Five years ago I won my first Picks Challenge. It was through work, and I joined at the last second as a lark. I was addicted to Fantasy Football at the time, and I felt like anything else was second rate. But then I got started, I had a good first week, and I realized I was hooked on making picks too. From week to week I got better at analyzing the risk associated with each contest, at picking the upsets, and at staying calm both when I had good and bad weeks. In the end I was up against one other person in the final week. We were tied going into that final slate of contests, and I had a bunch of upset picks on my initial sheet. Luckily, before I made it official I talked to a friend who grounded me. I changed my picks back to the ones I would have originally chosen and I won big.
The money wasn’t bad either.
Every year since I have either participated in or hosted a Picks Challenge, winning three more in the process. 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.
A Picks Challenge works one of two ways:
- Everyone in the Challenge selects every winner each week, and the wins and losses are tallied up
- Everyone in the Challenge 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 Oakland Raiders are favored to beat the Tennessee Titans 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 Picks Challenges utilize this format.
Here are my picks for Week 1…
Carolina @ DENVER – In this supposed rematch of the last real game played, in what is pegged as a battle between two behemoths, the playing field is a lot different than it was in the Super Bowl. Many now see a mismatch between a seasoned vet (Newton) and a brand new #1 QB (Siemian), but this game will come down to the defenses. Denver still has the better defense, and will hurry Newton again all game. Pick: BRONCOS (by 7).
Tampa Bay @ ATLANTA – If the previous game is about the defenses, this one is about questions on offense, particularly for Atlanta. Can Devonta Freeman have an incredible start after his lackluster finish? Can Matt Ryan awaken from the dead and rejuvenate his arm? I don’t think so. But this game will be close because I see a few turnovers from that Buccaneers’ offense. Pick: BUCCANEERS (by 3).
Minnesota @ TENNESSEE – I wouldn’t touch this one with a 10-foot pole if it was Survival, because this one could be a tossup, or it could be a blowout. Marcus Mariota is dynamic, but that Vikings defense might bottle him up. I don’t trust the Minnesota offense, though, as Tennessee will stack the box to take away Adrian Peterson. Pick: TENNESSEE (by 4).
San Diego @ KANSAS CITY – Sure, Philip Rivers has a new weapon who should spread the field (in Travis Benjamin), he has a healthy Melvin Gordon at his disposal, and the offensive line is revamped. Does that mean they go into KC and take out the Chiefs? I don’t think so, because that Chiefs defense is nothing to sniff at, and they play well at home. Pick: CHIEFS (by 7).
Oakland @ NEW ORLEANS – The Saints defense won’t be scaring anybody, least of all gunslinger Derek Carr and his bevvy of receivers, or even Latavius Murray on the ground. While the Saints offense can keep up with Drew Brees, I see this one coming down to who makes the most defensive stops, and I think it will be Oakland. Pick: RAIDERS (by 3).
Cincinnati @ NY JETS – I’ll admit it. I make excuses for these Bengals, at least when it comes to the playoffs, but there’s no denying they’re a strong team that plays excellent regular season football. Even in the hostile environs of East Rutherford, NJ, this Cincinnati team will come ready for bear and knock off the turnover prone Jets. Pick: BENGALS (by 7).
Cleveland @ PHILADELPHIA – We don’t even know who the starter will be in this game for the Eagles, and oddsmakers are already giving them the game. Don’t be so quick. The Browns have improved on offense, RGIII is difficult to get to behind their own revamped O-line, and Terrelle Pryor has emerged as a legitimate deep threat. But the Eagles are a turnover machine on defense, and that will make the difference here. Pick: PHILADELPHIA (by 3).
Green Bay @ JACKSONVILLE – A popular pick to do some real damage this season, the Jaguars might even have some fans in the seats for this one. Too bad it’s against the juggernaut that is Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson. Sure, there is rust to shake off for Nelson, but by the second half they will be clicking, which is bad news for Jacksonville. Pick: PACKERS (by 12).
Buffalo @ BALTIMORE – It’s the Ryan brothers’ final stand, and what a place to begin it, in the land where Ravens fly (harbingers of death that they are). And unless the Bills can ride the hot hand of LeSean McCoy, they have too many difficulties to get past, with the addition of also being in hostile territory. The Ravens defense is tougher than last year, their offense has Joe Flacco back, and he’s a winner. Pick: RAVENS (by 3).
Chicago @ HOUSTON – Similar to the Vikings-Titans game, I really don’t want to pick this one, but if I’m going for any road upset between what I feel are closely matched teams, I’m going to pick the Bears in this one. Much has been made of Osweiler playing well in the preseason, but Jay Cutler is a veteran, and he generally plays better at the beginning of the season. They go into Texas and knock off the home team. Pick: CHICAGO (by 7).
Miami @ SEATTLE – If you’ve read my article on Survival then you know this is my sure bet of the week. The Seahawks are way too talented on both sides of the ball for the likes of Ryan Tannehill and his Lilliputians, they’re playing at home, and they have a chip on their shoulders after last year’s early playoff exit. Pick: SEAHAWKS (by 14).
NY Giants @ DALLAS – These wild contests in the NFC East are always exciting, regardless of the makeup of the teams. Last year the Romo-less Cowboys couldn’t seem to manufacture wins. Will it be the same this year, or is Prescott the real deal? I’m not a believer, preseason or not. I think he wilts under the pressure from Big Blue in this one, and the Cowboys drop one at home to begin another woeful season. Pick: GIANTS (by 7).
Detroit @ INDIANAPOLIS – The Colts were not a good team last year, and they still almost made the playoffs. The Lions are a different squad than they were last year, with a different offensive scheme, and a different set of receivers (sorry, Golden Tate). But so are the Colts, getting (a healthy?) Andrew Luck back. They’re at home, which makes the difference. Pick: COLTS (by 3).
New England @ ARIZONA – As advertised, this is a test for that New England defense. If they can’t hold the Cardinals to less than 21 points they will lose this game. And the Cardinals are too talented to be held to less than 21 points, at least by this New England squad. That means I’m counting on the Cardinals getting their groove on and narrowly beating the Patriots. Pick: ARIZONA (by 3).
Pittsburgh @ WASHINGTON – You like that? Yeah, I actually do. These are two efficient offenses run by two relatively efficient signal-callers. But who do you trust more in a battle between the two defenses? I don’t like the Redskins defense, and the Steelers have Antonio Brown, who will exploit them all day. Pick: STEELERS (by 7).
Los Angeles @ SAN FRANCISCO – How in the world did we get this as a Monday Night game? Maybe the NFL thought by burying it late at night out on the West Coast we might even forget these teams are playing this week. Both are miserable, but Chip Kelly’s offense will be interesting to see on a team other than the Eagles. Blaine Gabbert looks good in the scheme, and I like them to take care of business at home. Pick: 49ers (by 7).