How to Bet Week 1’s Best NFL Games, According to Pro Handicappers

Paul Bovi of and VSiN senior editor Matt Youmans offer their informed opinions

September 5, 2019 7:57 am
Pro Handicappers Reveal Best NFL Bets for Week 1
The Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears will kick off Week 1 of the NFL season. (Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty)
Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

This is Best Bets, a new series in which professional sports handicappers lend us their insights and picks for the most intriguing matchups for each week of the NFL season. For the inaugural edition of Best Bets, Paul Bovi, a sports betting expert from who’s been handicapping games for three decades, and Vegas Stats & Information Network (VSiN) senior editor Matt Youmans, the host of VSiN’s The Edge, shared their opinions on five games on the NFL’s Week 1 slate, including tonight’s matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears on Thursday Night Football.

You’ve got places to go, people to see and possibly some wagers to make, so let’s get to it.

Green Bay Packers (+3, +140) at Chicago Bears

The first game of the NFL season is also an interesting one, as it will be Green Bay’s first with new head coach Matt LaFleur and Chicago’s first since 2015 without ex-defensive coordinator Vic Fangio (now the head coach of the Broncos). Aaron Rodgers also didn’t play in the preseason and will be taking on a Chicago defense that was one of league’s best last year.

Bovi’s take: “Everybody’s going to have their eyes on Aaron Rodgers and how he meshes with this coach who is more geared towards a play-action offense. Last year, he ran the ball as offensive coordinator of the Titans 48% of the time, versus 32% for Green Bay. As far as the Bears go, they lost their defensive coordinator, so a lot of people are looking for regression in their performance this year. Then you have [Bears QB] Mitch Trubisky. There’s a lot of people looking for regression in his performance. Green Bay has a little bit of an edge here because, even though Rodgers hasn’t played preseason, I believe they will have the Bears on their heels with their retooled offense.”

Youmans’ take: “I never like to bet against Aaron Rodgers, especially in a matchup with Trubisky. I have a hard time laying points with the Bears. I really believe the Bears, who went from 5-11 to 12-4 last season, are going to bounce back to something around 8-8 or 9-7 this year. Their defense is not going to be as dominant as it was a year ago. As far as this first game, I’m a little uneasy with the Packers with Aaron Rodgers not playing in the preseason and this being a new system with Matt LaFleur. But, I have a real hard time betting against Rodgers when Trubisky’s on the other side because he is not a pocket passer and makes plays when he gets outside the pocket. Defenses will do everything they can to keep him in the pocket and make him beat them with his passing accuracy, which I’m not sure he can do. [Chicago coach] Matt Nagy was great at home last year in the regular season — 7-1 against the spread. So, if you’re going to bet the Bears, that’s one thing you can lean on.”

Our Pick: Take the Packers with the points

Tennessee Titans (+6, +210) at Cleveland Browns

This offseason, no team has been more hyped than the Browns thanks to the offseason addition of Odell Beckham. Now, we’ll get our first chance to see Beckham catching passes from second-year starter Baker Mayfield. The Titans, who allowed the sixth-fewest passing yards per game last season, will do their best to prevent that from happening.

Bovi’s take: “Everybody will be watching Baker Mayfield. He had a pretty lousy preseason. The Titans made a push to improve their offense. The brought over a couple of guys on the offensive line and they also brought over [receiver] Adam Humphries from Tampa Bay. I think their offense will be reasonably productive this year. If I had to look at something in that game, I’d probably be looking at the over in the game [45 points]. The Browns do have a decent defense. I think it’s kind of fair value on both sides, but I don’t really have a strong opinion on the game one way or the other. But I think it’s obvious a lot of people will be looking at Mayfield just because he’s got quite a mouth on him and now it’s time to back it up.”

Youmans’ take: “I’m a huge Baker Mayfield fan. I think he’s going to be a very successful NFL quarterback. But, I think we might be a year ahead of schedule for the Browns in terms of hype. A lot of times when we see a young team that’s been in the underdog role and now flips to the favored role, the young team doesn’t handle the role reversal very well. I’m not buying into the hype and I’m more into fading the Browns as far as futures. The Browns did close last season on a 5-2 run against the spread and were playing really well at the end of the season. I don’t like the Titans much in this spot, necessarily, because they’ve lost and failed to cover the past three openers. I just don’t like this Titans team that much in general to be honest, so it’s going to be a stalemate game for me as far as weighing the points.”

Our Pick: Take the Browns straight-up at -250

NY Giants (+7, +260) at Dallas Cowboys

Ezekiel Elliott is expected to suit up after signing a $90-million contract extension earlier this week, but how much he’ll play is somewhat of a question mark. Many feel it won’t matter as the Giants, who will be playing without top wideout Golden Tate, still have an aging Eli Manning under center and he’ll be facing a Dallas defense that was surprisingly stout last season.

