NFL against-the-spread picks: Here's hoping the Bills lead a pass-only revolution

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If you missed the Buffalo Bills' final preseason game against the Green Bay Packers, it got a little crazy. Not in a bad way. 

On the Bills' first 18 plays, 17 were passes. Every play came from the shotgun. With few exceptions, anytime the Bills could go no-huddle with the clock running, they did. In other words, the 2021 Bills might be really, really fun. 

We can't trust everything we see in the preseason, but I believe this is how the Bills will play. To some extent anyway. We already saw Buffalo go full Mike Leach once last season, calling passes on 33 of 35 offensive plays in the first half. Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll seems to understand that letting Josh Allen throw is better than handing off to Zack Moss or Devin Singletary. Also, perhaps cynically, after Daboll was passed over in the head-coaching cycle this past offseason for some reason, maybe he thinks that a record-breaking season from Allen would get him a job. 

Balance in the NFL is vastly overstated. Wasting plays in the name of run-pass balance isn't always the smartest move. Let's see what Leach said on this topic. 

“There’s nothing balanced about the 50 percent run, 50 percent pass because that’s 50 percent stupid,” Leach said in 2018

“When you have five skill positions, if all five of them are contributing to the offensive effort, then that’s balanced. But this notion that if you hand it to one guy 50 percent of the time and you throw it to a combination of two guys 50 percent and you're really balanced, then you proudly pat yourself on the back and tell yourself that ... well then you’re delusional.”

The Bills might be ready to get wild in 2021 and throw it as long as Allen's arm is still attached to his body. I'm here for the revolution. 

Buffalo is a very good team. They have a smart coaching staff, a quarterback who emerged as a star last season and a defense that started slow last season but has a good track record of success over the past three seasons. The Bills are 6.5-point favorites at BetMGM against the Pittsburgh Steelers and while you generally want to take the points with a good team (and the Steelers are not a bad team, I think there has been an overreaction to last season's late slump), the Bills might not be the team to mess with. If they decide that "No-Huddle, Shotgun" you see above is their base offense, they're going to score a lot. Even against Pittsburgh. T.J. Watt perhaps being on a limited snap count after his "hold-in" isn't ideal against the Bills, either. 

I'm taking Buffalo in Week 1. I've also taken them to win the Super Bowl and picked Allen to win MVP. Because it's fun to see new ideas in the NFL, I hope the Bills put their foot on the gas in Week 1 and never let up. If that final preseason game is an indication of what's to come, the Bills might be the one must-watch team in the NFL this season. 

Josh Allen should prepare himself to pass it a lot this season. (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)
Josh Allen should prepare himself to pass it a lot this season. (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)

Here are the picks for Week 1, with the spreads from BetMGM

Cowboys (+8.5) over Buccaneers

Went through this game in-depth in The Daily Sweat. Long story short, the line is too high. 

Eagles (+3) over Falcons

This is perhaps the most confounding game on the schedule. There are two rookie head coaches. It's between two teams that have some things to like but are significantly flawed. I'll take the easy way out and take the points, and remind everyone that while I will pick every game in this space all season, you don't need to bet them all. 

Vikings (-3) over Bengals

One of my easiest picks. If Joe Burrow comes back and looks like his old self right away, it'll be a great thing for the NFL. I don't think it's realistic. He took three snaps in preseason and his only pass attempt was a quick receiver screen. The Vikings defense has improved a lot from last season, and they're a team I'll be happy to back early in the season until the lines adjust. I like Cincinnati's potential long-term, just not in Week 1. 

Lions (+7.5) over 49ers

Another game that I'll pick only because I pick every one. I don't really want to back the Lions sight unseen, but think the line might be a little too high for the 49ers in a road opener. I'll take the points and hope Dan Campbell's ankle-biting team keeps the scoring low. 

