The NFL is back, baby! As I write this I am hearing the "Monday Night Football" theme song in my head. The leaves are starting to change, the air feels more crisp and the quest for the Lombardi Trophy begins this week.
While your favorite team makes its run for the playoffs, your own individual quest to win more than you lose during the NFL season begins this week as well. People think sitting on a couch in a mostly sedentary position for hours on end is not hard work, but they don't have several fantasy teams, a host of season-long future bets and action on a ton of the current games on the NFL slate. All this while a smorgasbord of delightful football food, drinks and tums (both pre- and post-food) are on a collision course for your belly.
To the layman, you might be sitting there with your pupils dilated, taking in all the action and blinking as little as possible similar to a scene in "A Clockwork Orange," but you are like an iceberg, baby, and everything is going on below the surface. I see you. Not all heroes wear capes.
This year I will be humbly offering you my sword and shield (and my picks) to aid you on your journey to the Land of Profit. I will be the Samwise Gamgee and give you everything I've got Frodo, so you can defeat the evil in this world (losing bets) even if I have to go down with the ship along the way. I'm all in.
Here are my 10 favorite bets for the first week of games, broken down into three categories: 'I Love It, 'I Adore It' and 'I'll Sell A Kidney For It.'
'I Love It' Bets
Eagles at Lions: Eagles -4
We are betting against the Hard Knocks buzz in Week 1 and I feel great about that. So many bettors watched HBO's "Hard Knocks" chronicle the Lions this offseason and think this Detroit team is on the up (and rightly so). The problem is, so are the Eagles. Philly is a team that runs the ball effectively and is much stronger on both sides of the line than Detroit. The Eagles added one of the best receiving weapons in A.J. Brown. Detroit is going to struggle in this game defending a versatile Eagles attack that simply just has a better top end of the roster than the Lions. This Eagles team was 6-3 on the road last year. I don't think Dan Campbell and the Lions are ready at this stage of the season to compete in the trenches against a blue-collar team like the Eagles. Philly wins this game by a touchdown or more. Boom.
Packers at Vikings: Total Points Over 48
In two meetings last year, these teams scored an average of 56 points. In the first contest, they both hit 30 points, and like this game, that contest was held in Minnesota. While I know Green Bay lost a massive weapon in Davante Adams, they have a quarterback who has made marginal talents into incredible assets before. The Vikings secondary is really poor and I expect Rodgers to be able to pick them apart. The Vikings will be pushing for more big plays under new coach Kevin O'Connell, with less first- and second-down runs than they had under previous coach Mike Zimmer. Less runs on early downs should allow a faster game pace, which should mean more points. After a dramatic offseason regarding his future in Green Bay, Aaron Rodgers will come out and remind everyone in the NFC North that he is back and in charge of this division. Similar to the game in Minnesota last year, I think we are looking at a contest where the defenses are just behind the eight ball without enough film on the offenses. This total will likely be closer to 60 points than 50. Boom.
Browns at Panthers: Browns +2
Picking a road dog to cover isn't the most popular decision of Week 1, but guess what? As a mostly nomadic human, I consider myself a bit of a road dog and I know when I find a scrappy one. Do I like the Browns this year? Not particularly. Too much chaos within the organization surrounding the contract decisions and eventual suspension around Deshaun Watson. But, I think this line shows too much faith in this contest as a Baker Mayfield "revenge game." On offense, the Browns will overwhelm Carolina when it comes to running the ball. On defense, the Browns will constantly have Baker Mayfield on the move with their ability to rush the passer. This should limit Mayfield's ability to make big plays with any consistency and increase his likelihood of making a critical mistake, which has always been Baker's biggest problem. Browns QB Jacoby Brissett isn't going to blow anyone's mind on Sunday, but he is much less likely to make a similar major error. Amari Cooper has had a great training camp by most accounts, and it wouldn't surprise me if he does enough late to push the Browns over the top. If you can get this line at +2.5 then take it, but I think in the end the Browns actually win this outright on the road. Boom.
Chiefs at Cardinals: Total Points Under 53.5
It's never fun to bet the under on a game featuring two exciting offenses, but you know what is always fun? Winning money.
Patrick Mahomes has only thrown 26 passes in the preseason and outside of Mecole Hardman, this is an entirely new group of Chiefs wide receivers. Yes, Mahomes still has All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce, but it isn't crazy to expect Kansas City to get off to a slow start as he attempts to develop a rhythm with his new weapons.
On the other sideline, the biggest headlines Arizona QB Kyler Murray made during the preseason was for calling plays. He hasn't thrown a pass in an active game since last season and starts this one without all-world receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who is suspended the first six games for PEDs. It should take him a little bit to gel with his new speedster Marquise Brown. I expect both offenses to start this season slowly, suffering from a combination of rust and integrating new weapons into the fold, which will keep this game low scoring. In reality, we only need one of these teams to have a poor showing to have a great shot at this under. Boom.
'I Adore It' Bets
Steelers at Bengals: Bengals -6.5
I will be the first to admit that I think the Bengals are a little overhyped heading into this season after their miracle run to the Super Bowl last year. But, I also think that how bad the Steelers current roster is might be the most under-the-radar betting edge early in the year.
