Betting the Spread: Week 1 NFL Picks and Fantasy Notes

by Shervon Fakhimi · Betting & Props

Football is back! It’s been a minute, but we finally made it through. Now, we all begin our journeys of winning our leagues, watching some good ball, and maybe winning a few bets along the way. That’s where I come in. Betting the spread in the NFL can be tough, but it is not impossible. Over the season, for PlayerProfiler EDGE, I’ll be making picks against the spread for each game of the NFL season. Last year, I was well above .500, so hopefully that continues in 2022. Let’s get off to a great start to the 2022 season. Welcome back football!

(Lines are courtesy of BetMGM)

New Orleans Saints (-5.5) vs Atlanta Falcons

Over/Under: 42.5

Pick ATS: New Orleans Saints

The Saints were the third-best defense in Football Outsiders’ defensive DVOA metric in 2021. They were the best in the NFL against the run too. With Drake London‘s status for his NFL debut up in the air, and a leaky offensive line, there isn’t a single Falcon I’d feel comfortable starting. There aren’t many Saints either. Alvin Kamara is a smash play this week. Michael Thomas should return if his hamstring cooperates, but he hasn’t played a football game in roughly 21 months and should get matched up plenty against the perennially underrated Falcons corner A.J. Terrell. It wouldn’t surprise me if rookie Chris Olave had the better outing. He would be my preferred start of the two until we see how Thomas performs on an NFL field again.

Chris Olave Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

San Francisco 49ers (-7) vs Chicago Bears

Over/Under: 40.5

Pick ATS: San Francisco 49ers

It’s Trey Lance time baby! Lance only saw extended playing time in really 2.5 games last season, but he averaged 53.67 rushing yards per game. Granted, it’s a small sample size, but that extrapolates to 1,094 rushing yards over a 17-game season. He also averaged only 28 pass attempts in those 2.5 games. That extrapolates to 476 pass attempts which is a number that would’ve ranked last in the NFL last season. How this offense looks might be the biggest question in the entire NFL this week. We will have a better understanding as to how to properly value Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk, and Elijah Mitchell this week. Meanwhile, with talks of a possible committee in Chicago’s backfield, fading and benching David Montgomery against last season’s number two run defense shouldn’t be out of the question. Darnell Mooney and Cole Kmet are the only Bears I’d feel confident starting this week.

Trey Lance Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

Pittsburgh Steelers vs Cincinnati Bengals (-6.5)

Over/Under: 44.5

Pick ATS: Cincinnati Bengals

It’s wheels up for all the Bengals, and it’s wheels down for the Steelers. Najee Harris said himself that he suffered Lisfranc injury during training camp. Keep an eye on him and backup Jaylen Warren if that flares up again. Meanwhile, there’s George Pickens fever, and I don’t quite see the case to draft and start him in redraft leagues. The Steelers surely won’t pass as much as they were required to the last two seasons (1,320 pass attempts). They also boast great weapons all around him in Diontae Johnson, Harris, Pat Freiermuth, and Chase Claypool. Starting a mobile, journeyman quarterback in Mitchell Trubisky doesn’t help matters either. Neither does a projected No. 30-best offensive line. Pickens looks like a future star, but maybe we should wait and see how these targets get distributed before fully getting carried away with Pickens. Diontae Johnson (who I’m also not exactly enthused about for fantasy this season) and Najee Harris are the lone Steelers I’d want to start this week.

Philadelphia Eagles (-4) vs Detroit Lions

Over/Under: 48.5

Pick ATS: Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles averaged 34.5 pass attempts through Weeks 1-7 of last season. From Weeks 8-18, the number dipped to 24.8. The Eagles’ pass rate in that span was 37-percent. I expect this game to cement Philly’s shift to a more pass-happy attack, something closer to Weeks 1-7 from a year ago. The Lions finished No. 27 in pass defense DVOA a year ago and didn’t bolster their secondary all that much. Jalen Hurts and A.J. Brown begin their quest in winning people their fantasy leagues.

A.J. Brown Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

New England Patriots (+3.5) vs Miami Dolphins

Over/Under: 46.5

Pick ATS: New England Patriots

Ty Montgomery is questionable for Week 1. Normally, that shouldn’t be big news in 2022 but Montgomery is a candidate to fill James White‘s receiving back specialist role. If Montgomery can’t go, Rhamondre Stevenson should slot into that role as well as rushing role alongside Damien Harris. Stevenson has practiced in that role during camp and could absorb that in full. It’s a valuable role; James White and Brandon Bolden (the one who filled White’s spot, for the most part, after White got hurt last season) combined for 53 receptions on 63 targets in 2021. Rhamondre himself brought in 14 of 18 targets and had two games with at least three receptions. Damien Harris has done that once in 27 games. If Montgomery can’t go, Stevenson is the Patriot to play, especially if the Patriots are playing from behind like Vegas thinks they will.

