The 2021 NFL season is finally here! I'm happy to announce that I'll be contributing a weekly column to PSW focusing on five NFL games receiving notable sharp action from respected bettors.
As we all know, the NFL is the king of sports betting. It generates the highest ticket counts, largest handle and most public attention. Because there is so much public bias in the market, going contrarian in the NFL can oftentimes be a smart strategy because more often than not, the public loses. But betting against the public only takes you so far. You also need to be on the sharp side. This means being with the pros who have a long track record of success, win at a high rate and have the respect of the books. After all, wise guys move numbers, not the public. Pros won't win every time, but they win a majority of the time over the long haul (roughly 55%). In order to locate sharp action, I will be focusing on betting percentages, money percentages and line movement, while also highlighting historically profitable betting systems.
Without further ado, here are five NFL Week 1 games receiving smart money across the market.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills
This is the most heavily bet early game of the Week 1 Sunday slate. Oddsmakers opened this line with Buffalo as a 6-point home favorite. The public is all over the Bills, who went an impressive 13-3 last season, won the AFC East and reached the AFC title game. Meanwhile, the Steelers finished 12-4 but crumbled down the stretch, going just 1-5 in their last six games, including an early playoff exit. Heavy public betting pushed Buffalo from -6 to -7. Once this line rose a full point, wise guys pounced on Pittsburgh + 7, dropping the line back to 6.5. Pittsburgh is contrarian in a heavily bet game and also matches several profitable betting systems. NFL Week 1 big dogs + 6.5 or more are 27-17 ATS (61.4%) over the past decade. Also, Mike Tomlin has been a great bet as a dog, going 38-19 ATS (66.7%) when getting points. Pros have also targeted the Under, dropping the total from 50 to 48.5. The forecast calls for 10-15 mph winds at New Era Stadium, which benefits the Under.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans
This AFC South matchup is a perfect storm of converging public perceptions. The Jaguars went 1-15 last season, but the public loves them in this spot with a new head coach in Urban Meyer and top pick quarterback Trevor Lawrence making his debut. Similarly, the public wants nothing to do with the Texans, who went 4-12 last season and will be without star quarterback Deshaun Watson because of legal issues. The Texans have the lowest expected win total of any team (4), and the public narrative centers on how terrible they will be this year without Watson. This line opened with the Jags as a 2.5-point road favorite. Recreational bettors are hammering the Jags, which has driven this line up to -3. Pros see a perfect "buy low, sell high" contrarian spot and have jumped on Houston at the key number of + 3, forcing some books to inch back down to 2.5. Divisional dogs are 38-18 ATS (67.9%) in Week 1 over the past decade. This is also a classic "fade rookie coach and rookie QB" system for pros.
Minnesota Vikings at Cincinnati Bengals
This nonconference matchup is one of the most lopsided plays of the day. Minnesota is coming off a 7-9 season, but the public sees a layup with the Vikings laying a short number against a Bengals team that went 4-11-1. This line opened with Minnesota listed as a 3-point road favorite. Roughly three out of four bets are rushing to the window to lay the points with Minnesota. This heavily lopsided betting forced oddsmakers to adjust the Vikings up to -3.5. Once the hook was available, value-minded wise guys pounced on Cincinnati at + 3.5, which caused several books to adjust back to 3. Essentially, we are looking at the Bengals as a super contrarian buy-low home dog with a sharp line freeze and/or reverse line movement. NFL Week 1 dogs are 85-70 ATS (55%) over the past decade. Week 1 dogs where the line stays the same or is inflated (think + 3 to + 3.5) are 59-43 (57.8%) over the past decade.
Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs
This rematch of an AFC divisional round playoff game, in which the Chiefs won 22-17 but the Browns covered (+ 8), is the most heavily bet game of the late-afternoon window. Cleveland is coming off an 11-5 season while the Chiefs went 14-2 and lost in the Super Bowl to the Bucs 31-9, losing outright as 3-point favorites. This line opened with Kansas City as a 6-point home favorite. The public can't quit the Chiefs, who are consistently the most popular team each week for recreational bettors. However, despite roughly two-thirds of bets laying the points, this line has barely budged off the -6. This signals a sharp line freeze on the Browns, with books reluctant to move the line further to the popular Chiefs for fear of handing out a better number to contrarian Browns backers. Wise guys are hoping to grab Cleveland with the hook (+ 6.5) if the line ever inches up. Cleveland is contrarian in a super heavily bet game and Week 1 road dogs + 6 or more are 24-18 ATS (57.1%) over the past decade.
Denver Broncos at New York Giants
This nonconference game features the biggest line move of the Week 1 slate. Denver is coming off a 5-11 season, while the Giants went 6-10. This line opened with Denver as a short 1-point road favorite. Wise guys have hammered the Broncos, steaming Denver up from -1 to the key number of -3. Pros targeted Denver anything -2.5 or less. Although we haven't seen any notable buyback on the Giants at an inflated + 3, late Denver backers may prefer a moneyline play on the Broncos (-155) instead of laying the worst of it. One reason pros may love the Broncos here: Teddy Bridgewater. We saw the Broncos get steamed in a big way once coach Vic Fangio announced Teddy Two Gloves as the starter over Drew Lock. Bridgewater is one of the best quarterbacks to back in the NFL in terms of betting, going 35-14 ATS (71.4%) in his career as a starter.