NFL Week 1 Odds & Picks: 7 Spreads To Bet After Schedule Release
Alika Jenner/Getty Images. Pictured: Russell Wilson
Our analysts walk you through which spreads they bet immediately, including a case for both sides of 49ers-Panthers.
Note: All odds as of May 12.
NFL Week 1 Odds & Picks
Steelers at Bills
|1 p.m. ET on Sept. 12|
Matthew Freedman: As great as Bills quarterback Josh Allen is, he’s a mediocre 8-7 against the spread (ATS) as a home favorite. But Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is an A-graded 40-21 ATS (28.1% ROI) as an underdog.
With their elite defense and new rookie running back Najee Harris, I expect the Steelers to keep this game close.
Jets at Panthers
|1 p.m. ET on Sept. 12|
Simon Hunter: This is a rookie quarterback (Zach Wilson) and a first-year head coach (Robert Saleh) making their first start together on the road.
Don’t think too hard about it, just bet the Panthers. I’ll be backing them up to -7.
Samantha Previte: This should be an entertaining game to watch as Sam Darnold takes on his former squad — and rookie replacement, Zach Wilson. That said, the Panthers should be closer to touchdown-favorites against the Jets.
Both teams finished with losing records in 2020, but were in palpably different stratospheres of bad. The Jets finished at an abysmal 2-14 last season, though it wasn’t exactly in their best interest to win games. Darnold certainly bears some of the responsibility for their lack of success, but he was far from the only weak link on the team. The Jets’ top receiver in 2020 was Jamison Crowder, who reeled in just shy of 700 yards, and their best rusher was 37-year-old Frank Gore, who tallied 653 rushing yards.
New York’s offensive line did the team no favors, either, and allowed the ninth-most sacks per game while their defense allowed the seventh-most points per game.
Darnold — who brings three years of NFL experience — immediately goes from having one of the weakest receiving corps in the NFL to having wideout D.J. Moore, former teammate Robby Anderson, LSU rookie Terrace Marshall Jr. and pass-catching running back Christian McCaffrey at his disposal. It’s one of the best weaponry glow-ups imaginable.
Carolina also enters this game with a much-improved defense, which includes the additions of 2021 first-round pick Jaycee Horn, linebacker Denzel Perryman and edge rusher Haason Reddick.
Wilson, on the other hand, will be making his rookie debut in this game. He’s already a bit of a wild-card coming out of BYU and will have to deal with all of the detractors Darnold had to deal with over the past three years (minus Adam Gase). He might be a good bet for the Jets long-term, but I wouldn’t trust him in his rookie debut to cover anything under a touchdown.
Chargers at Washington
Chris Raybon: Washington’s point differential was +6 last season while the Chargers’ was -42, and while both teams improved in the offseason, it’s hard to argue that the Chargers improved significantly more than Washington to the point where they should be favored on the road.
Washington shored up its biggest weakness, the quarterback position — in the short term, at least — by signing Ryan Fitzpatrick. The 38-year-old was excellent for Miami last season, posting a career-high 76.9 mark in QBR. And he did that behind a Miami offensive line that ranked 21st in Pro Football Focus’ pass-blocking grade (63.5) — a distant cry from Washington’s third-ranked line (77.7).
A Washington pass-catching corps featuring Terry McLaurin, Logan Thomas, Antonio Gibson, J.D. McKissic plus free-agent addition Curtis Samuel and fourth-round wide receiver Dyami Brown represents an upgrade over what Fitzpatrick had last year with Miami, as well.
The Chargers will get reinforcements on defense in the form of former All-Pro safety Derwin James returning from injury and second-round corner Asante Samuel Jr., but they also lost a lot of talent on that side of the ball in linebackers Melvin Ingram and Denzel Perriman and defensive backs Casey Hayward and Rayshawn Jenkins. Washington, meanwhile, finished third in Football Outsiders’ defensive DVOA last season (-18.3%) and invested in Kentucky linebacker Jamin Davis with its first-round pick (19th overall), so it’s safe to say Washington has the edge on the defensive side of the ball. There may not be a defense more equipped to handle reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert and Co.
First-year head coach Brandon Staley, the former defensive coordinator of the Rams, registers as an improvement over Anthony Lynn just by not being Anthony Lynn. Still this will be Staley’s first game as an NFL head coach. And Ron Rivera will field the superior team in Week 1.
I project Washington as the favorite in this matchup and would bet the Football Team up to -1.
Samantha Previte: Both teams finished with identical 7-9 records last season and have made improvements year-over-year, but I’m taking Washington as home underdogs in Week 1.
Say what you want about Washington advancing to the playoffs with a losing record out of the soft NFC East: The team held its own in the Wild Car Round against the Buccaneers, who went on to win the Super Bowl. They made huge improvements going into last season on defense, which was top notch and allowed the fourth-fewest points per game, and built on that momentum heading into 2021.
Washington has already posted arguably the best free agency thus far, which was headlined by the additions of veteran signal-caller Ryan Fitzpatrick and wideout Curtis Samuel.
Fitzpatrick is a clear upgrade from the team’s 2020 quarterback situation, which consisted of Dwayne Haskins, Kyle Allen, Alex Smith and Taylor Heinicke, depending on the week. And Samuel should make an immediate impact with prior knowledge of head coach Ron Rivera’s system and relationship with wideout Terry McLaurin.
