One year after the NFL began an unprecedented season with limited crowd participation in the face of COVID-19, all 32 teams have approved full capacity stadiums for the 2021 regular season.
The return of fans en masse, combined with the continued expansion of mobile sports betting, will ostensibly provide a boon to the stadium experience for in-game wagering throughout the season. The NFL also added a host of authorized gaming operators in recent weeks on the heels of a historic sports betting data partnership with Genius Sports that may be worth as much as $1 billion over the life of the contract.
As a result, the buzz surrounding NFL betting has reached a crescendo, perhaps to a level never seen before for the opening week of a regular season. Here, at US Bets, the excitement is palpable. We are celebrating the return of the NFL with a breakdown of staff picks for Week 1. Unlike years past, the list contains an amalgam of opening-week picks along with season-long props, rather than prognostications limited solely to Sunday’s slate.
As always, the picks are for recreational purposes only. A disclaimer: We are not professional handicappers — you might have a better shot at hitting the bullseye while taking part in a blind axe-throwing contest. Still, we aim to do better than the Cleveland Browns have fared in Week 1 contests since the turn of the century, as the franchise has delivered an unparalleled record of futility that Browns fans know only too well.
Brian Pempus, Analyst
Kansas City Chiefs -5.5 vs. Cleveland Browns, -114 various books
The Cleveland Browns have won only one opener since 1999, as noted in an article from SB Nation. The Browns were annihilated by the Steelers by 43 points in 1999 when they returned to the league, and it’s been ugly ever since. They did somehow win an opener against the Ravens in 2004.
Will this week’s away game against the strong Kansas City Chiefs break the long winless streak in openers? The Browns lost in last season’s playoffs to the Chiefs in Kansas City by 5 points, so a close game is possible. But with the franchise’s deeply ingrained Week 1 shortcomings, the Chiefs on the spread looks OK to this novice NFL betting analyst. They are favored by 5.5 points at -114. If I was betting this game with my money, that would be my wager.
Browns backers are hoping for a better outcome than the result of the 2002 season opener, which was the last time Cleveland faced Kansas City to open a season. Leading 39-37, the Browns appeared to win the game when Chiefs offensive lineman John Tait was tackled out of bounds after a desperate attempt to score on a lateral with no time left. During the play, Browns linebacker Dwayne Ruud threw his helmet in celebration, leading to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. One play later, the Chiefs’ Morten Andersen connected on a 30-yard field goal to give Kansas City a 40-39 victory. (Andersen is currently employed by US Bets parent company Better Collective.)
This was the 2002 season opener for the Chiefs. Since 1999, the Browns are 1-20-1 in season openers. Many of those games they’ve found a way to lose or just got blown out. https://t.co/LGhH5htdFw
— Harold R. Kuntz (@HaroldRKuntz3) September 8, 2021
Eric Raskin, Managing Editor/Media Director, US Bets
Broncos -3 vs. Giants, +100, FanDuel Sportsbook
What kind of Eagles fan would I be if I didn’t come out firing with a bet for an NFC East rival — specifically the NFC East rival that my colleague Brett Smiley lives and dies with — to fall flat on its face in Week 1? Given that I have no expectation of my Birds being a contender this season, the most satisfaction I’ll receive is when the Cowboys, Giants, and soon-to-be Armada or Defenders or some similarly atrociously nicknamed team from Washington suffer defeat.
And I expect the Giants to do exactly that in their opening game against the Denver Broncos. Some of it is just bad luck with injuries to start the season — the “limited practice” list for this week was more crowded with G-Men than a party boat in Miami. The Giants are not at full strength to start the season. But even at full strength, I would expect them to be slightly overmatched against a Broncos team that is poised to turn things around after four straight losing seasons. Especially when that Broncos team is about to begin its “Teddy Covers” era.
