What jumps out about the Week 1 totals? We pit team projection and pace against the Week 1 NFL odds to help you lock in the best selections for your football picks.
The tools we have in the fight against totals are a little different than the ones we'll use for picking against the spread. I'm going to encourage you to make liberal use of Football Outsiders' pace stats, which could stack up to quite a difference in plays faced over the course of an entire game.
As with my spread picks column, I'll give myself $1000 theoretical dollars a week. And, as with my spread picks column, I'm only going to devote $500 of it this week in an attempt to save up for when we'll know a little bit more. So without further ado, here are my top NFL picks for the Week 1 totals.
Kansas City Chiefs -- Houston Texans OVER 40-40.5 points ($200)
Yes, these are two of the best defenses in the NFL. But there are a few reasons to believe the offenses can get this game out of the teens. The Texans ran pace very fast last year under Bill O'Brien -- they were eighth on offense and first on defense in situation-neutral plays per second. Naming Brian Hoyer the starter should give the Texans a bit more of a steady hand, which should keep them from the possible fluxuations of a Ryan Mallett game. (Or, in normal words, I think it's less likely the Texans score 0-9 points with Hoyer than with Mallett.) Cornerback Sean Smith's suspension should let DeAndre Hopkins generate a few big plays.
The Chiefs play slow, but the offensive personnel is much better this season. Jeremy Maclin is in from Philadelphia. Tight end Travis Kelce is a legitimate threat to be nicknamed Baby Gronk sometime this season. And while the Texans imported Vince Wilfork from New England and shored up their secondary, I'd be licking my chops to match Kelce on any Texans safety or linebacker. This game isn't going to turn into a track meet, but I like it to be a little less dull than Vegas.
Carolina Panthers -- Jacksonville Jaguars UNDER 41 points ($150)
My latest stab against Blake Bortles preseason hype. Sorry Jaguars fans, I wouldn't want to believe otherwise either. But until he proves it on the field in the regular season, I'm very comfortable taking the under on Bortles. The Jaguars offensive line should be improved, and T.J. Yeldon is a sustaining back, but the Panthers front seven is formidable even if tackle Star Lotuleilei begs out of the game due to injury.
As for the Panthers, their starting wideouts for this game are Ted Ginn Jr. and Philly Brown. Center Ryan Kalil may miss the game due to injury. Yeesh. The overall situation-neutal game script leans slightly towards quick plays, but these two offenses aren't inpsiring a lot of confidence from me, and I see this falling under the NFL odds total.
Tennessee Titans -- Tampa Bay Bucanneers OVER 41.5 points ($150)
If these two teams matched up in 2014, the Bucs would bring the 32nd-ranked DVOA offense against the 29th-ranked DVOA defense of Tennessee. But it's easy to see that quarterback play matters in the NFL, and Jameis Winston brings a lot more to the table than Josh McCown did. The Titans made some free-agent patch jobs to the defense, but star corner Jason McCourty is likely to miss this game. And to be honest, it's anyone's guess as to how new defensive mastermind Dick LeBeau is going to fix something protege Ray Horton couldn't.
The Bucs have some star players on defense in lineman Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David. They also have a waiver wire safety tandem, have benched their big free-agent signing at linebacker (Bruce Carter) for fourth-round rookie Kwon Alexander, and have little in the way of edge rush. I liked Marcus Mariota more than Winston coming out, so if he can't do anything against this defense, that'll send me backpedalling pretty quickly.