Tuesday, July 9, 2013

NFL 2013 Week 1 Odds

By Brad Oremland

It's July. Early July. The NFL preseason starts in around a month, and the regular season is about two months away. But sports betting is a huge industry, and some people can't wait to get started. A number of sportsbooks have already posted lines for Week 1, so let's take a look. All comments below are for recreational purposes, and none should be interpreted as betting advice. This is not just a disclaimer — I mean it. It's too early for predictions, and a ton can change between now and the regular season. A key injury the first week of preseason, a trade, a Pro Bowl tight end going to jail for murder... you never know.

Baltimore Ravens (+8½) at Denver Broncos

The Ravens, defending Super Bowl champions, are the biggest underdog of Week 1. I don't know if that's ever happened before, but I doubt it. It probably helps that last year's two worst teams (Chiefs and Jaguars) open against each other, but the champs are a bigger underdog than the Bills against the Patriots (+7), the Titans at the Steelers (+6½), the Browns, Cardinals, Raiders — everyone. These teams met in Denver six months ago, and Baltimore won in overtime.

I wrote in March that the 2013 Ravens would miss the playoffs, and after losing so many key contributors, it's probably inevitable that Baltimore will face some bumps this season. The Broncos, meanwhile, went 13-3 last year and added Wes Welker. They boast a steep homefield advantage, too, so everything is stacked against Baltimore.

But 8½ points is huge. I like Denver straight up, but that line seems excessive. In fact, it seems so nutty that I think Denver must somehow be the right bet. The books have to know it looks crazy to have the Ravens as such a big underdog. They've lost some players, they're going on the road, they're facing a good team — fine. But this is a gritty group that's never had a "down" season under head coach John Harbaugh. They'll probably finish something like 8-8, not 5-11. Everyone knows that, and casual fans probably expect them to be even better. This line looks like a trap.

The books are begging you to bet on the Ravens. Don't do it.

New England Patriots (-7) at Buffalo Bills

Weird things sometimes happen to these teams in Week 1, and weird things happen in rivalry games. The Patriots opened at Buffalo in 2003, as well. They lost 31-0, then won 14 of their next 15 games and won the Super Bowl. Who knows how their offense will look without Aaron Hernandez and Welker? I shrug my shoulders at this point spread: it seems reasonable, but it also seems like a wild guess. I'm staying away from it.

Tennessee Titans (+6½) at Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers went 8-8 last season, and they're expected to rebound this year. They didn't make a big splash in free agency, unless you count losing their top wide receiver, but they've had some bad luck with injuries, and that usually evens out the next year. Expectations for Tennessee are modest, and the game's in Pittsburgh, so this line seems about right to me.

Atlanta Falcons (+3) at New Orleans Saints

It's jarring to see the Falcons as a Week 1 underdog. They went 13-3 and reached the NFC Championship Game, and they've had a quiet offseason, which is what good teams want. But both Atlanta and New Orleans have substantial homefield advantages, and everyone expects the Saints to return to form after last year's bounty scandal and the suspension of head coach Sean Payton. I guess the line makes sense when you consider all that, but it's still weird to see Atlanta as a Week 1 dog.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-2½) at New York Jets

The Darrelle Revis Bowl. New York traded its star cornerback to Tampa, so he at least should feel right at home in Week 1, even if his new teammates do not. Maybe the Jets know how to attack Revis in ways that other teams don't, but as long as he's healthy, I'm not convinced there are any weaknesses to attack, and his presence probably swings this in Tampa Bay's favor. Whatever psychological benefit Mark Sanchez derived from jettisoning Tim Tebow was probably undone by drafting Geno Smith and sending Revis to play against him. I like the Bucs straight up and against the line.

Kansas City Chiefs (-3) at Jacksonville Jaguars

The Chiefs went 2-14 last year, and they're favorites on the road in Week 1. That's how little fans and oddsmakers think of the Jags. The Chiefs actually opened as smaller favorites than this, but fan betting has moved the line. I have no faith in Jacksonville, either, but this line doesn't interest me, on either side. Save your money for other games.

Cincinnati Bengals (+3) at Chicago Bears

For the first time in years, the Bears will take the field without head coach Lovie Smith and LB Brian Urlacher. They have an opportunistic defense, a good all-around running back, and a talented receiver in Brandon Marshall. But I don't understand this line. I like the Bengals, straight up.

Chicago's defense thrives on turnovers, and while Cincinnati generates fewer headlines, its defense is actually the more solid unit. The Bengals had a much better draft than the Bears, and I expect good things from their offense this season. Andy Dalton and A.J. Green continue to improve, and a healthy Andrew Whitworth will make a noticeable difference. Two early draft picks, Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard, should also upgrade the unit, and other young players (like second-year guard Clint Boling) figure to improve with maturity and experience.

Do people forget that the Bengals have made the playoffs twice in a row? And that all of their good players are young? Repeating the disclaimer at the top, that I would be horrified if anyone placed regular season bets because of analysis in early July, the Bengals are my favorite pick of any game in Week 1.

