A great way to enjoy your football season is to join a Pick’Em League. Pick’Em is a game where every week you pick every single matchup in professional football, from the game you’re most interested in to whatever game features the Jacksonville Jaguars. I started doing it as part of a work league a few years ago and I got hooked. Since then I’ve worked hard on metrics to figure out possibilities, probabilities, and the chances of certain outcomes. And yeah, sometimes I guess, because it’s a game, and anything can happen. But I like to be as prepared as possible.
Pick’Em challenges work one of two ways:
- Everyone in the Pick ‘Em selects every winner each week, and the wins and losses are tallied up
- Everyone in the Pick ‘Em selects teams they believe will beat or cover the spread each week, and those results are tallied up
What is the spread, you ask? Well, if the Dallas Cowboys are favored to beat the NY Giants by 5.5 points, if they win by 6 they have beaten the spread, but if they only win by 5 they didn’t cover, and you lose the point for that contest if you picked them to cover. While I love spread games, for the purposes of this weekly article I’m going to focus on actual wins and losses because they’re easier to gauge, and the majority of Pick’Em leagues utilize this format. I will let you know what teams I think will cover the spread, but only in passing.
Here are my picks for Week 1…
Pittsburgh @ NEW ENGLAND (favored by 7.5) – By all indications this is a trap game, meaning New England is at full strength, while the Steelers are missing one of their biggest playmakers (Bell) and their number 2 receiver (Bryant). They’re also playing in Foxboro, so it should be obvious, given the large spread, that the Patriots will win. I think they will, but it will be a lot closer than most think. Pick – NEW ENGLAND (but they won’t cover the spread).
GREEN BAY (favored by 6.5) @ Chicago – The Packers have owned the Bears of late, especially with Aaron Rodgers, and I don’t see any of that changing in this one. While Jay Cutler might be due for a bounce-back season, I also think his leash is a lot shorter than it used to be. The defense has not taken a step forward, and they were abysmal last year, especially against the run. Eddie Lacy will carve them up, and Green Bay will cover the spread. Pick – GREEN BAY (they will win by at least 7).
Cleveland @ NY JETS (favored by 3.5) – Who is even playing quarterback for the Jets at this point? Fitzpatrick? Ouch. But that defense is as solid as it’s been in recent years, and that should be enough to beat the Browns in New Jersey. I think the game will come down to one possession, though, and that the Jets won’t cover the spread. Pick – NY JETS (they will win by 3 or fewer points).
SEATTLE (favored by 3.5) @ St. Louis – Remember that game last year when St. Louis used some trick plays to take down the then-defending champion Seahawks? Well, they won’t surprise anyone this time, but they’re throwing out a new quarterback who may or may not elevate the St. Louis offense. I think Foles makes a positive difference, but the Seahawks will be too much for them this time. Pick: SEATTLE (they will cover the spread).
KANSAS CITY @ Houston (favored by 1.5) – The Texans are only favored here because they’re at home, as evidenced by the small line, and I think that Kansas City is the better team coming in. With an upgrade at wide receiver (Maclin) and a tight end due to make even more noise (Kelce) I think Alex Smith comes into this one with something to prove. The KC offense will dominate the line of scrimmage, and Jamaal Charles will have a great game out of the gate. Pick: KANSAS CITY (they will beat the spread).
MIAMI (favored by 3.5) @ Washington – Washington is a mess, what with the switch at quarterback and issues on both offense and defense. With all the circus activity surrounding the unit, and with DeSean Jackson returning from a shoulder injury, even at home, I doubt the Redskins can keep this one competitive. Ryan Tannehill will take the leap this season, and it starts here. Pick: MIAMI (they will cover the spread).
