Sure, it’s only the preseason, and each team’s starters will be done after a series or two. (Or in the case of Tony Romo, not playing at all.) But football is back, and what would football be without betting lines?
Week 1 of the preseason has no shortage of intriguing matchups, highlighted by the Super Bowl rematch between the Seahawks and Broncos. There’s a pair of nationally televised Thursday night games, and a handful of other games worth keeping an eye on, including Tom Brady and the Patriots against RGIII and the Redskins.
Here’s the first installment of Heavy’s weekly NFL picks. (All odds and over-unders are via Bovada. Over-unders are in parentheses. All times are eastern.)
THURSDAY, AUGUST 7
Indianapolis Colts (+3) at New York Jets, 7 p.m. (35)
The most intriguing storyline here is the play of Geno Smith, who Jets coach Rex Ryan announced Monday would start over the newly acquired Michael Vick. Smith has taken the overwhelming majority of the first-team reps so far in camp, and is poised to start Gang Green’s season opener for the second straight year. Smith has had a good camp by most accounts, but we’ll take an offense led by Andrew Luck over one led by Smith, especially when the Colts are getting 3 points.
Heavy’s Pick: Colts 27, Jets 20
New England Patriots (+1) at Washington Redskins, 7:30 p.m. (38)
The Pats and ‘Skins have been the focus of plenty of media attention over the past week as they’ve practiced together in preparation for Thursday’s game at Washington. (Fast forward to the 2-minute mark of the video above for a breakdown from the Washington Post.) The game will be Jay Gruden’s first as Washington head coach and Darrelle Revis’ first as a Patriot, among other storylines.
Tom Brady is still lacking an elite deep threat, and New England isn’t without holes. But we like the Pats’ chances to slow down Griffin and Co., build an early lead, and hold onto it in garbage time.
Heavy’s Pick: Patriots 30, Redskins 17
Cincinnati Bengals (+ 1 1/2) at Kansas City Chiefs, 8 p.m. (36)
Andy Dalton may be the recipient of a 6-year, $115 million contract, but even in a preseason game, we don’t like his chances at Aerowhead Stadium against a Chiefs team that won 11 games last year and returned to the playoffs.
As the guys at SportsBook Review point out in the video above, the Chiefs are 2-14 against the spread in their last 16 preseason games. But a good chunk of that record represents ancient history, before the arrivals of coach Andy Reid and QB Alex Smith. The Chiefs are in talent-evaluation mode, having vowed to play all four of their quarterbacks for a quarter each. But we like KC in a close one at home.
Heavy’s Pick: Chiefs 20, Bengals 17
Seattle Seahawks (-2) at Denver Broncos, 9 p.m. (37 1/2)
As the guys at OddsShark note over at SI.com, Pete Carroll plays to win in the preseason and has the record to prove it. The Seahawks have gone 4-0 both straight-up and against the spread in each of the two preseasons.
Peyton Manning and Co. as home underdogs — especially with a semblance of revenge on their minds — is hard to pass up. But we’ll give the two points and take Seattle to cover on the road.
Heavy’s Pick: Seahawks 27, Broncos 24
Dallas Cowboys (+3) at San Diego Chargers, 10 p.m., NFL Network (36 1/2)
Say what you want about Tony Romo. His presence, even for a quarter or so, would give the ‘Boys a better chance at a good start than Brandon Weeden, who will start under center for Big D as Romo continues his recovery from offseason back surgery. As the guys at Offshore Insiders point out in the video above, Dallas is also thin on defense, while the Charters are two deep at every position.
This won’t be a rout, but we’ll give the 3 points and take Phillip Rivers and the Bolts at home.
Heavy’s Pick: Chargers 26, Cowboys 20
FRIDAY, AUGUST 8
Miami Dolphins (+3) at Atlanta Falcons, 7 p.m.
The Falcons appear unlikely to have the services of wideout Julio Jones, who’s coming off offseason foot surgery and sat out most of practice on Wednesday. But Atlanta is nowhere near as bad as its 4-12 2013 record indicates, and we have some serious questions about Miami’s offense, especially a line that’s still reeling from the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin disaster.
Jones or no Jones, we’ll take the Birds to cover at home.
Heavy’s Pick: Falcons 34, Dolphins 17
Buffalo Bills (- 1 1/2) at Carolina Panthers, 7:30 p.m.
With E.J. Manuel sure to progress in his second year in the league and rookie Sammy Watkins sure to make an impact (despite being held without a catch in Sunday’s Hall of Fame game loss to the Giants), there’s no question Buffalo figures to be better than it was last year, when Doug Marrone’s team went 6-10 and finished last in the AFC East.
