Derry’s Week 1 NFL Picks: Can the Cowboys start strong against the Giants?

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Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) runs drills before an NFL preseason football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2023, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Weeee’re back!

Hard to believe this column started nine years ago after I had a conversation with my boss at the time (who no longer is in journalism, and this decision could be part of the reason why) that went something like this:

“Hey, I always wanted to write an NFL weekly picks column – one that is different from everyone else’s.”

“Oh, yeah? How would it be different from everyone else’s?”

“Well, it would be snarky, and I would use recurring characters who don’t have a clue on what they’re doing. They could be an example of how NOT to bet. It’ll be fun.”

“Well, there’s no doubt you’re a smart ass. But what qualifies you to write a weekly column? You haven’t covered the Saints in 7 years.”

“Because I have lost enough money over the years, which has taught me how to win.”

“Hmmm. Don’t you have enough (stuff) to do?”

“Yeah, but I have become super efficient at making your coffee and running to grab your lunch. How about we try it, and if I make winners out of our readers and we get enough page views out of this, we keep doing it. If it stinks and no one cares, we stop. Oh, and if I win, can I stop having to make your coffee?”

“OK, go ahead. But on the coffee thing: My cup is empty. And grab some sugar on the way back from picking up lunch.”

With that, it’s time to enter Season 8 – we didn’t do the column in 2019 and 2020 due to layoffs / different jobs / etc. – and Aunt Mabel, Drunk Joe and the rest of the crew are back to take along what I think could be one of the most exciting NFL seasons in recent history.

Why? If you have been watching any of my NFL previews, you’ll know I think the list of elites is fewer than ever, and the same goes for the bottom-dwellers. That will make it tougher to make picks, but we’ll keep watching the trends and bucking Mabel.

God bless her. And God bless automatic coffee pots.

Enjoy the ride, and thanks for coming.

NOTES: All spreads, money lines and over/under totals (as of Wednesday) are provided by Caesars Sportsbook. Home team is listed in CAPS.

WEEK 1: THE TOP 5 BEST BETS

1, CLEVELAND (+2.5) over Cincinnati / Sunday at noon

A little trivia to kick things off this season: When’s the last time the Bengals won in Cleveland? The answer: Joe Burrow was a sophomore at Ohio State, and Ja’Marr Chase was a senior at Archbishop Rummel High School in Metairie. It was 2017, and the Cleveland Browns finished the season 0-16.

In fact, not only have the Browns won five straight in the series in Cleveland, but they have won eight out of the past 10 overall. And we’re talking through some rough times in the Dawg Pound.

We don’t really know why this keeps happening, and to be honest, we don’t really care. But anyone who has read this column in the past or any of my previous 1,892 NFL picks knows I am a firm believer in trends. It’s how I win. (Oh, and betting against whatever my Aunt Mabel likes works, too.)

Besides, as we said in our NFL team-by-team previews, the Browns are my surprise pick to win the AFC North. To do that, these are the sorts of games they will have to win.

Score: Browns 26, Bengals 20 (Total: Under 47.5)

2, KANSAS CITY (-4.5) over Detroit / Thursday at 7:20 p.m.

I have been saying since the beginning of my team-by-team previews that there might not be a more “trendy” pick this season than the Detroit Lions. And I am not just talking about winning the NFC North, but some who are picking them to win the conference title and even the Super Bowl.

With all the blah blah blah from these morning-show talking heads, I have learned my mother was wrong all those years ago: My eyes will not stay like that if I keep rolling them into the back of my head.

And now the latest news is that tight end extraordinaire, Travis Kelce, might not play due to a hyperextended knee. So that has dropped the line two points from 6.5? I am not sure I have ever seen a non-quarterback drop a line that much.

Reminds me of last season when everyone was saying that Patrick Mahomes can’t win anything big without Tyreek Hill. How did that work out?

As long as they have Mahomes and Andy Reid, this number seems almost ridiculous. The Chiefs have won eight consecutive regular-season openers, and have done so by an average of 11.6 points. Meanwhile, the Lions have not won a regular-season opener since 2017 with just one tie in 2019 at the Cardinals.

The defending champs opening up at home on a Thursday night in front of the nation against Drunk Joe’s favorite future pick? Seems like free money to me.

Score: Chiefs 27, Lions 19 (Total: Under 52.5)

3, Green Bay (+1) over CHICAGO / Sunday at 3:25 p.m.

“Hey Derry, you’re an idiot. You don’t even realize Aaron Rodgers isn’t with the Packers anymore, and you have no clue how good Justin Fields is. They have some new running backs and some additions on defense. Green Bay stinks. They’ll be lucky to win three games. … Love, Dad.”

Wow. Umm, OK. Yes, Dad, I know the Packers are now going to rely on Jordan Love at quarterback. And if you thought I was dumb before, you’ll REALLY think I am dumb when I say this: They’re better without him.

