Week 1 of the first-ever 18-week NFL regular season has arrived. It brings with it that familiar tingle of excitement that comes with placing those initial wagers on what many feel is betting’s greatest sport. To help you dive successfully back into that NFL betting pool, we isolated our three favorite wagering selections from this Sunday’s card.
1. Washington’s daunting defense sets the tone
FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, hosts the season’s opening game for the home Washington Football Team and visiting Los Angeles Chargers. Despite this matchup featuring the reigning NFL AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, Justin Herbert, under center for Los Angeles against the ageless gunslinging of Ryan Fitzpatrick for Washington, we think it will be the defenses that rule the day when the dust settles.
These two defenses allowed the seventh (LAC) and 11th (WFT) fewest plays per game last season. Additionally, they recorded the fifth (WFT) and 10th (LAC) fewest yards allowed. Washington had the seventh-best third-down percentage defense in the league and the fourth-highest sack percentage. Worth noting, both teams finished in the top half of the league for the fewest penalty yards per game, as well.
Moreover, WFT allowed just 1.3 points per game at home in the fourth quarter last regular season, the best of any team in a statistical category critical to surviving an under bet with such a low total like this one. Put differently, Washington allowed just 10 points at home in the fourth quarter all regular season, holding six of its eight opponents scoreless in the final stanza.
Surely, that tremendous stat goes a long way to explaining why none of Washington’s final six regular-season home games went over the total last season. They allowed a stingy 18.9 points per game at home in 2020, compared to 23.5 ppg when away. In fact, Washington has provided the league’s fourth-best ROI from home under bets since 2005 with 69 under, 56 over, and three pushes.
The case for the under
WFT played just six of its 17 games over the total last year, seeing the team’s games average just 42.3 total points per game. Washington played seven of their 10 non-division games under last season. This continued a theme that has now seen them play 19 of 30 under the last three seasons and 27 of 50 under the last five seasons against non-division opponents.
While the Chargers may have a reputation for offense with Herbert at the helm, they have quietly played six straight September games under the total. They have also played 27 of their 50 non-division games under across the last five seasons and will be debuting a new head coach in Brandon Staley, who was the Rams’ defensive coordinator prior.
With the team bringing in new offensive and defensive coordinators in a season with just three preseason games, we could see LAC stumble a bit out of the gates offensively. Staley should have his defense thoroughly prepared, but a second-year quarterback coupled with a new OC facing arguably the league’s best defense is a cause for concern.
Trends to know in Washington vs. Chargers
The over has cashed just 29 of 71 times (40.8%) since 2005 when an NFC home dog that made the playoffs the previous season hosts a favorite that did not. Since 2005, home teams in the Eastern Time Zone playing their first game have seen the under cash 84 of 154 times (54.5%), including eight of 11 times (72.7%) when that home team was Washington. If the game featured two non-division opponents, the under won 57 of 102 tries (55.9%).
When the home team was a dog, the under came in 34 of 58 times (58.6%) in that role. However, if the home team was from the NFC East, the under ruled the day 19 of 29 times (65.5%). Ron Rivera has helped the under hit five of seven times (71.4%) in this scenario during his coaching career for a nice exclamation point on it all.
Our Pick: LAC/WFT Under 44.5 (PointsBet -105)
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2. Burrow’s Bengals vex Vikings
Yes, Joe Burrow only lasted nine full games before suffering a torn ACL in Week 11 last season, ending his rookie campaign. Yet, those watching closely learned some valuable character traits about the young quarterback, several of which should play major roles in the season opener.
As a rookie, Burrow did not lose any of his four home games against the spread and covered both games in which his Bengals were home underdogs. He was also 6-1 against the spread (ATS) off a loss and 4-1 ATS in non-division games. If you are concerned about the condition of the knee in this one, rest easy knowing that Minnesota sacked the quarterback the fourth-least in the league last season at just 1.4 times per game. Furthermore, they generated just 2 total sacks in the team’s final three games.
Mike Zimmer historically covers the spread
Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer has been a cash cow covering spreads in his coaching career, but laying points on the road here is likely not where you want to try to become part of the winnings. The Vikings closed 2020 by losing seven straight games ATS, including their last five as favorites. They have dropped six in a row ATS on field turf and are playing their first season opener on the road since 2016. That is a tough prep for new offensive coordinator and first-time play-caller Klint Kubiak, who takes over from his dad.
