Week 1 Edition
*Note – DVOA stands for Defense-adjusted Value Over Average: It’s Football Outsiders’ primary efficiency statistic and I believe it to be the best and most predictive measure of assessing the strength of NFL teams
**Note – All betting odds courtesy of Vegas Insider
***Note – Public betting refers to the amount of wagers taken on the spread
New York Jets vs Buffalo Bills
Spread: BUF -8 Over/Under: 40.5
’16 DVOA: NYJ (32) < BUF (17)
Public Betting: BUF 53%
The Jets will be bad this season, but do they really deserve to be eight point underdogs against the Bills ? Like New York, Buffalo traded or released many of their best players (i.e. wide receiver Sammy Watkins, cornerback Ronald Dearby) too. And the Jets’ defensive line, which finished 4th in the NFL in run defense last season and still boasts talented players like Leonard Williams and Muhammad Wilkerson, should at least contain Buffalo’s strong running game. I’ll hesitantly take New York to cover, even though I like the Bills to win outright.
Buffalo 23, New York 17
Atlanta Falcons vs Chicago Bears
Spread: ATL -6.5 Over/Under: 48.5
’16 DVOA: ATL (3) > CHI (25)
Public Betting: ATL 80%
A study published last year found that playoff teams from the previous season (like the Falcons) who play a non-playoff opponent (like the Bears) in week one have been extremely unprofitable in week one games. Look back to last year’s opening week: non-playoff opponents were 4-2 ATS against playoff teams. Another reason why I will be a contrarian and take Chicago with the spread is because the public is all over Atlanta (80% of the public, in fact). No need to mention any specific study: it’s always smart to side with the House.
To be clear, I’m not saying Chicago will win. I can’t imagine Mike Glennon and the Bears’ offense putting up more points than the team that led the NFL in scoring last season. But this one will be closer than the experts think.
Atlanta 24, Chicago 20
Jacksonville Jaguars vs Houston Texans
Spread: HOU -5 Over/Under: 39.5
’16 DVOA: JAC (26) > HOU (29)
Public Betting: HOU 73%
Hammer Houston, for a few reasons. First, the Texans’ defense is outstanding and the Jaguars’ offense is horrible. Houston had a top-1o defense last season without J.J. Watt. Jacksonville, meanwhile, was just 25th in points per game. Additionally, the Texans’ offense will be improved. Tom Savage is an upgrade over Brock Osweiler, and he has talented complementary players like DeAndre Hopkins and Lamar Miller to ease his transition as the starter.
Most importantly, though, this is Houston’s opener, and it will be the first time they’ve taken the field since Hurricane Harvey. Emotions play a role in situations like this. The Texans organization, particularly Watt, has done a remarkable job raising disaster funds over the past few weeks. You can take it to the bank that their fans will show their appreciation. In front of a raucous home crowd, expect an inspired effort from Houston.
*Houston 27, Jacksonville 7
Philadelphia Eagles vs Washington Redskins
Spread: PHI -1 Over/Under: 48
’16 DVOA: PHI (5) > WSH (9)
Public Betting: PHI 58%
If you read any of my NFL preview articles over the past few weeks, you’d know I’m high on the Eagles. I love them defensively, in particular, and I think they’re more than capable of containing Washington’s offense. The Redskins, of course, lost their top two receivers, Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson, during the offseason. This seemed to have an effect on Kirk Cousins in the preseason (he posted just a 47.9 quarterback rating in Washington’s third preseason game). Philly will open their season with an impressive road win.
Philadelphia 24, Washington 20
Arizona Cardinals vs Detroit Lions
Spread: ARZ -2 Over/Under: 48
’16 DVOA: ARZ (16) > DET (27)
Public Betting: ARZ 65%
Tough game to call. Arizona will likely be better than Detroit this season. The Lions, after all, ranked just 27th in DVOA last season even though they made the playoffs. However, home underdogs provide value, particularly in an early season game such as this. So I’ll take the better quarterback, Matthew Stafford, at home.
Detroit 27, Arizona 24
Oakland Raiders vs Tennessee Titans
Spread: TEN -2.5 Over/Under: 50.5
’16 DVOA: OAK (10) > TEN (15)
Public Betting: OAK 61%
Tennessee’s offense should score a lot of points against a suspect Raiders defense. Last season, the Titans ranked 4th and 11th in rushing and passing offense, respectively. Oakland’s D, meanwhile, finished in the bottom half of the league in defending both the run and pass. However, the Titans’ defense isn’t too much better: they actually ranked a tad lower than the Raiders in ’16, according to Football Outsiders. With Derek Carr and the Raiders’ offense getting 2.5 points, I’ll take Oakland in a quasi-upset.
