NFL betting analyst Raheem Palmer breaks down his favorite Week 1 picks for the DraftKings‘ Pro Football Millionaire Pick’Em contest as well as two more bets on Jets-Panthers and Browns-Chiefs.
NFL Pick’Em Picks
I’ll be picking five NFL sides each week of the season for this contest. Note that the spreads for this contest lock on Wednesdays, though, so some will be stale by the time you read this and thus not readily available outside of the contest. That’s why I’ve included the spread that is available to bet at DraftKings as of Saturday, but you can also check real-time NFL odds here.
Here were the five sides for my Week 1 entry:
- Washington +1 vs. Chargers: 1 p.m. ET
- Seahawks -2.5 at Colts: 1 p.m. ET
- Broncos -2.5 at Giants: 4:25 p.m. ET
- Packers -3.5 at Saints: 4:25 p.m. ET
- Rams -7.5 vs. Bears: 8:20 p.m. ET
- Spread for contest: WFT +1 vs. Chargers
- Spread as of Saturday: WFT -1.5 vs. Chargers
The spread is just one point which is telling for the type of game we can expect. The Chargers are 7-16 straight up in games decided by one score in the past two seasons. While I’m never one to blindly bet trends as I think they do a better job at what happened in the past as opposed to predicting the future, I think it’s worth it to mention here.
The Chargers are getting a lot of hype based on Justin Herbert and the hiring of former Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, but I think there are a lot of question marks surrounding Staley. The Rams were one of the best defenses in the league last season, but they were also a team defense with Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, two of the best at their position.
The Chargers have all but completely rebuilt this defense, losing Melvin Ingram, Denzel Perryman, Casey Hayward, Rayshawn Jenkins, and Jahleel Addae among others so I’m not sure Staley will have the same success with this unit as he did in Los Angeles, even with the presence of Joey Bosa and Derwin James, who can’t seem to stay healthy.
Offensively, there are likely to be some bumps in the road with a new system as Herbert didn’t play any snaps in the preseason. The Chargers were 10th in third down conversion percentage last year, and that won’t hold up against a Washington defense that was third in EPA/play and has Chase Young and Montez Sweat.
With RT Bryan Bulaga potentially missing this game, this offensive line could have problems holding up even with the addition of Corey Linsley who came over from the Packers. Furthermore, the Chargers could be missing Austin Ekeler who suffered a hamstring injury. He is questionable for this matchup so make sure you keep an eye on his injury status.
With Ryan Fitzpatrick in the fold, Washington finally has a competent NFL quarterback as opposed to Dwayne Haskins and Alex Smith, and that should be enough to get the job done here. The Chargers were 20th in success rate against the run, so expect Antonio Gibson to have a big day. I like the Washington Football Team to start the season 1-0.
- Spread for contest: Seahawks -2.5 at Colts
- Spread as of Saturday: Seahawks -2.5 at Colts
As I’ve said before, I’m not a big fan of trends, but the impact of Russell Wilson is hard to ignore. The Seahawks have played 23 one-score games in the past two seasons. They’re 18-5 straight up, so I expect them to get the job done here against a Colts team that had had a tumultuous offseason.
Wentz was sidelined for most of the preseason with a foot injury and then landed on the COVID-19 list as a close contact with someone who tested positive. In addition, Wentz leads the league in fumbles with 58 since joining the NFL in 2016, and he comes off a season in which he threw 15 interceptions to just 16 touchdowns.
The offensive line also has taken a hit with the retirement of Anthony Castonzo. His replacement at left tackle, Eric Fisher, is fresh off an achilles injury and may not play until October, and they’re dealing with an injury to left guard Quenton Nelson.
With the absence of cornerback Xavier Rhodes, the Colts have taken a hit on the defensive side of the ball, and I’m expecting Wilson, DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett and rookie wide receiver Dwayne Eskridge to take full advantage. I’ll play the Seahawks at -2.5.
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- Spread for contest: Broncos -2.5 at Giants
- Spread as of Saturday: Broncos -3 at Giants
Pro Football Focus ranks the Giants as having the worst offensive line in the league. I place a ton of weight on handicapping offensive and defensive lines, and I believe the Giants have a huge disadvantage in this matchup (as well as their Week 2 Thursday night matchup against the Washington Football Team).
They’ll be facing a Broncos defense that was 13th in Football Outsiders DVOA despite dealing with injuries to Von Miller, among others. With this defense finally getting healthy while adding Shelby Harris and Ronald Darby to the fold, this feels like a game in which the Broncos defense can dominate against a Giants offense with a bad offensive line. The Giants are also missing Evan Engram and trying to get Saquon Barkley re-acclimated after tearing his ACL.
The Broncos should be much improved offensively this year as they replaced the turnover-prone Drew Lock with Teddy Bridgewater. Lock throwing for 16 touchdowns and 15 interceptions played a key role in this team not winning more, and it’s clear we should expect to see some positive injury and turnover regression with Teddy Bridgewater taking over.
Lock was 28th in Expected Points Added (EPA) per play and dead last in completion percentage above expectation. In comparison, Bridgewater was 19th in EPA per play and seventh in completion percentage over expected.
I see the Broncos getting an opening day win on the road so I’ll be laying the 2.5 points.
