LAS VEGAS – If you had asked me for my two best predictions before Thursday’s release of the 2018 NFL schedule, I would have said “a ton of people will go on TV and online to post their Week 1 picks and over/under season win totals” (that certainly came true) and “just as many will say/post that it’s silly and/or stupid to try to predict what will happen four months from now” (scanning my Twitter feeds shows that also happened).
But I’ll beg to differ with the latter group as I’ve had a lot of success the past two years (granted, a small sample) with my NFL Week 1 picks right after the schedule release. In 2016, I went a perfect 5-0 ATS with my five best bets at ESPN Insider on the Buccaneers plus-3.5 vs. the Falcons, Raiders plus-1 vs. the Saints, Chargers plus-7.5 vs. the Chiefs, Giants plus-4 vs. the Cowboys and Steelers -3 vs. the Redskins.
Last year, I went 3-2 ATS with wins on the Falcons -5.5 vs. the Bears, Jaguars plus-4.5 vs. the Texans and Rams plus-3.5 vs. the Colts while losing with the Patriots -7 vs. the Chiefs and Giants 6 vs. the Cowboys (historical trivia: that was almost a year ago to the day on April 21, 2017, and what ended up being my last piece for ESPN only two days before my first VSiN appearance on “My Guys in the Desert” with Brent Musburger on April 23, 2017, when we discussed the NFL openers).
However, I’d like to point out that I actually felt I did better last year despite the inferior record as I was correct on four of the five line moves (the Jaguars were the only game where you could have gotten a better line in September they closed as 6-point dogs). In 2016, despite being ultimately right on all five best bets, I was only 3-2 in the line moves.
You see, the No. 1 consideration in whether or not to bet NFL Week 1 now is if you’re confident you’re getting the best line now. If a line is Team A -3 now and you’re pretty sure it’s going to sit there all spring and summer, then there’s no reason to tie up your money for more than 4½ months.
So, yes, while we’re trying to predict the ATS winners here, the main focus is on handicapping the number and how it will get bet in the coming months. There’s also another note I feel I have to make as I know a lot of longtime readers are yelling “since when does Tuley bet favorites?,” but this is the time when I feel confident that the fave is going to get bet higher and I’ll have a chance to bet back on the underdog and shoot for a middle or side. This worked out well for me last year in Week 1 as I bet the Chiefs plus-9 against the Patriots in the Thursday night season opener and cut my losses (despite losing with my official advance bet on the Pats -7) and actually did middle the Falcons -5.5 bet by taking the Bears 7 that week as the Falcons won 23-17.
Without further ado, let’s look at the Week 1 openers from the Westgate with all that in mind. Best bets will be marked with an asterisk(*) and listed again at the end.
THURSDAY, SEPT. 6
Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles
Week 1 odds: Eagles -3.5, over/under 47.5
Tuley’s Take: This is a case where I like the underdog but I’m not going to make it a best bet because I’m pretty sure the defending champion Eagles are going to get support and there’s a very good chance I’ll get a better number on the Falcons by waiting. My pick: Pass for now; lean toward Falcons and will take them at plus-4 or better, but figure worst-case scenario is we take plus-3 in September.
SUNDAY, SEPT. 9
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns
Week 1 odds: Steelers -7, over/under 48
Tuley’s Take: Will the Browns be better in 2018? Probably. Is this line inflated a little in making the Steelers a road favorite of a full touchdown? Do we really want to hold a Browns ticket for four months? No! However, I’m going to do it anyway (I can’t stop thinking that QB Tyrod Taylor and WR Josh Gordon, having all spring and summer to worth together will pay dividends early). But more importantly, despite the Steelers being a public team and a lot of people always looking to bet against the Browns, I suspect the sharps are going to take the points and this line is more likely to dip to 6.5 instead of getting bet up to 7.5. Ultimately, taking the Browns plus-7 and waiting to get the Steelers -6.5 or better for a shot at hitting the side with the Steelers winning by exactly 7 seems like a good risk. My pick: Browns plus-7*
San Francisco 49ers at Minnesota Vikings
Week 1 odds: Vikings -4.5, over/under 47.5
Tuley’s Take: A lot of people are expecting big things from Jimmy Garoppolo after he went 5-0 after taking over the QB duties in San Francisco, but I feel that’s led to this line coming up short. On the other hand, it’s not low enough to lay the price with the Vikings. My pick: Pass.
Cincinnati Bengals at Indianapolis Colts
Week 1 odds: Colts -1, over/under 47.5
Tuley’s Take: Will Andrew Luck be back in time for the season opener? If so, we’d be inclined to lay the single point and expect to get 3 by Week 1. If you don’t think he’ll be back in time, then the Bengals plus-1 would be the way to go. There’s too much uncertainty for me. My pick: Pass.
Buffalo Bills at Baltimore Ravens
Week 1 odds: Ravens -3.5, over/under 42
Tuley’s Take: It’s tempting to take the Bills getting the hook at plus-3.5, but instead of building on their playoff appearance of last year, they look more like a franchise starting over. Besides, I think this has more of a chance to go up to plus-4 or even plus-4.5 so no need to take the dog now. My pick: Lean to Bills but wait for hopefully better number.
