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4 systems to guide NFL Week 1 betting

By Steve Makinen  () 

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With the NFL season opening, it’s the ideal time to look more closely at four betting systems that have been successful and consistent in looking exclusively at Week 1 action. These angles take into account how the teams fared the previous year and how they typically transition into the next season’s opener. Of course, without the usual offseason training camp schedule and the absence of preseason games, other factors could affect how things transpire this weekend, but let’s go on the assumption of status quo.

Even with no preseason games, plenty happened in terms of personnel changes to alter perceptions from the close of last season. Big-name players like Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Cam Newton, DeAndre Hopkins and Melvin Gordon have moved on to new teams. This certainly makes things tough on oddsmakers. With no on-field action, how can they accurately quantify teams’ Week 1 chemistry? This could be to the bettors’ advantage.

Remember, the bookies’ job is to try to get as much even action as possible on a game’s wagering options, not so much to pick the game. But weak spots can show up, and savvy bettors who are prepared with knowledge of the teams and a powerful weapon like systems can be ready to take advantage. Here are four to help you get ready for NFL kickoff 2020.

NFL opening-week road teams that won four to six games the previous season are 43-18-5 ATS (70.5%) since ’04 (Win: + 23.2 units; ROI: 38.0%; Grade: 70)

2020 potential plays: Miami, Cleveland, L.A. Chargers, Arizona

Analysis: Teams in the four- to six-win range usually qualify as potential bounce-back teams, with the new season offering fresh motivation and momentum. In many cases, bad luck, injuries or even tanking soured the previous year’s record. The six teams on the system went 3-2-1 ATS last season. Four teams qualify for this angle in 2020. Let’s look at each game.

Game 1: MIAMI (+ 6.5) at New England

Miami is one of the experts’ popular picks to enjoy a resurgence after going 5-11 last season. The Dolphins’ draft was widely respected, and the key was the selection of QB Tua Tagovailoa at No. 5. In Week 1, coach Brian Flores’ team will be taking on the same opponent it faced to end the 2019 season. In that game, the Dolphins were heavy 15.5-point underdogs at New England but pulled a 27-24 upset, sending the Patriots from what would have been a first-round bye to the No. 3 seed and an eventual loss to Tennessee in the wild-card round. Of course, that playoff loss wound up being Tom Brady’s last game with the franchise he took to dynasty heights. Brady has moved to Tampa Bay and has been replaced by Cam Newton, and New England is a healthy 6.5-point favorite for this contest. Miami won its final two games of 2019 and was 9-3 ATS in the last 12 games. Coach Bill Belichick’s team lost its final two games and was 1-5-1 ATS down the stretch. This game could signal a changing of the guard in the AFC East should Miami win.

Game 2: CLEVELAND (+ 8) at Baltimore

Cleveland went into the 2019 season under the intense pressure of overly optimistic expectations. The Browns had just added wide receiver Odell Beckham, among others, and were coming off a resurgent 2018 season in which QB Baker Mayfield had established himself as the franchise cornerstone. They were 5-2 SU and ATS in their final seven games and were a popular pick to end their playoff drought. But the expectations were unrealistic, and the Browns succumbed to the pressure as early as Week 1, when they were routed by Tennessee 43-13. They finished 6-10. While the expectations are still high, they aren’t nearly at the level of 2019. The 2020 Browns should respond better, as they’ve added several key players, despite lacking Beckham’s name recognition. Baltimore comes off a 14-2 season soiled by a divisional-round playoff loss. Quarterback Lamar Jackson was named the league’s MVP, and generally the Ravens are expected to pick up where they left off. That is usually difficult to do, as teams that reach 14 wins typically ride a ton of momentum. That will have to be re-established in 2020, and opening as eight-point favorites in Week 1 is added pressure.

Game 3: LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (-3) at Cincinnati

The Chargers’ 2019 stats and their talent level are far better than their 5-11 record indicated. So they are one of my favorite season-win-total bets to go Over. It’s not often that a team loses its franchise quarterback of 15 seasons yet is expected to improve by three games or more. The new QB figures to be journeyman Tyrod Taylor, who should at least improve on the 20 interceptions thrown by Philip Rivers last season. Coach Anthony Lynn’s team was just 1-6 SU and ATS down the stretch but lost five of those games by 10 or fewer points, and turnovers were often the difference. In fact, the team lost 10 games by 10 or fewer points in 2019, a popular characteristic of teams that tend to bounce back the next season. L.A.’s Week 1 opponent also boasts fresh hope as the top overall draft pick, QB Joe Burrow, is expected to take the reins for Cincinnati. Rookie starting quarterbacks typically are good bets early in the season, but the Bengals were just 2-14 last season while scoring 17.4 PPG and, as three-point underdogs, figure to be a risky bet.

