Week 1 NFL picks, back Baker, Brees and stay away from Burrow
(Note: This article is written by new contributor and friend of Aaron, Austin Montgomery. Make sure to follow Austin on Twitter at @amontgomerylive)
Let me introduce the new column on the Aaron Torres sports page. My name is Austin Montgomery, and I am freelance sports journalist and a part time degenerate. I’ve been betting sports for over a decade, so I’m a seasoned vet in the sports betting game. I’ve been covering the DFS and sports handicapping for the last several years. I’m excited to share my content with Aaron’s site.
Ironically, I met Torres while covering a couple college basketball conference tournaments in Las Vegas, and after a weekend of killing the sportsbook in Vegas, the rest is history. Now I’m excited to make memories with you guys. There’s no better way to enjoy a Sunday crushing a few beverages while cashing in your winning tickets.
The goal of this column is to give you guys some solid betting info in a light hearted entertaining way. Of course the main goal is putting more money in your pocket every single week, breaking down some of the bigger games of the NFL slate. And like Aaron’s college picks, these picks are presented by MyBookie. So if you’re to be putting a little cash on these picks this weekend - and you should - make sure to use MyBookie and promo code “TORRES.” Do that and you receive a 100 percent sign-up bonus, meaning that for every dollar you put down, you get a dollar back.
Without further ado let's secure the bag.
Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens
Spread: Ravens (-7.5)
It's comeback season for Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns. Last season, Cleveland was a dumpster fire going 6-10, this after players and local media boasted about having Super Bowl contending expectations in the preseason. Even Baker Mayfield admitted some of the noise got to him and that he wasn't in a "great mental state" when faced with severe adversity last year - allegedly, Odell was dealing with his fair share of "shit" too. But that's a story for another day.
Baker seems to be more mentally focused and in better shape as he seeks to prove his critics and haters wrong. There is no better way to shut up the haters than by beating the reigning division winner and the reigning league MVP.
Shockingly, I think the Browns have a legitimate shot at winning this game, and there is a lot of value backing divisional underdogs during the opening Week 1 - they 38-16-1 ATS since 2010. Sharp bettors are warming up to the idea of a Browns cover. The spread has significant reverse line movement- signaled by the spread dropping to 7.5 after opening at 10, despite a close to 50/50 split on ticket differential.
Put simply, the Browns may be one of the most undervalued teams in 2020, after being the most overvalued team in 2019.
There are several reasons why.
One, the Browns arguably got the most significant upgrade in the head coaching department after firing Freddie Kitchens and replacing him with Kevin Stefanski from the Minnesota Vikings. Last year, the Browns had a top-eight graded roster according to PFF, but they were the worst coached team in the league. Stefanski helped the Vikings get to the playoffs, and his offense put Kurt Cousins in the MVP discussions- Kurt Freakin' Cousins.
(Yes, people mentioned Kurt Cousins and NFL MVP in the same sentence during talk show segments- which surprisingly won’t even end up as one of the Top 100 most crazy things said on TV during 2020).
With Stefanski, the sky's the limit for Baker. The running tandem of Chubb and Hunt is a perfect match for Stefanski's run based system, and he will help Baker Mayfield limit his mistakes. The Browns still have a Top 10 roster, but now they have a qualified NFL coach to guide them.
Also, the Ravens defense is an ideal debut opponent for the Stefanski run Browns. The running tandem of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt will give Stefanski the chance to exploit the Ravens mediocre run defense that ranked 23rd in run defensive DVOA last year. The Browns new ball control, quick passing, play action-heavy, running the ball philosophy will produce long drives to keep Lamar off the field.
As for the Ravens, we know they were an unstoppable force last year led by Lamar Jackson. I know they return basically every significant contributor from 2019, aside from Marshall Yanda. But after producing a historic offensive season and years worth of film, regression is looming for the Baltimore offense. With Lamar officially holding the keys to the franchise, Harbaugh may be more reluctant to call QB designed runs that killed defenses all of last year year.
I know it takes guts to bet against the reigning league MVP- it's a Texas summer day type of sweat. Watching Lamar make plays will make you feel like Odell in the bedroom. But the aforementioned warning of potential pain aside, you have to take the value with the Browns and the points. The line may continue to drop, but I would be comfortable at taking down to 6.5.
Ride the Browns comeback train early and pick Cleveland to play close against the Ravens.
The pick: Browns +7.5 (1.2 units) and ML +300 (0.5 unit)
Los Angeles Chargers at Cincinnati Bengals
Spread: Chargers (-3)
For the college football and SEC football fans, this may be the most intriguing opening matchup of the Week 1 slate as we get to see Joe Burrow's anticipated NFL debut. Burrow had a historic final college football season, winning the Heisman trophy and guiding LSU to a national championship. It will be fascinating to see if Burrow can replicate that same success in the NFL. The Bengals are hoping that Burrow is the man to turn around their mediocre franchise. Cincinnati was the worst NFL team in the league last year, ranking in the bottom 25 in all major advanced analytical categories. Without a full offseason in place, it is hard to believe the Bengals were able to make significant strides to improve all their deficiencies.
Burrow faces a challenging task in his NFL debut going against one of the best pass rush duos in the NFL in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. Burrow will have to face this duo while being protected by one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL. Burrow is going to be introduced to rough hardships of the NFL very quickly in this one.
