The NFL season starts three weeks from tonight but lines for Week 1 were available hours after the NFL schedule was released in April. Here are five games that interest me the most, including four where I endorse a bet at the current number:
Titans PK vs Raiders
I’ll be fading the Raiders as much as I can and I’m high on the Titans. Maybe not as high as some but I think this is a perfect spot for Tennessee who catch the Raiders playing at 10 Pacific Time. The Titans also have revenge on their mind from a narrow loss to the Raiders last season. Look for the Tennessee offense to expose Oakland’s defense.
Buccaneers PK at Dolphins
Take this number now because it will continue to move. It looks like the Buccaneers will end up going off as a favorite by kickoff. Miami hardly has a home field advantage and I think it will take Cutler some time to get used to his new home. Tampa Bay impressed last year in Week 1 by beating the Falcons in Atlanta and I expect another strong start for Dirk Koetter’s team.
Chargers +3.5 at Broncos
I explained why I like the Chargers and why I’m looking to bet against the Broncos in my season win totals article. It’s convenient they play each other in Week 1. The bad news is people will learn how good the Chargers will be this season since this is a national TV game and we won’t get much value on them going forward.
Under 47.5 in Eagles-Redskins
Last year these two teams played in Landover and the total closed at 45. It barely went over but the Eagles scored a special teams and defensive touchdown to help the game go past the total. Now the total is higher but it’s falling a little bit, so take this as soon as possible. I think the Redskins offense will sputter early with a new offensive coordinator. On the other side, I’ll trust that Jim Schwartz’s defense will be ready for the Redskins but can’t say the same about Doug Pederson and his offense. Division games tend to be tighter and low-scoring, and think this total is set too high.
Cowboys (if it gets to -2.5 or less) vs Giants
When Ezekiel Elliott was given a six-game suspension I immediately wondered how linemakers would react to the Cowboys Week 1 affair with the Giants. Obviously Elliott is a top running back but how much off a drop-off is a fresh Darren McFadden especially since Dak Prescott proved that Dallas has a very efficient passing game. The line ended up moving slightly after the Elliott announcement to keep this spread still over a field goal. I wouldn’t get involved yet but would love to take the Cowboys giving less than a field goal against a Giants team that has an aging quarterback and lackluster run game.
I will start off by saying I don’t have an opinion on the side or total in the Super Bowl. The Panthers are the better team but I don’t feel confident enough in betting them -6 on a neutral field. The Broncos have the best defense in the league and that’s a lot of points to give. On the other side, I have no interest in fading this Panthers juggernaut that have proved me wrong most of the season.
If you like the Panthers against the spread then you probably could make a correlated bet to the over at 45. If the Broncos cover then you have to expect a lower-scoring game, similar to the AFC Championship.
The good thing about the Super Bowl is the amount of prop bets that are offered. I think there are some great opportunities here and it’s much easier than handicapping the full game. Here are my three favorite props for Sunday:
Will there be a Defensive or Special Teams Touchdown? No (-155)
It might not always be attractive to take a prop at minus-money. In this case you have to bet $155 to win $100 but I think there’s tremendous value in this bet. As good as the defenses are for both teams, a Super Bowl game is usually played very conservatively. Both teams don’t want to make mistakes, which limits the chance for an interception for a touchdown. Both teams are have strong special team coverage units so I’m not worried about a return touchdown. As of Thursday morning, this is the prop I feel most confident about.
Highest Scoring Half? 2nd Half & OT (-115)
As mentioned above teams are conservative in the Super Bowl. This is especially the case early in the game. A scoreless first quarter is very possible in a Super Bowl especially in this game with a low total. This is something you can almost automatically bet for every Super Bowl and I would get on it soon before it moves off -115. If you like this prop I would also recommend taking “No” on either team scoring in the first 6 1/2 minutes of the game.
Panthers (-115) to have the longest punt return in the game
I also like the Broncos to have more punts and the betting market is indicating that. The Broncos are -165 to have more punts than the Panthers. So that means Carolina will have a better chance to return punts and Ted Ginn Jr. is a dangerous punt returner.