We saw what a mess the defense was last season under first-time defensive coordinator Adam Zimmer, the head coach’s son. And special teams is unlikely to be much help after being historically poor on multiple fronts last season, offering little to no upside in any area and facing a coaching change of its own. Ryan Ficken took over as special teams coordinator last season, his first time in the role.
Kirk Cousins struggles ATS
The Vikings still have Kirk Cousins throwing the football, but he has far from delivered on the fortune Minnesota has paid him. He is just 20-24-1 ATS as a favorite since 2015, and 22-29 ATS off a SU win (Min won 37-35 in Week 17 last season), and is a guy for whom when it rains, it pours on the football field.
Look for Cincinnati to continue building on its current 5-2 ATS run at home and 35-17-2 ATS record in its last 54 September games. The Bengals, in fact, have only lost two of their last eight season openers against the spread and have not lost any of their last five Week 1s as underdogs. As a cute little throw-in, we’ll mention that Cincinnati, which lost its Week 17 game to Baltimore 38-3 in 2020, has covered five straight games after allowing 35+ points to an above .500 foe.
Look for the home team in this head-to-head series to make it five straight ATS victories as Cincinnati extends its own home-cover streak against Minnesota to four in a row.
Our Pick: Cincinnati +3 (PointsBet +105)
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3. Murray in the Music City means massive scoring marks
Kyler Murray leads the Arizona Cardinals into Nashville to take on the Tennessee Titans in a game that currently holds the second-highest total on the board for Week 1 in the NFL. Despite Arizona not playing a single road game over the total in 2020, averaging just 41 total points per game, this game now shows a total of 52, and we think it is with due cause.
Don’t be put off by Arizona’s failure to cash for over bettors away from home last season, as they did hit half of their over opportunities in the six games they played with totals set in the 50s. The Cardinals scored 30+ points in three of their four against the AFC last season. In their first nine games of 2020, Arizona and its opponents combined to reach at least 30 points 10 times. Of further note, Murray has led his team to 25+ points in 18 of his 32 career starts (56.3%).
It’s hard to believe he won’t have every opportunity to do so again against a Titans team that has been outgained by its opponents in all three seasons under head coach Mike Vrabel, despite going 31-21 SU in that time. Tennessee simply outguns its opposition, as evidenced by their 30.7 points per game at home in 2020, the second-best mark in the league. That masked a defense that conceded 27.3 ppg at Nissan Stadium, the tenth worst mark in the NFL (ninth-worst total ppg allowed at 27.0).
Trends to know in Cardinals vs. Titans
As you might expect, there are endless trends demonstrating the Titans’ propensity to play over the total in recent years. The over is 22-7-1 in their last 30 overall, 7-2-1 in their last 10 as favorites, and 4-1-1 in their last six as home favorites. Only five of their last 21 games at home have stayed under the total, one of which was their playoff loss to Baltimore last January. However, even that leads us into another tremendous nugget surrounding Tennessee. They played all four games over last season following a game that failed to go over. Those four next games saw the Titans play to 51, 51, 63, and 71 total points scored.
As you can piece together from above, the Titans were the second-best team for cashing the over last season (12-3-1 in the regular season). Additionally, they averaged 56.6 total points per game across their full season, including the playoff loss that netted just 43 total points. At home, the over went 6-2-1 (6-1-1 regular season), producing 58.0 total ppg.
Tennessee’s historical betting performances
Going back a bit beyond last season, Tennessee has played 10 straight over the total at home against non-division opponents with sub .600 win percentages. The Titans are 25-13-2 in favor of the over at home during the regular season the last five seasons. Moreover, they are 29-19-2 for the over across the same timespan against non-division foes.
Across the entire NFL since 2005, the over is 107-83-3 in games with totals set over 50 and home teams who made the playoffs the previous season laying points. When those games feature non-division opponents, the over is 72-51-2, and when the games were played in September, the over went 28-14.
The last time these teams met in Nashville (2013), the game finished 37-34 in overtime, with the two amassing 820 yards of combined total offense. With two offenses stocked to the gills with talent and two of the game’s best receivers wanting to make statements, there’s little to make us believe this one will prove to be anything less than a shootout once again.
Our Pick: Ari/Ten Over 51.5 (BetMGM -110)
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