The dust from the first week has settled. Half the fans think their 1-0 team is headed to the Super Bowl. The other half are 0-1 and feel like they’ll never win a game. There’s no in between. The first week is always littered with overreactions, and this year is no different. As bettors, the goal is to sift through Week 1 and decipher what is real and what’s not.
Three times in the last six years the Patriots started 1-2. In those three seasons, they won two Super Bowls and reached a third. Last year Patrick Mahomes’ game-winning touchdown prevented the Lions from entering October undefeated. They finished the season with three wins. The Titans started 2-4 yet held a 10-point lead in the AFC title game.
Good or bad, it’s easy to overreact to the opening week. My advice last week (advice I wish I had taken) was to play all the dogs on the moneyline. Upsets are inevitable, especially early in this season. That approach will likely be profitable again this week. With so much uncertainty and unprecedented circumstances, it’s difficult to make the lines and even tougher to bet them. All teams will have stinkers at some point. If it happens in Week 6, nobody will notice. When it happens in Week 1, many will draw conclusions.
Before we get to the picks, some general takeaways:
— Quality of play was way better than I had anticipated. For all the talk of no preseason, the ball was good. Games seemed crisp and as good as any other Week 1. I wonder if play was so good that the preseason will be marginalized or reduced. (It should be, but it won’t, because the preseason is about the money, not the football.)
— Nine active head coaches have won Super Bowls. Those coaches went 7-2 straight up and against the spread in Week 1. One of the losses was Mike McCarthy losing to Sean McVay, who most would agree is the vastly superior coach. Coaching matters, this year and under these circumstances more than ever.
— The Cowboys still look like ... well, the Cowboys. They’re underperforming. That team is too talented. Dallas should not be held to three second-half points like it was vs. the Rams.
— Strange coaching decisions. McCarthy eschewing the field goal down three was so bizarre that even as someone who implores aggressiveness, I am shocked Dallas actually snapped that ball. ... Matt Patricia kicking from 56 yards late with a 10-point lead against the Bears was a decision that swung the game. I think the best play there was to line up for the field goal, snap it to your kicker and have him pooch-punt down to the 10. Even if you make the kick, going up 13 that late accomplishes very little. If anything it encourages your opponents to be more aggressive and not settle for a tie and a subsequent OT if they can cut it to six. Think of the ’18 AFC title game. The Chiefs trailed by three with 16 seconds left. The Patriots put all their defenders near the goal line with the Chiefs at the 21. The Patriots knew they had one play to stop, knowing the second and final play would be a field-goal attempt. The Chiefs settle for three, the Pats win in OT and win the Super Bowl. Being up four, five or six forces your opponents to go for the kill.
— I was surprised McVay punted on fourth-and-1 from midfield with 2:25 left vs. the Cowboys Sunday night. It felt like the Rams could at least scheme their way to a yard or two anytime they wanted.
— Bad beats were plentiful. For the sake of my appetite and sanity, I will not be discussing the Lions’ meltdown any further than I have. A more subtle heartbreaker, one on which I was also on the wrong side, was the Bengals’ second-half line (+ 3.5). Here’s how the half started for the Bengals: stop, made field goal, stop, made field goal. Then the wheels came off. After a Chargers touchdown, a bad Bengals fumble gave the Chargers an easy field goal, followed by a long Bengals drive that looked destined for points but ended with Joe Burrow flipping the ball underhanded right to Melvin Ingram on a busted screen play. You know how this one ended — a debatable A.J. Green penalty nullified a game-winning TD, followed by a missed chip shot. Final second-half score: Chargers 10, Bengals 6. Brutal.
So we move on to Week 2 picks. We are on to Cincinnati ... maybe not literally.
Browns -5.5 over Bengals: At first glance I thought “take the points,” but upon further review I see some value on the favorite. This one is on Thursday night, traditionally a very tough spot for visitors. Two road games in four days is a lot to ask of any team, much less the Bengals, who still have major holes on defense and the offensive line. I think the Browns laying an egg in the opener is keeping this spread under the key number of 7. Getting dismantled in Baltimore is a sin of which many teams will be guilty. Play against the overreaction to that blowout and lay the points in a good bounce-back spot.
Jets + 7 over 49ers: Will Adam Gase make it to Halloween? Will he even make it to Columbus Day? This one stinks, but as Josh Appelbaum likes to say, “When it stinks, it wins.” This one is more anti-49ers than anything. The 2013 Broncos were the last team to lose the Super Bowl and go Over its season win total the next year. The 49ers not only lost as seven-point favorites to the Cardinals, but the teams looked like equals. I won’t be shocked if they are a .500 team, and going east in the early slot Sunday is always trouble for California teams. Hold out for a 7.5, but take the dog.
Washington + 7 over Cardinals: The winner of this game will be 2-0 and the early feel-good story of the year. The Cards have improved, are everybody’s darling and are fun as hell to watch. With the nature of their short passing game, DeAndre Hopkins might catch 200 balls in this system. However, this line is a little too rich. There are 7s out there, so get ’em while you can because they won’t last. Washington has some beef up front, with five former first-round picks in the front seven, and Antonio Gibson and Terry McLaurin give this offense a little juice. Any sort of improvement from Dwayne Haskins and this team could flirt with .500. Arizona’s weakness is its offensive line, and Washington should be able to expose that enough to stay within the number.
Eagles-Rams Under 46: The Eagles drafting Jalen Hurts caused a ton of debate and controversy. Is he good enough throwing the ball? We’ll find out sooner rather than later if the Eagles continue to drop back and throw the ball. They are badly beaten up on the offensive line and simply cannot protect Carson Wentz. To negate that deficiency, I see them running the ball and reducing the game. Wentz’s season ended against the Rams in ’17 and will need better blocking to avoid a similar fate this season. On the other side of the ball, the Eagles did hold Washington to a meager 3.4 yards per play. Jared Goff has played much better at home than on the road, where he’ll be Sunday. Low-scoring game gets the cash in this one.
Patriots + 4 over Seahawks: Cam Newton looked like the player of old, and Josh McDaniels is familiar enough with Pete Carroll’s defense that he can attack it successfully. It’ll be hard to scout the Patriots early this year because they’re so different on offense with Newton. Similar to the Vikings, the Seahawks are really impaired by the lack of full stadiums because they thrive so much on crowd noise and home-field advantage. Getting over a field goal is a gift.