The Patriots are a three-point or 3.5-point favorite at the Broncos on Sunday. The same Patriots team that was only a five-point favorite against the Chiefs last Saturday. This line for the AFC Championship Game is saying the Patriots would be close to 10-point favorites if this game was played in Foxboro.
Are the Chiefs five points better than the Broncos? Not a chance. A Broncos are probably the better team and have an advantage at almost every position other than quarterback.
The big question in this game is Peyton Manning. I expect the Patriots to force Manning to beat them with mid-range and long throws. New England will look to stop the run and contain a screen-pass game.
There’s not much value in betting on the Patriots against the spread so I will approach this game by picking against the Broncos defense. I will tweet out official plays but will likely go under the Broncos team total, which is currently posted at 20.5. I will also take a closer look at the first half under for this game.
Cardinals at Panthers
Let’s get this out of the way early. I think the Cardinals are a slightly better team than the Panthers. The Panthers are a 3-point favorite so I think there is some value in the Cardinals.
The first half for the Panthers couldn’t have gone better against the Seahawks. A long run by Jonathan Stewart set up an early touchdown and pick-six by Luke Keuchly put Seattle in an early hole and they could never recover. It was a dream start for Carolina and I don’t think that will happen this week.
I do like the Cardinals to win straight up and think their wide receivers will be able to have success against the Cardinals secondary. Josh Norman has had a very strong season and will likely be able to contain Larry Fitzgerald. I will look at the props for Michael Floyd and John Brown in this game. I think both could be very productive playing away from Norman. Floyd got the headlines last week with his two touchdowns receptions but Brown had more receptions and targets. He didn’t score a touchdown but his a deep threat that could change the game in one play. I will post the props I like on Twitter but they will likely involve Brown over receiving yards and to score a touchdown.
As for the side, I will tweet an official pick on the Cardinals later but will hold out hope the line gets to 3.5-points.
Eagles (-3) over Redskins: The Redskins can win the division with a win but I think the NFC East will be decided in Week 17. I was dead wrong about the Eagles last week but think they bounce back here.
Buccaneers (-3) over Bears: This is a revenge game for Lovie Smith against his former employers. The Bears are already thinking about the offseason and the Buccaneers have pride to play for.
Broncos (-3) over Bengals: Can’t see AJ McCarron doing well in a primetime environment against a great defense. The Broncos need this game more and I think they win by over a field goal.
Rams (+1) over Steelers: I think the wrong team is the favorite in this game. The Steelers are coming off a blowout victory against the 49ers but the result is misleading. The 49ers were coming off a Monday night game and had to make the long trip to Pittsburgh on a short week. The Rams had a letdown against the Redskins after beating the Seahawks in Week 1. I think the Rams bounce back and we are getting some value after their poor performance against the Redskins. The Steelers play the Ravens on Thursday night in Week 4 so this is a lookahead game for them.
Eagles (+1.5) over Jets: Another game where we can take advantage of overreaction. The Eagles are 0-2 and their offense is struggling. The Jets are coming off a big Monday win at the Colts. Coming back on a short week is a tough spot for New York. The Eagles would the favorite in this game if they won one of their first two games and I think now is the perfect time to buy low on Chip Kelly’s team.
Ravens (-2.5) over Bengals: This game is the season for the Ravens. They started 0-2 after falling to two AFC West opponents. Despite the two road defeats I think Baltimore still has a great chance of making the playoffs but they have to win this game. The Bengals might be a little better than the Ravens but considering home field and the situation, I think the Ravens cover.
Bills (+3) over Dolphins: The Bills were getting too much respect last week and closed as a favorite against the Patriots. They got in a shootout with the Patriots, and this Bills team won’t win games playing high-scoring games. They need to run the ball and play well on defense, which is what they did against the Colts in Week 1. There was a lot of preseason hype surrounding the Dolphins this preseason but they have not been impressive in games over the Redskins and Jaguars. I see this being a low-scoring game and the Bills winning straight up.
Lions (+3) over Broncos: Another situation where I will back a 0-2 team that needs to win. The Lions are a much better team at home and the building will be rocking on a Sunday night. Despite winning and covering in the first two games, I have not been impressed with Peyton Manning and the Broncos offense. If Denver loses to Kansas City then this line is probably closer to a pick ’em. I’ll take my chances with the Lions.