NFL Betting Odds: Week 1 Line Movements & Last-Minute News
Normally, I'll address any big line moves in this weekly story, but that's not really an option this week because NFL lines have been up for months. For example, way back when the Ravens were 3.5-point favorites over the visiting Bills. However, now that we've seen Buffalo's sorry quarterback situation, Baltimore has risen to -7.5. New Orleans opened at -6.5 months ago vs. Tampa Bay but is now -9.5 in the wake of Jameis Winston's suspension. I could go on and on.
So, what we need to talk about first here is Le'Veon Bell. I previewed the Steelers-Browns game earlier this week here at Doc's, and when I sent the story in early Wednesday I was about as sure as I could be that Bell was going to report that day and be ready to roll on Sunday. After all, a couple of his teammates had guaranteed it.
Now it seems many of those same teammates are turning on the selfish Bell, who still isn't with the team. If you listen to his agent, Bell won't be reporting anytime soon. Technically, he doesn't have to because he hasn't signed his franchise tender, but for every game he misses he would lose $853,000, which is 1/17th of his $14.5 million salary this year. Bell can miss nine games and still hit free agency next winter because of some arcane rule in the CBA. (Why couldn't he at least tell his teammates his plans?)
Bell's thinking apparently is that he wants to cash in next offseason like Todd Gurley, Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack recently did in setting records for their positions - and Bell has been a better player than Gurley, also a running back. The Steelers had been running Bell into the ground with mammoth workloads as a runner and receiver - he had 321 carries and 85 receptions last regular season. Back in January, Bell flat-out said publicly that he wouldn't be accepting 400 touches again for a salary he thought wasn't appropriate. I'm sure he's fine making $14.5 million but not fine with no massive signing bonus or long-term stability. The less Bell plays this season, his camp believes, the more value he'd have on the free-agent market because of less wear and tear. Short-term pain (financially) for long-term gain.
It's doubtful the Steelers trade him because they believe they can win now and would lose a compensatory draft pick (third-rounder likely) when Bell signs elsewhere. Plus, what team would trade for Bell knowing it can't lock him into an immediate extension? Bell must play this season on the tag before he can sign any new contract. This is fairly unprecedented in the modern-day NFL.
Do I still like the Steelers this week in Cleveland? I do, as backup James Conner, the former Pitt star, has skills. But now I'd buy the spread down to 2.5 - it might get there on its own as I expect a lot of late money on the Browns now. I just hope you didn't take Bell on a prop to win MVP or lead the league in rushing or touchdowns - or that he was a top 3 pick of yours in your fantasy draft. I promise you Conner was the most picked-up guy in the NFL this week.
Here are some line moves or potential game-changing injury notes for Week 1.
Texans at Patriots (-6.5, 51.5): This has the highest total on the board. Houston got two pieces of good news on the injury front this week. No. 2 receiver Will Fuller and cornerback Kevin Johnson both should be good to go Sunday. Fuller didn't play in a preseason game due to a hamstring injury, while Johnson has practiced in full for the first time since his Aug. 19 concussion. New England is without suspended WR Julian Edelman (seriously, go look at their receiving group as it's really weak). Running backs Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel didn't play in the preseason but have been participating in practice and seem likely to play. Starting right tackle Marcus Cannon and defensive end Trey Cannon also are on track after not playing in the preseason. The Patriots, incidentally, are 11-1 ATS in their past 12 as home favorites with a total of 50 or higher.
Bengals at Colts (-2.5, 48.5): Touched on this Monday, but it's a game where you need to shop around depending on which side you are. This had been Colts -3 all week, but as of this writing a bunch of books have it down to -2.5. It depends where you look in regards to heavy lean, but a few sources I checked have the Bengals taking one of the biggest of the week.
Chiefs at Chargers (-3.5, 48): This one's going the other way it the Chargers were -3 at nearly every book early in the week but are taking solid action and the line is moving up. Rookie quarterbacks so infrequently play well on the road; I guess Patrick Mahomes isn't technically rookie as he started Week 17 in Denver last year, but that was his only meaningful action. And, to be honest, there might be more Chiefs fans in that L.A. soccer stadium than Chargers backers. Kansas City could be without star safety Eric Berry. He hasn't played or practiced in almost a month because of a sore heel. That's a huge loss as the K.C. defense wasn't the same without him in 2017. The Bolts might also be with a key piece on D as end Joey Bosa is in question.
Seahawks at Broncos (-3, 42.5): Two news items here. The Broncos have named Royce Freeman their starting running back. He'll be the first Week 1 rookie starter at the position for Denver since Terrell Davis in 1995. Davis had a fine rookie year, rushing for 1,117 yards and seven scores in 14 games and then was arguably the NFL's best back the next three years. Seahawks safety Earl Thomas, the only remaining member of the Legion of Boom, reported to the team on Wednesday and should play. He had been holding out for a new deal or a trade. I still think Thomas ends up in Dallas (where he wants to be) by the trade deadline.
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