I never thought I would be writing a column in early June about the Week 1 lines of the NFL season, but here we are. This is indeed the dawning of a new era in the American sporting landscape and the inevitable wave of legalized sports gambling is about to head to shore.
As you all know by now, the recent Supreme Court decision allowing states to begin taking bets on sporting events of various types has taken placing bets out of the margins and more into the mainstream, and as you may not know, the sports books at casinos in Delaware are open for business starting Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. ET. Yes, all three casinos in that state will begin taking bets, including a full slate of lines for the NFL season, as Delaware already had guidelines in place for gambling and was in essence at the head of the line to move forward once the highest court in the land ruled in their favor.
New Jersey won't be too far behind, it seems, and it will be only so long before all of the neighboring states that already have lotteries and horse racing tracks and casinos get their votes and regulations in place so that they can start to keep that money in-state and grow their tax bases rather than have people drive a half hour or an hour on a highway to make their bets. On Tuesday afternoon, I'll be doing just that, traveling up I-95 from my home in Baltimore about an hour to Wilmington to check out the scene at Delaware Park Casino on opening day for the sports book – at my editors' urging, of course.
And with that that in mind, they figured this might make for a good time to provide a little primer on what the opening kickoff of the NFL season looks like. If more people than ever before in this country are going to be in position to make a legal bet starting this week, why not check out those early lines now? I actually found myself liking a bunch of these games much more than I ever figured … but then again, I had never even considered the existence of these lines four months before the start of the season, so maybe this prospect would have seemed potentially profitable all along.
Anyway, there are obviously caveats involved here as we don't know how rookies are developing and which players are coming back from injury, to say nothing of the slew of injuries that will occur in the preseason. So I wouldn't advise putting much real money down on a game this far from it actually taking place, although these five games did catch my eye more than the rest, and several of them in fact do involve a medical issue of one sort or another.
The Bills are probably going to start AJ McCarron and they are very much playing for the future. I suspect the Bills will be in shouting range of the first-overall pick when it's all said and done, which won't be a bad thing for their continued rebuild. In the meantime, they have lost 60 percent of the offensive line, the run game might not be nearly as robust, the defense has lots of holes, still, and they don't have playmakers on offense. Baltimore is a solid-enough team with the coach and QB playing for their future there, and the receivers are upgraded from a year ago. Joe Flacco is finally healthy again and plenty motivated, and the Ravens at home early in the season are usually a safe bet.
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Deshaun Watson is going to have a lot to work through in September. The Texans have changed the offense, he's coming off a season-ending surgery and it usually takes until deep into the following season before a QB is close to being himself again. Especially one as mobile as he is. Hell, even infallible Tom Brady needed half a season to plant and fire through the ball after his knee surgery. Then you have the narrative about all the discontent in New England, and Bill Belichick will be out to prove a point. He doesn't like losing to his former assistants, and Brady will be out to show that skipping OTAs doesn't mean a damn thing. And that Texans defense was hot garbage a year ago. J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus are going to need time getting back into game form, too, after their season-ending surgeries. I smell something lopsided here.
The Titans were being held back by their old coaching staff and they will have much more of an edge with Mike Vrabel running the show. The offense will unleash Marcus Mariota and they won't be as predictable. The Dolphins are starting a quarterback who hasn't been healthy since like December of 2016. Since last November they have lost their best offensive lineman, defensive lineman, wide receiver and running back and I'm not sure they've come close to replacing him. Usually Miami has a distinct September advantage because of the heat and humidity, but the Titans deal with plenty of that on a regular basis. I have concerns about Miami's front seven; it could be exploited here.
I didn't set out to pick revenge games or whatever here, but Tom Coughlin will want this one badly. There is a lot of hype about the Giants being better, but the defense was awful all the way around and we'll see if they have solved the Odell Beckham Jr. contract issue by the start of the season. There will be also plenty to adjust to with Pat Shurmur making his debut as the head coach. They were 3-13 for a reason and have been non-competitive at home far too often in recent years for me to simply overlook it. The Jags have a massive talent advantage here and as long as Blake Bortles doesn't turn it over two more times than Eli Manning they win this game big in my estimation.
No one has a clue yet about when Andrew Luck is going to be able to throw on consecutive days, much less make it through a practice and then finally dress for a game. Maybe it's Week 1. Maybe not. If he doesn't dress, this looks like a game in which the Colts have no business being a favorite. And even if he does dress, given how long he's been out and the severity of his shoulder problems and the weak supporting cast still around him, the Bengals would have to be at their undisciplined worst to blow this. They should feature Joe Mixon the way they are vowing to against this patchwork defense. Another team here with a new coach and learning a new offense and defense in the Colts against an opponent that is no world beater, but with a certainly superior roster. Give me the talent, especially four months out of a season-opening game, and especially in this case, where I am getting the points.