The NFL season is finally here and bettors are cheering around both the country and the world! Knowing this, we have provided our NFL picks for the five best contests on Week 1’s schedule!
The defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers open their season by hosting the Hard Knocks stars, the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday Night Football. Moving to Sunday afternoon, MVP-favorite Patrick Mahomes and his Super Bowl-favorite Kansas City Chiefs host the Cleveland Browns in a rematch of last year’s AFC Divisional Playoff clash.
Can the two FanDuel Super Bowl favorites, Kansas City (+500) and Tampa Bay (+650), start their 2021 campaigns off with a win or will there be upsets to begin the season?
Our NFL picks help answer that question and provide you with our best bets from five of Week 1’s games.
Thursday, September 9th
Dallas Cowboys @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 8.20PM ET
With all 22 Super Bowl starters returning for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they look to reach new heights this season and that starts with a matchup with the Dallas Cowboys at Raymond James Stadium. This will also mark Dak Prescott’s first game back since fracturing his ankle in Week 5 last season, with hope that his return will help the Cowboys get back into the postseason picture.
I’m fully expecting the Buccaneers to come out and dominate the opening game of the 2021 NFL regular season. Not only do they have all of their starters from their Super Bowl winning team returning to the lineup this season, people are making it seem as if they still have a point to prove. This may be a case of awful timing for Dallas as they come into this on the back of minimal preseason work, their best player Zack Martin is very likely to be out with COVID-19, Dak Prescott hasn’t seen serious minutes in almost a year and one of their defensive rookies just called Tom Brady slow.
Brady is known for proving points against those that doubt him and he has the weapons to make this Dallas defense, which was one of the worst in NFL history last season, wish that they stayed at home. Adding to the running back duo of Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette is Giovani Bernard, who adds another dimension to the offense with his ability to catch balls out of the backfield. Not that Brady needed any more help, coming off eight straight wins through the end of the regular season and in the playoffs, but this game looks like the Bucs will cruise to victory and cover.
Tim’s NFL Pick: Tampa Bay Buccaneers -8 (-110)
Bucs vs Cowboys
Thursday. It’s back 🏈 pic.twitter.com/0is3iPiDEx
— PFF (@PFF) September 7, 2021
With Dak Prescott returning from injury and playing his first game in 11 months, I expect a lot of rust from the Cowboys’ quarterback. Although the Cowboys have a strong offensive line, good running game and elite receiving group, it will all come down to Dak and whether he can pick apart a defense that utterly embarrassed Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl. On the other side of the ball the Cowboys were one of the worst units in the league last year, and although they have added pieces through the draft I have a hard time seeing them being a match for the Tom Brady led Buccaneers offense which has no weaknesses.
Tampa not only brought back all 22 of their Super Bowl starters but they have gotten better this offseason on both sides of the ball. The extra time to build chemistry this offseason will only make the Bucs offense even harder to beat. The Buccaneers have the edge offensively and defensively, and with all the starters returning it is hard to see the Bucs winning this game by less than 10 points.
Mike’s NFL Pick: Tampa Bay Buccaneers -8 (-110)
The Buccaneers have the season opener at Tampa as defending champions for the first time in franchise history and their fnas will surely give them a massive boost in this. Without a doubt the Cowboys have been a big franchise over the years but I can’t see them beating Buccaneers with Tom Brady as an opponent, especially given he is 5-1 in Week 1 as the defending champion. Meanwhile, Dak Prescott is returning after a long lay-off and will be rusty, especially with huge expectations on his shoulders to guide the Cowboys against the defending champions and back to the playoffs this season. For this game, I expect Brady to get the first win of the season and cover the spread with Tampa.
Justin’s NFL Pick: Tampa Bay Buccaneers -8 (-110)
Sunday, September 12th
Cleveland Browns @ Kansas City Chiefs – 4.25PM ET
The defending two-time AFC Champion Kansas City Chiefs have aspirations to win a second Super Bowl in three years and that journey starts by hosting the Cleveland Browns at Arrowhead Stadium. While the Chiefs and Mahomes have been regarded as the best team and player over the last two years, many are saying that Cleveland has the most talented roster and they will have revenge on their mind following last season’s 17-22 loss to the Chiefs, in this Stadium, in the Divisional Playoff round.
