Expert NFL Picks for Week 1, Including Steelers-Bills, Packers-Saints and Bears-Rams
Kevin Rogers of VegasInsider, Borgata sportsbook director Tom Gable and VSiN sports betting reporter Josh Appelbaum offer their insights
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 football season.
For this edition of Best Bets, Kevin Rogers, a veteran handicapper for VegasInsider.com Thomas Gable, the director of race and sportsbook at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, and sports betting reporter Josh Appelbaum of VSiN share their opinions on five Week 1 games, including the Seahawks flying into Indy to take on the Colts and reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers leading the Packers to Florida for a game with the displaced, new-look New Orleans Saints.
You’ve got places to go, people to see and possibly some wagers to make, so let’s get to it.
Pittsburgh Steelers (-6.5, O/U 48.5) at Buffalo Bills
A compelling matchup because … in a game that could potentially represent somewhat of a changing of the guard in the AFC, the annually favored Steelers head to Buffalo to take on a Bills team that many believe has a shot at making a Super Bowl run after making it all the way to AFC Championship game last season. One of the hottest teams in the NFL to start last season, the Steelers stumbled badly down the stretch yet still opted to bring back Ben Roethlisberger for one more crack at the can.
Rogers’ Recommendation: The Bills have high expectations going into this season after coming within one victory of making the Super Bowl. The Steelers covered in four of five opportunities as an underdog last season, with the lone non-cover coming at Buffalo as 2-point ‘dogs. Now, Pittsburgh is nearly a touchdown underdog looking to avenge a pair of losses to Buffalo in the last two seasons. Prediction: Bills 27, Steelers 24.
Gable’s Guess: A lot of people are high on Buffalo coming into this year, so we’ll see if there is any regression there. The Steelers have four new starters on the offensive line — two of whom are rookies — and they’ve moved Roethlisberger under center. I have a lot of questions about him after last season. His age and the miles on his body were looking like they caught up to him. He’s slimmed down and he did look pretty good in the preseason. For Buffalo, we saw Josh Allen have an MVP-type season last year and he has the weapons around him to do that again. They aren’t going to try to run the ball much, just like last year. The Bills are returning 20 of their 22 starters on offense and defense along with both coordinators. They also brought in Emmanuel Sanders, another fantastic target. The Bills were pretty average last season defensively. This game has shuffled back and forth between Buffalo laying 6.5 and 7. If it gets to 7, I’m liable to take Pittsburgh. At 6.5, I’m leaning Buffalo in this one.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: Oddsmakers opened this line with Buffalo listed as a 6-point home favorite. The public is all over Bills Mafia, who went an impressive 13-3 last season and won the AFC East. Meanwhile, the Steelers finished 12-4 but crumbled down the stretch, going just 1-5 in their last six games, including an early playoff exit. Heavy public betting pushed Buffalo from -6 to -7. Once this line rose a full point, wiseguys pounced on Pittsburgh +7, dropping the line back down to 6.5. Pittsburgh is contrarian in a heavily bet game and also matches several profitable betting systems. NFL Week 1 big dogs (+6.5 or more) are 27-17 against the spread (ATS) at 61% over the past decade. Also, Mike Tomlin has been a great bet as a dog, going 38-19 ATS (66.7%) when getting points. I’ll buy low on the Steelers plus the points.
Our Pick: Both of these offenses will air it out before it gets cold in Buffalo. Side with the over.
Seattle Seahawks (-3, O/U 50) at Indianapolis Colts
A compelling matchup because … the Seahawks started last season putting up historic offensive numbers and many pundits thought quarterback Russell Wilson had a shot at winning his first MVP award. But Wilson’s play tailed off down the stretch and the team failed to advance beyond the Divisional Round of the playoffs for the fifth straight season. The Colts were also a playoff team last year with Philip Rivers under center and now have Carson Wentz at quarterback after trading for him over the offseason in order to reunite him with Indy head coach Frank Reich. Fringe Super Bowl contenders, both teams will be considered disappointments if they don’t make the playoffs.
Rogers’ Recommendation: The Seahawks were flipped to a road favorite here after opening as an underdog. The Colts were not a home underdog last season, while Seattle owned a dreadful 1-5 mark against the spread as a road favorite. Although many people think Wentz may be past his prime, this is a good opportunity to take the points with Indianapolis at home. Prediction: Colts 20, Seahawks 16.
