Happy NFL First Weekend everyone! Looking back at my previous entries, I nearly forgot that I never provided my Big Five Picks for the 2022 season but instead only wrote articles for the 2022 NFL Playoffs. Life was busy at this time last year as we were expecting baby #3 and then baby #3 arrived mid-season. Life is still busy playing zone defense with 3 kids but at least all three kids are somewhat sleeping through the night! That means yours truly has a sliver of time early on Saturday mornings to share some thoughts on the games each weekend and which 5 games I feel most confident about when considering the point spread.
This first NFL weekend is quite unique since we have ourselves 3 rookie QBs all making their NFL debuts. Usually a rookie QB rides the bench to start the season and then is called upon later in the year to take the reins. However, the 2023 NFL draft saw 3 QBs selected among the first 5 picks and clearly these are teams in a rebuilding mode. Welcome Bryce Young, CJ Stroud, and Anthony Richardson to the pros. All three were highly accomplished in the college game and have been entrusted by their new franchises to lead them to the promised land. The road to NFL fame and glory, however, will take some twists and turns for these young signal callers: all of them have to work with mediocre offensive talent, at best, and face teams this week who are more seasoned. It almost feels like Carolina, Indianapolis, and Houston are expansion franchises.
Consider the first NFL starts for some of of the more recent highly drafted QBs below.
Kenny Pickett: 2022 Week 5 loss to Buffalo (38-3)
Trevor Lawrence: 2021 Week 1 loss to Houston (37-21)
Zach Wilson: 2021 Week 1 loss to Carolina (19-14)
Trey Lance: 2021 Week 5 loss to Arizona (17-10)
Justin Fields: 2021 Week 3 loss to Cleveland (26-6)
Mac Jones: 2021 Week 1 loss to Miami (17-16)
Jordan Love: 2021 Week 9 loss to Kansas City (13-7)
Joe Burrow: 2020 Week 1 loss to LA Chargers (16-13)
Tua Tagovailoa: 2020 Week 8 win against LA Rams (28-17)
Justin Herbert: 2020 Week 2 loss to Kansas City (23-20)
Kyler Murray: 2019 Week 1 tie to Detroit (27-27)
Daniel Jones: 2019 Week 3 loss to Tampa Bay (32-31)
Dwayne Haskins: 2019 Week 9 loss to Buffalo (24-9)
Baker Mayfield: 2018 Week 4 loss to Oakland (45-42)
Sam Darnold: 2018 Week 1 win against Detroit (48-17)
Josh Allen: 2018 Week 2 loss to LA Chargers (31-20)
Josh Rosen: 2018 Week 4 loss to Seattle (20-17)
Lamar Jackson: 2018 Week 11 win against Seattle (24-21)
Do the math and that is a 3-14-1 record for rookie QBs in their NFL debuts since 2018. Among those who started in Week 1, that record is 1-4-1. Sam Darnold was highly successful during Week 1 of the 2018 season but it was also against Detroit who went 6-10 that year which also happened to be previous Lions head coach Matt Paticia's first year with that team. Matt Stafford threw 4 INTs in that game, one of which was a pick six. The Jets followed that score with a punt return to the house. The Lions would go on to win just 11 games from 2019 - 2021 so I think we can throw out that game.
Other than that, history tells us that when you hand the keys to the kingdom to a very green QB, you will most likely lose the first game and not cover the spread. They say it's hard to win in the NFL and that is especially true with rookie QBs. They also say it's hard to be successful against the spread during Week 1 of the NFL with such little data to consider but my analysis dictates that we pick against each rookie QB tomorrow. Well, that's three games right there! What about the other two games to round out our Big Five picks? Read on!
- Atlanta -3.5
As you already know, I am not high on teams starting a rookie QB. I like Bryce Young and feel he will have a successful NFL career but not right away with Miles Sanders and Adam Thielen as your best offensive weapons. Atlanta has a strong run game and this is a road game for Carolina in what will be a very loud environment inside the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The line has moved from -2 to -3.5 so trust the sharps here. Atlanta 24 - Carolina 17.
