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Best bets for Week 1 NFL games

By VSiN Staff  (VSiN.com) 

September 12, 2020 11:59 PM
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The first weekend of the 2020 NFL season is finally here. The Kansas City Chiefs (-9.5) kicked off the season by beating the Houston Texans 34-20 and covering the spread.

With 13 games on Sunday's Week 1 slate, there are plenty of betting opportunities. Our experts Drew Dinsick, Dave Tuley and Matt Youmans combine to give their opinions on every game.

Check back as updates come in on injuries and line moves throughout the weekend.

1 p.m. ET games

Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots (-6.5, 42)

Dinsick: This is a divisional rematch of the 2019 regular-season finale where the Dolphins’ upset cost New England the No. 2 seed and a realistic shot at a playoff run.  Miami’s Brian Flores brings some matchup-specific familiarity coaching against his former team; however, this is largely neutralized by the offseason which saw the most significant roster turnover in the NFL for the Patriots.  New England will be introducing a new starting QB in Cam Newton as well as half a dozen new starters on the defensive side of the ball while Miami invested heavily in the free agent market along with an enormous draft haul to fill the numerous holes in their roster. 

Major questions exist: Is Cam healthy? How will the Patriots deploy him? Did Miami address its poor offensive line? Will any of the young Dolphins players contribute? The overall turnover and uncertainty in this game would suggest we may have a live underdog, but with very weak priors on both teams, it is difficult to play under a touchdown. I’m passing on the game but it’ll be an important one to watch to help answer these important questions.

Pick: Pass

Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens (-7.5, 48.5)

Tuley: The whole world is on the Ravens and seemingly back to fading the Browns, but it was just 12 months ago that the Browns were getting all the hype and were actually favored to win the AFC North. As I wrote in VSiN’s Pro Football Betting Guide, the Browns remind me of the 2018 49ers, who had a disappointing season and then living up to their potential in 2019 by going all the way to the Super Bowl. 

There isn’t that much difference between these two teams from a talent perspective (certainly not more than a TD), so take the points the bookmakers are giving us because the public is expecting the Ravens to be as dominant as they were last year, though we’re pretty sure the league’s defensive coordinators have been studying film on the Ravens’ unique offensive scheme this whole offseason and will be better prepared for Lamar Jackson & Co. Even if the Browns aren’t able to get the win, they should stay within a TD for the cover.

Pick: Browns + 8

Dinsick: The Browns largely addressed every major weakness on their team this offseason, most notably the head coach and their offensive tackles. These investments will help the overall growth and development of Baker Mayfield, especially considering the strong fit between Kevin Stefanski’s system and Mayfield’s strengths. On the other side of the football, the Ravens will be without two first ballot hall-of-famers in Marshall Yanda (retired) and Earl Thomas (dismissed), but otherwise will return one of the strongest overall rosters in the NFL. And we will get our first taste of what an offseason of prep will mean in terms of defenses scheming to stop the electric Lamar Jackson.

Cleveland will potentially be at reduced strength in their secondary due to injury, but the general familiarity between these divisional rivals and the upgrades made by the Browns this offseason makes them an appealing underdog, especially across the key number of 7. Cleveland 8 worth playing, as my numbers make this a one-score contest.

Pick: Browns + 8

New York Jets at Buffalo Bills (-6.5, 39.5)

Dinsick: Year three begins for two of the QBs drafted in Round 1 of the 2018 NFL draft whose teams have trended in opposite directions both in terms of roster construction and on-field success. The Bills have put together a truly complete unit defensively (No. 6 in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric in 2019) and populated the offense with talent that should help Josh Allen reach his ceiling (albeit, potentially a low one), while the Jets have countless holes that still need to be addressed to consider them a reasonable contender. 

This would be a nice spot to lay the points with the home favorite if there was any confidence in the QB position for the Bills, but at this point Allen hasn’t given us any data to suggest he can produce even competent QB play week-in, week-out so this game is a pass.

