NFL best bets for Week 1 from Steve Makinen

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NFL Week 1 Best Bets

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Arizona at Washington

Matchup Analysis

Undoubtedly, the team that most fans have pegged as the worst one in the NFL this season is Arizona. With QB Kyler Murray recovering from injury and expected to miss the early part of the season, new head coach Jonathan Gannon has named QB Josh Dobbs as a replacement, and it’s not because he was the most fantastic option.

That said, Washington isn’t much better off right now, despite the vibes you may have gotten from the Commanders’ monumental preseason win over the Ravens, which snapped the latter’s 24-game win streak. Trust me when I say that head coach Ron Rivera’s team probably doesn’t deserve 7-point favorite status over anyone at this point.

Arizona still is a professional football team and with a clean slate, will be motivated by this line. I tend to make it a point annually to bet the team that the public is most down on in Week 1, especially if they are backed by powerful systems like this one: NFL opening week road teams that won between 4-6 games the prior season are 49-21-5 ATS (70%) in Week 1 since 2004. To me, this game has a feel of Washington escaping late with a field goal to win.

Play: Take Arizona at anything +6 or more

Green Bay at Chicago

Matchup Analysis

One of the most interesting games on the Week 1 slate features a rivalry contest in Chicago, and there may not have been a time in the last 30 years in which the Bears were happier to be hosting the Packers. After suffering through the Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers era’s while they quarterbacked the Packers, the Bears can finally emerge from that shadow as they take on a Jordan Love-led Packers team for the first time. Is the quarterback change enough to swing what has been an absolutely one-sided rivalry lately? We’ll see, but Green Bay is sure to be motivated by this underdog line.

You are also looking at a situation that I think is the kiss of death for bettors. They are backing the Bears in wide numbers (65% or more on handle and bets at DraftKings), yet the number has dropped from Chicago -2.5 to -1 at last check. When you consider that Chicago is just 6-18 ATS in its last 24 divisional games and Green Bay is 16-8 ATS in that same number of divisional contests, we really have a discrepancy. The Packers are young but why is that an issue? Because they don’t have overpaid veterans? Hmmm…Love studied under Rodgers for the last three years and looks ready. Rodgers wasn’t at the top of his game physically or mentally last season. I don’t think head coach Matt Lafleur’s team will drop off there.

Pick: Take GB but only in the dog or pick ‘em role.

Las Vegas at Denver

Matchup Analysis

These two AFC West rivals have different looks about them heading into the 2023 season, as they should, as both teams struggled a year ago, combining to win just 11 games. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t aspiring to be playoff contenders this fall because if any league offers a chance for quick redemption, it’s the NFL.

The Raiders start over at the sport’s most important position, quarterback, as they move on from long-time starter Derek Carr. Jimmy Garoppolo figures to be the starter. Denver has a new coaching staff in place, with former Super Bowl champion head coach Sean Payton leading the way. Payton’s biggest task, turning around the struggles of franchise QB Russell Wilson, who signed a team-draining contract prior to 2022.

If there’s one thing we know that’s obvious about Week 1 in the NFL lately, it’s that divisional games can provide some surprises. In fact, divisional road underdogs of 6.5 points or less are on a 14-12 SU and 18-7-1 ATS (72%) run since 2013. As 4.5-point dogs, the Raiders fit this bill.

Also, as of press time, the majority of bettors on DraftKings were actually siding with the underdog Raiders. In most cases that is bad. However, in 2022, it was the one situation that was a positive result for bettors — when the majority handle and number of bets were on road underdogs for an ATS wager, these majority groups actually produced winning records, 26-25 ATS (51%) and 34-32 ATS (51.5%) respectively.

And finally, in a piece I put together for our original NFL Betting Guide, I cited the lack of success by “retread” coaches like Payton, especially in the home favorite role, a situation in which they have gone just 55-38 SU and 29-59-5 ATS (33%) in their first seasons over the last decade. There’s some unreasonable expectation with Denver this year, and it may take a little while to get Russ cookin’.

Play: Let’s take the points with Las Vegas, at anything a field goal or more.

Miami at LA Chargers

Matchup Analysis

The Chargers got over the hurdle of reaching the postseason last year only to see a 27-point lead disintegrate in their playoff game at Jacksonville. Will there be a hangover from that contest still eight months later? Or, was it just another building block for what is to become one of the league’s premier teams in 2023? Quite realistically, it is somewhere in between those two opposites, but there’s no denying that head coach Brandon Staley has one of the more talented teams in the league on both sides of the ball.

