I’m guessing most of you felt similarly, but last Saturday was like Christmas morning in the Tuley’s Takes home office with wall-to-wall college football on top of a full stale of MLB and some other stocking stuffers like tennis, golf, horse racing and UFC added to the fun.
I don’t think I’ll have the words to describe how I’ll feel Sunday when the NFL season kicks off. In keeping with the above analogy, I guess the stocking stuffer (or the better equivalent would be if your parents let you open one present on Christmas Eve) is the Cowboys at the Buccaneers in the traditional Thursday night opener.
Our purpose here is to give readers a weekly overview of the NFL card as I give my take on every game. I’m a self-proclaimed “dog-or-pass” bettor, but I’ll often state the case for both sides. In fact, I have many readers who bet more favorites than I do and say that the fact I can’t make a strong case for the dog is actually an endorsement to bet the chalk. I’m here to help in any way I can, whether you’re trying to whittle down your plays to a few best bets each week or if you’re in an office pool or contest where you have to pick every game. Along those lines, even if I don’t have a strong opinion on a game, I list my “pool play” that breaks down how I’m planning to play the game across my many SU & ATS contests.
In addition, my five Best Bets appear elsewhere in each issue of Point Spread Weekly along with consensus picks, which also include some Over/Unders (and as I wrote last week, my college football plays also appear weekly in PSW).
There’s one more thing I want to mention before we get started. I’ve written in a few columns over the summer how I posted my NFL Week 1 picks back in May — Buccaneers -6.5 vs. the Cowboys (up to -8 at several sportsbooks), Jaguars -2.5 at Texans (up to -3), Lions + 7.5 vs. 49ers (holding steady at + 7.5) and Raiders + 5.5 vs. Ravens (down to + 4) — but when I’m going over the games each week here, I’m basing my picks on the current lines we’re seeing for our bets and contests.
Cowboys at Buccaneers (-8)
As stated above, this line opened Bucs -6.5, so early bettors have a great number as the masses have continued to bet this number higher on the defending champions, who return nearly their whole team intact. However, I believe this line has been overinflated and I’m now on the Cowboys and the points. They still have the offensive weapons to keep up with the Bucs. And if the Bucs win by exactly 7 points and I hit my middle, well, that’s how it’s supposed to work! In addition, I wouldn’t discourage anyone from starting an NFL 6-point teaser with Buccaneers -2 (this will be a very popular play this week). Best Bet: Cowboys + 8 (pool play: Cowboys in all my rare ATS contests that include “Thursday Night Football,” but Buccaneers 67/33 in SU pools).
Steelers at Bills (-6.5)
The top game on Sunday’s card is one of the hardest to handicap. The Bills are expected to contend for the AFC title while the Steelers are viewed as being on a downward trend. However, Mike Tomlin always has whatever team he’s coaching ready to play. I lean to the Steelers, but won't be betting any money. Best Bet: Pass (pool play: Steelers in slightly more than 50% of ATS contests, but Bills around 70/30 in SU pools).
Jets at Panthers (-5)
Sam Darnold starts his Carolina career against his former team and the new first-round darling of New York, Zach Wilson. This line isn’t high enough for me to consider the underdog Jets, especially since I’m high on Darnold with his new weapons: RB Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson). Best Bet: Pass (pool play: Panthers around 60/40 in ATS contests, but closer to 90/10 in SU pools).
Jaguars (-3) at Texans
When I made the Jaguars -2.5 bet back in May, I fully expected this line to go to 3.5 or higher with Deshaun Watson expected not to play — and I thought I’d be betting some back on the Texans this week. However, Watson is still sidelined and Tyrod Taylor is starting, yet this line never went higher than -3. The Texans haven’t done enough to replenish their depleted roster, so I’m content to let my Jaguars -2.5 ticket ride as Urban Meyer and Trevor Lawrence shouldn’t have to do much to win their NFL debuts. It looks like plenty of -2.5s are reappearing for those wanting to lay the short number. Best Bet: Pass (pool play: Jaguars 70/30 in ATS contest — lower if a contest commissioner goes with -3.5 — and closer to 85/15 in SU pools)
Cardinals at Titans (-3)
I hate this Week 1 matchup as I would probably be picking both teams in any other matchup, plus I’ve bet both teams’ Over in season win totals and one will be off to an 0-1 start (and a tie doesn’t help, in fact, it’s the worst-case scenario as ties count as losses in those wagers). Best Bet: Pass (pool play: Cardinals in slightly more than 50% of ATS contests — higher if line is 3.5, less if line is 2.5 — but Titans 65/35 in SU pools).
Chargers (-1) at Washington
This game is a coin flip, as evidenced by Week 1’s lowest point spread, which can be found as pick-’em at several books and even Washington -1 at Circa Sports in Las Vegas. This comes down to whether you think Justin Herbert picks up where he left off in his stellar rookie season, or if you trust Chase Young and Washington’s defense to dominate right out of the gate. Best Bet: Pass (pool play: Chargers right around 55/45 in all SU & ATS contests).
Eagles at Falcons (-3)
Second-year QB Jalen Hurts takes over in Philly, but I think the edge still goes to Matt Ryan. Even though Julio Jones is gone, Ryan has long been able to spread around the ball to whichever receivers are healthy, plus he adds super stud tight end Kyle Pitts. I don’t see Hurts being able to keep up score for score. Best Bet: Pass (pool play: Falcons 60/40 in ATS contests — higher if line is 2.5, lower if line is 3.5 — and around 85/15 in SU pools).
