NFL Picks

Week 1 NFL Picks

Justin Herbert

Week 1 NFL Picks

This season, I’ll be providing my picks every week for you, our readers. I’ve been Gridiron Expers’ Pick ‘Em columnist for the past few seasons, and I’m glad to be back at it again! We’re hoping to have even more success this year! Each week, I’ll give you my picks for the game, and a short write-up centered around the key reason why I’m making the pick that I am.

You can also click over to see all our Free NFL picks for the week with more than a dozen Gridiron Experts picking each game. Welcome back… it’s time for Football!

LA Chargers (-1) @ Washington

Justin Herbert returns for his sophomore campaign and will lead a high-octane offensive assault for the Chargers. On the other side of things, Ryan Fitzpatrick, the seasoned journeyman, will lead the Redskins in his first year as their QB. Washington’s weak point last year was their offensive output, so they’re hoping the addition of Fitzpatrick, along with WR Curtis Samuel will be enough to compete once added to their nucleus of WR Terry McLaurin and RB Antonio Gibson. TE Logan Thomas certainly flashed last season and should be a go-to Red Zone favorite of Fitzpatrick. Washington certainly shines defensively, where they ranked top 6 in points against, sacks, and interceptions in 2020. Los Angeles had a little more success offensively, leaning on WR Keenan Allen, and RB Austin Ekeler to do most of the damage. Herbert’s breakout should continue, but I don’t expect smooth sailing for him in Week 1. The Washington defense, led by DE Chase Young, will pressure the young phenom… but in the end, I think LA has enough firepower to squeak this one out on the road. Chargers 22-20.

Arizona @ Tennessee (-3)

Tennessee’s offseason was filled with excitement, as they landed the highly-coveted DE Bud Dupree from Pittsburgh, and traded for one of the league’s best WRs in Julio Jones. Adding Jones to an already strong offense is a dream for Titans fans, however, the bigger question looms on the defensive side of the ball. With Dupree leading the charge, they’ll also lean on DBs Caleb Farley, Kristian Fulton, and Jackrabbit Jenkins to improve on the defensive unit that ranked 24th in the league in points against, and 30th in sacks. Arizona will deploy a dynamic offense led by the amazing QB Kyler Murray. With the departure of Kenyan Drake, Chase Edmonds and newly acquired James Conner will battle for backfield carries. On the outside, Murray will look to his star WR DeAndre Hopkins and Christian Kirk, along with rookie Rondale Moore to do damage through the air. Tennessee also returns their nucleus from last season– QB Ryan Tannehill, RB Derrick Henry, and WR AJ Brown are three of the league’s best at their position, and with Jones added to the mix, the Titans’ unit could be among the most potent offenses in the league. I see this game as a high-scoring affair with both defenses showing some vulnerability. If it is a shootout, I have to side with Tennessee and all of their firepower to outscore the Cardinals. Titans 31-26.

Seattle (-2.5) @ Indianapolis

Russell Wilson returns to quarterback Seattle this season and looks to continue his string of success in his career. Wilson will be joined by RB Chris Carson and his usual WR tandem of DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. Last year, the Seahawks were well-balanced, ranking top 15 in both points per game and points against. They were also a top-11 unit in Interceptions and Sacks, showing their ability to slow offenses in any given week. Wilson & Co. will square off with the Colts in Indianapolis in what will be QB Carson Wentz’s debut with the team. Wentz will be reunited with his coach, Frank Reich. However, the offseason has not been kind to the former Eagles’ QB. Wentz had offseason surgery to repair a foot injury and spent some time on the COVID list. Wentz will also be without his top WR option in veteran TY Hilton, who is on Injured Reserve for the time being. The Colts will need to lean on RBs Jonathan Taylor and Nyhiem Hines to shoulder the load, along with WRs Michael Pittman Jr. and Paris Campbell. At this point, I feel that the Colts’ chemistry will likely suffer due to Wentz and others’ absences. While I think Indianapolis could have a solid season, I don’t like them to get off to a hot start after the adversity they’ve faced– especially against a notoriously high performing team like Seattle. Seahawks 24-20. 

