NFL Expert Picks: Favorite Bets for Week 1

NFL Expert Picks: Favorite Bets for Week 1 article feature image
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Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Green Bay Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander

  • The Action Network's NFL experts give their favorite bets for Week 1 of the 2018 season.
  • Hope you're ready to feel the Bucs love. Plus, get over/under betting angles on multiple matchups.

Sunday football has arrived. And no, not LSU blowing out Miami on opening weekend of college football. A real Sunday, where you sit on your couch — or at the bar, I don’t judge — for 12 hours and monitor all of your bets and fantasy leagues while stuffing your face with delivery.

Yes, that kind of Sunday.

Action will get underway at 1 p.m. ET with eight early games, followed by four more in the late afternoon. We also have Sunday Night Football before a Monday Night Football doubleheader.

So strap in, as The Action Network has you covered for all 15 games.

We will begin with Sunday’s early games, then end with a prop and a side for Monday’s games.

Let’s start by getting the hold-your-nose portion out of the way with the three experts who love the Buccaneers.

*All odds for the picks as of 5:30 p.m. ET on Sept. 7

SUNDAY’S EARLY ACTION

Ken Barkley: Buccaneers +10 (at Saints)

1 p.m. ET on FOX

I will play the role of “The Most Interesting Gambler in the World” for this pick.

clears voice

I don’t always bet the NFL, but when I do, I prefer contrarianism.

One thing people completely underestimate is the difference between the best and the worst team in the NFL. (It’s generally less than you think.)

People also completely underestimate the difference between a team from year to year. (It’s generally more than you think.)

The truth is that we have only a small idea of what these teams will be based on the previous year and preseason, which doesn’t tell us much historically.

As much of a home-field advantage as the Saints have, I love the idea of getting 10 in a divisional game this early in the season.

Last year, Jameis Winston completed only 54% of his passes against New Orleans in two meetings, throwing three interceptions in one game and leaving the second game early in the other. Will Winston really be missed that much here?

Whether or not you believe the drop-off from Winston to Ryan Fitzpatrick will be massive, this isn’t a surprising move. Tampa has had a long time to plan for Fitz under center. The Bucs can at least keep this game close, despite what everyone on earth expects.

John Ewing: Buccaneers +10 (at Saints)

1 p.m. ET on FOX

Bucs backer here, as well. New Orleans finished the 2017 season ranked second in the NFL in total offense (391.2 yards/game) and fourth in scoring (28.0 points/game). Drew Brees & Co. should have success against a Tampa Bay defense that Football Outsiders graded as the worst in all of football last season.

The great matchup — plus Winston’s suspension — has helped the Saints become the largest favorites of Week 1. So, bet the Saints, right?

Well, the largest Week 1 favorite has gone 12-22 (35%) against the spread (ATS) since 1993. All favorites of more than a touchdown over that span are 19-36 (35%) ATS.

The Saints’ line is inflated because of their success last season and Tampa’s struggles.

Matt LaMarca: Buccaneers +10 (at Saints)

1 p.m. ET on FOX

Add a third Bucs believer here.

Ultimately, the downgrade from Winston to Fitzpatrick is being overly priced into the line. Fitzpatrick should actually be an upgrade in protecting the football: He threw an interception on only 1.8% of passes last season, while Winston has a career interception rate of 2.8%.

The Saints’ defense excelled last season largely because of its ability to generate turnovers. New Orleans tied for ninth with 25 takeaways in 2017, but finished with the 16th-most yards allowed per game.

There are also a few other trends working in the Bucs’ favor:

  • Teams that won six or fewer games the previous season cover at a 59.2% clip in Week 1 of the following year.
  • Teams that won 10 or more games the previous season own a cover rate of just 43.4% in Week 1.
  • Backing division underdogs of 10-plus points has resulted in a return on investment of +10.8% since 2005.

Matthew Freedman: Jaguars-Giants Under 43

1 p.m. ET on FOX

The Jags led the league last year with 32.9 rushes per game and a 49.5% rush rate, while holding opponents to the league’s second-lowest scoring mark (16.8 points per game). They have a team built to control the ball and win low-scoring games.

It seems that the Giants are copying that blueprint, as they drafted a running back at No. 2 overall and a run-blocking left guard in the second round. With both teams leaning on the run, trying to hide their subpar quarterbacks and playing not to lose, I like the under.

