The NFL served up an exciting kickoff game on Thursday night. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won 31-29 thriller over the Dallas Cowboys with a Ryan Succop field goal with two seconds left in the game.
In the Nostrathomas Predicts: Kickoff Thursday with The Brady Bunch Hosting America’s Team, my questions going in were, how would Dak Prescott perform after coming back from the fractured ankle he suffered in Week 5 of the 2020 season? Also, would the work Dallas had done in the offseason to improve their defense pay enough dividends to keep them close in this game?
As it turns out, Prescott was brilliant against a defense that shut down the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV. Prescott completed 42 passes in 58 attempts for 403 yards and one touchdown. As for the Cowboys defense, they forced four turnovers, including the fumble by Chris Godwin on the two-yard line that kept Tampa Bay from covering the 8.5-point spread.
So, as a result, Nostrathomas did predict the winner correctly but the spread is what’s important. We have another 15 games on the Week 1 slate so let’s dive in and see how those games should play out.
Game of the Week
Cleveland Browns vs Kansas City Chiefs -5.5 (4:25PM ET; Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, MO)
Last season, in the AFC 2020 Divisional Round, Cleveland gave the Chiefs everything they could handle before falling short in the end, 22-17.
In Week 1, the Browns get a second chance to make their mark against the defending AFC Champions. What have they learned since their breakout 2020 season?
They dipped into free agency to sign Jadeveon Clowney to add an inside presence to compliment defensive end Myles Garrett. Can Clowney’s presence improve a defensive front that finished 2020 in the lower half of the league in creating negative pass plays (sacks and interceptions).
Another question is, can Baker Mayfield continue the level of play that he showed last season? He has a solid corps of receivers to create headaches for opposing defenses. Cleveland also has a rushing attack that is the envy of every team in the NFL in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
Despite all that the Browns gave up more points in 2020 than they scored on offense. Can they turn that around? If they can’t they’ll never take the next step from playoff to Super Bowl contenders.
As for the Chiefs, no questions. They are ready. Their starters played in the first quarter of their final preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings and Patrick Mahomes looked dialed in.
The “Human Cheat Code” air-mailed two touchdowns before taking his place on the sidelines.
Mahomes will have a completely new offensive line in front of him. Cleveland will need to use that advantage to the fullest to keep this game close. Their problem is that Mahomes knows his hot reads and can count on his receivers to be there for him.
Two trends to watch in this game, Patrick Mahomes is 3-0 in Week 1 and has won those games by an average of 12 points each. Also, Kansas City was the only team in 2020 to go undefeated against the five teams on their schedule that finished the season over .500. Take the Chiefs to win and cover.
Kansas City Chiefs 30 Cleveland Browns 22
The first bet Nostrathomas believes you should stake yourself to is Kansas City -5.5 against the Browns. Here are three more games for you to build your parlay around.
Philadelphia Eagles vs Atlanta Falcons -3 (1:00PM ET; Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA)
Both of these teams head into the 2021 season with new coaching staffs. What makes this game even tougher to read is that neither the Philadelphia Eagles nor the Atlanta Falcons showed anything in the preseason to help handicappers make a pick between these two teams. Still, there are clear advantages that makes me think that Atlanta is worth a position in my Best Bets.
While both teams have installed new offenses, Matt Ryan has been around long enough that the though of learning some new terminology isn’t going to affect his play.
Jalen Hurts currently has four starts to close out the 2020 season on his resume. There were moments when he flashed but he has a way to go before he looks comfortable in an NFL pocket. Also, DeVonta Smith will be seeing his first pro action against Atlanta and he is arguably the best wide receiver that the Eagles have on their roster.
The defensive line is Philadelphia’s strength but unless they can figure out a way to force turnovers and give Hurts plenty of positive field position, it won’t be enough against a savvy quarterback. The Eagles were -10 in turnover ratio last season. Can new defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon teach a way to turn that around? We’ll need to see it first.
It’s not easy to recommend adding a team to your parlay that struggled as mightily as Atlanta did last season but the Eagles have a longer road to travel to reach respectability. Also, with all things being equal, take the better quarterback. That is Matt Ryan and it isn’t close.
Atlanta Falcons 25 Philadelphia Eagles 20
Seattle Seahawks -3 vs Indianapolis Colts (1:00PM ET; Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN)
This is another game where you have two teams that boast strengths on both sides of the ball but one of them is playing with a vastly superior quarterback.