Pick: Pass

Las Vegas Raiders (-3, 47.5) at Carolina Panthers

Dinsick: The Panthers begin the new Matt Rhule era with Teddy Bridgewater under center, but find themselves in difficult circumstances given that 2020 was a year without a preseason. The offense for the Panthers looks somewhat competitive having experience and talent in both the passing and running games, the defense on the other hand will almost certainly be the bottom five in the league (25th in DVOA in 2019) suffering from both youth and lack of overall talent. 

The Raiders head to Charlotte with a strong offensive line, a competent QB and talented young roster so it wasn’t surprising to see this number get bet from a pick ‘em to Raiders -3 as we approached the season. The value in this number is gone, in my opinion, but the Raiders defense is also somewhat lacking (31st in DVOA in 2019) making Over 47.5 a playable total as the fair price for this game is close to 50 by my numbers.

Pick: Over 47.5

Seattle Seahawks (-2, 49) at Atlanta Falcons

Dinsick: The Seahawks enter 2020 with a revamped secondary but downgraded strength in the trenches; their offensive line will likely be in the bottom half of the league and they lose their game-changing pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney.  The bigger issue holding back Seattle, however, is a predictable offensive scheme and sequencing, which has been more effective at limiting the dynamic Russell Wilson than defenses have been at stopping him. 

The Falcons start this season with low expectations and plenty of continuity across both the coaching staff and the roster. Their defense took a significant step forward in the second half of the 2019 season going from 29th in DVOA over the first eight games to 10th over its last eight. This improvement was largely attributed to Raheem Morris taking over defensive coordinator duties and if their strong performances carry into 2020, they are live to pull off the upset. 

My numbers make the fair price Seattle by three, so the market movement from pick ‘em to -2.5 over the offseason is warranted, but offers no clear value on the side. Seattle’s coaching limitations have kept the margins in their games especially close over the last few years which makes Atlanta an appealing leg in a standard six-point teaser. Other than that, the market is dialed in on this game. 

Pick: Pass 

Philadelphia Eagles (-5.5, 42.5) at Washington Football Team

Dinsick: This is a classic divisional battle in the NFC East between the up-and-coming Football Team and the ailing Eagles. Philadelphia will be without a number of important pieces in its season opener, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. That’s great news for a Washington team that will lean on the strength of its defense to set the tone in this game. Carson Wentz comes in less than 100%, as his offensive line is missing key players and his weapons are not at full strength. Early market action in favor of Washington (largely based on this injury news) has pushed this number down to -5.5 which is a fair price and makes the side a pass, for now. 

It’s worth keeping a close eye on this market as kickoff approaches because this is very likely a low-scoring affair that is decided by one score, and if Eagles backers can push this number back towards seven, value will present on the underdog with the points.

Pick: Pass

Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions (-3, 43.5)

Youmans: It should be a source of embarrassment to the Lions that they went 0-4 against the Bears the past two years, but if QB Matthew Stafford can stay healthy, things should be changing in the NFC North. Detroit, which went 0-8 without Stafford last year, no longer looks like the worst team in the division. This bet is a simple case of making Mitchell Trubisky prove it. Chicago is a mediocre team with a fragile QB behind center. The Bears went 1-7 ATS away from home last year. Lay 2.5 if that number reappears, but bet against Trubisky until he proves us wrong.

Pick: Lions -3

Tuley: This line was Lions -1.5 most of the summer until Chicago coach Matt Nagy announced that he was going with Trubisky as his starting QB over Nick Foles and the oddsmakers showed their disrespect by moving it to Lions -3. However, that puts us on the Bears as live underdogs as I believe they have the better overall team (certainly on defense) and have beaten the Lions in four straight meetings over the past two seasons, so they certainly have their number. While we like the added insurance of the 3 in case of a push, I also recommend the Bears on the money line to pull the outright upset.

