We are about two weeks from the Bucs and the Cowboys christening the new NFL season in a game that has ping-ponged between 6.5 and 10.5 recently amid reports that Dak Prescott might not be fully healthy. I mentioned in the spring and early summer that tying up your bankroll on a game that will not be played for several months is neither something I like to do nor recommend. But here we are. Games are within shouting distance, and it’s a good time to look at what’s on the menu for Week 1, if you haven’t already.
VSiN’s 2021 Pro Football Betting Guide is now available for order. Get access to over 100 pages of information, including over/under picks for all 32 NFL teams and our experts’ favorite season win total bets right here.
If you have been firing on the Under for preseason totals, you enter the regular season with some extra cash in your pocket, as the books can’t seem to go low enough to keep the Under bettors from cashing tickets. As we enter the third, and now final, week of the exhibition season, we look forward to the real thing. Now let’s find some winners ...
First Coach Fired: Zac Taylor (+ 1300)
You will see sanctimony among many members of the media acting as if even a discussion of someone losing his job is morally unconscionable. But not in this column. The reality is somebody will be dismissed at some point this season, so we might as well acknowledge that reality and try to make some money off it. Also, even just three years at an NFL coach’s salary is enough money to last a lifetime, so no need for violins.
Heading into a season with only six career wins does not beget job security, especially when it’s Year 3 of your career. Taylor’s record with the Bengals is 6-25-1 (similar to my record on MLB Unders in extra-inning games this season), and many thought the coach would be gone after the 2020 season. The Bengals start as dogs to the Vikings, Bears and Steelers in the first three weeks, and reports about quarterback Joe Burrow have been discouraging during training camp, a time when most beat writers usually paint a rosy picture about the players and teams they cover. An 0-3 start isn’t inconceivable, which leads us to Week 4 when they host the Jaguars, a game they could (should) win. If Burrow is not up to his standard of last year and cannot carry a deeply flawed roster that lacks talent on the offensive line and on defense, this could get ugly early. A home loss to the Jaguars is the type of embarrassing defeat that could get the Bengals to cut ties sooner rather than later, especially since they have a franchise quarterback who would interest prospective coaches. This novelty prop is interesting and fun to bet because you can cross off a large number of coaches — such Bill Belichick, Andy Reid, Bruce Arians and John Harbaugh — and any new head coach. Only a handful of guys on this list could realistically be fired early in the season, so we are getting long odds on a coach whose team enters the season in precarious fashion. An 0-4 or 1-5 start could land Taylor back in an OC role in ’22.
Week 1: Miami Dolphins (+ 3) at New England Patriots
Somewhat surprised that 3s have popped up, and now it’s time to determine whether 3.5s will show and this line will continue to go up, or whether the 3s get gobbled up aggressively enough to drop this back down to 2.5. I’m also curious what drove this line movement. My guess is that the Patriots dismantling the Eagles’ backups 35-0 to improve to 2-0 in the preseason has influenced the market and bumped this up to the key number of 3. Bill Belichick is on a mission (when is he not?) after an unusually bad season, so perhaps that has bettors bullish on the Pats. I just simply believe these teams are too evenly matched and 3 is a touch high for home-field advantage. I believe the Patriots are a decent bet to make the playoffs and will hover around 10 wins. With a good offensive line and solid defense, they still have the best coach in the sport, so they do have a high floor. But they also have a relatively low ceiling due to suspect quarterback play. I believe they will try to win by running the ball and shortening the game, so I will be looking to fade them as favorites until proven otherwise. The Dolphins are much more volatile, depending on the development of their young quarterback and talented but injury-prone receivers. While these teams have different profiles, they are dead even in my rankings as the season begins, so I will gladly take the points in what should be a low-scoring opener.