Stuckey:  Giants +3 (vs. Jaguars)

1 p.m. ET on FOX

I agree with Freedman on that under bet, especially with the windy and rainy conditions expected in East Rutherford on Sunday. I just don’t know how either team will move the ball, especially the Jaguars.

The injury to Marqise Lee not only hurts Jacksonville’s passing game, but he was also an excellent run-blocker. The Jags now have a group of inexperienced receivers on the outside with Blake Bortles throwing them the ball. Not ideal against a talented Giants secondary.

Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins might be their best receiving option, but he’s banged up. And even if he plays, safety Landon Collins can blanket him.

That means the Jags will have to rely even more on their power running game, which might work against them for two primary reasons:

  1. Jacksonville invested a lot in its offensive line this offseason, which will pay off down the line. However, this group has never played a single live snap together (not even in the preseason). That’s not ideal for a road game in Week 1.
  2. The Giants excel at shutting down power running games thanks to one of the NFL’s best interior run defenders, Damon Harrison (aka Snacks).

The Giants will also struggle to move the ball through the air against the best secondary in the league, but they upgraded at offensive line and running back. And you can run on the Jags, who will also be without elite edge rusher Dante Fowler (suspension).

This should be an ugly game in ugly conditions, which makes three points very valuable against a Jags offense that I think will sputter early with all of the recent personnel changes.

Chad Millman: Giants +3 (vs. Jaguars)

1 p.m. ET on FOX

This game is one of the best lessons in how bookmakers approach setting point spreads. The Jags opened in the spring as 4-point favorites, largely because bookmakers make point spreads based on public perception. And fans remember the Jags getting to the AFC title game last year, and they remember the Giants being really bad.

But the reality is that the Giants got better, by virtue of a new coaching staff, getting Odell Beckham Jr. back and drafting Saquon Barkley, which all make Eli Manning better.

Professional bettors jumped on this game, so even though the majority of the action is coming in on the Jags, the biggest bettors have been betting the Giants, which has caused the line to drop.

I bet the Giants at +4, and I still like them at +3.

Travis Reed:  Titans -1 (at Dolphins)

1 p.m. ET on CBS

I rarely jump on road NFL favorites, but couldn’t pass this one up.

If you assume three points for home-field advantage, this line insinuates that the Titans are only four points better than the Dolphins on a neutral field — and I can’t wrap my head around that.

My model also agrees, as it rates the Dolphins as one of the worst teams in the NFL. According to my numbers, the Titans should be 6-point favorites.

I also think the Titans will have a vastly improved offense under the tutelage of new offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, who comes over from the Rams.

Peter Jennings:  Browns +4.5 (vs. Steelers)

1 p.m. ET on CBS

Ben Roethlisberger has awful splits on the road, and the Le’Veon Bell holdout makes me bearish on the Steelers. Not only are they going to miss Bell on the field, but his holdout has been a big distraction for the team.

The windy conditions should also aide the Browns as an underdog by helping to mitigate Antonio Brown.

Mark Gallant:  Steelers-Browns Under 44

1 p.m. ET on CBS

Generally speaking, I enjoy taking a contrarian over when the public likes an under, but not here. I actually think the 70+% on the under are spot on with this total that has dropped from 46.5 to 44 over the past week — which I assume is partly due to the windy/rainy conditions expected along with the Bell fiasco.

I loved this when I first saw the forecast on Tuesday and love it even more now with Bell giving his teammates the finger.

PJ Walsh: Bills-Ravens Under 41

1 p.m. ET on CBS

From a high level, it’s easy to get behind an under when Joe Flacco is taking on Nathan Peterman, but the weather isn’t getting enough attention in this matchup.

The current forecast calls for consistent 14-15 mph crosswinds with almost a 50% chance of rain. Since 2003, the under is 439-348-10 (55.8%) in games with double-digit winds.

Flacco and Peterman have enough problems scoring points in perfect conditions, but strong winds and slick footballs will make completing passes even more difficult.

Since the NFL moved the extra point back prior to the 2015 season, only 43 is more important than 41 when betting over/unders, so make sure you shop around and don’t settle for 40.5.

Danny Donahue: Texans-Patriots Under 26 (1H)

1 p.m. ET on CBS

Taking this over would be too easy … and betting isn’t easy.

