Welcome to another season of Football Meteorology. This marks the 13th straight season for me making the weekly NFL picks here at RealGM. It’s wonderful to get to apply some of my college minor in climatology (I went to Ohio U. initially to become a TV weatherman) to my lifelong love of football, for those wondering about the etymology of the name.
In addition to the weekly forecast here, I’m proud to be involved in the pundit picks contest at PodcastOne Sportsnet Challenge, sponsored by BetOnline. RealGM Radio Football launches this week and the episode each Friday will feature a rundown of the weekend action, both NFL and college. We’ll review my forecast and have some guest pickers and odds advisors every week, too.
Onto the forecast!
I say this every year: the first week is the hardest week to predict via hard analysis. I’m happy with a 10-6 week straight up. It’s also a chance for bettors to exploit the weirdness that often happens. Finding where the oddities lie is the challenge.
The odds listed here were accurate as of 8:51 AM on Tuesday Sept. 4
- Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles (-3): The Super Bowl champs open at home with the Super Bowl MVP at quarterback, but the talk is about the QB who won’t be playing. It’s a weird dynamic for Eagles coach Doug Peterson to handle not having Carson Wentz, still recovering from his latest major injury, and rolling with Nick Foles.
Having said all that, the biggest matchup in this game is the defense of the Eagles against Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and the explosive Atlanta offense. That’s a tall order for the Eagles, even at home with the rabid fans still buzzing over the team’s first championship. The Falcons OL should be better than advertised, and the Eagles defensive depth -- especially in the back seven -- is a bigger hole than I’m comfortable with against such a dynamic and balanced attack.
Falcons 30, Eagles 24
- Houston Texans at New England Patriots (-6.5): This matchup has been a house of horrors for the Texans. Why will it be different this time?
The Texans hope the answer is a healthy Deshaun Watson, J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus and a massively upgraded safety tandem in Tyrann Mathieu and promising rookie Justin Reid. I like this Texans team a lot, but opening on the road in a place where more proven Houston teams than this one have stomped on landmines, I need to see it before I believe it.
Patriots 24, Texans 20
- Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns (+6): Upset alert? Maybe. The Browns are chomping at the bit to bury their 1-31 record over the last two years, and beating the rival (to them) Steelers would be a cathartic exorcism. Cleveland does match up well, too; the Browns have a talented RB corps and the Steelers are replacing the injured Ryan Shazier with Lions and Bears cast off (as bad as it sounds) Jon Bostic. Pittsburgh wasn’t a good run defense with Shazier, after all. I’m not sold the Steelers have an answer for young TE David Njoku and new Browns WR Jarvis Landry, either.
It appears Le’Veon Bell will still be holding out, which impacts Pittsburgh’s ability to threaten the Browns with the run or pass on every snap. Myles Garrett, Joe Schobert, Damarious Randall and the Browns defense have a lot more talent around them than you might expect, and if they don’t have to worry about Bell they can focus more on trying to contain Antonio Brown. That’s easier said than done, however. I still don’t trust Hue Jackson as the head coach, and I worry new Browns OC Todd Haley will get too cute in his attempt to show up his old Steelers team.
Steelers 23, Browns 21
- Jacksonville Jaguars at New York Giants (+3): I got to see the Giants revamped offensive line in person during their joint practice sessions in Detroit, and I also saw them against the Browns in the preseason opener. They’re better than last year, though the hole at center where Weston Richburg was is probably deeper than Giants fans want to think it is.
Better doesn’t mean good, however. Starting against the Jaguars defense is a terrible first foe for the home fans. Saquon Barkley is good for a couple of big plays and Odell Beckham is deservedly the highest-paid WR in the NFL. That gives hope for Eli Manning & Co. They’ll need more than hope to vanquish a Jacksonville team that should challenge for the top scoring defense and sack title. It will be interesting to see if any Jaguars receivers step up. They will need to if the Giants finagle a couple of early scoring drives.
Jaguars 22, Giants 14
- Buffalo Bills at Baltimore Ravens (-7): The Bills will roll out Nathan Peterman, he of the five INTs in a half in his last start, at QB behind a patchwork OL that lost its three best starters from a year ago. In Baltimore. This is my survivor fantasy football pick for the week.
