NFL Picks, Odds for Week 1: Bets on Lions vs Chiefs, Texans vs Ravens, Titans vs Saints, More
Rey Del Rio/Getty Images. Pictured: Jared Goff.
Here are my way-too-early best bets, thoughts and analysis on every NFL Week 1 spread.
NFL Week 1 Picks
Lions +7 was the first NFL spread I locked in for 2023.
Detroit quietly finished last season ranked No. 5 in offensive DVOA and managed to clock in at No. 9 in overall DVOA in spite of its 26th-ranked defense. In the offseason, the front office went out and revamped the entire starting secondary by signing cornerbacks C.J. Moseley, Cam Sutton and C.J. Gardner-Johnson and drafting safety Brian Branch.
If the Lions can field an average defense instead of a terrible one, watch out, because the offense is in position to improve on the 26.6 points per game it averaged last season, which was good for fifth-best in the NFL.
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The selection of Alabama running back Jahmyr Gibbs at No. 12 overall gives Jared Goff a legit gamebreaker with 4.36 speed, and Iowa tight end Sam LaPorta (34th overall pick) gives Goff a pass-catching threat to replace T.J. Hockenson. Couple that with one of the NFL’s best receivers in Amon-Ra St. Brown and a top-tier offensive line, and this has the potential to be the highest-scoring offense in the league.
That’s all without mentioning Goff, who has turned his career around and is coming off a season in which he posted top-five marks in numerous categories including QBR ( 61.0), adjusted yards per attempt (8.0) and adjusted net yards per attempt (7.45).
As is generally the case with underdogs early in the season, trends will be on the Lions’ side: According to our Bet Labs data, Week 1 underdogs of +6.5 or more points are 47-28 (63%) against the spread (ATS) since 2005, and Week 1 road ‘dogs that didn’t make the previous postseason are 75-47-4 (64%) since 2005.
As profitable as the aforementioned trends have been, they pale in comparison to ‘dogs of +3.5 or more points against the Chiefs, which have posted a 26-10 (72%) ATS mark dating back to November 2020.
The Vikings are a team I want to fade until they give me a reason not to. Despite finishing 13-4 last season, they were never dominant, winning only two games by more than one score. This has been a trend for three seasons and counting, with only five of 28 (18%) wins since 2020 coming by more than one possession.
Of course, it’s even better for this bet if Minnesota doesn’t win at all, which is a distinct possibility. Despite the Vikings’ 13-4 record, all their expected win totals say their true performance level was that of a sub-.500 team. Technically, that also means their performance level was closer to 4-13 than 13-4, which is hilarious.
- Pythagorean W-L Record: 8.4-8.6
- The Vikings scored 424 points and allowed 427 for a -3 point differential.
- One-Score Luck Adjusted W-L Record: 8-9
- The Vikings had 12 games decided by one score, winning 11 (a new NFL record) against the .500 expectation of 6-6. They went 2-3 in non-one-score games.
- DVOA Estimated W-L: 6.3-10.7
- The Vikings ranked No. 27 in total DVOA (-13.6%). They were No. 20 on offense (-3.1%), No. 27 on defense (6.7%) and No. 30 on special teams (-3.8%)
The Bucs defense has finished between No. 5 and No. 13 in points, yards and DVOA in each of the past three seasons and should be able to hold its own, so this comes down to the Bucs QB (likely Baker Mayfield). It’s a small sample, but it’s promising that Mayfield led the Rams offense to a slightly better DVOA (-2.8%) over the final five weeks than Cousins did with Minnesota (-3.1%) over the entire season.
I already did a deep dive on why I’m high on the Titans and low on the Saints in my Divisional Futures piece, but here’s the tl;dr: The Titans finished 0-7 last season due to outlying injury bad luck. It’s easy to forget they started 7-3, meaning they’ve consistently been successful for all but a seven-game blip in five years under head coach Mike Vrabel.
The Saints, meanwhile, are likely to have growing pains with Derek Carr, whose four worst seasons all came in Year 1 of a new offense.
In fact, it’s a bad sign for the Saints in this matchup that Ryan Tannehill had a far better year than Carr:
- Tannehill: 65.2% completion percentage, 7.8 yards per attempt, 94.6 QB Rating, 6.39 Average Net Yards per Attempt, top target: Robert Woods (66 targets)
- Carr: 60.8% completion percentage, 7.0 yards per attempt, 86.3 QB Rating, 6.01 Average Net Yards per Attempt, top target: Davante Adams (160 targets)
If Tannehill gets benched for Will Levis before the season — highly unlikely, in my opinion, but I know it’s in the back of some people’s minds — that means Vrabel believes Levis can perform at a higher level than Tannehill, so I would not worry about it either way.
