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Opening lines posted, but will NFL open on time?

By Matt Youmans  (VSiN senior editor) 

May 7, 2020 10:23 PM
Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs are scheduled to open the season against the Texans on Sept. 10. The reigning Super Bowl champs are double-digit favorites in a rematch of a wild playoff game in January.

If the NFL season kicks off as scheduled — and that’s obviously far from a certainty at this stage — bookmakers are certain to be rooting against Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs out of the gate in September.

Soon after the schedule was announced Thursday, the Westgate SuperBook was first to open lines on each game for the first two weeks. And now the waiting game begins.

How wise is it to wager on games that are four months away and might not happen? Each bettor has his own bankroll management strategy. Some sharps were firing away after Week 1 lines were posted — most taking approximately a point of perceived line value or simply betting differences in numbers in the market — yet the action was light and the betting public might not get heavily involved until it appears the games definitely will go on.

The NFL season of 2020 is a mystery like no other. But some things never change, and if the reigning Super Bowl champions raise the curtain against the Houston Texans on Sept. 10, the public will play the favorite. Kansas City opened as a 10½-point favorite.

“We are going to get a ton of moneyline parlays and teasers starting with Kansas City,” Westgate book director John Murray said. “It’s kind of a disappointing matchup. The Texans are a team I don’t like at all. I think the game is kind of a dud with a double-digit favorite.”

It’s a rematch of a wild AFC divisional playoff game in January, when the Texans took a 24-0 lead and watched the Chiefs score the next 41 points in a 51-31 win. Mahomes passed for 321 yards and five touchdowns to outduel Deshaun Watson. The total for the Week 1 sequel opened 56½.

Bookmakers will be pulling for an upset similar to the 2017 season opener, when the Chiefs went to New England and knocked off the Patriots, 42-27.

“We won an outrageous amount of money on that game because every teaser and moneyline parlay started with New England,” Murray said. “That was our biggest win on any regular-season game that year.”

Several interesting quirks can be found in the league’s 17-week schedule. The Baltimore Ravens do not leave the Eastern Time Zone after Week 2. The Las Vegas Raiders are set to play six road games at 1 p.m. ET, marking the first time a team from the Pacific Time Zone has played that many road games in the early kickoff slot, according to ESPN Stats & Info. The Chiefs are the only team in the league with four sets of back-to-back road games.

Here's a two-minute drill of analysis on the rest of the Week 1 lineup, with the Westgate’s opening point spreads and totals:

Sunday, Sept. 13

Miami at New England (-6.5, 44) — Second-year quarterback Jarrett Stidham figures to make his first start for Bill Belichick. There will be varying opinions on the new-look Patriots, and the Westgate oddsmakers had to settle their differences after one made the line four and another made the line seven. Caesars opened the line 5½. The Dolphins will likely start veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick, who led the way to a 27-24 win at New England in Week 17, when the Patriots were 17-point favorites and had a six-time Super Bowl champ at quarterback.

Cleveland at Baltimore (-8.5, 49) — The Ravens went 7-1 at home in the regular season in 2019, and their 40-25 loss to the Browns might have been the strangest result of the year because it was Freddie Kitchens beating John Harbaugh in what should have been a coaching mismatch. The clumsy Kitchens was fired and replaced by Kevin Stefanski. Lamar Jackson hit as a long-shot MVP bet, but he whiffed when Baltimore lost a home playoff game. Caesars opened the Ravens -10.

N.Y. Jets at Buffalo (-5.5, 40.5) — Speaking of differences in the market, Caesars opened this line 6½. The Bills, who have not won the AFC East since 1995, will be a popular pick to replace the Patriots atop the division. Do you trust Josh Allen?

Las Vegas at Carolina (Pick, 46.5) — It was a surprise the Raiders drew a road game for an opener, but the construction crew gets an extra week to finish the $2 billion stadium on the Strip. Las Vegas does get four prime-time home dates, beginning with a visit from the Saints on Monday night in Week 2. The Panthers are opening a new era with coach Matt Rhule and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

Seattle (-1, 49) at Atlanta — Russell Wilson steered the Seahawks to a 7-1 road record last season, when he beat the Falcons 27-20 in October. Atlanta was a 7½-point home underdog.

