Week 1 NFL Favorites, Underdogs & Over/Unders To Bet: Patriots, Saints, More Sunday Picks
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images. Pictured: Mac Jones
Welcome back, folks. The 2021 NFL season has finally arrived. And while I love Week 2 much more than Week 1 due to the usual market over-reactions we see after the first weekend, I do like a few spots this upcoming Sunday. Below you’ll find my top underdog, favorite, over/under and teaser options for the first Sunday of the season.
My card likely won’t get too much bigger, but follow along in the Action App for any pregame or in-game added positions. And if you missed any of my preseason content, make sure to check out my division futures, favorite win totals and survivor analysis.
Note: We’ve included the best line available as of writing on Saturday.
Week 1 NFL Underdog To Bet
Saints +3.5 vs. Packers
- Best Line: +3.5 at PointsBet
- Kickoff: 4:25 p.m. ET on Sunday
I’m backing the Saints at this price in their home opener, which will take place in Jacksonville due to Hurricane Ida. After the announcement of the new venue, I obviously adjusted the spread in the Packers’ favor, but the new surface may actually benefit New Orleans based on the structure of both teams.
With the return of Aaron Rodgers, the Packers enter the season as one of the top contenders in the NFC. However, there are some questions with this roster, starting with the offensive line. Green Bay develops offensive linemen as well as any team in the NFL, so this unit should be fine as the season progresses.
However, there could be some major growing pains early on with star left tackle David Bakhtiari sidelined for at least six weeks on the PUP list.
Since the Packers also lost Pro Bowl center Corey Linsley, they had to reshuffle this entire unit with Elgton Jenkins kicking out to left tackle and two rookies set to start on the interior in center Josh Myers and right guard Royce Newman. They could have their hands full against a stout New Orleans front seven.
And while the Saints do have major concerns at the second corner spot opposite Marshon Lattimore, that might not hurt them as much in this particular matchup. They can also rely on a trio of outstanding safeties to pick up the slack.
On the other side of the ball, the Packers will have a new defensive coordinator, so we will see what schematic changes follow. Regardless, they feature one of the best corners in the NFL and won’t have to worry about Michael Thomas in this one.
However, top pass rusher Za’Darius Smith is not 100% healthy, and teams can pick on No. 2 cornerback Kevin King. Most importantly, this is a defense that struggles to defend the run (partly by design in the recent past).
The Saints may take full advantage with one of the league’s best offensive lines. Alvin Kamara could have himself a day, and Winston should have time in the pocket in what I expect to be a simplified attack under head coach Sean Payton.
Ultimately, I make this game a hair under a field goal, so I pulled the trigger on +4.5 (the line is now at +3.5) in a game where I think the Saints hold a few matchup advantages in the trenches.
If you’re going to back Jameis Winston, do it when he’s an underdog. His high-variance nature makes him a nightmare to back when laying points but intriguing when catching over a field goal. Take a look at his career ATS splits in those two situations:
- 7-14-1 ATS as a favorite
- 17-10-1 ATS as an underdog of more than a field goal
And we do get to back Payton as an underdog, which has paid off handsomely in the past. He boasts a 31-13-2 ATS record as a pup, making him the second-most profitable coach (out of 129) as an underdog since 2003, trailing only Mike Tomlin, per Action Labs.
I should note the special teams situation for the Saints does worry me a bit with punter Thomas Morstead gone and kicker Will Lutz injured. Throw in the departure of one of their top gunners and the fact that Deonte Harris may not return punts if needed to fill in for a banged up wide receiver group — and it’s certainly concerning. That said, the Packers really struggled overall on special team last year.
Week 1 NFL Favorite To Bet
Patriots -3 vs. Dolphins
- Best Line: Patriots -3 at PointsBet
- Kickoff: 4:25 p.m. ET on Sunday
New England head coach Bill Belichick has stunning career ATS splits in almost every scenario, but he’s actually only 10-10-1 ATS in season openers during his time in Foxboro.
That said, he’s 41-26-4 ATS in the regular season when the spread lies between +3 and -3. That’s good enough for an 18.9% ROI, making him the second-most profitable coach in that situation since 2003. You can really mine for a trend to support most angles, but you usually come out on top more times than not when backing Bill.
