It’s finally here.
For the first time since Tom Brady’s desperation heave hit the turf on the final play of Super Bowl 52 in February, we’ll be treated to NFL football that matters when the regular season kicks off this week.
We didn’t see any betting value in the season opener between Atlanta and Philadelphia on Thursday night, but there are three wagers that we love for Week 1.
1. Cleveland Browns +4 over Pittsburgh Steelers
"My hope is we haven’t seen the best of Tyrod Taylor"
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) September 6, 2018
This line has dropped dramatically from the opener of Cleveland +7 (posted earlier this summer). But even though the Browns are coming off a winless 2017 campaign and the Steelers are the defending AFC North champions, we fully understand the line move. In fact, we still think there’s value in grabbing the Browns at anything higher than a field goal on their home field.
The Browns have certainly made some improvements over the off-season, highlighted by the acquisition of quarterbacks Tyrod Taylor (trade) and Baker Mayfield (draft). Meanwhile, the Steelers’ locker room is a mess right now as Le’Veon Bell’s holdout has turned ugly. Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers’ offensive line has had to spend the week fielding questions about whether Bell is a bad teammate or not, a distraction that Pittsburgh doesn’t need coming into this opener.
But the biggest reason we’re on the Browns here (or, more accurately, against the Steelers) is because Pittsburgh’s extreme home/road splits in recent years. Although Roethlisberger’s personal home/road splits weren’t as dramatic last season as they have been in years past, the Steelers’ offense was nowhere near as potent on the road, scoring more than 24 points just once in its final 7 road contests. If Cleveland doesn’t turn over the ball and gift the Steelers some points (Taylor’s biggest M.O. as quarterback is ball security), we don’t see Pittsburgh’s Bell-less attack moving the ball consistently against an underrated Browns defense.
This is still the Browns we’re talking about, so we’re not going to be too gutsy and call for the outright upset (Cleveland’s moneyline pays in the neighbourhood of +200, in case you were wondering.) But we won’t be surprised if it happens, and having +4 in our pocket is some nice insurance if the game is tight in the final minutes.
2. Tennessee Titans -1 over Miami Dolphins
— Tennessee Titans (@TitansNation) September 5, 2018
It was an ugly preseason in Tennessee to be sure, but we’re not too concerned. The Titans have made a lot of adjustments to their offense over the summer, and they probably didn’t want to show their opponents too much of them during exhibition action. Don’t forget, not only was Tennessee a playoff team last year, it also posted a road victory over Kansas City in the wild card round. This is a young team poised to take the next step behind quarterback Marcus Mariota, and we expect them to begin that process with a victory in Week 1.
Especially against a Miami squad that always seems to get off to poor starts to the season, only to turn things around down the stretch and make their record look more flattering than it should. Ryan Tannehill is back at quarterback for the Fish, but he’ll be without his former top receiver (Jarvis Landry, now in Cleveland). Meanwhile, Miami’s defence also took a hit over the offseason with the departure of Ndamukong Suh (Rams), further weakening a roster that went just 6-10 a year ago.
To top it off, there may be no lesser of a home-field advantage in the NFL than in Miami, where the team routinely fails to sell out games in those hot Florida temperatures. Speaking of the heat, that’s the one advantage that the Dolphins do enjoy in September and October games. However, it can get pretty hot and sticky in Nashville as well, and we don’t see the Titans struggling to deal with any humidity this weekend the way a team from a colder climate might.
3. Baltimore Ravens/Green Bay Packers Teaser
You gotta feel bad for Buffalo Bills fans. Their team finally makes the playoffs last year, and then management breaks up their squad to the point that Buffalo is being picked by many to be the worst team in the league in 2018. Nathan Peterman probably isn’t as bad as his five-interception debut last year against the Chargers suggests, but it’s really difficult to see him doing anything behind an awful offensive line. If you saw Buffalo QB prospect Josh Allen running for his life in the preseason, you know exactly what we’re talking about.
There’s a lot of hype about the Ravens this year after the drafting of Lamar Jackson, who is expected to give incumbent QB Joe Flacco a much-needed kick in the ass. We’re not as high on Baltimore as most people, but the Ravens have absolutely no excuse not to win this game on their home field. In addition to being the superior team at home and playing with full focus of a season opener, Baltimore should also be motivated to beat the team that beat the Ravens out for the final playoff spot in the AFC last year. We’re not interested in laying over a touchdown with Baltimore, but teasing them down to -1 with a 6.5-point teaser creates a ton of value with the hosts. (If you don’t follow what we’re talking about, be sure to check out our article on NFL teaser strategy.)
When you’re playing a teaser, you need at least two outcomes on your ticket. In our opinion, the best candidate to pair with Baltimore -1 is Green Bay, who you can also move down to the -1 range with a 6.5-point teaser. The Packers will always be overpriced playing at home in prime time when Aaron Rodgers is in the lineup, but we feel comfortable backing them to simply win the game. Chicago’s going to be better this year, and we won’t be surprised to see them challenge the Packers and Vikings for top spot in the NFC North, but it’ll likely take a while for Khalil Mack to settle into the Bears’ defence and make a big difference.
In case you’re wondering, the best places to bet 6.5-point teasers are Pinnacle and 5Dimes, since they both allow you to make these bets at -110 odds. Of those two books, we recommend Pinnacle to Canadians since they will allow you to bet in Canadian funds (5Dimes will convert it to U.S. currency.)