The NFL regular season is almost here and with that comes the first week of match-ups. For teams and fans, the most uncertainty occurs early in the year, and that means opportunities for savvy handicappers. Let’s take an early look at the full slate of games (along with the current betting lines) in a very competitive opening week.
Pittsburgh at New England (-6.5, 51 o/u)
The Steelers held off the Bengals and Ravens to win the AFC North last year while the Pats had a three game cushion in the AFC East. An injury-riddled Steeler squad lost to Baltimore in a Wild Card game while New England beat Seattle in the Super Bowl.
Betting-wise, Pittsburgh went 9-7 against the spread in 2014 with a 4-4 mark on the road. The Patriots were 9-7 ATS, including 5-3 at home. Both teams went over nine times and under on seven occasions.
Oh, and in case you missed it, Brady’s in.
Green Bay (-6.5, 50 o/u) at Chicago
After a 5-11 campaign, drastic changes have come to Chicago. The Bears fired Marc Trestman and his high-octane offensive system, and hired John Fox. Fox wins everywhere he goes, but typically does so with a conservative D and run-based offense (at least when he doesn’t have Peyton Manning). Meanwhile, the Packers, who sit second in the Super Bowl 50 futures, are coming off of a 12-4 season and a loss to Seattle in the NFC Championship.
The Bears were 7-9 against the number last year and 3-5 at home. The Packers were 9-6-1 ATS, but a remarkable 6-1-1 on the road. Eleven of Green Bay’s regular season games went over while the Bears split their slate equally between overs and unders in 2014.
Kansas City at Houston (-1, 41 o/u)
Both teams went 9-7 last year, missing the postseason by one game. The clubs have split their six all-time matchups and the last two games were decided by a total of five points.
Kansas City went 10-6 ATS in 2014 with a mark of 4-4 on the road. The Texans were 9-6-1 against the number but just 4-4 at home. Interestingly, 11 of the Chiefs’ 16 games went under the total including six of eight road games, even though sportsbooks knew it was a defense-first team. Houston had eight overs and eight unders with four of each at home.
Cleveland at New York Jets (-3, 40 o/u)
The Browns started hot last year, opening the season 6-3, but lost their last five games and finished in the cellar of the AFC North at 7-9. New York went 4-12, straight-up, and sent coach Rex Ryan packing, replacing him with Arizona DC Todd Bowles.
Cleveland was 9-5-2 against the spread, going 5-2-1 away from home; the Jets were a paltry 6-9-1 versus the number and 3-5 in East Rutherford. The Browns were 5-11 o/u while New York was 7-9.
Indianapolis (-3, 46 o/u) at Buffalo
For years we’ve dreamed of seeing Andrew Luck and Tyrod Taylor square off. Did I say “we”? I meant “Tyrod Taylor”. The former Joe Flacco understudy will finally get the chance to lead an NFL offense as the Bills’ starter in Week 1. But he – and new coach Rex Ryan – will be facing a Colts team that went 11-5 last year and reached the AFC Championship game. Though the Colts were drubbed (45-7) by the Pats in that matchup, they’re favored to come out of the AFC this year.
Indy was 10-5-1 against the spread in 2014 including a 5-3 mark on the road. The Bills were 9-7 both straight up and against the spread, and went 4-4 at home against the number. The Colts went over nine times, while the Bills finished with just three overs.
Miami (-3, 43 o/u) at Washington
After their rookie seasons in 2012, Washington’s Robert Griffin III looked like a future NFL MVP, while Miami’s Ryan Tannehill had some pundits doubting his ability to be an NFL starter. Just three years later, RGIII is a non-factor and Tannehill is getting better by the day.
With three different starters at QB, Washington went 4-14 last year, second-worst in the NFC. The Dolphins, on the other hand, were in the playoff hunt all season, but lost three of their last four to finish 8-8. Washington went 9-7 against the spread and 5-3 at home. Miami was 7-9 ATS and 3-5 on the road.
Carolina (-3.5, 41 o/u) at Jacksonville
The Panthers became just the second team to ever make the playoffs with a sub-.500 record, finishing 7-8-1 to head the dreadful NFC South. They beat an injury-plagued Cardinals team at home in the playoffs, but were then beaten soundly by the Seahawks. The Jags finished 3-13, but won two of their final five, showing signs of improvement.
Carolina went 8-8 against the spread and 4-4 on the road last year. Though the Panthers had eight overs and eight unders, six of their eight road games hit the over. Jacksonville went 6-9-1 against the number, including 3-5 at home. Five of their eight home games also finished under the total.
Seattle (-3.5, 41 o/u) at St. Louis
While the Seahawks have won four of the last five against St. Louis, they’re just 1-1 in the last two in St. Louis. After surging late, Seattle finished last year 12-4 straight up, then beat Carolina and Green Bay in the playoffs before losing the Super Bowl to New England. St. Louis got off to a slow start (1-4), but then rode their defense to a 5-3 stretch mid-season before losing their final three to ultimately finish 6-10.
The Seahawks went 10-6 against the number in the regular season but only 4-4 on the road. St. Louis was 7-9 against the spread and 3-5 at home.
