Week 1 NFL best bets and predictions
Last year, I went 45-23-2 with my NFL best bets during the regular season. That was good for a winning percentage of 65.7%. It’s going to be hard to live up to that record in 2023 — especially with a slight uptick in volume — but I’m damn sure going to try my best. And that starts with the three picks I have for the Week 1 slate, which includes a play on what should be an enticing battle between the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns. Keep reading to find out what I have and make sure you also check out what my talented VSiN colleagues are playing. Those plays are available here, but you can also check out the Pro Picks page.
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The Colts gave up more points per game than all but three teams in 2022, as Indianapolis allowed 25.1 points per contest. The Colts also did nothing to address a leaky secondary, and they brought in an offensive-minded head coach in Shane Steichen. Both of those things tell me that Indianapolis isn’t looking at a one-year turnaround on the defensive side of the ball.
With that in mind, I’m expecting Trevor Lawrence and the Jaguars to hang a big number on the Colts. Jacksonville is loaded with pass-catching weapons, with star wide receiver Calvin Ridley returning from a one-year gambling suspension and joining guys like Christian Kirk, Evan Engram and Zay Jones — as well as running back Travis Etienne. This was already one of the most improved offensive teams in the league in 2022, but more talent and another year in Doug Pederson’s system should yield great results. And that’ll start with a big performance in Week 1.
It should, however, be noted that the Colts could be in for a big offensive game themselves. This Indianapolis team might be without star running back Jonathan Taylor, but the running game should be fine behind a very sturdy offensive line. Also, Colts rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson has a world of talent and should drive the Jaguars nuts with his ability to run and throw the deep ball. One of Richardson’s main question marks heading into the year is his ability to deal with pressure, but the Jaguars weren’t a very good pass rushing team last year. That should allow Richardson to settle in and play a good game here. And the fact that there really isn’t much tape on him should only make the job of the Jacksonville defense tougher.
This feels like a game that could sneak up on people and turn into one of the highest scoring affairs of the weekend.
Bet: Over 46 (-110 - Play up to 47)
Even though the Bengals have become perennial Super Bowl contenders since drafting Joe Burrow, this is a team that has gotten off to slow starts in the regular season. In fact, Cincinnati is just 1-7 straight-up in September games under Zac Taylor. And a big part of that is because Cincinnati doesn’t often play its starters during the preseason. That means that they have a lot to figure out on the fly come Week 1. This year will be no different, and the Bengals will also be dealing with the fact that Burrow is coming off a scary calf injury.
Considering the Bengals might be a little rusty here, it’s hard not to love the Browns to win this game. And I would have liked Cleveland to take this one at home regardless. Overall, I just think the Browns are being slept on a bit heading into this season. The AFC North obviously has four teams with the potential to play playoff football this year, but I think the Browns have the ability to do more than just that. This team is loaded in the trenches, with talent on both the offensive and defensive lines. They also have a ton of weapons on offense, meaning it’ll be up to Deshaun Watson to get the group going.
I’m not sure we’ll see the same version of Watson that we saw in Houston in 2020, but I do expect him to look like a top-15 quarterback in 2023, at least. He should be a lot more comfortable running Kevin Stefanski’s offense, and the Browns added a good security blanket for him in former Jets wide receiver Elijah Moore. That should help him significantly, as he has somebody he can find when Amari Cooper isn’t open down the field. It also sounds like he’s building quite the rapport with tight end David Njoku.
As ridiculous as this might sound, I don’t think much separates the Bengals and Browns this season. But I do think Cleveland will be ready to go from the jump, and I also think that Browns fans can impact this game by getting loud and making it hard for Burrow to communicate with his teammates. All of that leads me to believe that Cleveland is going to win this game outright.
Bet: Browns ML (+115)
Last season, the Raiders were 2-7 SU and 3-6 against the spread when playing on the road. Now, Las Vegas will be heading into a very difficult road environment, where the altitude can always be a factor. But the Broncos will also have a big home-field advantage because of the excitement surrounding the team. Denver doesn’t quite have Super Bowl aspirations this year, but people are expecting the arrival of head coach Sean Payton to yield immediate results. I’m not exactly sure what that success will look like, but I do like Denver to handle its business in Week 1.
There’s a lot of uncertainty heading into this game for the Raiders. For starters, it’s unclear how running back Josh Jacobs will look after being a late arrival to training camp. If he’s not at 100% then this Las Vegas offense might not look great. It’s also unclear how Jimmy Garoppolo will look in a Raiders uniform. Sure, Josh McDaniels was his offensive coordinator in New England, but does that guarantee early-season success? He still needs to build on-field relationships with his pass catchers. Then, there’s also the dark cloud hanging over the franchise with whatever the heck is going on with Chandler Jones off the field. The star defensive end went on an anti-Raiders social media rant a couple of days ago. His standing with the team is now seriously in question.
With so much looking unsettled for the Raiders heading into this game, I think it’s an easy call to back the home team and lay this small amount of points. It’ll take some time for Payton to get his offense humming in Denver, but I think the Broncos will be a little smoother out the gates than the Raiders. I also think Denver will have revenge on its mind after losing two games to Las Vegas last year.
Bet: Broncos -3 (-117 - Play to -4)
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