LAS VEGAS – The release of the NFL regular-season schedule has always been one of my favorite days of the year.
Growing up in the 1970s in suburban Chicago, I would go over the Bears schedule and try to predict how the season would go: “That’s a win, that’s a loss, that’s a win, that’s a loss.” Of course, those Bears teams rarely lived up to my optimistic expectations until Mike Ditka took over and Walter Payton, Jim McMahon and Buddy Ryan’s famed 46-Defense brought us the 1985-86 Super Bowl Shufflin’ Champions.
But, even in the lean years, it was fun – and it still is.
And the day has taken on greater importance for me in my career as I’ve been reporting on the release of the opening Week 1 lines since 2004 when Jay Kornegay moved his crew from the Imperial Palace to the Las Vegas Hilton SuperBook. And over the years, as I’ve moved from the Daily Racing Form to my ViewFromVegas.com website to ESPN.com and now VSiN.com while the Hilton changed ownership to the LVH and now Westgate Las Vegas, I’ve given my “takes” on the Week 1 lines even though there’s four months until the games take place.
We live in different times in the midst of this coronavirus pandemic, but even though I was cooped up at home on Thursday, I still felt the anticipation as the hours ticked away toward the NFL’s announced release of the schedule at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT.
If you were tuned into ESPN and/or following your NFL-centric feeds on Twitter, you already know that some of the matchups, starting with the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs hosting the Houston Texans in the Thursday night opener on Sept. 10, started to leak out. The Twitterverse literally exploded and I was sure we’d see the ole “Fail Whale” from the early days of Twitter when the system would crash.
In the midst of the madness, the Westgate opened the Chiefs as 10.5-point home favorite with an Over/Under of 56.5 and other books here in Vegas (including Caesars Palace, MGM Resorts and the William Hill network), across the country and offshore started putting up that game and then others. The Westgate, which re-opened its mobile app in the morning, posted the full Week 1 lines and emailed them out to the media around 5:15 p.m. PT.
Over the years, I’ve shared this advice in addition to making predictions: the key to betting Week 1 lines when they first come out isn’t (or shouldn’t be) about picking winners. Sure, in the end, you want to be on the winning side of the bet, but if you’re tying up your money for four months, it’s more important that you’re getting the best number now as opposed to waiting.
Let’s use the opener as an example: my first thought is to take the Texans plus-10.5, and if they cover in September (or whenever the game is played as the Westgate actually put a disclaimer on each matchup that they must be played by 08/01/2021), that’s great. However, if the public steams the Chiefs to -13 or -14 between now and gameday, the plus-10.5 is a bad bet.
Now, I don’t need to tell you we’re in unchartered territory as we don’t know if the NFL season is going to be start on time or not. This makes this exercise much different than we’ve ever faced before. For one thing, this “Week 1” could actually be pushed to the end of the season if the league is required to shuffle around the schedule like in 2001 after 9/11. We also don’t know what kind of training camps or preseason schedules will take place. Heck, these are all professional athletes and we expect they’ll keep in shape and be ready to go whenever duty calls, but who the heck really knows for sure.
All this being said, let’s run through the Week 1 schedule. I’ll warn you that I’m not going to jump on as many underdogs as I usually do, partly because of the uncertainty I’ve mentioned, but also because I have this sneaking suspicion that – just like it seemed that everyone turned into an NFL Draft expert because of all the extra time they had to prepare – there’s going to be more betting than usual on these early lines as the masses considers themselves more informed. All this “knowledge,” I believe, could lead to a herd mentality and the public betting more of these lines higher through the rest of the spring and summer. In fact, it’ll also probably be a surprise how many favorites I recommend betting now (though, in those cases, I’m just playing the market and usually planning to bet the underdog later to set up a shot at a middle).