Bovi’s take: “Whether Elliot plays or not, I think the Cowboys are going to have a significant edge here. The Giants are coming off a very successful preseason, but I don’t put any stock in the preseason whatsoever. Games tend to play out a little differently during the regular season, when teams are pinning their ears back going after the quarterback. I think the Cowboys are going to shut the Giants down. I really don’t have a lot of faith in Eli Manning at all. I watched him last year. He doesn’t elude the rush. The Cowboys are going to put pressure on him and I don’t see the Giants scoring more than 14 points. The Cowboys should cover the game. I think probably you’ll see a turnover or two. And even though the Giants have an all-world running back [Saquon Barkley], I don’t think it’s going to take them to victory here.”

Youmans’ take: “‘I’m not sure Zeke is going to be the Zeke we’ve seen lead the league in rushing two of his three years. He’s been training in Cabo, but I’ve been to Cabo and there are plenty of distractions there and I question how hard he’s been training. I like the Giants’ side here. [Seven points] are so much. You’ve had so much negativity about the New York Giants and so many people talking smack about Eli Manning and saying he’s finished. I think you’re going to see a pretty good Eli to start the season and that’s a contrarian opinion. I’m fine with it early in the season because I really think Eli’s going to play with an edge. Watching the preseason I saw a little more zip on his passes, which is what you’re going to expect with an older guy like that. In their final eight games, the Giants were 4-4 with a pair of one-point losses, so actually played pretty well down the stretch and a lot of people tend to forget that. I love Barkley. I think he’s the best running back in the NFL already. I think the Giants come in hungry and that getting that number, that’s a big number. Division underdogs are on a 17-4 ATS [against the spread] run in Week 1.”

Our Pick: Take the Giants with the points

Kansas City Chiefs at Jacksonville Jaguars (+3.5, +155)

Last season, the Chiefs had one of the best offenses in the history of the NFL and could be even better this season as Patrick Mahomes has had another offseason of seasoning. Their defense, on the other hand, was putrid and hasn’t done much to improve. Jacksonville has the opposite issue as their defense is good but their offense is consistently one of the league’s worst. New quarterback Nick Foles has the chance to start changing that this week.

Bovi’s take: “Jacksonville is not a prolific offense and I think you’ll see them dink and dunk with Nick Foles. They’re not going to throw the ball down the field a lot. Foles is not a downfield passer. They do have decent cornerbacks and I think they’ll be able to bottle Kansas City up enough to keep the Chiefs to 24 points or less. I think this game ends up in the mid-40s. I think the Chiefs defense will a little bit better, but I’m going to take a wait-and-see attitude here. I have to believe that Andy Reid knows what he’s doing because I respect him as a coach and they’ll be better. I don’t think they could be much worse.”

Youmans’ take: “We didn’t really see it in the preseason, but I think when Nick Foles settles in it will be a better offense. This is a tricky game because I know plenty of sharp betters who are going to like the Jacksonville side here. Doug Marrone was 3-0 as a home dog last year, but if you look at their past 18 games, the Jags are 6-11-1 against the spread. Andy Reid’s been really good on the road: 7-2 against the spread in his last nine. And I love this Kansas City offense. It’s just scary how many weapons the Chiefs have all over the field. And Patrick Mahomes can make so many plays. He’s a gunslinger. Jacksonville, I think, still has a long way to go on the offensive side. I’m probably gonna treat this as a stay-away game. I want to see a little bit more from the Jags. I’m not a bettor who likes to lay points on the road and I definitely don’t like to lay more than three points. So it would probably be a stay way game for me. Just watch, evaluate and take some information moving forward. But the Chiefs are my Super Bowl pick. They were a penalty flag away from being there last year.”

Our Pick: Take the Chiefs and lay the points

Pittsburgh Steelers (+5.5, +210) at New England Patriots

The Steelers, who nearly beat the Patriots on opening night a few years ago, were the last NFL team to beat New England last season prior to their Super Bowl run. Now playing without Antonio Brown, the Steelers are still one of the favorites to win the AFC North. However, it’ll be a tall order to get that campaign off on the right foot on banner-raising night in Foxboro against the presumptive AFC East champion Patriots.

Bovi’s take: “Probably the most interesting game of the week. I think the Steelers are going to surprise a lot of people this year and it’s a case of addition by subtraction. We all know the Antonio Brown saga and Le’Veon Bell situation, but they made the adjustment last year, brought in James Conner, a very effective running back. I think the Steelers are actually going to play with the Patriots. It doesn’t intrigue me enough to bet the game because I’m getting less than a touchdown. But I do believe the Steelers have enough here with Ben Roethlisberger, who’s clearly still one of the best in the game, and some decent receivers in JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington. Roethlisberger, by the way, has never won in Foxborough. He is highly motivated here and I think he’ll play a very competitive game.”

Youmans’ take: “I never want to bet against Belichick and Brady, especially in a matchup against [Steelers coach] Mike Tomlin, Belichick has a significant edge. Before the Steelers won that game last year, Tomlin had lost and failed to cover the previous five against the Patriots. Belichick at home in the past 16 games is 13-3 against the spread. Aside from last year’s game, it’s all Belichick. So I have to go with the Patriots. I think the Steelers could be better because they don’t have to worry about forcing the ball to Antonio Brown so much to keep him happy, shut him up. They were fine last year actually without Le’Veon Bell. They got some pretty good running backs to take his place. I think the Steelers are going to win the AFC North.”

Our Pick: Take the Steelers with the points

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