Jacksonville Jaguars at New York Giants
Week 1 odds: Jaguars -4, over/under 44.5
Tuley’s Take: The Jaguars finally lived up their potential last year and made it to the AFC title game, but even though the Giants are coming off a brutally disappointing season, I think this line is set too high with the Jags are road faves and I expect it to come down to at last 3.5 (though would love to lay Jacksonville -3 and have two numbers working for us on opening day). My pick: Giants plus-4*
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints
Week 1 odds: Saints -7.5, over/under 52.5
Tuley’s Take: The Saints finally put together a defense (and a running attack) to help Drew Brees last year, but I still don’t think they should be more than a TD favorite over the Bucs and expect this line to settle at 7 (and maybe even lower to set up a juicy middle later this summer). My pick: Buccaneers plus-7.5*
Houston Texans at New England Patriots
Week 1 odds: Patriots -7, over/under 51
Tuley’s Take: This is similar to the Colts/Luck situation: if you believe Deshaun Watson will return for the Texans by the season opener, take the Texans plus-7 ASAP; if you think he’s more likely to miss the opener, lay the 7 with the Pats. I believe he’ll be back, but not confident enough to call it a best bet or risk having plus-7 with a backup QB as the line would probably be in double digits if Watson is declared out. My pick: Lean to Texans plus-7.
Tennessee Titans at Miami Dolphins
Week 1 odds: Titans -2.5 (-120), over/under 47
Tuley’s Take: A line of -2.5 doesn’t always mean that’s it’s heading to -3 as sometimes the oddsmakers will make the line just short of a field goal as the favorite isn’t strong enough (and maybe the dog is the better team). However, in this case, the Westgate went with the -120 juice and that tells me they think it will go to -3 and they’re making anyone pay a premium for the cheaper number. Either way, I’m going to pass as neither side appeals to me at the current prices. My pick: Pass.
Kansas City Chiefs at San Diego Chargers
Week 1 odds: Chargers -3, over/under 48.5
Tuley’s Take: The Patrick Mahomes era starts in Kansas City. Are you a believer or would you rather put your trust in Philip Rivers? As for the line, I think it’s more likely to dip to 2.5 as opposed to rising to 3.5, so I lean to the Chiefs, but this is the game I had in mind when writing the intro and stated about a line being -3 and expecting it to be -3 all spring and summer. My pick: Pass.
Seattle Seahawks at Denver Broncos
Week 1 odds: Broncos -2.5, over/under 42
Tuley’s Take: Here’s another game opening at -2.5, and while I certainly side with the underdog Seahawks and expect this line to move closer to pick ‘em, I’m stuck in no man’s land as that’s not much of an edge to grab this far out. I would grab Seahawks plus-3 if a book heads in that direction but I’m not holding my breath. My pick: Pass.
Dallas Cowboys at Carolina Panthers
Week 1 odds: Panthers -2.5 (-120), over/under 45
Tuley’s Take: Yet another -2.5, denying us underdogs bettors of the plus-3 that would flash the buy sign but again I’m not sure it’s worth it to lay the -2.5 as you might see a plus-3 at all. My pick: Pass.
Washington Redskins at Arizona Cardinals
Week 1 odds: Cardinals -1, over/under 45
Tuley’s Take: Are you seeing a trend with the Westgate putting a lot of these lines under a field goal? It protends a competitive Week 1, but not much in the way of line value. I made this pick ‘em even with the Cardinals’ home-field advantage, but not enough of an edge to take 1 point as I certainly don’t expect this to steam to the Redskins favored by a field goal on the road. My pick: Pass.
Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers
Week 1 odds: Packers -9, over/under 48.5
Tuley’s Take: Aaron Rodgers is expected to be 100% and so the Packers are backing to being among the most public of public teams; however, the Bears are on the improve and I don’t expect this line to go to double digits so grabbing the plus-9 now makes sense (I’d bet it closes at -7.5 or -8). My pick: Bears plus-9*
MONDAY, SEPT. 10
New York Jets at Detroit Lions
Week 1 odds: Lions -6, over/under 44
Tuley’s Take: All these competitive Week 1 matchups and this ended up kicking off the Monday Night Football doubleheader? Anyway, with the Jets expected to be among the worst teams (though they overachieved last year when similar predictions were being made about their ineptness), I would lean to the Lions -6 and hope to set up a shot at a side or middle later, but the Lions aren’t much of a public team so it might not move at all. My pick: Pass.
Los Angeles Rams at Oakland Raiders
Week 1 odds: Rams -1.5, over/under 49.5
Tuley’s Take: The Raiders were the hype team heading into last season while not much was expected of the Rams, but as the late, great Jim Nabors (aka Gomer Pyle) used to say: “surprise, surprise surprise!” Now, the Rams are the more highly regarded with a lot of people knocking the lame-duck Raiders even with Jon Gruden taking over, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Oakland ends up going off the home favorite. My pick: Raiders plus-1.5*.
Tuley’s Week 1 Best Bets to make now: Browns plus-7, Giants plus-4, Buccaneers plus-7.5, Bears plus-9, Raiders plus-1.5.