Read between the lines: Avoid NFL overreactions

By Matt Youmans  ( senior editor) 

What happens in Week 1 of the NFL season stays there, for the most part. In a month or two, the season’s opening Sunday will be all but forgotten, and many of the hot takes — Tom Brady looks his age, for example — will be wrong in retrospect.

There were blowouts, stunning comebacks, upsets and all sorts of big bets as the NFL returned from a seven-month absence. The coronavirus-era action did not disappoint, on the field or in the sportsbooks.

The South Point sportsbook wagering handle Sunday topped $1 million, despite $30,000 being the largest single wager. BetMGM reported several wagers of more than $100,000, including a $525,000 winning play on New England -7.

Three upsets — Arizona over San Francisco, Jacksonville over Indianapolis and Washington over Philadelphia — made the day difficult for the betting public and helped turn a profit for a majority of books.

“The final numbers are really good,” Westgate SuperBook director John Murray said. “A lot of people tried to chase at the end of the day on the Cowboys, so that was a good result for us.”

It was not the desired result for BetMGM, which took two $100,000 moneyline wagers on the Rams and a $150,000 wager on Under 52. The Rams beat the Cowboys 20-17, and all three of those big bets were winners. Dallas opened as a three-point favorite and the line closed pick-’em.

Are the Rams better than projected and the Cowboys typically overhyped? Is the Buccaneers’ ship already sinking?

“It’s not your typical Week 1, especially with no preseason,” said Vinny Magliulo, VSiN oddsmaker and Gaughan Gaming sportsbook director. “Oftentimes, the general public, or casual bettors, will overbet Week 1, and then they will overreact to Week 2. On our side of the counter, we can’t overreact. Did we really see the true identity of many or all of these teams? It’s still going to be a wait-and-see approach.”

The most popular exercises for many people are knee-jerk reactions and jumping to conclusions. The best example was Week 1 of the 2003 season, when the Patriots were embarrassed 31-0 at Buffalo. Brady was intercepted four times, and critics were crushing coach Bill Belichick. New England beat the Bills 31-0 in Week 17, finished the regular season 14-2 and went on to win the Super Bowl.

The day after the season’s opening Sunday — known as Overreaction Monday — is a handicapping challenge in itself. As always, there are plenty of popular opinions to entertain.

Brady, who turned 43 in August, is too old to lead an overhyped Tampa Bay team to the playoffs. Judgment: Overreaction.

While his performance in the Buccaneers’ 34-23 loss at New Orleans was uninspiring, it should not be that surprising. Brady completed 23 of 36 passes for 239 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, including a pick-six that brought back memories of Jameis Winston. But miscommunication and timing problems should be expected in a new offense, especially with no preseason. The Saints are NFC title favorites for a reason and did what they were supposed to do as four-point home favorites. Brady had plenty of zip on his throws — he’s not turning into Philip Rivers — and actually looked better than Drew Brees. The Bucs just need some time and will be fine.

Cam Newton will be a good replacement for Brady. Judgment: Right reaction.

Newton, with a base salary of $1 million, was a low-risk signing for the Patriots. He’s not an MVP candidate, but he has enough left to keep New England in playoff contention. Newton ran 15 times for 75 yards and two touchdowns while hitting 15 of 19 passes for 155 yards. The new offense fits his strengths. Still, the Dolphins, seven-point underdogs in a 21-11 loss, were so disappointing that it’s too soon to get too excited about Newton and the Pats. Let’s wait and see more. Newton will be challenged to stay healthy if he continues to run so much.

It’s almost Tua Tagovailoa time in Miami. Judgment: Overreaction.

Ryan Fitzpatrick showed no magic in Foxborough, Mass. He was intercepted three times, and the Dolphins didn’t find the end zone until the fourth quarter. (Fitzpatrick left camp in late August when his mom died, so he deserves a break.) It’s no surprise to already hear chatter about promoting Tagovailoa, the No. 5 overall pick, but that’s premature. Tagovailoa is recovering from a major hip injury, and Fitzpatrick still gives Miami a better chance to win now. Fitzpatrick always has been a hot-and-cold player. Don’t forget he beat the Patriots as a 17-point underdog in Week 17 last season.

The Jets are suddenly in the hunt for next year’s No. 1 draft pick. Judgment: Right reaction.

This is a tough call, and maybe an overreaction. Jacksonville and Washington remain co-favorites to be the league’s worst team and probably would be smart to tank for Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, but the Jets are throwing their hat in the ring. Until quarterback Sam Darnold shows improvement — and running back Le’Veon Bell’s hamstring injury hurts Darnold’s cause — the Jets will struggle to win. Adam Gase is a candidate to be the first coach fired. Darnold, the No. 3 pick in the 2018 draft, was outplayed by Josh Allen, the No. 7 pick in that draft. Allen passed for 312 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 57 yards and a touchdown. BetMGM took a $200,000 bet on the Bills -6½ in a game the betting public got right. Buffalo led 21-3 at halftime in a 27-17 win. “Everybody was on Buffalo, and that was our biggest loss,” Murray said. “Josh Allen looked like a rock star in the first half.”

