proceed with caution.
#11: Packers (0-0, 9th) at Vikings (0-0, 11th)
Packers Win Probability: 47.18425955%
Even though the Packers didn’t have a productive offseason, and also weren’t a legitimate 13-3 team last year, they’re still the best team in the NFC North. Facing an inexperienced secondary, the duo of quarterback Aaron Rodgers and wide receiver Davante Adams could thrive, and they swept Minnesota last year.
Vikings Win Probability: 52.81574045%
Minnesota certainly got worse this offseason after trading star receiver Stefon Diggs. Still, they should have a somewhat productive offense, and their defense is still fantastic; their young cornerbacks are an upgrade over what they had last year, and they have a lot of talent at every level of that unit.
Spread Pick: GB (+3)
Recommended Spread: MIN (-0.93)
Score Projection: Packers 23 Vikings 24
This is a toss-up, which explains why my model has the Vikings winning, but also has Green Bay covering the spread as an underdog. I don’t see much value with this game unless the line moves to 3.5 points or above.
#12: Texans (0-0, 24th) at Chiefs (0-0, 2nd)
Texans Win Probability: 35.93606664%
Many are expecting this game to be a blowout, but you should never discount Deshaun Watson. He’s not exactly facing a superb defense, and if he has one of his elite games, this could get interesting.
Chiefs Win Probability: 64.06393336%
That said, you’d be crazy to think the Texans have a great chance of winning this game. Patrick Mahomes is the most valuable player in the league, and with all the pieces in place for a historically-explosive offense, he’s going to tear apart my model’s worst-projected defense. My score projection won’t indicate it, but I could easily see Kansas City scoring 40+ points.
Spread Pick: HOU (+9)
Recommended Spread: KC (-7.14)
Score Projection: Chiefs 30 Texans 23
In a battle between two ultra-talented quarterbacks, nine points is too much to lay with the Chiefs, especially without a massive home-field advantage. I’d be shocked if they don’t win this game, but I can’t see any logic in betting on them at that current price.
#13: Seahawks (0-0, 8th) at Falcons (0-0, 15th)
Seahawks Win Probability: 49.73474902%
After trading for safety Jamal Adams, many believe the Seahawks are a legitimate Super Bowl contender, and they probably are- they have the second-best quarterback in the NFL with Russell Wilson. They’re not going up against a great secondary, so Wilson should do well, and they have a lot of talent at the right spots (quarterback, receiver, secondary).
Falcons Win Probability: 50.2626525098%
The Falcons are similarly built; they have an explosive offense with some superstar talent on the defense. Their issue is a lack of depth, but that’s more of an issue for later in the season, and if this game becomes a shootout, they’re slightly more modern-thinking (more pass-heavy, going for more fourth downs) than Seattle is.
Spread Pick: ATL (+1.5)
Recommended Spread: ATL (-0.09)
Score Projection: Seahawks 23 Falcons 24
This is an even matchup, as reflected by my model having Atlanta as less than 0.1-point favorite. My gut tells me Seattle will win, but the Falcons are projected to win a close one, which would certainly add some optimism regarding their prospects this season.
#14: Cardinals (0-0, 21st) at 49ers (0-0, 4th)
Cardinals Win Probability: 32.35386283%
The Cardinals are a very hyped-up team heading into this season, and it makes sense. Their offense is engineered by a unique play-caller in head coach Kliff Kingsbury, and the hope is that the addition of star receiver DeAndre Hopkins will help young quarterback Kyler Murray’s development. Meanwhile, rookie versatile defensive playmaker Isaiah Simmons should help them defend tight end George Kittle over the middle of the field much better.
49ers Win Probability: 67.64613717%
Although Arizona played the 49ers tough last season, San Francisco had no issues scoring points last year, as the Cardinals couldn’t defend them in the play-action passing game. Sure, Simmons helps, but he’s also a rookie, and the learning curve for linebackers is greater than it is for players at other positions. The 49ers are extremely well-coached on both sides of the ball, and now, all indications are that receiver Deebo Samuel may be cleared to play.
Spread Pick: ARI (+7)
Recommended Spread: -5.82
Score Projection: 49ers 26 Cardinals 20
As you’d expect from a tier-3 game, the public spread is about where it should be, outside of what is likely a misunderstanding of the lack of home field advantage this season. Thus, I’ll take Arizona to keep this game close, but I don’t have a strong opinion on it whatsoever.
#15: Titans (0-0, 18th) at Broncos (0-0, 23rd)
Titans Win Probability: 51.36943216%
After they reached the AFC Championship game, I expected the Titans to be extremely overvalued. Yet, I haven’t seen them garner much hype heading to this season, despite the fact they have a lot of continuity and no clear weaknesses. They shouldn’t have ever been seen as an underdog.
Broncos Win Probability: 48.63056784%
Even after losing edge rusher Von Miller for the season, the Broncos still have a top-ten defense, and if they can put Tennessee in an unfavorable situation, they’ll force them to move up off their play-action tendencies. Furthermore, despite what you think of Drew Lock, they have a lot of volatile offensive players that could all hit the right side of the bell curve.
Spread Pick: TEN (-1.5)*
Recommended Spread: TEN (-0.45)
Score Projection: Titans 22 Broncos 21
The Titans are the better team, and I don’t see how they could have ever been an underdog in this game. Denver’s offense is not in good shape, and with Miller out for the year, their defense also isn’t going to be able to carry the load. I’m guessing this speed shifts in Tennessee’s favor with news of Miller’s injury, though, so there probably won’t be much value with this late-night affair.
*Model says to pick the Broncos (+1.5), but that isn’t logical, as the only way they can cover and lose (as they’re projected to do) is if they fall short by one point.
#16: Buccaneers (0-0, 5th) at Saints (0-0, 1st)
Buccaneers Win Probability: 38.96865902%
After adding arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history (Tom Brady), the Buccaneers are gearing up for a potential Super Bowl run, and they’ll be looking to make a statement against the division-rival Saints. Brady has two elite receivers (Chris Godwin and Mike Evans) to lead an explosive offense, and, quietly, they also have built a defense projected to be a top-ten unit this season.
Saints Win Probability: 61.03134098%
Right now, my model believes the Saints have the best roster in the NFL, and they’ve been the most successful team in the regular season over the past three seasons. Unlike the Bucs, they don’t have a lot of moving parts, which should help them with the shortened offseason, and they’ll be hoping that they fixed their two pressing issues from last season- a #2 option at receiver (Emmanuel Sanders) and a need for veteran talent in the secondary (Malcolm Jenkins and Janoris Jenkins).
Spread Pick: NO (-3.5)
Reccomened Spread: NO (-3.64)
Score Projection: Saints 29 Bucs 25
This is easily the game with the least amount of value present, as my model’s spread lines up with what the markets have. Since this is the most-anticipated game of the week, many people are going want to have a bet in this game, but there’s just too much uncertainty with the Bucs for that to be a good idea.