Week 1 picks from a "dog or pass" point of view"
We’ve had a taste of NFL preseason football and CFB Week 0 and Week 1, but now we finally get what we’ve all been waiting for with NFL Week 1 kicking off this weekend.
My weekly VSiN column will break down the full NFL schedule each weekend of the season (all 16 games this week with fewer during bye weeks) just like we’ve done over the years here in VSiN’s weekly digital magazine, “Point Spread Weekly,” and now on the website.
My longtime readers know I’m a “dog-or-pass bettor,” and my breakdown of each game will usually be from that point of view as we try to determine if the dog is getting enough points to make them a play – or if I recommend passing on the game. Even if I don’t have an official Best Bet, I’ll still at least give my recommended “pool play strategy” for those who play in contests where they have to pick every game.
Now, I know not everyone is as “dogmatic” as me, but I’ve always had a lot of readers that bet chalk tell me that they still read these columns every week because they like to see which dogs I’m not able to make a case for as that gives them the green light to lay the points. So, the goal here is to have something for everyone as we’re all trying to beat the books, right?
So, let’s get to the Week 1 card. This week is a little different as these lines have been up since the NFL released the full schedule on Thursday, May 11, so a lot of our analysis of the games will be about how the lines have arrived to where they are during game week and where the value can be found now.
The traditional Thursday night season-opener gives us the defending Super Bowl champions (the Chiefs in this case) hosting the Lions, one of the league’s up-and-coming teams. This line opened Chiefs -7 back in May, and I was among those who felt the line would close lower, so I took the Lions +7 in anticipation of laying a lower number on the Chiefs to catch a side or middle or as a partial hedge. though keeping more money on the underdog.
The line did get bet on right away and sat at Chiefs -6.5 for most of the summer, but then it dropped even further on Tuesday when Kansas City star TE Travis Kelce hyperextended a knee. (The most interesting thing to this grizzled old reporter is that none of the dozens of reports I’ve seen or read have said which knee!) The line is down to Chiefs -4.5 at most books, and I’ll gladly lay the points with an increased shot at a middle, but I wouldn’t recommend that for anyone betting this game for the first time (I’m just trying to be transparent for my loyal readers). Nor would I take the Lions now at the reduced number.
Best Bet: Pass (pool play: Lions 55/45 in my rare ATS pools that include Thursday Night Football, though Chiefs 70/30 in SU pools that use TNF).
This NFC South matchup – one of eight divisional battles in Week 1 – opened Falcons -2.5 and was already bet to 3 at some sportsbooks on the night of the schedule release. It has since crossed the key number of 3. Both teams seem to be on the improve, and this bet comes down to whether you prefer Carolina’s No. 1 overall pick in Bryce Young (who did look NFL-ready at Alabama) or Atlanta’s second-year Desmond Ridder. There is also a lot of buzz about rookie RB Bijan Robinson (especially in fantasy draft circles), but I’m still not convinced the Falcons should be favored by more than a field goal. This could be one of those games where the right side is on the favorite -2.5 and the dog at +3.5. Gimme the dog.
Best Bet: Panthers +3.5 (pool play: Panthers 60/40 in ATS contests, but Falcons still 60/40 in SU pools).
The Ravens opened -8 and were quickly bet to -9, so we’re not surprised that this has reached double digits four months later. In fact, the DraftKings Betting Splits at VSiN.com still has 71% of the bets and 73% of the handle on the Ravens -10 as of Wednesday morning.
The Ravens were also considered the No. 1 slam dunk “Survivor” pick for Week 1 until the “pick-against-Arizona every week” momentum started. I think the Texans are going to surprise some people this season with rookie QB C.J. Stroud. I’m not sure how many games they’re going to win, but I’ll predict right now that they’re going to have a winning ATS record, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to be on them anytime they’re getting more than a touchdown, which should be often until oddsmakers and the public catches up.
Best Bet: Texans +10 (pool play: Texans 75% in ATS contests, but Ravens still 80/20 in SU pools).
This line opened Bengals -2.5 and has mostly stayed right there despite 74% of the bets being on Cincinnati. The only reason it probably hasn’t reached 3 is because of Joe Burrow’s calf injury. As of the deadline, we were still waiting for his “questionable” tag to be removed. If/when it is, this number will surely move to -3.
