The Complete Bettor's Guide to NFL Week 1

Jeff GrantContributor ISeptember 7, 2012

The Complete Bettor's Guide to NFL Week 1

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    Sports fans across the country are ready to reach deep into their closets and find their favorite jersey, as the 2012 NFL regular season really kicks into high gear this weekend. Many of those individuals will also reach inside their wallets in hopes of gaining some type of financial reward at the betting window.

    There are plenty of factors to consider when looking over the current Week 1 pro football betting odds (courtesy of SBR Forum), but it's also important to note that these numbers have been available for months in the betting market.

    My main goal in putting together a complete bettor's guide is to provide readers with the best information in a simplistic format, which should translate into winning NFL picks throughout the campaign.

    Let's take a closer look at the 15 games that remain on the odds board from a betting perspective.

Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Minnesota Vikings

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    Setting the Table

    Both teams are led by starting quarterbacks that were taken in the first round of the 2011 NFL draft, which is a significant factor to consider in handicapping this game, especially with Maurice Jones-Drew (holdout) and Adrian Peterson (coming off injury) easing into the season.

    The Jacksonville Jaguars will begin the Mike Mularkey era, as he comes over from the Atlanta Falcons after serving as their offensive coordinator for four years.

    He shouldn't be surprised with what his defense sees from the Minnesota Vikings offense, with Bill Musgrave being by his side as quarterbacks coach in Atlanta from 2008-10.

    There's no doubt that the matchup between the Jaguars offensive line (allowed 44 sacks) and the Vikings defensive front (50 sacks) is the most important one on the field.  

     

    Situational Trends

    Sports bettors may be enticed to take the points in this contest due to the Jaguars being 11-2 against the spread (ATS) in Week 1, but all of that success came with other head coaches.

    The Vikings could be primed for a big effort due to opening at home for the first time since 2007, but they were 1-5 ATS as a home favorite last year—losing five of those contests in straight-up fashion.

     

    Betting Market

    Betting action has been relatively split on this game since the Vikings opened up as 4.5-point home favorites, with that number falling by just a point in most places. The upward movement in the total has likely been caused by the perception that both teams will throw the ball more.

     

    State of Mind

    I don't see myself getting too involved in this contest from a betting perspective, as both teams are eerily similar. The adage in sports betting is that NFL home-field advantage is worth at least three points, which isn't always the case, but seems to be represented here.

Indianapolis Colts vs. Chicago Bears

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    Setting the Table

    The Indianapolis Colts focused heavily on the passing game during the preseason, with rookie Andrew Luck getting plenty of reps under center after being taken with the first overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft. Starting out on the road is always a daunting task for a rebuilding franchise.

    Chicago has paired quarterback Jay Cutler with a familiar target in wide receiver Brandon Marshall, as they played together in the Mile High City. Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice's biggest challenge is keeping his star player upright, considering no other player has been sacked more since he arrived in the Windy City. 

     

    Situational Trends

    Sports bettors have burned through a lot of money backing Cutler at home during his career, posting an 8-19-1 ATS mark in that situation, but that may change if he can stay on the field with running back Matt Forte. In 2011, the Bears were 5-1 at home when both huddled up together, while they covered four of those contests.

    A new-look Colts squad is going to be difficult to handicap early on, but I'm not sure they've made up a gap of failing to cover the Las Vegas number by 18 points on average in their eight road losses last year.

     

    Betting Market

    The Bears have stayed within the nine to 10-point range in terms of being favored in this matchup, which is notable due to Luck's solid performance during the exhibition schedule. The total is currently three points higher than its opening number, which isn't very surprising.

     

    State of Mind

    I'd be a little concerned with the host looking ahead to next week's game in Green Bay, which doesn't fit well with the franchise's 4-4 ATS mark in season openers under head coach Lovie Smith. I'm still leaning in the direction of laying this number, as the Colts defense is much better indoors.

Buffalo Bills vs. New York Jets

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    Setting the Table

    The Buffalo Bills made some major moves on the defensive side of the ball during the offseason, but improving one of the league's worst pass rushes comes in handy when facing the New England Patriots two times a year—not the New York Jets.

    Rex Ryan has made it clear that he's looking to return to his ground-and-pound mentality on offense, which will be a priority for new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano, who also is known for his "Wildcat" package.

