Hello again! It is great to be back with NFL Pickwatch for a second-straight season.
I am thrilled to be a part of this very talented team that now includes Michael Schottey and Ty Schalter, two must-read writers who will be providing a slew of terrific articles to NFL Pickwatch readers.
I have been doing straight up NFL picks since 2014 and last year added in confidence levels for the first time. Those confidence level additions went quite well, as my picks with a 6 or higher confidence level (on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being most confident) went 83-28 (74.8 percent). Those numbers improved as the confidence level increased, as the 7+ confidence selections went 61-18 (77.2 percent) and the 8+ confidence level picks went 29-8 (78.4 percent).
This season’s selections will once again have confidence levels. Many of those picks will be available to all NFL Pickwatch readers. The rest of the selections will be available exclusively to Pickwatch Pro subscribers.
Pickwatch Pro is a great service that allows subscribers to download the best expert data in the industry, see team-by-team winners for every expert, and provides access to Upset Watch, which has been the ultimate cheatcode to beat the sportsbooks over the last five years. Combine those elements with the top level of my weekly picks and it makes for a must-subscribe service for anyone serious about betting.
Now let’s get to this week’s picks!
(Note: The references to matchup points totals refer to my matchup points grading system that measures the relative strength of a rush or pass defense matchup on a 1-100 scale, with 100 being the most favorable).
Dallas Cowboys at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This pick is one of our Pickwatch Handicappers Picks this week and our “Opening Night NFL Lock.” You can purchase the pick with our No-Risk Guarantee. OR, if you’re a resident of NJ, PA, CO, MI, AZ, IN, WY or IO, you can get five handicapper picks free with a qualifying $10 wager with our partners at BetMGM. Learn more about our Pickwatch Handicapper’s Picks.
Baltimore Ravens at Las Vegas Raiders
KC’s Pick: Baltimore | Confidence Level: 6
There has been a lot of concern among both fans and media about Baltimore’s ability to run the ball well following injuries to J.K. Dobbins and Justice Hill, but there is very little reason to worry. Last year, Baltimore led the league in my good blocking productivity (GBP) metric that gauges an offense’s run blocking prowess, and they could be even better this year given their personnel additions. In addition, Gus Edwards, who will be the Ravens lead back in Dobbins’ absence, is a perfect fit for this downhill rushing offense, as he has posted near elite numbers in my good blocking yards per attempt (GBYPA) metric that tracks productivity on rush plays with good blocking.
The Raiders will be fired up to play in front of a packed home stadium for the first time, but Baltimore’s rushing prowess and the 94 rush defense matchup points score the Silver and Black provide to the Ravens are strong enough factors to catapult this pick into Baltimore’s territory.
Philadelphia Eagles at Atlanta Falcons
KC’s Pick: Atlanta | Confidence Level: 3
The Eagles have all the makings of a powerful rushing attack. Last year, they led the league in my good blocking rate (GBR) metric that measures how often an offense gives its ball carriers quality run blocking. That they did this despite having an NFL record 14 different starting offensive line combinations speaks volumes for the skills of their offensive line coach/run game coordinator Jeff Stoutland. That might normally nudge this pick in the Eagles direction, but new head coach Nick Sirianni actually seems to be pushing back against a run-heavy approach.
The Atlanta rush defense also provides Philadelphia with only 15 matchup points. That will make it difficult for the Eagles offense to keep up with Matt Ryan, Calvin Ridley, Kyle Pitts, and the creative play calling of Arthur Smith, so the Falcons are the choice here.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills
KC’s Pick: Buffalo | Confidence Level: 3
The Steelers’ collapse in the AFC Wildcard game against Cleveland last year led Pittsburgh to do an organizational recommitment to the ground game. That will take pressure off Ben Roethlisberger to throw the ball 40 times per game, but multiple personnel changes on the offensive line means that group will take some time to gel.
Buffalo’s offense has the daunting task of facing the powerful Steelers defense, but that platoon has some issues, including: placing Stephon Tuitt on IR, T.J. Watt possibly missing this contest due to a contract dispute and breaking in a revamped secondary. The homefield advantage also goes to Buffalo, so the Bills rate the pick in this matchup.
Green Bay Packers vs. New Orleans Saints (Neutral Site/Jacksonville)
KC’s Pick: Green Bay | Confidence Level: 4
Jameis Winston’s aggressive approach will give Sean Payton the type of downfield passing attack he’s not had since Drew Brees was still in his prime, but Winston also takes more risks than any quarterback in the league.
The Saints have preseason sensation Marquez Callaway to potentially fill-in a good portion of the production lost to the Michael Thomas injury, but Callaway is still completely unproven against regular season-caliber competition and is likely due to face a very difficult cornerback matchup in Jaire Alexander. If Callaway can’t produce, New Orleans will have to rely on Deonte Harris, Tre’Quan Smith and Adam Trautman to keep up with Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Jones, Davante Adams, Robert Tonyan, and the rest of the Packers’ powerhouse offense.
The Saints also won’t be able to rely on their home field advantage in this one, as Hurricane Ida forced this game to be moved to Jacksonville. There just aren’t many reliable paths to victory for the Saints, so this one lands in the Packers column.