I’m excited to see how 2020 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert progresses this season, especially under new head coach Brandon Staley’s system, but there’s a good chance this Washington defense alone overpowers the second-year QB. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Washington favored in this matchup as we draw closer to September.
Cardinals at Titans
Raheem Palmer: The Titans are one team I come into this season wanting to fade.
Despite finishing 11-5 last season, they had a Pythagorean Expectation of just 9.1 wins, which means we should expect them to regress this season. And Arthur Smith, the offensive coordinator who was responsible for turning Ryan Tannehill into an above-average quarterback, has left to become the head coach of the Falcons — just look to Kyle Shanahan’s departure from Atlanta after its Super Bowl appearance in 2016 for a prime example of how a team can totally collapse after their offensive coordinator leaves.
The Titans were heavily reliant on an offense that scored 30.7 points per game, ranking second in expected points added (EPA) per play, third in success rate, and fourth in offensive DVOA. If this offense takes a step back in the absence of Smith, and after the free-agent departures of wide receivers Adam Humphries and Corey Davis as well as tight end Jonnu Smith, they’ll be relying on a defense that gave up 27.4 points per game and ranked 29th in DVOA last season.
The Titans will be charged with stopping a Cardinals offense with Kyler Murray, DeAndre Hopkins and 2021 second-round pick Rondale Moore, who caught 178 catches for 1,915 yards and 17 touchdowns at Purdue. And while I’m not the biggest fan of head coach Kliff Kingsbury, Titans head coach Mike Vrabel has his question marks as well — particularly being a defensive-minded head coach managing a team with an abysmal defense after losing their offensive coordinator.
Arizona is the better team and my model makes this game a pick’em, so at +2.5, I’ll be taking the Cardinals. I’ll also be taking their moneyline because I believe they could go on the road and win this game outright. I’ll also add them to Stanford Wong six-point teasers to cross out the key numbers of 3, 6 and 7.
Vikings at Bengals
|1 p.m. ET on Sept. 12|
Brandon Anderson: Slowly but surely, the Bengals are moving in the right direction. By the end of 2021, they might be one of those teams no one wants to face over the final few weeks of the season.
Luckily for the Vikings, they get to face the Bengals to start the year instead.
Remember that Joe Burrow has started only 10 NFL games, so he’s basically still a rookie, and he’ll be playing his first real full-speed football in 10 months when this game kicks off. It’s also the first game ever for rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, and though Burrow and Chase have that LSU chemistry built in, this is going to take some time to develop in the NFL. The Bengals defense is also a work in progress.
No one expects this team to be anywhere close to the playoffs.
The Vikings, on the other hand, should actually be a playoff contender. Whether they’re in the division hunt may depend on what happens with Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, but Minnesota profiles as a very solid, good-not-great all-around team.
The Vikings may not have a Super Bowl ceiling, but they tend to play well under Mike Zimmer against teams they should beat, and the Bengals are one of those teams.
Minnesota improved its offensive line in a big way in the draft, and the offense should be healthy and ready to go with a pair of great receivers, one of the best running backs in football, and a quarterback who plays well with protection against beatable defenses. This is one of those games the Vikings look really good in and get everyone’s hopes up before playing a real opponent.
I trust Minnesota to take care of business in the opener. There’s a chance I could wait and hope this line drops below a field goal, but I’m not sure what we’ll see from Cincinnati to move the line in the Bengals’ direction and I don’t mind laying the points. The Vikings should win by a touchdown or more.
Seahawks at Colts
|1 p.m. ET on Sept. 12|
Matthew Freedman: If you give me the chance to bet on quarterback Russell Wilson as an underdog, I’ll do it.
Wilson is 23-10 ATS, good for a 34.5% ROI (per our Action Labs data). And although quarterback Carson Wentz is familiar with head coach Frank Reich’s system from their time together years ago in Philadelphia, the Colts still have a new Week 1 starter — for the fifth year in a row — and Wentz might be slow to build a rapport with his receivers.
49ers at Lions
|1 p.m. ET on Sept. 12|
Simon Hunter: I love taking big Week 1 home dogs that everyone else hates.
After injuries spoiled the follow-up to their 2019 Super Bowl appearance then they traded up to draft former North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance with the third overall pick, there’s a ton of drama and hype surrounding the 49ers heading into the 202 season.
49ers at Lions
Brandon Anderson: The Detroit Lions are going to be very, very bad. The Lions and Texans are clear favorites for next year’s #1 pick right now, and the tanking could be ugly.
Detroit is basically starting over. They have a new coach and system in place for this one, and there aren’t more than a few players on this roster that are long term answers for the Lions. Jared Goff is an actual definition of a placeholder, and the 49ers are well versed into just how mediocre Goff is, and that was with Sean McVay. Now take McVay away and give him… Tyrell Williams? And Breshad Perriman? It’s going to be ugly.
The Lions have the look of a team that will quickly be something like a two-touchdown underdog against good teams later in the season, and I fully expect the 49ers to be good. I also expect Jimmy Garoppolo to start the season under center, so this team will actually have a good amount of continuity from last year.
San Francisco is better on offense, on defense, at coaching, and any other way you slice it. I don’t anticipate this line moving below a touchdown, and if anything, it could pretty easily be double digits by kickoff this fall. I’m happy to lay the 7.5 points and go with the far better team.
The 49ers could end up a Super Bowl contender, and the Lions will be lucky if they can find the right channel for the game on their TV screens. This could turn into a massacre and a rough start to a long season for the Lions. Count me in.