Even though the Bengals were my Super Bowl value play at 11-1 in the VSiN NFL Betting Guide, I still think they’ll get a battle in Cleveland on Sunday. For our purposes here, let’s tease the Browns up over a TD in two-team, 6-point teasers, though keep in mind you might be getting a point or two more later in the week if the line does indeed climb. Our favorite early-window (1 p.m. ET kickoffs on Sunday) option is to tease with the Steelers +8 vs. the 49ers. I wouldn’t blame you for combining the Browns with the Dolphins +8.5 or higher at the Chargers in the afternoon or even with the Jets +8.5 vs. the Bills on Monday Night Football.
Best Bet: Browns +8.5 in two-team, 6-point teaser with Steelers +8 plus other teasers (pool play: Bengals 55/45 in ATS contests and closer to 67/33 in SU pools).
This isn’t the most marquee matchup of Week 1, but the Jaguars have been one of the most popular bets after opening -3.5 at the Colts. It’s now up to -5 with still a whopping 85% of the tickets at DraftKings on the chalk. Still, I wouldn’t trust Indy rookie QB Anthony Richardson at less than a TD in his debut against a Jacksonville team that really turned it around last year to win the AFC South and is favored to repeat. There will be better times to play the Colts this season (or fade the Jaguars).
Best Bet: Pass (pool play: Jaguars 55/45 in ATS contests and more than 80/20 in SU pools).
Here we go again with another of my season-long teams – the Vikings who I picked to repeat at +280 in the NFC North and go Over their win total of 8.5 – that I’m looking to play against in Week 1. This line opened Minnesota -7 with early money on schedule release day coming in on the Buccaneers. It has since gone below the key number as a lot of bettors are expecting a regression from the Vikings after having a minus-3 point differential despite a 13-4 record.
Despite that, with the line down to 6, there is still 76% of the bets and 72% of the money on the Vikings, but we’re going to fade that because they had 11 wins in one-score games last year, so we like our chances of this being a one-score game as long as Tampa QB Baker Mayfield doesn’t have many costly turnovers.
Best Bet: Buccaneers +6 (pool play: Buccaneers 60/40 in ATS contests, but Vikings still 75/25 in SU pools).
The Saints look like the class of the NFC South (for what that’s worth), even with RB Alvin Kamara missing the first three games of the season with his suspension. This line opened New Orleans -3.5 but has settled at -3. If it were to go back to 3.5 (which doesn’t seem likely as 56% of the money at DraftKings is on the underdog), I would probably take the Titans, who are just a year removed from having the top seed in the AFC. For now, it’s a pass.
Best Bet: Pass (pool play: Titans 55/45 in ATS contests but flip to Saints 60/40 in SU pools).
In another interconference game, the 49ers opened -3 back in May, though early money came in on the Steelers. That was a solid indicator that bettors would bet this under a field goal, and they have. It also appears to be sharp money as the DraftKings Betting Splits page is still showing 67% of the bets and 54% of the money on the 49ers -2.5. Yet, the line has dropped to -2 at most books.
A lot of people have been picking Pittsburgh as a dark-horse team with second-year QB Kenny Pickett. The public also loves the whole “coach Mike Tomlin has never had a losing season” storyline that we kept hearing was going to come to an end last year. I’m not confident enough to fade the 49ers laying such a short number, but I love the Steelers teased up over a touchdown.
Best Bet: 2-point, 6-point teaser with Browns +8.5 or better, plus other teams (pool play: 49ers 55/45 in ATS contests and 60/40 in SU pools).
The Commanders opened as 4.5-point home favorites and were bet to -5 on the night of the schedule release. That momentum has carried over as it’s been bet to a full touchdown. Some of that has been driven by the excitement in D.C. with the ouster of owner Dan Snyder as well as optimism with second-year QB Sam Howell. But it’s clear that there also have been a lot of people fading the Cardinals as they’re pretty much regarded as the worst team in the league, especially with QB Kyler Murray out. Washington has also become the most popular Week 1 Survivor play. However, I’m not so sure I’m going to be willing to risk my Survivor lives on the Commanders. And this has also gotten to the point where I’m willing to fade the public and take the ugly dog getting a full TD.
Best Bet: Cardinals +7 (pool play: Cardinals 67/33 in ATS contests – higher in pools that give us +7.5 – but Commanders still 70/30 in SU pools).
Similar to the Panthers/Young vs. Falcons/Ridder game, this is a battle of young QBs, Jordan Love vs. Justin Fields. When the schedule came out, the Bears opened as 1-point home favorites, and it was quickly bet to -2.5. However, instead of going to 3, the line has now reversed and is back to the opening -1 and some believe this might flip to the Packers being favored. Either way, I see this as a virtual coin-flip, and I’m going to pass, especially as it’s dropped out of the “teaser zone” as you’d have to pay even higher juice to tease the Packers up over a TD.
