If the Thursday night season opener is any indication, this will be a fantastic NFL season. I will admit I had zero confidence in Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian, but he played fairly well as Denver pulled off a 21-20 upset over Carolina as a 3-point home dog in the Super Bowl 50 rematch. That last-second 50-yard field-goal attempt by Graham Gano had everyone who bet the total on pins and needles. The total was set at 42 to start the week and when I previewed the game, and obviously if Gano makes that it goes over and yet the Panthers still don't cover -- I had recommended under.
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Gano actually made his first kick as it ricocheted off the right upright and through, but the Broncos had called timeout right before the kick to ice him as you knew they would. I believe Gano overcorrected himself as he then hooked the winning try. I think Denver is going to be in a lot of close games this year with a conservative game plan around Siemian but a still excellent defense. The Broncos won 11 games by seven or fewer points last season and are 1-0 this year. They are now +160 favorites to win the AFC West at Bovada after starting the season behind Kansas City (+190).
Carolina led the league with 39 takeaways last season and had three in the opener. Nine times out of 10 the Panthers are going to win when forcing three turnovers as well as win nine times out of 10 when rushing for 157 yards. They will be just fine, although Cam Newton took a major beating on Thursday with a couple of hits to the head. The Panthers are -190 to win the NFC South again.
That said, it helps to win Week 1 if you want to win a Super Bowl. The previous 50 Super Bowl champions were 40-9-1 in Week 1. Since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule, teams are twice as likely to make the playoffs when winning Week 1 than losing. Last year, seven of the 12 playoff teams won on Week 1 -- including Super Bowl champion Denver.
Here are some line moves or potential game-changing injury notes for Week 1.
Browns at Eagles (-3.5, 41): Robert Griffin III becomes Cleveland's 25th starting QB since the franchise rejoined the NFL in 1999. RGIII is the most NFL accomplished one of the previous 24, although obviously his career has regressed since 2012. Only one of the previous 24 finished his Browns starting career with a winning record: Brian Hoyer at 10-6 from 2013-14. Amazingly, just one of the previous 24 started all 16 games in a season: Tim Couch in 2001. Four of the 24 started just one game: Bruce Gradkowski, Connor Shaw, Spergon Wynn (haha!) and Thaddeus Lewis. Meanwhile, the Eagles go with No. 2 overall pick Carson Wentz -- a guy the Browns could have taken in that spot but didn't like and thus traded with the Eagles. This will be the ninth straight year that at least one rookie QB starts Week 1, by far the longest streak in NFL history. The last time it didn't happen was in 2007 when JaMarcus Russell was taken with the No. 1 overall pick by the Raiders and Brady Quinn went No. 22 to the Browns.
Patriots at Cardinals (-6.5, 46.5): I looked at this game on Monday so won't go too much in depth here, but the spread has risen a point with the Cardinals taking a solid lean. It might reach a touchdown by kickoff on Sunday night if New England star tight end Rob Gronkowski doesn't play. I knew he had been bothered by a hamstring injury in the preseason, but it was still surprising to hear him say it would be a "coaching decision" on whether he plays Sunday. Gronk has been limited at practice this week. He's the NFL's best tight end, but I wonder if the Pats play the cautious game here and hold him out because they acquired Martellus Bennett from the Bears in the offseason. The Boston Herald, however, is reporting he will play barring a setback but won't be 100 percent. I like the Cardinals even more now (but get it at 6.5).
Dolphins at Seahawks (-10, 44): Biggest spread on the board. You can actually bet a Bovada special on which Miami running back has more rushing yards this season, Arian Foster (-150) or Jay Ajayi (+120). Somewhat of a weak special considering Foster looks washed up and Ajayi wasn't very good as a rookie last year. The running back situation is why I think Miami will struggle so much this year. Foster has been named the Week 1 starter, but you know he will be hurt at some point because he always is. Seattle will have two of its key offensive players here, apparently, in running back Thomas Rawls and tight end Jimmy Graham. Neither played at all in the preseason and could be somewhat limited in Week 1. Seattle has lost rookie starting right guard Germain Ifedi to a high-ankle sprain that will cost him a few weeks. The offensive line already was a giant question mark.
Lions at Colts (-3.5, 51): Interesting that this line has gotten above 3 points. Colts QB Andrew Luck was limited in practice early this week with a shoulder injury, but there's no question he will play in a matchup of No. 1 overall picks against Detroit QB Matthew Stafford. Keep in mind that Indy is without its best offensive lineman, Jack Mewhort, and defensive player, cornerback Vontae Davis. The Colts are really thin in the secondary due to injuries as safety Clayton Geathers is out too. Did you know the Colts have gone 56 consecutive games without a 100-yard rusher? That's the third-longest streak since the 1970 NFL merger. With a 1-2 punch of Frank Gore and Robert Turbin, I don't see that ending anytime soon. The Lions will have No. 1 tight end Eric Ebron even though he didn't play a down in the preseason due to an ankle injury. Not sure how in shape the guy is. Top receiver Golden Tate was listed on the injury report with an ankle injury, but he's going to play.
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