Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020 | 9 a.m.
Bettors don’t have to look too far to find the biggest line move of NFL’s Week 1. It’s come on Las Vegas’ new hometown team.
The Las Vegas Raiders have been the most popular play on the board dating back to when point spreads were released following the NFL’s schedule announcement in May. William Hill initially posted the Raiders as a 1-point underdog at Carolina, but they’re now threatening to boost up to a 3.5-point favorite.
Las Vegas currently sits at -3 against Carolina with several sports books juicing the road favorite at minus-120 (risking $1.20 to win $1). And this is no Vegas Golden Knights syndrome where local fans are putting down wagers to get behind the home team.
The move originated from offshore sports books that take the largest wagers in the world. It also appears to have more to do with the Panthers than the Raiders.
The prevailing wisdom among bettors is that teams with continuity will have a larger advantage than normal after a coronavirus-interrupted offseason that saw limited practice time and no preseason games. No team has less continuity than the Panthers, which are breaking in a new coach (Matt Rhule), quarterback (Teddy Bridgewater), offensive coordinator (Joe Brady) and defensive coordinator (Phil Snow).
The Raiders, meanwhile, enter the third year with the same core of coach Jon Gruden, offensive coordinator Greg Olson, defensive coordinator Paul Guenther and quarterback Derek Carr.
To the betting market, that’s an advantage worth four points — and counting.
It’s nice to have a local team tie-in for my pick’em column, which returns for the fifth consecutive year coming off a highly profitable season. I went 143-120-4 picking every game against the spread through the Super Bowl last season — 42-28-1 plays, 49-40 leans, 52-52-3 guesses.
Read below for this year’s Week 1 picks. Selections are separated in three confidence categories — plays, leans and guesses — and listed in rough order of confidence. Lines are the best currently available in Las Vegas on the chosen side.
Atlanta Falcons +2 vs. Seattle Seahawks The Falcons have consistently, if not quietly, performed like a contender whenever they’ve been close to fully healthy over the last several years. Problem is, that hasn’t been often, but Atlanta is finally close to fully healthy for Week 1 and offers tremendous buy-low value.
New York Jets +6.5 at Buffalo Bills The Jets were more depleted by injuries than any other team last season, and still won only three fewer games than the Bills. And the Jets actually outscored the Bills by six points in two meetings between the two teams. The underlying talent gap here is not as drastic as the market implies.
New Orleans Saints -3.5 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Look past the postseason flameouts and the Saints have been the best team when aggregating the past three seasons. Even after adding Tom Brady, the Buccaneers are far less proven and should be getting at least one more point.
Los Angeles Rams +3 vs. Dallas Cowboys It’s a bummer these two teams play in Week 1 considering they’re two of my strongest bet-on sides, but this appears to be a good spot for the Rams. Calculating homefield advantage will be an inexact science all year, but west-coast teams playing in primetime have traditionally made for a major edge — one likely rooted in Circadian rhythms that shouldn’t be erased without fans.
Minnesota Vikings -2.5 vs. Green Bay Packers The Packers’ two wins over the Vikings last year were misleading, as was most of their season, considering the latter was the far more efficient team overall. The Vikings posted +0.5 net yards per play to the Packers’ -0.2, and even though they’re likely to regress this season, they shouldn’t take a big enough step back to justify this spread.
Tennessee Titans -2.5 at Denver Broncos Tennessee was the best bet on the board earlier this week at a plus price until steam moved the spread as much as 4.5 points. The move didn’t pass through any key numbers, however, so there’s still value on the Titans as long as the spread stays below 3. The Broncos are overhyped for the season and outmatched in the Week 1 finale.
Arizona Cardinals +7 at San Francisco 49ers This was an easy play at +7.5, but some caution may now be advisable that the half point has disappeared. Still, it’s worth getting on the Cardinals while their prices are depressed because it won’t take long before their top-end talent shines through and causes a climb in the market.
Los Angeles Chargers -3 at Cincinnati Bengals Fading Joe Burrow all year might have been the costliest strategy of my betting career last season, but the matchup playing out in front of him looks like too much to ignore in his professional debut. The Chargers’ defensive line should eat up the Bengals’ offensive line to the point where Burrow won’t matter.
New England Patriots -6.5 vs. Miami Dolphins Over 42.5 points might be the best way to approach this game given the Patriots’ rebuilt defense and the historically helpless nature of the Dolphins’ stop unit a year ago. It might be wise to play wait-and-see before betting on the Patriots this season, but this line seems like a big overreaction considering they were 17.5-point favorites hosting the Dolphins less than nine months ago.
Chicago Bears +3 at Detroit Lions The hype on the Lions has gone too far, adding an unnecessary tax on this line after it opened as a pick’em. Detroit has the offense, when healthy, to challenge for the NFC North title but questions remain on defense and specifically with coach Matt Patricia, who has struggled strategically in his first two seasons.
Baltimore Ravens -8 vs. Cleveland Browns For a significant stretch of last regular season, the Ravens graded out as one of the most spectacular teams in the NFL history. Considering they’re returning almost everyone from that team, there’s no reason to think they’ll take any significant step back.
Houston Texans +9.5 at Kansas City Chiefs Don’t expect the Chiefs to come into the season in the form that saw them come back to blow out the Texans with a 51-7 stretch in last year’s playoff. Given their patchwork secondary, Deshaun Watson should be able to lead the Texans to their fair share of points, though the spread is not worth playing unless it gets back to double digits.
Pittsburgh Steelers -5.5 at New York Giants A heartfelt thank-you to MGM for not moving this number to 6 like the rest of the books in town, and therefore, not putting the spread on a semi-key number to make me feel obligated to take the points. Even at an inflated price, it’s hard to justify spending money on a Giants team saddled with glaring holes all over the roster.
Washington Football Team +6 vs. Philadelphia Eagles This game has the second lowest total on the board — over/under 42 points — to make every point on the spread a little more valuable. The Eagles should win, but the Football Team’s defensive line, including No. 2 overall pick Chase Young, will make it tough on them.
Jacksonville Jaguars +8 vs. Indianapolis Colts Indianapolis would have been the pick at -7, but the spread is quickly flying out of playable territory. With few exceptions, it’s unadvisable to lay more than a touchdown in a divisional game early in this particularly unpredictable and unique season.
Carolina Panthers +3 vs. Las Vegas Raiders The Raiders should win, but the line move has taken out any potential value. The Panthers’ homefield advantage should account for slightly more considering the Raiders are traveling three time zones, making a fair number on the game Las Vegas -2.5.