    From a season-opener perspective, the Jets have been very good in this situation since 2009, allowing just 13.7 points per game. Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has compiled a disappointing 71.1 quarterback rating in six career games in this series.

    Situational Trends

    The road team has had the upper hand in terms of grabbing the cash in this series, covering eight of the last nine meetings, which fits nicely with the underdog going 10-3 vs. the Las Vegas number.

     

    Betting Market

    Sports bettors will definitely notice a major shift in the NFL betting odds for this contest, as the Bills have moved to 2.5-point road underdogs in some spots, which is a far cry from getting 9.5 points in last year's 28-24 loss at MetLife Stadium.

    Due the the lack of offense the Jets displayed in four preseason games, the total has fallen by two points in just the last week to settle in at 38.5.

     

    State of Mind

    Virtually all value has been lost on backing the Bills in this divisional affair, which allows me to make a point in terms of Week 1 NFL betting. Don't get too involved in games if you're not getting the best of it. The Jets may be worth a look at this point due to their 7-3 straight-up record in season openers in this series.

Miami Dolphins vs. Houston Texans

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    Setting the Table

    Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill is going to feel like he never left Texas A&M, as he returns to the Lone Star State for the second time since being selected in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft.

    In handicapping this contest, it's important to look past the double-digit spread and realize that Tannehill has an advantage over other rookie signal-callers that will hit the gridiron this weekend, as his collegiate head coach is serving as offensive coordinator in South Beach.

    The Houston Texans made their first-ever appearance in the playoffs last year, which has this franchise looking to build off that momentum. Quarterback Matt Schaub is back in the fold after suffering a season-ending foot injury in Week 10. 

     

    Situational Trends

    Sports bettors may be inclined to lay this number due to the Texans being 2-0 ATS as home favorites of 7.5 to 14 points the last two years, but the Dolphins counter that argument with their 12-4 ATS mark on the road in the same span.

    I must point out that the host has managed to cover just one game as double-digit chalk in its history, which should at least have you hesitate for a second at the betting window.

     

    Betting Market

    The Texans opened up as 6.5-point home favorites, but that number exited the building a long time ago, with most sports offering a number in the 12- to 13-point range. I'd never suggest joining this crowd under any circumstances.

     

    State of Mind 

    If you're interested in playing the biggest road underdog of Week 1, I suggest you get into the fray right now, as I don't see this number continuing to run in the direction its continually gone.

    I'll leave you with this.  

    I remember being so excited to play the Texans in their last two season openers against their biggest rival—I wonder how their locker room feels about reminiscing about that. 

New England Patriots vs. Tennessee Titans

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    Setting the Table

    The New England Patriots will look to move past their Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants last year, but it won't be easy against the Tennessee Titans, as Sunday will be the 137th consecutive sellout at LP Field.

    Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is coming off a 5,235-yard campaign, which makes this one of the more lopsided match ups under center from a statistical standpoint, as former Washington Huskies star Jake Locker gets a chance to start in his second year in the league.

    The Titans have won eight of their 13 regular-season home openers inside this venue, as they look to snap the Patriots' streak of eight consecutive wins to open a new campaign, which is the longest such run in the National Football League. 

     

    Situational Trends

    Sports bettors will find that the Patriots are 7-4-1 in its last 12 games as a road favorite the last two years, while the Titans are 2-1 ATS as a home underdog in the same span.

    Brady's 28-13 run against the Las Vegas number away from Foxborough must be respected, but teams that lost out on the opportunity of winning a ring in the league's biggest game are 1-13 ATS when opening on the road the following year.

     

    Betting Market

    Oddsmakers felt comfortable in opening the defending AFC champions as seven-point road favorites in this contest, especially since they scored a 38-24 season-opening road win over the Miami Dolphins in the same situation last year.

    Over the last seven days, the line has moved off that key number, which is significant due to the amount of public action this AFC matchup will receive over the next couple days.

     

    State of Mind

    The Titans never cracked the seven-point barrier in the market, which is definitely a signal that sharp action came in at that level. At this point, I suggest waiting until kickoff to see if that number makes a guest appearance on the odds board. 

St. Louis Rams vs. Detroit Lions

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    Setting the Table

    There's a tremendous amount of coach and player movement in football nowadays, which makes it extremely difficult to handicapping correction in the opening weeks. One known commodity that enters back into the fray is St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher, who comes back after a one-year hiatus after leaving the Tennessee Titans.

