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Week 1 lines set ... but is NFL season?

If the NFL season kicks off as scheduled — and that’s obviously far from certain — bookmakers are sure to be rooting against Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs out of the gate in September.

Soon after the schedule was announced last week, the Westgate SuperBook and every other major sportsbook opened lines on Week 1 games, and PointsBet in New Jersey posted lines on the entire regular-season schedule. Now the waiting game begins.

How wise is it to wager on games that are four months away and might not happen? Each bettor has his own bankroll-management strategy. Some sharps were firing away after Week 1 lines were posted, most taking about a point of perceived line value or simply betting market differences in numbers. Yet the action was light, and the betting public might not get heavily involved until it appears the games definitely will go on.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt we’re going to have football,” said Michael Lombardi, VSiN analyst and former NFL executive. “I think this is going to be full steam ahead.”

Lombardi is not guaranteeing Week 1 kicks off on time, but he said the league’s schedule release is an encouraging sign. The 2020 season is a mystery like no other.

Still, some things never change, and if the reigning Super Bowl champions raise the curtain Sept. 10 against the Houston Texans, the public will play the favorite. Kansas City opened as a 10½-point favorite.

“We are going to get a ton of moneyline parlays and teasers starting with Kansas City,” Westgate book director John Murray said. “It’s kind of a disappointing matchup. The Texans are a team I don’t like at all. I think the game is kind of a dud with a double-digit favorite.”

The South Point opened the Chiefs as 9½-point favorites. Oddsmakers will wrestle with this question: What is home-field advantage worth to the point spread if games are played in empty stadiums? Instead of the standard three points, is it two, one or none? Who knows?

“How can the Chiefs be 10½-point favorites in a place with no fans?” Lombardi said.

It’s a rematch of a wild AFC divisional playoff game in January when the Texans took a 24-0 lead and watched the Chiefs score the next 41 points in a 51-31 win. Mahomes passed for 321 yards and five touchdowns to outduel Deshaun Watson. The total for the Week 1 sequel opened 56½.

Bookmakers will be hoping for an upset similar to the 2017 season opener, when the Chiefs went to New England and knocked off the Patriots 42-27.

“We won an outrageous amount of money on that game because every teaser and moneyline parlay started with New England,” Murray said. “That was our biggest win on any regular-season game that year.”

Several interesting quirks can be found in the league’s 17-week schedule. The Baltimore Ravens do not leave the Eastern time zone after Week 2. The Las Vegas Raiders are set to play six road games at 1 p.m. ET, marking the first time a team from the Pacific time zone has played that many road games in the early kickoff slot, according to ESPN Stats & Info. The Chiefs are the only team in the league with four sets of back-to-back road games.

Here’s a two-minute drill of analysis on the rest of the Week 1 lineup, with the Westgate’s opening point spreads and totals:

Sunday, Sept. 13

Miami at New England (-6.5, 44): Second-year quarterback Jarrett Stidham figures to make his first start for Bill Belichick. Opinions will vary on the new-look Patriots, and the Westgate oddsmakers had to settle their differences after one made the line four and another made the line seven. Caesars opened the line 5½. The Dolphins will likely start veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick, who led the way to a 27-24 win at New England in Week 17, when the Patriots were 17-point favorites and had a six-time Super Bowl champ at quarterback.

Cleveland at Baltimore (-8.5, 49): The Ravens went 7-1 at home in the regular season in 2019, and their 40-25 loss to the Browns might have been the strangest result of the year because Freddie Kitchens beat John Harbaugh in what should have been a coaching mismatch. The clumsy Kitchens was fired and replaced by Kevin Stefanski. Lamar Jackson hit as a long-shot MVP candidate, but he whiffed when Baltimore lost a home playoff game. Caesars opened the Ravens -10.

New York Jets at Buffalo (-5.5, 40.5): Speaking of differences in the market, Caesars opened this line 6½. The Bills, who have not won the AFC East since 1995, will be a popular pick to replace the Patriots atop the division.