Best Bet: Pass (pool play: Bears 55/45 or maybe even lower in SU and ATS contests).
This line opened -3.5 and has pretty much stayed right there all summer. The Broncos’ defense kept them in a lot of games last year despite the poor play of QB Russell Wilson in his first season in Denver. But there’s renewed high hope in the Mile High City with the arrival of coach Sean Payton. Still, I’m not buying them as chalk of more than a FG.
I will take the Raiders with new QB Jimmy Garoppolo certainly capable of keeping this close in the game-manager role that he does so well. We don’t often talk about kickers in our write-ups (even though I was one in high school), but Vegas’ Daniel Carlson could be the difference at high altitude (but we’re fine if the Broncos win by a field goal).
Best Bet: Raiders +3.5 (pool play: Raiders 67/33 in ATS contests with the Broncos just a lukewarm 60/40 in SU pools).
The Chargers opened as favorites of less than a field goal and were mostly bet to -2.5 -115 on the night of the schedule release. It was pretty clear this was heading to the key number of 3 and action has been pretty even, though the DraftKings Betting Splits page is showing 57% of the bets on the Dolphins +3 as of Wednesday morning (though only 52% of the money). I’m certainly tempted to take Miami plus a field goal, especially with a healthy Tua Tagovailoa (for now) as he should lead them in a shootout with Justin Herbert. However, I just can’t pull the trigger without the hook (I wouldn’t blame anyone for adding the Dolphins +9 to their teaser arsenal, though we’ll discuss the danger of teasing 3-point dogs in future columns).
Best Bet: Pass (pool play: Dolphins 55/45 in ATS contests but Chargers 60/40 in SU pools).
DraftKings opened the Eagles -3.5 back in May, and it was quickly bet to -4, where it remained most of the summer. We could see it bet higher now with 84% of the bets and 78% of the money on the Eagles -4 as of Wednesday morning. Bettors don’t seem bothered by the “Super Bowl loser hangover.” With Bill Belichick still in New England, I was tempted to add this as another Week 1 play, but I still think this number is too short.
Best Bet: Pass for now (pool play: Patriots 55/45 in ATS contest and higher if offered +4.5, but Eagles still 67/33 in SU pools).
The Seahawks opened as 5-point home favorites and were bet to -5.5 on schedule release night, but they have dropped back to -5. It’s amazing that the Rams are just a year and an off-season removed from winning the Super Bowl. Still, this was another tempting dog, as the Seahawks aren’t exactly a team I’d be counting on to win by a TD or more that is required by this kind of spread. Still, this line is in the “dead zone” of 5 points, and I don’t trust the Rams enough to fire a bet.
Best Bet: Pass (pool play: Seahawks a lukewarm 55/45 in ATS contests and 67/33 in SU pools).
This line opened Cowboys -2 and was quickly bet up to -2.5 on schedule release night. That momentum continued with the Cowboys getting bet through the key number to -3.5, though we’re seeing buy-back with 54% of the money on the Giants +3.5 at DraftKings. We call this -3/-3.5 as we see some books offering the Cowboys -3 -120 while others have the Giants at +3.5 -120. The Giants are tempting, but not enough to lay extra juice. They’re success last year was mostly done with mirrors with their offense and defense each ranking around No. 20 in the league most of last year, plus I still don’t trust Daniel Jones in a shootout vs. Dak Prescott.
Best Bet: Pass (pool play: Giants 55/45 in ATS contests, but Cowboys still 67/33 in SU pools).
This is a fitting matchup for the marquee Monday Night Football opener with the always entertaining Bills visiting the Jets in Aaron Rodgers’ New York/New Jersey home debut. The Jets should have the offense – as they also have second-year RB Breece Hall and Offensive Rookie of the Year WR Garrett Wilson – to go with a stellar defense. It’s still hard to fade the Bills at such a low number, but we’re thrilled to tease the Jets up over a touchdown.
For those betting on Sunday, we’ll have two-team, 6-point teasers going with the Browns +8.5, Steelers +8 and possibly Dolphins +9 going to the Jets +8.5. For those waiting until Monday (or in the unlikely event that none of those teasers are alive), the play would be Jets +8.5 to the Thursday Night Football game for Week 2 or other potential teaser plays when those lines come out.
Best Bet: Jets +8.5 to anchor several possible teasers from Sunday, or perhaps start two-team, 6-point teaser to Eagles -1 vs. Vikings on Thursday (pool play: Bills just 55/45 in SU and ATS contests).