    The Detroit Lions are coming off their first playoff experience in more than a decade, with most of their team intact, including the explosive offensive combo of wide receiver Calvin Johnson and quarterback Matthew Stafford.

    If you simply look at the offensive numbers from 2011, the Lions are the obvious play, but that approach isn't going to work in this line of work.  

     

    Situational Trends

    Fisher will likely watch the movie Remember the Titans before taking the field on Sunday, as he finished his long-term reign in Nashville with a 15-9-1 ATS mark as a road underdog. He also kicks off the season against one of his former defensive coordinators on the other sideline.

    Before you load up on this angle—beware that his new franchise is 1-10 ATS as September underdogs of five or more points.

     

    Betting Market

    Sports bettors will find that the Lions are still above a key number (seven) on the odds board, which is definitely something to monitor over the next few days. Early action from total players landed squarely on the UNDER, as I feel many fans aren't going to play the other side until they see if the Rams offense has improved.

     

    State of Mind

    The NFL is now a quarterback-driven league, wiping out one of the better football handicapping angles, which is backing a team with the better running game.  

    I'll be watching closely to see if this type of approach works in this spot.

Washington Redskins vs. New Orleans Saints

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    Setting the Table

    The Washington Redskins enter a pivotal season, as they mortgaged their future in selecting Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III with the second overall selection in the 2012 NFL draft, which will hopefully pay off in a major way in Mike Shanahan's third year in the nation's capital.

    New Orleans will now start playing games that count without Sean Payton on the sidelines, as offensive line coach Aaron Kromer takes over. The Saints won their home games by an average of 23 points last year and will be banking on their fans to produce a wall of sound on Sunday. 

     

    Situational Trends

    I'm a big situational handicapper, which has me leaning heavily to NFL head coaches that have success against the number in season openers, something that's clearly an advantage for the visitor in this spot.

     

    Betting Market

    The Saints opened as 8.5-point favorites after oddsmakers felt comfortable in releasing the number after all the Bountygate suspensions were handed down, but the number has fallen by a full point in most spots. There's been very little movement in the total.

     

    State of Mind

    I'm playing the road underdogs in this spot, but I'm definitely leery that the oddsmaker may be up to something here. Some will view the line move as sharp action landing on the Redskins, but maybe the public is also under the assumption that the host will start slow due to its tumultuous offseason.

Philadelphia Eagles vs. Cleveland Browns

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    Setting the Table

    The Philadelphia Eagles seem poised to move past their disappointing campaign of a year ago, posting a perfect 4-0 preseason record, which included a 27-10 win as 4.5-point road underdogs against this Sunday's opponent on Aug. 24.

    Cleveland will be led by rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden, who connected on 24-of-49 passing attempts for 297 yards during the 2012 exhibition schedule. The Browns will try to close the gap between themselves and the three other teams in the AFC North division.

     

    Situational Trends

    Sports bettors will quickly find that the Browns have failed to win and cover the spread in their last seven season openers, which seems destined to continue here, as the Eagles won their final four games of a year ago by a staggering 125-43 margin.

    In researching this game a couple months ago, I discovered that Philadelphia have won and covered its three season openers under Andy Reid after missing out on the playoffs the previous year. 

     

    Betting Market

    The Eagles opened up as 6.5-point road favorites, but that number is getting close to reaching double-digit territory. It's important to note that the New England Patriots were the highest-priced favorite away from home a year ago in this spot, coming away with a 38-24 win over the Miami Dolphins.

     

    State of Mind

    You won't find me backing many road favorites of this kind during the 2012 NFL season, but the situation fits in my opinion.

Atlanta Falcons vs. Kansas City Chiefs

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    Setting the Table

    The Atlanta Falcons have landed in this role before and failed, suffering road losses to open up their last two seasons against the Chicago Bears and Pittsburgh Steelers. From a handicapper's point of view, it's hard to ignore that they dressed up as road favorites in each of those contests.

    Kansas City enters a new year with renewed optimism despite going 1-3 during the preseason, as many key players return to the fold after suffering season-ending injuries in 2011. The Chiefs should remain competitive in the AFC West division, but must get back to running the football, something that led them to the playoffs in 2010. 