Las Vegas at Carolina (Pick, 46.5): It was a surprise the Raiders drew a road game for an opener, but the construction crew gets an extra week to finish the $2 billion stadium on the Strip. Las Vegas does get four prime-time home dates, beginning with a visit from the Saints on Monday night in Week 2. The Panthers are opening a new era with coach Matt Rhule and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

Seattle (-1, 49) at Atlanta: Russell Wilson steered the Seahawks to a 7-1 road record last season, and he beat the Falcons 27-20 in October. Atlanta was a 7½-point home underdog.

Philadelphia (-6, 45.5) at Washington: Both meetings between these NFC East rivals were wild, with the Eagles winning 32-27 at home and 37-27 in Washington. The Redskins lost and failed to cover 6½ points in the latter despite leading in the final minute. Ron Rivera will be making his D.C. coaching debut.

Chicago at Detroit (-1.5, 44.5): Will it be Mitchell Trubisky or Nick Foles as the Bears’ starting quarterback? I’m betting it will be Trubisky, but I’m not betting on him to win this game. Caesars opened Chicago -1.

Indianapolis (-8.5, 47) at Jacksonville: The Colts have the look of a 10-win team if Philip Rivers has anything left. Rivers was handed a one-year, $25 million deal despite going 0-6 in division games for the Chargers last year. This is a big number to lay with Rivers, who has been better as an underdog than a favorite. Caesars opened this line -7. The Jaguars, who should tank for Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence as the No. 1 draft pick in 2021, are sticking with Gardner Minshew as their quarterback for now.

Green Bay at Minnesota (-3.5, 47): After winning the NFC North by three games, the Packers did nothing in the draft to improve immediately. The Vikings, on the other hand, pulled in an outstanding draft class. Minnesota is doing everything possible to help Kirk Cousins, while Green Bay’s front office is busy irritating Aaron Rodgers. Some books opened Minnesota -3.

Los Angeles Chargers (-3.5, 46) at Cincinnati: Tyrod Taylor is a great bet to be the Chargers’ starting quarterback while rookie first-round pick Justin Herbert sits and waits. The Bengals, with quarterback Joe Burrow headlining a strong rookie class, should be the most improved team in the AFC North. Cincinnati also has the most room for improvement after finishing 2-14. Caesars opened the line -5, and the sharps could be on the ugly dog if the price is right.

Arizona at San Francisco (-8, 45): Kyler Murray and the Cardinals gave the 49ers some trouble last year, averaging 25.5 points in two competitive losses. San Francisco’s defense fizzled in the second half of the season and in the second half of the Super Bowl against Mahomes. Caesars opened this line -7. I might take eight with the underdog and also look Over the total. Arizona is a team on the rise, especially offensively.

Tampa Bay at New Orleans (-4.5, 49.5): Expect strong two-way action, with the betting public possibly viewing Tom Brady as a hot underdog in his debut for the Buccaneers. It seems the sharps want to fade the Bucs this season and may view Drew Brees and the Saints as undervalued in this spot. “I made New Orleans a bigger favorite than what we opened it,” Murray said. Caesars opened the line 6½, so this is a classic case of market players betting an early difference in the numbers by laying 4½ with New Orleans and taking 6½ with Tampa Bay. If the Superdome has no fans, taking the points with Brady should be an advantage play.

Dallas (-3, 50) at Los Angeles Rams: The Sunday night matchup always attracts a big wagering handle, with the public typically playing the favorite. The public will probably ride the Cowboys here, which is why the Westgate opened at a full field goal. Caesars opened the line 2½. “A very respected player bet the Rams plus-3,” Murray said. But what if this game is moved to the desert? If California bans sporting events, speculation is that the Rams and Chargers could play home games in Las Vegas.

Monday, Sept. 14

Pittsburgh (-3.5, 48.5) at New York Giants: Ben Roethlisberger’s comeback begins. He went from big to fat last season while sidelined with an injury. Is he in shape and ready to roll? The Giants went 0-5 ATS as home underdogs last year and burned some of my bankroll.

Tennessee at Denver (-3, 42): The Titans open as road dogs despite reaching the AFC title game and falling to Mahomes. The Broncos are improved after another good draft and believe they are ready to win with Drew Lock, but Lock is not Mahomes. It’s surprising this line did not open 2½, but the Westgate oddsmakers are high on Denver. I’ll take three with the Titans.

 

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