The NFL season is finally upon us and each week I will be sharing my early thoughts on the point spread for each game.
I’ll use lines from the Las Vegas SuperContest, a popular football contest hosted by the Westgate SuperBook. The point spreads for the contest come out Wednesday afternoon or evening, and are locked at those numbers the rest of the week. Each participant picks fives sides a week. I will share the sides I would choose if I had an entry in this contest.
These picks will be separated into five categories. Some game theory could factor into my selections because of the large-field contest I’m in. For example, I might avoid a game to be contrarian if I think a large amount of the field will be on a certain side. I hope this can be a guide for people who are in similar NFL picking contests or looking to bet games on the weekend.
Note: My picks could change based on information and any injury news that is not factored into the contest line. I will tweet from @natejacobson1 when I have a change in opinion on a game. I will also discuss and finalize these picks on a Periscope show I host called Weekend Warriors. The show starts a hour before college football games kickoff on Saturday at 11 a.m. ET and can be seen on the Stadium Periscope channel or the Stadium Twitter account.
Here are my picks for Week 1:
Sides I’ll use unless there’s an injury
Bengals (+9.5) over Seahawks: I’m selling the Seahawks this year from a season win total perspective and want to fade them at a big point spread in Week 1. The pass rush improved with the addition of Jadeveon Clowney, but that won’t make up for the overall concern I have about that aspect of their defense. This spread was sitting at +8 when A.J. Green went down in training camp so there is some line value on the Bengals – injured receivers usually don’t matter much to the point spread. I like the Bengals plus the points and beware of picking the Seahawks in survivor pools this week with some other strong options out there.
Sides I’ll likely use
Jaguars (+3.5) over Chiefs: There’s value in the home underdog at over a field goal. The Jaguars are two years removed from playing in the AFC Championship game and now have a big upgrade at quarterback in Nick Foles. I like that Jacksonville hired John DeFilippo to be their offensive coordinator after he was chased out of Minnesota for passing too much. Foles and DeFilippo reunite after leading the Eagles to a Super Bowl, so improvement on offense should be expected immediately. They get a favorable matchup against the Chiefs, who transition from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense this season. The Jaguars still have the talent on defense that can contain Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City’s offense.
Panthers (+2.5) over Rams: I was hoping this contest line would be +3 because the Panthers getting a field goal is something I already bet this summer. The difference between 2.5 and 3 in the NFL is huge, but I’ll still take the Panthers because I have them winning this game outright. I really like Carolina’s defense against Jared Goff and the Rams on the road. Goff had much better stats at home last season, and the last we saw of Goff was his forgettable performance in the Super Bowl. There is some concern about Panthers QB Cam Newton and the foot injury he suffered in a preseason game, but all signs point to him being ready. Cam has young weapons around him that are ready to improve.
Picks I’m considering
Falcons (+4) over Vikings: The Falcons are a team I’m buying this season. Over 8.5 wins is worth a bet, so naturally I’m going to lean towards them when they are underdogs early in the season. This likely would be outside my top five if I was in the SuperContest, but might include it as my sixth or seventh choice in the contest I’m in. My worry about taking the Falcons is the Vikings being undervalued after missing the playoffs last season. Minnesota still has a talented roster and one of best home-field edges in the league.
Buccaneers (PK) over 49ers: The Buccaneers were a team I was considering taking over 6.5 wins, but I want to see them play first under new head coach Bruce Arians. It seems like Arians will be a great fit for quarterback Jameis Winston and a Tampa Bay offense with top-end receiving options. The 49ers are also an intriguing team, as quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo returns from a torn ACL and Kyle Shanahan enters his third season as head coach. I’m likely going to take the Buccaneers either in the contest and/or a bet because if they can’t win this game at home, then going over 6.5 is unlikely.
Steelers (+5.5) over Patriots: The Steelers are another buy team for me, and I think early in the season is the best time to back them. They should be a very focused group now that Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown are gone, and Ben Roethlisberger and the offense have something to prove. Picking against the Patriots in Foxboro is terrifying, but now would be the time to do it. We’ve seen New England not play their best football in the early parts of the last two seasons: They started 2017 and ’18 with 2-2 records. Bill Belichick knows September doesn’t matter, and it’s more important he has his team ready towards the end of the season so they can host more January playoff games. I would’ve liked +6 for the contest, but +5.5 is enough to consider Pittsburgh.
Broncos (PK) over Raiders: The Raiders are still a sell team to me despite winning some preseason games and getting positive buzz for being featured on Hard Knocks. The Broncos have great talent on defense and their new head coach, Vic Fangio, was regarded as a top defensive coordinator in the league. The Broncos defense is the best unit from either team and should have an edge in a matchup against Derek Carr and the Raiders. My worry about picking the Broncos on the road is uncertainty about Joe Flacco leading the offense. However, the Raiders defense lacks talent so this could be an opportunity for Denver’s offense to have success.
Games I’ll likely avoid
Bills at Jets (-3): I want to take the Jets here because I think Sam Darnold will show improvement under new head coach Adam Gase, and I’m not buying Josh Allen like others. However, I want to wait-and-see with the Jets before trusting them.
Lions (-3) at Cardinals: I don’t have any confidence that the Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray experiment will work, especially in the early stages. Kingsbury couldn’t win as a coach in the Big 12 and Murray is an undersized quarterback who was able to succeed in a college conference that played poor defense. The Lions are the only way I can look in this contest, but don’t want to lay a field goal with Detroit on the road.
Colts at Chargers (-6.5): The line for this game was Chargers -3 pretty much the whole summer. When Andrew Luck announced his retirement, the line went up to -7 at many places before settling at -6.5 across the board. This could be a good value spot if you believe in Jacoby Brissett, but I have too much respect for the talent on the Chargers to bet against them here.
Giants at Cowboys (-7): I actually would’ve liked the Cowboys more in this game if Ezekiel Elliott wasn’t playing. I could’ve seen Dallas rallying to show they are still a playoff-caliber team without him. Now it looks like Elliott is back, but I will not pick the Giants until Daniel Jones replaces Eli Manning. If you are into teasers, I would look to tease the Cowboys down to under a field goal and pair them with a team I’m going to discuss in the next game.
Texans at Saints (-7): The line for this game hasn’t moved at all after Houston shipped out Clowney and acquired left tackle Laremy Tunsil in two separate trades last Saturday. Regardless, I still think Houston will struggle this season because the rest of their offensive line is weak and they face a very strong schedule. I’m not going to use the Saints in a contest, but having them as the second leg of a teaser with the Cowboys is a very strong play.
Games I’ll definitely avoid unless there’s a major injury
Packers at Bears (-3): I will preface this game by saying I’m likely going to avoid picking a side in a Thursday night game throughout the season. I don’t want to force a pick in a contest when there are so many games on Sunday. The line looks about right to me so I won’t touch it. The Bears get about three points for home-field advantage and I would agree these teams are evenly matched.
Redskins at Eagles (-10): I rarely take a double-digit favorite in the NFL, but I can’t bet on the Redskins, who could end up with the worst record in the NFL.
Ravens (-6.5) at Dolphins: The line has moved in favor of the Ravens, as it’s clear the Dolphins aren’t trying to win football games this year with how their roster is constructed. But I don’t want to pick almost a touchdown favorite in a game with a low total at 39.
Titans at Browns (-5): This falls into the game theory category where I think the Browns will be a popular pick by others. I’m not fully sold on the Browns and would take the Titans against the number if I had to. I could take the Titans to try to gain leverage on the field, but this early in the season I’m going to leave it alone.