The Chargers are coming off a disappointing season, but they have the roster capable of making a playoff push. LA lost their best defensive player Derwin James for the season, but they have enough formidable players to be decent on that side.
It's hard to imagine a scenario where we can back Joe Burrow here. It's hard to start Day 1 as a rookie; it's significantly harder to have to play when you do have any OTA's and have experienced zero live NFL reps. Historically, quarterbacks drafted No. 1 overall making their debut starts in Week 1 have not done well.
In fact, the last 12 No. 1 drafted QBs to make their debut start in the first week of the season are 0-12 in that game. The last QB drafted No. 1 overall to win their debut start on the opening week was David Carr for the Texans back in 2002. Not Andrew Luck, Jameis Winston, Cam Newton, Alex Smith, or Kyler Murrary - NFL Network analyst and Derek Carr apologist David Carr of Fresno State was the last No overall pick to win his debut start on Week 1. I don't see this trend ending this week.
Going into this game, I was initially looking into betting the under at 43 since LA is also breaking in a new QB in Tyrod Taylor. However, the Bengals defense is way too terrible to back an under, especially with the Chargers' weapons at the skill positions. Also, many believe Tyrod Taylor is a significant upgrade at QB from last season. Taylor is a veteran who has solid command and confidence with Lynn's system.
With Taylor's added mobility, the Chargers offense will definitely add a few more wrinkles that the Bengals will have no way to prepare for. LA's offense was pretty explosive last year, ranking fourth in the NFL in yards per drive, but the Chargers struggled to put up points due to turnovers, red zone inefficiency, and field goal kicking.
Even if the Chargers come out with a conservative-minded offense, LA will string a series of explosive plays together by exploiting the mismatch with the Bengals secondary. Kennan Allen and Mike Williams will be able to feast on the worst defensive backfield in the NFL. Cincinnati brought in three new below-average veteran secondary pieces to bandage a defensive backfield that ranked 30th pass defense DVOA (metric rating defensive pass efficiency.) This new group of defensive backs have yet to play a single game together, which could easily lead to early miscommunication issues that can produce a Chargers big play or two.
The Chargers will run away with this game if Lynn let's Taylor show out in his first start. Joe Burrow will have his chance to shine, but that day won't be Sunday. Joe Burrow struggles to move the football in his first start. This game gets ugly but the Chargers cover with ease. This is the most comfortable pick of the weekend for me — Chargers -3 to the bank.
The pick: Chargers -3 (2 units)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints
Spread: Saints (-3.5)
The most anticipated matchup of the Week 1 slate pits two surefire Hall of Fame quarterbacks against each other in their first matchup as division rivals. It will be our first time seeing Tom Brady playing in anything other than a Patriots’ uniform, and will definitely take a minute to get used to. But the older Brady wants to prove that he's still got it, now with a new team.
Yup, that’s right, the Buccaneers have been the talk of the NFL during the offseason after landing six-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady in free agency, and the Bucs have gone all-in on the TB12 experience. Along with Brady, the Bucs have added his favorite teammate Rob Gronkowski, and they recently signed Leonard Fournette. With all the offseason hype, the Buccaneers have been one of the trendiest teams from a betting perspective. The Bucs have reportedly totaled the second-highest number of tickets to win the Super Bowl and the number one amount ticket on over win totals. It looks like the betting public has found their new favorite team for 2020.
Over the last couple of weeks, the spread in this matchup has dropped a full point from 4.5 to 3.5. The public is definitely heavy on the Bucs, and as a game day approaches, more Bucs tickets will continue to fly in. I think the line at 3.5 is the best you can get on the Saints, with most of the Saints sharp money expected to come late. I can see this number jumping back up and settling around 4 around kickoff. If the number climbs down to -3, I'm definitely jumping on the Saints right away cause it won't last long.
Even at -3.5, the value is with the Saints here. With all the talk surrounding the Bucs, people have seemed to have forgotten about the New Orleans Saints. The Saints have won 37 games the last three years. Drew Brees and Sean Payton are still the class of the NFC South. Last season, the Saints had their season end on the final play of their final game, for the third consecutive year. There is no way the Bucs are their equal right now.
Going into his 19th season, at the age of 41, 2020, may be Drew Brees’ last ride. With arguably the most complete roster in the NFC, the Saints will be motivated by one more chance to make a Super Bowl run with their Hall of Fame quarterback.
In addition, the Saints have arguably the most complete roster in the NFC. They return a top five offensive line, added Emmanuel Sanders in free agency to complement Michael Thomas, and have one of the best pass rushes in the league. The addition of Malcom Jenkins along with Janoris Jenkins (who signed late last season) significantly boosted their secondary.
I really believe the Saints match up well with Tampa. The Saints defensive line is going to give Brady problems. Tampa’s offensive line allowed 47 sacks last year. Brady will help by getting the ball out quicker. But the Saints pass rush will do just enough to effectively disrupt Brady’s timing on throws. Brady has had limited live reps with his new high octane offense so I expect the Buccaneers to stumble out of the gate.
The Saints should be able to get out to a lead early. The Bucs young secondary will not have an answer for Micheal Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. They return a majority of their offensive player makers, and the Saints always put up points in the Superdome. On the biggest game of the weekend, the Saints make a statement to the rest of league. New Orleans wins this one by a touchdown 34-27.
The pick: Saints -3.5 ( 1 unit)
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