NFL capsules for Week 1

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Dallas Cowboys at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The ’21 NFL season begins where the ’20 season concluded, in Tampa Bay, where the Buccaneers will raise their championship banner before taking the field as 7.5-point favorites over the Cowboys. This line opened at 6.5 and got Over the key number of 7, going all the way to 10 in some shops due to pessimism over the status of Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott. He did not play in the preseason and was reportedly nursing a sore shoulder. Prescott will play in his first game since last October, when an ankle injury against the Giants ended his season. The Bucs were the only team to finish in the top five in both offensive and defensive DVOA in 2020, according to Football Outsiders, and remarkably return every coach and starter from last season. The defending champs are riding an eight-game winning streak into the opener, as a Week 12 loss to the Chiefs last year was the last time the Bucs were defeated. They won their last four regular-season games as well as four straight in the postseason en route to winning the title. The Cowboys missed the playoffs for the second consecutive season and just went winless in four preseason games. They hired Dan Quinn to coach what Cowboys bettors hope is a new-look defense, considering the unit ranked 31st against the run in 2020. Oddsmakers expect some fireworks in this one, as the total is set at 52.

Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots

A spring game in Tuscaloosa is headed north as Tua Tagavailoa and Mac Jones renew acquaintances in the season opener when the Dolphins and Pats open the season in Foxborough for the second straight year. This line has ping-ponged back and forth. It opened at 2.5, briefly ticked up to the key number of 3, then moved back to 2.5 after Jones was announced as the starter. The Patriots will not look the same as the 7-9 team that missed the playoffs last year, as they add an influx of talent with the return of opt-outs, some major free-agent signings and the addition of their rookie quarterback. The Dolphins add receivers Jaylen Waddle and Will Fuller looking to spark their offense and improve on a 10-win season in which they fell just short of a playoff berth. This game is one of the lower totals of the opening week and has been bet down from 45.5 to 43.5.

Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans

The Jaguars hope they landed a franchise quarterback in former Clemson star Trevor Lawrence, who will be favored in his pro debut on the road against the Texans. This line has touched the key number of 3 in some shops due to the assumed absence of another former Clemson quarterback, Deshaun Watson, who has been excluded from the Texans’ depth chart. Tyrod Taylor is expected to start in place of Watson. Taylor was the Bills’ starting quarterback from 2015-17 but has thrown only 121 passes since in brief stints with the Browns and Chargers. The Jaguars, coming off a 1-15 year, upset the Colts in the ’20 season opener but have not won since. The Texans enter the season with the lowest season win total of 4, according to DraftKings, and are the + 250 betting favorites to finish with the worst record in the NFL. This game features two rookie head coaches, David Culley and Urban Meyer, each looking to turn around a defense that was in the bottom three in the league in yards allowed last season. Despite the poor defenses, the total is set at a modest 44.5, likely due to the uncertainty each team has at quarterback.

Minnesota Vikings at Cincinnati Bengals

Joe Burrow lived up to the hype, throwing 13 TD passes in a little over half a season before an injury ended his rookie campaign. He will be back for the season opener as an underdog against the Vikings after sitting out all but one series of the preseason, and he’ll be reunited with his former LSU teammate, WR Ja’Marr Chase. The Vikings are coming off a disappointing 2020 season, when Mike Zimmer’s typically stout defense was gashed through the air and on the ground. The ’20 Vikings were in the bottom five defensively in opponents’ passing yards per attempt (7.65), opponents’ rushing yards (134.4 per game) and yards per game allowed (393.3). The shoddy defense culminated on Christmas, allowing Alvin Kamara to run for six touchdowns and prompting Zimmer to say the defense was the worst he’d ever had. Reinforcements come in the form of 16 new defensive players through free agency and the draft plus the return of Danielle Hunter and Michael Pierce. The offense was elite in many categories last year but is already facing injuries to Irv Smith and first-round pick Christian Darrisaw. Bengals bettors will shop for 3.5, while Vikings backers will look for 3. Both numbers have been readily available for most of the summer, while 3.5 is now the consensus.

