The 2023 NFL season has gloriously arrived, and it's time to run back the Throwing Darts column. I've been publishing this piece since 2010, giving out five NFL picks every Friday, picking against the point spread.
(Occasionally I'll throw a total or a prop in here, but most of the time it's simply landing on a favorite or underdog.)
Picking against the spread is hard and it's humbling. Traditionally the picks have done well, with 11-of-13 seasons finishing over .500. Last year we were a robust 54-31. But you're only as good as your last pick in this game. Let's keep the head down, and keep grinding.
One note about my handicapping ethos — it's generally going to be slanted toward the underdogs. That's where the value often lies, and in this league, you're rarely as good or as bad as you looked the last week. There will be plenty of games that come down to a favorable emotional spot, or simply fading what we saw a few days earlier.
Here's the sheet for Week 1.
Browns +2.5 vs. Bengals
Divisional underdogs have traditionally been a good play in Week 1, and the Browns have controlled the recent flow of this series, winning five of six. I'd follow Joe Burrow into a burning building and I was thrilled to see him get paid, but he was dinged up this summer and didn't get his usual amount of work. Cincinnati likely comes out flat here (Cleveland first half might also make sense), and the Browns defense is no joke. Nick Chubb might finally get the full workload we've all been pleading for.
Steelers +2.5 vs. 49ers
This is one of the most interesting reveal games from Week 1. Brock Purdy was too good to be true in his brief 2022 run, and Kenny Pickett was too good to be true in five summer possessions (all touchdowns). The Niners travel west-to-east for an early body-clock game, and Pittsburgh is one of the last home-field advantages left.
Steelers' passing game, justify my love. And even if you don't, maybe T.J. Watt and the Pittsburgh defense will get us the money.
Commanders -7 vs. Cardinals
The Washington passing game looked interesting all summer, and Arizona gives off the scent of a team that's in tank mode. I'll also give the Commanders a look in Survivor, even as they're not the biggest favorite. This is the best spot they'll likely see all season.
Patriots +4 vs. Eagles
Being an underdog player means you'll often be on the weaker team, and that's certainly the case here. No one would look at the Philadelphia and New England rosters and pick the latter. But the Patriots' defense is going to be a plus unit, and OC Bill O'Brien represents a massive upgrade over the clown car that ran New England's offense last year. The Eagles' offense represents a nightmare draw, but at least New England gets this game with ample preparation time.
Jets +2.5 vs. Bills
The Jets have plenty of talent and swagger on defense, and that unit wasn't fazed by the Buffalo offense last year, giving up just 549 yards combined in the two meetings. It's hard to say what Aaron Rodgers has left in his age-39 season, but he's obviously a gigantic upgrade over the Wilson/Flacco/White mess we endured last year.
Last Year Throwing Darts Record: 54-31