Historically, my favoriteWeek 1 bets have been targeting a team that didn’t make the playoffs the previous year against a team that was in the playoffs. The logic is simple: The public overvalues playoff teams from the year prior, and thus lines are slightly inflated.
When you toss in the fact this is a heated divisional rivalry, I love the Browns even more. This will be the fourth time the Browns defense has seen Lamar Jackson, and last year, they did well against him in the first meeting (four sacks, two interceptions), and bottled him up for much of the fist half before some horrendous decision-making by former coach Freddie Kitchens flipped the game.
Yes, I have some concern about the Browns starting two new tackles (first round pick Jedrick Wills and free agent signee Jack Conklin), but expect the Browns under new coach Kevin Stefanski to operate out of more two-tight ends sets and run the ball far more than Cleveland did last year. In the first meeting, Nick Chubb had 165 yards rushing; in the second game, he inexplicably had just 15 carries.
Plus, the Ravens may have three new starters in the front seven, and the last time we saw their run defense, it was getting shredded by Derrick Henry in the playoffs. Biggest concern is 1st time head coaches have understandably struggled in the first two weeks over the last two season (1-9-1 straight up, 4-7 ATS).
Sport New York Jets (+7) at Buffalo Bills
The theme continues: Divisional matchup, and a non-playoff team vs. one that made the postseason. The Bills are going to be a popular pick to win the AFC East now that Tom Brady is gone, but the burden of expectations is never easy. Just ask Baker Mayfield. How will Josh Allen handle being the hunted? Yes, he’ll have a new weapon in Stefon Diggs, but I’m reluctant to back the Bills as big favorites because of their QB. Allen has two starts against the Jets (removing Week 17, when Bills starters barely played), and he has seven turnovers. He had four in the opener last year.
Allen remains dangerous on the run, but he also took 18 sacks on third down last year (tied for fourth most in the NFL) and he remains one of the least accurate deep-ball throwers in the NFL. This pick is less about a buy of the Jets — who have their own offensive questions — but statistically the Jets were the No. 2 run defense in the NFL last year, which means Allen will have to win this game with this arm.
The Bills were 5-2-1 as underdogs last year (again, removing Week 17), but they were just 2-3 ATS as home favorites.
Sport Arizona Cardinals (+7) at San Francisco 49ers
I’ve been adamant that the 49ers are the best team in the NFC, but I do have two concerns that apply here: 1) While San Francisco doesn’t have a real weakness, they do appear susceptible in the secondary, 2) We don’t know what the 49ers’ Super Bowl hangover will look like in September.
Last year, Kliff Kingsbury, with a rookie QB, played the 49ers to a virtual standstill twice, once losing by three, and the other time leading in the 4th quarter before collapsing. And then Arizona went shopping in the offseason and added defensive factors like linebackers Jordan Hicks (when healthy!) and Devon Kennard, plus drafted Isaiah Simmons, who will play everywhere.
If the Cardinals can protect Kyler Murray from the fierce 49ers pass rush, the Cardinals should cover, and perhaps win this game outright. Murray was sacked 48 times last year; seven of them came against the 49ers.
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Sport Denver Broncos (-1.5) vs. Tennessee Titans
A good September bet dating back the last eight years: Take the Broncos at home.
They’re 13-3 straight up at home in September. The edge is that teams coming out of the offseason and preseason and having to go play a full game 5,000 feet above sea level are at a distinct disadvantage. Toss in the fact that COVID-19 may cut the preseason entirely, and you’ve got a recipe for the Titans physically not being ready for this one.
Last year, the Broncos lost two heartbreakers at home, a freakish defeat to the Bears on a last-second field goal, and a devastating loss to the Jaguars in a game they were in complete control of. (I remember because I was on Denver.) The Broncos had a rookie coach and Joe Flacco at QB.
After the brutal start (0-4 then 2-6), Fangio’s defense and rookie QB Drew Lock propelled Denver to win four of their last five games. Add in the fact that they added Melvin Gordon to help with their anemic red zone efficiency (28th in the NFL), and drafted two receivers to help Lock (Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler) and the Broncos could be a surprise team.
Tennessee is a team I’ll be looking to fade early and often. How will Derrick Henry bounce-back after the most carries of his career (303)? I still don’t know who the real Ryan Tannehill is. The guy who had a hot November and December? Or the guy who game-managed against the Ravens and Patriots, passing for fewer than 90 yards each game?
Sport New England Patriots (-7) vs. Miami Dolphins
This one runs counter to early-season edges in the other picks and goes out of my comfort zone, but I can’t ignore it. It’s simple:First impressions are everything. Bill Belichick will have had an entire offseason to prepare for his first game without Tom Brady on the roster. When Tom Brady was suspended in 2016, the Patriots opened the season vs. a strong Arizona team that had reached the NFC Championship game the year prior. The Patriots won 23-20 with Jimmy Garoppolo under center. Then they beat the Dolphins with Jimmy G. When he got hurt they had to turn to Jacoby Brissett … and they crushed the Texans 27-0.
Nobody knows what Jarrett Stidham will look like in the opener, but he’ll be facing a defense with at least five new starters than Miami had in Week 17 (including former Patriot Kyle Van Noy). Speaking of Week 17 … the Patriots, as 16.5 point favorites, lost outright to Miami. It cost them a first round bye. They lost to the Titans. How many times has Belichick watched that shocking loss to Miami?
The double revenge idea — against the world who say they’ll fold without Brady, and against the Dolphins for Week 17 — is not something I’d ordinarily identify as actionable. Ryan Fitzpatrick’s history a season after performing well, first in Buffalo, then in New York, hasn’t been pretty. The question is whether he’ll turn into a pumpkin in September or October.