Titans (-3) over Cardinals 

A.J. Brown's knee injury — he was riding the bike to the side on Wednesday — could change my mind by Sunday. If Brown and Julio Jones play, I think the Cardinals' secondary won't be able to keep up. And if Brown plays, over 51.5 seems like a better play than either side. 

Colts (+2.5) over Seahawks

I'm going to be stubborn on the Colts until they give me a reason to give up on them. It's a team I was excited about in the offseason, and then August came and it seemed they couldn't go two days without some bad news. I am nervous about taking them in Week 1 (and for all the Colts future tickets I gathered through the summer), but I've come this far with them, and I'm willing to go a little further. 

Washington (+1) over Chargers

Why did they have to schedule two of my favorite teams for the 2021 season against each other in Week 1? I like the Chargers, but I don't really know why they're favored here. Washington has a fantastic defense and the offense is going to be better. It wouldn't surprise me if the Chargers win because they should be pretty good this season, but it also doesn't seem like a great spot for them in Week 1. 

Panthers (-4.5) over Jets

The Panthers have three explosive receivers, and the Jets are really going to struggle at cornerback. I don't mind the Jets this season and there will be spots in which I'll take the points with them, but this does seem like a bad matchup. And if Sam Darnold is going to have only one good game all season, you know it's going to be this one. 

Jaguars (-3) over Texans

Do I feel comfortable backing Urban Meyer after all of his tomfoolery since getting the Jaguars job? Not really. But I do know that the Texans, who already have traded off potential starters Shaq Lawson and Bradley Roby, are going to be bad. There won't be many chances to take whoever is playing the Texans by a field goal or less, so don't let this opportunity pass by. 

Chiefs (-6.5) over Browns

It seems like the Browns will be the popular underdog pick of the week. And I get it. They have a nice roster and some playoff revenge on their minds after last season ended in Kansas City. But this was not a great Browns defense last season, and I'll need to see the improvement before totally buying in. I do know Kansas City is capable of scoring a lot of points. 

Dolphins (+3) over Patriots

What a great Week 1 game. I don't feel strongly about the Dolphins in Week 1, because I get every reason to bet the Patriots. New England is going to be much better than last season. But I do buy Tua Tagovailoa being much better his second season, and while Mac Jones was great in the preseason, this is a tough first regular-season test for him. I generally want to buy into the Dolphins being good this season, and I'll take the points. 

Giants (+2.5) over Broncos

Anyone taking the Giants in this game? Anyone at all? OK, I'll be on the island. It's not like I'm all that excited to back the Giants. I just don't really buy into the Broncos as a road favorite against a decent team. And I think the Giants are decent. Maybe not more than decent. 

Packers (-4.5) over Saints

The line has been slowly creeping up, and I think it should be closer to 6. The only reason I was worried about taking the Packers when they were 3-point favorites this summer is the Superdome is a fantastic home-field advantage. Do we think there's going to be any home-field advantage for the Saints in Jacksonville? The Packers are good, and I have way more questions about the Saints without Drew Brees and Michael Thomas. There are things to like about New Orleans (defense, offensive line, Sean Payton), but it might take a while to come together. Especially after the distraction of being displaced by Hurricane Ida. 

Rams (-7.5) over Bears 

The Bears' offensive line might be a problem. The defense might not be as good as we had assumed. And, for some strange reason, Andy Dalton is starting. I don't have one good reason to back the Bears in this game. It doesn't mean they can't cover a spread that's more than a touchdown, but it's hard to take a team when I have this tough of a time figuring out how they could win. 

Raiders (+4.5) over Ravens

It's going to be an emotional night in Las Vegas. It's the first regular-season Raiders game fans will be allowed in Allegiant Stadium. It comes on "Monday Night Football" against a marquee opponent. And for all the disappointment of the Jon Gruden 2.0 era, his last two Raiders teams have started fast. The Ravens are the better team, but the situation is clearly in the Raiders' favor. I'll take the points and pick the Raiders straight up, too. 

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