Major Question Marks Include Saquon Barkley, J.K. Dobbins, And Josh Jacobs

The regular season is less than a week away. Depth charts are nearly finalized. Here’s an early look at our NFL predictions and picks for all 16 Week 1 games. The following betting odds are for picks against the spread, as well as moneylines based on DraftKings Sportsbook.

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NFL Week 1 predictions and picks

Each week of the NFL season features the expected, the moderately unexpected, and the completely unexpected. When betting on point spreads and moneylines, we need to focus on the first two outcomes.

What are the highest-probability game scripts? Which interesting sub-plots could emerge? For example, we cannot anticipate when a little-used fullback will fall into the end zone twice in one half. But we can assess the likelihood that one team’s backfield will earn more scoring opportunities.

With that in mind, here are our preliminary assessments of how each game might proceed, including two major questions surrounding each team’s execution of its offense.

Los Angeles Rams (+2.5) vs Buffalo Bills

  • Date: Thursday, Sept. 8
  • Start time: 8:20 p.m. ET

Matthew Stafford’s elbow tendinitis might make bettors cautious. Same for Cam Akers’ health. The defending Super Bowl champions remain a fearsome group. But they’re also a bigger question mark at the start of this season than they were at the close of last season. If they were facing a bottom-five defense in Week 1, we might feel more confident about their chances. Instead, they’ll face one of their biggest challenges out of the gate.

Meanwhile, the Bills’ 2022 campaign ended in heartbreak. But Buffalo is on a mission to reach the Super Bowl with what might be their best team in the Josh Allen era, thanks in part to an ascending Gabriel Davis.

The challenge, of course, is that they’re on the road against a relatively tough defense, and their backfield remains a bit of a question mark with rookie James Cook and/or the formerly phased-out Zack Moss expected to poach Devin Singletary’s touches. This game should be close. Barring a betting-line change, I’m giving the home team the edge.

Against-the-spread prediction: Rams
Moneyline winner: Rams

New York Jets (+7) vs Baltimore Ravens

  • Date: Sunday, Sept. 11
  • Start time: 1 p.m. ET

As of Labor Day Weekend, we still don’t know whether Zach Wilson will start next Sunday. If he doesn’t, the 37-year-old Joe Flacco will aim to move the ball better than his much younger QB teammate. Are we headed toward a quarterback controversy?

Before dismissing the possibility, consider Mike White’s incredible debut last season, and the ensuing buzz that he — not Wilson — deserved to keep starting regardless of Wilson’s status. That all subsided after one week, of course. But a very strong showing by Flacco (if he starts) could change this team’s complexion in September.

Meanwhile, the Ravens started last season 8-3, then lost three games by a combined four points while losing Lamar Jackson for the final four contests. A healthy Jackson is one of the few QBs who can single-handedly take over, and J.K. Dobbins is a major X-factor with massive upside if he can handle a full workload.

If Baltimore loses, it would perhaps be their most disastrous Week 1 loss in franchise history. In a relatively tough AFC North that they’re currently widely favored to win, even if they fall behind early to the Jets, we should expect enough aggressive play on both ends of the ball to post 27+ points and win by at least a touchdown.

Against-the-spread prediction: Ravens
Moneyline winner: Ravens

Detroit Lions (+4) vs Philadelphia Eagles

  • Date: Sunday, Sept. 11
  • Start time: 1 p.m. ET

Most of the Lions’ key players in 2021 were sidelined for 4+ games. At full strength, this team can turn their 19.1 points per game last season into 23+ this season. Jared Goff can thrive (yes, thrive) if Amon-Ra St. Brown, DJ Chark, T.J. Hockenson, and D’Andre Swift are playing to their realistic potential.

I’m picking Detroit to win at least eight games this year, and while they might fall short in their 2022 debut, they won’t be the relatively “easy out” they often were last year.

As for the Eagles, A.J. Brown could be the key to lifting this franchise to the top of the NFC East. We haven’t come close to seeing the best from Jalen Hurts or DeVonta Smith, and Kenneth Gainwell might be one of the highest-upside non-starting RBs in the league.

An improved defense could put them over the top, but Brown will be the X-factor on Sunday against a sub-par defense. I’m expecting Hurts to pepper him with targets, announcing to the league that one of 2021’s worst passing attacks will be far better in 2022.

Against-the-spread prediction: Lions
Moneyline winner: Eagles

Houston Texans (+8.5) vs Indianapolis Colts

  • Date: Sunday, Sept. 11
  • Start time: 1 p.m. ET

The Colts are expected to take this one for many reasons. Starting with the Texans, Davis Mills remains a work-in-progress. Yes, he improved late last season as a rookie, and I believe Nico Collins will crush last year’s numbers. Brandin Cooks, meanwhile, is Brandin Cooks. Let’s also not ignore rookie Dameon Pierce, who’s expected to lead this backfield after a superb camp. But this remains a rebuilding team that, man-for-man, will have trouble keeping pace with top NFL teams.