Seattle Seahawks at Indianapolis Colts

Fascinating line movement throughout the summer for this clash of 2020 playoff teams. The Colts opened as 3-point favorites, but injuries to Carson Wentz and offensive linemen Quenton Nelson and Ryan Kelly shifted the Seahawks into the role of favorites, with this line getting as high as 3.5. All three players appear to be on track to play, but enough skepticism exists about their health to keep the Seahawks as 2.5-point chalk with the game just days away. Anyone wagering on the Colts has to decide which version of Wentz will appear in 2021. In 2017, Wentz was en route to winning the MVP in just his second year. In 2020, however, Wentz led the league in interceptions and found himself backing up Jalen Hurts. Wentz is reuniting with Colts coach and former Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich, and Reich’s ability to rehabilitate Wentz will go a long way in determining the success of the Colts’ season. Wentz’s counterpart in the opener, Russell Wilson, was the betting favorite to win MVP for most of the first half of last season before an erratic second half derailed his chances. The Seahawks have had a winning record every year since Wilson took over in 2012, but in 2020 their 7-3 record in one-score games raises concerns about the sustainability of the team’s success. The Colts were upset in Week 1 last year, and their loss to the 1-15 Jaguars nearly cost them a trip to the playoffs. The total has come down to 48.5 after opening at 52.

New York Jets at Carolina Panthers

The obvious storyline here is Sam Darnold playing against the Jets, the team that dealt him in April just three years after trading up to draft him third overall. The Jets moved on from Darnold and will usher in the Zach Wilson era, heading to Carolina as 5.5-point underdogs. Their offense finished dead last in points per game (15.2) and yards per play (4.7) in 2020. New Jets coach Robert Saleh takes over a team that won just two games last year and was winless until Dec. 20, looking to end a playoff drought now over a decade long. The Panthers’ offense will look much different this year, as their new quarterback will have one of the league’s best weapons lining up behind him. Christian McCaffrey compiled nearly 2,400 yards from scrimmage in 2019 but played in just three games in 2020. This line has moved up from 4.5 as bettors are perhaps tentative to back Wilson in his first NFL start. While Wilson’s collegiate accolades are unquestioned, the level of competition he faced at BYU may concern bettors. The total opened at 43.5 and has been bet up to 45.5.

Philadelphia Eagles at Atlanta Falcons

A pair of rookie head coaches square off as both teams look to bounce back from disappointing seasons. The Falcons remain 3.5-point favorites despite coming off just a four-win campaign. If they are to compete for a playoff spot, they will have to improve on their performance in close games. They played in 10 games last year decided by a touchdown or less — and lost nine of them. Julio Jones was traded to the Titans, but rookie Kyle Pitts was drafted to pair with Calvin Ridley to give the Falcons what they hope is one of the better pass-catching duos in the league. The Eagles also looked to the top of the draft to add a receiver, selecting Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith to jump-start an offense that finished in the bottom quarter of the league in points per game, turnovers and yards per play. The Eagles gave up 27 points or more nine times last year while scoring 27 or more only twice. The total opened at 46 and has been bet up to 48.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills

This game opened with the Bills as 5-point favorites, then moved all the way up to the key number of 7 but has been bet back down to 6.5. Support for the Bills is not surprising, as they were runners-up in the AFC last year and their young quarterback, Josh Allen, finished second in MVP voting. While Allen is an ascending star, Ben Roethlisberger’s days of competing for MVPs seem to have come and gone. The 39-year-old quarterback is the last man standing from the vaunted quarterback class of ’04 and is entering perhaps his final season. Roethlisberger’s play has declined significantly, illustrated by his career-low 6.3 yards per attempt last season. Deteriorating quarterback play is not Pittsburgh’s only concern. The team will be replacing four-fifths of its offensive line, including center Maurkice Pouncey, who retired. The Steelers were in the top five defensively in yards per game and points per game while starting the season 11-0. Skeptics, however, point to their favorable schedule during that undefeated start and to their 1-4 record down the stretch, which was followed by an ugly playoff loss to the Browns. One of Pittsburgh’s four losses was 26-15 in Buffalo. The Bills were elite on offense, averaging 29.9 points per game, third best in the NFL. The total opened at 50.5 and has been bet down to 48.5

