If it feels as though it’s been forever since an NFL game was played that actually mattered, that’s because it has been. But fortunately, Week 1 is finally here and there’s a loaded slate of games on tap. The action starts with Thursday Night Football between the Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles and wraps up with a doubleheader on Monday Night Football.
We’re going to break down the opening-week schedule by looking at the five best bets against the spread and offering some insight on each. Let’s jump in and start with an early game on Sunday between AFC foes and one of the Super Bowl favorites.
*Note: All odds are from Odds Shark.
Houston Texans at New England Patriots (-6.5)
Pick: Patriots -6.5
I’m a believer that the Texans are going to be a very good team this season thanks to a solid defense and impressive pass-catching duo of Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins. But I believe it’ll take Watson a game to get back to his 2017 form after suffering a torn ACL last year. The former Clemson quarterback threw for 1,699 yards, 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions over the span of seven games before his injury.
Those numbers look scary, but it’s worth noting that the Texans also lost four of those games (all against teams with .500 or better records). With that said, it’s not as though Watson’s dominance resulted in Houston steamrolling opponents. Now, Watson and company attempt to get revenge after a 36-33 loss to the Patriots last season, but I’m still buying Bill Belichick and Tom Brady on their home field against a quarterback they now have tape on.
It’ll be a fun game to watch, but I think New England gets it done by double-digits.
Jacksonville Jaguars (-3) at New York Giants
Pick: Jaguars -3
The Giants will unquestionably be better than their brutal 3-13 record from last season. With a healthy Odell Beckham Jr. and top draft pick Saquon Barkley, that shouldn’t be a tough task. And as much as I want to take the Giants to knock off arguably the best defense in the league in Week 1, the stars don’t align.
Some have chalked up 37-year-old Eli Manning’s statistical decline in recent seasons to injuries and poor offensive line play. While both arguments are fair, Manning’s 19 touchdowns last season were the second-fewest of his career and his star receiver in Beckham is going to be shadowed by Jalen Ramsey.
The Jaguars had the best pass defense in the NFL last season, allowing just 169.9 yards per game through the air and gave up a grand total of eight touchdowns to wideouts all year. I’m sold on Jacksonville being a legitimate AFC contender and don’t think the spot is a good one for the Giants.
Seattle Seahawks at Denver Broncos (-3)
Pick: Seahawks +3
To start, I don’t believe Vance Joseph is a very good coach. While the Broncos have an exceptional defense, they’re rolling out both a new quarterback and running back this season. Case Keenum is a fine player, but I think he’s slightly overhyped after his performance in 2017 with the Minnesota Vikings.
The key for the Seahawks in this game will be shutting down Royce Freeman, who is one of the most underrated and undervalued running backs right now. The third-round pick was named the team’s starter for Week 1, but if Seattle can keep him in check, I believe they leave Denver with a win.
The Seahawks have never had an issue getting up for big games, and Pete Carroll’s squad will be ready to roll in the opener. The Broncos are getting a lot of love, and it’s probably too much right now, as I believe their offense will need a game or two in order to get in sync.
Buffalo Bills at Baltimore Ravens (-7)
Pick: Ravens -7
Until we see Nathan Peterman impress during a regular season NFL game, there’s no reason to believe he’s a starting-caliber quarterback. This is likely a slightly better version of the player who threw five interceptions in one half in 2017. Even if Peterman is a fair amount better, the Ravens are also trending upward entering this season.
Baltimore allowed just 213.8 passing yards and 111.3 rushing yards per game last season, ranking them No. 10 and 15, respectively. The big issue was the hit-or-miss play of the Ravens offense last season. Thanks to additions of players such as Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead, as well as the emergence of running back Alex Collins, Baltimore should be improved on that side of the ball.
The Bills simply aren’t talented enough to knock off the Ravens here on the road, and I think it’s a two-touchdown victory for the home team.
Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers (-7.5)
Pick: Bears +7.5
Since the 2013 season, the Bears and Packers have squared off 10 times. As The Football Database shows, Chicago has either won or lost by eight or fewer points six times. And to be honest, they had some pretty bad teams over that span. Not only have the Bears not made the playoffs since 2013, but they’ve compiled a combined 27-53 record.
But for the first time in years, this team enters an NFL season with optimism and a talented roster. Plus, they now have one of the NFL’s best pass-rushers in Khalil Mack.
The Bears may not win this game, but I believe they lose it by a field goal or maybe a touchdown in a worst-case scenario. With new offensive weapons like Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton for Mitchell Trubisky to throw to, Chicago has a strong offensive core. Tack on the fact that the Packers are playing without Aaron Rodgers’ former go-to target Jordy Nelson for the first time, and there’s reason to believe they’ll have a few speed bumps in Week 1.