Already this offseason, several of my colleagues here at CBSSports.com have made way-too-early against-the-spread picks for Week 1 of the 2018 NFL season. All of them, without exception, have noted how ridiculous it is to be devoting June 2018 internet real estate to games that will not take place until September.
Well, we're in July now. But allow me to be the latest CBS scribe to echo that line of thinking anyway. This is ridiculous ... but also fun! And apparently, a pretty good time to find some nice value. Let's check in with some of the best available bets.
Saints (-9.5) vs. Buccaneers
Hopefully you were savvy enough to lock this in when the line opened at Saints -7, but even if you didn't, this still seems like a strong play. The Saints are at home, where they always play better, against a Bucs team that is 2-6-1 ATS in its last nine road games. (The Saints are also 13-5 ATS in their last 18 division games and the home team is 4-0 ATS in this matchup over the last two seasons). Tampa is also without is starting quarterback, Jameis Winston, who was suspended for the first three games of the season for violating the personal conduct policy when he groped an Uber driver (and then lied about it). The Bucs had the NFL's worst defense in 2017 by Football Outsiders' DVOA, and they struggled badly against deep passes and passes to running backs. That sounds like a recipe for the Saints to blow the roof off the Superdome, and with Winston out, the Bucs figure to struggle for points as well. The Saints take this one by a comfortable margin.
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Vikings (-5) vs. 49ers
Everybody loooooves the 49ers and Jimmy GQ, so the time to bet against them is early in the season before things correct themselves. Yes, the Niners went 5-0 under Jimmy Garoppolo down the stretch of last season, but this is still a team with plenty of holes -- especially on defense. San Francisco has some interesting defensive talent that could coalesce eventually but still finished last season with one of the NFL's worst point-prevention units and its major additions this offseason were a 30-year old cornerback coming off a ruptured Achilles tendon (Richard Sherman), a third-round linebacker (Fred Warner) and a fourth-round safety (Tarvarius Moore). The Vikings should again have an explosive offense, especially with Dalvin Cook returning to the field and Kirk Cousins now under center, and we already know they have one of the best defenses in all of football. This spread feels like it's at least a couple points too low simply because of all the hype surrounding the 49ers, and you can grab some value by taking the Vikes at home, where they went 6-3 ATS last season.
Titans (-2.5) at Dolphins
On the opposite end of the spectrum from the 49ers are the Dolphins, who exactly nobody is excited about, but still seem incredibly overvalued here. Sure, Miami is home for this game, but what exactly does this version of the Dolphins do well on either side of the ball? The Dolphins let go of their best offensive (Jarvis Landry) and defensive (Ndamukong Suh) playmakers from last season and replaced them with, like, Albert Wilson and nobody, respectively. Ryan Tannehill's return to the lineup should make the offense a bit more efficient than it was last season with Jay Cutler at the helm but the defense figures to take a large step backward without Suh wreaking havoc up the middle. Add in the bump the Titans should get from no longer running their patently ridiculous "exotic smashmouth" offense, which will now be more versatile after the addition of Dion Lewis and more explosive with a full season of Corey Davis; as well as the presumptive defensive improvement they get from the additions of Malcolm Butler, Rashaan Evans, and Harold Landry, and the Titans look like a strong playoff contender giving less than a field goal to one of the AFC's worst teams. Take that bet and run.
Ravens (-5) vs. Bills
Speaking of the AFC's worst teams: your Buffalo Bills, ladies and gentlemen! Buffalo somehow snuck into the playoffs last season with a well below-average roster, but after moving on from Tyrod Taylor and replacing him with the AJ McCarron - Nathan Peterman - Josh Allen trio, the Bills figure to take a step backward as a franchise in 2018. No matter which of those players starts in Week 1, they figure to struggle with a Ravens defense that is always one of the league's best and is coming off a campaign where it finished among the league's top-3 in DVOA. The only way I could possibly feel better about the Ravens covering this spread at home against the Bills is if they decide to just hand the starting quarterback job to Lamar Jackson right out of the gate, which would significantly raise the ceiling of their offense.