Seahawks (-2.5) at Colts
This line actually opened with the Colts favored by 3 points back in May, but there was a change in favorites when Indy QB Carson Wentz suffered a foot injury in training camp. The Colts are my value bet to win the Super Bowl, not because of Wentz’s reunion with Frank Reich but because of the overall team. I was hoping this line would get to 3, and it still might, so I’m waiting to actually bet this game, but I’ll take whatever points I can get with the better overall team even if Wentz isn’t 100% by Sunday. Best Bet: Colts + 2.5 or higher (pool play: Colts in all my ATS “pick-5” contests and 75/25 in ATS contests where I pick every game, plus around 67/33 in SU pools).
Vikings (-3 -120) at Bengals
When the lines first came out in May, I passed on the Bengals + 3 because I figured we would get a better line by the time this week rolled around. Joe Burrow was having a decent rookie season before his knee injury in November, so I believe he’ll keep the Bengals in this game. As of this writing on Tuesday morning, several books are up to -3 -120, but I really want the “hook” at + 3.5. I’ll pass for now, but don’t be surprised if you see my taking the Bengals later in the week if a contest offers the hook. Best Bet: Pass, but waiting for Bengals + 3.5 (pool play: Bengals 60/40 in ATS contests — higher at + 3.5 — but Vikings around 55/45 in SU pools).
49ers (-7.5) at Lions
This line has hardly budged since I bet it in May, but that’s fine as I can’t resist an NFL home dog of more than a touchdown. I’m not exactly thrilled with Jared Goff replacing Matthew Stafford in Detroit, but I would trust my money less on Jimmy Garoppolo to lead the 49ers to a double-digit win on the road, which is basically what it takes to cover this spread. This line was Week 1’s highest until the steam came in on the Buccaneers, so it’ll be interesting to see how survivor players handle this. Best Bet: Lions + 7.5 (pool play: Lions around 75/25 in ATS contests, but 49ers around 80/20 in SU pools).
Browns at Chiefs (-6)
This is similar to the Cardinals-Titans game in my mind as it’s a shame that one of these AFC title contenders has to start 0-1. I would love to make a case for the Browns plus what appear to be generous points, but KC coach Andy Reid is so good with time to prepare and Patrick Mahomes has ridiculous September starts that I have to pass on betting this game and just cheer for Mahomes on my fantasy teams. Best Bet: Pass (pool play: Chiefs in slightly more than 50% of ATS contests and around 75/25 in SU pools).
Dolphins at Patriots (-3 EVEN)
A lot is being made of former Alabama teammates Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones facing each other, and I give the edge to the rookie, Jones. Don’t get me wrong, I think the Dolphins are heading in the right direction, and I’m sure to be on them many times this season as dogs, but the difference should be Bill Belichick and a defense that should be much better than last year with key players returning after opting out. Best Bet: Pass (pool play: Patriots 65/35 in ATS contests — higher if 2.5 is used, lower at 3.5 — and around 75/25 in SU pools).
Broncos (-3 EVEN) at Giants
Outside of the fan bases of these two franchises, I haven’t heard any buzz about this game — mostly because it pales in comparison to Browns-Chiefs, Packers-Saints and even Dolphins-Patriots in the Sunday afternoon time slot. Is Saquon Barkley ready to go for the Giants? Or Kenny Golladay? I just don’t think I’m getting enough points for the Giants as home dogs here. Best Bet: Pass (pool play: Broncos around 55/45 in ATS contests — higher at 2.5 — and closer to 70/30 in SU pools).
Packers (-4) vs. Saints in Jacksonville, Fla.
This line has changed as much as the teams’ travel plans. The Saints were 3-point home favorites in May (though several books had the game off the board because of the Aaron Rodgers saga). The line flipped to Packers -3 when it was rumored the game was moving out of hurricane-ravaged New Orleans (first to Dallas, then to Jacksonville). I know the Saints lose home-field advantage, but I don’t think the line should have moved a full touchdown. Jameis Winston can put up points for the Saints, who have a decent defense. I’ll take the generous points. Best Bet: Saints + 4 (pool play: Saints 67/33 in ATS contests — slightly less at 3.5 and slightly more at 4.5 — and even taking Saints 55/45 in SU contests).
Bears at Rams (-7.5)
When the lines first came out in May, I passed on the Bears + 6.5 and even + 7 as I felt the public would put this over a full touchdown, and the public didn’t let me down. The Rams are a top contender with the addition of Matthew Stafford, but I think this line is still too high against a team that can play defense. A lot of people are saying “I’d be on the Bears if they had Justin Fields to avoid the pass rush,” but I think Andy Dalton’s experience will suit him just fine and keep the Bears close. Best Bet: Bears + 7.5 (pool play: Bears around 70/30 in ATS contests, but Rams still around 65/35 in SU pools).
Ravens (-4.5) at Raiders
I bet Las Vegas early because I really felt the public would drive this number much lower with the Raiders playing their first regular-season game at Allegiant Stadium in front of fans. Maybe that rush of money will come in the hype leading up to “Monday Night Football,” but if there's any game that could be affected by home-field advantage in Week 1, it’s this one. I’m certainly not suggesting the Ravens will be intimidated, but the Raiders have enough weapons to match the Ravens score for score as I see this being decided by a field goal either way. Best Bet: Raiders + 4.5 (pool play: Raiders 67/33 in ATS contests, but Ravens 67/33 in SU pools).