This is the game I’m most excited to watch this weekend as the Chiefs open up against the Browns in what could be an AFC Championship game preview. While Cleveland showed a lot of fight in that Divisional Playoff game last year, only losing by five points, Mahomes didn’t play for most of the second half and the Chiefs have upgraded their offensive line since then. Bringing over players like Orlando Brown, an offensive tackle from Baltimore, and Joe Thuney, the former New England guard who is one of the best in the league, will help protect Mahomes and give him more time to find all of his weapons that have made him on of the best quarterbacks over the last two years.
On the other side of the ball, Baker Mayfield will start behind the most expensive offensive line in the league and also has Odell Beckham Jr. back in the mix. Add that in with the best running back duo in the NFL, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, and Cleveland could honestly steal this one. The worry is, with some new pieces on both sides of the ball, this Cleveland team may take some time to gel and will be better suited for a matchup later in the season, as alluded to in the opening sentence.
While I expect Cleveland to put up a fight, I can’t bet against the Chiefs. Andy Reid is 7-1 in Week 1 matchups as head coach of the Chiefs while Patrick Mahomes averages 330 yards, has 32 touchdowns and no interceptions in 10 games played in September during his career, all of which are wins. Those are some impressive numbers and I like the Chiefs to win by a touchdown or more.
This is an extremely interesting matchup with two of the best teams in the AFC facing off. Despite being one of the best teams in the league, the Chiefs got even better with the additions of Kyle Long, Joe Thuney and Orlando Brown Jr to their offensive line. The issues that appeared during their Super Bowl loss have been addressed, which will be crucial in this game as the Browns have one of the best defensive lines in the league. Cleveland’s defense, led by Myles Garrett and Jadaveon Clowney, will give the Chiefs offensive line a challenge right away.
The Browns, on the other hand, are one of my favourites this year to make the Super Bowl with one of the most well rounded units in the league. I expect their talented running back duo of Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb will run the ball a lot in this matchup as the Browns will be looking to burn the clock and keep the ball out of Patrick Mahomes’ hands. I think the Browns keep it close in this crucial season opener.
Mike’s NFL Pick: Cleveland Browns +6.5 (+113)
This is a massive match with Cleveland seeking revenge from last season’s AFC Divisional Playoff loss where they felt they should have won the match. With Kansas City coming off the Superbowl loss to Tampa, they aim to get back there again, and Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes has declared he wants to attempt for an undefeated season. Cleveland has a quality offensive line, with brilliant running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt behind it who like break lines and get yardage. Both teams like to score points, but my instinct is that Kansas City will use the power of Mahomes to get over the top and secure a big win first up.
Justin’s NFL Pick: Kansas City Chiefs -6.5 (-106)
Green Bay Packers @ New Orleans Saints – 4.25PM ET
Last year’s MVP Aaron Rodgers had an interesting off-season, to say the least, but is now back in action and will lead his Green Bay Packers into this Week 1 matchup with the New Orleans Saints. Given the impact of Hurricane Ida in the New Orleans region, this game will be played in TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Florida, and presents as Jameis Winston’s first opportunity since taking over from the retired Drew Brees as the head of the Saints’ offense.
Green Bay have a point to prove and I think they will prove it against the Saints. While this is a ‘home’ game for New Orleans, it will be played in Jacksonville and that can only benefit Rodgers and the Packers. Last year was the first time in his career that Aaron Rodgers won a game inside the Superdome, proving how hard it is to win there. Looking at last year’s numbers, Green Bay went 0-2 against the Buccaneers but 14-2 against everybody else.
Those are some impressive numbers and while they are still without David Bakhtiari, and Rodgers may take some adjusting to playing without his All-Pro center Corey Linsley, they still have the Big Three of Rodgers, Davante Adams and Aaron Jones that will help get the ball down the field.
When looking at New Orleans, they enter a new era without Drew Brees and Jameis Winston is the man they have called up to the plate as starting QB. While he definitely has the explosiveness to get the ball down the field, he is extremely turnover prone and comes up against a very good defense, with Jaire Alexander patrolling the air, and has just hired a new coordinator. I expect that Winston and Alvin Kamara will have some good synergy and Kamara will be leaned on heavily in the early going, especially with no Michael Thomas still, but I don’t think that is enough to make a difference here.
