Tuesday, August 19, 2014
NFL 2014 Week 1 Odds
It's preseason. The real opener is still a few weeks away. But sports betting is a huge industry, and some people can't wait to get started. Most 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 last week of preseason, a trade, a suspension, a Pro Bowl tight end going to jail for murder ... you never know.
Green Bay Packers (+5½) @ Seattle Seahawks
From the Weird Coincidences Department: last season, the Packers were 5½-point underdogs in Week 1, on the road against an NFC West team that played in the Super Bowl. The Niners covered, and I believe Seattle will, too. The crowd at CenturyLink Field will be roaring, everyone's healthy, and the Packers have struggled to defend mobile QBs like Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson.
New Orleans Saints (-1½) @ Atlanta Falcons
They met in Week 1 last year, as well. The Saints won 23-17 in New Orleans. The Falcons are tough to evaluate right now. They went 4-12 last year, but they were rocked by injuries, especially to Pro Bowl wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones. The line on this game has flipped; the Saints opened as 1½-point dogs. Last season, New Orleans went 3-5 on the road. This game seems close to a pick 'em, and I would lay off, but gun to my head, I'd bet on Atlanta.
Minnesota Vikings (+6) @ St. Louis Rams
Adrian Peterson is still going first in some fantasy leagues. That surprises me. He was good-not-great in 2013, and he's getting old for a running back. He's still a first-rounder, but I can't see drafting him ahead of, say, LeSean McCoy. The Vikings have a lot of promising young players, but the Rams have even more; they're stacked from the RG3 trade. I think St. Louis is a serious dark horse for 2014, and by the end of the year they'll be a tough out. This early in the season, I'm not sure the system will be in sync yet. The line seems steep to me. Rams to win, Vikings to beat the spread.
The total for this game is 45. I like the under.
Cleveland Browns (+5½) @ Pittsburgh Steelers
I refuse to discuss any of the Johnny Manziel hoopla in this space. The Steelers are re-building. The Browns are up-and-coming. Cleveland getting the points.
Jacksonville Jaguars (+11) @ Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles are heavy favorites for a reason, but I don't advocate giving 11 points to anyone. I also don't advocate betting on the Jaguars, though, so maybe save your investment for other games.
Oakland Raiders (+5) @ New York Jets
Two teams that look to have improved in the past six months. People have made fun of the Raiders for signing so many older free agents, but these are guys who can still play. Matt Schaub should be a substantial upgrade at quarterback, but they've also beefed up their lines, added depth, and drafted Khalil Mack. The Jets have made some good moves, too, but I think five points is too much. I'll take the points: Raiders beat the spread.
Cincinnati Bengals (+2½) @ Baltimore Ravens
Maybe the most important game of Week 1, between the likely contenders for the AFC North. The Bengals had a tumultuous offseason following Andy Dalton's disastrous performance in the playoffs, and the Ravens are really tough at home. This line seems about right to me.
Buffalo Bills (+6) @ Chicago Bears
The emergence of Alshon Jeffery and the health of Matt Forte made Chicago an offensive powerhouse in the second half of 2013. I'm curious to see whether that carries over to this season. The Bears are rebuilding their defense, so if E.J. Manuel and C.J. Spiller are firing on all cylinders, we could see both teams light up the scoreboard. The over/under is 48½. If you're feeling bold, bet the over.
Washington (+2½) @ Houston
Washington made some interesting moves this offseason, and everything except DeSean Jackson flew under the radar for some reason. Houston brought in Jadeveon Clowney and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Both teams had injury problems and QB issues last season, and both figure to play a lot better in 2014. Both teams have new coaches, as well, and it's tough to know what to predict in Week 1. I'd stay away from this line because of all the unknowns, but if I were determined to bet it, I might lean a little bit toward Houston. I'm excited to see what J.J. Watt and Clowney do together.
Tennessee Titans (+5) @ Kansas City Chiefs
I suspect Chiefs fans are in for a disappointing season, and Jake Locker looked impressive at times last season, but the Arrowhead mystique is coming back, and I'd be surprised to see Tennessee win this one. Chiefs, and the points.
