Dumbfounding to fathom but we began our Friday NFL picks in the Miami Herald in 1991 — Dan Marino was mid-career — and so this is our 30th season. (Does Hallmark make a card for that?) Our picks appear online every Thursday afternoon and in print Fridays. (Our Thursday night pick appears Wednesdays online and Thursdays in the paper). We inexplicably and magically produced our greatest season ever in 2018, with a .705 winning percentage overall and .582 vs. the betting line — both numbers crazy good. Unsurprisingly we tailed off in 2019 but were still solid at .663 straight-up and .518 against the spread. We take our picks seriously but have fun doing them — yes, even in a pandemic. To those who’ve followed our picks for years, welcome back. To newbies, welcome aboard! (Note: Thursday night pick was At Chiefs (-9) over Texans, 34-27)
Final 2019: 169-86-1, .663 overall; 129-120-7, .518 vs. spread.
GREG COTE’S NFL WEEK 1 PICKS
GAME OF THE WEEK
BUCCANEERS (0-0) at SAINTS (0-0)
Line: NO by 3 1/2.
Cote’s pick: NO 34-30.
TV: 4:25 p.m., Fox.
Tom Brady’s debut in any uniform other than New England’s guarantees Game of the Week status. But facing the really good Saints and Drew Brees? It’s the Battle Of the Old G.O.A.T.s! Tampa Bay is predictably overhyped because of Brady. He’ll make Bucs a playoff team, but they’re not on Nawlins’ echelon. Saints on a 13-4 series run vs. Tampa, while Bucs have lost 19 of past 23 road games. Brady changes that dynamic, but maybe not entirely or instantly. See, the other Hall of Fame QB in this game, the one at home and likely in his final season, is in Super Bowl or bust mode. And I like Brees getting there ahead of Brady in 2020.
UPSET OF THE WEEK
CHARGERS (0-0) at BENGALS (0-0)
Line: LAC by 3.
Cote’s pick: CIN 23-20.
TV: 4:05 p.m., CBS.
“AAAWWWK!” trumpets the Upset Bird. “I’m back! I’m baaawwwk!” Yes, it’s a storybook debut for overall No. 1 pick Joe Burrow, the QB out of LSU. The setting is right. Chargers aren’t much better, have lost six of past seven meetings with Cincy, and could struggle with Philip Rivers gone and journeyman Tyrod Taylor taking snaps until rookie Justin Herbert is ready. “There’s a new sheriff in Cincinnaawwk,” notes U-Bird. “Joe Burroaaawwwk!”
THE REST OF WEEK 1:
Patriots (0-0, -6 1/2) over At Dolphins (0-0): This is first time since 1999 New England has fielded a team without Tom Brady. In general regard Bill Belichick’s Patriots have sunk from dynasty to just another mid-pack team with the departure of Brady and all those coronavirus-related opt outs decimating the defense. That’s why I like Fins with the points here and why an outright upset would only mildly surprise. Still an edge to Patriots, though. Dolphins are much improved, but, out the gate, and with no preseason, the Fins’ young offensive line may especially struggle early in the season to protect Ryan Fitzpatrick.
At Falcons (0-0, +1 1/2) over Seahawks (0-0), 27-23: The Upset Bird is liking this Bird Bowl. “Aawwk!” Seattle the better team all-round but have a hunch Matt Ryan will light up a ’Hawks defense that was not outstanding last year and now has lost Jadeveon Clowney. Atlanta came on last season (6-2 in second half) with particular big strides on D.
At Bills (0-0, -6 1/2) over Jets (0-0), 24-6: Stefon Diggs on your fantasy team? Prepare to feast. He will vs. Jets corners who might be worst in NFL. Buffs bring stout D, think they can win AFC East and will look the part (this week, at least), while Adam Gase will be coaching for his job all season. Planes have lost 17 of past 20 as road ’dogs.
At Lions (0-0, -3) over Bears (0-0), 24-23: One of Week 1’s toughest calls, so we’ll hedge with Chitown getting three. Matthew Stafford launches his comeback year with a good matchup: Kenny Golladay vs. a shaky Bears secondary. Plus, there’s simply not quite trusting Mitchell Trubisky. Neither team looking playoff-bound.
Packers (0-0, +2 1/2) over At Vikings (0-0), 24-20: Upset! “Aawwk!” NFC North grudge is our Game of the Week runner-up. Gee Bees seem to be nudging Aaron Rodgers out the door (drafted a QB, not a receiver), but Mr. Rodgers is still elite and will show it here. Like Pack D, too. And Vikes will miss departed Stefon Diggs.
Eagles (0-0, -6) over At Washington (0-0), 21-13: Birds have won six in a row in this series, while the Washington No-Names (good riddance, old name!) are on an 0-10 skid in division games. Washers upgraded with Ron Rivera as coach but it’ll be a long season in D.C. unless and until Dwayne Haskins proves he’s the answer at QB.
At Panthers (0-0, +3) over Raiders (0-0), 24-20: Another upset! U-Bird going nuts here. “Aawwk!” Jon Gruden’s guys were 1-5 to end last season and are overhyped — as if the move to Las Vegas brings with it a sudden jackpot. Watch Teddy Bridgewater prove he’s more than capable of making Carolina not miss Cam Newton all that much.
Colts (0-0, -8) over At Jaguars (0-0), 30-16: This will be one of only two Week 1 games with a limited number of fans (KC Thursday night was the other), but the sort-of home field advantage won’t help Jax much. Jaguars stink. And Indy’s stout O-line and solid ground game will be a fountain of youth for new QB Philip Rivers.
At Ravens (0-0, -8) over Browns (0-0), 31-13: Baltimore looks great, Super-good. Had Crows No. 1 in my 2020 preseason team rankings. Dual-threat beast Lamar Jackson is reigning MVP and will be better as a passer this year. Earthtones have much talent and tempt getting eight, but I’ll peg Ravens unbeatable until somebody does.
At 49ers (0-0, -7) over Cardinals (0-0), 27-23: Can Niners avoid the dreaded Super Bowl Loser hangover? This isn’t an easy matchup out the gate. ’Zona is a nemesis that has beaten San Fran in eight of past 10 meetings, and adding DeAndre Hopkins will be a jolt of electricity for rising star Kyler Murray. Like Cacti with the points.
Cowboys (0-0, -3) over At Rams (0-0), 34-23: Rams christen their new (albeit empty) SoFi Stadium with a tough matchup in prime time Sunday night. There’s buzz for a home-’dog upset but I’m not buying. Mike McCarthy in Dallas inherits more talent than any of the five new head coaches and ‘Boys are thinking Super Bowl. Find out why.
Steelers (0-0, -5 1/2) over At Giants (0-0), 19-16: The opener of the Monday Night Football doubleheader finds Big Ben Roethlisberger back healthy. He’s also 38. Pitt will win with defense first, especially against the pass, and in this case that will mean Biggies relying on a heavy dose of Saquon Barkley for any upset shot. Hunch Biggies keep it close.
Titans (0-0, -1 1/2) over At Broncos (0-0), 20-17: Tennessee lost at Denver 16-0 last year — but it turned around Titans’ season because it got Marcus Mariota benched and replaced by Ryan Tannehill. Tenners should exact their revenge in the MNF nightcap. Titans again will ride RB Derrick Henry and rely on a tough defense that got better by signing Jadeveon Clowney. For Broncos, much rests on young QB Drew Lock, more so since star OLB Von Miller was lost for the season (or much of it) to an ankle injury.
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