With the arrival of Week 1 of the 2014 NFL season comes Vegas and a wealth of spreads as well, which presents bettors an opportunity to make some serious coin right away.
But an inordinate number of miserable bets come along for the ride, too.
See, Week 1 is a fickle thing. Vegas sets the lines, but they are the trickiest of all because they come with the most information to digest. There is no past performance to work with, but instead there are new arrivals from free agency and the draft, new coaches and performance projections that are just that—projections, otherwise known as an educated guess.
Below, let's take a look at the full slate and nail down predictions based on the entirety of the offseason journey for each team and a bevy of factors that will have an impact come game day.
NFL Week 1 Picks Against the Spread
|Green Bay at Seattle (Thurs., Sep. 4)||Seattle (-3.5)||Seattle||Seahawks don't lose at home, and Aaron Rodgers has to break in a new center.|
|New Orleans at Atlanta||New Orleans (-1)||New Orleans||Drew Brees has more weapons than ever, and that Rob Ryan defense will be nothing short of improved.|
|Minnesota at St. Louis||St. Louis (-3)||Minnesota||Mike Zimmer defense, no Sam Bradford and Adrian Peterson? Easy.|
|Cleveland at Pittsburgh||Pittsburgh (-5)||Pittsburgh||More no huddle for Ben Roethlisberger means plenty of scoring.|
|Jacksonville at Philadelphia||Philadelphia (-11.5)||Jacksonville||See analysis below chart.|
|Oakland at NY Jets||NY Jets (-4.5)||NY Jets||A Rex Ryan defense awaits Derek Carr's debut.|
|Cincinnati at Baltimore||Baltimore (-1)||Cincinnati||Andy Dalton seems to have improved, and Geno Atkins is healthy. No Ray Rice for Baltimore.|
|Buffalo at Chicago||Chicago (-4.5)||Chicago||The Bills are a mess, and Marc Trestman's offense won't skip a beat.|
|Washington at Houston||EVEN||Washington||Unless Ryan Fitzpatrick can out-gun RGIII, this one may get ugly.|
|Tennessee at Kansas City||Kansas City (-5.5)||Tennessee||Defensive-centric contest with Jake Locker able to keep the Titans close.|
|New England at Miami||New England (-1.5)||New England||Rob Gronkowski's return threw Miami's chances out the window.|
|Carolina at Tampa Bay||Carolina (-3)||Tampa Bay||See analysis below chart.|
|San Francisco at Dallas||San Francisco (-2.5)||San Francisco||Defense will keep Tony Romo and Co. in check.|
|Indianapolis at Denver||Denver (-6)||Denver||Indianapolis has done little to improve an already leaky defense from a season ago.|
|NY Giants at Detroit (Mon., Sep. 8)||Detroit (-3.5)||Detroit||Lions offense is too explosive for Giants to keep up.|
|San Diego at Arizona (Mon., Sep. 8)||Arizona (-3)||Arizona||Forced to pick, home team with a great defense seems the likely bet.|
ESPN, odds via Odds Shark.
Odds via Odds Shark as of 7 p.m. ET, Sept. 1.
Notable Lines to Watch
Jacksonville at Philadelphia
As the biggest line of the opening week, it is one that deserves some serious scrutiny.
It can be rather reassuring to take Philadelphia. After all, Chip Kelly's innovative offense blew away the league last year and the Jaguars are, well, the Jaguars.
But it has been quite some time since last season and both teams have made notable changes, or lack thereof. Eric Edholm of Yahoo Sports puts it best:
On the one hand, facing Philadelphia at home seems a daunting task, even if the team only went 4-4 there a season ago. On the other hand, the Eagles did not exactly make a wealth of changes this offseason to inspire bettors.
DeSean Jackson is gone, which places more pressure than ever on Jeremy Maclin, who has played in a 16-game season just once, missed all of last year and already has a few health scares this preseason.
Defensively, the team spent a first-round pick on Marcus Smith, who is merely a backup. Free-agent acquisition Malcolm Jenkins is supposed to shore up the safety spot but ranked as the No. 65 player at his position last season, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Meanwhile, Gus Bradley is the new man in charge and will stick with veteran Chad Henne under center despite the presence of Blake Bortles. It's not the move fans may want, but the veteran was sound in brief work last year, completing 61 percent of his passes in 15 appearances en route to 3,241 yards, 13 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
Henne has a new running back to hand the ball to in Toby Gerhart, who figures to produce well based on the brief glimpses he showed in Minnesota. He also has two talented rookie wideouts to work with in Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson.
Look, none of this is to suggest that the Jaguars will win outright, but 11.5 is simply too much. The Eagles are dealing with new personnel on offense, Nick Foles is no sure thing to keep chugging along and the defense is not exactly a lights-out unit—especially against Bradley's new-look Jaguars.
Against the spread, this one belongs to the Jaguars.
Prediction: Eagles 28, Jaguars 23
Carolina at Tampa Bay
As one can glean, the Florida teams might just be the biggest trap of all for bettors in Week 1.
Carolina was an absolute beast of a team last year and kind to bettors, but things are different this time around. Quarterback Cam Newton is hobbled, and his coach's statements about his availability for the contest should concern those with cash on the line, as captured by Steve Reed of The Associated Press:
Rivera: I am still confident Cam will start vs. Tampa Bay.— Steve Reed (@SteveReedAP) September 1, 2014
It's not so much about whether or not Newton plays. His cast of receivers is entirely new this season, and as exciting as rookie Kelvin Benjamin surely is, Newton has had little in the way of practice to get timing down with his new targets.
Even worse, he has to give it a go against a Tampa Bay defense now headed by defensive guru Lovie Smith. Among the weapons Newton has to stay away from are elite linebacker Lavonte David, who ranked as the No. 2 overall 4-3 outside linebacker in the NFL last season, per PFF. Joining him is elite nose tackle Gerald McCoy, who came in as the very best at his spot.
While the Carolina defense will rightfully inspire the confidence of bettors, understand that the Buccaneers get star running back Doug Martin back this year. Remember, he's the guy who ran for 1,454 yards and 11 scores in 2012—and 233 of those came against Carolina.
Smith also has a new quarterback in Josh McCown, who tossed 13 touchdowns to one interception a year ago in Chicago under the guidance of quarterback expert Marc Trestman. Doing so again with Martin paving the way on the ground and two downright massive wideouts in Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans is certainly not out of the question.
At home, the new-look Buccaneers have renewed life a year after playing the league's most difficult schedule and going 2-5 in one-score affairs. Things are different this year, and the trajectories clearly point to Tampa Bay getting the "surprise" win at home.
Prediction: Buccaneers 20, Panthers 17
Note: Stats courtesy of NFL.com.