New England Patriots (-4) @ Miami Dolphins
I never know what to do with New England in Week 1. The team always has a good season, and is a heavy favorite to repeat as the AFC East champion, but the Pats often seem to start slow. The Dolphins quietly had an interesting offseason, signing Cortland Finnegan and Knowshon Moreno, and the heat in Miami can cause havoc early in the season. This is another one I'd stay away from, but if I had to go one way or the other, I'd take the Pats to cover.
Carolina Panthers (-1) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Carolina had a really rough offseason, and the Bucs made a couple of nice moves to shore up weaknesses, signing QB Josh McCown and getting Alterraun Verner to replace Darrelle Revis. New head coach Lovie Smith has proven himself in the NFL. But I think the Panthers have enough left to win; I like them straight up, and probably by more than a point.
San Francisco 49ers (-5½) @ Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas defense is a huge question mark. Colin Kaepernick was up-and-down in 2013, but the Niners have surrounded him with weapons. Former Buffalo WR Stevie Johnson joins Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, and Vernon Davis in the receiving corps, and old lion Frank Gore is backed up by several promising young RBs. The Cowboys should be competitive in the NFC East this year, and 5½ is a lot for a road team that's not visiting Jacksonville, but this spread seems about right to me.
Indianapolis Colts (+7) @ Denver Broncos
In last year's playoffs, the Patriots rushed for 200 yards and 6 TDs against Indianapolis. If the Colts come out with three or four defensive backs, I'd look for Peyton Manning to test that run defense early. Seven points is a lot, and the Colts beat Denver last year, but at Mile High, with the crowd roaring and Manning doing his thing, I expect the Colts to struggle. Broncos cover.
New York Giants (+4½) @ Detroit Lions
The Giants have a new offense, in which, we're told, Eli Manning will stop being Eli Manning. The Lions' offense will probably still involve a lot of passes to Calvin Johnson. Detroit, straight up and giving the points.
San Diego Chargers (+3½) @ Arizona Cardinals
As of this writing, it's not clear how serious the injury to Darnell Dockett is, but it seems pretty bad. San Diego is my favorite bet in Week 1. I like them getting the points, and I think they win the game. They're +160 right now in the money line.
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Super Bowl XLIX 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 the opener, 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. I'm not excited enough about any of the front-runners to put my money there, but if you can afford to gamble on the long-shots, there are a few teams that seem undervalued. The Saints are +1400 or +1500, and that could be interesting. New Orleans made the divisional round of the playoffs two of the last three years, and the team that won their division last season isn't going to repeat. The Falcons are an appealing bet for sort of the same reason. They struggled badly in 2013, which put their odds at 65/1 in some places. There's more than a 1-in-65 chance that Atlanta can put everything together and win a championship. Long shot, to be sure, but the odds are too low.
The Bengals have made the playoffs three straight years, and they're probably favorites to win the AFC North. They're +3750 or so, depending on where you look. The Chargers are +4250, the Texans are +6500, and the Rams are +5000. San Diego made the playoffs last season and had a good draft. The Texans were a powerhouse from 2011-12, and now they have Jadeveon Clowney. Lay $100, and if they win the Super Bowl you're up $6,500.
The Rams are my dark horse this year, a team loaded with young talent. They could struggle in the stacked NFC West, but they're one or two breaks away from shocking the NFL. The 1999 Rams were one of the reasons I became a sportswriter. Recreationally, I wrote up preseason power rankings, with a paragraph or two about team. I picked the 49ers to win the NFC West that year, and the Falcons, coming off a Super Bowl appearance, to finish second. But I raved about the Rams' new additions on offense, Trent Green and Marshall Faulk and Torry Holt, and I guessed that the Rams would surprise people.
The Niners and Falcons were rocked by injuries, Kurt Warner emerged from an Iowa grocery store, and St. Louis won the Super Bowl. That's where we are this year. If Russell Wilson or Richard Sherman gets hurt, and Colin Kaepernick bombs or NaVorro Bowman goes on IR, look for the Rams to fill the gap. I don't believe they're a Super Bowl team, and I have real questions about the quarterback position. But at 50-to-1, it's a chance worth taking.
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, New Orleans, Atlanta, and St. Louis are all undervalued right now.