Arizona Cardinals at Tennessee Titans

Both teams will display some new weapons. A.J. Green and Julio Jones were highly drafted in 2011, and each will play his first game for his new team. The Titans, 3-point favorites over the Cardinals, added Jones to an offense that scored the fourth-most points in 2020. Jones will play alongside Derrick Henry, who has led the league in rushing the last two seasons. But that could also be cause for concern. Including the playoffs, the bruising Henry has accumulated 527 touches since the start of 2019. Another concern is the departure of offensive coordinator Arthur Smith, who helped revitalize Ryan Tannehill’s career but is now the head coach in Atlanta. The Titans will be looking to improve on a defense that was near the bottom of the league in points allowed and passing yards allowed. The Cardinals added Green as well as J.J. Watt as they look to qualify for their first postseason since 2015. They were middle of the pack in both offense and defense last season, and despite a 6-3 start finished 8-8 and fell short of the postseason. This is one of the higher totals of the week, set at 52.

Los Angeles Chargers at Washington

The Chargers went 7-9 last year, missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season. However, they are a 1-point favorite on the road against a Washington team that won the NFC East a year ago. Perhaps optimism for the Chargers is justified, as they were in the top 10 in offense and defense in yards per game. They also have quarterback Justin Herbert, who shattered rookie records for touchdown passes and completions and won Offensive Rookie of the Year despite not even being the Week 1 starter. Washington allowed the second-fewest yards and has one of the front-runners for Defensive Player of the Year in Chase Young. The franchise added the consummate journeyman in quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who at 38 will be looking to make the postseason for the first time in his career. While Washington was outstanding on defense last season, the concern is that a lot of that production came against a weak division and a slew of backup quarterbacks. Brandon Staley takes over as the Chargers’ coach, replacing the much-maligned Anthony Lynn. The total has remained steady at 44.5.

Green Bay Packers at New Orleans Saints

You won’t see a wilder swing in terms of line movement than what we’ve seen for this battle of  defending division champs. The reported consternation of Aaron Rodgers led many to believe he would not play for the Packers this season, prompting the Saints to be pegged as high as 3.5-point favorites. In late July it became clear that Rodgers would play, and the Packers became the consensus field-goal chalk. All of that, however, is now moot, and bettors who wagered on this game should check their house rules because most books refunded all wagers on this game due to the change in venue. The game has been shifted to Jacksonville due to the effects of Hurricane Ida, and the Packers are favored by 4.5 points. The Packers were elite on offense last season, leading the league in scoring at 31.5 points per game. The Saints were third in points allowed per game but lost a handful of starters on defense as well as Drew Brees, Jared Cook and Emmanuel Sanders. Outstanding kicker Will Lutz will also miss up to eight weeks. Saints bettors hope Jameis Winston can take better care of the ball than in 2019, his last full season as a starter, when he threw 30 interceptions. The total is 49.5.

Denver Broncos at New York Giants

The Broncos have not made the playoffs since winning the Super Bowl six years ago, but bettors seem bullish about their chances in Week 1 as they have been bet up from pick-’em to 3-point road favorites. Teddy Bridgewater beat out incumbent Drew Lock and will start at quarterback in Week 1. The Broncos also added some major talent to their secondary. Pro Bowl cornerback Kyle Fuller signed in free agency, and Patrick Surtain II was drafted ninth overall. Also, Von Miller will return after missing the ’20 season. The Giants have a major addition to look forward to as well as Saquon Barkley is expected to be cleared to play in the opener, though it’s uncertain how big a workload he’ll be given coming off a major injury. Third-year quarterback Daniel Jones faces what is possibly a make-or-break year, already accumulating 22 interceptions and 29 fumbles in his brief career. The Giants added receiver Kenny Golladay to help Jones and boost an offense that scored the second-fewest points in 2020. The Broncos were not much better on offense, finishing 28th in points scored, so it’s no surprise that the total is 42, the lowest on the board.