     

    Situational Trends

    Few NFL venues are tougher to play in than Arrowhead Stadium, which is demonstrated in the Chiefs' 17-3-1 ATS record when dressing up as home underdogs in the first quarter of their schedule. The Falcons deserve some respect in this situation despite their recent misfortunes, going 7-4 ATS as road favorites the last two years. 

     

    Betting Market

    I don't anticipate that the betting odds will change very much in this matchup, as the visitors will continue to be favored by three or fewer points. The total has moved up two points from its opening number, which could supply an opportunity.

    The UNDER is 6-2 in Atlanta's last eight season openers, while Kansas City has failed to climb above the total in five of their last seven games in that spot.

     

    State of Mind

    Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez returns to Kansas City for the first time, as he spent many years inside this stadium delighting the home crowd. It's an angle that shouldn't be ignored, as the visitor may finally learn from its losing ways in road openers.

San Francisco 49ers vs. Green Bay Packers

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    Setting the Table

    The San Francisco 49ers ended up winning seven more games in 2011 that they did in the previous year, as former Stanford Cardinal head coach Jim Harbaugh gave the franchise a new identity. The 49ers are led by a defense that ranked second in the NFL last year in allowing just 14.3 points per game.

    Green Bay posted the league's best mark during the regular season, but faltered in the playoffs, losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants. The Packers have managed to outscore their opponents by at least 145 points in each of the last three campaigns.

     

    Situational Trends

    Sports bettors need to be aware that the Packers have won their last eight home games against the 49ers, which includes postseason play. That angle certainly fits nicely with this current nucleus capturing its last 13 regular-season contests inside Lambeau Field.

    The 49ers have grabbed the cash in both their opportunities as road underdogs of 3.5 to 7 points the last two years, but they're facing a head coach on the other sideline that's compiled a 5-1 ATS mark in home openers.

     

    Betting Market

    I believe the oddsmakers were simply testing out the waters when establishing the Packers as seven-point home favorites, as they knew underdog money was coming their way. It's caused the line to settle in two points below that number, which is a fair price in my opinion.

     

    State of Mind

    The Packers have been absolutely incredible under the direction of Mike McCarthy in September, which gives him an advantage over a second-year coach on the other side. Both teams led the league in turnover margin last year, but I'm backing the Pack on Sunday.

Seattle Seahawks vs. Arizona Cardinals

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    Setting the Table

    The Seattle Seahawks desperately need to have running back Marshawn Lynch on the field Sunday, as he'd been dealing with back spasms over the last few weeks. Rookie Russell Wilson beat out major offseason signing Matt Flynn to earn the team's starting quarterback spot in camp.

    Arizona isn't expected to do much this year due to its situation under center, with John Skelton winning the job over Kevin Kolb, but neither player managed to win over the fan base during the preseason. The running game is expected to feature a pair of running backs coming off injuries.  

     

    Situational Trends

    Sports bettors will find that the Seahawks failed in their only opportunity as road favorites of three or fewer points the last two years, which may trap a lot of people that are following the team's perfect 4-0 preseason mark.

    Sunday's host has covered five of the last six meetings in the desert, while going 4-1 ATS in its last five season openers. 

     

    Betting Market

    Even though the Cardinals opened up as just a one-point favorite, I still find it significant that they've moved to as high as a three-point home underdog. There's been very little movement in the total up to this point, but I expect it to take a downward turn towards kickoff.

     

    State of Mind

    At this point in time, I'm looking to be a casual observer of this game, something that could change in the next few days. There's just too many unknowns for me to get involved with confidence.

Carolina Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Setting the Table

    The Carolina Panthers are expected to have one of the more explosive offenses in the league, coming off a season of gaining 6,237 total yards and hitting paydirt 48 times. Sophomore quarterback Cam Newton will be one of the more watched players in football, especially in the Las Vegas area.

    Tampa Bay must get back to a defensive-minded brand of football, which is why former Rutgers Scarlet Knights head coach Greg Schiano was brought to the Sunshine State. The Buccaneers were outscored by a 494-287 margin in finishing 4-12 last year.

     

    Situational Trends

    Sports bettors will be interested in backing the Panthers due to their 2-0 ATS mark as a road favorite the last two years, but they dressed up as seven-point road underdogs in their season opener against the Arizona Cardinals in 2011.

    The Buccaneers have failed to deliver as home underdogs of three or fewer points in their last four opportunities, while getting outscored by a 106-43 margin in their last three games at Raymond James Stadium.  

