NFL Week 1 survivor picks: Let's pick on the Lions
If you've followed this column over the past couple of years, you know there are a few rules I try to use: Avoid road teams, don't save teams for future use, and most importantly, never pick divisional games.
It's likely the first two will be broken this season (spoiler: we're already breaking the first one). But spam me on all platforms if you catch me breaking the third.
There's a reason I never break the third rule. In 2008, I co-entered a fairly large survivor pool with my dad, and while I don't remember all the details, by Week 12 we were still standing alongside the final 23 entries, down from a starting field of close to 5,000.
We picked the Denver Broncos, who were 8.5-point favorites over the Oakland Raiders at home. Jay Cutler crumbled, Darren McFadden and Justin Fargas ran wild for the Raiders, and JaMarcus Russell threw the game's only touchdown pass during a 31-10 upset.
I was devastated.
I'm ashamed to admit that wasn't the last time I've been eliminated after picking a divisional game, but I've been clean for a while now with no intention of breaking.
Now let's get this season started.
Week 1 confidence ranking
Confidence rankings (CR) are out of 10 based on the author's picks.
|Away||Home (Spread)||Pick (CR)|
|49ers||Lions (+7.5)||SF (9)|
|Bears||Rams (-7.5)||LAR (9)|
|Cowboys||Buccaneers (-8)||TB (7)|
|Jets||Panthers (-5)||CAR (6)|
|Steelers||Bills (-6.5)||BUF (5)|
|Browns||Chiefs (-6)||KC (5)|
|Ravens||Raiders (+4.5)||BAL (5)|
|Broncos||Giants (+3)||DEN (4)|
|Packers||Saints (+4.5)||GB (3)|
|Jaguars||Texans (+3)||JAC (3)|
|Vikings||Bengals (+3.5)||MIN (3)|
|Cardinals||Titans (-3)||TEN (2)|
|Eagles||Falcons (-3.5)||ATL (2)|
|Chargers||Washington (+1)||WFT (1)|
|Seahawks||Colts (+2.5)||SEA (1)|
|Dolphins||Patriots (-3)||MIA (1)|
Top pick: San Francisco 49ers
Week 1 marks the beginning of our season-long plan to fade a Lions team that will do well to win more than a few games. While it's possible head coach Dan Campbell is tricking us all into underestimating him, it's going to take a lot of time to fix the mess the previous regime left.
The Lions' defense ranked last in yards and points allowed in 2020, and it could be even worse this campaign following a mass exodus, with Everson Griffen, Jarrad Davis, Reggie Ragland, Desmond Trufant, Justin Coleman, and Darryl Roberts all leaving. Offensively, the Lions downgraded from Matthew Stafford, Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, and Danny Amendola to Jared Goff, Tyrell Williams, and Amon-Ra St. Brown. They also lost kicker Matt Prater and signed his replacement off waivers a week ago.
The team's offensive line should be a bright spot, but will it matter? Goff was set up for success in Sean McVay's scheme with talent surrounding him, and he still looked absolutely lost when his first read was covered. The signal-caller could be in for a nightmarish season in the Motor City while playing in a worse scheme and with downgraded talent.
His first test with Detroit comes against a 49ers club he's lost four straight starts against, and Goff failed to eclipse 200 passing yards in either game against them last season while completing just 55% of his throws with a 2:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio. That all occurred when facing a severely banged-up San Francisco defense that was without Nick Bosa and Dee Ford for the majority of the season, along with several other notable contributors.
The 49ers were hurting overall. It was a lost season in the Bay Area, as San Francisco started three different quarterbacks, and the franchise was without the likes of Deebo Samuel, Raheem Mostert, and George Kittle for more than half the season. With everyone back, rookies Trey Lance and Trey Sermon arriving, and the signings of Alex Mack and Samson Ebukam to shore up the offensive and defensive lines, San Francisco is primed to contend for the NFC West title.
The team has also developed a reputation as road warriors under Kyle Shanahan. Despite injuries leading to a 6-10 record last season, the 49ers still finished 5-3 on the road, following up a 7-1 road record the prior campaign. Detroit was a paltry 1-7 at home in 2020.
Against a Lions team lacking talent and needing time to acclimate to a new regime, the 49ers will ride a suffocating defense and relentless rushing attack to a straightforward win at Ford Field. That's why they're the safest pick of the week ahead of a Rams club dealing with a tougher test in the Bears defense, in addition to a new quarterback and backfield injuries.
Avoid: Jacksonville Jaguars
We will be too several times this season, but not in Week 1. The three-point spread is about right here, but safety is key in survivor pools - it's all about minimizing risk and living to fight another week. Jacksonville is anything but safe in Week 1 unless you feel good about relying on a rookie quarterback who's leading a bad team during his first NFL start, and he's doing it on the road in a divisional matchup.
The Jaguars did well to surround Trevor Lawrence with talent at the skill positions, but they lack the infrastructure to put him in a position to succeed. A bad offensive line is a legitimate concern, and it could result in disaster on any play. Pressure and inexperience lead to mistakes, and those are the two biggest areas of concern with Jacksonville.
Inexperience isn't nearly as much of a worry for the Texans, and it could work in their favor during Week 1. Their roster is underwhelming, but it features plenty of veterans who know how to achieve NFL success. Houston might just have enough to pull off the upset and put a miserable offseason behind it while at home against an overhyped and inexperienced division rival.
Alex Moretto is theScore's supervising editor of sports betting. Find him on Twitter @alexjmoretto.