We’ll go on the assumption that Week 1 takes place as scheduled on the weekend of Sept. 10-14 and we’ll use the Westgate openers and line moves (and cite others as they become relevant, especially for comparison purposes as it’s never too early to shop around for the best number):
TULEY’S TAKES FOR NFL WEEK 1
Texans (O/U 56.5) at Chiefs (-10.5)
Tuley’s Take: As mentioned above, the Chiefs open as double-digit home favorites, but I’m not going to jump on the Texans as double-digit underdogs even though I highly suspect that’ll be my pick when the game takes place. This line opened as low as Chiefs -9.5 at MGM and as high as -11 at Caesars Palace, so there’s already some difference of opinion, but I really believe it’s going higher. For one thing, the defending champion Chiefs are going to start as the biggest public team to start the season, so I fully expect the masses to back them blindly. In addition to all the hype they’ll be fed about QB Patrick Mahomes, they’ll also hear over and over again how great coach Andy Reid is with more than a week to prepare (bye weeks, Super Bowl bye week, season openers, etc.). If that’s not enough, everyone will remember that the Texans, as 9.5-point road dogs, took a 24-0 lead on the Chiefs in the divisional playoffs and the Chiefs still covered in what felt like a 51-31 rout. They’ll gladly lay any points. Best Bet: Pass for now (if the market starts to move toward single digits, I think I’ll be able to grab plus-10 before they’re all gone).
Dolphins (O/U 44) at Patriots (-6.5)
Tuley’s Take: The first game of New England’s post-Tom Brady era is an interesting one to handicap. While the Westgate went with Patriots -6.5, if you were in Vegas on Thursday night, you could have set a middle with Pats -5.5 at William Hill and Dolphins plus-7.5 at MGM (PointsBet in New Jersey was as high as Dolphins plus-9). If you’re unable to lock in the middle now, I feel the better play is to grab the chalk now at the lowest price possible. I can’t see the Pats dropping lower than -5.5 no matter how many people believe the dynasty is over. Best Bet: Patriots -5.5 (and get best price on Dolphins).
Browns (O/U 49) at Ravens (-8.5)
Tuley’s Take: The Ravens, last year’s biggest overachievers (at least during the regular season) host the perpetually underachieving Browns. This is the second of nine divisional Week 1 games slated for Week 1. I missed the Browns plus-10 opener at Caesars as I would have made that a play, but for now I think it’s priced right around -8 or -9 and don’t expect it to change much. Best Bet: Pass.
Jets (O/U 40.5) at Bills (-5.5)
Tuley’s Take: This line is pretty much in “no man’s land” between a FG and TD with the SuperBook at -5.5. Caesars and MGM are at 6.5, but that’s not high enough to get me interested in the Jets. If you really think this line will get to a touchdown, I wouldn’t talk you out of laying the Bills -5.5 to lock in your price now, but I’m not so sure it gets there and it’s probably better to wait. Best Bet: Pass.
Raiders (O/U 46.5) at Panthers (pick ‘em)
Tuley’s Take: The Las Vegas Raiders make their debut on the road and the Westgate went with pick ‘em, probably as it expects a lot of hometown action on the Raiders. I saw Panthers -1 at most offshore books. Carolina moves on from Cam Newton with Teddy Bridgewater now the franchise QB, so there’s a lot of uncertainty there as much as in Vegas. I don’t expect this line to run one way or the other. Best Bet: Pass.
Seahawks (-1) at Falcons (O/U 49)
Tuley’s Take: Here’s our first home underdog, but I’m not biting here either. Oh, I fully expect to be on the Falcons when Week 1 rolls around, but I expect the favored Seahawks to get backed between now and then. For one thing, a lot of people have been downgrading the Falcons after the draft, so I don’t expect there to be a public rush to back them, plus the Seahawks played much better on the road last year, so I’ll wait and hopefully get Falcons plus-3 in four months. In fact, I’m sure enough of this that I’m planning to bet the Seahawks -1 (or -1.5 at worst) now and try to catch a middle or side. Best Bet: Seahawks -1 (and bet Falcons later).
Eagles (-6) at Redskins (O/U 45.5)
Tuley’s Take: Here’s a bigger home dog, but again, no thanks with the Redskins. PointsBet was dealing Redskins plus-9 on Thursday, so I think this line is more likely to move higher through a touchdown, so lay under a TD now if you like the Eagles. Best Bet: Pass.
Bears (O/U 44.5) at Lions (-1.5)
Tuley’s Take: One would think this would be another road fave, but everyone knows about the QB controversy in Chicago with Mitch Trubisky vs. Nick Foles, so the books opened the Lions as short home favorites. I don’t see this line moving outside the range of Lions -1 to -2.5 no matter what happens during the summer. Best Bet: Pass.