The Titans have an even greater edge at head coach:
- Vrabel: 48-34 (59%) SU, 42-38-2 (53%) ATS
- As an underdog: 20-19 (51%) SU, 23-15-1 (61%) ATS, including 22-9-1 (71%) when the spread is +3 or higher
- Dennis Allen: 15-38 (28%) SU, 21-31-1 (40%) ATS
- As a favorite: 7-5 (58%) SU, 4-8 (33%) ATS
Vrabel’s win percentage as a ‘dog is nearly as high as Allen’s win percentage as a favorite, which is insane!
Pick: Titans +3.5
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We as bettors should take note of the Texans’ shift in philosophy: It’s still a rebuild, but it’s no longer a tank. Now it’s about maximizing the rookie deal of C..J. Stroud, which shifts the incentive away from tanking and toward building a quality roster. It may be subtle to some — I get that most people have better things to do than pore over the Texans depth chart — but adding the likes of Jimmie Ward, Shaq Mason, Sheldon Rankins, Denzel Perryman, Dalton Schultz, Cory Littleton, and Devin Singletary in one offseason is a pretty massive haul — not to mention trading up to No. 3 overall for Alabama defensive end Will Anderson immediately after taking Stroud at No. 2 overall.
All of the aforementioned defensive additions allow them to match up a lot better with the Ravens offense. Last year’s Texans defense allowed a league-high 170.2 rushing yards per game and 5.1 yards per carry, which is lights out against the Ravens. Rankins, Perryman and Ward, though, are among the best run defenders in the league at their respective positions. Littleton earned a career-high 70.0 run grade from Pro Football Focus last season (30th of 85 linebackers). Anderson’s 86.7 run defense grade led all edge defenders in the Power 5. Anderson also has the speed to chase around Jackson.
Also, new Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans was part of the staff for a 49ers defense that in 2019 held Jackson to his fewest passing yards (105) and yards per attempt (4.57) of his MVP season.
Since 2002, rookie head coaches are 56-39-2 (58%) ATS in their first-ever road game. Over the past two seasons, Jackson is a perfect 5-0 ATS as a ‘dog but 5-14 (26%) ATS as a favorite, including 1-11 (8%) when favored by more than 3 points.
I already bet this game at Texans +10 before the number moved, and I’d only bet it at that number.
The Browns addressed holes at slot receiver (Elijah Moore), defensive line (Dalvin Tomlinson and Za’Darius Smith) and safety (Juan Thornhill and Rodney McCleod). Their roster is on par with the Bengals. Deshaun Watson gives them massive upside at quarterback.
If I knew for sure that Watson would return to form, I would go in on Browns futures. There’s a wide range of outcomes with him, though, and the team’s floor is lower with Jacoby Brissett gone and Joshua Dobbs backing up Watson.
If this goes to Browns +3, or if it starts significantly dropping the other way, I would bet it. For now, though, there is otherwise no point in holding a ticket in a dead number range for four months before the season.
Per our Action Labs data, Week 1 Divisional ‘dogs are 61-39-2 (61%) ATS since 2005.
This line opened at Commanders -4.5 but has been bet up to as high as -6.5 at some books. The opener of -4.5 was already slightly inflated, but I can see how some aggressive projections could arrive somewhere in that neighborhood.
The Commanders have a relatively weak home-field advantage that’s worth no more than one point (maybe 1.5 if you’re using the league average instead of differentiating between teams). Sam Howell has only made one start and thrown 19 career passes, so we have not seen enough of him to assign him a meaningful edge. If you assign QB values in a more practical way, such as by separating them into tiers, though, then Howell falls somewhere between a low-end QB1 and a low-end QB2, while the composite of Colt McCoy/Clayton Tune/David Blough/Jeff Driskel is at best a low-end QB2 (McCoy, maybe Tune?) and at worst a QB4, aka out of the league. So, we’ll give Howell a 1-1.5 point edge.
The Commanders and Cardinals offenses aren’t too mismatched once you factor out the quarterback, but Washington has the clear edge on defense, which is worth a max of 1.5 points if you say “to hell with regression.” That’s a 3-4.5 point edge for Washington.