Jacksonville (-3) @ Houston

The exciting angle of this game will be the debut of QB Trevor Lawrence for Jacksonville. The Jaguars have been one of the worst teams in the NFL for the past decade and finally might’ve gotten their quarterback of the future with Lawrence. He’s certainly got plenty of options offensively, with the versatile sophomore RB James Robinson, along with WRs Marvin Jones Jr., DJ Chark, and Laviska Shenault. Head Coach Urban Meyer will play puppeteer after coming out of retirement, and many wonder how effective he will be. Lucky for the Jaguars, Lawrence will debut against the Houston Texans, who are actively selling any veteran to the highest bidder. Journeyman QB Tyrod Taylor will lead the offense for Houston, but his options will be limited. Other than WR Brandin Cooks, there are no established studs on the Texans roster, and they lost DE JJ Watt in the offseason as well. There’s not much to be excited about in Houston, and if Lawrence is even half of what he’s cracked up to be, it should be enough to propel the Jaguars to take this one on the road. Jaguars 24-18. 

San Francisco (-8) @ Detroit

The 49ers will travel to Detroit to square off with the Lions and will likely be starting Jimmy Garoppolo at QB when they do so. With their draft pick Trey Lance a bit injured, it seems Jimmy G will get the nod on Sunday. Garoppolo will run Kyle Shanahan’s offense to the best of his ability and has a plethora of versatile options at his disposal. Paramount amongst those options is TE George Kittle, one of the game’s best tight ends. Kittle will be flanked by WRs Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel, with RB Raheem Mostert likely taking most of the RB1 carries. Rookie RB Trey Sermon will likely play into the squad’s plans at some point, but they might ease him into action early on. The Lions, on the other hand, seem to be a bit strapped for options. Jared Goff will be Detroit’s new Quarterback for HC Dan Campbell, with longtime starter Matthew Stafford departing for Los Angeles. Goff’s top target will likely be TE TJ Hockenson. At WR, he’ll rely on veteran Tyrell Williams, and rookie Amon Ra St. Brown. D’Andre Swift, if healthy, will take over RB duties with Jamaal Williams lurking behind him. In any event, this offense doesn’t look too explosive on paper, and I can’t stomach picking them to keep up with San Francisco in this one, especially given the toughness of the SF defense. 49ers 28-16.

Minnesota (-3.5) @ Cincinnati 

After a gruesome knee injury last year, Joe Burrow is back and ready to lead the Bengals. Burrow was flashing shades of greatness last year before his season was derailed, so he’s looking to build on that foundation as we enter the 2021 campaign. Burrow’s offense is laden with young talent. At WR, Burrow adds his old college teammate, Ja’Marr Chase to the existing stellar corps of Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. With Joe Mixon manning the backfield, and seemingly healthy, this Bengals offense seems poised to score some points this year. The defense, however, is not expected to be among the league’s best, and only logged 11 sacks last year (worst in the NFL.) Minnesota returns a bunch of offensive talent to Kirk Cousins’ offense as well, with All-Pro RB Dalvin Cook, young phenom WR Justin Jefferson, and the steady veteran WR Adam Thielen. Defensively, Minnesota touts DE Danielle Hunter, DB Patrick Peterson, and S Harrison Smith as their nucleus. I give the Vikings the advantage here because of their defensive prowess. While I think Burrow is destined for great things, I see him falling just short in this one at home. Vikings 27-24. 

New York Jets @ Carolina (-5.5)

The Zach Wilson era begins for the Jets, and his debut overshadows the revenge game narrative for Carolina QB Sam Darnold. Wilson flashed some impressive moments this preseason and will look to turn things around for New York. Wilson might be without one of his top weapons, WR Jamison Crowder, who is currently on the COVID list. Stay tuned for his status. However, Crowder will join former Titan WR Corey Davis, who has shown great chemistry with Wilson thus far this offseason. The Jets will employ a three-headed RB backfield, consisting of Tevin Coleman, Ty Johnson, and rookie Michael Carter. This early on, it is impossible to tell who will get the most work, but it’s a situation to monitor. Head Coach Robert Saleh will have his work cut out to turn around this Jets defense which ranked 26th in the league in Points Against last year. The Jets were also in the bottom third of the league in Sacks and Interceptions, so there’s room to grow. Carolina is excited for the return of their All-Pro RB Christian McCaffrey who missed most of last season. McCaffrey is the ultimate dual-threat and should keep the Jets on their toes all afternoon. His presence only opens up things for Darnold, along with the Panthers’ WR tandem of DJ Moore and former Jet, Robby Anderson. I do expect the rookie Wilson to be a quality QB in this league, but a Week 1 date on the road might make it hard for him to score enough points to keep up with Carolina. I think McCaffrey will run wild and that the Panthers will pull this one out. However, look for the scrappy Jets to keep it close, covering the spread in the process. Panthers 29-25.