Ravens 30, Bills 12
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints (-7): A peek behind the creative curtain: I write out all the games in this format but I do not write the commentary or make the picks in order. This is the last game I have to write. It’s 11:14 p.m., I’ve written 8,758 words (and counting) in various productions since 5:54 AM. I’ll be doing it again tomorrow at the same approximate start time. Hard to think of a compelling reason to like the Bucs on the road so I’ll leave it at that…
Saints 29, Buccaneers 18
- San Francisco 49ers at Minnesota Vikings (-6): Jimmy Garoppolo’s 49ers tenure has been nothing but sunshine so far. It’s time for a little rain courtesy of the Vikings deep, talented and well-coached defense. Losing ex-Vikings RB Jerick McKinnon is a big blow for the fighting Garoppolos. Kirk Cousins will give the new home fans some rumbles of negative thunder, but his lightning will pierce the 49ers defense enough to send them out with sunny dispositions.
Vikings 24, 49ers 17
- Cincinnati Bengals at Indianapolis Colts (-3): I did a double take on this line. I know the Colts have Andrew Luck back and I do like some of the young pieces in Indy, but they’re kicking off with a terrible schematic matchup against the Bengals in the Battle of I-74. Cincinnati’s defensive front with Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap is one of the best in the league, and their secondary has talent and depth. The Colts counter with a subpar OL, limited weapons for Luck outside of TY Hilton and the tight ends, and a rookie head coach trotting out what might be the thinnest defensive lineup in the NFL.
Bengals 23, Colts 17
- Washington at Arizona Cardinals (NL): Instead of betting on the game here, I offer a couple of private props…
O/U number of dropbacks before Cardinals QB Sam Bradford gets injured: 23.5
O/U percentage of 3 & outs by both offenses: 62.5
Cardinals 20, Washington 16
- Tennessee Titans at Miami Dolphins (+1.5): The fearless forecast here says this will be the game which gets remembered as Corey Davis’ coming out party as an NFL star. The second-year Titans wideout is healthy and poised for big things. Miami is a good place to start. Davis might need to have a big game, too; I don’t trust the Titans secondary and the Miami offense has some intriguing playmakers. I like the over on the 45-point line in this one. A lot.
Titans 34, Dolphins 31
- Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Chargers (-3): It’s not often a division title gets decided in Week 1, but I’m calling my shot right here: if the Chiefs win this AFC West affair, they’ll win the division. The perennially slow-starting Chargers are tough to love, even at home. But I believe in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram a lot more than I believe the Chiefs trust in ex-Browns bust Cam Erving to protect exciting young Patrick Mahomes.
Chargers 31, Chiefs 27
- Seattle Seahawks at Denver Broncos (-1): In Russell Wilson I trust, because there is really no other reason to like the Seahawks in this matchup against Denver’s strong defensive front. This forecast will look stupid if Case Keenum gets time and the Broncos rookie wideouts get untracked early.
Seahawks 17, Broncos 16
- Dallas Cowboys at Carolina Panthers (-2.5): Cam Newton, Christian McCaffrey and the Panthers offense is a tough opener for a Dallas defense that doesn’t appear to have solved its pass rush issues. And losing Jason Witten takes away a big reason to like their offense’s ability to come back if they fall behind. I like how Carolina’s defensive front matches up against the Dallas run game and the fantastic Zeke Elliott, too.
Panthers 28, Cowboys 14
- Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers (-8): Welcome to the NFC North, Khalil Mack! Now go chase around Aaron Rodgers and watch him narrowly escape your clutches and thread an invisible needle to some random backup receiver (perhaps preseason standout Marquez Valdes-Scandling) for a miraculous 3rd down conversion. Twice. Worst possible Week 1 opponent for the improved Bears, unless they somehow pull off the major upset.
Packers 27, Bears 13
- New York Jets at Detroit Lions (-7): New Lions coach Matt Patricia must shake off a dismal preseason. He gets a favorable draw in his first game, a Jets team starting rookie Sam Darnold behind an unimpressive offensive line and throwing to a collection of receivers who would all be gameday inactives for Detroit. The back end of the Jets defense, coupled with criminally underappreciated Leonard Williams upfront, gives New York a fighting chance. The Lions special teams could have a big impact on this one.
Lions 30, Jets 21
- Los Angeles Rams at Oakland Raiders (+4.5): One of these teams loaded up on talent and rewarded its All-Pro defensive lineman with a record-setting contract. They sent a message to the locker room, the fans and the rest of the NFL that they believe their time is now. The other refused to pay its All-Pro defensive linemen and transformed into the NFL’s oldest team despite drafting four players who figure to see the field extensively as rookies on defense.
Rams 35, Raiders 17
I pick the games but eschew commentary, as my CFB knowledge is almost entirely focused on the NFL Draft angle in each game, except for the MAC and select schools in the Great Lakes region.
TCU 37, SMU 10
Oklahoma 33, UCLA 17
Mississippi State 30, Kansas State 27
Georgia 24, South Carolina 21
Stanford 26, USC 24