If ever there was a time to avoid betting on NFL games, it would be in Week 1. We all have assumptions about where all 32 teams will end up, but right now we don't know anything other than excitement over having the game back in our lives.
Oddsmakers spend countless hours pouring over all the information gleaned from training camps and preseason to lure you into their web, only for you to realize at the end of the final Monday night game that you got hustled.
Due to the lack of knowledge you have in real-game situations, we have put together a look at the top underdogs, advice and predictions for Week 1 to get you through all 16 games without having to pull your hair out.
Note: Odds and betting trends via OddsShark.com
|New Orleans Saints (-2.5) at Atlanta Falcons||Saints, 31-24|
|Minnesota Vikings at St. Louis Rams (-3.5)||Rams, 17-13|
|Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers (-7)||Steelers, 24-14|
|Jacksonville Jaguars at Philadelphia Eagles (-11)||Eagles, 27-10|
|Oakland Raiders at New York Jets (-4.5)||Jets, 20-13|
|Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens (-1)||Bengals, 27-23|
|Buffalo Bills at Chicago Bears (-4.5)||Bills, 24-21|
|Washington at Houston Texans (-1.5)||Washington, 23-17|
|Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs (-4.5)||Chiefs, 28-20|
|New England Patriots (-4.5) at Miami Dolphins||Patriots, 31-17|
|Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Pick 'Em)||Panthers, 24-21|
|San Francisco 49ers (-5.5) at Dallas Cowboys||49ers, 27-21|
|Indianapolis Colts at Denver Broncos (-7.5)||Broncos, 34-20|
|New York Giants at Detroit Lions (-4.5)||Lions, 24-17|
|San Diego Chargers at Arizona Cardinals (-3)||Chargers, 31-27|
Looking over the odds for Week 1, the two games that immediately jump out are New Orleans vs. Atlanta and Indianapolis vs. Denver. The Saints are getting the betting love despite starting the year on the road, where they were 3-5 in 2013.
Everyone knows the Saints are invincible at home, but take them out of the Superdome and something changes. Last year in Atlanta, while the Saints won, it was hardly a banner performance with a 17-13 final score.
Prior to last year, the Falcons were one of the best home teams in the NFL. They went 26-6 at the Georgia Dome from 2009-12, never losing more than two games in a season during that span.
The Saints have become one of the favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl because of their offensive firepower and belief that the defense will improve in the second year under Rob Ryan and with the addition of Jairus Byrd at the safety position.
As much as there is to like about the Saints, their struggles on the road and Atlanta starting the year in fairly good health—particularly on offense, with Roddy White and Julio Jones lined up on the outside—makes the Falcons appealing in this game.
I'm still taking the Saints to win the game, but the allure of Atlanta's potential and New Orleans away from home is enough to give me pause.
Moving to the Colts and Broncos, it really shouldn't be a surprise that the defending AFC champions are getting 7.5 points. They rebuilt the defense in the offseason, adding Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward to give the secondary an attitude and DeMarcus Ware as another pass-rusher, not to mention they get Von Miller back from a torn ACL late last year.
Which playoff contender has the most difficult Week 1 matchup?
Last year, though, the Colts were one of three teams to defeat the Broncos in the regular season. That game was in Indianapolis, a completely different environment than at Sports Authority Field.
Unlike the Saints-Falcons matchup, which seems like a close battle between two teams that know each other really well, the Colts and Broncos don't feel like they are on the same planet. Andrew Luck is incredible, but everything around him is pedestrian.
If you are looking for betting trends, the Colts are 0-6 against the spread in their last six season openers. Denver has covered at home in five of its last six season openers. That's a trend not likely to change this year.
Upset of the Week: Buffalo Bills (+4.5) over Chicago Bears
The Bears are a dark-horse Super Bowl team in the NFC thanks to the firepower they boast on offense. Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall might be the best trio of skill position players in all of football. Jay Cutler is going to make stupid mistakes but has never had a collection of talent around him like this.
Despite the potency of the offense, Buffalo has a formula that can give the Bears a lot of problems. Last year, Chicago's run defense was the worst in the NFL, and it wasn't particularly close.
Atlanta had the 31st-ranked run defense but still allowed 410 fewer yards on the ground than the Bears. The front office tried to address the weakness up front by signing Jared Allen and drafting Will Sutton, but Allen is 32 years old and Sutton has yet to play in a meaningful game.
Michael C. Wright of ESPN.com even acknowledged that no one knows what to make of Chicago's defense yet because the preseason was as by-the-numbers as it gets:
At the start of the offseason, the Bears said they wanted to make the defense a much tougher unit than it was in 2013, and from what I’ve seen so far, they’ve accomplished that. But going into the opener, we still don’t even know who the starting safeties are, even though sources have told me Conte -- if he’s cleared to play after suffering a concussion in the preseason -- and Ryan Mundy will be the starters on the back end.
The Bills boast one of the best running games in football. C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson combined for 1,823 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground in 2013. If you want to keep a great offense at bay, control the clock to keep it off the field.
Buffalo's passing game will have to make a few plays, which is always a concern. E.J. Manuel struggled as a rookie and showed no discernible improvement in the preseason. It also doesn't help matters that 2014 first-round draft pick Sammy Watkins has battled nagging injuries.
The good news is Watkins was able to participate in full practices this week, but let's see him make it through an entire game without grabbing his ribs before we start celebrating.
This is one of those games that is going to be a really close win for the road team or a blowout for the home team, with no middle ground. Since the questions about Chicago's defense are still out there, taking the team that can control the clock and run the ball is a good bet.
Prediction: Bills 24, Bears 21
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