I say all that to illustrate how underdogs typically end up with the biggest edges in NFL betting: The book opens the line based on a projection that is fairly sound but maybe shaded a bit toward the side they expect to be more popular (usually the favorite), a bunch of people bet it, and the book eventually takes enough money to move it up a half-point. In theory, moving the line is supposed to deter bets on that side and encourage bets on the other side, but what often happens is bettors who aren’t as math-based or price sensitive will continue to hammer the line — they don’t really care whether the line is -4.5 or -6 or -7.5.
Before long, a line that started out as the best projection ends up two or three or four points away from where it started, until eventually some fool like me comes along and says, “This ‘dog is in a situation that I project to be only slightly terrible, but the line implies it is absolutely horrible, so there’s massive value!”
I love the Falcons to come out of the super-mid NFC South, but there are better ways to invest in them than laying points in a divisional matchup four months out.
Generally speaking, you don’t want to bet against Divisional ‘dogs in Week 1. The hope is that Bryce Young torches somebody’s backups in the preseason and moves this line closer to pick’em territory.
If not, I might still have to make an exception because this is a classic Frank Reich fade spot. Entering his sixth season as an NFL head coach, Reich is still winless in Week 1, both ATS and SU.
The Jaguars‘ roster seems like it was put together by one of those fantasy football managers who only care about the first six rounds and completely forgot it was also an IDP league.
The defense was 26th in DVOA last year despite the second-best injury luck and would present Anthony Richardson with a very winnable first matchup if he gets the nod over Gardner Minshew in Week 1. Going on the road in Week 1 to face a dynamic athlete at quarterback and a creative offensive mind at head coach with no prior film or tendencies to go off of could be more daunting than meets the eye. The Colts may end up being my moneyline underdog pick for the Week 1 Action Network Podcast.
I’ll just leave this here:
I have to thank the NFL schedule makers for acting with the necessary urgency in giving us the crown jewel of the 2023 NFL season: The Matt Patricia revenge game.
The Patriots are the ones who probably want revenge, though: Patricia’s unofficial promotion to offensive coordinator in 2022 resulted in the offense scoring 98 fewer points and gaining 660 fewer yards while Mac Jones saw his efficiency drop in every single statistical category.
Couple a post-Patricia bump for Jones with the fact that the Super Bowl loser is just 4-18 (18%) ATS in Week 1 of the following season, and you have a smash spot for the Patriots.
I’m kidding. Kind of.
I would be willing to bet this if it gets to Dolphins +3 closer to the season or +3.5 if it popped up now. I have both of these teams rated pretty evenly, and the Chargers don’t have much in the way of home-field advantage.
Brian Daboll led the Giants to an impressive 10-2 (83%) ATS record as an underdog in Year 1, going 6-5-1 (55%) straight-up (SU) in those spots.
I’ve viewed the Jets as overrated since the moment the books started to adjust their odds in anticipation of the Aaron Rodgers acquisition.
Even if you’re bullish on the Jets, though, this seems like a poor time to invest. Rodgers no-showed in each of his last two Week 1s, losing 23-7 to the Vikings last season and 38-3 to the Saints in 2021.
If there was ever a time to have growing pains, this would be it.
This is one of those games that I’d rather use for research purposes, as both of these teams will look pretty different from a year ago.
I’m curious to see if Matt LaFleur’s trends hold without Aaron Rodgers. The Packers head coach is 13-4 (77%) ATS as a ‘dog — 12-4 with Rodgers and 1-0 with Jordan Love.
Mike Tomlin-coached teams are 51-27-3 (65%) ATS as a ‘dog and 15-4-3 (79%) ATS as a home ‘dog, but they’re just breakeven in September at 9-8 ATS (53%). This intuitively makes sense, as Tomlin’s edge is derived from his ability to motivate his players to have a heightened sense of urgency in response to some sort of adversity or bulletin-board material, of which there is little in September.
I’m concerned about the Rams’ new defensive philosophy of “Aaron Donald and 10 guys you’d have to Google,” but they are 8-1 (89%) ATS in their last nine against the Seahawks.
Last season, L.A. managed to cover in both games against Seattle, once with John Wolford at quarterback and once with Baker Mayfield. I have a future on the Seahawks to win the division, so I’ll probably just stay away and hope I’m wrong about the Rams being the right side.
I’d be extremely wary of anyone who claims to have a strong take on this game.
There’s no way to make a confident projection for either side because we’ve never seen Russell Wilson in a Sean Payton offense. On the other side, while we’ve seen Jimmy Garoppolo in Josh McDaniels’ offense once upon a time, a lot has changed since 2016, and we’ve obviously never seen Garoppolo play with his new Raider teammates.
In my humble opinion, the best way to find value in this game is to use it for research purposes only.
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