NFL WEEK 1: The NFL season began with a whimper on Thursday night, as the Packers outlasted the Bears in a 10-3 game that was every bit as ugly as the score makes it sound. But it’s going to take a lot more than 3 hours of Mitch Trubisky to dampen our spirits– after another intolerably long offseason, football is back, and we’ve got a full slate of goodness on tap, with 13 games on Sunday and two more on Monday night.
From a bettor’s perspective, Week 1 can be a bit of a minefield, as you always get some strange results and some rusty, uneven football. But any minefield can be successfully navigated if one is able to locate the mines, and being that we’ve crept through this field many times before, I’d like to think that our senses are finely tuned. With that in mind, here’s a few that I think may be worth a look this week:
Baltimore Ravens @ Miami Dolphins (Bal -7, 39.5)
Recommendation: Miami +7 at 1.89
I know, I know… Miami is “tanking” the season, right? Might as well play Josh Rosen because they’re not trying to win anyway, right? I know you’ve heard it, and you can bet that the Dolphins players have heard it as well. And while it’s true that the front office shipped off some good players this offseason in an effort to accumulate assets, that doesn’t mean that the existing players on the roster– not to mention first-year coach Brian Flores– will put forth anything less than full effort.
I expect the Fins to come out firing on Sunday– and I mean that literally. Say what you want about the defense– and after last year’s struggles, there’s plenty to say– but with perimeter weapons like Jakeem Grant, new arrival Albert Wilson, and deep threat DeVante Parker, and a veteran QB who’s not afraid to sling it around in Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Miami offense has explosive potential. The Baltimore offense, meanwhile, promises to be one of the most one-dimensional units in the league with run-first Lamar Jackson under center. Plus, this game will be played in the sweltering South Florida heat, which has traditionally been a huge advantage for the Dolphins– over the last three seasons, Miami is 8-3 in September/October home games and a combined 15-22 in all other games. I’ll gladly take the 7 points here.
Cincinnati Bengals @ Seattle Seahawks (Sea -9.5, 45)
Recommendation: Seattle -9.5 at 1.96
Poor Andy Dalton. Not only does he open the season in Seattle, a place that has traditionally been a house of horrors for opposing quarterbacks, but he’ll be without his top target in A.J. Green, and, as we found out on Friday, he’ll also be without his blindside protector in LT Cordy Glenn. That means (gulp) Andre Smith will start at left tackle for the Bengals on Sunday. In 2019. Yikes.
Seattle bolstered what was already a strong front seven last week with the addition of Pro Bowl DE and athletic freak Jadeveon Clowney, and I expect the ‘Hawks to absolutely smother what should be a punchless Bengals offense. The Cincinnati defense, meanwhile, finished last in the NFL in yards allowed last season and lost their best linebacker in Vontaze Burfict, so they’re projected to be sieve-like once again. The only real concern here is that the stone-age approach favored by Seattle offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer– you know, run to set up the run– will keep this game closer than it should be and jeopardize the cover. It’s not a whole lot of fun to lay 9.5 points, particularly in Week 1. That being said, this is a clear mismatch, and the likeliest outcome is a double-digit Seattle victory. Don’t overthink it.
Detroit Lions @ Arizona Cardinals (Det -2.5, 46)
Recommendation: Detroit -2.5 at 1.9
Remember Chip Kelly? Sure you do. Not so long ago we were told that Kelly’s offense was going to revolutionize the NFL. Last week, I watched Kelly lead his UCLA Bruins into a half-full 35,000-seat stadium, where they put up exactly 14 points and 218 total yards in a 10-point loss to a Cincinnati team that might not have a single NFL prospect on its defense. Life comes at you fast.
Now, I’m not saying that Kliff Kingsbury will flame out like Kelly. I’m a big fan of the Hal Mumme-inspired offenses that are now slowly making their way to the NFL (my personal favorite practitioner of this style: Dana Holgorsen). But what I am saying is that we may want to pump the brakes a bit on all this “revolutionary” talk. It’s no mystery what the Arizona offense will look like, Kingsbury has been calling plays for years: it will be an uptempo dink-and-dunk attack that aims to stretch a defense horizontally before occasionally attacking it vertically. Kyler Murray may be a great for for this offense, but let’s get real: he’s a rookie playing his first game. And he’ll be facing a Detroit defense that should be much improved after some key additions in the offseason and a full year in Matt Patricia’s system. The Lions offense could be better than expected too, as wideouts Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones might be the most underrated tandem in the league, and Matt Stafford has a new weapon at his disposal in “Baby Gronk” T.J. Hockensen. I expect Detroit to exceed expectations in 2019, and I think it starts with a convincing win in Arizona this week.
New York Giants @ Dallas Cowboys (Dal -7, 46)
Recommendation: Dallas -7 at 1.89
Though it hasn’t exactly been a drama-free offseason in Dallas, all’s well that ends well, and with Ezekiel Elliott back in the fold these Cowboys look like legit contenders in the NFC. Remember, last season the Dallas defense took a major step forward, ranking 7th in the league in both yards allowed and points allowed, and if they stay healthy they should be pretty stingy once again. The offense, meanwhile, will continue to run through Zeke, but let’s not forget about the impact that Amari Cooper had after coming over in a midseason trade last year. Cooper really opened things up for an offense that had lacked a downfield threat, and with a balanced attack and a quality defense the Cowboys closed the season by winning 8 of 9 games before running into the Rams in the Divisional Round.
Things are not so rosy in New York. After a miserable 5-11 season the Giants spent a top-10 draft pick on a quarterback who won’t see the field for awhile, meaning we’ll see Eli Manning this Sunday, a player who has been living on reputation for the past couple of years. And after the team shipped All-Pro wideout Odell Beckham to Cleveland, Manning isn’t left with much talent on the perimeter. The lone bright spot on the offense is do-it-all RB Saquon Barkley, but you better believe that all 11 Cowboys defenders will know where Barkley is at all times this week, so he’ll have to earn his yards. I’m having trouble figuring out how the Giants are going to generate points in this one… even if the Dallas offense gets off to a slow start, I expect the home team to cruise to an easy victory here and cover the 7-point number.