But Buffalo as a road favorite against a team that went 12-4 and won a division title last year? No thanks. We’ll gladly lay the points and take Cam Newtown and Co. in Charlotte.
Heavy’s Pick: Panthers 28, Bills 13
Tampa Bay Bucaneers (+1) at Jacksonville Jaguars, 7:30 p.m.
We have plenty of questions about the Bucs, who are putting their faith in Josh McCown as their starting quarterback and who were bad enough last year to get Greg Schiano fired after just two seasons on the sidelines.
But Tampa Bay wasn’t nearly as bad last year as its 4-12 record indicates. Six of the Bucs’ losses came by 3 points or less, and a backfield led by Doug Martin and fortified by talented rookie Charles Sims has what it takes to contend for a playoff berth in Lovie Smith’s first year.
Combine that with the lackluster state of the Jags’ organization, and we like Tampa Bay as a road underdog.
Heavy’s Pick: Buccaneers 22, Jaguars 16
New Orleans Saints (+3) at St. Louis Rams, 8 p.m.
Under normal circumstances, we’d love New Orleans as only a modest underdog against a below-average St. Louis team, even on the road. But with Drew Brees questionable for the preseason opener with an oblique strain, we’ll take the Rams as home underdogs.
Heavy’s Pick: Rams 23, Saints 17
Philadelphia Eagles (+1 1/2) at Chicago Bears, 8 p.m.
The Eagles’ starting quarterback may be Nick Foles, but the most intriguing battle in Philadelphia camp is between two USC products vying to be Foles’ backup: Mark Sanchez and Matt Barkley. Both should see action Friday, and as the South Jersey Times’ Rob Edwards notes, both should be able to put up some points against the Bears defense.
Sanchez’s struggles with the Jets are well-documented, but we like his ability enough against Chicago’s second-string offense to think the Birds will find a way to pull off the cover.
Heavy’s Pick: Bears 28, Eagles 27
Oakland Raiders (+3) at Minnesota Vikings, 8 p.m.
Both teams may be coming off of lousy seasons, but this is actually one of the most intriguing games on this week’s docket.
We’ll see the Raiders debut of Maurice Jones-Drew and the NFL debut of stud linebacker Khalil Mack for Oakland.
But Minnesota has something no other team in the league has: A third-string quarterback who’s his team’s incumbent starter. That’s the role being played by Christian Ponder, who’s behind Matt Cassell and rookie Teddy Bridgewater on the depth chart.
If Ponder had succeeded last year, he wouldn’t be buried on the depth chart. But if the game comes down to backups, the Vikes could do far worse than the former Florida State standout.
We like Minnesota’s depth enough to take the home team to cover.
Heavy’s Pick: Vikings 32, Raiders 17
SATURDAY, AUGUST 9
Cleveland Browns (+3) at Detroit Lions, 7:30 p.m.
There hasn’t been a more closely watched quarterback battle than the one in Cleveland, where first-year coach Mike Pettine named Brian Hoyer the starter in the preseason opener over former Heisman winner Johnny Manziel.
But regardless of who’s under center for Cleveland, we don’t see the Browns being able to slow down Calvin Johnson and Co. With that in mind, we like the Lions to build an early lead and hold onto it in garbage time.
Heavy’s Pick: Lions 24, Browns 14
Pittsburgh Steelers (+3) at New York Giants, 7:30 p.m.
The Giants looked shaky — especially on offense — in Sunday’s Hall of Fame Game win over the Bills. Big Blue’s backfield is unsettled, as is its receiving corps, which is missing Hackeem Nicks. But against a Pittsburgh team that struggled last year, we like Big Blue in a close one at home.
Heavy’s Pick: Giants 22, Steelers 17
Green Bay Packers (+2) at Tennessee Titans, 8 p.m.
One of the league’s most explosive offenses against a more or less average defense? We’ll gladly take the 2 points and go with Aaron Rodgers and Co. on the road, though the points aren’t really needed.
This won’t be a bloodbath, but it won’t be that close, either. Give us the Packers to win outright as road dogs.
Heavy’s Pick: Packers 31, Titans 21
Houston Texans (+2) at Arizona Cardinals, 8:30 p.m.
In a game between a team that overachieved last year and one that underachieved, we’ll take the overachieving Cardinals as modest home favorites.
Heavy’s Pick: Cardinals 24, Texans 20