On the opposite sideline is a Miami team that is stuck in a recurring pattern of playing well but just not well enough in recent years. The Dolphins are loaded on offense but also have their own hurdles to overcome. This is a tough opening week travel spot for them having to go cross country. If you’ve read all of my picks so far for NFL Week 1 and have surmised that I only like underdogs, you’re close. I just have to have a reason to lay points when NFL teams have a fresh slate. This system is a reason to me: Opening week home favorites hosting teams that were above .500 the prior season are 48-25-5 ATS (65.8%) since 2000. Miami was over .500, the Chargers are favored here.

Play: Take LA Chargers as the small home favorite

 

LA Rams at Seattle

Matchup Analysis

The Rams went from Super Bowl champs to chumps in just one season, going 5-12 in 2023. Now granted, much of it had to do with injuries, particularly to QB Matt Stafford, who figures to be back for 2023 albeit in rusty form. His team takes on a returning playoff team in Seattle in Week 1 on the road, and according to the oddsmakers, the deck is stacked against L.A.

However, nothing wipes out the ugly memories of a prior season more quickly than a divisional upset win to kickstart the follow-up campaign. It happens often in the most unexpected places. Don’t write off the Rams too quickly here. For the Rams, so much went wrong besides the Stafford injury that starting anew will be like a breath of fresh air. Don’t forget, they are just one year removed from a world championship.

On the other sideline, so much went right for Seattle to get to 9-8 and a playoff berth. All that gets flushed away as well as they open up a whole new season in a difficult point spread covering spot. I expect McVay’s team to compete here, especially since they are on an 8-1 ATS run vs. the Seahawks.

Play: Take Rams to cover, with a shot at an outright win

Tampa Bay at Minnesota

Matchup Analysis

There is no other matchup in Week 1 where bettors and experts alike have totally soured on the prospects for both teams than the clash in Minnesota between the Buccaneers and Vikings. The Bucs are supposed to be down, and for good reason, as they move on from QB Tom Brady after a division-winning 8-9 record last season. It doesn’t seem like anyone is too high on his replacement, Baker Mayfield. However, Mayfield is a seasoned veteran at this point and more than capable of leading an offense that still has some significant weapons.

At the same time, Minnesota is getting little to no respect after a 13-4 season a year ago. Perhaps that’s because the Vikings were actually outscored by opponents on the year and were ousted from the playoffs in their first game, at home nonetheless. If everyone is right about head coach Kevin O’Connell’s team, they figure to underperform in this game as reasonably big Week 1 favorites.

Still, at this point, the betting public at DraftKings is well behind the Vikings (or against Tampa Bay). Minnesota is just 10-16 ATS in its last 26 home games and is known for laying an egg as hosts. The Bucs are also 7-2 ATS in their last nine in head-to-head play.

Play: Let’s take the +5.5, or anything within a point, with the Bucs

Buffalo at NY Jets

Matchup Analysis

There is no team that is more amped to get the 2023 season underway than the Jets. After adding QB Aaron Rodgers and several other key veterans, the excitement meter is off the chain in New York. There also couldn’t be a bigger first-week matchup for Rodgers & Co. than a showdown on Monday Night Football versus AFC East power Buffalo. Not to mention the fact that this game will be played on the anniversary of the 9-11 attacks in New York.

In what figures to be a highly emotional contest, if the hosts can settle in and overcome all the theater, this should be a very compelling game, one that will have a huge impact on building a Jets bandwagon should they win. From a matchup perspective, you have to like what the Jets bring to the field defensively, and with Rodgers on board, there is no other team with the potential to give its offensive unit a bigger immediate facelift. Last year, this offense left its defense in tough spots with turnovers and ineptitude. That shouldn’t be the case any longer. This looks like a very live home dog to me, and I would only play New York as such.

Play: Take Jets as home dog

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Steve Makinen
As one of the original founders of StatFox, Steve Makinen has been in the business of sports betting and data analysis for almost 25 years now. In his time in the industry, Steve has worked in a variety of capacities on both sides of the betting counter, from his early days of developing the StatFox business, to almost a decade of oddsmaking consulting for one of the world's leading sportsbooks, to his last seven years as Point Spread Weekly and Analytics Director with VSiN. Steve has always believed that number crunching and handicapping through foundational trends and systems is the secret to success and he shares this data with VSiN readers on a daily basis for all of the major sports.