NFL Betting: Week 1 Best Picks and Advice

During the NFL season, Stadium sports betting analyst Nate Jacobson will break down every single point spread using lines as of Thursday morning. Here are his thoughts on the Week 1 slate.

Note: Nate will discuss all of his college football and NFL bets on the Sharp Lessons podcast that drops every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Subscribe on Spotify and Apple for episodes and follow Stadium Bets on Twitter for more sports betting content.

Sides I Like

Ravens (-4) over Raiders: I haven’t bet on this game yet because of a recent surge of injuries to Baltimore. I’m holding out hope that this line gets to Ravens -3.5, although I’d be fine taking it at the current price if needed. This bet is more of a fade of the Raiders and head coach Jon Gruden.

The franchise has made many questionable moves in the draft and free agency, but nothing was more puzzling than trading three starters from last season’s offensive line, which was the strength of the team. I also don’t expect their underwhelming defense to be better this season, so good luck stopping Lamar Jackson and the Ravens’ running backs on Monday night.

Sides I’m Considering

Cardinals (+3) over Titans: The Cardinals ended last season on a bad note by missing the playoffs when they just had to win one of their final two games to snatch the last Wild Card spot. A big reason for their late-season struggles was that Kyler Murray was injured, but now he’s fresh and ready to go in a very favorable matchup against the Titans’ defense.

Yes, the Titans’ offense looks loaded this season with WR Julio Jones joining A.J. Brown and RB Derrick Henry. However, I can see them starting slow under new OC Todd Downing, who replaces current Falcons head coach Arthur Smith. The line in this game has fluctuated between Titans -2.5 and -3, so make sure to get the best number with whatever side you prefer. At a full field goal, the Cardinals will likely make my card in Week 1.

Vikings (-3) over Bengals: Early in the summer, I thought the Vikings would be a great “buy low” candidate for this NFL season. I liked their offensive weapons and how they invested in their offensive line, and I expected Mike Zimmer to improve his defense after really struggling last season. But instead, they had a rough preseason that was plagued by injuries and Zimmer calling out QB Kirk Cousins for not being vaccinated.

These factors changed my season-long outlook for the Vikings, but I will look to back them early in the season as long as Cousins tests negative for COVID-19 and suits up for Minnesota. This is a perfect spot to back the Vikings against one of the teams I’m most down on from a season-long perspective in the Bengals. I’m not a believer in Zac Taylor, who is 6-25-1 in two seasons as a head coach. Remember that Cincinnati failed to bring in adequate offensive line help for franchise quarterback Joe Burrow, who suffered a severe knee injury last season.

Browns (+6) over Chiefs: This game is a rematch of last year’s Divisional Round showdown in which the Chiefs overcame an in-game injury to Patrick Mahomes and staved off the Browns 22-17 at Arrowhead Stadium (the Chiefs closed as an eight-point favorite).

As good as the Chiefs are, the betting market caught up to them last season, as they failed to cover the point spread in their last eight regular season games, plus the playoff battle against the Browns. I don’t believe there should be this big of a gap in the number for this game. I trust that Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski will have a strong offensive game plan, with Cleveland going score-for-score with Kansas City on Sunday.

Broncos (-3) over Giants: The line has creeped up from Broncos -1.5 after Teddy Bridgewater was named the starter over Drew Lock two weeks ago. Bridgewater might have a limited ceiling, but he’s a safer, proven quarterback — and ultimately the better choice if head coach Vic Fangio doesn’t want to be fired in four months.

I don’t like the state of the Giants’ offense right now with quarterback Daniel Jones. Even new free agent wide receiver Kenny Golladay said the offense will start the season slow, which is a concern against a Denver defense that gets back pass rusher Von Miller and also added top cornerback talent in the offseason. Broncos -2.5 was widely available as early as this week, so if the line returns, I will play it.

Sides I Plan to Use in a Six-Point Teaser

Buccaneers (-8.5) over Cowboys: This is the first game of the NFL season, and I’ll tease the Buccaneers down to under a field goal because they’ll likely win the game. Tampa Bay returns all 22 starters from a Super Bowl-winning team and continuity is important in the NFL. There are some question marks regarding Dak Prescott’s health, and that’s why we’ve seen this line climb after opening as low as Buccaneers -6 this summer. I don’t trust the Cowboys’ defense to get enough stops in this game to win.