No, no, no, not because Love is better than Rodgers, but he sure will care more. He won’t need to take some time off during the week to do yoga, and he probably won’t hate the rookies or think he runs the team. Jordan Love may actually bring some normalcy back to the Green Bay Packers.

And even with Rodgers gone, until the Bears win more than one in a row in the series, the Packers still own them. Oh, and in case you were wondering when the last time Chicago won at Lambeau, the answer is 2015. Overall, the Bears have lost 22 of the past 25 games played in the series – no matter where they were played.

So the fact Chicago is favored in this game is a bit comical to me, and I don’t even give a damn if I end up being wrong with this pick.

Score: Packers 27, Bears 17 (Total: Over 42)

4, Miami at LA CHARGERS over 51 / Sunday at 3:25 p.m.

As recently as 2017, the Dolphins have opened a season in Los Angeles against the Chargers. In fact, that season, it was the first game for the Bolts as a home team in L.A. since their only previous campaign there – in 1960 in the brand-new AFL.

That game obviously didn’t feature Justin Herbert vs. Tua Tagavailoa, but rather Jay Cutler vs. Philip “Ole Man” Rivers. That being said, Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker were a little better than Keenan Allen and Hunter Henry that day in a 19-17 Dolphins victory.

In this one, it’s a rematch of two playoff teams who lost heartbreakers in the opening round and have aspirations to take their seasons a step further. The fact is, the Chargers could have lots of trouble not only with Tua and Tyreek Hill, but they ranked 28th in rushing defense last season could spark a nice day from Raheem Mostert and De’Von Achane (and maybe even Salvon Ahmed?).

Meanwhile, Justin Herbert, Austin Ekeler and this receiving corps will be looking to get off to a fast start, as well.

This could be one of the more entertaining games of the day, and don’t let that high total fool you: It should be much more higher scoring than last year’s 23-17 Chargers’ win.

Score: Dolphins (+3) 30, Chargers 26

5, Dallas (-3.5) over NY GIANTS / Sunday at 7 p.m.

Well, we started our best bets off with a trend, so let’s go with another one. And this one is easy. Simply put: The Dallas Cowboys know how to screw things up in December and January, but they also know how to beat the ever-loving chocolate pudding out of the New York Giants.

They have won 11 out of the past 12, including four in a row, and nine of those victories have come by seven or more points, including 28-20 and 23-16 last season.

While you might not agree with me I think Dallas is the team to beat in the NFC East this season (yeah, you like Philly like everyone else on the planet), they should be head and shoulders ahead of the Giants. This line makes no sense.

Score: Cowboys 30, Giants 13 (Total: Under 46)

OTHER PICKS

Sunday at noon

NEW ORLEANS (-3) 22, Tennessee 15: This has been a tough one to decipher, as interestingly, this will be one of the tougher opponents New Orleans has all year long. Ryan Tannehill certainly will be one of the top quarterbacks the Saints face (which really is saying something), and Derrick Henry – well – is Derrick Henry.

But neither Henry nor Tannehill has been particularly good on Opening Day throughout their career, and neither player even suited up for a preseason game (much like the recent past). As a matter of fact, Tannehill has averaged 203.8 passing yards in nine regular-season starts and has never thrown for more than 266 yards in an opener with Tennessee with five total touchdown passes in three starts.

Henry has averaged 56.3 yards rushing in Week 1 in seven seasons with just one touchdown. (Yes, just one.)

Meanwhile, the Saints defense has finished in the top 7 for three consecutive seasons, and Derek Carr has fared well against Tennessee throughout his career. He has averaged 281.2 yards in five starts, including a 26-for-44 performance in 2022 with 303 yards and two touchdowns.

I like the under more than I like the spread pick, but it’s tough to pick against the Saints, as they haven’t lost a season opener since 2018. (Under 41)

WASHINGTON (-7) 21, Arizona 13: I wouldn’t put anything on this with a free bet that was going to expire at 12:01 p.m. CT.

Sam Howell at quarterback for a Commanders team I predict will win six games and will see Eric Bieniemy take over as head coach by Thanksgiving? It beats Joshua Dobbs playing QB for an Arizona Cardinals team I think will win three games.

And the total is so low, I can’t even touch that. A clear no-play. It just as easily could be 17-14 or 24-17. (Under 38)

PITTSBURGH (+2.5) 20, San Francisco 17: This one almost made the best bets. The 49ers have been a mess in the offseason, and all I can think about here is the game they lost in Chicago last year to open the season.

Meanwhile, I think the Steelers are going to take a big step forward with both Kenny Pickett and their defense. I mean, we know all they do is have winning seasons under Mike Tomlin.

