Best Bets: Expert NFL Picks for Week 1 Including Eagles-Lions, Patriots-Dolphins and Raiders-Chargers
A trio of handicappers offer their insights on five of this week's best games
This is NFL Best Bets, a recurring series in which professional sports handicappers lend us their insights and picks for the most intriguing matchups for each week of the professional football season.
For this edition of Best Bets, Thomas Gable, the director of race and sportsbook at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City sports betting reporter Josh Appelbaum of VSiN and Odds Assist CEO Dave Rathmanner share their opinions on five games that will kick off on the NFL’s opening weekend, including the Buccaneers traveling to Dallas to take on the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football.
You’ve got places to go, people to see and possibly some wagers to make, so let’s get to it.
Philadelphia Eagles (-4, O/U 48.5) at Detroit Lions
A compelling matchup because…fresh off an above-average performance on HBO’s Hard Knocks, the Lions will host an Eagles team that many people believe has a chance to win the NFC East. For that to happen, Philly quarterback Jalen Hurts will have to take another step forward in his development and wide receiver A.J. Brown, who was dealt to the Eagles by the Titans during the first round of the draft, will have to help him. If the Lions want to be a good team instead of a feel-good story, Week 1 would be a good place to start.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: This line opened with the Eagles listed as a 4-point road favorite. The public is rushing to the window to lay the points with Philadelphia. However, despite this lopsided betting we’ve seen the line remain at 4. If any books rise to 4.5, they get hit with Lions +4.5 buyback and drop back down to 4. Essentially, we are looking at a sharp line freeze with Detroit at home. Dan Campbell went 11-6 ATS last season. Week 1 dogs are 58% ATS since 2016. Give me the Lions +4.
Gable’s Guess: I think the Eagles have the best offensive line in football and they probably have a top-five defense. I think their general manager, Howie Roseman, has done a really great job building their team around the quarterback position. They have great skill-position players. If Jalen Hurts progresses in the way that they want, they will certainly be in contention come playoff time and could win some postseason games. That being said, Philadelphia Nick Sirianni has talked about passing the ball much more than they did last year. That’s how they tried to start last season and it didn’t work so they became the best rushing offense in the NFL. So, Sirianni is going to try again to see what Hurts can do and throw the ball. I have major concerns about Detroit’s defense in the passing game. I’m going to lay the points with the Eagles. I also think this line gets higher by game day.
Rathmanner’s Reckoning: The Eagles are a dark horse candidate to win the Super Bowl this year and are clearly the more talented team after adding A.J. Brown on offense along with James Bradberry, Haason Reddick, Jordan Davis and Nakobe Dean on defense. Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts should continue to improve upon his performance from last year given all the weapons he now has to work with. The Lions lost at home to the Eagles last year 44-6. While the Lions have improved some since last year and the game won’t be as lopsided, they have not improved enough to keep up with the Eagles. Look for the Eagles to win this one rather comfortably. Lay the points.
Our Pick: The Eagles were a playoff team and they got better. They should cover. Lay the points.
New England Patriots (+3.5, O/U 46.5) at Miami Dolphins
A compelling matchup because…first-year Miami coach Mike McDaniel will have the opportunity to get his first win as a coach in the NFL by knocking off coaching legend Bill Belichick. The odds, in the eyes of bookmakers at least, are in his favor as the Patriots come into this game having lost three in a row to the Dolphins. Still an unproven commodity in the NFL, Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has never lost a game to New England. With both teams likely on the playoff bubble, this game will have future implications.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: This line opened with the Dolphins listed as a 3-point home favorite. This line briefly touched 2.5 over the summer, but has since moved back to Miami -3.5. We’ve seen the Pats +3.5 get juiced to -115, signaling a possible fall back down to the key number of 3. Everyone is down on New England this year and the Pats are only getting roughly 35% of bets in this game. Divisional dogs are 22-8 ATS (73%) since 2016. The Pats have struggled in Miami historically, but this week they changed up their approach and got down to Florida early. Maybe it will help players get better acclimated to the heat and humidity this time. I’ll grab the hook and take Belichick and company +3.5.
Gable’s Guess: This game is really tricky. There’s a lot of consternation around what Bill Belichick is doing with the New England offense and who exactly will be calling the plays. Whether it’s Joe Judge or Matt Patricia, neither one really inspires confidence. The Patriots got to Miami five days in advance of the game to get acclimated to the heat and humidity which is certainly different than what they usually do. Belichick has to do something because they’re 2-7 in their last nine games played in Miami. The Dolphins brought in Tyreek Hill, but count me as someone who still doesn’t believe Tua has the arm strength to make deep throws accurately and really take advantage of him. Tua is undefeated in his career against the Patriots, but the wins weren’t pretty. I’m gonna take the under in this one.