49ers (-7.5) over Lions: I prefer to tease home favorites down to under a field goal, but will make an exception here for the 49ers. The Lions are by far the worst team in the NFC and there isn’t a bigger head coaching mismatch in Week 1 than Kyle Shanahan against Dan Campbell. I like that Jimmy Garoppolo appears to be starting this game over rookie Trey Lance because Garoppolo is a proven veteran, which is something I’m looking for when asking a team just to win the game.

Rams (-7.5) over Bears: Pairing the 49ers with the Rams in a teaser will likely be my strongest play in Week 1. Chicago will be starting Andy Dalton behind one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL. Rams DT Aaron Donald should have a field day. There are also some concerns about Chicago’s defense struggling, especially in the secondary, and they will be in a tough spot against Matthew Stafford in a Sean McVay-schemed offense.

Games I’m Undecided On

Steelers at Bills (-6.5): These two teams played last December on the same field, and the Bills closed as a two-point favorite and won the game 26-15. It was a tough spot for the Steelers who were playing their third game in 12 days due to a reshuffling in their schedule because of COVID-19.

Being healthy for this game is the argument for the Steelers at a potentially inflated number, but I could only look to bet the Bills. Buffalo has a lot of continuity on their offense, and it was important that they were able to retain OC Brian Daboll. The Steelers’ offensive line situation is a concern and could be exposed by playing in a raucous environment in Orchard Park. I might end up using the Bills in a teaser where they just need to win the game, but I respect the Steelers enough as an underdog not to bet the point spread here.

Jets at Panthers (-4): The line for this game was Panthers -5.5 earlier in the week and now is back to -4, which was the spread for most of this summer. I’m curious to see how the new Carolina quarterback Sam Darnold performs against the team that drafted him No. 3 overall in 2018. On the other side, it’s the debut for head coach Robert Saleh and rookie quarterback Zach Wilson. I don’t have a hard opinion on this game, especially after the money that the Jets took on Wednesday.

Jaguars (-3) at Texans: The Texans’ regular season win total is 4, which is extraordinarily low in a 17-game season. The fact that they are a home underdog against a team that won one game last season shows how bad things are in Houston. The Jaguars are clearly the better team, but I am wary backing them in Urban Meyer’s NFL debut.

Chargers at Washington (-1): I thought I would be backing Los Angeles here because of Justin Herbert and the potentially huge upgrade in head coach from Anthony Lynn to Brandon Staley. However, I want to see the Chargers play before betting on them. If they ever became an underdog between +1.5 and +2.5, I would include them in teasers because I think it’s likely that either team wins by less than one possession given the low total of 44.5.

Eagles at Falcons (-3): The Falcons will be better this season after a four-win campaign last year. They only had a point differential of -18, so more success should be in store for new head coach Arthur Smith. The line in this game was Falcons -3.5 all offseason and has ticked down to -3 due to the poor preseason from Atlanta. I’m not sure if that’s a justified reason for the line move, but I don’t have a strong enough opinion to bet the Falcons yet.

Seahawks (-2.5) at Colts: This line has been all over the place in the last few months. The Colts were nearly a field goal favorite when this opened, and then the Seahawks flipped to the favorite because of the injury to new Indianapolis QB Carson Wentz in late July. Even though Wentz should start Week 1, I’m not sure how he’ll bounce back after an abysmal 2020 season that had him run out of Philadelphia. The Seahawks seem like the right side here, but I don’t want to bet them as favorites when they were underdogs for much of the summer.

Dolphins at Patriots (-3): I was considering a bet on the Patriots here until Mac Jones was named the starting quarterback. Jones could have a great season, but I don’t feel comfortable betting on a rookie quarterback in Week 1 as a field goal favorite. Dolphins head coach Brian Flores served as an assistant coach for Bill Belichick, so the familiarity between the two defensive-minded head coaches should make for a grind-it-out battle. I can see this being a low-scoring game and the total of 43.5 indicates that.

Packers (-3.5) at Saints: The Saints are the home team in this game, but it will be played in Jacksonville due to damage in New Orleans from Hurricane Ida. Before the location changed, the Packers were a field goal favorite. It seems like the Packers should be a bigger favorite now that the game is on a neutral field. However, the Saints could have some matchup advantages thanks to running back Alvin Kamara. The Packers’ offensive line will also look different from last season without left tackle David Bakhtiari (on PUP list with torn ACL) and center Corey Linsley (left to Chargers in free agency).