Game 4: ARIZONA (+ 7) at San Francisco

Arizona’s 2019 season can best be described as inconsistent. Rookie QB Kyler Murray and first-year coach Kliff Kingsbury experienced their share of peaks and valleys. But they showed enough positive signs to think this franchise is closer to success than its 5-10-1 record indicated. With a point-spread mark of 9-6-1, the Cardinals showed the competitiveness of a team ready to emerge in 2020. That effort will be aided by the arrival of WR DeAndre Hopkins in the desert. He was one of the NFL’s top playmakers for the Texans and will make an immediate impact for an offense that scored 22.6 PPG. That stat in itself is always a good sign for making significant year-to-year improvements. However, the biggest reason for optimism is the haul the team made in the draft on defense, highlighted by LB Isaiah Simmons of Clemson. Kingsbury’s team is a seven-point underdog at San Francisco, the defending NFC champion. The divisional rivals played two highly competitive games last season, and the Cardinals scored 51 points on the 49ers’ vaunted defense. San Francisco will be trying to overcome the Super Bowl loser’s hangover, a situation in which teams typically drop three wins or more the next season. 

Opening-week home favorites hosting teams that were above .500 the previous season are 44-19-5 ATS (69.8%) since ’00 (Win: + 23.1 units; ROI: 36.7%; Grade: 65)

2020 potential plays: Kansas City, Minnesota, Denver

Analysis: Home favorites hosting quality opponents are likely very strong themselves, or at least expected to be much better, and opening the season provides extra motivation. Alternatively, in the case of our visiting teams this season, none is expected to reach their 2019 heights. For 2020, three plays are on tap.

Game 1: KANSAS CITY (-9.5) vs. Houston

Although the traditional celebration of the Super Bowl champions in front of their home fans to kick off the season won’t be on display Thursday night, the champs’ success probably won’t change. These teams have been phenomenal as hosts in the opening-night contest, with 13 of the last 15 winning outright. Houston figures to have its hands full after allowing 51 points to the Chiefs in the playoffs in January, losing by 20 after bolting to a 24-0 lead. The Texans also traded WR DeAndre Hopkins, perhaps their best playmaker. Both young quarterbacks in this matchup signed lucrative contract extensions in the offseason and will be eager to start proving their worth. With a game total of 54, oddsmakers are expecting points. Patrick Mahomes’ arsenal looks improved, while Houston’s weaponry outside of Deshaun Watson took a step back.

Game 2: MINNESOTA (-2.5) vs. Green Bay

Perhaps no other team’s 2019 success was questioned more than Green Bay’s. The Packers were 13-3 in coach Matt LaFleur’s first season, coming within one win of a Super Bowl berth. However, most NFL experts point out that the Packers outscored opponents by less than four PPG and were manhandled by the 49ers twice. That along with QB Aaron Rodgers’ perceived decline have most analysts expecting a noticeable drop in performance. They’ll have a chance to start proving the doubters wrong Sunday but will have to do it in a difficult spot. The Vikings own a 3-1 record at U.S. Bank Stadium versus Green Bay since it opened in 2016, with the Packers scoring just 16 PPG, well below average. Coach Mike Zimmer’s team has lost some key pieces on both sides of the ball but is still expected to contend for the NFC North title.

Game 3: DENVER (-1) vs. Tennessee

The Titans are another team that seemingly have not commanded the respect of NFL experts after their unexpected run to the AFC title game last year. Like Green Bay, the Titans are expected to fall in 2020 despite bringing back most of their key pieces. They’ll open in what is normally a tough environment, though the absence of fans will diminish that some. The late Monday start, the expected erratic weather in Denver this week and the altitude will still be tough to overcome, especially with no on-field action to build endurance. For Denver, fans are boasting a cautious optimism after a 7-9 campaign that was highlighted by a 4-1 finish led by QB Drew Lock. Keep an eye on this line, however. The Broncos could fall out of the favorites’ role by kickoff, nullifying them as system qualifiers.