The question for the Colts is, while they claim that their injured players are healthy and ready to go, except for T.Y. Hilton who is on injured reserve, those players have missed significant time in training camp. Tackle Eric Fisher, guard Quentin Nelson and cornerback Xavier Rhodes were limited or unavailable for practice this past week. That list of walking wounded creates significant doubt about how ready Indianapolis is to start this season.
The biggest question mark for the Colts is quarterback Carson Wentz. He’s spent most of the offseason dealing with an injured foot. Despite what head coach Frank Reich claims about his health, I’m going to have to see Wentz on the field before I have any confidence that he’s ready.
Currently, other than with running back Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis doesn’t have the skill position players to keep up with the Seahawks. Russell Wilson has D.K. Metcalfe and Tyler Lockett as his go-to receivers and Chris Carson to carry the load at running back.
The key to this game is going to be whether the Colts superior defensive line will be able to beat Seattle’s offensive line enough to keep Wilson off balance. Their problem is that Wilson has never let pressure disrupt his passing game.
If Wentz’s foot is healthy, the Colts have a chance in this game. What we know right now is that Seattle has the better quarterback with the support he needs to excel.
Seattle Seahawks 28 Indianapolis Colts 22
San Francisco 49ers -8.5 vs Detroit Lions (1:00PM ET; Ford Field, Detroit, MI)
Are the Detroit Lions as bad as everyone thinks they are going to be? After looking up and down their roster, yes, I believe they will be. The Lions are a young team searching for an identity. Maybe they’ll find one as the season goes on.
The San Francisco 49ers have an identity. You may not know who you’re going to get from them from series to series but rookie Trey Lance flashed during the preseason and Jimmy Garoppolo responded to the pressure with a strong camp of his own.
This game opened with San Francisco favored by seven and has been bet to its current spread over the past week. Nobody is buying the Lions right now. This game could see the 49ers favored by nine at kickoff. Get the -8.5 while you still have time.
San Francisco 49ers 32 Detroit Lions 20
Best of the Rest
Los Angeles Chargers vs Washington Football Team -1 (1:00PM ET; FedEx Field, Washington D.C.)
This is a tough game to pick right out of the gate. For the Los Angeles Chargers, quarterback Justin Herbert took the NFL by storm last season to give fans hope that there would be life after Philip Rivers. Now he gets to open his sophomore season against what is arguably the best defensive front in the NFL.
I would be ready to pick the Football Team just for that reason but Nostrathomas feels like the only person in the country picking games who doesn’t trust Ryan Fitzpatrick to play to the level he did in 2020 for Miami.
Fitz ”magic” can turn on a dime to Fitz “tragic”. It doesn’t provide much trust in how he will perform in Week 1.
Based on Washington’s defense and that Herbert is working with a new offensive coordinator, Joe Lombardi, I’m going to take the Football Team to win a tight one.
Washington Football Team 20 Los Angeles Chargers 18
Pittsburgh Steelers +6.5 vs Buffalo Bills (1:00PM ET; Highmark Stadium, Orchard Park, NY)
The Pittsburgh Steelers were driving full steam towards another Super Bowl appearance until suddenly, they weren’t. Pittsburgh lost four of their last five games then got thoroughly embarrassed by the Cleveland Browns in their Wild Card matchup.
The Steelers still possess one of the toughest defenses in the league. The question for them is, can they stop an offense that spent 2020 as one of the best in the NFL? Another question is, how much does Ben Roethlisberger have left at age 39.
What this pick comes down to is, do I think the road dog can win this game. I do believe that which is why my pick here is, take Buffalo to win but not by 6.5. Take the Steelers to cover.
Buffalo Bills 30 Pittsburgh Steelers 27
Arizona Cardinals vs Tennessee Titans -3 (1:00PM ET; Nissan Stadium, Nashville, TN)
This is another tough game to pick. Head coach Kliff Kingsbury can’t be sitting comfortably heading into his third season in Arizona. For the Tennessee Titans, Arthur Smith left to become head coach in Atlanta. How will that affect Ryan Tannehill this season?
Arizona added A.J. Green to the receiver’s room this past offseason but the Titans added future Hall of Famer Julio Jones to a group that already boasted Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Brown.
The Cardinals are better on defense but Tennessee can do more on offense and they’re at home. One trend to look at is that Ryan Tannehill is 6-2 in his NFL career as a starter in Week 1. He’s been 3-0 in openers since joining Tennessee.
Nostrathomas is taking the Titans to win and cover a tough game.