Oakland 27, Tennessee 24
Baltimore Ravens vs Cincinnati Bengals
Spread: CIN -3 Over/Under: 41.5
’16 DVOA: BAL (12) > CIN (13)
Public Betting: CIN 66%
One of my favorite betting trends is to take underdogs in division games. Last season, for instance, divisional underdogs were 49-39-4 (.554) against the spread (a profitable betting system ATS, for the record, requires a win percentage of around .530). The Ravens defense is very good, so I like them to keep this game close. With Joe Flacco’s health in question, however, A.J. Green and the Bengals should put up just enough points to overcome Baltimore’s formidable D.
Cincinnati 20, Baltimore 19
Pittsburgh Steelers vs Cleveland Browns
Spread: PIT -9.5 Over/Under: 46.5
’16 DVOA: PIT (4) > CLE (31)
Public Betting: PIT 76%
Cleveland will need to rely heavily on running back Isaiah Crowell and their revamped offensive line in order to hang around with the Steelers. But I don’t think that alone will be enough. DeShone Kizer should struggle in his first career start (he was just 6-18 with an interception in his only preseason start) and Antonio Brown and company will find plenty of open space against a soft Browns’ defense.
*Pittsburgh 30, Cleveland 14
Indianapolis Colts vs Los Angeles Rams
Spread: LAR -4 Over/Under: 41.5
’16 DVOA: IND (23) < LAR (30)
Public Betting: LAR 73%
The consensus is that Scott Tolzien, who will start in place of Andrew Luck, won’t be leading the Colts to victory on Sunday. I agree. The Rams’ defense should be even better after hiring Wade Phillips to run the defense. Jared Goff should also have a nice day throwing to Sammy Watkins, who will benefit from not facing Indy’s best cornerback, Vontae Davis, who is injured.
Los Angeles 30, Indianapolis 16
Carolina Panthers vs San Francisco 49ers
Spread: CAR -4.5 Over/Under: 47.5
’16 DVOA: CAR (24) > SF (28)
Public Betting: CAR 79%
Conventional wisdom suggests that the Panthers will blow out an inferior San Francisco team. But let’s not forget that Carolina struggles on the road (just 2-6 away from home last season) and that the 49ers offense should be better after hiring former Falcons OC Kyle Shanahan and signing players like former Washington WR Pierre Garcon. There are always surprises in Week One. I’m too scared to go out on a limb, but I think San Francisco will challenge Carolina until the very end.
Carolina 31, San Francisco 27
Seattle Seahawks vs Green Bay Packers
Spread: GB -3 Over/Under: 51
’16 DVOA: SEA (11) < GB (7)
Public Betting: GB 60%
Many pundits seem to like the Packers, but I disagree. Seattle is outstanding defensively. The only reason they tailed off last season was because Earl Thomas got injured. With their All-Pro safety back, and with defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson now in the fold, the Seahawks’ outstanding defense will return to its usual self. Moreover, Green Bay’s defense is pretty weak. They might be able to take advantage of Seattle’s poor offensive line, but I think Russell Wilson and company will be able to have their way offensively. I’ll take the Seahawks to upset the Packers at Lambeau.
Seattle 24, Green Bay 23
New York Giants vs Dallas Cowboys
Spread: DAL -4 Over/Under: 47.5
’16 DVOA: NYG (8) < DAL (2)
Public Betting: NYG 59%
Will Dallas extract revenge on the Giants, who swept the season-series against them last season? Yes, they will. Sure, New York’s defense is very solid, but the Cowboys’ offense is balanced and prolific. They led the NFL in rushing last season and finished 3rd in overall offensive DVOA. Also, I don’t trust a 36-year-old Eli Manning. He threw sixteen interceptions in 2016 and still doesn’t have a running game to alleviate some pressure. Dallas will start the season 1-0.
Dallas 30, New York 21
And lastly, here are my best bets for Week One…
- Teaser: ATLANTA (-0.5) over Chicago & LOS ANGELES (+2) over Indianapolis
- HOUSTON (-5) over Jacksonville
- Philadelphia vs Washington UNDER 48
- Teaser: BALTIMORE (+9) over Cincinnati & Baltimore vs Cincinnati UNDER 47
- Indianapolis vs Los Angeles OVER 41.5