KC Joyner's Week 1 pick'em selections

KC Joyner, one of the most accurate pick'em experts in the business over the past six years, details his winners for all of the Week 1 matchups.

KC Joyner

8 Sep, 2020

UPDATE! These picks have now been updated as of the injury reports through very early Sunday morning. The impacted games were: Cleveland at Baltimore, Philadelphia at Washington, LA Chargers at Cincinnati, Tampa Bay at New Orleans, and Tennessee at Denver.

Welcome to my first weekly pick’em article for Pickwatch! The slate of games is listed below. Each section details which team is predicted to win and provides a quick summary of why that selection was made. The picks also contain a confidence value for each selection, based on a 1-10 scale with “10” being the most confident and “1” being the least confident.

Now on to the picks!

Sunday, September 13

Seattle at Atlanta

KC’s pick: Seattle

Confidence level: 5

Seattle has the longest road trip in Week 1, as they are the only club to travel more than 2,000 air miles in the opening week of this season (2,182). Since these teams are fairly close talent-wise, this factor might normally lean towards selecting the Falcons, but per my matchup rankings Atlanta’s secondary gives Seattle the most favorable pass defense matchup in Week 1. Seattle was also 6-0 last season in games where they had to travel to the Eastern time zone, so the long flight and related issues of that nature likely won’t rattle the Seahawks.

Cleveland at Baltimore

KC’s pick: Baltimore

Confidence level: 10

One of my primary rules for picking games is to always select the more talented team unless circumstances indicate there is a reason to do otherwise. Baltimore has better run blocking, a huge edge at quarterback, a much stronger secondary, arguably the best kicker in the league, and is playing at home against a Cleveland squad that is adjusting to a new coaching staff and its first road trip of the season. This is tied for the most confident pick of the week and would rate a “10” confidence level if this wasn’t the opening week of the season.

UPDATE: Cleveland will be without two of its top three cornerbacks (Greedy Williams, shoulder; Kevin Johnson, liver) and one of its starting linebackers (Mack Wilson, knee), so this game is now moved up to a “10” confidence level.

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New York Jets at Buffalo

KC’s pick: Buffalo

Confidence level: 2

A lot of people sell the Jets short because of Adam Gase’s penchant for irking his players, but don’t forget that Gase turned a four-win caliber roster in Miami into a solid club. Gang Green finished the season strong last year with six wins in its last eight contests and would have been a playoff contender had it not been for Sam Darnold missing the first three games of the year. Having said this, Buffalo claims a significant talent edge in most areas. Add that to this being a road contest for the Jets and it is just enough for Buffalo to rate the pick, but it is a true toss up matchup.

Las Vegas at Carolina

KC’s pick: Carolina

Confidence level: 4

This is another toss up matchup, as there are reasons to favor both teams. Teddy Bridgewater passed all seven Parcells Rules as a collegian and played quite well last year filling in for Drew Brees. Carolina will feature Bridgewater’s passing, as they kept six wide receivers on their active roster and have an offensive system that could lead to Bridgewater posting 600+ pass attempts this season. The Raiders pass defense gives the Panthers 73 matchup points (on a 1-100 scale, with 100 being the best), so there is a significant personnel edge here. Throw in the fact that the Silver and Black were 2-6 on the road last year and 1-5 in games where they had to travel to the Central or Eastern time zone, and it leads to Carolina being the selection.

Chicago at Detroit

KC’s pick: Detroit

Confidence level: 6

Matthew Stafford played in only eight games last year before being sidelined with a back injury. During that span he was on pace to post more than 5,000 passing yards, 38 passing touchdowns, and only ten interceptions. The Lions added offensive line and running back talent to their already stocked offense, so Stafford could repeat last year’s figures. Chicago’s secondary took a big step backward after defensive coordinator Vic Fangio left to take the Denver head coaching job prior to last season, so this matchup isn’t as daunting as it would have been just two years ago. These factors all lean towards Detroit having a solid edge in this matchup.

Indianapolis at Jacksonville

KC’s pick: Indianapolis

Confidence level: 9

There are times when it pays to not overthink matters. Jacksonville has been jettisoning so much talent of late that there are legitimate discussions about whether the Jaguars are actively trying to tank their season in an effort to be able to select Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence with the first pick in the 2021 NFL draft. The Colts have a dominant offensive line, the makings of a great thunder and lightning running back combination, a veteran quarterback still capable of hitting the long pass, and one of the best linebacking corps in the league. This is one of the strongest picks of the week, as the Colts earn a “9” confidence level.

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Green Bay at Minnesota

KC’s pick: Minnesota

Confidence level: 3

Green Bay has won only one of the past four road contests against Minnesota, that being last year’s Week 16 matchup where the Vikings were missing both Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison and thus had to go with journeyman Mike Boone as their featured back. Minnesota has Cook and Mattison healthy for this contest and added potential impact defensive end Yannick Ngakoue in a recent trade with the Jaguars. It is always a difficult task to pick a winner between divisional foes in an opening week matchup where the teams have roughly equal talent, but in this case nearly all of the tiebreakers point towards the Vikings.

Miami at New England

KC’s pick: New England

Confidence level: 6

Last year at this time Miami was the worst team in the league and after a 59-0 home loss to Baltimore in Week 1, there was talk that this could be one of the worst teams in NFL history. Miami head coach Brian Flores didn’t buy into that assessment, as he pushed and cajoled the Dolphins to five wins in the last nine games of the 2019 season. New England said goodbye to Tom Brady, lost ton of defensive talent for various reasons, and has a huge question mark at kicker, but Cam Newton is fired up to prove that the end of his Carolina tenure wasn’t the end of his career. Flores will find a way to keep this game close, but the combination of it being a road contest and Newton’s big play ability moves this pick in the Patriots column.

