Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019 | 2 a.m.
Call it a championship hangover.
Applying that descriptor to what happened last season with my weekly NFL picks column may sound more than a little pompous, but we always hear it with teams, including last year’s Philadelphia Eagles. When the Eagles struggled at the start of the season following their 2017-2018 Super Bowl victory, the popular narrative was that they were a victim of their own success.
The Eagles eventually got it together and even won a playoff game, which makes them a perfect talisman for Talking Points this season. The column’s overall record was still a success last year — 131-123-8 picking every game — but the “plays” were a bloodbath at 27-34-1.
Put simply, I didn’t live up to the standards of a red-hot 2017-2018 season that saw my record settle at 148-111-7 for the year.
The goal this year is to get back to that promised land, just as it’s the Eagles’ aim to add another Super Bowl. And I think we can both make it happen.
Mark Philadelphia down as my pick to win Super Bowl 54 in February in Miami at the current odds, 13-to-1 to win the title and 6-to-1 to win the NFC at Circa sports books. I’ll say they top the Baltimore Ravens, available at 40-to-1 and 20-to-1 to win the Super Bowl and AFC, respectively.
That might not be the most likely matchup, but it’s the best value at the current odds and this is gambling after all. Let’s get to gambling on Week 1 of a bounce-back season.
Picks for every game are listed in rough order of confidence and labeled in three different confidence categories — plays, leans and guesses. Lines are the best currently available in Las Vegas on the chosen sides.
New York Giants plus-7.5 at Dallas Cowboys This is the perfect storm of one team not being nearly as bad as their perception — the Giants lost two more games than their Pythagorean expectation last season — and the other being worse — the Cowboys won two more games than their Pythagorean last season. Take advantage before the market adjusts.
Oakland Raiders plus-1 vs. Denver Broncos The Raiders outscored the Broncos by 12 points across two meetings last season. The former has improved their talent level since then while the latter has arguably gotten worse. There’s no reason for Oakland to be a home underdog.
Carolina Panthers plus-3 vs. Los Angeles Rams Grab the 3 points with the home team now as the key number is gradually disappearing from sports books. These teams are more evenly matched than the conventional wisdom, making the field-goal price a bargain.
Minnesota Vikings minus-3.5 vs. Atlanta Falcons A year ago at this time, the Vikings were a trendy Super Bowl pick. They remain just as talented and available to buy at a discount — especially at Treasure Island, which has this number a half-point below the rest of the market.
Tennessee Titans plus-5.5 at Cleveland Browns The best strategy might be a wait-and-see approach, hoping to pounce on the Titans if they get up to a 6-point underdog. I’m eager to short the Browns based on their preseason hype, but as it currently stands, this line offers no great value.
Arizona Cardinals plus-3 vs. Detroit Lions Never overreact to the preseason. Kyler Murray’s up-and-down performance holds no bearing on the regular season. The Cardinals were surely holding back large parts of their offense and now get an ideal opportunity to debut it against a mediocre-at-best defense traveling three time zones.
New York Jets minus-3 vs. Buffalo Bills I’m fading the Bills until further notice, though their support in the market from sharp bettors makes that position feel a little perilous. It’s just too difficult to win in the modern NFL with a terrible offense, and all signs point towards Buffalo having a terrible offense.
Indianapolis Colts plus-7 at Los Angeles Chargers No team is dealing with more impactful injuries/absences than the Chargers — they're missing Derwin James, Russell Okung and Melvin Gordon among others — which makes them unworthy of giving a touchdown. The Colts are an enigma with the retirement of Andrew Luck, but still solid across the rest of the roster.
New Orleans Saints minus-7 vs. Houston Texans Too many people are making too much out of the Saints’ past early-season struggles, including five straight opening game losses straight-up and against the spread. That’s a small sample, and if anything, early in the year is the time to bet the Saints behind an aging quarterback in Drew Brees who may wear down and tail off by the end of the year.
Green Bay Packers plus-3 at Chicago Bears I’m bullish on the Packers and, well, bearish on the Bears, but this point spread gives me pause. Even significantly downgrading Chicago from last year would still leave it a 3.5-point favorite and Green Bay was as high as a 4-point underdog in the summer. Taking bad numbers is a losing recipe and not an ideal way to start the season.
Baltimore Ravens minus-6.5 at Miami Dolphins Baltimore might come into the season as the most undervalued team in the league by virtue of sharing a division with two more popular betting teams — Cleveland and Pittsburgh — and having an overlooked coaching edge. It’s hard to lay points on the road in what projects to be a low-scoring game, but it may be worthwhile here at less than a touchdown.
Washington Redskins plus-10 at Philadelphia Eagles Every NFL team goes into the season optimistically with sights on competing — OK, maybe not the Dolphins — so I’m not typically interested in laying double digits in week 1. The Eagles only opened as an 8-point favorites in this spot.
New England Patriots minus-5.5 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers Not quite getting right price to entice going against the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady covering machine. If the market sweetens the offer with an extra point, the pick would switch to Pittsburgh.
Jacksonville Jaguars plus-3.5 vs. Kansas City Chiefs The number is right where it should be, and yet more than 75 percent of the tickets are coming in on the Chiefs. There’s no worse spread to give than 3.5 in the NFL, and the most likely result of this result of this game is the Chiefs by a field goal.
San Francisco 49ers plus-1 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers It’s too bad this is a week 1 matchup because both teams look like bet-ons coming into the season. But the Buccaneers have a few more questions that need answering — Can the defense be serviceable? Will Jameis Winston fix his plaguing turnovers? — and make them harder to trust.
Seattle Seahawks minus-9 vs. Cincinnati Bengals Don’t want anything to do with this game, as the Seahawks are a bet-against and likely to regress with an antiquated offensive strategy but they host what might be the worst team in the league to open the year. Seattle still has one of the best home-field advantages in the NFL at CenturyLink Field.