NFL
September 10, 2020
BY Bryan Zarpentine

NFL Best Bets: Week 1

We weren’t always sure we would get here, but Week 1 of the NFL season has arrived. Without any preseason games this year, the wait for football has been a little longer than usual. Nevertheless, the season is finally here and the people are ready to betting on football games again.

Week 1 is always a tricky week for bettors because there's a lack of information for each team other than what they did last year and the moves they made during the offseason. We don’t even have meaningless preseason action to help guide us.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the best betting options for Week 1 of the NFL season.

Seahawks -1.5 at Falcons

Conventional wisdom says to be wary of West Coast teams that are road favorites in the Eastern Time Zone. However, those betting rules don’t apply to Pete Carroll’s Seahawks.

In five Eastern Time Zone games last year, Seattle went undefeated and the 'Hawks were 2-0 in that same situation in 2018. 

Somehow, Carroll is able to get his teams ready to play early games on the East Coast, so there’s no reason to doubt the 'Hawks in Week 1.

More importantly, the Seahawks are undoubtedly the better team in this game. Russell Wilson was a serious MVP candidate for most of 2019 and has largely the same supporting cast around him, most notably Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf. Seattle's offensive line should be improved and give Wilson more time in the pocket.

Meanwhile, Atlanta’s strong finish in 2019 might not translate to a fast start in 2020. The Falcons still face questions about their rushing attack, even after bringing in Todd Gurley. The Seattle defense still has Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright at linebacker and the newly acquired Jamal Adams, giving the Seahawks enough of an edge for Wilson to carry them to a Week 1 victory.

Dolphins +6.5 at Patriots

This is not the same Miami team that started last season with seven straight losses. In fact, the 2020 Dolphins are probably better than the team that went 5-4 during the second half of 2019, including a 27-24 win in New England that cost the Patriots a first-round bye in the playoffs. Miami’s young players are a year older and wiser while the Dolphins added reinforcements in free agency and the draft. More importantly, the team bought what Brian Flores was selling last year, making them an intriguing team to watch early in 2020.

As for the Patriots, they no longer have Tom Brady to help make up for the shortcomings on the rest of their roster. Granted, Cam Newton is a better short-term option than Jarrett Stidham. But Newton has plenty of questions to answer after sitting out most of 2019 due to injury and dealing with shoulder trouble in recent years. To assume the Patriots are at least a touchdown better than the Dolphins would be a mistake. After all, Ryan Fitzpatrick went off for 320 passing yards against a good New England defense in Week 17 last season. The Dolphins might even have a running game to help him this year.

Don't expect the Patriots to cover the spread as the Dolphins could even steal a road game in Week 1. 

Panthers +3 vs Raiders

A lot of people are down on Carolina this season, which is why they are three-point home underdogs in Week 1. Unfortunately, the fighting Jon Grudens don’t have Seattle’s track record going to the East Coast. 

The last time the Raiders played an early game in the Eastern Time Zone, they lost to the Jets 34-3 in Week 12 last year.

Surely, that game is enough to reinforce the old adage of avoiding West Coast road favorites during early games in the Eastern Time Zone.

More importantly, there’s not enough to like about the Raiders to trust them as favorites. The team isn’t sold on Derek Carr at quarterback, and now they will give the passer a pair of rookies starting at wide receiver along with the gritty Hunter Renfrow.

The Las Vegas defense isn’t exactly impressive, either, giving up over 26 points per game last year. Meanwhile, the Panthers deserve the benefit of the doubt with Matt Rhule taking over at head coach and Joe Brady joining as the offensive coordinator. Despite a lack of playing time in recent years, Teddy Bridgewater should be a big step up from Kyle Allen. The Panthers also have plenty of talent at receiver with Robby Anderson coming aboard and D.J. Moore flashing high upside last year.

Finally, don’t forget that Carolina has arguably the best non-quarterback in football in Christian McCaffrey. Unless you’re certain the Raiders have an answer for McCaffrey, consider the Panthers as a home underdog.

Buccaneers +3.5 at Saints

Let’s just take a minute to thank the NFL for giving us Tom Brady and Drew Brees in Week 1. Admittedly, the Bucs still have to prove that they are a genuine contender even with Brady coming to Tampa. However, from a betting perspective, this game is all about a long history of New Orleans struggling early in the season under Sean Payton. 

Between 2014 and 2017, the Saints were 0-8 in Weeks 1 and 2. Last year, they beat the Texans by two points in Week 1 and lost to the Rams in Week 2. It was a similar story in 2018 when they were shocked by the Bucs in Week 1 and failed to cover a 10-point spread against the Browns in Week 2.

In other words, history tells us to stay away from the Saints as favorites early in the season. 

On top of that, a 3.5-point spread feels like a sucker bet for anybody who thinks the Bucs will be instantly better with Brady. Keep in mind that the receivers and tight ends around Brady are far better than any group he had around him in New England. Even if Brees and Co. avoid a slow start, they are capable of keeping up.

In the end, the chances are good that this game is close and ultimately decided by three points or less.

Cardinals +7 at 49ers

No matter how much you might like the 49ers' roster, San Francisco is susceptible to an upset in Week 1. On top of trying to avoid the dreaded Super Bowl hangover, the Niners are dealing with a litany of injuries — including to both starting receivers and on the offensive line. The team also lost Emmanuel Sanders and DeForest Buckner in the offseason. 

We won't doubt the magician calling plays, Kyle Shanahan, but the Niners will have their hands full with a much-improved Cardinals team that almost defeated San Francisco twice in 2019. 

The Cardinals scored 25 and 26 points against the 49ers in their two meetings last year. Kyler Murray performed well in both games, as did running back Kenyan Drake. Also, the Arizona offense now has DeAndre Hopkins while the ageless Larry Fitzgerald is still hanging around. Murray should feel comfortable and confident against a slightly worse San Francisco defense, and it’ll be fascinating to watch how the presence of Hopkins changes the Arizona offense.

When the 49ers won by comfortable margins last year, it was usually because their defense dominated. Look for the Cardinals to put some points on the board in Week 1 and stay within a touchdown of San Francisco.

Photo: Getty Images