NFL picks, predictions for Week 1

nfl Game 2021

NFL picks, predictions for Week 1:Being early at everything is always an advantage. That’s no different when jumping on the initial game odds and betting lines for Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season.

Although there’s a good amount of data out there on a lot of teams, a new year of action means having no previous recent history, which can create some numeric possibilities to exploit. Sporting News will revisit the picks against the spread for Week 1 closer to the opening kickoff times, but here are our best predictions in advance:
NFL picks against the spread for Week 1
Game of the Week: Browns at Chiefs (-6, 52.5 o/u)
Sunday 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS

When these teams last met, it was in the 2020 AFC divisional playoffs. The Chiefs built a 19-3 halftime lead but after losing Patrick Mahomes to a concussion, had to hold on for a 22-19 escape on their way to Super Bowl 55. The Browns are still thinking about what could have been and after a wild-card win, are looking for much more with greater expectations for this season. Cleveland can keep it close again with more explosive offense with Baker Mayfield and more disruptive defense with Myles Garrett. Kansas City stays in control to take the rematch, closing it out with an improved running game.

Pick: Chiefs win 27-23 but fail to cover the spread.

Game of Midweek: Cowboys at Buccaneers (-7.5, 50.5 o/u)
Thursday 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC

The Buccaneers will be amped to celebrate their Super Bowl 55 ring to start the season. Tom Brady returns to a powerhouse that didn’t lose any key players from last season and will go to work against an overhauled Cowboys defense, led by former Falcons coach Dan Quinn. Dallas has another big question mark right away regarding the health of Dak Prescott with mystery about his shoulder injury. The visitors have plenty of firepower, too, but Tampa Bay will turn them away in key spots, flexing again on all three defensive levels.

Pick: Buccaneers win 34-24 and cover the spread.

Lock of the Week: 49ers (-7.5, 45.5 o/u) over Lions
Sunday 1 p.m. ET, Fox

The 49ers are set to stick with Jimmy Garoppolo as their starting QB at first over rookie Trey Lance, but it doesn’t matter who’s under center for the opener. The Lions’ rebuilding defense cannot handle either San Francisco’s dynamic running game or dangerous passing game with mismatches Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel and George Kittle. The Niners will be eager to start fast after last year’s injury-riddled mess and are road warriors under Kyle Shanahan. Dan Campbell’s return to coaching is rough, indicating a long season, while former Rams QB Jared Goff relives nightmares against a familiar defense.

Pick: 49ers win 34-13 and cover the sprea
Upset of the Week: Bengals over Vikings (-4, 48 o/u)
Sunday 1 p.m. ET, Fox

The Vikings are overrated going into the season. The Bengals are underrated. Joe Burrow should be back to lift Cincinnati in the home opener, also helping former LSU teammate Ja’Marr Chase shaky off some preseason issues. Both defenses have some talent, but there also are transitional aspects and lingering weaknesses. The Vikings will try to run often and win with Dalvin Cook, but this will turn into a sneaky shootout with Burrow spreading the field well and out-dueling Kirk Cousins.

Pick: Bengals win 27-24.

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Jaguars at Texans (-3, 45.5 o/u)
Sunday 1 p.m. ET, CBS

The Jaguars have all the buzz with their rookie Clemson QB, Trevor Lawrence. The Texans have all the bad vibes with uncertainty over their veteran Clemson QB, Deshaun Watson. Urban Meyer is a much more accomplished coach making his debut than David Culley. Jacksonville will able to run well and set up favorable passing for Lawrence against a shell of a Houston defense. The Jags’ defense will overachieve for their new-look scheme and steal one while they can.

Pick: Jaguars win 27-24.

Chargers (-1, 44.5 o/u) at Washington
Sunday 1 p.m. ET, CBS

The Chargers should feel confident about rookie coach Brandon Staley leading their new defense and second-year QB Justin Herbert being comfortable in the new offense. Home vs. away doesn’t mean much for them considering their L.A. play. Washington has a similar profile with Ron Rivera and bridge QB Ryan Fitzpatrick distributing to dynamic weapons. This is a classic toss-up, but the Chargers will have a little more juice and energy in a slugfest as Joey Bosa gets more support than Chase Young.

Pick: Chargers win 20-17.Seahawks (-1, 49.5 o/u) at Colts
Sunday 1 p.m. ET, Fox

The Seahawks are another strong road team from the West Coast and there’s no time adjustment issues in Week 1. The Colts feel good about both Carson Wentz and Quenton Nelson being available to anchor their offense in the opener. But it’s still Russell Wilson in a new-look offense under Shane Waldron on the other side and he should be the more trustworthy QB with established elite weapons. Wilson can help Seattle support the running game better than a rusty Wentz will do for Indianapolis, with Jamal Adams cleaning up late to live up to his contract.

Pick: Seahawks win 23-17 and cover the spread.

Jets at Panthers (-4.5, 43.5 o/u)
Sunday 1 p.m. ET, CBS

Zach Wilson is an upgrade at quarterback over Sam Darnold. But the Jets’ rookie QB has more unknown quantities around him offensively in a new scheme. That will make things challenging in a road debut against a rising young Panthers defense. Darnold will have an easier day at the office against his former team, thanks to Christian McCaffrey returning healthy to carry the complementary offense.

Pick: Panthers win 24-17 and cover the spread.

Cardinals at Titans (-3, 51.5 o/u)
Sunday 1 p.m. ET, CBS

The Cardinals and Titans had various run defense issues last season. Some of those will be cleaned up, but this game will live up to the high-scoring hype with Kyler Murray and Derrick Henry as the centerpieces. Arizona has more impact players to contain Ryan Tannehill and Tennessee’s play-action based passing game, while Tennessee will struggle on the back end vs. DeAndre Hopkins, a rejuvenated A.J. Green and others. J.J. Watt ensures his new team doesn’t lose against a familiar AFC South foe.

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