The NFL unveiled their regular-season schedule on Thursday as part of their ongoing quest to be in the news cycle at all times. There will be lots of time to comb over the schedule and look for the best games, the worst, and the ones we are most looking forward to. What I want to do now, though, is focus on first impressions. There are, at first glance, seven games in the first two weeks that are particularly interesting - as both a bettor and a fan. They aren't necessarily going to be the best games of those two weeks, but they have the potential to be the most educational, and more than anything else early action in the NFL is about learning lessons you can profit from later on. Without further ado ( odds are from BetOnline ):
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Kansas City (+7) at New England, Week 1: The Patriots are an unstoppable machine. Right? Their defining characteristic over the Brady-Belichick has been relentless hunger. The more they get the more they want. They have built around one player, and replaced other pieces emotionlessly as needed, and it has worked. But will it work forever? I'm not at all suggesting that things could come to an end in Foxboro now or any time soon. Every time they step on the field for a new season, though, I can't help but watch for signs of cracks. Will Brady remain a mega-freak, or will he become late-era Manning? Will they run out of luck reclaiming players and elevating them? Will the humorless manner of Belichick wear thin with the roster at some point as the gap between his age and the average player grows? I'm generally bullish about the team again, and so are almost all bettors, but we can't know for sure until we see them play - and the sooner we can notice any cracks, the sooner we can profit by countering the public blindness.
New York Giants (+5.5) at Dallas, Week 1: Tony Romo is no longer with the Cowboys - have you heard anything about that yet? Few guys have departed after a lost season with more hoopla than Romo, and that means that the new era which started last year is now fully committed to. Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott now aren't just borrowing the spotlight - it's theirs. This is a good test for them - a big divisional game against a team that splashed out big in free agency. Will they take a big step forward in their second year? Or will they run square into a sophomore slump? This game won't provide all the answers, but we'll know a lot more - both about what we see and what the public will think - after this game.
Pittsburgh (-8.5) at Cleveland, Week 1: The Browns are not going to be good. That's just a fact. And right now they are tough to judge because we have no idea who their QB will be on opening day. That should be sorted out by the time this one kicks off, though - maybe. So we have a home game against a solid rival. We'll know in about four minutes just how bad this team is. Best-case scenario is that they don't suck quite as much as people think and create some value, but I'm certainly not holding my breath.
Oakland (+1) at Tennessee, Week 1: This is last year's Oakland against a team that would desperately like to be this year's Oakland. The season didn't end like the Raiders wanted, so they should be hungry. And the Titans were good last year and just keep getting better - or at least they should be. This is a really fascinating measuring stick game.
Indianapolis (-3) at L.A. Rams, Week 1: Both teams have plenty of questions and can't afford to be what they were last year. Do the Rams have clarity at QB, or was last year a wasted draft? Are the Colts ever going to quit wasting Andrew Luck's massive talent? We won't have conclusive answers to both, but we'll have plenty of clues.
Miami at L.A. Chargers, Week 2: The NFL finally lands in Carson, Calif. - which fans have obviously been clamoring for for decades. The whole Chargers situation has been a debacle, and this will be the first chance for us to see just what things are going to look like until the new stadium that the Chargers will be squatting in permanently is ready for action. Will the field in Carson feel like an NFL setup? Will the crowd be any good? Will people even show up? It's the toughest home-field advantage in sports to judge right now.
San Francisco at Seattle, Week 2: Until I was blue in the face last year I talked time and again about how the Seahawks just didn't feel like the Seahawks. The roster wasn't as deep - especially on the offensive line - and they had more drama and less ferocity. There is still a core here, though. This is their first home game, and it is against a pathetic mess of an organization - and a divisional rival to boot. If the Seahawks are going to be anything close to their peak then this is the kind of game they should win by a humiliating margin. It should be a bloodbath. If it isn't then something is really wrong up there.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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