Tennessee Titans 30 Arizona Cardinals 26
Minnesota Vikings -3 vs Cincinnati Bengals (1:00PM ET; Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, OH)
Joe Burrow looked like the answer that the Cincinnati Bengals was waiting for when he arrived on the scene as the first overall pick of the 2020 NFL draft. Then, working behind a porous offensive line, Burrow’s season ended with a torn ACL.
Fast forward to the 2021 preseason. Burrow has struggled to come back and look as confident in Cincinnati’s offense as he did last season.
What makes this game so difficult to pick is that the Vikings looked just as bad as Cincinnati in the preseason. They do have established weapons for quarterback Kirk Cousins to take advantage of.
The Bengals can win this game. Minnesota should win this game, especially if they plan to challenge the Packers in the NFC North this season.
Minnesota Vikings 26 Cincinnati Bengals 20
Green Bay Packers -3.5 vs New Orleans Saints (4:25PM ET; TIAA Bank Stadium, Jacksonville, FL)
An era may be coming to an end in Green Bay while Sean Payton is hoping a new one is getting started in New Orleans.
Jameis Winston has won the starting quarterback job for the Saints. He has the arm to give Sean Payton’s offense a deep ball dimension that wasn’t present in the last couple of years with Drew Brees. What he doesn’t have is the receivers to take advantage of that option.
In the meantime, Aaron Rodgers has plenty of receivers to choose from. Too many for the thin secondary of the Saints to keep track of for four quarters.
New Orleans will give it everything they have but the Packers have more to work with right now.
Green Bay Packers 32 New Orleans Saints 20
Miami Dolphins +3 vs New England Patriots -3 (4:25PM ET; Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA)
Two University of Alabama quarterbacks face each other to kick off their team’s seasons. The Crimson Tide’s 2019 starter Tua Tagovailoa will start against Alabama’s 2020 starter, Mac Jones.
Mac Jones looked great in preseason games but so did Tua. Tua’s been stretching the field in the preseason which is a positive for his development.
New England is the fashionable pick in this game but on paper, Miami is better. Especially on defense
Take the road dog to win and cover.
Miami Dolphins 26 New England Patriots 20
Chicago Bears vs Los Angeles Rams -7.5 (Sunday Night Football; SoFi Stadium, Los Angeles, CA)
While Matthew Stafford will be wearing a different uniform for the first time in 13 seasons, he’s played his Sunday night opponent so often that he has seen those uniforms in his sleep.
The Bears have talent but Matt Nagy isn’t playing the quarterback that gives him the best chance to win. Andy Dalton will be starting over rookie first round pick Justin Fields.
Chicago also has holes in its secondary which Stafford will have no trouble exploiting with the receivers he has to work with in Los Angeles.
The Bears aren’t ready to compete at this level yet.
Los Angeles Rams 30 Chicago Bears 20
Baltimore Ravens -4 vs Las Vegas Raiders (Monday Night Football; Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas, NV)
The Baltimore Ravens will be attempting to escape from running back hell by traveling to Las Vegas for their 2021 opener against the Ravens. Baltimore has signed free agent running back Latavius Murray but are expected to start undrafted free agent rookie Ty’son Williams against the Raiders.
Even with the running back issues, Baltimore is still far more talented than the Raiders. We know what they have in Lamar Jackson. It’s anybody’s guess as to how Derek Carr will perform in 2021.
Take Baltimore to win and cover on the road.
Baltimore Ravens 29 Las Vegas Raiders 20
Games of the Weak
Bet these games at your own risk. Actually, watch these games at your own risk.
New York Jets vs Carolina Panthers -4 (1:00PM ET; Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC)
This is the Sam Darnold revenge game, except that Darnold doesn’t have the skill to generate the emotions needed to brand this as a revenge game.
Despite that, there’s no doubt that Carolina has more accomplished skill players that the Jets currently boast, especially with Christian McCaffrey back at full strength.
Robert Saleh is going to need time to get the Jets turned around. Look for the Panthers to win and cover.
Carolina Panthers 20 New York Jets 13
Jacksonville Jaguars -3 vs Houston Texans (1:00PM ET; NRG Stadium, Houston, TX)
The Trevor Lawrence era gets under way for Jacksonville this weekend. He also has some young weapons to work with on offense. Tyrod Taylor has been given nothing to work with in Houston.
Jacksonville Jaguars 22 Houston Texans 15
Denver Broncos -3 vs New York Giants (4:25PM ET; MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ)
Teddy Bridgewater goes head-to-head with Daniel Jones. This game gets a little more tolerable if Saquon Barkley is truly healthy and ready to return at running back.
Overall, the Broncos have a better team than the Giants and should win and cover.
Denver Broncos 20 New York Giants 10