Rathmanner’s Reckoning: The weather could definitely have an impact on the Patriots who are not used to playing in the Florida heat and humidity. The Dolphins won both meetings against the Patriots last season and have only improved since. They added difference-maker Tyreek Hill at wide receiver and improved at running back with the additions of Raheem Mostert and Chase Edmonds. The Patriots’ defense is a question mark and they will have a tough time defending all the offensive weapons Miami has. On the flip side, the Patriots have a lot of questions on the offensive side of the ball at wide receiver which gives second-year QB Mac Jones limited options to work with. This line opened under the key number of 3 and has been bet up. Given that, let’s make this a moneyline play and take the Dolphins at -175 to beat the Patriots.
Our Pick: Belichick has a stellar record against first-year coaches. Crossing fingers and taking the Pats and points.
Las Vegas Raiders (+3.5, O/U 52) at Los Angeles Chargers
A compelling matchup because…the Chargers lost their potential playoff spot and propelled the Raiders into the postseason with a defeat to Las Vegas to close out last season and will be looking to get revenge during their home opener in LA. Both teams made big additions this offseason with the most significant likely being superstar wideout Davante Adams coming to Vegas. The Raiders also have a new coach in Josh McDaniels and will be looking to establish themselves as a real factor in football’s best division, the AFC West.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: The Chargers opened as a 4-point home favorite and now the line is down to 3.5. Some books have even touched 3. Reading between the lines, all movement is going in favor of the Raiders. Conference dogs +6 or less are 59% ATS over the last four seasons. This feels like a field goal game between two evenly matched divisional opponents. Also, there won’t be much home-field advantage for the Chargers, as a plethora of Raiders fans will travel in from Vegas and flood Los Angeles. I’ll take Raiders +3.5.
Gable’s Guess: I have to question if this is really a road game for the Raiders. They have plenty of fans and they travel. Vegas has a lot of weapons on offense, but Derek Carr is going to need protection in order to throw to these guys. The offensive line for Vegas is the biggest question mark on the team. They’ll have a hard test right away having to hold off Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack in the pass rush. The Chargers may still struggle against the run which I would think Vegas could look to exploit there early. LA quarterback Justin Herbert is certainly a viable MVP candidate. He has plenty of weapons to work with himself in Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Joshua Palmer and Austin Ekeler. They can all hurt you. Vegas has a revamped secondary and they’ll be challenged right out of the gate. Both of these offensives can certainly be explosive and it should be very entertaining to watch this game. I’m wagering Vegas will be able to establish the run and Carr can hang with Herbert. I’m taking the points with Vegas.
Rathmanner’s Reckoning: Don’t expect the Chargers to have any type of home-field advantage in Los Angeles despite being the home team. Raider Nation will be out in force for the opener. Five of the last six meetings between these two teams have been one-score games, including three games that were decided by a field goal or less. This may also be a look ahead spot for the Chargers, even in Week 1, as they have a short week and travel to Kansas City to face the Chiefs on Thursday next week. Look for another close game between these two teams. The Raiders are on the right side of the hook with the line at 3.5 points. Take the Raiders with the points to cover against the Chargers.
Our Pick: Consensus is rare. Vegas has won three straight openers. Make it four and go Raiders with the points.
Green Bay Packers (-1.5, O/U 47.5) at Minnesota Vikings
A compelling matchup because…the Packers no longer have their aforementioned top target (Adams), but they still have reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers and a defense that was highly effective last season. The Vikings return a roster that is fairly similar to last season’s but Minnesota has a new coaching staff in place that will theoretically allow Kirk Cousins to throw the ball down the field with more frequency. In a weak division, the Vikings could make a run at first place and the playoffs. Beating the Packers would be a strong first step.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: The Packers opened as a 2.5-point road favorite. The public is ecstatic to get Aaron Rodgers under a field goal and they’re hammering Green Bay. However, we’ve actually seen this line fall from 2.5 to 1.5, signaling sharp reverse line movement on the home dog Vikings. Divisional dogs are 73% ATS since 2016. This line is so short and smells fishy. Why aren’t the Packers bigger favorites? If it looks too good to be true, it typically is. I’ll take the points with the Vikings.
Gable’s Guess: The Vikings are one of the more interesting teams to look at this year with [former coach] Mike Zimmer gone. You have a new staff and this is the third season of Kirk Cousins throwing to Justin Jefferson, the first player to ever reach 3,000 receiving yards in his first two seasons. They also have one of the best running backs in the league in Dalvin Cook. The defense is going to be revamped but the offensive line for Minnesota still could be an issue. They’ve struggled with their interior blocking. The home record for Minnesota since 2016 is 32-17. They’ve been very, very good at home. For Green Bay, their defense is gonna be the key here. Keep an eye on Rashan Gary, who should become one of the top pass rushers in all football. He looked great in camp and offensive lines won’t be always able to double-team him given the presence of Pro Bowler Kenny Clark on the defensive line. But, there’s gonna be a period of adjustment for Rodgers and their offense and I definitely think the Viking offense is really going to be opened up this year. I’m taking the points with the Vikings as the home dog.
