How to Bet Week 1’s Best NFL Games, Including Bucs-Saints and Packers-Vikings
Chris Altruda of NJ Online Gambling and Borgata sportsbook director Tom Gable offer their informed opinions
Last night, the Houston Texans visited the defending Super Bowl champs in Kansas City and lost 34-20 to open the 2020 NFL season. It was a little weird, but pro football really is back, pandemic be damned. As 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, Chris Altruda, a national betting industry analyst for NJ Online Gambling, and Thomas Gable, the director of race and sportsbook at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, shared their opinions on five games on the NFL’s opening weekend, including Tom Brady’s debut for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers against the Saints in New Orleans on Sunday afternoon.
You’ve got places to go, people to see and possibly some wagers to make, so let’s get to it.
Miami (0-0) (+240, +6.5, O/U 43) at New England (0-0)
A compelling matchup because … the Dolphins are coached by former Patriots staffer Brian Flores and they beat New England in the final regular-season game of last season to cost the Pats a bye week in the playoffs. We likely won’t see first-round pick Tua Tagovailoa for Miami, but it will be the first look at how Cam Newton looks for New England in the post-Brady era.
Altruda’s Angle: This game is all about the Patriots — how will the offense function under Newton? Can he get wide receiver N’Keal Harry involved early to take some of the pressure off Julian Edelman? How will New England’s defense fare without leaders Dont’a Hightower and Patrick Chung? The Patriots catch a break of sorts — the Dolphins will be pesky with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center and Flores’s familiarity with Bill Belichick’s ways as a former assistant, but there is not enough talent there. A low-side hook with the Patriots giving less than a touchdown at home smells like free money. PICK: Patriots -6.5 and OVER 43 points.
Gable’s Guess: With Cam being declared the starting quarterback for New England, he has a lot to prove and going into New England and teaming with Belichick, it’s certainly going to be an interesting thing. Belichick finally has a quarterback who has some mobility, so it’ll be interesting to see what he does with that. I don’t think Miami really has any idea what to expect out of Newton. If he’s healthy, I’m sure he’s going to be running the ball and I’m sure Miami’s hoping their corners can lock down the wide receivers on the Patriots. I think Miami’s offensive line is still lacking. There really isn’t much action on Miami at all. Almost all the money here is on the Patriots.
Our Pick: Hope Cam is healthy and isn’t rusty. Lay the points with the Pats.
Seattle (0-0) (-2, -136, O/U 49) at Atlanta (0-0)
A compelling matchup because … the Seahawks are a perennial candidate to make the Super Bowl out of the NFC and have one of the best QBs in the league in Russell Wilson. Coming off a horrible season, the Falcons need to win games for coach Dan Quinn or he is going to be fired. Playing at home against a team that had to travel across the country is a game the Falcons need to win if they are going to contend this season.
Altruda’s Angle: After paying a king’s ransom to pry Jamal Adams from the New York Jets, the Seahawks’ revamped secondary gets an immediate challenge from the Atlanta Falcons vaunted aerial offense. Seattle is a Super Bowl-or-bust team: the offensive line has been substantially upgraded to protect Wilson and giving up a pair of first-round picks in the haul to get Adams serves notice the mandate in the Pacific Northwest is to win now. The Falcons still have Matt Ryan and a pair of standout wide receivers in Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, but is this the team that started 1-7 or the one that closed 2019 on a four-game winning streak? PICK: Seahawks -1.5 and OVER 24 points in the first half.
Gable’s Guess: The pressure’s all on Quinn to do something this year, but I think Atlanta is going to struggle to even make it to the playoffs. Seattle’s run defense is decent, but if Todd Gurley shows himself to be effective early, I think it’s going to make a world of difference for the Atlanta offense and open up then their passing game with Jones and Ridley. Seattle’s secondary can be questionable, I think. This game is all going to come down to Wilson. He makes all the difference. Atlanta’s defensive front isn’t great. If Seattle and Pete Carroll could just let Russell be Russell for the entire game, rather than waiting in a close game until the fourth quarter and then turning over the reins to him, I think Seattle could win this going away. The Seahawks are taking the majority of the action here as well. Not too many people seem to like the Falcons.
Our Pick: The Seahawks were 7-1 on the road in 2019. Lay the two points.
Green Bay (0-0) (+130, +2.5, O/U 45.5) at Minnesota (0-0)
A compelling matchup because … it’s a divisional matchup between two teams that made the playoffs last year, with the Vikings winning one game and the Packers winning two. Both teams have a decent shot at taking home the NFC North crown this season (Green Bay has the edge) but will have to hold off the Chicago Bears, and each other, to do it. Seeing how Aaron Rodgers plays with Jordan Love looking over his shoulder should also be fun.