Miami Dolphins (PK) at Cleveland Browns

Two second-year quarterbacks. Two teams that haven't been good in a while. I lean towards Miami.

Seattle Seahawks (-3½) at Carolina Panthers

Only 3½? That seems crazy, until you remember:

* The Seahawks have the largest homefield advantage in the league. Last season, they were 8-0 at home, 3-5 on the road. Charlotte is a 2,300-mile road trip, and it's West-to-East.

* The Panthers won their last four games of 2012.

* Carolina, more than most teams, had some obvious problems that are easy to address, like streamlining their running-back-by-committee approach.

A Panthers win would represent a substantial upset of an early Super Bowl favorite, but when you look at Seattle's schedule, this is a game you'd circle as one the team might lose. I think the line is just about right.

Minnesota Vikings (+3) at Detroit Lions

This line surprises me. No one expects Adrian Peterson to rush for 2,100 yards again (with a 6.0 average!), but the Vikings made the playoffs last year, and Detroit went 4-12. The Lions should bounce back somewhat, and Minnesota won't go 10-6 again unless Christian Ponder makes unexpected leaps, but you could make a fair argument that the Vikings should be favored. I don't know what to think about this one.

Oakland Raiders (+7) at Indianapolis Colts

I think the Colts are overrated, and most fans' expectations are too high. They got lucky against an easy schedule in 2012. But the Raiders are pretty awful, so this line isn't completely out of whack. I like the Colts straight up, Raiders to beat the spread. I'm not sold on Andrew Luck yet, and Oakland usually comes to play in Week 1. Indianapolis could be a good first-week selection in suicide pools.

Arizona Cardinals (+6) at St. Louis Rams

The Rams are favored by 6? I know they're playing the Cardinals, and I know they made some nice moves this offseason (Jake Long, Tavon Austin), but they're still the Rams! The Cardinals have a good, underrated defense, and Larry Fitzgerald. He didn't do much last season, but that whole offense was a mess; he didn't go from Hall of Famer to has-been in a year. Cardinals are the pick.

Green Bay Packers (+5½) at San Francisco 49ers

They met in the opener last season, too, and the Niners won by 8. That was in Green Bay. They met again at the end of last season (for the Packers, anyway) and San Francisco won by 14. There's no reason to believe Green Bay has closed to gap since then. I'm staying away from this one. I think the 49ers will win, but 5½ points is a lot against a good team like the Packers, and Aaron Rodgers is dependable in a way Colin Kaepernick might not be.

New York Giants (+3) at Dallas Cowboys

I hate forecasting division rivalries, and that's true most of all in the NFC East. The Giants and Cowboys are both unpredictable. There were times last season when they looked like Super Bowl contenders, and there were times they looked like garbage. Spare yourself the headache and save your cash for other games.

Philadelphia Eagles (+4½) at Washington Redskins

The first of two Monday night games, and another NFC East rivalry game. We don't even know yet who either team will start at quarterback. Well, probably Michael Vick and Robert Griffin III, but there are question marks on both sides. Let's reserve judgment on this one until the start of preseason, at least.

Houston Texans (-3) at San Diego Chargers

The Chargers always seemed to start slow under Norv Turner. Will that trend continue for new head coach Mike McCoy? It will against Houston. I don't understand why everyone is sleeping on the Texans. It'll be a late night, but I think they'll cover the spread. Don't underestimate the impact of Brian Cushing's return. Before his season-ending injury in Week 5, he looked like the best linebacker in the NFL.

* * *

Super Bowl XLVIII Futures

Despite that some of the entries above surely read as betting tips, that's really not how they're intended at this point. Most of the lines won't move much between now and September, and if they do, it will be for a good reason. Stay patient and lay your action when the time is right, if you're into that sort of thing.

But there's a difference between weekly point spreads and futures bets. Super Bowl odds on the Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans are both 18-to-1 right now, and that seems like a bargain to me, Houston especially. The Falcons are +1750 at some sites, actually, but that's not a big difference. If you've got some spare cash, you also might be interested in the Bengals at +4500. They went 10-6 last year, and the best team in their division had a fire sale this offseason. I think the Bengals are favorites to win the AFC North, and they're undervalued right now.

Cincinnati made the playoffs, had a good draft, and is a young team that figures to improve, but its Super Bowl odds are about the same (45/1) as two teams that went 4-12 last year (Eagles and Lions, both 50/1). The Chiefs are 50/1, the Dolphins are 50/1, and the Colts are 40/1. Cincinnati has a better shot than all of those teams combined, and +4500 is a bargain. Same thing for Houston at +1800. The Broncos are not three times as likely to win Super Bowl XLVIII as the Texans.

These are bets you know probably won't pay off, but the return is big if they do. Recreational purposes only, but in my extraordinarily humble opinion, Atlanta, Houston, and Cincinnati are all undervalued right now.

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