Only the best of the best stand a chance when it comes to NFL Week 1 spreads.
That's not meant to discredit the efforts of any and all bettors, but the first week of any sport's season is ridiculously difficult to actually turn a profit on thanks to the wealth of factors that took place off the court, field, pitch or other playing surface.
For the NFL, this difficulty seems amplified. New faces in new places, both players and staff, create a ripple effect from the owner of the team right on down to the punter. Now multiply that by 32 and mesh it into particular matchups with injuries sprinkled on top.
That's just the short version of the predicament bettors face, too. Let's navigate these risky waters and nail down predictions against the spread for each matchup, with an emphasis on a few must-bet matchups after the jump.
NFL Week 1 Picks Against the Spread
|Green Bay at Seattle (Thurs., Sept. 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||Chip Kelly's offense is too much for a mediocre Jacksonville defense to handle.|
|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||See analysis below chart.|
|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||Lovie Smith will get the most out of an elite defense while a hobbled Cam Newton struggles.|
|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||See analysis below chart.|
|NY Giants at Detroit (Mon., Sept. 8)||Detroit (-3.5)||Detroit||Lions offense is too explosive for Giants to keep up.|
|San Diego at Arizona (Mon., Sept. 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. 2.
Surefire Spreads to Bet
Buffalo at Chicago
With all due respect to Doug Marrone's rebuilding effort in Buffalo, bettors can make some serious cash on this one.
It was a 40-7 end result in favor of the home team the last time these two sides met at Soldier Field, and while Marc Trestman's elite offense may not drop a 40-burger this time around, it would not be all that shocking if it somehow found a way to do so.
Bettors know all about the Bills defense thanks to names such as Mario Williams, but Jay Cutler can work around a great pass rush with quick outs to his receivers. The group features Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery and has only been strengthened with the recent signing of Santonio Holmes.
The same cannot be said for Buffalo. The Bills' best offensive weapon is rookie wideout Sammy Watkins, who has already been in a serious fight with injuries as a pro, as noted by NFL Network's Ian Rapoport:
Sounds like the #Bills dodged serious injury with WR Sammy Watkins — again. Reinjured his ribs yesterday, but should be good to go— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) August 29, 2014
Given the fact sophomore quarterback EJ Manuel was not even named a captain, the preseason showcased the staff still does not want to use star back C.J. Spiller to his strengths and a rookie, Seantrel Henderson, might get the nod at right tackle, the Buffalo offense is not primed to post a ton of points.
This is especially the case when bettors take the time to recall that the Bears, in an effort to repair what was the worst play from a linebacker unit in the NFL last season, brought on defensive ends Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston.
Allen ranked as the No. 35 overall 4-3 end last season at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), while Houston came in at No. 13. Trestman himself expects major things from the former, as captured by Zach Zaidman of CBS 2 Chicago:
Reporter to Marc Trestman: What kind of impact do you expect Jared Allen to have after limited preseason snaps? Trestman: "Major impact."— Zach Zaidman (@ZachZaidman) September 1, 2014
Any way it's sliced, it seems readily apparent that Chicago is set for a resounding win to start the season, and the current line does simply not do the available info justice.
A team that scored the second-most points per game last season against a bottom-20 defense that has only improved seems like enough writing on the wall to make this a comfortable investment.
Prediction: Bears 27, Bills 13
Indianapolis at Denver
The storylines in this one, of course, run deep. Just ask Indianapolis Colts wideout Reggie Wayne, as captured by the Indianapolis Star:
Fun, but bettors should not be blinded—this one is bound to get ugly.
Yes, Peyton Manning lost Eric Decker to free agency. Yes, Wes Welker is suspended for the first four games of the season, per ESPN's Adam Schefter. And yes, the Colts scored a 39-33 win over the Broncos in Week 7 of last season at Lucas Oil Stadium.
This time, though, things are in Denver and Manning is obviously the kind of quarterback who raises the play of those around him. As Ben Volin of The Boston Globe muses, the next-man-up philosophy is strong for the Broncos:
I feel like the real winner in this is #Broncos rookie WR Cody Latimer. Emmanuel Sanders was already going to feast as Decker's replacement— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) September 2, 2014
That offense should have no issues shredding the Colts defense, although the real change that makes last year's result a mere afterthought comes on the defensive side of the ball for the Broncos.
John Elway and the front office were serious about upgrading the unit this offseason, clearly. DeMarcus Ware is now on board to provide a consistent rush, while elite corner Aqib Talib is in town to lock down No. 1 wideouts and T.J. Ward at safety provides a boom against the run.
It is safe to presume the Broncos will score a minimum of 30 points, as they failed to do so in just three games last season. With Andrew Luck and his alarming lack of running backs tasked with overcoming a new-look defense in a hostile environment, it will be bettors who prosper via their struggles.
Prediction: Broncos 35, Colts 20
Note: Stats courtesy of NFL.com.