With Week 1 of the 2020 NFL season finally here, TeamRankings’ weekly advice column for NFL pick ’em contests and office pools is back. In this post, TeamRankings’ data-driven experts highlight five Week 1 picks — from value favorites to worthwhile underdogs — that can help give you an edge in your quest to win an NFL pick ’em or confidence pool in 2020.
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How We Identify NFL Week 1 Value Picks
Our picks advice is different than most. Why? Because not many people understand that good NFL game predictions are only part of the story when it comes to maximizing your edge to win a football pool. You also need to consider how you expect your opponents to pick each game.
After all, you can only rise in your pool standings if you score points that your opponents, so, in order to distance yourself from the competition, you need to do two things:
- Always look for unpopular picks that might be worth an educated gamble
- Make sure to avoid trendy upset picks that aren’t worth the risk.
This approach to making picks is a big reason why since 2014, an average of 72 percent our subscribers have reported winning a prize in a football pick ’em contest.
WEEK 1 FANTASY PPR RANKINGS:
Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | D/ST | Kicker
Week 1 NFL Picks Advice: Tips for Pick ’em Pools
We are not saying that you should make all of the picks in this article — the upset picks especially. The best Week 1 picks for your NFL pool depend on strategy factors such as your pool’s size, rules, and prize structure, (plus, in future weeks, situational factors like your current place in the standings and the number of weeks left). To learn why, check out our free articles about strategy for winning football pick ’em pools.
What we are saying is that the teams mentioned in this post provide some of the best opportunities to differentiate your Week 1 picks from your pool opponents by taking on little or no additional risk. We also call out matchups where picking an upset is probably a terrible idea. If you want our game-by-game pick recommendations for all of your specific pools, please use our Football Pick ’em Picks product.
Note: Win odds and estimated pick popularity data below may change between publication time and kickoff time. If you want the latest numbers, our product updates multiple times per day.
Big Favorite At A Reasonable Price
The pick below may not be significantly underrated by the public, but compared to other big favorites this week, it’s a relative bargain in terms of pick popularity. Think twice about picking against it because there are smarter upset pick opportunities elsewhere.
Indianapolis Colts (at Jacksonville)
The public does not appear to be fully aware of the opposite directions in which these two teams have headed. Indianapolis won only one more game than Jacksonville last season, but the Jaguars have been losing talent over the past few years and now look to be in complete tear-down-and-rebuild mode.
Indianapolis is favored by 7.5 points in this game with the second-highest Week 1 win odds (78 percent) of any team according to our projections, trailing only Kansas City at 80 percent. Meanwhile, “only” 80 percent of public pick ’em entries are picking Indianapolis so far, meaning that a healthy 20 percent of players are going with what would objectively be a significant upset.
So, for one of the biggest favorites of the week, Indianapolis isn’t being wildly overrated, which is rare. If you are dead set on picking a major upset this week, don’t make it (relatively) popular Jacksonville.
Week 1 features several favorites that the public is picking at a lower rate than their chances to win. These types of teams are as close to no-brainer picks as you can get in NFL pick ’em contests since you can take the team that’s expected to win, yet still “fade the public” (in relative terms, at least) at the same time.
Detroit Lions (vs. Chicago)
The Lions are three-point favorites at home against Chicago, and our models put Detroit’s win odds at 65 percent. Only 61 percent of the public is taking Detroit, though, so you are still getting some value by staying with the Lions.
Why might a sliver of the public be underestimating Detroit here? Well, the Lions were 3-12-1 a year ago, to start.
That win-loss record, though, included playing without quarterback Matthew Stafford over the last eight games of the season when the Lions were terrible on offense and went 0-8. When Stafford was healthy, Detroit was much better on offense, and he’s back and ready to go to start 2020.
Minnesota Vikings (vs. Green Bay)
The Vikings got swept by Green Bay a season ago, playing particularly poorly in a prime-time slot in December when the NFC North title was on the line.
With those results likely still fresh in some people’s minds, it’s not a huge surprise that a portion of the public is doubting the Vikings despite betting odds favoring Minnesota by three points. Our win odds give Minnesota a 60-percent chance, yet only 57 percent of the public is picking them.
That means, again, that you can take both the favorite and the underrated team in this game.
Unpopular Toss-Up Pick
When a matchup is close to a 50/50 proposition, it often makes sense to pick the less popular team. To win an NFL pick ’em pool, you’re probably going to need some luck in these “coin flip” games, and when you get it, you want to maximize the upside.
Atlanta (vs. Seattle)
Seattle won a lot of close games last year, going 10-2 in the regular season in games decided by eight points or less. This shows that the Seahawks weren’t as dominant as their 11-5 record would suggest.
With this game in Atlanta against the Falcons’ strong passing offense, the point spread currently favors Seattle by only two points, but 77 percent of the public is going with the Seahawks. (For additional perspective, that is almost the same percentage of pick ’em entries that are taking the Colts against Jacksonville, a team favored by eight points.)
With that many players going the other way, taking Atlanta is a solid value choice, especially in one-week pick ’em contests where taking any reasonable risk to fade the public makes sense.
If you’re going to make a gamble on an underdog, you need to make sure that the potential reward if you get it right — that is, how much your odds to win your pool will increase — is big. Take a bunch of extra risk to make a super-trendy upset pick, and the joke is really on you.
The pick below is definitely not appropriate for all pools. If you’re in a smaller, season-long pool, it’s probably not worth the risk. However, it should be seriously considered for single-week contests or if you only care about weekly prizes in your pool.
Cincinnati Bengals (vs. LA Chargers)
The Bengals had the worst record in the NFL last season, so it’s not a shock they are an opening-week underdog. Cincinnati did draft Heisman winner Joe Burrow at quarterback, though, and have some potential to surprise. The Bengals are just a three-point underdog at home against the Chargers.
Meanwhile, the Chargers have plenty of question marks to start 2020. For the first time since Dec. 31, 2005, the Chargers will start a quarterback not named Philip Rivers in a regular season game.
Our projections give Cincinnati a 45-percent chance of pulling off an upset, while betting odds imply closer to a 40-percent chance. So, we do expect the Bengals to lose, but with only 30 percent of the public taking Cincinnati, it’s a gamble to consider in exchange for the chance to score points that 70 percent of your opponents miss.
Get all of our Week 1 picks for your pool!
Once you know the best value pick opportunities of Week 1, you can typically increase your odds to win your pick ’em pool by taking a calculated risk or two (or more).
If you’re in a confidence pool, for example, it may be wise to bump up the number of confidence points you assign to a value pick like Detroit or Minnesota.In a non-confidence pool, the process is more about deciding whether the risk of making one or more upset picks is worth it in Week 1, especially with many weeks still to play.
There are a lot of decisions to make, which is why we built technology to do all the data gathering and analysis needed to make the best calls. Our Football Pick ’em Picks is the only product gives you the tools and content you need to maximize your edge in NFL pick ’em pools.
Over the past six years, our subscribers have reported winning prizes in season-long football pools more than three times as often as one would expect given the size of their pools. So, if you learned something from this article, we encourage you to check it out.
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