- Spread for contest: Packers -3.5 at Saints
- Spread as of Saturday: Packers -3.5 at Saints
The Saints are really catching a bad break losing a home game and being forced to play in Jacksonville as opposed to the Caesars Superdome, given Hurricane Ida’s impact on Louisiana. We saw what happened to the 49ers last season when playing home games in Arizona, and with the Saints moving to Jacksonville, their home-field advantage disappears.
Home field advantage has been decreasing year over year during the past five seasons, going from 2.86 points in 2016 to 0.05 in 2020. Separating home field advantage by stadium, I have home field advantage at the Caesars Superdome at 2.095 points, and with fans back in the stadium, this was one other way to help slow down this Packers offense.
Money has come in on the Saints, pushing this number down from 4.5 to 3.5 after the venue change, but I think that’s simply creating value on the Packers. The Saints were a team I’m looking to fade coming into this season given the absence of Drew Brees who is replaced by the turnover prone Jameis Winston.
Salary cap issues have also caused them to lose Emmanuel Sanders, Jared Cook, edge rusher Trey Hendrickson, Kwon Alexander, Malcolm Brown and Janoris Jenkins. With standout defensive tackle David Onyemata serving a six-game suspension to start the year and Jalen Dalton tearing his triceps, this defense will take a step back.
A quarterback can’t possibly play better than Aaron Rodgers did last season. The NFL MVP threw for 4,299 yards and 48 touchdowns, recorded a 121.5 passer rating and 84.4 QBR, and only threw five interceptions.
Behind his stellar play, the Packers had the league’s top scoring offense at 31.8 points per game while ranking first in offensive DVOA, EPA/play, and success rate. The Packers should remain a top-tier offense with the weapons around Rodgers including wide receivers Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Allen Lazard, and running backs Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon.
Overall, this is a worse Saints defensive line than the Packers faced last season, so I’m not doubting the Packers’ ability to score in this matchup. In last season’s game, the Packers scored 37 points with a 54% success rate and 0.25 EPA/play. They were particularly successful passing on early downs where they had a 63% success rate.
Given the Saints’ ability to slow down the run, I’m expecting a similar game plan. With Michael Thomas out to open the season, the offense will take a step back, and the defense is getting older. I think Aaron Rodgers and the Packers beat a lesser version of the team they defeated last year 37-30 in the Superdome. I’ll lay the 3.5 points.
- Spread for contest: Rams -7.5 vs. Bears
- Spread as of Saturday: Rams -8 vs. Bears
The Rams have upgraded at quarterback from Jared Goff to Matthew Stafford which should work wonders against a Bears defense that has slipped down to 18th in drop back EPA/play. Additionally, the Rams are facing a 28th-ranked Bears offensive line according to Pro Football Focus.
This doesn’t bode well for the Bears who have to deal with Aaron Donald and his 456 pressures over the past five seasons – 86 more than any other defender despite being double teamed. With Andy Dalton being a statue, look for the Rams defense to dominate, and they should have no problem covering the 7.5 points.
More NFL Spread Picks
I’ve given this out on a few radio shows over the past few weeks when it was 43, but at 44 I still feel comfortable.
Despite hiring San Francisco 49ers former defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, this Jets defense leaves a lot to be desired. For starters, they’re bringing in a new 4-3 scheme which brings a level of uncertainty given the youth and inexperience on this roster. Making matters worse, this unit lost defensive end Carl Lawson for the season after he ruptured his Achilles tendon.
They’ll be facing a Panthers offense loaded with weapons in Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson and rookie Terrace Marshall Jr. with former Jet Sam Darnold looking for revenge. On the other side of the ball, Jets rookie Zach Wilson could put up some points as well, and I think we could see big game from rookie WR Elijah Moore in the absence of Jamison Crowder.
This total is a bit too low, and I would play this up to 44.5
We’ve all read the trends: Cleveland’s struggles during the opening week of the season, Mahomes is a beast in the month of September, and, more importantly, Andy Reid dominates in Week 1. In Week 1 with the Chiefs, Andy Reid is 7-1 straight up, 6-2 ATS with six straight wins and four straight covers. How can anyone bet against that?
Well I’m here to tell you that I’m fading those trends. I’m not a fan of blindly betting trends because they’re not truly predictive,;they just tell us what happened in the past. Just as there’s a trend on Andy Reid in Week 1, there’s one to support the Browns in this spot.
The loser of the Super Bowl is 4-17 ATS in the last 20 openers the following season with the San Francisco 49ers losing outright in Week 1 last year to the Arizona Cardinals.
The truth of the matter is this: sharp money hit the Cleveland Browns at +6.5 and +6, pushing this line down to where it sits now at +5.5 for good reason. The Browns are a legitimate Super Bowl contender with real advantages in this matchup. They’re a team with an offense that’s based on running the ball and play action – areas in which the Chiefs struggle.
Although the Chiefs have a high floor given the presence of Mahomes, we’ve seen this team lose to the Las Vegas Raiders, who like to run the ball and dominate the time of possession. Take a look at the box score of their Week 5 loss against the Raiders last season. I believe we could see a similar result.
I played the Browns at +6.5 earlier in the week, but I believe they can win this game outright. I’m not typically in favor of playing games off key numbers but in this case I think it’s still worthy of a bet at the current number. I’ll take the Browns to cover down to +5 and their moneyline down to +200.