2018 NFL Week 1 Best Bets (Way-Too-Early Version): Vikings roll Niners, Raiders top Rams
Looking at some best bets for Week 1 of the NFL season way too far in advance
Some of my colleagues, who shall rename nameless for the sake of congeniality, have already how ridiculous it is so start thinking about which teams to bet on at this stage of the proceedings. In some respect, these guys are right: it's June. In others, they're being ridiculous: the lines are out, and there is some good value out there already.
There is inherent risk in laying points a month away from training camp beginning. If the starting quarterback for a team you bet on goes down, you might not like the wager you're sitting on. But what if you've identified teams who should be favored by more, or teams who shouldn't be underdogs, etc.?
Now's the time to go ahead and lock in the value spots. So let's do that with five matchups from the first week of the season, which is not quite as far away as you think it is.
The team everyone's talked about this offseason is San Francisco. Kyle Shanahan/John Lynch are drawing universal praise for their ability to secure Jimmy Garoppolo, who managed to go undefeated down the stretch, lighting the world on fire with impressive quarterback play and a 5-0 run to close out the season. Vegas is buying in, setting the Niners over/under at nine wins. Everyone is all in on the 49ers. And that's where we take advantage. The Vikings' offense might have some hiccups making changes from Case Keenum to Kirk Cousins, but any issues should be fairly minimal. Cousins just needs to get on the same page with Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen and he'll have a full offseason to do so. The defense isn't going to need any adjustment period. It was outstanding last year. This will be the best unit Garoppolo has faced (the Jaguars had already clinched the division when that game kicked off late in the year) and we saw the Vikings snuff out the Saints in Week 1 of last year. The Vikings were great at home last year, going 6-3 against the spread (4-3 as a favorite). They should be a touchdown favorite against a 49ers team that is still building out the offensive unit, especially on the offensive line, but the 49ers hype has suppressed this line.
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I'm not necessarily a huge proponent of the Ravens this year, even though I believe Joe Flacco will be properly motivated by the drafting of Lamar Jackson. I kind of like what they did in terms of upgrading the wide receiver position and their running game should be fine. What I really like is how good their defense is and who it's going to be playing against in this matchup. One of Nathan Peterman/AJ McCarron/Josh Allen is going to be starting for Buffalo, and that means the Ravens defense should be feasting early. The Bills offense won't be good and the Ravens should be able to stack the box against LeSean McCoy and force whoever is under center to make some plays in the passing game. The result should be a double-digit victory for the Ravens in their home opener.
Kind of a coin flip game here for two teams who are confusing from a Vegas perspective, mainly because we don't know how their offenses are going to look. Cam Newton is working with Norv Turner to readjust what the Panthers do on offense, but it sounds as if everything should be fairly familiar for Newton, as Turner is going to implement things he did as a rookie. Dak Prescott won't be battling a changeover in terms of a playbook, but he will be getting used to a whole host of new receivers, with Allen Hurns his new No. 1 and questions remaining about the tight end position. Maybe most importantly, the Cowboys are getting used to a change in their offensive line coach, with Paul Alexander, who flipped spots with Frank Pollack between Cincinnati and Dallas, taking over for the Cowboys. The result could be some adjustment period for the Cowboys' offensive line; they'll be doing it against a difficult defensive line that is healthy early in the season. Luke Kuechly should be 100 percent too, which makes the Panthers especially dangerous, even if Thomas Davis is out with a suspension. The Panthers' strengths on defense match up against the Cowboys' strengths on offense and Carolina should be able to move the ball. I like the Panthers to roll at home in Week 1.
Love the Redskins this season as a sleeper in the NFC East, but people are way too down on the Cardinals. Their over/under is a measly 5.5 games, and they should cruise by that number this season. Don't forget about how dangerous the offense can be in Week 1 when we know/think/hope Sam Bradford will be healthy, along with running back David Johnson. The defense will come out amped and ready to prove how dangerous it can be under new coach Steve Wilks. They'll be attacking early and it's going to create issues for Alex Smith as he adjusts to playing with a group of new teammates. Give me the Cards to surprise early on, even if Bradford goes down, thanks to Josh Rosen's ability to impact the offense out of the gate if he needs to start in Week 1.
I'll be waiting to take the Raiders on this one, since the offseason and preseason and the Rams hype should push this line even higher. I don't like the Raiders at all, and I really like the Rams, but I think this is one of those weird late Monday Night games in Week 1 that tries to twist everything we thought we knew in the wrong direction. The Raiders will come out hyped to play for Jon Gruden in his first game, this is in the Black Hole and a lot of times these games go in weird directions. The Raiders are going to beat the Rams in Week 1, flip everything we thought we knew on its head, and then proceed to struggle to win a bunch of other games. The Rams defense will be great, but the Raiders offensive line can keep it at bay and open up some shots down the field for the wide receivers. Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson can produce against Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters; the matchup is there to work for Derek Carr. And Oakland will stack the box and try to prevent Todd Gurley from going nuts. The only caveat here is if for some reason Khalil Mack ends up not playing in Week 1 because of contractual reasons (more likely it would be Aaron Donald who misses time). Give me the home dog to steal one here.
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