Rhamondre Stevenson Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

Baltimore Ravens (-7) vs New York Jets

Over/Under: 44.5

Pick ATS: Baltimore Ravens

I love Breece Hall. I would gladly take him in the third or fourth round of fantasy drafts. But I expect him to start slow, because that is the route for rookie running backs. I looked up rookie running backs drafted in the second round since 2012 that accrued at least 150 touches and played at least 8 games in their first season 9.80 PPR PPG in their first five career NFL games. That’s below the average threshold for an RB36 from 2018-2021, though if you add recent third-round success stories (Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt, David Johnson, David Montgomery, Devin Singletary, and Duke Johnson), that number jumps to 11 PPR fantasy points per game.

There’s a point to this, bear with me. If you grab that same subset of second-round rookie running backs and look at the last five games of their rookie season, almost all of them saw expanded workloads. The ones who didn’t: TJ Yeldon and Ameer Abdullah. More work means more fantasy points. These rookies averaged 15.62 PPR fantasy points per game down the stretch. That exceeds the average threshold for the RB12 from 2018-21.

Breece Hall Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

The point is: there’s an expected payoff with Breece Hall. Don’t panic if he starts slow. Baltimore’s defense finished fourth in run defense DVOA in 2021. If you drafted a Chase Edmonds type, I’d start him over Hall this week. Michael Carter is going to annoy, but Hall’s talent is immense. His best comparable on is Jonathan Taylor for a reason. Be patient. I will leave off with this: the guys in that second-round group who really panned out made it work even if they were splitting time. And those guys *really* hit it big down the stretch.

Jacksonville Jaguars (+2.5) vs Washington Commanders

Over/Under: 43.5

PlayerProfiler EDGE Pick ATS: Jacksonville Jaguars

The general point regarding Breece Hall could also apply to Travis Etienne, though Etienne is entering his second season. But I don’t expect James Robinson to be a thorn in Etienne’s side as much as Michael Carter could be to Breece Hall. Give all the credit to James Robinson for being available to return from the torn Achilles he suffered in December of 2021, but he didn’t play in any preseason games. It would not seem realistic for Robinson to absorb a hefty workload this soon while the Jaguars have a capable and more explosive back in Etienne. Etienne should be played with full confidence and I expect that to be the case for the entirety of the season. The trade of Laviska Shenault to the Jacksonville Jaguars should also free the Jaguars to find more creative ways to get Etienne the ball, whether running routes out of the slot, screen passes out wide, jet sweeps, etc while Robinson is in the backfield.

Cleveland Browns vs Carolina Panthers (-1.5)

Over/Under: 41.5

Pick ATS: Carolina Panthers

David Bell is a candidate to be the popular Week 1 waiver add. He’s a rookie wide receiver with Day 2 draft capital who was a mega producer at Purdue even while sharing the field with Rondale Moore. His 70th-percentile college dominator rating would indicate such. Bell’s lackluster showing at the combine dropped him to the third round, but luckily for him, there isn’t much target competition. Amari Cooper and David Njoku will get theirs, but Donovan Peoples-Jones and Anthony Schwartz are more field stretchers than chain movers like Bell. Jacoby Brissett‘s 7.2 air yards per attempt last year ranked No. 27 in the NFL. Jaylen Waddle, who manned the slot in Miami last season like Bell should in Cleveland, saw a 20-percent target share in games Brissett started. This should be a run-heavy offense until Deshaun Watson returns from suspension, but Bell could very well earn a large role in the offense in the interim. If you have room on your roster and he’s available (13-percent ownership on Sleeper), get ahead of your league and stash him. Rookie wide receivers, particularly ones drafted on Day 1 or 2 of the NFL draft, are good bets to make.

David Bell Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

Indianapolis Colts (-7) vs Houston Texans

Over/Under: 45.5

Pick ATS: Indianapolis Colts

I don’t mean to bring rain to the Dameon Pierce parade, but we need to cool our jets a little bit. Yes, he has clinched the starting spot, and starting running backs are always valuable, but two-down specialists aren’t quite as valuable as others. Rex Burkhead is still around and will likely be the Texans’ third-down back. It isn’t a death knell to Pierce, but it definitely lowers his ceiling. That isn’t to say Pierce can’t contribute through the air; he accumulated 36 receptions over his final two seasons in Florida as a part-time player. The Colts were the third-best defense against the run according to Football Outsiders’ defensive DVOA metric. Pierce should be fine this week but isn’t an inspiring start for his NFL debut.

Dameon Pierce Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

Green Bay Packers (-1.5) vs Minnesota Vikings

Over/Under: 47

Pick ATS: Green Bay Packers

Who is going to catch passes for the Packers? Allen Lazard did not practice on Monday. Rookie Christian Watson has missed a majority of camp. Robert Tonyan got activated from the PUP list, but his status for Week 1 is still up in the air. The obvious answer is Aaron Jones, who has averaged 6.13 targets per game since 2018 in games the Packers were without Davante Adams. AJ Dillon will eat after registering double-digit touches in 12 of 18 games last season. He also averaged 2.07 yards per route run, which isn’t far off from Brandon Bolden‘s 2.12 mark that ranked third among running backs a year ago. We know the Packers’ offense will run through those two backs, but a receiver is going to have to step up too. Lazard is my favorite candidate but he’s going to have to suit up first. Maybe Week 1 Sammy Watkins makes a 2022 cameo. Maybe training camp darling Romeo Doubs really is him. Both of them and Christian Watson make for intriguing, cheap DFS dart throws, especially if Lazard can’t go.