Denver (-3) @ New York Giants

Saquon Barkley is trending towards making his return on Sunday for the New York Giants. He’ll be met with a stingy Denver defense, filled with playmakers. Barkley’s knee will surely be the focus of everyone in the early going, but if he proves it’s healthy, he’ll provide a huge spark for the G-Men. Daniel Jones leads the NY offense in his third season and will have a shiny new toy at WR in Kenny Golladay. With that said, Golladay’s health has been of concern this offseason, after he missed most of 2020. When healthy, he’s an electric force at WR and is sure to make the Giants’ passing game immeasurably better. The New York defense is undoubtedly their strong suit. They ranked top 10 in points against, 13th in sacks, and tallied 11 interceptions in 2020. Denver will need to be at their best offensively to keep up on the road this week. They’ll be rolling with veteran QB Teddy Bridgewater at QB, where he’ll lean on WRs Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton to make an impact. The young duo will be joined by a backfield of Melvin Gordon and rookie Javonte Williams. There’s a lot of new pieces in this offense, and I’m not quite sure they’ll have enough firepower to take it to the Giants. Look for this to be a low-scoring affair, and for the Giants to lean on their defense & come through as home dogs. Giants 21-20.

Pittsburgh @ Buffalo (-7)

Josh Allen returns after a fantastic season in 2020. Allen has asserted himself as one of the game’s best players and was given a contract to match his skill this offseason. Allen will lead this prolific Bills attack and his go-to target will always be WR Stefon Diggs. Last year, Diggs logged 127 receptions for 1,535 yards and 8 scores, making him one of the most dangerous men in the NFL. With the addition of WR Emmanuel Sanders and the return of Cole Beasley, Allen certainly has a ton of veteran targets to lean on. His running game is less prolific, as Zack Moss and Devin Singletary will again split time, it seems. However, once Buffalo reaches the end zone, Allen usually takes it upon himself to finish the drive, as he led the team with 8 rushing TDs last season. Pittsburgh’s QB will be the same as it’s been for almost two decades- Ben Roethlisberger. Reports note that Roethlisberger is in the best shape of his life and is primed to have a bounce-back year. He’ll have a versatile rookie RB at his side in Najee Harris out of Alabama. Harris provides a ton of upside and will be a welcome addition to a formerly sluggish Pittsburgh rushing attack. On the outside, Big Ben has a ton of weapons at WR. Rookie standout Chase Claypool returns, along with veterans Juju Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson. Both defenses are formidable, but Pittsburgh’s played on a different level last year. ranking 1st with 18 interceptions, 1st with 56 sacks, and 3rd in points against. Buffalo was much more middle-of-the-road on the defensive side. With all of that said, I do see Buffalo as a Super Bowl contender this year. I think the atmosphere will be electric in Buffalo, and the Bills will take it to Ben and the Steelers here in Week 1. While 7 points may seem like quite the large spread, I truly believe this Buffalo offense is going to put up points in bunches. Bills 30-22. 