For this particular matchup, I’m lower on the Dolphins than the market coming into the season, so I wasn’t surprised I showed value on the Pats here.
No team in the league improved their roster more than the Patriots in the offseason. Part of that has to do with the shopping spree New England embarked on during free agency, but they also had more players opt out in 2020 than any other team in the league.
The Patriots will feature one of the most dominant offensive lines in the league with the return of Isaiah Wynn to lock down left tackle and the acquisition of Trent Brown to hold down the fort on the other side.
Those two will bookend a nasty trio on the interior of Shaq Mason, David Andrews and Mike Onwenu. They should have no issues opening up holes for Damien Harris against a vulnerable Miami run defense (22nd in Football Outsiders’ DVOA last season).
A reliable offensive line will also serve as a welcome luxury for rookie quarterback Mac Jones in his first career start. For what it’s worth, backing rookie quarterbacks in Week 1 has actually turned a profit over the past decade with an 11-7-1 ATS record.
Also, quarterbacks who didn’t go first overall (like Jones) have gone 10-3 ATS over that span. And more recently, we’ve seen quarterbacks making their first career start go 18-5 ATS over the past two seasons.
The New England front office also provided Jones with an upgraded group of weapons at both wide receiver and tight end. Usually, I’d downgrade the Patriots for going from a veteran quarterback in Cam Newton to a rookie in Jones since you just can’t assume too much production from a rookie signal caller.
However, I stood firmly in the camp that Newton had nothing left, so this actually serves as a slight upgrade in my eyes.
By leaning on a strong rushing attack, I think Jones can have some success on Sunday against a Miami defense that likely has some negative regression coming its way after forcing a turnover on a league-high 16% of possessions in 2020. If you remove turnovers, which have a high percentage of luck, I graded this Miami defense out right around league average.
When on offense, Miami will turn to Tua as its full-time starter. If you believe he will take a major step forward this season, you’ll definitely have more optimism for Miami than I do this year, but I’m just not buying into him yet.
Tua has all of the tools, but this is almost like year one for him after recovering from an injury during a COVID-impacted rookie season and then constantly sharing time with Ryan Fitzpatrick, who had to bail him out multiple times.
It doesn’t help that Miami lacks a reliable rushing attack (23rd DVOA last year) and has one of the weakest offensive lines in the NFL (24th in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Line Yards) — which will likely be without left tackle Austin Jackson (COVID). Miami did add some nice pieces on the outside for Tua to work with, but Will Fuller (suspended) won’t suit up for the opener.
Last season, these two teams split their regular season meetings despite the Dolphins only mustering 10 points in the first three quarters combined. In the second meeting, they took advantage of a very weak Patriots run defense, but that unit should be vastly improved after the offseason additions and opt out returnees.
Even without Stephon Gilmore (PUP), I don’t see Miami doing much through the air against a still stingy New England secondary. Belichick should have something cooked up to confuse Tua throughout the game as we’ve seen countless times against inexperienced quarterbacks.
The Patriots also have one of the best special teams units in the NFL, negating an advantage the Dolphins held over many opponents last season. Also, fans in the stands certainly won’t hurt.
In a battle of former Alabama quarterbacks with staffs who have plenty of familiarity with each other, I’m siding with the home team that should dominate the trenches on both sides of the ball. Ultimately, I think that will prove to be the difference.
Week 1 NFL Over/Under To Bet
Chargers at Washington Over 44.5
- Best Line: Over 44.5 at BetMGM
- Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET on Sunday
Before I get to this game, I do want to state my hesitancy in betting NFL totals early on this season. We saw a record amount of points scored in 2020 (by almost a field goal more per game than the next highest season) in large part due to three primary factors:
- Lack of fans
- Reduced holding calls
- Increased aggressiveness on fourth downs
I expect the last one to persist and likely increase even more over time. In regards to the first two, it’s hard to determine how much of an impact the lack of fans had on scoring with a sample set of just one season. And we don’t have full transparency into what the NFL will stress from an officiating perspective.
That uncertainty makes it much more difficult to project totals, so I’d rather err on the side of caution and gather data over the first few weeks before firing at too many totals.