Cleveland Brown at Kansas City Chiefs

For the second consecutive year, the Chiefs open their season against the team they eliminated in the divisional round the year before. The Browns fell to the Chiefs 22-17 in January even after Patrick Mahomes left with an injury as Chad Henne converted a third-and-14 for an eventual first down to close out the game. Despite the bitter ending, it was a successful season for the Browns, who went 11-5, made the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and saw rookie coach Kevin Stefanski win Coach of the Year. Despite the impressive record, the Browns were actually outscored by 11 points in the aggregate, finishing 16th in total yards on offense and only 21st in total yards allowed on defense. The Chiefs will be looking to reach their third straight Super Bowl and spent the offseason revamping an offensive line that was thoroughly outplayed by the Bucs in last year’s title game. A first-round pick was dealt to the Ravens for tackle Orlando Brown, while second- and sixth-round picks were used to bolster this unit. Despite the Chiefs’ firepower, they were surprisingly only sixth in points per game but did finish 10th in points per game on defense. Cleveland’s Odell Beckham tore his ACL in October but is expected to be back for the opener as the Browns are 6-point dogs, with the total at 53.

San Francisco 49ers at Detroit Lions

The 49ers missed the playoffs in 2020 a year after being just minutes from hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. The disappointing season wasn’t due to poor play as much as it was injuries and bad luck. No team suffered from more games lost due to injury than the 49ers. Nick Bosa, George Kittle, Richard Sherman and Jimmy Garoppolo suffered major injuries in the first few weeks. Now the roster is intact as San Francisco heads to Detroit as a 7-point road favorite against the Lions, who have the second-lowest season win total at DraftKings (5). The 49ers will be a tempting option for survivor players and teaser bettors, though they were one of three teams that were upset as 7-point favorites in Week 1 last year, stumbling at home against the Cardinals. The Lions moved on from former coach Matt Patricia and traded longtime franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford, absorbing Jared Goff’s contract in doing so. Despite the injuries, the 49ers finished fourth in opponents’ yards per rush and fifth in passing yards allowed. The Lions, on the other hand, will be looking to improve a defense that finished dead last in points allowed last season. Dan Campbell makes his debut as the Lions’ coach, and the total sits at 45.

Chicago Bears at Los Angeles Rams

The first Sunday night game of the year is a rematch of a Monday nighter from last October that the Rams dominated 24-10. Both teams will have new quarterbacks, as the Rams went all in by acquiring Matthew Stafford in hopes of putting them over the top. The Rams also added former Patriots running back Sony Michel after promising second-year back Cam Akers tore his Achilles. The Rams were elite across the board on defense last season, giving up the fewest yards in the league and the second-fewest points. The Bears lost Pro Bowl corner Kyle Fuller in free agency and drafted QB Justin Fields but will give the nod to Andy Dalton in the opener. Dalton had 14 touchdown passes and nine interceptions in nine starts with the Cowboys last year with a modest 6.5 yards per attempt. The Bears started 5-2 and made the playoffs last year despite finishing just 8-8. Money has come in on the Rams, as the line opened at 6.5 and has been bet up through the key number to 7.5. The total remains steady at 45.5.

Baltimore Ravens at Las Vegas Raiders

Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas will host its first regular-season game with fans in attendance as Week 1 concludes with the first “Monday Night Football” game of the year. Jon Gruden enters Year 4 of his massive contract looking to make the playoffs for the first time in his second stint with the Raiders. The offense has not been the problem in Gruden’s disappointing tenure, as the Raiders were in the top 10 last year in scoring and total offense. But the defense allowed the third-most points in the league, giving up 29.9 on nearly 400 yards per game. There’s a lot to like when looking at the Ravens’ profile. They led the NFL by a wide margin last year in rushing yards at 192 per game, allowed the fewest points in the league and finished ninth in scoring on offense. They are 25-7 in Lamar Jackson’s two full seasons as the starter, but that success has not translated to the playoffs, as they have only one postseason win and have not made it past the divisional round. This line has not moved much. It opened with the Ravens as 4.5-point favorites and is currently at 4, with a total of 51.

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