NFL Week 1 Lines and Expert Betting Predictions
The draft is over and free agency is largely done with for the year in the NFL, so it feels like we are ready to play some football. The sad truth, though, is that the regular season is still a third of a year away. Ugh. While it will be a long wait for the season to get rolling again, we don't have to wait to handicap the first week of games. Bovada is one among several sportsbooks that have posted opening lines for most games in the first week of action. A lot will obviously change between now and then, but let's go shopping for some value, shall we? This isn't all of the games - some don't have numbers yet, and some just aren't that interesting:
Baltimore (-4.5) vs Buffalo: There is interesting QB drama on both sides. In Buffalo will we see A.J. McCarron or Josh Allen? Allen seems the furthest away from ready of any of the first-round quarterbacks, but McCarron is McCarron, and his stock has fallen significantly of late. That could go either way. And while we are very likely to see Joe Flacco for Baltimore, he will have to learn to throw downfield while constantly looking over his shoulder, because Lamar Jackson is obviously angling to take his job. Neither team is great. Baltimore should be the better squad but not by a lot. I don't love the value here.
Minnesota (-5) vs. San Francisco: The hype around San Francisco and saint Jimmy G, the almighty god of quarterbacking, is pretty intense. But they have drawn a very tough first assignment here. Minnesota is deep and talented, and Kirk Cousins should be hungry to make a strong early statement for his new team. I don't think this number could be any higher and still be playable, but at this price I would take the Vikings.
Jacksonville (-4) at New York Giants: It's nice to start the season out with a gift, and this certainly is one. Jacksonville was no fluke last year They had a very talented defense and a competent enough offense last year, and they have only improved this offseason. The Giants, meanwhile, seem to think that Eli Manning is their answer for a couple more years, and their best offensive player can't decide if he wants to play for them anymore. This could be a shellacking. You could give the Giants another field goal and I would still take the Jaguars.
Pittsburgh (-6.5) at Cleveland: The Browns are getting a lot of attention these days, and much of it is even positive. Who knew that that was possible? But while they should be improved - especially under center - this is a very tough opening assignment. The Steelers are at least as good on offense and solidly better defensively. This game shouldn't be that close in the end, and that's not a negative reflection on the moves the Browns are making. Remember, they are
Still coming off a 0-16 season, so they have a whole lot of improving to do just to get to barely decent.
L.A. Chargers (-3) vs. Kansas City: The Patrick Mahomes era starts in earnest. Am I the only one who is skeptical of that? Mahomes feels to me like one of those guys who everyone assumes will be good because they have heard everyone say he will be good. I'll wait until I can see it with my own eyes. The Chargers, meanwhile, are poised to be the best they have been in several years. The home-field advantage still isn't an advantage, but I like the Chargers here.
Denver (-2) vs. Seattle: I like the offseason the Broncos have had. A lot. The addition of Case Keenum gives them the best quarterbacking they have had since the year before Peyton Manning retired. The defense is back and loaded and will only be better with the addition of Bradley Chubb, who was incredibly still available with the fifth pick. I love the value of picking Royce Freeman at running back in the third round, too. Seattle did some good things in the draft, too, but the pick or Rashaad Penny in the first round felt like a stretch, and the team lost a lot on defense in the offseason. Denver is an easy play at this price.
Chicago (+8) at Green Bay: I feel like gambling a bit here. We keep hearing that Green Bay is great this year. But they were not great without Aaron Rodgers last year. He definitely improves the team, but I'm not convinced he fixes enough. Chicago, meanwhile, made a good coaching change, and Mitch Trubisky could take a step forward. I'm not sure Chicago can win, but they could keep it within a touchdown - and for bettors that's as good as a win here.
L.A. Rams (-3) at Oakland: The further we have gotten away from the hiring, the more skeptical I have become of the Jon Gruden addition. I'm not drinking the Kool-Aid just yet. The Rams, meanwhile, look great. They return the core from a very good season last year and were very aggressive improving the roster where needed. The trades they made show the team that management is hungry and serious, and that will only motivate them. They are a team I like a whole lot this year and also in this game.
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