 

Divisional home underdogs are 13-6-1 SU and 16-4 ATS (80%) in Week 1 since ’09 (Win: + 11.6 units; ROI: 58%; Grade: 65)

2020 potential plays: Washington, Jacksonville

Analysis: Few things are more motivating than an opening-week contest at home against a targeted team in the division. In most cases, the road favorite is a returning playoff team, while the home dog is an aspiring one. Over the last 11 years, the aspiring team has enjoyed plenty of success and a great start to the season. The Raiders qualified on this last year and beat Denver on Monday night.

Game 1: WASHINGTON (+ 6) vs. Philadelphia

These teams opened the 2019 season in Philadelphia, and Washington hung tough, losing 32-27 as a 10-point dog. But the rest of the season didn’t go well, and the franchise moved on in the offseason with a new coach as well as a new name. In comes longtime Carolina coach Ron Rivera, who should give the franchise at least a renewed attitude. He has always been known as a player’s coach who tends to get the maximum effort out of his group. He hopes to have the same impact on QB Dwayne Haskins as he once had on Cam Newton. Washington has a nice crop of young talent, but with no preseason to mold it, early chemistry has to be a concern. The Eagles are the defending NFC East champs, but history has shown that being large road divisional favorites in Week 1 isn’t a great betting spot.

Game 2: JACKSONVILLE (+ 8) vs. Indianapolis

Naturally, the two home divisional underdogs in Week 1 are the teams in which bettors have professed the least faith in 2020. Besides Washington, Jacksonville is the other ugly pooch that believers in this highly successful system must trust. While Jacksonville has been accused of already tanking the 2020 season, its roster is loaded with young players looking to make names for themselves. The Jaguars also have a QB in Gardner Minshew who experienced great success in his rookie year last fall. Indianapolis is a popular pick to rule the AFC South after adding QB Philip Rivers, but quarterback play was not a problem for the Colts in 2019. They have struggled horribly in their last four visits to Jacksonville, going 0-4 while being outscored 125-46.

Week 1 non-divisional conference road favorites are 20-11-1 ATS (64.5%) since ’99 (Win: + 7.9 units; ROI: 25.5%; Grade: 60)

2020 potential plays: Seattle, L.A. Chargers, Dallas

Analysis: The host teams in this system have scored just 14.8 PPG in the 32 contests. Historically, the home dogs in these games are not good offensively. Pretty easy to see why the road favorites have ATS success. This year three teams qualify in this system.

Game 1: SEATTLE (-1.5) at Atlanta

Coach Pete Carroll’s team continues to chug along as a perennial NFC contender, so much so that the Seahawks are Week 1 road favorites against a relatively well-respected team in Atlanta. Seattle won 11 games a year ago despite outscoring opponents by only seven points. The Seahawks were strangely at their best on the road, going 7-1, and QB Russell Wilson is among the favorites to win the MVP award. He could have a field day against a Falcons defense that allowed 24.9 PPG last season. Atlanta is looking to restore the momentum it had at the close of the 2019 season, when it won its final four games. Watch this line closely. Any late movement could find the hosts favored, removing the contest from system qualification.

Game 2: LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (-3) at Cincinnati

The Chargers qualify in two of the four systems. See the previous breakdown regarding Sunday’s contest versus Cincinnati.

Game 3: DALLAS (-3) at Los Angeles Rams

This “Sunday Night Football” season opener matches a team expected to take a huge step forward in 2020 against one that took a step backward in 2019. Dallas comes into the season under new leadership, with former Packers coach Mike McCarthy taking the reins. McCarthy was highly successful in Green Bay, winning a Super Bowl and reaching the conference title game several times. He oversaw the Packers taking the Cowboys out of the playoffs three times and will be asked to help his new team reach lofty playoff heights. Dallas is loaded with talent, particularly offensively, which is McCarthy’s specialty. The Rams went from a Super Bowl and 13-3 record in 2018 to 9-7 a year ago. They endured a huge decline offensively, scoring 8.3 fewer points per game, leading to speculation that the Patriots created the blueprint for slowing coach Sean McVay’s vaunted offense. They’ll need to score plenty of points to compete with the Cowboys.

 

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