Colts (-8.5) at Jaguars (O/U 47)
Tuley’s Take: The Philip Rivers era starts in Indy. I know not much is expected from the Jaguars (as most people think the magic is gone in Gardner Minshew), but I think this line is too high, especially with Rivers’ tendency to play down to the level of competition when favored. Besides, most other books are at -7 and even MGM as low as -6 (-120). Best Bet: Jaguars plus-8.5.
Packers (O/U 47) at Vikings (-3.5)
Tuley’s Take: The NFC North co-favorites (both are plus-175 at the Westgate) square off in Minnesota, so I get the Vikings favored by a field goal, but the hook at plus-3.5 is too much to pass up even four months in advance. I don’t expect it to go higher and could really see it closing at 3, so let’s lock it in now. Best Bet: Packers plus-3.5.
Chargers (-3.5) at Bengals (O/U 46)
Tuley’s Take: With Andy Dalton gone, do we see No. 1 draft pick Joe Burrow in Week 1 for Cincinnati? Whether we do or not, I’m still not sure if getting 3.5 is enough to back this home dog. I’ll take my chances and wait to see if it goes higher (note: as opposed to similar situations above, I wouldn’t lay -3.5 with a road dog in hopes of setting up a middle for hopefully obvious reasons). Best Bet: Pass.
Cardinals (O/U 45) at 49ers (-8)
Tuley’s Take: I’m already on record (and in-pocket) on the Cardinals to win the NFC West and the NFC Championship, but this is another case where I’m not sure we’re getting the best price on the underdog. For one thing, this was as high as 49ers -10.5 earlier Thursday night at PointsBet and the public usually doesn’t pay attention to the “Super Bowl loser hangover” and I’m expecting them to bet the 49ers higher during the summer. Best Bet: Pass for now and look to back the Cards later.
Buccaneers (O/U 49.5) at Saints (-4.5)
Tuley’s Take: This is clearly one of the marquee Week 1 games, especially among the non-primetime games. Tom Brady, who you’ll hear a thousand times between now and gameday, hasn’t been a regular-season underdog in his last 74 starts since 2014. However, he and the Bucs opened as 4.5-point dogs at the Westgate and as high as 6-point dogs at Caesars Palace (which was down to 4.5 late Thursday night, so you’re too late to get that). MGM has the low number at Saints -3.5, so I expect this to stay in that range right over a field goal. Best Bet: Pass.
Cowboys (-3) at Rams (O/U 50)
Tuley’s Take: There’s a lot of difference of opinion about how both of these teams will fare this year. When the lines came out, I was tempted to take the Rams as 3-point home dogs in the Sunday nighter (especially after seeing other books at Cowboys -2.5), but it was moved to Rams 3 (-120) at the Westgate and it’s not quite as appealing (especially since it wasn’t a strong opinion anyway). This looks like the type of game that will waver between 2.5 and 3 (with added juice on the side you want) for the whole summer. Best Bet: Pass.
Steelers (-3.5) at Giants (O/U 48.5)
Tuley’s Take: Again, if you were in Nevada on Thursday night (and had funds in all the available mobile apps), you could have had Steelers -2.5 at MGM and Giants plus-3.5 at the Westgate in the first Monday Night Football game of the season. I really expect this line to settle at Steelers -3 everywhere, so there’s an edge in getting either (or both) of those lines. Frankly, I like the Steelers -2.5 line better as I was impressed with how well Mike Tomlin had the Steelers playing all last season without Ben Roethlisberger (and Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, too), so I don’t expect I’ll be looking to back the Giants as home dogs in the opener. Best Bet: Pass.
Titans (O/U 42) at Broncos (-3)
Tuley’s Take: I rode the Titans vs. the Ravens and Patriots in the playoffs, so I can’t see passing on them in the season opener, even though everyone is talking about how the Broncos are 18-2 SU & 12-4-4 ATS in their past 20 home openers. I’m not afraid to fade a stat like that, especially as I feel like I have the better team and getting points. Besides, most other books have the Broncos between -1.5 and -2.5, so I’ll take the full field goal now as we might not see it again (and if we do, we can reload). Best Bet: Titans plus-3.