Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021 | 2 a.m.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers helped Talking Points end last NFL season in style, not only covering in the Super Bowl but cashing a postseason, moneyline-rollover parlay every step of the way for a big return.
Now I’m looking to follow the Buccaneers’ lead and carry the late-season surge into a new year. The 2020-2021 season was a smashing success for the pick’em, which went 141-120-8 (47-35-4 on plays, 37-33-3 on leans and 57-52-2 on guesses) handicapping every game.
Similar to how there hasn’t been a back-to-back Super Bowl champion in 16 years, however, it’s difficult to win at that rate in consecutive seasons. I’m still scarred by following the best season in the six-year history of this column format, 2017-2018, with the worst (at least in terms of record on plays) in 2018-2019.
I’m determined not to fall victim to another slip and believe I’ve put in the adequate work over the offseason to stay sharp for another year. I’ve written about every team’s win total, player props and one Super Bowl future (I’ve also bet the 49ers at 18-to-1 and the Saints at 30-to-1 in the championship market to go with the Ravens at 20-to-1) leading up to the season.
But now it’s game time – literally. The Buccaneers say they’re still hungry for success, and so am I.
Read below for picks of every week 1 game, separated into three confidence categories and listed in rough order of confidence. Lines are the best currently available in las Vegas on the chosen side.
Washington Football Team +1 vs. Los Angeles Chargers Quarterback Justin Herbert and the Chargers were lucky not to face a single team with a sack rate as high as the Football Team’s last season. Washington’s defense looks more likely to maintain last season’s success than Los Angeles’ offense, which should be terrorized by Chase Young and Jonathan Allen.
Minnesota Vikings -3 at Cincinnati Bengals The Vikings profile as a 4-point favorite based on existing data alone before even considering troubling reports out of Bengals’ training camp. If Cincinnati’s young stars continue to struggle into the regular season, then this spread could even merit reaching closer to a touchdown.
New England Patriots -2.5 vs. Miami Dolphins The Patriots should take a step forward on defense with the return of players like Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy while the Dolphins take a step back after benefitting from fortunate turnover luck last year. Otherwise, the teams are pretty even to make -3 — where this number is soon headed everywhere with Treasure Island the only current holdout at 2.5 — only a lean on New England and -3.5 unplayable all together.
Dallas Cowboys +8.5 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers This line only deserves to be more than a touchdown if Dallas’ defense is going to be as bad as it was last season. That seems improbable considering the Cowboys have infused youth in the unit and replaced overmatched Mike Nolan with a more proven successful coordinator in Dan Quinn.
Kansas City Chiefs -6 vs. Cleveland Browns If anyone can dismantle the perplexing Browns’ hype coming into the season, it’s Patrick Mahomes. Cleveland doesn’t have the pass defense to combat Mahomes, who’s been a consistent moneymaker since breaking into the NFL with a career 32-21-1 against the spread record.
Arizona Cardinals +3 at Tennessee Titans The Titans are projected to have the worst defense in the league, and looking at the personnel, that’s no surprise. This looks like a great spot for the Cardinals’ offense to put a rough finish to last season behind them with quarterback Kyler Murray now healthy.
New York Giants +3 vs. Denver Broncos For yet another year under coach Vic Fangio, preseason optimism on the Broncos seems to have gone too far. Denver has a well-rounded roster, in fairness, and would have been the pick at the opening price of +1 but its offense looks too limited to lay points against a comparable opponent on the road.
Atlanta Falcons -3 vs. Philadelphia Eagles Atlanta’s ceiling seems higher than Philadelphia’s with new coach Arthur Smith, who transformed the Tennessee offense, and a solid mix of proven veterans and young talent. Look for this number to inch in the Falcons’ direction and close at -3.5 or higher.
Baltimore Ravens -4 at Las Vegas Raiders This number opened at Ravens -5.5, which is closer to where it belongs. A few postseason flameouts have colored an unfairly negative perception of a Ravens’ offense that has consistently perplexed the NFL for three straight years. It should continue to do so against a rebuilt Raiders’ defense that still needs time to jell.
Pittsburgh Steelers +6.5 at Buffalo Bills Neither the Bills nor the Steelers had much roster turnover, so there’s no reason this spread should be much different than the 2 points the former gave when hosting the latter late last season. Yes, the Bills won that game 26-15 but a 4.5-point shift is excessive. Wait it out and see if Pittsburgh +7 becomes available before betting, though.
Seattle Seahawks -2.5 at Indianapolis Colts The Colts’ injury situation, particularly along the offensive line with both Quenton Nelson (who may play) and Eric Fisher hurt, is troubling. The Seahawks are not only healthier but also have more continuity and gamebreakers.
Houston Texans +3 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars Houston is going to be bad, really bad, but historically bad? I’m not as convinced as everyone else. Laying three points with a rookie quarterback (Trevor Lawrence) making his first start on the road with one of the least-talented rosters in the league around him is practically unprecedented.
Detroit Lions +7.5 vs. San Francisco 49ers The 49ers haven’t yet proven to be explosive enough on offense to justify laying more than 7 points on the road. San Francisco -7 would be a fair price, but there seems to be an extra hook based solely on a negative perception of Detroit and new coach Dan Campbell.
Chicago Bears +7.5 at Los Angeles Rams Another number’s play where, as ugly as it looks, there’s no other choice but to take the 7.5 if forced to make a pick. The Rams are all but guaranteed to regress from last year on defense and there’s not much evidence their offense is going to be significantly better either, but there will be better spots to fade them going forward.
New York Jets +5.5 at Carolina Panthers This might have been a different story when the line briefly sat at 3.5, or even 4, but any higher is a lot of points for what might be a sloppy, low-scoring game between two of the NFL’s worst teams. The Jets might have made the best coaching hire of the offseason in Robert Saleh, and although it’s probably not going to pay dividends this year, it’s not out of the question he could produce sooner than expected.
New Orleans Saints +4.5 vs. Green Bay Packers This number is perfect as it currently stands, making the only potential hope that a flood of Green Bay money comes in to push New Orleans to +6. The Saints are a buy-on team overall, but this is as tough as it gets to start the season.