Rathmanner’s Reckoning: Success has been hard to come by for the Packers in Minnesota as Green Bay has lost four of the last six times they have played in Minnesota. The Packers’ top returning receiver, Allen Lazard, has missed practice this week with an ankle injury and his status for Week 1 is still up in the air. Given the trouble Green Bay was already expecting to have at the wide receiver position, the loss of Lazard or even having him play at less than 100% health will only create more issues in the passing game for the Packers. The Vikings will have no problems throwing the ball with Kirk Cousins having Justin Jefferson ad Adam Thielen leading the way at receiver. They also have a strong lead running back in Dalvin Cook. With new head coach Kevin O’Connell taking over, look for the Vikings to come out strong and get him a win in his Vikings debut. Take Minnesota +1.5 and to win outright.
Our Pick: Something seemed wrong in Green Bay last season. Taking the Vikings at home with the points.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-2.5, O/U 50.5) at Dallas Cowboys
A compelling matchup because…these two teams opened the season last year in a Thursday Night Football barnburner that was won by the Bucs in Tampa Bay. This season’s matchup moves to Dallas on Sunday night instead of Thursday, but there should still be plenty of offense on display and what will likely be one of the most heavily-bet games of the weekend. Entering Week 1, both of these teams have designs on winning the top seed in the NFL and a first-round bye, so whichever one walks away victorious will start with an edge.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: The Bucs opened as a 2-point road favorite. The public is all over Tom Brady at the short chalk price, which has pushed Tampa Bay up from -2 to -2.5. I love the GOAT, but I’m concerned about the offensive line and Brady missed 11 days in training camp. I’m going to wait to see if this line rises to the key number of 3. If so, I’ll take the Cowboys +3. Dallas is a home dog with an inflated line and is also contrarian in a heavily bet primetime game. Primetime dogs are 59% ATS over the past two seasons. If Dallas doesn’t reach 3, I’ll put them in a teaser +2.5 to +8.5, which goes through multiple key numbers.
Gable’s Guess: This is one of the more intriguing matchups due to all the news and injuries in training camp for both these teams. We saw what I would call respected money come in on the Cowboys when Brady took his leave of absence. He’ll be dealing with a new center and guys will be in new positions on the offensive line. Brady has stood the test of time, but that’s gonna be a challenge for him this year. The Cowboys have also lost a lot on their offensive line. Without wide receivers Michael Gallup and James Washington, the pressure is going to be on CeeDee Lamb to have a career year here for the Cowboys. The enigma of Zeke Elliott is also still alive and well. In 2021, he saw a career low in rushing attempts and a regression in reception and yards per catch, but I’d expect him to have more rushing attempts. I think the Cowboys are also going to use a healthy dose of Tony Pollard. When you look at what they did last year on defense, the Cowboys led the NFL last year with 34 takeaways on defense. It’s a little surprising because their defense isn’t really dominant in any one area, but they were able to get off the field when it mattered. If they can continue to do that, it’s gonna serve them well. With the uncertainty of what is going on with Tampa’s offensive line and Brady in general, I’m going to take the points with the Cowboys.
Rathmanner’s Reckoning: This game is a rematch of the 2021 season-opening game that saw the Bucs beat the Cowboys in Tampa 31-29. Don’t expect as many points on Sunday night. While Brady is an excellent quarterback, it takes time and practice to establish chemistry with wide receivers and Brady and the Bucs will likely get off to a slow start in Week 1 due to the time he missed in training camp. Giving Brady time to throw and creating holes for the running backs will also be a major issue for Tampa given the offensive line issues they have. Tristan Wirfs is dealing with an oblique issue, center Ryan Jensen is likely out for the season and guard Aaron Stinnie will be out. Backup center Ryan Hainsey is coming off of an ankle injury but may play. Dallas also has some concerns on the offensive side of the ball. They will be without receiver Michael Gallup who continues to recover from an ACL injury and Amari Cooper left in the offseason for the Cleveland Browns. Coach Mike McCarthy has indicated he plans to use running backs Ezekiel Elliot and Tony Pollard in significant roles this year, which should lead to more rushing attempts for the Cowboys. Look for this game to stay under the total of as both offenses will have a hard time figuring things out in Week 1.
Our Pick: Primetime means points and these were the NFL’s best offenses last season. Pound the over.
Last Season: 48-52-2; This Season: 0-0-0
Editor’s note: Betting lines fluctuate throughout the week based on injuries, the weather and other factors. Make sure to double-check odds before betting.
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