Now, onto my only total of the week. A Washington over? Gross, I know, but hear me out.
Look, there’s no doubt that Washington boasts one of the most ferocious defensive lines in the NFL. They have done a phenomenal job of building that unit through the past five drafts led by the fearsome foursome of Chase Young, Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne and Montez Sweat.
Also, the secondary undoubtedly benefits from the pressure generated by the defensive line. This is a defensive backfield that added William Jackson in free agency and will get safety Landon Collins back from injury. With all that said, I think the defense is a bit over-rated by the market after last season.
In 2020, Washington’s defense led it to a division title, but it only took seven wins to win the NFC East. Just take a look at the quarterbacks it defeated in those games:
- Andy Dalton (2x)
- Carson Wentz
- Jalen Hurts*
- Ben Roethlisberger
- Nick Mullens
- Ryan Finley**
*Nate Sudfeld replaced Jalen Hurts in the second half with the Eagles tanking
**Joe Burrow left with an injury with the Bengals in the lead
Not only is that one underwhelming group — those six quarterbacks played for teams with either a horrid offensive line or one decimated by injury. That allowed the Washington defensive line to dictate the game.
However, if we also exclude two games against the Giants, who swept the season series with arguably the worst offensive line in the NFL, opposing offenses had success against Washington. In those seven other games, opponents averaged 27.9 points per game with five of the seven scoring at least 30 points.
With an upgraded offensive line and talent all around second-year quarterback Justin Herbert, the Chargers fit the mold of a team that can have success against this Washington defense. Plus, Anthony Lynn is no longer around to squander scoring chances at the end of halves and games.
On the other side of the ball, Washington upgraded at quarterback by bringing in Ryan Fitzpatrick, which speaks more to whom he replaced than about his own ability. More importantly, they added more weapons on the outside to complement Terry McLaurin and Antonio Gibson:
- Curtis Samuel
- Adam Humphries
- Dyami Brown
Washington also boasts a vastly underrated interior offensive line. And based on early reports, they found a gem in rookie right tackle Samuel Cosmi. This offense should enjoy much more success in 2021, starting with this weekend against a Chargers defense that could struggle early on after losing a few key pieces and needing to adjust to a completely new defensive scheme that I’m not sure fits this roster.
Most might assume a low-scoring affair at first glance — and maybe it plays out that way — but I think both offenses will have opportunities with two aggressive quarterbacks. A Ryan Fitzpatrick pick six wouldn’t hurt as well.
Top Week 1 Sunday Teaser Options
From a purely mathematical standpoint, you can give yourself an edge without taking anything else into account by simply crossing 3 and 7 with both parts of a teaser at -120 odds or better. You may hear some bettors refer to doing this as the good ol’ Wong teaser (in reference to Stanford Wong).
In order to break even on a 6-point teaser at -110, you need teams that have a greater than 72.4% chance of covering after being teased. If we look back in our Action Labs database, all NFL regular season spreads since 2003 covered only 69% (6208-2826) of the time if teased six points. Nice, but not nice enough over that sample set of over 8,000 teams.
The story changes if we filter for all teases that would’ve captured both the 3 and 7.
NFL regular season underdogs between +1.5 and +2.5 covered a 6-point teaser 75% of the time (337-112). And favorites between -7.5 and -8.5 have historically covered at a slightly higher clip of 75.7% (199-64).
That gives us a total of 536-176 or 75.3%, which easily clears the 72.4% hurdle rate required to break even at -110 odds and is almost equivalent to the breakeven rate (75.2%) at -130 odds. For what it’s worth, these teaser pieces have gone 48-12 (80%) last season.
(More info here.)
On Sunday, we have three games that fit the mold:
- Rams -7.5 to -1.5
- 49ers -7.5 to -1.5
- Colts +2.5 to +8.5
The first two games have totals listed at 45 or lower, making those extra points even more valuable. And while Colts-Seahawks has a total close to 50, it’s really never a bad idea to tease a Seahawks opponent to over eight points. Over the past two seasons, Pete Carroll’s bunch has played a league-high 23 one-possession games, posting an impressive 18-5 record in those contests.