New QB Teddy Bridgewater sports one of the most remarkable against-the-spread records ever seen in sports. In 49 NFL starts, Bridgewater has covered 35 times. And he’s an absolutely staggering 21-3 against the spread as a starter on the road! Do you see Daniel Jones being the man to buck that trend?
The Broncos are 3-point favorites at MetLife Stadium at every mobile sportsbook, but shop around, because the vig varies. The best we’re seeing right now is +100 (even money) on the Denver side at FanDuel. That’s a bargain. Teddy will cover the 3 for us. (By “us,” I mean sports bettors and Eagles fans.)
Mike Seely, Analyst
Russell Wilson + Josh Allen, Most Passing Yards In NFL, +800, WynnBET
Here’s a dirty little secret: A fair amount of Seattleites don’t really care for Russell Wilson and his earnest, corny, Bible-thumping schtick. For as much genuinely wonderful charity work as the Seahawks quarterback does, he seems way too concerned with building his brand off the field.
I mean, it’s not every signal-caller who launches a fragrance line with his pop-star wife. But Russell Wilson has never missed a game in his nine-year NFL career, an almost impossible feat of durability for an athlete who plays such a risky position with a perennially putrid offensive line. And when you’re contemplating a season’s-end futures wager that involves aggregate yardage, he’s a good guy to have on your side.
I’m grateful for the ability to built brands we love together. @ciara
This fragrance embodies so much of our love and the power of togetherness. We’ve got big plans for R&C Fragrance. Keep watching this space. 🖤 pic.twitter.com/EQU1hwguQB
— Russell Wilson (@DangeRussWilson) September 3, 2021
After a well-publicized offseason kerfuffle with Seahawks brass led to Wilson’s agent listing the franchises he’d be willing to be traded to if he wasn’t allowed to “cook” more often, the team hired the L.A. Rams’ former passing coordinator, Shane Waldron, to be its offensive coordinator. Couple this development with the Hawks’ injury-prone collection of tailbacks and a tendency to fall behind heading into the fourth quarter, and it’s no stretch to say Wilson could throw for over 5,000 yards this season, what with the extra regular season game tacked on.
Same goes for Bills QB Josh Allen, who’s improved dramatically in each of his three NFL seasons and possesses perhaps the league’s strongest arm. (Wilson’s right there with him, for what it’s worth.) Even a modest improvement over last season, in which he threw for 4,544 yards, gets Allen to around 5,000.Thus, with 10,000 regular season yards between them and odds of 8/1, these two hurlers are well worth betting on ahead of Aaron Rodgers and Joe Burrow (+400), Tom Brady and Justin Herbert (+375), Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield (+350), and the somewhat inexplicably favored Matthew Stafford and Ryan Tannehill (+300).
Brett Smiley, Editor-in-Chief, SportsHandle
I placed most of my futures bets in late August, so the odds mileage will vary depending on where you’re looking to place a bet today. Here’s a sampler platter:
New England Patriots Over 9 wins (-140 at FanDuel): A lot of players returning from COVID-19 opt-outs join some high-priced new additions. The defense is going to be back, the offensive line is very good, I have enough faith in Mac Jones and the coaching staff, and the schedule isn’t too imposing.
Arizona Cardinals to miss playoffs (-200 at DraftKings): The NFC West is just brutal this year. The Cardinals are not good. After year three at the helm, Kliff Kingsbury will be heading back to a college campus.
Washington Football Team to win NFC East (+260 at BetMGM): I think this is down to +200 now. WFT’s defensive line is… dare I say, elite, and “Fitzmagic,” starting for his 23rd different NFL team now, remains good enough to be an NFL starter. Oh yeah, this division stinks, this Giants fan can admit.
Chase Young Defensive Player of the Year (+1200 at PointsBet): See above.
Jared Goff to lead the league in interceptions (+1100, BetMGM): He’s trading Sean McVay and the Rams’ offensive weapons for new Lions offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn and a bare cupboard of receivers, whom most of you can’t even name. But Goff will still have a long leash under center to pile up picks.
