A fresh NFL season kicks off on Thursday, September 9, with the defending Super Bowl Champions, Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, hosting Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday Night Football.

This also marks the beginning of my weekly picks for the 2021-22 NFL season. Last year, I earned a respectable 157-98-1 record, correctly predicting 62% of the league’s matchups and never posting a week with a losing record. If I was on ESPN’s expert panel, I would have finished tied for sixth out of the seven analysts: but hey, that means I still posted a better record than someone that gets paid to cover the NFL for a living.

Week 1 is a difficult week to project, as we haven’t seen the league’s 32 teams in meaningful action since last season. Some teams made big upgrades, and some regressed or traded away star talent, but there’s still no telling what could happen when each team takes the field on Thursday, Sunday, or Monday.

Besides the opening kickoff game, key matchups I have my eyes on include:

  • Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills
  • Arizona Cardinals at Tennessee Titans
  • Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs
  • Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots
  • Green Bay Packers at New Orleans Saints

Between teams that made the postseason last year and playoff hopefuls for this year, these five games (in addition to Thursday Night’s opening game) will be a very early test, and some of the best teams in the league will be forced to start 0-1.

Without further ado, let’s dive in to the 16-game slate for Week 1.

See Also: 2021-22 NFL Season Predictions

Thursday Night Football

WATCH: Tom Brady's best throws from Week 2
Photo: Bucs Wire/USA Today

Dallas Cowboys (0-0) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-0)

Line: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-8.5)

Dak Prescott is expected to suit up for the Dallas Cowboys for the first time since Week 5 of the 2020-21 NFL season. His return is much needed for the Cowboys, and Prescott was literally on pace to throw for nearly 7,000 yards last year before his injury. However, there may be a slight adjustment period for Prescott in his return, and he’ll also be without Pro Bowl guard Zack Martin.

I expect Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to pick up where they left off in last year’s Super Bowl victory: scoring points in bunches, and severely limiting the opposing offense.

Buccaneers win 34-20, Buccaneers win ATS

Sunday Games

Panthers OC Joe Brady: 'I have something' with QB Sam Darnold
Photo: Panthers Wire/USA Today

New York Jets (0-0) at Carolina Panthers (0-0)

Line: Carolina Panthers (-4.0)

I don’t think either of these teams will be very good this season, but I’ll definitely take the squad with an All-Pro running back and quarterback with NFL starting experience over the one with a rookie quarterback and question marks all over the offensive side of the ball.

It should still be a slightly interesting game to keep an eye on, as second overall pick Zach Wilson makes his NFL debut with the New York Jets, and Sam Darnold makes his first start for the Carolina Panthers, ironically against his former team.

Panthers win 31-17, Panthers win ATS

Philadelphia Eagles (0-0) at Atlanta Falcons (0-0)

Line: Atlanta Falcons (-3.0)

While these are two more teams I don’t expect to be anywhere near the playoff mix, it could be an explosive day for the offenses. Matt Ryan is still putting up some of the best passing numbers in the league, and even without Julio Jones, he still has weapons, including rookie tight end Kyle Pitts. Jalen Hurts, now the Eagles full-time quarterback, also has a new toy in Heisman-winning wide receiver Devonta Smith. With neither defense being very strong, this could potentially be a fun one to watch.

Falcons win 38-31, Falcons win ATS

Pittsburgh Steelers (0-0) at Buffalo Bills (0-0)

Line: Buffalo Bills (-6.5)

On paper, this should be one of the more exciting matchups of the week. Buffalo and Pittsburgh combined to go 25-7 last season, with elite 13-3 and 12-4 marks. However, Pittsburgh started last season 11-0, stumbled to a 12-4 finish, and then lost their first playoff game against the Cleveland Browns.

I’m not convinced the Steelers can return to last season’s 11-0 form, and certainly not against a team as good as the Bills. In a best-case scenario for Pittsburgh, this game could become a defensive battle, in which case the Steelers would have a chance. But I see Josh Allen and company putting up enough points to secure a solid Week 1 victory.

Bills win 27-17, Bills win ATS

Minnesota Vikings (0-0) at Cincinnati Bengals (0-0)

Line: Minnesota Vikings (-3.0)

The Vikings allowed the fourth-most points in the NFL last season, which could set an ideal scene for Joe Burrow’s return to the field for the Bengals. Minnesota’s offense is relatively high-powered, finishing 11th last season with 26.9 points per game. The Bengals averaged a measly 19.4 points per game last season, 29th in the NFL, but should improve with a healthy Burrow and the addition of rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase.