More than 60% of bettors are going with the over, as they usually do when the Patriots play, but I’m going contrarian here.

I actually expect both passing games to be a bit rustier out of the gate than what most people expect. Brady has some new targets to break in, while Watson hasn’t seen regular-season action since tearing his ACL last November.

Plus, I don’t have to worry about Brady putting up points in the fourth quarter with the first-half under. Lastly, since 2005, Week 1 games have stayed under the first-half total 58.2% of the time.


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SUNDAY’S LATE SLATE

Geoff Schwartz: Cowboys-Panthers Under 42.5

4:25 p.m. ET on FOX

As I covered in my trench report, both offensive lines are beat up and playing solid to above-average defensive lines. We’ve seen what any offensive line disruption can do to the Dallas offense.

The Panthers are missing both tackles and installing a new offense. We saw early last season what happened when they tried something different with Cam Newton. (It failed.)

I love the under here.

Ian Hartitz: Broncos -3 (vs. Seahawks)

4:25 p.m. ET on FOX

Earl Thomas’ return is great news for the long-term outlook of the Seahawks’ defense, but his status for Sunday remains cloudy. Plus, the defense is already without longtime stalwarts Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Michael Bennett.

There’s a decent chance quarterback Case Keenum had a career season in 2017, but he’s still objectively better than any quarterback who has taken a snap under center in Denver since Peyton Manning retired. Keenum can exploit this declining Seattle defensive unit.

On the other side of the ball, pairing No. 4 overall pick Bradley Chubb with Von Miller gives the Broncos’ defense their best pass-rush combination since Miller and DeMarcus Ware helped them win a Super Bowl.

Denver gets it done.

Collin Wilson: Broncos -3 (vs. Seahawks)

4:25 p.m. ET on FOX

I agree with a lot of what Ian said above. The Broncos’ defensive front should cause plenty of havoc against a subpar Seattle offensive line.

Plus, the Denver altitude always seems to be a bigger advantage earlier in the season. In fact, the Broncos are 21-1 straight-up in the first two weeks of the season since 2000.

Scott Miller: Chiefs-Chargers Over 48

4:05 p.m. ET on CBS

I’ll be betting the over early and often in Chiefs games this season. This might be the most explosive offense in the NFL with Tyreek Hill, Kareem Hunt, Travis Kelce and hot-shot second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

And the offense better be good, because the defense looks like one of the league’s worst.

I don’t think the Chargers will cover the 3.5, but they will hang a few big plays on the Chiefs to help get this total up over 50 points.


Monday Night Football

Evan Abrams: Matthew Stafford Over 1.5 TD Passes (-140)

7:10 p.m. ET on ESPN

Stafford has thrown at least two touchdowns in 14 of his past 24 home games since 2015. Last year, he increased that percentage by throwing multiple touchdowns in six of eight games in Detroit.

To be honest, I think he gets this in the first half in front of the prime-time home crowd, making a statement with a rookie quarterback on the other sideline. Stafford has opened the season in three of the past five years at home, throwing at least two (4, 2, 2) touchdowns in each.

Chris Raybon: Rams -4.5 (vs. Raiders)

10:20 p.m. ET on ESPN

This line is too low. The Rams were 7-1 in road games last season, losing only to the elite Vikings. In L.A.’s seven road wins in 2017, the Rams outscored opponents by an average of 15.1 points and won by 5+ in five of the seven.

The defense only got better this offseason with the signings of defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters. Meanwhile, the Raiders’ offense stayed the same (at best) by replacing Michael Crabtree with an older Jordy Nelson.

On the other side of the ball, 2017’s highest-scoring offense faces one of the NFL’s worst defensive teams. And by the way, that defense just lost its most valuable player.

Plus, none of Jon Gruden’s offseason moves inspire confidence:

  • Wasting a seventh-round pick on QB Christian Hackenberg then releasing him.
  • Sending away a third-rounder for WR Martavis Bryant.
  • Signing a running back who hasn’t averaged 3.0 yards per carry in two years.
  • Signing a washed up-looking Nelson to start at receiver.

So, why should we be confident in Gruden’s ability to keep this game within four points? Especially considering he has a less-talented roster going up against two of the most brilliant minds in the game in Sean McVay and Wade Phillips.