Meanwhile, Indianapolis is one of several teams that made a big move this offseason to upgrade at a major position. Will Matt Ryan be the glue to ignite this passing attack? (And that isn’t a mixed metaphor; some glues are flammable.)

Jonathan Taylor and Michael Pittman Jr. anchor an impressive offense, and the team’s defense should keep the Texans at least somewhat in check. But Ryan, Nyheim Hines, and perhaps Alec Pierce or Parris Campbell are key to taking this offense to the next level.

Against-the-spread prediction: Texans
Moneyline winner: Colts

Cincinnati Bengals (-6.5) vs Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Date: Sunday, Sept. 11
  • Start time: 1 p.m. ET

The Bengals came oh-so-close to immortality against the Rams — and I’m not talking about their most recent preseason matchup. Heading into 2022, my research shows that Joe Mixon’s high usage last season (including the playoffs) makes him a high probability for 10%+ injury/regression. Mixon slowed considerably last season. Can he return to dominance in Week 1? And can Hayden Hurst not merely be C.J. Uzomah 2.0, but a consistent top-14 TE with 750-yard upside?

Meanwhile, the Steelers are roughly where the Colts were at the beginning of this past offseason. While Indy landed a big prize in Ryan, Pittsburgh went through the draft to secure Kenny Pickett, while also adding a potential bridge QB in Mitch Trubisky.

For Trubisky to be more than a bridge, he’ll need to look better than he did last month. At last count, this team has five high-impact offensive playmakers. Trubisky must come out strong this year if the team has any hope of outperforming last year’s 20.2 points per game. Next Sunday could be a blowout loss.

Against-the-spread prediction: Bengals
Moneyline winner: Bengals

Chicago Bears (+7) vs San Francisco 49ers

  • Date: Sunday, Sept. 11
  • Start time: 1 p.m. ET

The Bears are the only current NFL franchise that’s never had a QB throw for 4,000 yards. They’re also the only current franchise that’s never had a QB throw 30 TD passes. Strange, I know.

Can Justin Fields do what’s never been done in the Windy City? I’m not here to pre-judge. Fields is a talented 2021 first-round draft pick who lacks the surrounding talent most starting QBs enjoy. He and the rest of the Bears will face an uphill climb upsetting an impressive Niners team. They’ll need more than Darnell Mooney and Cole Kmet. Perhaps David Montgomery and/or Khalil Herbert can give this offense a boost. For now, most of their fortunes rest on Fields’ arm.

Across the field, Trey Lance is in a similar boat, except he’s throwing to some of the best pass catchers in the game. San Francisco’s defense also appears to be several tiers better than Chicago’s.

Despite playing on the road, the 49ers should take this one. I’ve never viewed Lance as a lesser talent than Jimmy Garoppolo, who operated more as a game manager than a game changer. Lance brings an entirely new dimension to this offense. It’ll be a fun game to watch, and afterward, we’ll know if Lance is ready to help lead this team to the postseason.

Against-the-spread prediction: Bears
Moneyline winner: 49ers

Miami Dolphins (-3) vs New England Patriots

  • Date: Sunday, Sept. 11
  • Start time: 1 p.m. ET

The Dolphins went all in this offseason to transform their offense into a minor juggernaut. On paper, Tyreek Hill, Cedrick Wilson Jr., Chase Edmonds, and Raheem Mostert should help push this team into the playoffs. But the key variable is Tua Tagovailoa. Is he a franchise QB or a replaceable placeholder?

Another big question concerns how effectively Hill can acclimate to his new team and quarterback after thriving for so many years with Patrick Mahomes. And I’m curious how aggressively this unit will operate against a stout Patriots defense that in recent years has shut down even the best offenses.

For New England, all eyes are on Mac Jones, as the second-year QB seeks to disprove doubters. Can he be the next great Patriots QB? Secondly, will the defense be even more proficient than last year’s when they boasted the league’s second-best pass defense? Miami’s won three straight against their rivals for the first time in two decades. Home-field advantage matters today, especially with New England’s offense not yet clicking.

Against-the-spread prediction: Dolphins
Moneyline winner: Dolphins

Atlanta Falcons (+5.5) vs New Orleans Saints

  • Date: Sunday, Sept. 11
  • Start time: 1 p.m. ET

Marcus Mariota last started a regular-season game three years ago. He’ll get every opportunity to keep the starting job for a team that, to put it mildly, is a longshot to reach the postseason — especially playing in a division led by the Buccaneers and Saints.