I wouldn’t count the Bengals out for a potential upset here, but Kirk Cousins and the Vikings offense seem like the most sure thing in this matchup.

Vikings win 27-24, PUSH ATS

San Francisco 49ers (0-0) at Detroit Lions (0-0)

Line: San Francisco 49ers (-7.5)

Will the 49ers return to the elite form that earned them a 13-3 record and a trip to Super Bowl 54? The return from injury for key players like Jimmy Garroppolo and Nick Bosa will certainly make the 49ers a relevant team. While I’m not sure they’ll be able to keep up in a loaded NFC West, the Lions aren’t the most formidable Week 1 opponent. Jared Goff isn’t going to turn around Detroit’s 5-11 record from last season, and the Lions defense gave up the most points in the league last year. I would be shocked if the 49ers lost this game.

49ers win 34-16, 49ers win ATS

Arizona Cardinals (0-0) at Tennessee Titans (0-0)

Line: Tennessee Titans (-3.0)

Kyler Murray has had a historically good start to his NFL career, and I only expect the dynamic quarterback to get better in his third season in the league. While I’m high on the Cardinals this year, projecting a playoff appearance, I’m even higher on the Titans: predicting they finish with the best regular season mark in the league this year.

Between above average passing from Ryan Tannehill, a punishing run game with Derrick Henry, a solid defense, and the addition of wideout Julio Jones (who may or may not be at full strength for Week 1,) I like the Titans chances in almost any regular season matchup this year. Hopefully the Cardinals put up a good fight, and if so, this could be one of the most exciting games of the week.

Titans win 24-20, Titans win ATS

Seattle Seahawks (0-0) at Indianapolis Colts (0-0)

Line: Seattle Seahawks (-2.5)

In an interconference matchup o two teams that made the playoffs last season, Russell Wilson and the Seahawks take on the Colts, who now will employ Carson Wentz under center. The Colts had an incredibly solid 11-5 season last year, with Philip Rivers playing his first and last year in Indianapolis. The Colts have essentially proved as long as they have a decent quarterback at the helm, the deep roster can stay competiive year-in and year-out.

But speaking of year-to-year consistency, there may not be a better example than Wilson and the Seahawks. While Seattle does their best work at home, I think they should be able to spoil Wentz’s Colts debut.

Seahawks win 33-20, Seahawks win ATS

Los Angeles Chargers (0-0) at Washington Football Team (0-0)

Line: EVEN

Washington Football Team possesses a scary defense, which allowed the fourth-least points in the NFL last season. This could spell trouble for Justin Herbert and the Chargers, who finished 7-9 last season, just like Washington Football Team. The deciding factor in this game will be which version of Ryan Fitzpatrick shows up for Washington. By the end of the season, I think Los Angeles will have a considerably better record than Washington. But if Washington can play a smart game on offense and lean on their stout defense, they may just come out with a Week 1 win.

Washington Football Team wins 17-14, Washington Football Team wins ATS

Jacksonville Jaguars (0-0) at Houston Texans (0-0)

Line: Jacksonville Jaguars (-3.0)

Talk about a barn-burner. Even after selecting Trevor Lawrence with the number one pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, I still think the Jaguars will be picking in the top five in next year’s draft as well. Then you have the Texans, who even with elite quarterback Deshaun Watson finished 4-12 last season. I actually think Tyrod Taylor is a pretty solid quarterback, but he’s still a downgrade from one of the league’s top passers. This game could get ugly, but I think the Jaguars might be a lttle bit less of a dumpster fire.

Jaguars win 19-13, Jaguars win ATS

Denver Broncos (0-0) at New York Giants (0-0)

Line: Denver Broncos (-3.0)

Kicking off the later afternoon slate is another matchup featuring two teams that were far less than stellar in 2020-21. The Giants scored just 17.5 points per game last season, 31st in the NFL, but the Broncos weren’t much better, putting up 20.2 points per game, 28th in the NFL.