Kansas City Chiefs (-6) vs Arizona Cardinals

Over/Under: 53.5

Pick ATS: Kansas City Chiefs

In a matchup that features Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Kyler Murray, and Marquise Brown, I want to talk about… two backup running backs drafted in the seventh round of the NFL Draft. Look, you’re starting anybody from these offenses you drafted early, but Isiah Pacheco and Eno Benjamin were two of the biggest camp darlings among running backs. Both should have paths to meaningful roles on prolific offenses. Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Darrel Williams combined for six breakaway runs (runs of 15 or more) on 263 carries last year. Isiah Pacheco boasts a 98th-percentile speed score and brings a much-need infusion of explosiveness the Chiefs’ offense sorely lacks. It will be fascinating to see what role he’s carved for himself already and what he can grow into.

Isiah Pacheco Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

Meanwhile, there’s a very real chance Eno Benjamin steps into Chase Edmonds‘ passing role from the last couple of seasons. It’s been reported as such. This could be particularly impactful to James Conner. In games Edmonds missed last season, Conner controlled the entire backfield and averaged 5.3 targets per game. In games he played with Edmonds, Conner averaged 0.78 targets per game. Conner should control the majority of carries in this backfield and own the red zone, but he’s not going to score 18 touchdowns again. If Eno truly seizes Edmonds’ role or most of it, he instantly becomes by far the best value in this backfield from drafts and Conner becomes a volume and touchdown-dependent RB2. It would make sense if that’s the case too with Conner’s extensive injury history. We’ll get our first glimpse of how this backfield shakes out on Sunday.

Eno Benjamin Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

Las Vegas Raiders vs Los Angeles Chargers (-3.5)

Over/Under: 52.5

Pick ATS: Los Angeles Chargers

Another fairly cut and dry shootout: you’re starting your Raiders and Chargers. The only question is the Raiders’ backfield. Being an underdog with a high over/under would indicate that Vegas expects Vegas to be trailing and needs to pass to keep up. The Chargers were absolutely gashed on the ground last season (30th in Football Outsiders’ rush defense DVOA), but the acquisitions of Khalil Mack and Sebastian Joseph-Day as well as the return of Derwin James should greatly improve the Chargers’ run defense. All that is to say that this matchup doesn’t bode well for Josh Jacobs, who looks to be the head of an ugly three-headed committee. Ameer Abdullah, the leader in the clubhouse for the ‘James White role’ being brought over from New England by Josh McDaniels, could be a sneaky deep league start or DFS dart throw.

New York Giants vs Tennessee Titans (-6)

Over/Under: 43.5

Pick ATS: Tennessee Titans

I don’t think the Titans will be as competitive as they’ve been in recent seasons. They themselves have hinted at a soft rebuild/retool after trading away A.J. Brown for Treylon Burks and losing Rodger Saffold in free agency. Losing Harold Landry to a torn ACL doesn’t help matters. I’m worried that the winning game scripts as well as a No. 27 ranked offensive line and a new-look wide receiver core will make life difficult for Derrick Henry. He shouldn’t have such issues this week, however.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-2.5) vs Dallas Cowboys

Over/Under: 50.5

Pick ATS: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Two third-round rookies to keep an eye on here. The Bucs want to keep Leonard Fournette around the 60-70-percent snap range to keep him healthy for the long haul. If Rachaad White can eat the leftovers, he’s got the goods to carve out some stand-alone value on an explosive offense a la Tony Pollard on the other side. Speaking of Pollard, the beat for him earning a role as a slot receiver gained traction early in camp. Since then, rookie Jalen Tolbert has reportedly struggled and fallen below veteran Noah Brown. I think Tolbert’s talent ultimately earns him the WR2 role, but maybe not to start the season. It’s something to keep an eye on.

Rachaad White Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

Denver Broncos (-6.5) vs Seattle Seahawks

Over/Under: 44.5

Pick ATS: Denver Broncos

First of all, I have no clue how this spread is only six points. I’ll gladly take the Broncos to cover here. As for fantasy, it’s hard to trust any Seahawk. DK Metcalf is catching passes from Geno Smith and should see a lot of Patrick Surtain II. Tyler Lockett was held below 40 yards in two of Smith’s three starts last season. Kenneth Walker‘s health and the potential to sit this game bodes well for Rashaad Penny. However, he’s registered 31 targets in 37 career games. An increased workload won’t matter much if the team is trailing and not scoring points, something that Vegas expects will happen. Metcalf’s talent may be undeniable to sit, but no one else there is worth playing. 

DK Metcalf Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

The opposite is true in Denver. Russell Wilson, Javonte Williams, Melvin Gordon, Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Albert Okwuegbugnam: start them all. K.J. Hamler is a fun deep league start and DFS dart throw too.

Good luck in Week 1, everyone!