Youmans: My five best bets for NFL Week 1

September 11, 2022 10:41 AM
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With age comes wisdom and, lately in the NFL, getting older at the quarterback position can mean getting better. After missing the playoffs last season, the Colts are hoping 37-year-old Matt Ryan is the missing piece to a Super Bowl puzzle.

Nine teams will be starting a new quarterback in Week 1, and none of the new starters are rookies. The oldest of the group is Ryan, an accurate passer and veteran leader who still might have what it takes to lift a young Indianapolis team over the top.

It’s not too much to ask of an older quarterback to switch teams and win a title in the first year — it worked for Tom Brady and the Buccaneers two years ago and for Matthew Stafford and the Rams last season.

Time will tell if Ryan and the Colts are the right match. The first test comes Sunday, when the Colts open as road favorites against the rebuilding Texans and their second-year quarterback, Davis Mills.

The Colts have dropped eight straight season openers, including the last four with coach Frank Reich, and they were 8-point favorites in a loss at Jacksonville in 2020, a year in which the Jaguars went on to lose their next 15 games. Ryan lost his last four openers in Atlanta.

Leaning on trends is not the strongest approach to handicapping, but the past is often a predictor of the future, and there’s another angle to consider that’s working against the Colts in this AFC South matchup. According to Las Vegas handicapper Ralph Michaels, Week 1 home dogs in divisional games are 19-5 against the spread (79.2%) since 2009, and the Texans are one of three divisional home dogs this week.

Houston won only four games last season and was blown out twice by Indianapolis, but the Texans did show late improvement and picked up an impressive 41-29 victory over the Chargers. Mills, a third-round pick from Stanford, was the second-best rookie quarterback in the league while making 11 starts.

There’s a case to be made that the Texans, who had a strong draft topped by LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. and Texas A&M guard Kenyon Green as first-round picks, are being slightly underrated.

The Colts got better too, and not just by putting Ryan in an offense with league rushing leader Jonathan Taylor. On the defensive side, Indianapolis added edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue and corner Stephon Gilmore.

Indianapolis is my so-called sleeper pick at 25-1 odds to win the Super Bowl, but the Colts have a clumsy track record in openers and this home dog is dangerous.

Pick: TEXANS + 7.5 over Colts

Four more plays for Week 1:

RAMS (+ 2.5) over Bills: The betting public is in love with Josh Allen and the Bills, the Super Bowl favorites, and the defending champion Rams are being disrespected Thursday in the home dog role. While Stafford’s elbow injury was a concern in training camp, he goes into this game with no limitations. He’s also throwing to Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson, a pair of big-play receivers who will cause problems for Buffalo’s young cornerbacks. The Bills’ best corner, Tre’Davious White, is out with an injury and that’s a key factor in the handicap. For what it’s worth, Rams coach Sean McVay has won five straight openers.

Raiders (+ 3.5) over CHARGERS: When these teams met for a Week 18 classic in Las Vegas, the Raiders prevailed 35-32, and their offense will be better with wide receiver Davante Adams. The Chargers, who ranked 23rd in total defense and 30th against the run last season, wrote a big check to sign free-agent corner J.C. Jackson from the Patriots, but Jackson is sidelined after ankle surgery, so it’s a bad time to face Adams, slot receiver Hunter Renfrow and tight end Darren Waller. It’s imperative to put pressure on Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, and the Raiders are more capable of that after adding former Cardinals edge rusher Chandler Jones, who lines up opposite Maxx Crosby. Derek Carr has the playmakers to outduel Herbert in a shootout.

Buccaneers (-2) over COWBOYS: Expect the Buccaneers to regress after going 13-4 last season. Brady has displayed no decline so far, but he’s 45 with a weaker offensive line and without tight end Rob Gronkowski. Dallas is facing even more deterioration on its offensive line, and Dak Prescott has a thinner group of receivers. Not only does Tampa Bay have the better defense (No. 3 against the run last season) in this matchup, Brady is probably happy to be on the road while reportedly dealing with personal problems at home.

SEAHAWKS (+ 6.5) over Broncos: The emotions surrounding Russell Wilson’s return to Seattle could distract the veteran quarterback, so there’s a hunch he won’t play his best game. It’s scary to bet on Geno Smith as the new starter for the Seahawks, but he has wide receivers Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf, tight end Noah Fant (acquired from Denver in the blockbuster trade) and running back Rashaad Penny in a good supporting cast. The last of the week’s 10 home dogs is an ugly one, and the betting public wants nothing to do with it. This line could be pushed to 7 by Monday, so wait to see if a better number shows up.

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