Gable’s Guess: We know Seattle’s offense very well: Russell Wilson, DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett. We know that they can score and Pete Carroll has indicated he wants to run the ball more this year so you’d expect a healthy dose of Chris Carson and Rashad Penny this season. But I still have questions about Seattle’s defense. Coming into this year for the Colts, it’s all been about Wentz reuniting with Reich. I think it’s going to take some time to see which Wentz shows up here. The Wentz we saw last year on the Eagles turned the ball over a lot and had no confidence. Wentz from a couple of years ago was an MVP candidate before he got hurt. With the questions around the passing game for Indianapolis, I’d expect Jonathan Taylor to get plenty of work. Both defenses, I think, still have concerns. With Seattle last year, you could take and hit the straight over almost every week because the offense was putting up a ton of points. The line moves have been kind of crazy with this game, but now Seattle is laying 2.5 points. The total has dropped 3 points from where we opened to 49.5. I like the over because I think there are questions around both teams defensively.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: This non-conference matchup has seen some incredible line movement. Initially, the Colts opened as a 3-point home favorite. But following the rough Colts offseason due to multiple COVID-19 positives and Wentz’s foot injury, we saw the line completely flip to Seattle -3. Pros targeted Seattle largely as a dog and short favorite (-2.5 or less). At this point, all the value is gone on the Seahawks and the Colts are in a buy-low, contrarian, inflated home-dog spot. I’m not very confident in Wentz and I hate to bet against Wilson, but I’ll take Indianapolis at the key number of +3 at home. Hopefully, their stout defense, good coaching and elevated home-field advantage with fans back in the stands keep it within a field goal.
Our Pick: The Seahawks came out flying last year. Expect the same in 2021. Lay the points.
Green Bay Packers (-4, O/U 50) at New Orleans Saints
A compelling matchup because … forced to play in Jacksonville due to the Saints being displaced from New Orleans due to Hurricane Ida, the Packers head into this game with Super Bowl aspirations after coming up a game short of that peak last season. Opposing longtime Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers will be Jameis Winston, who barely played last season as one of the backups to Drew Brees, but was able to win the starting job this year in training camp. In what is likely a rebuilding year for New Orleans, the Saints may still be dangerous.
Rogers’ Recommendation: With this matchup getting moved, home-field advantage gets thrown out the window. Green Bay is in a better position at quarterback with Rodgers as opposed to Winston starting for New Orleans. The Saints have lost six of their last seven opening games away from New Orleans, and after getting displaced due to Hurricane Ida, this is too tough of a spot to back them. Prediction: Packers 31, Saints 20.
Gable’s Guess: I think there is a lot of pressure on the Packers coming into this season. That appearance in the NFC title game led to a lot of drama in the offseason around Rodgers, but now he is securely on the team. They have a lot of playmakers and they’re deep at wide receiver, running back and tight end. I think the only thing that can hold Green Bay back offensively is their line, which is dealing with injuries and had some departures, They’ll have some rookies starting on the line and other guys not playing in their natural positions. New Orleans has a pretty good defense and they’ll put pressure on the Green Bay O-line right from the start. For the Saints on offense, Winston gets to start, but the number of targets he has to throw to this year has severely diminished. They still have Alvin Kamara, who’s as dangerous as anyone on the field, and Green Bay’s defense could get exploited in areas like cornerback and inside linebacker. This game is on a neutral field because of the flooding and damage in New Orleans, so I like the Packers to cover the 4.5 here.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: Early in the summer when it was unclear whether or not Rodgers would return to Green Bay, we saw oddsmakers open this line with New Orleans -3 at home. Once it was confirmed Rodgers would return, this line completely flipped to Packers -3. Another variable at play here is the location of the game, TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville. By losing home-field advantage, the line moved even further away from the Saints (+3 to +4). The public is all over the Packers and want nothing to do with Winston. This creates a super buy-low spot on an inflated dog. I’ll bank on New Orleans coach Sean Payton and this impressive Saints defense to keep it within a field goal. Give me the Saints, ideally at +4.5 if the hook pops up prior to kickoff.
Our Pick: Packers were better last year and the Saints are worse this year. Green Bay should cover.
Miami Dolphins (+3, O/U 43.5) at New England Patriots
A compelling matchup because … after splitting with the Dolphins over the last four seasons, the Patriots will look to open up this season the same way they did last year: with a win over Miami in New England. This time around, it will be a matchup of two former Alabama Crimson Tide quarterbacks, with second-year starter Tua Tagovailoa leading the Dolphins and rookie Mac Jones making his first career NFL start for the Patriots. When the Pats had Tom Brady, the Dolphins played New England tough. That shouldn’t change with Jones in charge.
Rogers’ Recommendation: All eyes will be on Tagovailoa and Jones in this battle of AFC East rivals. New England beat Miami in the 2020 season opener at Gillette Stadium, but Ryan Fitzpatrick and Cam Newton were the starting quarterbacks in that contest. The Dolphins covered seven of their final nine games as an underdog last season and can definitely win this contest outright. Prediction: Dolphins 19, Patriots 16.
