This Sunday marks the start of my fifth season of releasing my top three weekly NFL picks on the "over/under" betting lines for Doc's Sports.
The key to success when betting totals is to dig deep into the facts, stats and betting trends for all the matchups on the slate in an effort uncover a few golden opportunities to beat the sportsbooks with a few bad lines. The following are my top three picks for Week 1 of the 2015 NFL regular season based on betting odds by BetOnline.
Sunday, Sept. 13
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Cleveland Browns vs. New York Jets (1 p.m. CBS)
Total Line: 40
The Browns have decided to go with Josh McCown as their starting quarterback in Sunday's season opener, but the problems with this offense still run deep after finishing last season ranked 27th in the NFL in scoring with an average of just 18.7 points a game. The promising thing for Cleveland fans this year could be even further improvement in a defense that was ranked ninth in the league in points allowed (21.1).
A head coaching change in New York puts Todd Bowles at the helm, but this is another offense that is going to have its work cut out for it with Ryan Patrick as its starting quarterback. The Jets actually ranked right below Cleveland in scoring last season with an average of 17.7 points and ended the year ranked 22nd in total yards per game. New York is also banking on improved defense to carry this team this season with a number of new faces on that side of the ball.
The total line for this AFC tilt first opened at 39.5, and it has moved in the right direction for my taste to 40 on BetOnline's current board. Scoring points in the first game of the season could be a real challenge for two offenses that have had their issues finding the end zone in the past. The total has stayed under in four of the last five meetings, and it is staying under again this Sunday afternoon.
Game Pick: UNDER
Carolina Panthers vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (1 p.m. FOX)
Total Line: 41.5
Carolina opened a new season as the defending NFC South champ, but that was behind a record of 7-8-1. The main problem with the Panthers last season was an offense that was highly inconsistent from one week to the next. They ended the regular season ranked 16th in the NFL in total yards and 19 th in scoring. The preseason loss of wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin for the year with a knee injury will not help the cause.
There was no doubt that Jacksonville could not find the end zone last season with a league-low 15.6 points a game. Jaguar fans have to be excited about the future prospects of Blake Bortles at quarterback after a promising rookie year, but I do not think the future is now for this offense. Jacksonville will be without free agent acquisition Julius Thomas at tight end to start the season as he recovers from finger surgery.
The opening betting odds for the total in this game were set at 43.5, and since then they have dropped to 41.5. Even with the early money bringing this line down quite a bit, I still believe it is high enough to cash in on a play on the under. The total has stayed under in five of Jacksonville's last seven home games, and I see things going that way again against Carolina.
Game Pick: UNDER
Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos (4:25 p.m. CBS)
Total Line: 49
There are quite a few football experts high on the Ravens' chances to make some serious noise in the AFC this season after a run to the Divisional Playoffs last season as a wild card team. They have a seasoned starter in Joe Flacco throwing the ball, and head coach John Harbaugh is high on rookie wide receiver Breshad Perriman as the team's top draft choice despite some health issues in the preseason. While Baltimore will need some new faces to step things up, this offense was still one of the better units in the league at putting points on the board in 2014.
With Peyton Manning still throwing the ball and the likes of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders still catching it, you know that Denver will remain one of the higher-scoring teams in the NFL. Last season the Broncos averaged 30.1 points a game, which was second most after Green Bay. The good news for Sunday is that Sanders has been upgraded to probable after being hindered with a hamstring injury in the preseason.
There continues to be some downward pressure on this line after it opened at 53, but that works for me with a play on the over at 49. Both of these teams have veteran quarterbacks that can hit the ground running, so points should not be too hard to come by for either side. The total has gone over in four of the last five meetings, and I see it going over again Sunday afternoon at Mile High.
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