Miami @ New England (-3)

The Mac Jones era will begin in New England, and the Patriots seem to be all-in on the rookie with their release of veteran QB Cam Newton. Jones will run an offense that brought in two stud tight ends this offseason, Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith. Otherwise, the offense lacks big-name appeal. Jakobi Meyers will need to take a big step forward as a starting WR for New England, while newly acquired Nelson Agholor will also have to be at his very best if Jones is to be successful. I’d imagine that the Patriots will be focusing mainly on their rushing attack, led by Damien Harris and veteran scatback James White. With that said, it’s entirely possible that if Jones isn’t as capable as Bill Belichick thinks he is, this offense might struggle mightily. Lucky for New England, the Miami offense led by Tua Tagovailoa isn’t exactly prolific. Tua will rely on the likes of WRs DeVante Parker, Albert Wilson, and RB Miles Gaskin to lead the way, along with TE Mike Gesicki. Either way, both teams’ strong suit is their defensive unit. Miami and New England ranked 6th and 7th (respectively) in points against last year, while they tied for 1st in interceptions. Miami has a bit of an advantage in their pass rush, but both teams are stout nonetheless. I expect a low-scoring game here and believe the Patriots will pull out a close one at home. I do like Miami to cover +3, as I think this game will be won by a razor-thin margin.  Patriots 19-18. 

Philadelphia @ Atlanta (-3.5)

This year, the Atlanta offense will look quite different with the loss of Julio Jones to the Titans. However, they do have a new weapon or two for longtime QB Matt Ryan. In addition to the stud youngster WR Calvin Ridley, Ryan will lean on RB Mike Davis, and highly coveted TE Kyle Pitts. There’s certainly potential for excellence there, but it remains to be seen how HC Arthur Smith will integrate these new pieces into his offense. The defense remains average at best, so Smith’s offense will need to keep Atlanta in the game most weeks. QB Jalen Hurts and the Eagles will come to town with an upset on their mind. Hurts, now the uncontested starter, will need major production out of his rookie WR DeVonta Smith, as the rest of the receiving corps is pretty barren. Outside of TEs Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, the rest of the pass-catchers are widely unproven. Fortunately for Philly, Hurts can break the game open with his legs, as he’s a true dual-threat QB. Miles Sanders will look to find some consistency (and to stay healthy), as Hurts will need him to maximize this offense’s potential. While the Eagles’ defense isn’t quite one of the league’s best, they did rush the passer quite well in 2020, logging 49 sacks (3rd in the NFL.) When the chips are on the table, I think the Eagles’ pass rush will get to Ryan, and Hurts will do enough to keep Atlanta on its toes. I expect a high-scoring affair but see the upset brewing here. Eagles 29-27. 

Green Bay (-4.5) @ New Orleans

Aaron Rodgers is back. After lots of speculation, one of the league’s best QBs will yet again lead the Green Bay offense. And this offense should be quite good again this year. In addition to Rodgers, the Packers tout arguably the league’s best WR, Davante Adams, and a stud RB in Aaron Jones. When you throw the young AJ Dillon, breakout TE Robert Tonyan and veteran Randall Cobb into the mix, Rodgers has plenty of options to exploit any defense. New Orleans, on the other hand, lost their longtime QB Drew Brees to retirement, and will instead turn to the polarizing Jameis Winston to get the job done. Winston, who will be a starter for the first time since receiving Lasik eye surgery, has shown the ability to throw Touchdowns in bunches. Conversely, he’s thrown just as many interceptions at times. If New Orleans gets the “better” Winston, they just might have a chance to be special. With that said, gadget QB Taysom Hill looms as a threat at all times. RB Alvin Kamara is the Saints’ best player and can change the game at any moment. After Kamara, though, things get a bit murky. With WR Michael Thomas out for the first third of the season, the Saints will turn to the likes of Marquez Callaway & Tre’Quan Smith at WR in the meantime. Not exactly ideal if you’re looking to keep up with the prolific Packers passing attack. I think New Orleans will figure things out in the long run, but can’t pick them over Rodgers & Co. until I see it with my own eyes. Packers 30-21. 

