Guys and girls we made it- the NFL football season is back. That means my weekly previews will be back in action as well. In our annual debut last season, this column went 60-44-2 good for a 57.5 % winning percentage. There are no sophomore slumps here- we are just getting started.
And boy did we get started with a bang on Thursday, hitting on our first bit of 2021 - the over in Dallas-Tampa Bay Thursday night.
The column’s format will remain the same. A new addition, every pick ATS will go into my entry of the Circa Million Pro Betting contest every week. The intent is to inform you guys on the details of each slate in an entertaining way. Now let’s get it down.
Top Trends of the week:
Underdogs covering the spread (67-52-6) in Week 1.
In the past 21 seasons, teams that lost in the Super Bowl the previous season are 4-17 ATS in Week 1 the following season.
Also, rookie coaches are 32-51 straight up since realignment, but the ATS results are surprisingly actually much better: 49-32-2 ATS. That last one was via Vegas Insider
Now, let's get to the picks.
Arizona Cardinals at Tennessee Titans
Spread: Tennessee (-3)
This is a matchup between two offensively potent teams. Each team made big splashes this offseason. The Cardinals added JJ Watt to the interior defense along with AJ Green at wide receiver - who has been a spectacle in camp according to beat writers. The Titans made a big splash in trading for All-Pro receiver Julio Jones. This gives the Titans arguably the best skill position trio in the NFL. In addition they added Janoris Jenkins and Bud Dupree on the defensive side of the ball. It’s fair to note in this particular contest, Dupree may not be available and he will surely be limited if he decides to play after coming off an ACL surgery in December of last year.
With so much hype going on for both teams, who has the edge in this week one showcase?
I am going with the Cardinals here. They have the most underrated unit in this matchup. Last season the Cardinals defense ranked 10th
overall in defensive DVOA, and they did that without their best pass rusher Chandler Jones for a majority of the season. On top of that, the Cardinals addressed their struggles defending the run. Last season, the Cardinals ranked 23rd in the league giving 4.6 yards per rush, but the addition of JJ Watt at the five technique, Zaven Collins at the middle linebacker spot, and Isaiah Simmons finally getting used to the defensive scheme should dramatically improve those numbers.
The Cardinals' defensive improvements will be tested against the best running back in the NFL. But I’m curious how the Titans running game will look like without Jonnu Smith in the fold. Smith was one of the best run blocking tight ends in the league last season. Now he is replaced by Adam Firkster, who is a good receiver, but is a significant step down in the run game. It’s something that’s not really talked about in Tennessee circles. On top of that, the Titans lose crafty play caller Arthur Smith. I actually see Tennessee's best method of attack being an air assault against the Cardinals smaller defensive backs. Three out of the four Cardinals starting DB’s are under 6’0, so a lot of jump ball opportunities should be present for Jones and Brown.
The reason why I want to fade the Titans in this spot is their defense. Unlike the Cardinals, they really did not do much to improve that side of the ball. They added Janoris Jenkins from the Saints and Bud Dupree from the Steelers. Which are good compliments, but they are neither a number one corner or a grade A pass rusher. Like I mentioned before, Dupree will not be 100 percent for this contest.
Beyond that, the Titans were a team that struggled to play against fast tempo all last season. Their defense ranked 29th in overall DVOA and 30th in pass DVOA last season. Now they will be playing against one of the most explosive passing offenses in the league. I think Kyler Murray is going to put up huge numbers in this one.
With a tough schedule, the Cardinals need to take advantage of every opportunity when they play teams outside of the NFC West. I think they get an opening week win on the road here. Take the Cardinals and the points with confidence.
The pick: Cardinals +3
Get ready for Week 1 by listening to Aaron Torres Online's NFL Gambling Show - Pickin' Pigskin Winners!
Los Angeles Chargers at Washington Football Team
Spread: Washington (-1)
The Chargers are another team with a decent amount of hype going into this season. I can’t understate this: Firing Anthony Lynn makes them 3-4 points better every game. Brandon Stanley is one of the youngest coaches in the game, and he was position coach just a few years ago. So being a head coach is a big jump. But compared to Lynn, I don’t think his game/time management could be any worse. I think there will be value on the Chargers, at least early in the season.
I know Washington has one of the top defenses in the league. They were second in the league in pressure rate on four-man rushes last season. Chase Young is a top contender for Defensive Player of the Year. They will be tested against an offense with a young promising quarterback that is surrounded by good skill position players, but is surrounded by an offensive line that still needs to prove itself.
But on the other side, the Chargers defensive unit hasn’t really gotten a lot of love - which is the reason why I like this Chargers team so much. Staley has a brilliant defensive mind and he has the players to make his scheme cover-4 matchup scheme excel. The Chargers have the third best five tech and edge rusher in the league in Joey Bosa. They have a lock down corner in Chris Harris, an inside run stopper in Tillery, and a hybrid athletic safety in Derwin James. The Chargers were a middle of the road defense last season but were maligned with injuries throughout the year.
This was probably the first training camp I can remember where the Chargers didn’t suffer a season ending injury to an important player. Playing at full strength for the first time in 24 months, I can see the Chargers defense putting on clinic on Sunday. To be blunt, I don’t see how the Washington Football team moves the ball. . I trust the Chargers offense to put up just enough points against to get the road win at Washington.