The Bengals beat the Steelers twice last year, once by 14 points on the road, once by 31 points in Cincinnati. I am going to take a deep breath and say that one more time for the people in the back -- 14 points on the road, 31 points at home.
This game is in Cincinnati. Bengals fans are more riled up about this team than they have been in decades, if not ever. The Bengals are as good if not better than last year, and the Steelers are significantly worse. The fact this game is inside a touchdown is unfathomable to me. There is nothing else to say. I am already planning Joe Burrow's postgame press conference fit.
Ravens at Jets: Ravens -7
You're noticing a theme here, I've bet quite a few favorites so far in this article. I do think early in the year the "good teams" are just a lot better than the "teams that need to find themselves." This particular game is a clear example of that. Traditionally in the world of NFL gambling, betting a road team that is a favorite by a touchdown is not very profitable. But sometimes you have to go against convention.
I'm going to start with the matchup. The Ravens, when healthy, are one of the most dynamic rushing teams in football. The Jets were ranked 29th out of 32 teams in rushing defense last year. Gargantuan mismatch. The Ravens secondary is one of the top units in the league and the Jets passing offense last year was one of the worst. The Ravens put up 29 points a game when Jackson was healthy in 2020. The Ravens were the most injured team last year and should return to that 2020 form.
I believe immensely in the powers of contract year Lamar Jackson and we will all look back on this game at the end of the season and be stunned we got the Ravens as only a touchdown favorite against the Jets and their backup quarterback. Boom.
Colts at Houston: Total Points Under 46.6
This is a classic matchup of two teams in the same division who both prioritize running the football. I think that is going to make the total number of plays in the game smaller as the clock keeps ticking, which is great for those pushing for the under.
I like Matt Ryan as a fit with the Colts and believe everything I am hearing about the rapport he is building with Michael Pittman Jr., but Lovie Smith will coach up the Houston defense to keep the Colts somewhat contained. If the Colts do get ahead by 10 or more points, I expect them to emphasize running the ball even more, keeping the score low for us. These teams are more likely to play a game with a point total in the 30s than hit this over. Boom
Saints at Falcons: Saints -5.5
Again, we bet a road favorite, which normally is not sharp. Luckily for you I am like the blue eyes of Frank Sinatra -- piercing sharp, baby.
Yes, former head coach Sean Payton is gone, but as I mentioned in my article on new coaches in the NFC, much of the Saints brain trust remains the same. Before his injury last year Jameis Winston had a 14-3 touchdown-to-interception rate and the Saints were 5-2 after beating the Bucs. The Saints are good.
Atlanta, on the other hand, spent the entirety of last season like the parental controls on the computer of a pubescent teenager. No matter how hard they tried...they couldn't block anything. A downgrade at nearly all positions including quarterback presents some significant issues for the Falcons offense.
New Orleans was fourth in total defense last year and they should create fits for this Atlanta front. If Jameis maintains the discipline he showed early last season and limits his mistakes, the Saints should be able to start the 2022 season with a road win by a comfortable margin. Boom.
'I'll Sell A Kidney For It' Bets
Raiders at Chargers: Total Points Over 52.5
I have a theme with many of my early season bets this year. I expect the AFC West to score a zillion points. I absolutely believe both of these teams are top 5 offenses in the entire NFL. I think the Raiders defense is a big issue that will take most of the season to reach its peak, if it gets there at all. The Chargers defense should be further along to start the year, but they also have work to do if they hope to compete for a Super Bowl, particularly up the middle.
While both teams have strong pass rushes, the quarterbacks and play callers should be able to keep them off balance.
When these teams met in the season finale last year, they combined for 67 points (58 in regulation) and that was before additions like coach Josh McDaniels and All-Pro Davante Adams joined the Raiders. The offenses are too far ahead of the defense with too little tape on them. This game should total in the 60s again and we should all book a nice win because of it. Boom.
Bucs at Cowboys: Bucs -2.5
Can you believe the disrespect of this line? I am stunned at our good fortune that we get to bet with Tom Brady and the best roster in the league as only 2.5-point favorites. I have pictured this game about 15 ways and none of them have Tom Brady losing a primetime Sunday Night Football opener in his final season. No way.
Dallas had a significantly worse pass defense at home last year than on the road, and they have secondary issues apart from Trevon Diggs. The Bucs roster is absolutely loaded on both sides of the ball. Brady is rejoining a well-oiled machine, and if Chris Godwin can't go for Week 1, reporters say Julio Jones looks much better than they expected. The talent disparity is just too high. Tom Brady's last season opener, on Sunday night, in Jerry World...you know he absolutely wants to put on a show. Bucs win this one going away and we are all going to be laughing that Vegas gave the GOAT a spread inside three points as an overreaction because he took a little time off in the preseason of his TWENTY-THIRD year. If Brady doesn't have that strange personal absence, I firmly believe this line is seven points. The Bucs are going to run Dallas off the field. BOOM.