Interestingly, this is the first time since 2014 that Pittsburgh will open the season at Heinz Field. Is there a festival in the city this particular weekend we don’t know about? Someone hit me up with the info. (Under 41)

Carolina (+3.5) 26, ATLANTA 23: Doesn’t it just seem like the Falcons find ways to lose early in the season? Oh, wait, they find ways to lose late in the season, too. Huh? 28-3? Yeah, it rings a bell, but that’s just cruel. Let’s not remind them again – let’s save that one for December or something.

The debut for Bryce Young has the potential to be a fun one, as these two teams played an overtime thriller in the Georgia Dome last October. Remember? The Falcons led 34-28 with 36 seconds left before PJ Walker heaved one to DJ Moore 62 yards for the touchdown, and then Eddy Pineiro missed the extra point. Somehow, Atlanta was able to pull one out they should have lost in OT.

Carolina made up for it with a 25-15 win on a Thursday night in November in Charlotte a couple weeks later. Anyway, it’s been a fairly even series the past decade plus, as the Falcons are 12-9 in the last 21 after winning seven out of eight.

The Panthers start a surprising season here with an upset victory. (Over 39.5)

MINNESOTA (-5.5) 27, Tampa Bay 13: If I had any trust at all in the Vikings, this would certainly have cracked the top 5. In reality, I think the Bucs stink, and I think their quarterback (and coaching) situation is an absolute mess.

But Minnesota seemed to win games they had no business winning last season, and one would think that has to catch up with them in 2023. Probably not here, but this isn’t worth playing. (Under 45)

BALTIMORE (-9.5) 30, Houston 7: CJ Stroud playing his first-ever NFL game on the road against a team that historically annihilates weaker opponents on Opening Day. Yeah, um, no.

Since 2016, the Ravens have won six of their last seven openers, and they have won them by an average of 34-6. In three straight years from 2018 to 2020, they beat the Bills, 47-3, the Dolphins, 59-10, and the Browns, 38-6.

So maybe I am being kind in saying the Texans will only lose by 23? (Under 43.5)

Jacksonville (-5) 26, INDIANAPOLIS 10: For my longtime readers of this column, you’re probably wondering what happened to my “Golden Rule” of never taking a road favorite in a division game. I had to give that up a few years ago when the home field disappeared during the pandemic, and guess what? It never came back.

Here, while I think the Jaguars will regress, it won’t be against a team I think will be in the running for the No. 1 pick in the 2024 Draft. (Under 45.5)

Sunday at 3:25 p.m.

Philadelphia 24, NEW ENGLAND (+4) 22: I already told you I think the Eagles are overrated and think things won’t go nearly as well for them this season as they did in 2023. However, as much as I know Bill Belichick is the greatest coach who has ever walked a gridiron, I think this might be the season that sends him to pasture.

And it starts here with a heartbreaking loss in some ugly fashion that will have people driving east on the Mass Pike like a bunch of raging maniacs. (Oh wait, they do that anyway.) (Over 45)

Las Vegas (+3.5) 34, DENVER 30: Maybe this is my bias showing, as there’s not much I would love more this weekend than a Sean Payton loss. That being said, I am not sure there is a more overrated team in the NFL than Denver.

I mean, the dude is reaching for his old Saints rejects – Adam Trautman and Wil Lutz – and likes to call out his predecessor. (OK, Nathaniel Hackett was a pretty awful head coach.) But what makes this egomaniac think he can revive Russell Wilson’s career?

I dunno. I am super conflicted. I predicted a high score like the teams had in the first meeting last year – a 32-23 win in Vegas in early October, but if it ended Broncos 17, Raiders 7, that wouldn’t shock me either. A total no-play. (Over 44)

SEATTLE 23, LA Rams (+5.5) 20: I wanted to pick the outright upset in this one so badly, but I chickened out. (Great value on the +205 money line.) While I think the Seahawks will be more like the team we THOUGHT they would be last season, and the Rams will be much better, winning at Lumen Field is just damn hard.

Besides, Seattle has won four straight games on Opening Day, regardless of the site – remember the opener vs. Denver last year – and I just used my gut here that tells me the crowd will see a game-winner at the gun. (Under 46)

Monday at 7:15 p.m.

Buffalo (-2.5) 33, NY JETS 30: Can’t you just see this being the year the Bills actually win the whole thing? I mean, everyone is talking about the Jets, and the ones who aren’t are picking the Dolphins. Maybe that’s all Josh Allen needed was for the “experts” to start looking away from him.

Anyway, in the end, it’s still the GOD D—N JETS. And if Game 1 is a preview of what is to come this season, they’ll lose with the whole nation watching in some brutal fashion. (Over 46.5)

_____________________

HOW WE DOIN’

Note: TIES ARE NOT COUNTED IN MY RECORD, which could result in a different total of games in the “straight up” and “against the spread” categories, as well as with totals.

RECORD OVER SEVEN SEASONS (2014-18, 2021-22)

Straight up: 1,212-680 (.641); Against the spread: 964-878 (.523).

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