Philadelphia (-6, 45.5) at Washington — Both meetings between these NFC East rivals were wild ones last year, with the Eagles winning 32-27 at home and 37-27 in Washington. The Redskins lost and failed to cover 6½ points in the latter despite leading in the final minute. Ron Rivera is making his D.C. coaching debut.

Chicago at Detroit (-1.5, 44.5) — Will it be Mitchell Trubisky or Nick Foles as the Bears’ starting quarterback? I’m betting it will be Trubisky, but I’m not betting on him to win this game. Caesars opened Chicago -1.

Indianapolis (-8.5, 47) at Jacksonville — The Colts have the look of a 10-win team, if Philip Rivers has anything left. Rivers was handed a one-year, $25 million deal despite going 0-6 in division games for the Chargers last year. That contract is a big gamble and this is a big number to lay with Rivers, who has been better as a ‘dog than as a favorite. Caesars opened this line -7. The Jaguars, who should tank for Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence as the No. 1 draft pick in 2021, are sticking with Gardner Minshew as their quarterback for now.

Green Bay at Minnesota (-3.5, 47) — After winning the NFC North by three games, the Packers did nothing in the draft to improve immediately. The Vikings, on the other hand, pulled in an outstanding draft class. Minnesota is doing everything possible to help Kirk Cousins, while Green Bay’s front office is busy irritating Aaron Rodgers. Minnesota would be the play at -3, so this line is right.

L.A. Chargers (-3.5, 46) at Cincinnati — Tyrod Taylor is a great bet to be the Chargers’ starting quarterback while first-round pick Justin Herbert sits and waits. The Bengals, with quarterback Joe Burrow headlining a strong draft, should be the most improved team in the AFC North. Cincinnati also has the most room for improvement after finishing 2-14. Caesars opened the line -5, and the sharps could end up on the ugly ‘dog if the price is right.

Arizona at San Francisco (-8, 45) — Kyler Murray and the Cardinals gave the 49ers some trouble last year, averaging 25.5 points in two competitive losses. San Francisco’s defense fizzled in the second half of the season and in the second half of the Super Bowl against Mahomes. Caesars opened this line -7. I might take eight with the underdog and also look over the total. Arizona is on the rise, especially offensively.

Tampa Bay at New Orleans (-4.5, 49.5) — Expect strong two-way action with the betting public possibly viewing Tom Brady as a hot ‘dog in his debut for the Buccaneers. It seems the sharps want to fade the Bucs this season and may view Drew Brees and the Saints as undervalued in this spot. “I made New Orleans a bigger favorite than what we opened it,” Murray said. Caesars opened the line 6½, so this is a classic case of market players betting an early difference in the numbers by laying 4½ with New Orleans and taking 6½ with Tampa Bay. I will consider taking six or more with Brady in this hyped duel.

Dallas (-3, 50) at L.A. Rams — The Sunday night matchup always attracts a big wagering handle, with the public typically playing the favorite. The public will probably ride the Cowboys here, which is why the Westgate opened at a full field goal. Caesars opened the line 2½. “A very respected player bet the Rams plus-3,” Murray said.

Monday, Sept. 14

Pittsburgh (-3.5, 48.5) at N.Y. Giants — Ben Roethlisberger’s comeback begins. He went from big to fat last season while sidelined with an injury. Is he in shape and ready to roll? The Giants went 0-5 ATS as home underdogs last year to burn some of my bankroll.

Tennessee at Denver (-3, 42) — The Titans open as road ‘dogs despite reaching the AFC title game and falling to Mahomes. The Broncos are improved after another good draft and believe they are ready to win with Drew Lock, but Lock is not Mahomes and he's not even in Ryan Tannehill's class yet. It’s a little surprising this line did not open 2½, but oddsmakers are high on Denver.

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