- Jacksonville -4.5
Much like the Carolina-Atlanta game, this spread has moved quite a bit towards the favored team. It opened at -3 and now it's at -4.5. Jacksonville was much like these teams starting rookie QBs tomorrow but they are now a team on the rise after making the playoffs last year for just the 2nd time in the previous 15 seasons. Long gone is Urban Meyer and we are now seeing what Trevor Lawrence is capable of in the pro game, especially after an incredible comeback in the wild card win against the Chargers last season. For those who forgot, Jacksonville was down 27-0 midway through the 2nd quarter and wound up winning 31-30 on the shoulders of Lawrence who started the game with 4 interceptions only to erase those mistakes with 4 passing touchdowns afterwards. Jacksonville is ready to take the next step by winning the NFC South again and going on a deep playoff run, especially with so much talent surrounding Lawrence on both sides of the ball. Meanwhile, Indianapolis is dealing with a messy situation with star running back Jonathan Taylor who is now on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list. Richardson is not set up for success right now and the Colts are clearly going in an opposite direction as Jacksonville. Jaguars win this one easily. Jacksonville 31 - Indianaplois 17.
- Baltimore -10
I know, this is a lot of chalk to eat. It's not easy selecting a team as a double digit favorite but Houston is really that bad. The Texans are simply a team that cannot get its shit straight having gone 11-38-1 since the 2020 season. A big reason for that is 4 different head coaches from 2020 - 2022 and now the Texans have another new head coach. At least the Texans realize they truly need a fresh start by using a high draft pick on a QB and grabbing an upstart head coach in DeMeco Ryans who was a very successful defensive coach for San Francisco and had a solid playing career with Houston. Still, a road game in Baltimore and facing a team with way more talent will be very tough for the Texans to overcome. It will take a while for the Texans to establish some sense of stability while the Ravens are all about stability with the same head coach since 2008 and the same starting QB since 2018. The Ravens also boast a top 10 defense. Just like the Jacksonville-Indianapolis game, Baltimore walks all over its opponent. Baltimore 31 - Houston 13.
- Pittsburgh +2
OK, I think I will be getting a lot of hate mail (really hate text messages) because of this pick. I am a diehard 49ers fan but I don't think they win their first game of the 2023 season. I hope I am wrong but hear me out. The Steelers are a home dog against a team that has to travel cross country. It's never easy for West Coast teams to adjust to a 3 hour time zone change on the fly, especially when the game is played early. Starting at 1 PM local time will feel like starting at 10 AM for the 49ers. Even though Nick Bosa just signed a lucrative contract, he wasn't practicing with the team during training camp. There will be some adjustment. Also, don't sleep on the Steelers. Kenny Pickett and George Pickens both enter Year 2 and Najee Harris enters Year 3. All three of them are ready to make the leap to NFL stardom. Also, Mike Tomlin is one helluva a head coach. Even though Kyle Shanahan has done well with San Francisco, Tomlin is head and shoulders a better coach and will make the right decisions at the right time when this game comes down to the wire. Keep in mind that the Steelers had 3 Pro Bowlers on defense last season and finished the 2022 season on a 4 game winning streak. They also went 7-2 after the bye week. The 49ers will no doubt have another great season but don't sleep on Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh 23 - San Francisco 20.
- NY Jets +2.5
I am definitely going against the grain here. The Bills opened as a 1 point favor and are now favored by 2.5 points. However, this is a home game for the Jets and on Monday Night Football. Also, Aaron Rodgers, who has long been rumored for quite some time to leave Green Bay for New York or another high profile city, has finally changed cities. I can't tell you the last time the Jets have had a big-named QB since Broadway Joe. Rodgers will have plenty of offensive firepower to work with, especially in the backfield with the arrival of Dalvin Cook and Breece Hall's return from a torn ACL. He also has some familiar faces with the acquisitions of long-time Packers WR Randall Cobb and Allen Lazard who was one of Rodgers' favorite receivers from 2019 - 2022. However, neither of them is Rodgers' best WR. Garrett Wilson enters Year 2 after a very successful rookie campaign. These are not your father's Jets or even your grandfather's Jets (except for the 1968 season). Defensively the Jets are sound and I would argue have a better defense than the Bills. Robert Saleh is now in his 3rd year as head coach and he has given the Jets an identity by quickly turning around the defense much like the quick turn around he did with the 49ers defense prior to his arrival in the Big Apple. The Jets defense ranked dead last in 2021 but rose to 4th in 2022. Sauce Gardner and Quinnen Williams have not disappointed and are ready to take the Jets defense to a championship level. The Bills have been a championship contender for the last 3 seasons but that window is coming to a close whereas the Jets just opened their championship window. I believe the sharps are wrong here. NY Jets 27 - Buffalo 20.
There you have it! Bet against the rookie QBs by taking the chalk and take two home dogs who look poised to make the playoffs this season. Enjoy the games tomorrow!