INDIANAPOLIS (favored by 2.5) @ Buffalo – That Buffalo defense is for real, and they will at least be as strong as last year’s unit. Many experts are seeing this as a blowout in Indianapolis’s favor, but I don’t feel the same way. The defense can keep the Bills close, and Tyrod Taylor is the best quarterback on their roster. It’s a good thing he’s starting, and he will keep them in it until the end. It won’t be enough, though, by the Colts will only win by 3. Pick: INDIANAPOLIS (they will cover the spread).
Carolina (favored by 3.5) @ JACKSONVILLE – I’m a believer. I think that Jacksonville defense is finally rounding into the shape they thought it would be in at some point last season. I like that they’re at home, facing a hobbled offense missing a playmaker (Benjamin) and having a weak offensive line. They will keep Cam Newton on the run, and not in a good way. Pick: JACKSONVILLE (they will beat the spread).
DETROIT @ San Diego (favored by 2.5) – Detroit was robbed in the postseason, and with a healthy Calvin Johnson, a dynamic Golden Tate, a great run defense, and newcomer Ameer Abdullah, I think they start off this comeback campaign on the road in San Diego with a victory against the Chargers. Pick: DETROIT (they will beat the spread).
New Orleans @ ARIZONA (favored by 2.5) – Is Drew Brees on the decline? Will the New Orleans run defense be enough to carry them to a victory in the desert? I think yes, and no, in that order. Brees is still a good quarterback, but take away his top target, and force more running into the offense, and his numbers will go down, starting against a solid Cardinals defense that will stymie him away from home. Pick: ARIZONA (they will cover the spread).
TENNESSEE @ Tampa Bay (favored by 3.5) – If you watched those preseason games you would see what I did, that Marcus Mariota looks like the better quarterback at this point between him and the first choice in the draft — Winston. Funny how they face each other in the first game for both, and it won’t be pretty, but I think Mariota will prove more adept when it matters, and the Titans win on the road. Pick: TENNESSEE (they will beat the spread).
Baltimore @ DENVER (favored by 4.5) – The Broncos come out of the gate well, and with a solid offensive line, a speedy back in C.J. Anderson, and a fresh Peyton Manning, they will keep that streak alive at home against a Ravens team that has trouble winning on the road, particularly at Mile High Stadium. Denver will cover, and cover easily, behind both their offense and defense. Pick: DENVER (they will cover the spread).
CINCINNATI (favored by 3.5) @ Oakland – Don’t get me wrong. Cincinnati will win this game, but it’s going to be a lot closer than it might appear at first. The game against Oakland last year when the Raiders took care of business has been put under the microscope in Cincinnati, and they have a dominant running back in Jeremy Hill now. He won’t be stuffed in this one, and that will make the difference, but just barely. Pick: CINCINNATI (but they will only win by 3).
NY GIANTS @ Dallas (favored by 5.5) – The Giants have actually played well at Texas Stadium over the years, and this game will be no different. With the Giants coming off of a disappointing season, it would be easy to write them off, but as long as they have Beckham they have a chance, and Rashad Jennings will have his way with that Dallas run defense. The Giants will win this one outright. Pick: NY GIANTS (they will beat the spread).
PHILADELPHIA (favored by 3.5) @ Atlanta – This Eagles offense is for real, and Sam Bradford is a perfect fit for that offense, so if this turns into a slugfest I trust the Eagles will come out ahead. They have too many weapons, and Atlanta really only has Julio. Even in Atlanta, I think the Eagles defense will do enough to shut down that Falcons offense, and the new pieces in Philadelphia will shine. Pick: PHILADELPHIA (they will cover the spread).
Minnesota (favored by 2.5) @ SAN FRANCISCO – There is nothing but pride in San Francisco right now, but maybe that will be enough in a game where honestly not many know what to expect from a remade defense and an offense that will rely more on Kaepernick’s versatility than anything or anyone else. I like Kaepernick to keep the Minnesota defense honest, and Carlos Hyde having a great day as the feature back. San Francisco takes one at home. Pick: SAN FRANCISCO (they will beat the spread).
Good luck in week 1.