Both fanbases have a reason to believe things will change, however. The Broncos brought in Teddy Bridgewater from Carolina to quarterback the offense, and the Giants will return star running back Saquon Barkley to the field.

The Giants have been abysmal at MetLife Stadium over the past two seasons, but I’ll go out on a limb and predict they play a decent game, catching the Broncos while they’re still finding ther footing.

Giants win 24-17, Giants win ATS

3 reasons Cleveland Browns defense can win against Chiefs
Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Sak Sports Blog Game of the Week: Cleveland Browns (0-0) at Kansas City Chiefs (0-0)

Line: Kansas City Chiefs (-6.0)

The Browns nearly upset the Chiefs in the divisional round of the playoffs in January, and in the eyes of many, would have pulled off the victory if not for a controversial call at the end of the first half.

This game has the makings of an epic Week 1 matchup, earning my Game of the Week honors. Cleveland is seeking revenge for a game they feel like they should have won. The Chiefs are also hungry for a win after tasting defeat in Super Bowl 55. Both offenses can score points in bunches. This should be a fun one in the Sunday late afternoon slot.

Overall, the Chiefs are still the more talented team, even if most of that edge comes from Patrick Mahomes at quarterback. If this game took place later in the season or even in the postseason, I would be obliged to pick the Chiefs. But I think the Browns may be fortunate to catch Kansas City in Week 1, perhaps playing with a Super Bowl loss hangover.

Browns win 27-24, Browns win ATS

Miami Dolphins (0-0) at New England Patriots (0-0)

Line: New England Patriots (-3.0)

Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones square off in this new-look AFC East rivalry. Jones may be part of the future in New England, but as far as this Week 1 matchup goes, Cam Newton probably would have given New England a better chance to win. I don’t see Jones winning his first NFL start, even with the Patriots homefield advantage in Foxborough.

Dolphins win 23-17, Dolphins win ATS

Green Bay Packers (0-0) at New Orleans Saints (0-0)

Line: Green Bay Packers (-4.0)

Another contender for Game of the Week here, as Aaron Rodgers and the Packers take on Jameis Winston and the Saints in New Orleans. Make no mistake: the Saints will still be a formidable team in the post-Drew Brees era. I project the Saints as a 10-7 wildcard team this season, but their ceiling could even be higher with their talented roster.

However, the Packers are a very good team, leading the NFL in points per game (31.8) last season and finishing 13-3 each of the last two seasons. New Orleans will be a competitive team this year, but the Packers are among a handful of elite teams they may not be able to keep up with.

Packers win 34-23, Packers win ATS

Sunday Night Football

Rams minicamp: Matthew Stafford scouts his WRs, heavy install day to  'stress' the mind and observations – The Athletic
Photo: The Athletic

Chicago Bears (0-0) at Los Angeles Rams (0-0)

Line: Los Angeles Rams (-7.5)

I almost forget the Bears made the playoffs last season, earning the NFC’s third wildcard spot with an 8-8 record. Between their mediocre record and quick playoff exit, I suppose forgetting the Bears were a playoff team makes sense. After shifting between Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles last season at quarterback, Andy Dalton will be Chicago’s Week 1 starter this season. From a win-now mindset, starting the veteran makes some sense, though many fans clamor for rookie Justin Fields to start.

On the other side, the Rams also have a new quarterback in Matthew Stafford. Stafford is an upgrade over Jared Goff, but not necessarily a significant one.

Both teams playing on Sunday Night have solid defenses, but the Rams was the best in the NFL last season. Throw in Los Angeles’ superior offense, and this should be a solid win for Stafford in his Rams debut.

Rams win 27-17, Rams win ATS

Monday Night Football

Lamar Jackson Shows Dual Threat Ability, Makes Big Plays With Arm
Photo: Baltimore Ravens.com

Baltimore Ravens (0-0) at Las Vegas Raiders (0-0)

Line: Baltimore Ravens (-4.5)

Closing out Week 1 on Monday Night, Lamar Jackson and the Ravens take on Derek Carr and the Raiders in Las Vegas. I don’t have anything too nuanced to say about this matchup: the Ravens finished 11-5 last season with a 6-2 road record, while the Raiders finished 8-8 with a 2-6 home record. With neither team making huge overhauls in the offseason, there’s no reason to believe Baltimore shouldn’t come out on top here.

Ravens win 33-20, Ravens win ATS

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