The pick: Chargers (+1)
New York Jets at Carolina Panthers:
Spread: Panthers (-5.5)
Let’s take a trip down narrative street. New Panthers' quarterback Sam Darnold will be making his Carolina debut against his former team. The NFL is good at giving us these storylines folks. We will also get the debut of No. 2 overall pick Zach Wilson.
Wilson looked great in the preseason, but this will be his first real test. Last season, Wilson dominated at BYU but played an extremely soft schedule. He looked elite against the Western Kentucky’s, UCF, and North Alabama’s of the world. But then went out on national tv, we saw how he struggled against Coastal Carolina. Before last season, Wilson was not on the NFL’s radar let alone on track to becoming a top two pick. Now we are expecting him to just ease into the NFL. Playing on the road in his first start? Come on folks, let’s use some logic here.
Overall, the Jets are a weird team to handicap going into the season. They were 1-15 last season. Now they have a rookie quarterback, a new coach, and added veterans Jarad Davis, Corey Davis, Lamarcus Joyner, Tevin Coleman, and Shelton Rankins, to change the culture of the team. While the Jets have some solid young pieces returning, they are not going to turn the ship around overnight. A rookie QB playing with a rookie head coach on the road is an angle we definitely want to target against.
On the other side, the Panthers are a team I am extremely high on. I love the additions they made on defense through the draft and free agency. They drafted Jaycee Horn to give them a physical corner opposite of the hyper athletic Dontae Jackson. They added one of the best free agent edge rushers in Hassan Reddick. Two quality additions to fill two major holes. Darnold is better than his 32nd ranked PFF quarterback ranking. Now he gets the best offensive caller of his career in Joe Brady. He has more help than he has ever had before. He has a top running back in Christian McCaffrey and a solid receiving core with DJ Moore, Terrace Marshall, and Robby Anderson. He should be able to move the ball on a defense that is low on talent and is still figuring out a brand new scheme.
I love the revenge aspect, and this is a good spot to build confidence for Sam Darnold.
This pick is a little public, but we are going with it anyway.
The pick: Panthers -5.5
Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs
Spread: Kansas City (-6)
In our staff write up, I made the Browns my preseason Super Bowl champion. If you read the write ups last season, you know my love for Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski. This is a rematch of the AFC Divisional game the Browns should have won. (Remember, Patrick Mahomes got injured). I’m extremely excited for this Browns team.
I think people are going to be surprised with the Browns defensive unit this year. Last season, the Browns were playing with practice squad players in their secondary. They were roasted for it. This season they get Grant Delpit and Greedy Williams back from injury. They also drafted Northwestern cornerback Greg Newsome in the first round, and signed free safety John Johnson and nickelback Troy Hill from the Rams. This secondary group will complement one of the best pass rushers in the NFL with Myles Garrett and Jadevon Clowney.
On Sunday, we will see how good this defense actually is.
I don’t need to give an introduction to Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs offense. The Chiefs ranked 2nd overall in DVOA last season. They addressed their O-Line issue with the trade for All-Pro left tackle Orlando Brown. But despite the explosive Chiefs offense, the Chiefs were very bad ATS last season. Including the postseason, the Chiefs were 2-9 ATS the spread last season.
Offensively, the Browns should move the ball at will against the Chiefs defense. The Chiefs ranked 31st in run DVOA last season. For the third consecutive year, the Chiefs didn’t do anything to fix it. The Browns offensive line was the No. 1 ranked unit in offensive line yards, sixth overall in rushing DVOA, and ranked fourth in rushing yards per game. The Browns should be able to execute long drives and run the clock - keeping the ball out of Mahomes hands. On offense, Baker Mayfield should have been more comfortable in his second year of Stefanski’s offense.
If the game does turn into a shootout, I don’t have concerns with the Browns ability to keep up. The Browns have been very profitable underdogs and are 4-1 ATS when they are getting six points or more. Give me the Browns to upset the defending AFC Champs on Sunday.
The bet: Cleveland (+6)
Teaser: New York Giants (+8.5) and Buffalo Bills (-0.5)
We got a classic two team NFL teaser. By far the best bet in the books. For those of you that don’t know, a teaser we can add or subtract 6 points to original spread. For two teams, we get a -110 payout. When we do this, we always want to tease the numbers through 3 and 7. So tease a 7 point favorite down to 1, or tease a 2 point favorite up to 8. This is a popular one I really like.
The Bills should overpower the Steelers in their Week 1 matchup. Pittsburgh's defense will still be good, but should take a step back from elite status after losing Bud Dupree and Mike Hinton in the offseason. The real buzz about the Steelers is the addition of new running back Najee Harris. While Harris has a chance to be dynamic, he is playing behind a makeshift offensive line. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger struggled to throw the ball down the field late in the season. The Bills should be able to put 24-27 points with their dynamic offense. I can see the Bills stacking the box, and totally shutting down the Steelers offense.
On the other side of the teaser, I like the Giants to keep things close with the Denver Broncos. The Giants made major upgrades to their WR core adding Kenny Golladay. The Broncos chose the safe route, choosing to start Teddy Bridgewater at QB. While that may limit their explosiveness, it ensures Denver coach Vic Fangio that his offense won’t turn the ball over often. Expect the Broncos to be extremely conservative on the offensive side of the ball.
With star running back Saquon Barkley returning to the lineup, the Giants should be able to move the ball against a tough Broncos defense.
Expect the Giants to remain in the neighborhood of this number.
Make sure to follow Austin on Twitter @AMontgomeryLive