Cleveland @ Kansas City (-6)

This will be a fun one. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs are going to be looking to start things off with a bang, as their last contest ended with a loss in the Super Bowl. The good news is that the Chiefs return all of their studs this year. They have arguably the best passing attack in the game, with Mahomes targeting the likes of WR Tyreek Hill and the best TE in the game, Travis Kelce. In the backfield, Clyde Edwards-Helaire showed a ton of potential as a rookie and should figure prominently in the lineup as long as he stays healthy. Defensively, the Chiefs touted a top-10 unit in points against and interceptions in 2020, so they’ll have the ability to hold off opponents and let Mahomes do what he does best– score. Cleveland is also coming off of a very successful 2020 campaign, and QB Baker Mayfield is also running an offense that is littered with elite options. RBs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt will lead one of the league’s best backfields, demanding defensive attention at all times. The offensive line is one of the league’s best, keeping Mayfield protected, and giving Chubb/Hunt plenty of room to run. On the outside, Mayfield has WRs Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham to choose from, with Beckham finally healthy after hurting his knee last season. However, Cleveland leaves much to be desired defensively, and I think that’ll be the difference in this game. With home-field advantage, and perhaps the league’s best offense, look for the Chiefs to start 2021 hot, and take this game at home. Chiefs 31-24. 

Chicago @ Los Angeles Rams (-7.5)

Andy Dalton and the Chicago Bears will travel to LA to kick off their season against the Rams. While many believe rookie QB Justin Fields should be getting the nod, it’ll be Dalton running Matt Nagy’s offense in Week 1. Dalton will need to give plenty of work to RB David Montgomery to open up the play-action game, as the Rams’ prolific defense surely won’t be worried about Dalton beating them by throwing the ball 50 times. When he does throw, he’ll be focused on stud WR Allen Robinson and young breakout Darnell Mooney. As I referenced before, the Rams’ defense is fantastic. DT Aaron Donald is widely regarded as the best player in the NFL, and they just might have the best DB in the game as well in Jalen Ramsey. The LA defense led the league in points against, ranked 12th in interceptions, and 2nd in Sacks. Needless to say, Dalton needs to keep his head on a swivel. Offensively, the Rams did lose a huge piece of their offense with Cam Akers out for the season. Darrell Henderson and Sony Michel should split the carries in Akers’ absence, but it was a huge blow nonetheless. The biggest offseason news, though, was the acquisition of Matthew Stafford. Stafford brings massive upside to this passing attack that was previously limited by Jared Goff’s ability. Look for Cooper Kup and Robert Woods to take a big step forward under Stafford, and for the offense as a whole to excel early on. While the Bears are a solid all-around team, I think drawing the Rams in Week 1 is a really tough way to kick off the season. I worry about Dalton’s ability to muster any offense against Donald & this elite defense. Look for Stafford to impress in his debut, and for LA to take their home opener, covering in the process. Rams 28-18. 

Baltimore (-5) @ Las Vegas

Lamar Jackson will lead the Ravens into Las Vegas, but he will be without his backfield-mate, JK Dobbins. The Baltimore RB will miss the season, and thus, they’ll depend on Gus Edwards to carry the load this year. The Ravens’ offense is very run-centric, so look for Edwards to get plenty of work, especially against this mediocre Raiders defense. When Jackson does throw the ball, he’ll be targeting his stud TE Mark Andrews, along with WRs Hollywood Brown and Sammy Watkins. As we know, the Baltimore passing attack is far from lethal, but to balance out the rushing attack, Jackson will need to hit his targets often. On the other side of the ball, Baltimore’s defense is solid as always, but they’ll need to fill the void left by star pass rusher Matthew Judon. In any event, they’re a top-tier unit and should give the Raiders some trouble. Derek Carr leads the Vegas offense yet again this season, and he’ll have a familiar face in the backfield in Josh Jacobs. When Jacobs is healthy, he’s one of the better backs in the AFC. He’ll also be joined by the newly acquired Kenyan Drake, who should figure into both the rushing and passing attacks for Las Vegas. With the Raiders granting veteran WR John Brown his release, the receiving corps is a bit strapped for options outside of their All-Pro TE Darren Waller. They’ll employ the likes of Bryan Edwards and Henry Ruggs with Waller to try and even out this offensive attack. Waller is fantastic, there’s no doubt about that. However, there are plenty of question marks regarding the rest of the pass-catchers. Jon Gruden will need to get creative for Las Vegas to be successful. With all of that said, I think Baltimore has a major advantage defensively, and that they should be able to contain Waller. Otherwise, there’s not much that can hurt them. Look for Lamar & Co. to run wild and lead Baltimore to 1-0. Ravens 27-21.  

Enjoy the games! Until next week…

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