Altruda’s Angle: Forget about the noise surrounding the Packers taking Love in the first round as a potential successor to Rodgers. Green Bay won 13 games and the NFC North last season, and the nucleus is in place to repeat as division champs. The Packers will go as far as Rodgers can take them, and not finding a No. 2 receiver to help Davante Adams could prove problematic. But facing a Vikings team undergoing a transition defensively with as many as eight new starters and an offense also lacking a No. 2 wideout after Stefon Diggs shuffled off to Buffalo gives Green Bay the slight edge to at least cover if not win outright. PICK: Packers +2.5 and UNDER 45.5 points.
Gable’s Guess: I think Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins is going to have his work cut out for him in this game. The Vikings may struggle to move the ball. They didn’t really improve their offensive line in the offseason and the Packers biggest strength, in my opinion, is their pass rush. Rodgers may have something to prove with Love being drafted, whether he’s looking to stay in Green Bay or for the future for somewhere else. The Vikings have a good defense so they’ll certainly challenge him. The Vikings have won three out of their last four at home against Green Bay. These are two teams that are obviously very familiar with one another and they’re pretty evenly matched up overall.
Our Pick: Minnesota’s losses may be Green Bay’s gain. Packers and points.
Tampa Bay (0-0) (+155, +3.5, O/U 49) at New Orleans (0-0)
A compelling matchup because … this is the first look at Tom Brady playing for Tampa Bay, essentially a must-see TV event for NFL fans. Also, in a smaller storyline, it’s our first chance to see Drew Brees suit for the Saints after a messy offseason that saw him offend plenty of his teammates with comments about kneeling for the national anthem. These two teams both want the NFC South, and whichever one wins on Sunday has the early edge in getting it.
Altruda’s Angle: “Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady” still doesn’t roll off the tongue even after a whole offseason of knowing the six-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback and 43-year-old Brady has changed teams. There’s also the reunion with tight end Rob Gronkowski, and the pair will team with 1,000-yard wideouts Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Tampa Bay’s defense should improve by not being on the field as much — Brady will not finish anywhere near Jameis Winston’s 30 interceptions from a year ago. The Saints, though, boast plenty of firepower through fellow 40-something quarterback Drew Brees, the NFL’s all-time leader in passing yards and touchdown tosses. He also has the league’s best receiver in Michael Thomas, coming off a record-setting 149-catch season and dual-threat Alvin Kamara. Also worth noting these teams have combined for 50 or more points in five of their last seven meetings. PICK: Saints -3.5 and OVER 49 points.
Gable’s Guess: Two older quarterbacks with two good pass rushes here, but I give the edge to the Saints in this one. The Tampa secondary, I think, is going to have a very difficult time defending Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Having Sanders there as a No. 2 and giving Brees a second option is going to be huge. That’s why I really think Tampa’s secondary could be carved up here in this game. I think we’re going to see a re-energized Brady here, but I certainly lean to New Orleans. I don’t know if Tampa has had enough time to really be able to match what New Orleans is going to be able to do offensively. Maybe give them a few weeks to get that familiarity down. I could definitely see a lot of points being scored in this game though. The betting public is really in love with Tampa at this point, but I like New Orleans in this spot.
Our Pick: Look for the offenses to outplay the defenses. Bang the over.
Dallas (0-0) (-160, -3, O/U 52) at L.A. Rams (0-0)
A compelling matchup because … both teams had lofty expectations heading into last season that they were not able to meet and this will be the first chance they have to make sure it doesn’t happen again. People may forget, but former Packers coach Mike McCarthy is in charge in Dallas now and he’s in charge of getting a potent Dallas offense firing on all cylinders. On the other sideline, Rams coach Sean McVay faces a similar challenge despite losing some key pieces during the offseason.
Altruda’s Angle: It’s winning time for quarterback Dak Prescott, who will have to earn his lucrative contract extension after being placed under the franchise tag by owner Jerry Jones. Prescott had the right individual numbers last season with career highs of 4,902 yards and 30 TDs, but Dallas finished 8-8 and out of the playoffs in 2019 — a third season in four with no playoffs may mean Prescott is not the franchise quarterback after all. The Rams regressed to the mean last year after 24 wins and a Super Bowl appearance the last two seasons, and the salary cap made casualties of key players Todd Gurley, Brandin Cooks and Dante Fowler ahead of entering Sofi Stadium. Jared Goff still can throw to Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp, but McVay’s season may hinge on Los Angeles’ running back by committee. Pick: Cowboys -2.5 and UNDER 52 points.
Gable’s Guess: McVay has three different running backs he’s going to be looking at to see who will be carrying the load with Malcolm Brown, Darrell Henderson and Cam Akers. Van Jefferson at wide receiver, a rookie, very good reports out of training camp on him. The Rams’ struggle is going to be in the secondary. Even if Jalen Ramsey can shut down Amari Cooper, you still have Michael Gallup and CeeDee Lamb. The Cowboys just have too many weapons. They ran all over Los Angeles last year and I certainly expect to see the same here with Elliott getting a lot of touches. I always like to fade first-year coaches like McCarthy right out of the gate so I think it’s going to be a close game, but the betting public, they’re all over in the Cowboys.
Our Pick: Maybe McVay can be a whiz kid again. Rams in LA with points.
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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