Lombardi: My seven rules for betting NFL Week 1 games

September 11, 2022 01:07 AM
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Handicapping games for Week 1 is one of the hardest challenges any football fan has during the season.  As the great Bob Seger wrote in his classic song “Night Moves”: “We are working on mysteries without any clues.”  We use last season’s finish, the offseason moves the draft and the preseason to update our power rankings, and yet as Steve Markinen wrote this week for VSiN, divisional home underdogs are 16-6-1 SU and 19-4 ATS (82.6%) in Week 1 since '09. 

Week 1, along with the entire month of September, is unpredictable because the coaches are dealing with the unknown and the unpredictability of their opponents.  Every team plays its cards close to their vest during the summer months, as if they were Doyle Brunson playing no-limit poker. 

Still, we must proceed along, using the information we have and applying some basic rules.  These rules were first developed when I was working in the NFL trying to correctly evaluate Week 1’s opponent. 

Rule No. 1: Then is then, now is now.  What happened last year is not relevant. 

Players get older, they either improve or decline (rarely stay the same), and therefore teams are not static.  Some players are coming off an offseason injury and might be on the field, yet are not playing at the same level.  We cannot use the prior season to predict the opening weeks results.  Spend more time looking forward, then looking back. 

Rule No. 2: The preseason means something, it does not mean everything. 

Last year Buffalo was 3-0 in the preseason outscored their opponents 76-30 and then laid a huge egg losing at home against the Steelers in the opener.  Don’t believe the success of the preseason will affect Week 1.  Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow coming off of major knee surgery threw one pass last summer, and Ja’Marr Chase had one catch, yet the Bengals started the season fast by beating Minnesota in Week 1. 

Understanding the preseason is identifying if teams have improved their areas of weaknesses from last year or if they have developed an area of concern.  For example, last preseason the Steelers allowed 4.6 yards per attempt rushing and 4 touchdowns, which is not their norm.  Then during the season, they allowed 5.0 and teams scored 17 touchdowns on the ground.  The problem was there in the preseason and became worse during the season. 

Rule No. 3:  The Bert Bell axiom is in full force. 

Bell, the one-time owner of the Philadelphia Eagles and former NFL commissioner, coined the phrase, “On any given Sunday any team can beat any other team.”  Survivor entrees know this better than anyone, as two years ago many had the Colts beating the Jags in Jacksonville and lost their entries in Week 1.  Upsets happen in Week 1.  Bad teams can win in Week 1.  Expect the unexpected as every team has high hopes.  Every fan base is excited and every team will play hard as there is no doubt fostering in anyone’s mind. 

Rule No. 4:  Pay close attention to the special teams because the kicking game will determine winners on Sunday. 

Focus on the best special team coaches in the league, trusting their units will play to their normal level.  Baltimore, Kansas City, the Rams, Seattle and Dallas were all in the top 10 and should be again their season because their head coach emphasizes the importance of the kicking game.  Be sure to following the coaching movement as well. Chris Tabor (the special teams coach of the Bears last season) is now in Carolina.  The Panthers were in the bottom 10 of the league last year, so expect them to make a giant leap this season and show their improvement in Week 1. 

Rule No. 5: First-time head coaches will struggle. 

Last season there were seven first-time head coaches and only two won: Nick Sirianni of the Eagles and Brandon Staley were the only two victorious Week 1 coaches.  Sirianni faced Falcons new head coach Arthur Smith in the opener, therefore a new coach had to win.  It takes time to adjust with a new staff, especially when there are new coordinators as well.  Chicago has a new head coach in Matt Eberflus, new first-time offensive coordinator in Luke Getsy and new defensive coordinator Alan Williams.  You want to take the Bears and the points in Week 1 against the 49ers, be my guest.  I’m not;  I am going to sit back and observe. 

Rule No. 6:  Execution matters more so now than ever before. 

After every game, I add the rushes and completions together for each team and if that total is over 53 it means the team’s execution was excellent.  The total does not imply who wins -- although normally the team with the best execution normally wins.  For any coach getting high-level execution is the No. 1 goal, and since the restrictions are in place for padded practices and contact this becomes a tougher challenge.  When reviewing last season’s opening games, Andy Reid, Bill Belichick, Kliff Kingsbury, John Harbaugh and Sean McDermott all had high levels of execution.  Not all won, but they had their teams ready -- which is important. 

Rule No. 7: Follow the humidity and heat. 

We are experiencing record heat waves all throughout the country.  The unseasonably warm weather will affect teams especially in the fourth quarter when players are being asked to play twice the normal amount from practice and the preseason games.  Teams will wear down -- and never forget humidity is something players cannot recover from once affected.  Pay close attention to the weather for Sunday and always know once a team is gassed, it won’t play well. 

Best of luck as you make you picks for Week 1.  Please tune into the Lombardi Line at 10 a.m. ET on VSIN Saturday and Sunday for the weekend’s best plays. 

LOMBARDI POWER RATINGS WEEK 1

  1. Tampa Bay
  1. Buffalo
  1. LA Rams
  1. Kansas City
  1. Green Bay
  1. Cincinnati
  1. Indianapolis
  1. LA Chargers
  1. Philadelphia
  1. Dallas
  1. Baltimore
  1. Arizona
  1. Minnesota
  1. Denver
  1. New Orleans
  1. San Francisco
  1. Las Vegas
  1. Miami
  1. Cleveland
  1. New England
  1. Tennessee
  1. Carolina
  1. Pittsburgh
  1. Detroit
  1. NY Jets
  1. Jacksonville
  1. Houston
  1. Seattle
  1. NY Giants
  1. Washington
  1. Chicago
  1. Atlanta
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