New Orleans at Arizona (-2.5, 47 o/u)
The Cardinals began last year 9-1, but the bottom fell out when injuries prevented them from starting a legitimate NFL quarterback. They still finished 11-5 and reached the playoffs, but lost to Carolina in the first round. A relatively healthy Carson Palmer is back to pilot the Cards. He’ll be looking to repeat their stellar 11-5 ATS performance (6-2 at home) from last year.
On the other side, the Saints just missed the playoffs in the lackluster NFC South, finishing 7-9, half a game back of Carolina. They were an uninspiring 6-10 ATS, but – surprisingly for this once dominant home team – 4-4 on the road.
Over/under-wise, ten of Arizona’s regular season games stayed under the total, while ten of the Saints’ hit the over.
Detroit at San Diego (-3, 45.5)
The Lions were 11-5 last year thanks in large part to a 7-1 record at home and a 5-1 mark in the division. Detroit fell in Dallas (24-20) during a controversial Wild Card game. Though some key pieces to the defense (Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley) have departed, it is not as though Detroit was a cash cow last year. They went 7-9 against the number and 2-6 on the road. The offense didn’t really click, either, with Stafford and company staying under the total 11 times (including seven on the road).
The Chargers were 9-7 overall last year, but 7-9 against the number (3-5 ATS at home). Surprisingly for the offensive-minded squad, they stayed under nine times, including five at home.
Tennessee at Tampa Bay (-3, 42 o/u)
Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston will make their NFL debuts not far from where Winston played his college ball at Florida State. The squads tied with league-worst 2-14 records in 2014. The Bucs were especially bad at home, going 0-8 straight up (and 2-6 ATS). Overall, Tampa went 7-9 against the spread with 11 of 16 falling under.
The Titans were 3-12-1 against the spread (2-6 on the road) and stayed under ten times.
Cincinnati at Oakland (-3.5, 44 o/u)
At 10-5-1 last year, the Bengals were one of three AFC North teams to make the playoffs. Cincinnati, as usual, dropped its first playoff game, this time to Indianapolis (26-10). The Bengals were 8-7-1 against the number (4-4 on the road) with ten unders (seven on the road).
The Raiders were somewhat improved, or at least showed flashes, in Derek Carr’s first year at quarterback. Oakland went 3-13 last year with all three victories at home. They were better against the spread, going 8-8 ATS (4-4 home), but couldn’t muster a ton of offense, staying under ten times (including six in the Bay Area).
Baltimore at Denver (-5, 49 o/u)
At 12-4, the Broncos won the AFC West by three games last year. They were unbeaten at home and in the division. They earned a first-round playoff bye, but lost the next week against the Colts (24-13), costing John Fox his job. (New coach Gary Kubiak went 61-64 with two playoff appearances in eight seasons with the Texans.) The Ravens secured the AFC’s final playoff bid with a 10-6 mark in 2014, and then beat Pittsburgh on the road before falling in a tight game against the Patriots.
The Broncos finished 8-8 against the spread last year with a 4-4 home mark. Ten of their tilts went over. John Harbaugh’s boys were 7-8-1 against the number and 3-4-1 on the road last year.
New York Giants at Dallas (-5.5, 51.5 o/u)
After going 6-10 last year, the Giants are hoping to avoid three straight losing seasons for the first time in decades. The Cowboys were a surprising 12-4 in 2014, going 8-0 away from home. Dallas has won four straight in the series, but three were decided by five points or fewer.
New York was 7-9 ATS last year (3-5 on the road) and hit the over in ten games (six on the road). Dallas was 10-6 against the number but just 3-5 in Texas. They hit the over nine times, but just twice at home.
Philadelphia at Atlanta (-1.5, 55.5 o/u)
A 10-6 record wasn’t good enough to get Chip Kelly’s Eagles into the playoffs last year. In fact, the Falcons, at 6-10, were just as close to cracking the field (by virtue of playing in the NFC South). This could easily be the highest scoring game of the week. Though keep in mind that Atlanta brought in Dan Quinn to shore up the league’s worst total defense, while Philly tried to remedy its own defensive woes by dealing for stud linebacker Kiko Alonso.
Philly went 9-7 against the number last year and 4-4 in road games, while Kelly’s up-tempo offense hit the over ten times. (including four on the road). Atlanta was 7-9 ATS last season and 4-4 at home but, some surprisingly given their defensive struggles, stayed under ten times.
Minnesota (-2.5, 41.5) at San Francisco
An 8-8 season was labeled a disaster for San Francisco last year and saw coach Jim Harbaugh move on to the University of Michigan. The Niner defense was decimated by retirements, suspensions, and injuries in the offseason, leading many to predict a further step back from the erstwhile Super Bowl contenders.
San Fran will open the year against a Minnesota team trending in the opposite direction. The Vikes went 7-9 last year with a rookie QB at the helm (Teddy Bridgewater) and no Adrian Peterson in the backfield. Now AP is back, Bridgewater has a year of experience, and big things are expected from the Vikings.
Not only was Minnesota a respectable 7-9 under their rookie pivot, but they also posted a tremendous 10-6 record ATS (5-3 home). That was largely thanks to the defense, which kept the score under the total in ten of 16 games. The Niners were a poor 6-10 against the spread last year, and were even worse at home (2-6), and stayed under 11 times.