     

    Betting Market

    The Panthers opened up as three-point road favorites, which wasn't very surprising due to this matchup taking place in the opening week. Tampa Bay has attracted enough action to drop the number by two points in some spots, while the total has held steady at 46.5.

     

    State of Mind

    I'm never eager to play a road favorite in a season opener, but this one covered both meetings by a sizable margin last year. Somebody get Newton on the phone.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Denver Broncos

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    Setting the Table

    The Pittsburgh Steelers will meet up with the Denver Broncos on NBC's Sunday Night Football, as head coach Mike Tomlin will put his 19-7 record in prime time on the line. It's still a defensive-minded franchise, but I expect quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to air it out a big more under offensive coordinator Todd Haley.

    All eyes in the Mile High City will be focused on quarterback Peyton Manning, as he takes over the offense from Tim Tebow. The Broncos led the league in gaining 164.5 rushing yards per game in 2011, but this year's unit will air it out. 

     

    Situational Trends

    Sports bettors will find that the Steelers have won 10 of their last 11 season openers, but have suffered a setback in three of their last four games as a road underdog of three or fewer points.

    Manning will need to carry his new coach to a spread victory, as John Fox has compiled a dismal 1-8-1 ATS mark in his first game in front of the home faithful.

     

    Betting Market

    I'm not surprised that the Broncos have settled in as one-point favorites in most spots—but why did the oddsmakers open them up at the 3.5-point level? 

    Even with Manning in tow, the total of 44.5 may seem a bit inflated, especially with the UNDER going 4-1 in the team's last five home games within a range of 42.5 to 45.5 points.

     

    State of Mind

    I'm starting to doubt the Steelers as an underdog in this spot, especially after seeing last year's playoff box score of Tebow throwing for 304 yards against them. More on this game before kickoff. 

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Baltimore Ravens

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    Setting the Table

    The Cincinnati Bengals are 4-5 in season openers under head coach Marvin Lewis, including a 3-3 mark when doing so on the road. The franchise has compiled a deflating 9-19 all-time record when featured on Monday Night Football, which may start Andy Dalton and A.J. Green's sophomore campaigns in the loss column.

    Baltimore has already dealt with an emotional offseason after losing to the New England Patriots in last year's AFC championship game, but now they'll be playing in memory of former owner Art Modell, who passed away on Thursday. 

     

    Situational Trends

    Sports bettors were already going to be interested in backing the Ravens in this spot before the passing of Modell, as they've gone 4-0 ATS in season openers under head coach John Harbaugh.

    Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton posted a 1-4-1 ATS record in his first year against AFC North opponents, but he'll have a hard time improving upon that mark against an opponent that has won its last eight division games.

     

    Betting Market

    It wasn't very surprising that the Ravens opened up as seven-point favorites, as they picked up a 31-24 victory at the same level in last year's meeting in Baltimore. The Bengals have received some solid support due to many expecting them to build off last year's run into the AFC playoffs.

     

    State of Mind

    It will be an emotional scene inside M&T Bank Stadium in this prime-time event, which could lead to a blowout. The Ravens have won 27 of their 32 home games during the Harbaugh era, outscoring opponents by a dominating 817-426 margin.

    The line may move back to its original number before kickoff. 

San Diego Chargers vs. Oakland Raiders

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    Setting the Table

    The San Diego Chargers will go as far as quarterback Philip Rivers can take them, as they aren't going to reach the playoffs because of head coach Norv Turner. It's imperative that Rivers takes better care of the football this year, as the threw a career-high 20 picks in 2011.

    Oakland was on its way to winning the AFC West division, but it ended up losing four of its last five games, including a 36-26 setback to the Chargers as 2.5-point home favorites to close out the season. 

     

    Situational Trends

    Sports bettors may want to monitor the betting odds closely in this affair, as the Silver and Black have been one of the better underdogs in the league against divisional opponents.

    The Chargers have covered both of their opportunities as road underdogs of three or fewer points in the last two campaigns.

     

    Betting Market

    The betting public perceives these teams as equals at this point in time, which has caused the Raiders to fluctuate between a pick 'em and one-point favorite.

     

    State of Mind

    Getting points in this rivalry has been profitable, with the underdog covering the last six meetings. This angle gains even more strength in my opinion if Monday night's visitor continues to assume this role at kickoff.

     

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