NFL Betting and Handicapping: Scouting the Week Ahead
by Alan Matthews - 9/10/2013
So how important is Week 1 in the NFL? I would argue not that much -- certainly nowhere near as important as the opening week in college football. Thus, I wouldn't read too much into the NFL's first week, although there are certainly some warning signs for a few teams.
Last year in Week 1, four eventual playoff teams lost their opener: Indianapolis fell by 20 at Chicago in Andrew Luck's debut; Green Bay lost by eight at home to San Francisco; Seattle lost 20-16 at Arizona; and Cincinnati was pummeled 44-13 at Baltimore. The key was that the Colts, Packers, Seahawks and Bengals all won the following week to avoid the dreaded 0-2 start.
Thus, backers of playoff hopefuls like the Redskins, Giants, Packers, Vikings, Falcons, Steelers and Ravens shouldn't worry too much. Well, maybe Pittsburgh and Baltimore should.
The Ravens played well for the first half in Denver but then were blown off the field by Peyton Manning as he tied the NFL record with seven touchdown passes in a 49-27 win. It was the worst season-opening loss by a defending Super Bowl Champion and the most points the Ravens have allowed. All those defensive losses this offseason sure looked like a big deal, although here's guessing Manning and Co. aren't done with 40-point games this year. The Ravens should be OK, although Baltimore has dropped to +4000 to win the Super Bowl at Sportsbook.ag.
Pittsburgh, I believe, is in serious trouble. That offense looked ridiculously bad in a 16-9 loss against a Titans defense that set a franchise record for points allowed in 2012. The Steelers didn't score a touchdown until there was a little over a minute left in the game. They don't have a running game without injured rookie Le'Veon Bell, no true No. 1 receiver with Mike Wallace in Miami, and the offensive line is terrible -- even worse now that all-pro center Maurkice Pouncey was lost for the season. Go under on all Steelers games! Perhaps 8-8 wins the AFC North this year because all four teams lost in Week 1.
Other teams that need to worry:
--The Giants, who coughed up the ball six times against Dallas. Eli Manning and New York will score plenty but apparently not stop anyone. New York's running game is also in terrible shape because starter David Wilson can't hold on to the ball. The Giants appear likely to fall to 0-2 this week in the Manning Bowl against the Broncos, who are 4.5-point favorites. In an interesting prop, Sportsbook.ag has which free-agent running back the Giants will sign first. Several were working out for the team Monday in the wake of Wilson's troubles. Former Bronco Willis McGahee is the +140 favorite, followed by former Giant Brandon Jacobs at +175.
--The Vikings, who clearly remain Adrian Peterson and nothing else. The Lions dominated Minnesota in a 34-24 win, with Peterson scoring all three Vikings touchdowns. Christian Ponder was his usual inconsistent self, throwing three picks. How many weeks until Matt Cassel gets the call? Minnesota is +6.5 this week at Chicago, a team Peterson torments.
--The Browns. Not much was expected of Cleveland, and it looks a lock to have yet another losing season. Brandon Weeden clearly isn't the answer at quarterback after he threw three interceptions and was only 26-of-53 passing in an ugly offensive effort against Miami. Cleveland is +6.5 at desperate Baltimore this week.
Week 2 Enticing Underdogs
Tampa Bay (+4.5) vs. New Orleans: The Saints looked very good defensively in beating Atlanta in the Superdome on Sunday. The offense looked its normal self with Drew Brees throwing for 357 yards, his sixth straight game with at least 300. That's three shy of his own record. The Bucs should be 1-0 but choked away their win at the Jets last week, so they will be playing with a sense of urgency. Tampa Bay had the worst pass defense last year, and it's hard to grade that unit against a bad Jets team, but it certainly looked better with Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson in Week 1. Brees and the Saints are not usually the same offense outdoors, and the heat and humidity figure to wear down New Orleans.
Tennessee (+8.5) at Houston: It's a short week for Houston after rallying from 21 points down on Monday night at San Diego in a game that didn't end until nearly 2 a.m. Eastern. So it's a REALLY short week for Houston, and I think the players will be spent. The Texans won both games last year against Tennessee by at least 14 points, but the Titans should be able to run on a suddenly suspect Houston defense.
Jacksonville (+6) at Oakland: The loser of this game has the inside track for the No. 1 overall pick in next year's draft. Terrelle Pryor looked pretty good for the Raiders in the near-upset in Indianapolis. However, I think the Jaguars are actually better in Week 2 without starting QB Blaine Gabbert. He's out with a laceration on his throwing hand. Chad Henne is an upgrade at the position and capable of a big game or two.
To no surprise, the Broncos have slightly pulled away from the pack and are now +600 Super Bowl favorites, followed by San Francisco (+700) and Seattle (+750) -- the Niners and Seahawks play in the Week 2 marquee matchup. The Saints are up to +1500 after beating Atlanta (+1800). New Orleans is now the +110 favorite in the NFC South, with Atlanta at +150.
The Eagles have risen to +2200 after their highly-entertaining Monday night win over the Redskins. Philly skyrocketed to the +200 co-favorite with Dallas to win the NFC East. The Giants and Skins dropped to +350. The Patriots looked rather vulnerable in Week 1 against Buffalo but remain -350 division favorites in the AFC East. The Packers are 0-1 but remain -110 favorites in the NFC North behind 1-0 teams Chicago (+250) and Detroit (+300). Denver remains the top division favorite at -600 in the AFC West, with Kansas City up to +400 after its domination of Jacksonville.
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