Gable’s Guess: New England grabbed a lot of headlines in the offseason. They cut Newton and they’re going with Jones as the starting quarterback. That’s getting a lot of attention, but I think we need to look a little deeper than that. They have one of the best offensive lines in football. They spent a lot of money in free agency and Mike linebacker Dont’a Hightower is back after opting out last year. I think Jones should be well-protected and well-supported here. It’s going to be up to him to not make mistakes. Easier said than done for a rookie quarterback, but I do believe the Patriots will be in playoff contention. For Miami, Tua looked good in the preseason but I think he’s going to have to take a major leap forward if the Dolphins want to seriously contend. Their left tackle, Austin Jackson, is on the COVID-19 list, so his status is unclear for this game. If he doesn’t play, that’s going to be a huge hole to fill for Miami against a very good defensive line for New England. Tua has weapons he can throw to and Miami’s defense will be one of their main strengths. But I think early on in the season Week 1, look at the offensive lines and defensive lines. The betting line has been going between the Patriots laying 2.5 and 3. Give me the solid lines of New England and I’m going to lay the points with the Patriots.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: Nick Saban will be sitting back and smiling as two of his former Alabama quarterbacks go head-to-head in an NFL opener. This line opened with the Patriots listed as a 2-point home favorite. It appears as though both Pros and Joes are leaning New England, as the Pats have moved from -2 up to the key number of -3. We saw some buyback on the Dolphins at +3. I have a lot of dog-system matches on Miami, most notably divisional dogs 68% ATS in Week 1 the past decade. But I’ll go New England if you can shop around and find the Pats at -2.5, that way you win a 3-point game instead of push. I have more faith in Jones, Belichick and the revamped Patriots roster at home than I do Tua and the Fins.
Our Pick: The Patriots won the opener last year with Newton. Jones isn’t a downgrade. Lay the points.
Chicago Bears (+7.5, O/U 46.5) at LA Rams
A compelling matchup because … currently starting Andy Dalton at quarterback despite drafting Justin Fields in the first round, the Bears and head coach Matt Nagy will likely have the veteran QB on a short leash. It’s a tough spot to be in for Dalton, as he’ll have to try to impress while going against LA’s top-ranked defense. On the other side of the QB equation, Matthew Stafford will make his first regular-season start for the Rams after spending his entire career with the Lions. Being in Detroit’s division, the Bears should be very familiar with Stafford, and it’ll be interesting to see how they fare against him now that he’s on the Rams.
Rogers’ Recommendation It’s hard to back this Chicago team with Dalton starting against one of the top defenses in the league. The Rams are set to showcase Stafford in his debut after getting traded from Detroit in the offseason in hopes of taking LA to the Super Bowl this season in their home stadium. LA won six of eight home games last season, which included a shocking defeat to the Jets as 17.5-point favorites, but this should be a good position to take the Rams against an overmatched Bears team. Prediction: Rams 23, Bears 13.
Gable’s Guess: I think there’s going to be a lot of pressure on Chicago and Nagy to get Fields on the field, especially if Dalton sputters out of the gate. The fanbase wants Fields to start. The Rams said they’re going to be preparing for both Dalton and Fields. We didn’t get to see Matthew Stafford at all in the preseason, but that’s typical with Sean McVay. He doesn’t take the preseason seriously at all. He doesn’t play anybody, but I certainly would expect McVay to have everything ready. Expectations are high for LA this season. They have the best defensive player in the game in Aaron Donald. They do have a tougher schedule and play in one of the most competitive divisions in all football in the NFC West. This game against Chicago should be one of the easier games on the schedule for them this year. Chicago just doesn’t have a lot of playmakers and their defense isn’t as good as it once was. Even though we haven’t seen Stafford at all on the field yet for the Rams, I think there’s a pretty big difference between these two teams. It’s a big number at 7.5, but it’s a home primetime game and the fans in LA are going to be ready for this. I’d expect the Rams to cover.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: This Sunday Night Football showdown is the most heavily bet game of the Week 1 slate. This line opened with the Rams listed as a 7-point home favorite. The public is hammering Los Angeles, which has driven the number up to -7.5. Am I confident in Dalton and the Bears? Not really. But this is a system play for me on Chicago. I love going contrarian in heavily bet primetime games. Also, Week 1 dogs of +6.5 or more are 27-17 ATS (61%) over the past decade. I’ll grab the hook and hope Chicago loses by 7. If you want to back the Rams, they are in a prime teaser spot. By taking Los Angeles down from -7.5 to -1.5 you pass through two key numbers (both 7 and 3).
Our Pick: The Rams upgraded this offseason. The Bears did not. It’s a lot, but lay the points with the Rams.
Last Season: 52-44–1
Editor’s note: Lines fluctuate throughout the week based on injuries, weather reports and other factors. Make sure to double-check odds before betting.
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