We just couldn’t get there any faster. With all the research that went into our season-long predictions for the AFC and NFC, our NFL week 1 picks against the spread article could not get here fast enough.
Thankfully, we would not have wanted to rush it.
After what felt like an endless offseason of shuffling – more than most in the sense of big names and high draft picks on the move – we have arrived at the most exciting, yet intimidating point of the National Football League season: Week 1.
It feels good to be back. Back, digging through teams and their odds. Back, sending emails and Tweets about the upcoming season. Back, writing a weekly picks column.
In a sense, the Week 1’s picks have already been made. In the National Football League’s short season, each game has a large influence on a team’s final record. Already attempting to predict where each team finishes is, in essence, the act of projecting sixteen small seasons and compiling the results.
Unfortunately, it is not so straightforward. Despite season-long projections being featured prominently in our minds, each individual week does present an opportunity to stray from our long-term expectations. After all, a few games include projected playoff teams facing one another, where a loss for one is inevitable.
Besides the dedication to our own full season predictions muddying the waters, the obvious issue of the unknown plays a significant role in assessing each team. There are no statistics from which conclusions can be drawn. A team with a poorly-ranked rushing attack might suddenly make an effort to run the ball more. Therefore, we must believe in the foundation we laid when forming an over-arching view of the league. We then proceed with the expectation that Week 1 will solidify these projections.
Below are predictions for each game against the spread. Spreads have been taken from various websites and are subject to change. The spread in parenthesis denotes the selected team. An asterisk denotes a confidence pick.
*Confidence Picks – 2015 Season: 69-45-2 (Last Week: —)
(2014 Season: 61-46-2)
All Picks Against Spread – 2015 Season: 143-117-7 (Last Week: —)
(2014 Season: 149-114-4)
Minnesota Vikings (-2) at Tennessee Titans
The Tennessee Titans are a team giving the perception that it is rapidly improving. In addition to quarterback Marcus Mariota entering his second year in the league, the Titans boosted their rushing attack in a big way, trading for DeMarco Murray and then drafting Derrick Henry. The icing on the cake for a Titans team looking for big strides is its Opening Day matchup with the Minnesota Vikings, a team in complete disarray at the quarterback position.
With everything moving in Tennessee’s favor, why isn’t the spread doing the same?
The Vikings were arguably the biggest over-achieving team in 2015, and were already due for a team-wide regression, according to our own NFC predictions. The loss of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater solidified this point, but the Vikings still feature a stout defense more than capable of suffocating a Titans offense that needs to actually progress.
Minnesota is still an outright better team than Tennessee, and the Vikings are poised to make a statement of resilience to start what has already been a tumultuous season. The Vikings win by six and cover the spread.
San Diego Chargers (+7)* at Kansas City Chiefs
When the proverbial book was finally written on the 2015 Kansas City Chiefs, it highlighted an 11-5 record and a playoff win. It probably mentioned that the team began the year at 1-5, but glanced over the slow start thanks to the scorching finish.
As detailed in our season-long AFC predictions article, the Chiefs’ incredible ten-game winning streak was probably more a function of weak opponents than anything else. The San Diego Chargers were one of those weak opponents. Twice.
While the Chargers failed to make sweeping changes during the offseason, they did strengthen their defensive front by drafting Joey Bossa. They also had no real need to tinker with the offense, as it ranked ninth in the league in yards gained.
The Chiefs have been due to regress since their winning streak extended into the winter months, and a divisional matchup against a Chargers team that lost double-digit games for the first time since 2003 is extremely dangerous. San Diego is not a 4-12 team again. Kansas City is not an 11-5 team again.
The Chargers win by a field goal, pulling off the upset and beating the spread.
Click to here to sign up for Sporfolio to see rest of Mario Mergola’s NFL picks. Mergola finished with the highest total of correct NFL picks against the spread for the past two seasons – tracked by NFLPickwatch, and finished 2015 with an accuracy of 60.53% for his confidence picks.
Photo Credit: Keith Allison/Flickr C.C 2.0