Pick: Bears + 3

Dinsick: Detroit has been the darling dark horse of the analytics community this offseason based on the impressive statistical profile the Lions generated with a healthy Stafford at quarterback in 2019. Over his eight starts, Stafford (under new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell) commanded a more aggressive unit with emerging passing weapons and his advanced statistics exploded to career highs; he led the league in average depth of target, completed air yards per attempt and per completion.  

The Chicago Bears, on the other hand, traded away assets in an attempt to upgrade their quarterback position only to see the much maligned Trubisky win the starting job in camp.  This overall sentiment has moved the market from a pick ‘em to Lions -3, which is fair but likely a small overreaction. The Bears are live if they can gain a lead and unleash their monstrous pass rush (be sure to check the injury report here, as Robert Quinn is out and Khalil Mack questionable), but they will be hard pressed to compete playing from behind, making this a pass for me.

Pick: Pass

Indianapolis Colts (-8, 45) at Jacksonville Jaguars 

Tuley: I bet the Jaguars 8.5 when the lines came out and then the Colts -7 before it reversed again, so I’m already set with shooting for a middle or side. But as we sit here now, I still think the Jags are the play; I’ve long backed new Indy QB Philip Rivers as a dog and faded him as a favorite and I don’t see why that should be different with a new team. Gardner Minshew showed the ability to improvise before the rest of the league figured him out, but that should be a good trait in these early games with limited training camps. 

Pick: Jags + 8

Dinsick: The Colts were among the big spenders in free agency as well as the more active in the offseason trade market compiling a roster that can take them back to the playoffs in 2020. Conversely, the Jaguars traded and cut the remaining veterans and assets on their team as they enter a true re-building phase. This matchup looks relatively lopsided with the strength of the Colts offense, their spectacular offensive line and a strong run attack likely to be the deciding factor. The youthful Jags may be wily enough to stay competitive in this one led by the overlooked Minshew, but I’d like more than one score to get involved with this underdog. 

At the price point of -8, the Colts are another great leg to consider in a standard 6-point teaser, otherwise this game is a pass.

Pick: Pass

Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings (-2.5, 45)

Dinsick: A game that many consider impactful in the division race for the NFC North, the Packers head to Minnesota as the reigning champs who return largely intact. The Vikings, who also qualified for the playoffs and pulled off a tremendous upset over the Saints last season, have turned over many important parts of their roster, rolling out a new-look secondary and receiving corps. This sets up as the litmus test for how the lack of a typical offseason/preseason will matter in terms of continuity and preparation. 

At this time, I think Green Bay has a significant upper-hand in that regard and I expect the youth and inexperience that Minnesota will be relying on  will limit its ability to stop a Green Bay offensive unit that is efficient in the passing game and dominant on the ground. The Packers were the best team in the NFL through the first 15 plays last season and it is fair to expect them to get off to a similarly impressive start in this game and then keep the Vikes from coming back with their strong pass rush and their ability to move the chains. 

The Packers should be favorites in this game, by my numbers so getting them as underdogs on the moneyline is my favorite look of the week. I played this at 140 but strong value exists down to a price of 110.

Play: GB ML + 140

4 p.m. ET games

Los Angeles Chargers (-3, 42) at Cincinnati Bengals

Dinsick: No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow makes his NFL debut at home as a three-point underdog. Cincinnati’s roster underwent decent upgrades in the offseason but still comes in with a bottom-five offensive line, which has tampered enthusiasm for Burrow’s debut as he faces a very formidable pass rush. The Chargers won’t counter with first-round pick Justin Herbert but rather call on the service of the veteran Tyrod Taylor who is notable for his care-taking of the football at the cost of conceding significant sacks during his time as a starter. 

I’m expecting both offenses to execute somewhat conservative game plans as Cincy looks to protect its rookie while Taylor suffers from several lineman missing due to injury. All of these factors combined with the lack of continuity at the QB position for these teams makes this the most worthy under play on the board. Cincy is likely a live ‘dog if it can keep Burrow upright but the play in this one is Under 42 total points with a fair price near 40.