Mitchell Trubisky turned the corner in a spectacular comeback: Judgment: Overreaction.

For three quarters, Trubisky was bad news and the Bears looked hopeless. The quarterback sarcastically called “MVP Mitch” by VSiN’s Michael Lombardi quieted his critics with three fourth-quarter touchdown passes in a 27-23 victory over the Lions. Trubisky finished 20-for-36 for 242 yards passing to keep Nick Foles on the sideline a while longer. Trubisky’s errant throws from the first three quarters should not be overlooked because of the result, which happened because of a meltdown by the Detroit defense.

The Lions are still losers. Judgment: Right reaction.

Pity the poor bettor who put $175,000 on the Lions -2½ at BetMGM. It was the right side and wrong result. It’s lazy analysis to blame quarterback Matthew Stafford, who staked Detroit to a 23-6 lead entering the fourth quarter. Lions coach Matt Patricia’s defense laid down for Trubisky, who spent most of the day playing terribly. It was Trubisky, not Patrick Mahomes, and it’s inexcusable. The trend with Patricia is troubling. The Lions blew an 18-point lead and settled for a tie at Arizona in Week 1 last year. Patricia is miscast as a head coach. The same is true with Denver’s Vic Fangio, another former defensive coordinator who fails miserably in game-management situations. “When a team keeps losing close games or blowing big leads,” Murray said, “you have to look at the coach.”

Baker Mayfield and the Browns will be bad again. Judgment: Overreaction.

Cleveland was a flop last year when it finished 6-10. Mayfield, who threw 21 interceptions in 2019, stopped talking trash and committed to being a more humble, mature leader. The Browns figured to be better simply by dumping clumsy former coach Freddie Kitchens. But it was more of the same in a 38-6 loss at Baltimore in Week 1 as Mayfield completed only 21 of 39 passes with one interception. Mercurial wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. made three catches for 22 yards and hurt the team with negative plays. It’s way too early to quit on a team that sharp bettors were high on coming into the season. At worst, Cleveland could be 8-8 and the third-best team in the AFC North. The talent is there for a turnaround.

Aaron Rodgers is rejuvenated and back in elite form. Judgment: Right reaction.

Rodgers’ talent is undeniable, yet he needed an attitude adjustment, and maybe Green Bay management provided motivation by trading up in the draft for his presumed replacement, Jordan Love, and adding no wide receiver help. Rodgers does have something to prove and needs to play that way instead of acting entitled. He was good last year (26 touchdown passes, four interceptions) and great in a 43-34 win at Minnesota in Week 1. Rodgers went 32-for-44 for 364 yards and four touchdowns with no picks or sacks. Rodgers’ decline and the Packers’ demise were popular predictions in the offseason, and that might have been a positive thing. I favor Russell Wilson in this year’s MVP race, and Wilson started hot by completing 31 of 35 passes for 322 yards and four TDs in a win at Atlanta, but A-Rod is back in the discussion.

The Cardinals can win the NFC West. Judgment: Overreaction.

Sharp bettors were not surprised by Arizona’s upset of San Francisco, which had trouble defending mobile quarterback Kyler Murray last year and again in Week 1. The Cardinals are showing that four wideouts and a college-type spread offense can work in the NFL. This division features two great offensive minds as head coaches — Sean McVay of the Rams and Kyle Shanahan of the 49ers — and an emerging one in Kliff Kingsbury, whose hire by Arizona was ripped by every old-school critic. Seattle has the sharpest defensive mind, Pete Carroll, and the top quarterback in Wilson. The Seahawks will win the division, and the Cardinals will likely finish third because their defense is not strong enough and Murray is not on Wilson’s level.

Josh Jacobs could lead the NFL in rushing yards or touchdowns. Judgment: Right reaction.

In the Raiders’ wild 34-30 win at Carolina, coach Jon Gruden fed the ball to Jacobs early and often. Gruden will stick with that game plan unless the second-year back from Alabama gets banged up with injuries. Jacobs was tied for the second-most carries (25) and sixth-most yards (93) among all NFL running backs in Week 1. He leads with three rushing touchdowns. Gruden’s commitment to ground excellence will balance a potentially explosive offense.

Beating the rebuilding Panthers was a needed step in the right direction, but now is when we find out the truth about the Raiders. “Monday Night Football” makes its first-ever stop in Las Vegas next week when the Saints march into town. Do you think Brent Musburger is fired up?

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