Adding Drake London was an important step, and Atlanta made other offseason improvements. But will they be enough to field a consistently competitive team? I’m concerned that they’ll rely too much on Mariota, an aged Cordarrelle Patterson, and unproven rookie Tyler Allgeier. Strong QB play could optimize Kyle Pitts and London. For now, I’m not confident.

For the Saints, can a healthy Jameis Winston return to glory, thanks in part to a much-improved receiving corps? Whether or not Michael Thomas plays at 100%, the additions of Chris Olave and Jarvis Landry should be enough to push the Saints’ passing game comfortably past its 2021 level. Alvin Kamara is still one of the NFL’s best running backs until proven otherwise. The not-so-secret weapon, of course, is the Saints defense, which might be top three in the league. We shouldn’t be surprised if they hold Atlanta to less than 14 points.

Against-the-spread prediction: Saints
Moneyline winner: Saints

Carolina Panthers (-2.5) vs Cleveland Browns

  • Date: Sunday, Sept. 11
  • Start time: 1 p.m. ET

Carolina was favored by two points last week. Now it’s 2.5. Honestly, it could be six points, and I’d still bet on the Panthers to cover. I like betting on players with nothing to lose and everything to prove, especially against their former teams.

Baker Mayfield will play well. I repeat…he will play well. He has to. And with Christian McCaffrey and DJ Moore propelling this offense, Mayfield doesn’t need to do much to rack up 280+ yards and 2+ scores. While Carolina might not reach the playoffs this year, Week 1 might be their best shot at a convincing win.

Meanwhile, Cleveland needs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt to dominate the line. The more this team leans on Jacoby Brissett, the tougher it will be for them to keep pace. Brissett has played admirably when called on. However, he probably cannot elevate this offense, and that means Amari Cooper probably won’t crack 50 yards; 165 total passing yards might be a stretch.

I’ve written early and often that the Browns are a franchise in more trouble than people realize. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong, and for Cleveland’s sake, I hope that’s the case. For now, I don’t see this team winning more than four games before Deshaun Watson returns. Sunday will serve as a wake-up call.

Against-the-spread prediction: Panthers
Moneyline winner: Panthers

Washington Commanders (-3) vs Jacksonville Jaguars

  • Date: Sunday, Sept. 11
  • Start time: 1 p.m. ET

The horrifically senseless shooting of Brian Robinson has altered the emotional tenor of this contest. Will Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic rise to the occasion against a beatable Jacksonville defense? And can Carson Wentz begin to reclaim his former standing as a capable — or even “very good” — NFL QB? This franchise might be ready to turn a corner, and fortunately, they’re facing another rebuilding team in Week 1.

Earlier this week, I picked the Commanders to win and cover. Now I’m shifting gears, having seen enough from Jacksonville to feel confident in their development heading into the season.

Travis Etienne Jr. is one of the NFL’s biggest X-factors. A foot injury sidelined him all of last season. Yet, he enters 2022 as a potential top-12 RB, particularly if James Robinson eventually plays no more than a 1B role. Aside from Etienne, can Christian Kirk give this offense the go-to No. 1 WR they lacked last year? This team could be quite good if things break right. Etienne and Kirk are two huge keys.

A key takeaway for this team is that Trevor Lawrence should not be ignored. One of the most talented QBs drafted in recent years, Lawrence could rival some of today’s greats by 2024, if not sooner. Yes, it sounds bizarre given how little he showed last season. But it’s an apples-and-oranges comparison. This year’s team is far better, and arguably, is far better coached. Jacksonville has the personnel to handle an up-and-down unit like Washington’s.

Against-the-spread prediction: Jaguars
Moneyline winner: Jaguars

Tennessee Titans (-5.5) vs New York Giants

  • Date: Sunday, Sept. 11
  • Start time: 4.25 p.m. ET

Two teams with major question marks. Can the 28-year-old Derrick Henry return to greatness after missing more than half of last season? Will Robert Woods and rookie Treylon Burks help make up for the significant loss of A.J. Brown? The Titans are a team on the cusp of another push for a division title . . . or an 8-9 season.

Similarly for the Giants, Saquon Barkley was once more highly touted than Henry. Injuries have rendered him a starter in name only. He must produce at a high level to give New York any real shot at legitimacy. Can the team’s overpaid, high-draft-capital receiving corps finally gel around a likely outgoing starting QB?