Pick: Under 42

Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers (-7, 48)

Dinsick: Arizona enters the season with huge expectations of making the leap to playoff contending team on the back of their young star QB Kyler Murray potentially taking a step forward in his progression thanks to the acquisition of WR DeAndre Hopkins.  Hopkins’ catch radius and hands make him one of the most reliable wideouts in the league and he draws an attractive matchup against a 49ers pass defense that over-performed expectations last season significantly and made no moves to upgrade the unit in the offseason. The strength of the Niners defense (No. 2 in DVOA in 2019) remains the pass rush, which also draws a hugely favorable matchup against a weak Cardinals offensive line. 

This creates a difficult handicap for both the side and the total because while Murray has proven mobile enough to extend plays and secure first downs on the ground, he will be running for his life most of the game -- and if San Francisco gets to him, we can expect drive-killing sacks. The Niners offense looks more predictable in this one as they will lean predominantly on their run game to go with ample targets to TE George Kittle. Generally expect the 49ers to dominate the time of possession with the total and spread entirely dependent on Murray’s escapability. Forced to take a side I would lean Cardinals with the points and the over, but the market is reasonably aligned with my numbers so it is a pass. 

Pick: Pass

Tuley: I’m high on the Cardinals this year as I wrote and talked about in Point Spread Weekly and on “Follow the Money” earlier this year, so I like them getting a touchdown versus the defending division champs. Just like I wrote above about Minshew, I believe Murray’s athleticism and improvisation skills could be the difference here and minimize the edge for the San Francisco defense.

Pick: Cardinals + 7 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints (-3.5, 48)

Dinsick: Likely the most consequential game on the slate Sunday, Tampa obviously stole the headlines in the offseason bringing in Tom Brady to pair with an electric duo of passing weapons and an up-and-coming defense. The Saints return virtually their entire playoff roster with unfinished business and sit as co-favorites with the Niners to win the NFC.  The continuity afforded the Saints should be the advantage they need to secure the win. However, it’s asking a lot to cover more than a field goal when the strength of the Bucs defense is stopping the run ... which will make securing a late lead difficult for Brees and Co.  If the passing offense for Tampa Bay clicks out of the gate (somewhat dependent on the health of Mike Evans, currently doubtful to play), then the Bucs are live, especially to cover the 3.5 points and the over will be in play. 

Given the uncertainty, this is a pass but we will learn a lot about the progression of Tampa Bay from its performance in this opening day test.

Pick: Pass

8:20 ET game

Dallas Cowboys (-3, 51.5) at Los Angeles Rams

Youmans: The betting public will play this favorite in a big way, and there’s a lot to like about the Cowboys in the big picture; Dallas might have the deepest and most talented roster in the NFL. 

The offense looks especially explosive, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if Dak Prescott leads the league in passing yards and Ezekiel Elliott leads the league in rushing yards. Prescott had seven 300-yard passing games and finished second with 4,902 passing yards last year, while Elliott was the league rushing leader in 2016 and 2018. The Cowboys’ offensive line remains elite, and Prescott has big-play receivers to target in Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and rookie CeeDee Lamb. Dallas led the NFL in total offense with 431.5 yards per game last year, and new coach Mike McCarthy figures to improve a situation that had turned stale under former coach Jason Garrett. One team in this game is a legit Super Bowl threat, and it’s not the Rams. That’s why the sportsbooks will desperately need the underdog.

Still, while the Cowboys’ arrow is pointing up over the course of a long season, this is a one-game handicap. The problems that eventually will bring down the Rams — a lack of depth caused by overpaid stars (namely quarterback Jared Goff and cornerback Jalen Ramsey) burdening the salary cap — are not a major factor this week when the team is healthy and fit to compete. With plenty of time to prepare, Rams coach Sean McVay can be trusted to form a sharp game plan. I’ll put faith in McVay, who has won and covered three straight season openers, and fade the public in what will be a huge decision for the books.

Pick: Rams + 3

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