Tim’s NFL Pick: Green Bay Packers -4 (-110)
Aaron Rodgers has won 3 MVP’s in the last 10 years.
— Dillon Graff (@DillonGraff) September 3, 2021
The Packers play the Saints who are without Drew Brees. The Saints will be led by Jameis Winston, the guy who threw an NFL record 30 interceptions two seasons ago. With a weakened wide receiving group due to the absence of Michael Thomas, the Saints passing attack will be significantly worse than what we have come to expect from the Saints. However, Green Bay’s bad secondary, which got burnt in the NFC Championship game may make things easier for Winston. For the Packers they are returning a lot of their key pieces and should be as lethal as they were last year. The Packers were a top 5 offense last year and will likely match that effort this season with Rodgers still at the helm. Rodgers should pick apart the Saints secondary, which has little depth at the cornerback position behind Marshon Lattimore. The Packers will lean on the air attack as the Saints have a strong run defense, as evident by their league best 11 rushing touchdowns allowed by the defense last season. Overall, I think the Packers win this by a touchdown behind the arm of Aaron Rodgers.
Mike’s NFL Pick: Green Bay Packers -4 (-110)
This game has been moved to Jacksonville due to Hurricane Ida, and given this is neutral ground for both teams, there isn’t much of an advantage either way. New Orleans are experiencing after-life due to the retirement of Drew Brees and Jameis Winston has been declared their quarterback for Week 1. He knows he will have to step up and become leader for Saints, and given he is familiar with NFL standards, he should have ability of scoring touchdowns. This can hurt Green Bay, however he is also known for errors with interceptions, which could hurt Saints chance of winning against Green Bay. It’s hard to question Aaron Rodgers’ quality with the team he has under his disposal, and the experiences he holds under his sleeves are valuable assets to Green Bay Packers – so I’m picking Green Bay to cover the spread line.
Justin’s NFL Pick: Green Bay Packers -4 (-110)
Miami Dolphins @ New England Patriots – 4.25PM ET
There is nothing like a divisional rivalry clash to open the season as Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots host the Miami Dolphins, led by Belichick’s former assistant, Brian Flores. This matchup sees a clash of the last two Alabama quarterbacks with Mac Jones handed the keys to the car in New England while Tua Tagovailoa, after a turbulent rookie season, is the main man in Miami.
This is a very intriguing contest as there are a lot of people out there that have these two teams fighting for a Wild Card slot in the AFC. Both of these teams could arguably have a top five defense this season, meaning it will come down to which team can find the seams and make enough plays to win the game. Plenty was spoken about New England’s big spending in the offseason but Miami also made significant improvements that will help Tua thrive.
New England added Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith to their tight end brigade but Miami’s Mike Gesicki is still the best tight end in this game. When you consider that the Dolphins have added Will Fuller and Jaylen Waddle, through free agency and the draft respectively, there are enough pieces for this Miami offense to be able to play up to the standard that their defense set last year, ranking equal fifth for points allowed. I’m expecting this to be a low-scoring, defensive game with two young, inexperienced quarterbacks, but given the Dolphins are getting the points as underdogs, they look like the best value play for me.
The Dolphins look to make a splash this year and improve on their 10-6 record from last season. In order to get off on the right foot, they face their longtime division foe, the New England Patriots. After the surprise release of Cam Newton, rookie Mac Jones will be starting for the Patriots in an offense that will likely focus on running the ball. Last year the Patriots had the 4th best rushing attack behind their deep running back room and top 5 offensive line. They will likely maintain the same strategy this year to ease rookie Mac Jones into the mix. The Patriots offense will face a Dolphins team that led the league in takeaways and looks to pray on Jones.
On the other side of the ball, the Dolphins may have a hard time facing the Patriots improved defense. Defensive mastermind Bill Belichick will make sure to confuse and attack the weaknesses of this young and inexperienced Dolphins defense. Although the Dolphins look improved this year, it is hard to bet against the Patriots and Bill Belichick.