Minnesota Vikings at Cincinnati Bengals
KC’s Pick: Minnesota | Confidence Level: 2
This has all the makings of a tossup game. The Bengals will benefit from having Joe Burrow back under center, but Burrow’s preseason performance did very little to bring back memories of his Rookie of the Year-caliber play last season. Potential impact rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase has been more miss than hit this preseason. Mike Zimmer said that last year’s Vikings defense was, at times, the worst he had ever seen in his multiple decades of coaching NFL football, but that platoon should improve since injuries were a big part of the problem.
The issue for Minnesota is Zimmer doesn’t trust his passing game and thus may not be able to take full advantage of the personnel edge Minnesota has in this matchup. The good news for the Vikings is Cincinnati’s rush defense provides them with 90 matchup points, which is more than enough to overcome the Bengals homefield advantage and nudge this pick into the Vikings column.
Arizona Cardinals at Tennessee Titans
KC’s Pick: Tennessee | Confidence Level: 3
This battle will be a clash of styles, as the Cardinals will be motivated by the Kliff Kingsbury offensive system, the skills of Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins, and 80 pass defense matchup points to turn this into a high-scoring aerial attack.
The Titans will want to go the other route, as new offensive coordinator Todd Downing will aim to lean heavily on Derrick Henry, the best power rushing back in the NFL since Earl Campbell, in order to slow things down to protect the Titans subpar secondary.
The projection here is that it is very tough to get a defense into the mode of stopping a powerhouse like Henry, as tackling skills only truly develop with full-speed playing time, so the Titans are more likely to be able to play their style of game. Combine that with the contest being in Nashville, and the Titans get this pick.
Seattle Seahawks at Indianapolis Colts
KC’s Pick: Seattle | Confidence Level: 2
Seattle’s 2020 campaign was a tale of two seasons. During the first half, they went pass heavy and scored 31 or more points in seven out of eight games, but they also gave up 27 or more points on five occasions in that span. That trend eventually led them to lose three out of four and that caused Pete Carroll to go with his preferred run-heavy approach. Carroll will likely go with the ground-based mindset again, as Seattle won six out of seven games at one point with it last year.
That could play right into the hands of the Colts, who would also prefer to go with a slugfest type of matchup, but Carson Wentz’s durability concerns and his penchant for turnovers give Indianapolis too much volatility at that position, so go with the Seahawks in this one.
Los Angeles Chargers at Washington Football Team
KC’s Pick: Washington | Confidence Level: 3
Washington has one of the best defenses in the NFL, as the Football Team placed sixth in sacks and eighth in pass pressure rate last year (per Pro Football Reference). Washington also has a lot of ballhawks in their secondary, as they also placed fifth in interception rate. Adding Jamin Davis and William Jackson III will only make this platoon stronger in 2021.
The Chargers are a team on the rise, but they do have a new head coach, new offensive and defensive coordinators, and have a cross country trip with a 1 PM ET kickoff. Counting on them to overcome all those hurdles and the Washington defense is just not a percentage play, so the Football Team rates the selection here.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans
KC’s Pick: Houston | Confidence Level: 2
Jacksonville comes into this contest with plenty of hype due to Urban Meyer and Trevor Lawrence, but Lawrence is a rookie who split preseason snaps with a quarterback who isn’t even on the Jacksonville roster anymore. Travis Etienne is out for the season. The wide receivers look to be an inconsistent group. The Jaguars have no pass catching talent to speak of at tight end, and they have the makings of one of the worst rush defenses in the NFL.
Houston has Tyrod Taylor, a coach who wants to lean on the ground game and a group of talented running backs that can test that weak rush defense. Add those factors to the game being in Houston and thus being a tough environment for a rookie to make his first start and the Texans are the pick in this one.
Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs
KC’s pick: Kansas City | Confidence level: 2
This is one of the toughest selections in Week 1. Kevin Stefanski led Cleveland to their best season since the Bill Belichick era with an offense that had elite run blocking and a superb running back tandem in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. This formula nearly vaulted the Browns to an upset win in the AFC Divisional round last year, but they won’t be facing the same Chiefs team that they saw in January.
Kansas City’s Super Bowl woes made it clear that the Chiefs needed to upgrade their offensive line and their offseason additions to this group gives Kansas City one of the most talented blocking walls in the NFL. Cleveland also doesn’t have the passing game firepower to keep up with Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce and must overcome this on the road, so Kansas City ends up as the pick in what should be a very close contest.
Denver Broncos at New York Giants
KC’s Pick: Denver | Confidence Level: 4
The Giants have had a disastrous preseason. Their offensive line, which was one of the worst in the league in 2020, is trending to be even shoddier in 2021. Evan Engram is hurt and might not play in this matchup. Saquon Barkley has returned from his knee injury, but many reports indicate that Barkley might end up as a platoon back early on this season. Kenny Golladay has barely been on the field in training camp due to injuries and first-round pick Kadarius Toney had an awful training camp due to a variety of factors.
The Broncos made the percentage move to go with Teddy Bridgewater as their starting quarterback and have nowhere near the issues that the Giants are facing. This might be more of a slam dunk pick if it wasn’t a Week 1 cross country matchup, but New York’s litany of problems easily lands this pick on the Denver side of the ledger.
For the rest of KC’s picks each week (MIA @ NE, SF @ DET, CHI @ LAR; NYJ @ CAR), sign up for Pickwatch Pro and get access to advanced analytics and insights to take your game to the next level. Use offer code “KC25” for 25% off your first year of membership.