Against-the-spread prediction: Titans
Moneyline winner: Titans

Los Angeles Chargers (-3.5) vs Las Vegas Raiders

  • Date: Sunday, Sept. 11
  • Start time: 4.25 p.m. ET

Two highly potent offenses with a combined five receivers with at least one 1,000-yard season. This could be the week’s highest-scoring affair. The Chargers will be a tough out all season, thanks in part to an ascending Joshua Palmer and a seemingly stabilized backfield that shouldn’t have to lean overly heavily on Austin Ekeler, especially on the ground. Can the hit-or-miss Mike Williams hit big — and consistently — in one of the toughest divisions in recent NFL history? He’s probably the X-factor in this offense, as his continued semi-dominance would make this offense top-four in the league.

As for the Raiders, much is expected after the team landed Davante Adams. But can Darren Waller re-emerge as an elite TE, or have age and injuries rendered him an overvalued, TD-dependent starter?

Meanwhile, I’m not confident about Josh Jacobs continuing to lead this backfield and actually dropped him significantly in my fantasy rankings a month ago. It’s a terrific team that could finish No. 2 in the division. But I think we’ll see after Sunday that No. 3 is more realistic.

Against-the-spread prediction: Chargers
Moneyline winner: Chargers

Arizona Cardinals (+4.5) vs Kansas City Chiefs

  • Date: Sunday, Sept. 11
  • Start time: 4.25 p.m. ET

Arizona will be without DeAndre Hopkins for the first six games. Can Rondale Moore emerge as a go-to playmaker to help take pressure off Marquise Brown? And will the relatively inefficient (but TD- and catch-friendly) James Conner continue to move the chains as a tough, all-purpose runner?

I picked the Chiefs to finish last in the AFC West, and I know what most of you are thinking. However, their schedule is brutal, the backfield could be sub-par, Travis Kelce has peaked (or is on a slow decline), and the wideout corps lacks a true No. 1. So which WR will step up for Mahomes? And can Clyde Edwards-Helaire put to rest any questions about the Chiefs’ ability to run the ball in 2022?

Against-the-spread prediction: Cardinals
Moneyline winner: Cardinals

Minnesota Vikings (+1.5) vs Green Bay Packers

  • Date: Sunday, Sept. 11
  • Start time: 4.25 p.m. ET

Irv Smith Jr. might be the best TE who didn’t play last year. He’ll return to the starting lineup in one of the NFL’s most top-heavy offenses. Can he be a markedly better version of Tyler Conklin? And does the 32-year-old Adam Thielen still have enough juice to be a strong No. 2 receiver, at an age when most wideouts are in the midst of a precipitous decline?

As for the Packers, like his friend in Kansas City, Aaron Rodgers will be without a true No. 1 WR for the first time in his career. Can Allen Lazard or anyone else step up as a primary third-down and red-zone target? Also, is the defense strong enough to keep this team in games? Green Bay has been top 15 in points scored in 14 of the last 15 seasons. If their offensive numbers are more muted in 2022, can their defense compensate?

Against-the-spread prediction: Packers
Moneyline winner: Packers

Dallas Cowboys (+1.5) vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers

  • Date: Sunday, Sept. 11
  • Start time: 8.20 p.m. ET

The Cowboys are down Michael Gallup and James Washington, and they’re also leaning heavily on a former all-world running back with more career rushing attempts than any active NFL starter. Can Ezekiel Elliott produce at pre-2020 levels? Will rookie Jalen Tolbert step up as a No. 3 option behind adept pass catchers CeeDee Lamb and Dalton Schultz?

The Buccaneers have had a strange offseason, to say the least. But I believe they’ll take Game 1, thanks in part to a defense that could surprise Dallas. Tampa Bay’s defense underwhelmed at times last year, partly due to injuries. They are a major X-factor for a team making another Super Bowl push. Also, how will Leonard Fournette and the rest of the running game perform behind a relatively undermanned offensive line (compared to last year)?

Against-the-spread prediction: Buccaneers
Moneyline winner:  Buccaneers

Seattle Seahawks (+6.5) vs Denver Broncos

  • Date: Monday, Sept. 12
  • Start time: 8:20 p.m. ET

The Seahawks are a team in transition, and they might just be playing for 2023 more than 2022, as they eye their QB of the future. For now, can Geno Smith deliver even middling production, or was last year’s sporadic effectiveness as a spot starter more fluky than replicable? And will Rashaad Penny dominate on the ground, as he did in the closing weeks of last season?

For the Broncos, will Russell Wilson prove to be the difference between a sub-.500 team and a Super Bowl contender? Basically, is he still one of the best quarterbacks in the game? And is one of my favorite top-five-upside RBs, Javonte Williams, ready to take over the 1A backfield role? He led all running backs last year in broken tackles. I think he’ll be near-elite this season, whether he earns 250 touches alongside Melvin Gordon, or upwards of 300.

Against-the-spread prediction: Broncos
Moneyline winner: Broncos

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