By Geoff Schwartz
FOX Sports NFL Analyst
I always say that time flies when you’re having football, and it’s true. Week 1 of the NFL season is here, and it’s been a long time coming. I hope all you bettors and fans are looking forward to another great season of football gambling fun.
As everyone remembers, from a gambling perspective, the playoffs were exciting (or devastating), with so many of the games coming down to the final 30 seconds of the game clock. When you add in the surprise Super Bowl appearance from the Bengals and the Disney-movie narrative of Matthew Stafford going from a playoff loser to the ultimate winner, last season was a great return to form for the fans and the league itself.
Here’s to hoping that trend continues this year.
Anyway, let‘s focus on the reason you are here. I’ve got three strong plays that stick out for the opening week. So with the season’s kickoff mere hours away, let’s get right into it with my best bets (odds via FOX Bet).
Consider this: The Niners trust Trey Lance so much that they decided to keep a quarterback that’s guided them to the Super Bowl and NFC Championship game over the last three seasons on the roster.
That tells me he’s not ready for primetime. The Niners will rely on their run game to control the tempo and pace of this contest.
On the flip side is Justin Fields, who just today said that he hopes “none of y’all [the media] expect him to win every rep against Nick Bosa.” ‘He’ in that quote is rookie left tackle Braxton Jones. Yikes.
Fields said the quiet part out loud. It will be a rough day for the poor Bears’ offensive line against the 49ers’ outstanding pass rush. Even if they give Fields time, the rest of the Niners’ defense will blanket the Bears’ receiving options.
Trey Lance vs. Justin Fields is an automatic under wager for me in this game.
Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Tom Brady are favorites to win MVP | UNDISPUTED
Buffalo Bills QB Josh Allen is prepping for a showdown with the Los Angeles Rams in tonight’s season opener.
This game will be decided by the quarterback (and offense) that overcomes its line protection issues. Tom Brady will be without his starting center and left guard while the Cowboys Dak Prescott is without his starting left guard and left tackle.
Historically, Dak Prescott has struggled without Tyron Smith — the only blind side protector he’s had in his career — and against this pass rush, I would not want to be without Smith. In his absence, the Cowboys have moved rookie and first-round pick, Tyler Smith, to left tackle and inserted a suboptimal left guard. This is not ideal for Dak Prescott, and I think the Cowboys’ offense will struggle.
It’s totally fair to question Tom Brady behind an injury-plagued offensive line. We have seen the past struggles, but I’m not worried about it in Week 1. The Bucs have had time to prepare for a Cowboys defense that everyone expects regression from. There is no way they can force turnovers at the same rate they did last season, and, not to mention, the Bucs have elite skill position weapons.
I’ll take the Bucs to cover in game one.
If you’re new to my weekly picks column, welcome. If you’re a returning user, you already know what I’m going to say.
Never wager on the Atlanta Falcons.
Not for them and not against them. You will never win. Year after year, they are the most frustrating team to bet on.
Having said that, I’m not laying 5.5 with the Saints on the road. That is crazy. They just lost a Hall of Fame coach and quarterback, a left tackle and a few players off an underrated 2021 defense.
Their new coach was unsuccessful in his first NFL coaching stint, and turnover-prone Jameis Winston guides them. It’s too early in the season to lay money on a team that I have so many questions about.
So my play for this game is looking to fade Falcons’ quarterback Marcus Mariota. His passing yards prop is set to 218.5, which appears like a low number, but based on the last three years of Mariota starts, the number might be high.
In Mariota’s last three starting seasons in Tennessee, 2017-2019, he did not average over 218.5 passing yards. In his final two seasons (2018-19), he didn’t even come close to averaging 200 passing yards. The Saints return the bulk of their tough defense from 2021, and the Falcons have one legitimate passing threat at the receiver position. Mariota is going to struggle. Fade him.
This is my favorite wager of the weekend.
In fact, I wagered on the Texans +8 when this line was posted right after the NFL Draft.
Since 2014, divisional underdogs have covered 76% of their games in Week 1. The Texans, while not primed for a good season, do have the pieces to keep games close. They have a left tackle. They have some skill position players to go around second-year quarterback Davis Mills.
But more than anything in this game is the Colts’ lack of success in the first week under Frank Reich. They are 0-4 without covering a single contest.
And these games aren’t against opponents you’d expect them to lose to. The one win came against the Jaguars in 2021. Seattle beat them to open 2020. The Bengals defeated them opening weekend in 2018.
The Colts start slow.
Additionally, Indianapolis is starting its fifth quarterback in five seasons. This could be a reason the team has struggled in Week 1.
I’ll take the Texans.
PICK: Texans (+8 at FOX Bet) to lose by fewer than 8 points (or win outright)
I don’t make it a habit to wager often on near-touchdown road favorites, so I’m going to play the Chiefs in a teaser leg. The Chiefs are going to win this game. For starters, they have the better: coach, quarterback, and offensive and defensive lines. They are a motivated group after their disheartening end to the 2021 season.
Andy Reid has also been fabulous in opening weekend games for the Chiefs, winning all but one of these contests in nine seasons with the Chiefs.
Arizona has many impactful players on the injury report, plus Deandre Hopkins is out for the first six weeks of the season. And while Kyler Murray has started fast each season as Cardinals quarterback — before fading in the second half — he has struggled without Hopkins. The Chiefs’ defense is younger and quicker this season. We will see that this weekend.
Geoff Schwartz played eight seasons in the NFL for five different teams. He started at right tackle for the University of Oregon for three seasons and was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection his senior year. He is an NFL analyst for FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter @GeoffSchwartz.
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