Philadelphia at Washington

KC’s pick: Philadelphia

Confidence level: 5

As noted in one of my picks overview articles for Pickwatch, the Eagles have huge personnel adjustments to make on the offensive line and at wide receiver. Philadelphia also changed six starters on defense. That type of personnel turnover can end up as a strong tiebreaker when the talent levels are even, but Washington is one of the least talented teams in the league, especially on defense. That gives Philadelphia some of the best matchup rankings in Week 1 and makes them a more than solid pick’em selection.

UPDATE: The Eagles will be without Alshon Jeffery (foot), Miles Sanders (hamstring), and Derek Barnett (hamstring). Add that to the uncertainty regarding the offensive line setup still being unsettled as of late in the week and Philadelphia’s confidence level drops to a “5” level.

Los Angeles Chargers at Cincinnati

KC’s pick: Los Angeles

Confidence level: 3

I have been pitching Tyrod Taylor as a sleeper candidate in fantasy football early and often this year, yet his actual game impact could be just as strong as the Bills went 22-20 in his three years as a starter in Buffalo. Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn coached Taylor in two of those three seasons and knows how efficient Taylor can be as a field general. The Bengals added plenty of talent this offseason and the Chargers do have one of the longest road trips in Week 1 in this contest, but Cincinnati hasn’t done anywhere near enough to vault upwards from its worst in the league status last season. Go chalk on this one and pick the Chargers.

UPDATE: Chargers center Mike Pouncey has been declared out for this game with a hip injury. The Chargers could also be without two more starting offensive linemen (Bryan Bulaga, hamstring; Trai Turner, knee). Add that to Mike Williams being out for this contest and the confidence level here drops to a “3”.

Tampa Bay at New Orleans

KC’s pick: New Orleans

Confidence level: 3

Tampa Bay has lost three straight and five of the last seven matchups against New Orleans, but that was before Tom Brady arrived. Brady was able to post middle of the pack vertical pass numbers last year with an abysmal Patriots receiving corps. Give him the elite vertical targets he has in a very aggressive Bruce Arians offense and Brady could post some of the best numbers of his career. The problem for Tampa Bay is the Saints offense is every bit as powerful as the Buccaneers and New Orleans has an appreciably stronger defense. This is one of the toughest picks of the week but combine those factors with this being a home game for the Saints and New Orleans gets a slight edge on this pick.

UPDATE: Mike Evans has a hamstring injury that as of the early Sunday morning reports could either keep him out of this contest or at the least keep him on the field for a limited number of offensive snaps. His status is enough to move the confidence level up to “3” for New Orleans.

Arizona at San Francisco

KC’s pick: San Francisco

Confidence level: 5

There are so many reasons to want to pick Arizona in this one. Kyler Murray is a sleeper MVP candidate. Kenyan Drake posted near-elite breakaway numbers in Arizona last year in my good blocking yards per attempt (GBYPA) metric that measures how productive backs are when given quality run blocking. The addition of DeAndre Hopkins provides the Cardinals with an elite workhorse vertical threat they didn’t have last year. Even with all of that, the 49ers get the edge because Arizona has yet to prove that it can go toe-to-toe in the type of power football contest that San Francisco excels at playing.

Dallas at Los Angeles Rams

KC’s pick: Los Angeles

Confidence level: 2

This is another very difficult selection, as the addition of CeeDee Lamb and the development of Michael Gallup gives the Cowboys an impact trio of wideouts that bring to mind recent Rams squads. Los Angeles could be back at that level of passing production as well, as rookie Van Jefferson performed so strongly in camp that he may have landed a role as a starter when the Rams go to a three wide receiver set. Dallas does have an edge at quarterback and running back but cedes some of that advantage back in other personnel areas. Since this results in all of the matchup rankings for these teams being roughly equal, the percentage move is to go with the home team.

Monday, September 14

Pittsburgh at New York Giants

KC’s pick: Pittsburgh

Confidence level: 8

Pittsburgh will celebrate the return of Ben Roethlisberger, who says his elbow is pain free for the first time in many years. The Steelers also added a potential red zone impact target in Eric Ebron and have James Conner as a bell cow back in what is a contract year for him. The Giants secondary is in such terrible shape that in the past week and change they signed Logan Ryan and traded for a backup cornerback from Denver in an effort to shore up that platoon. If all of this wasn’t enough, Pittsburgh also has the most talented defense in the league and is facing a mistake-prone quarterback. It adds up to this being one of the most confident picks of the week.

Tennessee at Denver

KC’s pick: Tennessee

Confidence level: 3

There are many reasons to be tempted to pick the Broncos in this one. Denver closed out the 2019 campaign with four wins in the last five weeks. The Broncos vastly upgraded their skill position talent level by adding Melvin Gordon and Jerry Jeudy. Playing in the high altitude of Denver will keep much of the typical home-field advantage in place even without fans in the stands. Tennessee insists that last year wasn’t a one-year wonder campaign, but so much of the 2019 season looks like the proverbial lightning in a bottle that will be difficult to replicate. If this game happened in another week or two and it was clear Denver is taking the step forward that many factors indicate they are ready to take, this pick could go in their direction, but Tennessee’s talent advantage keeps the projected win in the Titans column.

UPDATE: Courtland Sutton’s shoulder injury is enough of a concern to move Tennessee’s confidence level up to a “3”.