It is the closest NFL Week 1 spreads that will sneak up on bettors.
After all, the spreads for what appear to be evenly matched encounters are constructed as such for good reason. If Vegas cannot get a comfortable read as to how a contest will play out, the job is even more difficult for those who throw cash on the line.
Below, let's examine a few of the closest spreads Week 1 has to offer, dig through droves of info and come up with a way to make a safe investment on a risky line.
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||See analysis below chart.|
|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||See analysis below chart.|
|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||See analysis below chart.|
|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||Indianapolis has done little to improve an already leaky defense from a season ago.|
|NY Giants at Detroit (Mon., Sept. 8)||Detroit (-3.5)||NY Giants||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 1 p.m. ET, Sept. 3.
Cincinnati at Baltimore
Leave it to an AFC North affair to throw Vegas for a loop.
On one hand, the home team seems the safe bet, especially when bettors take into account that Cincinnati has lost four in a row at M&T Bank Stadium and that Baltimore actually holds a 13-5 advantage there overall.
But this time feels different.
The Ravens are at home and have an exciting new rookie linebacker by the name of C.J. Mosley, who seems a shoo-in for the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award. But offensively, the Ravens are a mess with Ray Rice suspended and backup Bernard Pierce working his way back after a slew of injuries.
Which team wins?
"We took him as high as we did for a reason," coach John Harbaugh said of Pierce, per ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley. "He's got talent. He's tough. He works really hard. We've all seen him carry the ball at his best. We just want to see him at his best."
Pierce might just bring his best, but so will a Bengals defense that ranked No. 5 overall against the rush last season—with defensive tackle Geno Atkins out the last seven games due to injury.
Offensively, quarterback Andy Dalton appears to have taken the proverbial next step under new coordinator Hue Jackson. In three preseason contests that debuted a new-look offense with a major dash of a no-huddle attack, Dalton went 24 of 34 for 372 yards and a touchdown.
Remember, the Bengals took down the Ravens in the final week of last season, 34-17, while Dalton bumbled around and completed 58.3 percent of his passes for 281 yards and a 2-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
In what seems a rather predictable matchup if bettors enjoy history that much, expect the opposite to happen with the Ravens not at 100 percent and the Bengals set to hit another growth spurt.
Prediction: Bengals 24, Ravens 17
Washington at Houston
Of course, a contest between two first-year head coaches has a tiny line. Of course, a game between two teams that combined for five wins last year has a tiny line.
In one of the more boring affairs the Week 1 slate has to offer, Jay Gruden and Washington make the trip to Houston to take on Bill O'Brien's Texans.
Which team wins?
While Gruden gets to implement his offense and work with Robert Griffin III, O'Brien—a superb offensive mind himself—has to pick between Ryan Fitzpatrick and Ryan Mallett. The former is a journeyman who has bounced around the league, the latter was supposedly the heir apparent to Tom Brady.
There is an allure to give Houston the nod here despite having a disadvantage at the most important position of all. J.J. Watt, who notched 10.5 sacks a year ago and 21.5 the year before that, leads a stellar defense that includes No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney and Brian Cushing.
The problem, though, is the wealth of diverse weapons Gruden's offense brings to the table, as well as the issues in the Houston secondary, as ESPN.com's Tania Ganguli breaks down:
That'll be a big challenge to start the year for the Texans' secondary. It's going to look very different from how it has in the past, with starter Kareem Jackson taking a lot of slot responsibilities. He is a more physical corner, well suited to playing inside, where those defensive holding penalties are a little more forgiving. Johnathan Joseph is the Texans' other starter and he missed the entire preseason while managing his recovery from foot surgery in January. Joseph says he's ready to go, but how much he does isn't yet clear. Beyond those two players is A.J. Bouye, a talented but unproven cornerback who was an undrafted rookie last season.
With DeSean Jackson on one side (fresh off a career year), Pierre Garcon on another (last year's receptions leader) and Alfred Morris in the backfield (1,275 yards and seven scores last year), bettors must give Washington the nod as the offense can surely outgun a Houston unit with a strong ground game and little else.
Prediction: Washington 20, Texans 14
New Orleans at Atlanta
Another divisional matchup, another problem for bettors.
Except this one seems to be rather easy. Fans know about Drew Brees and a pass-happy attack. They also know that Darren Sproles is in Philadelphia, but that coach Sean Payton and the front office went out and added receiver Brandin Cooks in the draft, who might just be even better in the very same role.
Which teams wins?
Credit goes to Atlanta, though, for understanding the offensive arms race in the NFL, not to mention the NFC South. The front office added Tyson Jackson at defensive end and Paul Soliai at tackle, two standouts who ranked in the top 20 at their positions last season in Kansas City and Miami, respectively, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
The problem for Atlanta lies where it hurts against the Saints—in the secondary. Safety Dwight Lowery played in just three games a season ago and William Moore ranked as the No. 48 player at the position last season at PFF.
Matt Ryan seems poised for a redemption tour this season now that Julio Jones is healthy, but the Saints defense is on the verge of earning the elite label. At PFF, corner Keenan Lewis ranked in the top 30 last year and continues to improve, safety Kenny Vaccaro ranked at No. 23 as a rookie and new addition Jairus Byrd ranked at No. 8.
There is a reason the Saints have won 13 of 16 meetings between these teams since Payton took the reins in 2006. Expect that margin to grow come Sunday.
Prediction: Saints 30, Falcons 24