Mike’s NFL Pick: New England Patriots -3 (-104)
I was surprised to see that the Patriots released Cam Newton just 2 weeks before the season started. That was a big call by New England after his strong display in their pre-season match. I see this game as an opportunity for Miami to take advantage because New England will hand the inexperienced Mac Jones first start. I believe he won’t be making all decisions himself so they’ll balance with both passing and rushing games. This is contrasted to Miami whose squad are familiar with plays under young quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who has expectations to lead Miami Dolphins to new era. Miami finished 10-6 last season and they will want to improve on that record plus they have shown strong performances during pre-season matches.
Justin’s NFL Pick: Miami Dolphins (+150)
Chicago Bears @ Los Angeles Rams – 8.20PM ET
The first Sunday Night Football of the season has Los Angeles Rams and their new QB Matt Stafford hosting Andy Dalton and the Chicago Bears. With the Rams making the biggest splash in the off-season, trading former #1 pick Jared Goff and a multitude of picks for Stafford, with hope that he can take LA back to the biggest stage. Will his Rams’ career start off with a bang or can the Bears deliver a shock upset?
This should be an easy cover for the Rams at home. LA are 4-0 straight up and against the spread in Week 1 under Sean McVay. Given how good he is as a head coach, with the different schemes that he can come up with on both sides of the ball, when he has time to prepare then McVay is one of the best coaches out there. He also has a new centrepiece to show off to the rest of the league, Matt Stafford, and has Sunday Night Football as his platform to do so. Given the hype and expectation surrounding this move in the offseason, you better expect that the Rams will come out with a point to prove.
Moving on to their defense, which ranked first overall and for scoring last season, they should have no dramas keeping the Bears quiet. Andy Dalton may be an upgrade over the Nick Foles/Mitch Trubisky tag team but Chicago haven’t been able to score more than 15 points against LA in their last three meetings, since Matt Nagy took over. With the likes of Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey attacking your quarterback and best receiver on every single down, it is hard for any team to move the chains, let alone a mediocre Chicago offense. These guys played each other one time last season, in LA, and the Rams won 24-10 so I’m expecting a similar sort of scoreline in this one.
Tim’s NFL Pick: Los Angeles Rams -7.5 (-110)
“A healthy Stafford, in a 17-game season and with that Rams backfield, could be the first quarterback to throw for 6,000 yards in a year.” 🚀 @peter_king is bullish on Matthew Stafford for MVP this season: https://t.co/5rKxPlpe0v pic.twitter.com/l6fddtGNuX
— NBC Sports (@NBCSports) September 6, 2021
In Matt Stafford’s debut as a Ram, he will be facing the formidable Bears, who are a defense-focused team. This offseason the Rams traded away Jared Goff for Stafford in a blockbuster trade. However, during the preseason we have seen very little of Stafford so it is unknown how well he knows the system and whether or not he has chemistry with the receiving group. The Rams offense, led by McVay, should hypothetically be better with Stafford but there may be some rust from Stafford’s end in the first few series.
On the other side the Bears have Andy Dalton starting at quarterback, leading an offense that was anaemic throughout all of last season. Head coach Matt Nagy will be returning to his play calling duties, and he has stated he will emphasize the run. Watch for the Bears talented running back group to ground and pound the ball throughout this entire match. With the unknowns surrounding Stafford and the emphasis on the run by the Bears, I think this matchup will go unders as Stafford takes time to adjust and fails to get into rhythm due to the Bears’ strategy of chewing up the clock.
Mike’s NFL Pick: Under 47.5 (-115)
Both teams had an interesting off-season where the Los Angeles Rams traded Jared Goff away to Detroit in order to acquire Matthew Stafford, while the Chicago Bears acquired Andy Dalton from Cowboys and also drafted Justin Fields in the first round. Both teams have quarterbacks who are not familiar with their systems so it might take a while for them to adapt their new systems. After their pre-season displays, I doubt both teams will score many touchdowns and will focus on defense more than offense. This means that they will most likely rely on field goals in this game so I’m going to take the under with an extra play on the majority of scores coming from field goals.
Justin’s NFL Pick: Under 47.5 points (-115)
Bonus Prop Bet Pick: Over 3.5 Total Field Goals (+102)
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*Odds and spreads correct at time of publication, courtesy of FanDuel.