Patriots vs. Seahawks to meet in the Super Bowl (200/1 at BetMGM): Let Russ Cook + YOLO.
Gary Rotstein, Analyst
Najee Harris Over 990.5 rushing yards, -115, DraftKings
Disclosure from the outset: This is a Steelers-related season prop bet from a Pittsburgher who generally avoids backing the local teams and players with bets, and one who, on over/under futures bets, always takes the under. Or almost always, because I like the over on Najee Harris’ rushing total at 990.5 yards.
The Steelers historically have had a dependable rushing game, only to fall to last in the league in rushing yards in 2020 with 1,351. Only four teams tried to rush less than the Steelers’ 373 attempts, and none fared as bad as Pittsburgh’s 3.6 yards per carry when doing so. Everyone from team owner Art Rooney II to the team’s ball boy said that couldn’t be allowed to happen again.
So the Steelers bid adieu to No. 1 running back James Conner, replacing him by making Alabama star Harris the first back taken in the NFL Draft. They did that even though everyone says running backs are ever so interchangeable in today’s NFL, which means they will want to justify the investment by running Harris into the ground.
Coach Mike Tomlin is no running back-by-committee fan, in the first place. In Le’Veon Bell’s last two years with the team before a contract dispute, he ran 321 times for 1,291 yards in 2017 and 261 times for 1,268 yards in 2016. The Steelers have to be thinking that Harris is as good as Bell was. The only snags to the bet are a possible injury — something Harris hasn’t experienced before — and a restructured Steelers offensive line, though it couldn’t be any worse at run blocking than last year’s group.
Jeff Edelstein, Analyst
Joe Mixon, Antonio Gibson, and Najee Harris: Season-long receptions, 3-team Parlay, Over, +553, DraftKings
Have you fallen behind in your football game? Do you need to get a first down on a 2nd-and-6 in the third quarter? Are you trying to beat the blitz? If any of the above apply to you, please call the firm of Mixon, Gibson, and Harris at 1-800-DUMP-OFF today.
Yep. These are three bell-cow backs (well, at least two in Joe Mixon and Najee Harris, and almost certainly a third in Antonio Gibson) who have matchup, game scripts, and talent levels to all crush their receiving yards prop.
As of Thursday evening, here’s where they stand over at DraftKings: Mixon over 22.5 at -115; Harris over 22.5 at -115; and Gibson over 16.5 at -115. Parlay them together, and that’s a +553 wager that — at least to me — feels like a smash.
If I had to choose one above all, it would probably be Harris, but all three are in great spots to pile up receiving yards.
Matt Rybaltowski, Analyst
Matthew Stafford Over 4,575 passing yards, -120, PointsBet Sportsbook
Arguably no player across the league will shoulder as much pressure as Stafford in 2021. The Rams gave up a king’s ransom for Stafford in March, surrendering three first-round picks and Jared Goff for the Pro Bowl quarterback.
Blessed with one of the strongest arms in the league, Stafford is expected to make the Rams one of the NFC’s top Super Bowl contenders. The Rams made the playoffs last season for the third time in four years, but they apparently hit a ceiling with a turnover-prone Goff under center. The offseason signing of DeSean Jackson also provides a deep threat for Stafford to stretch the field.
“A healthy Stafford, in a 17-game season and with that Rams backfield, could be the first quarterback to throw for 6,000 yards in a year.” 🚀 @peter_king is bullish on Matthew Stafford for MVP this season: https://t.co/5rKxPlpe0v pic.twitter.com/l6fddtGNuX
— NBC Sports (@NBCSports) September 6, 2021
With Kenny Golladay saddled by injury with the Lions in 2020, Stafford had few, if any, gamebreakers at his disposal. He still managed to eclipse the 4,000-yard mark for the eighth time in his last 10 seasons. Following his escape from Detroit, Stafford has enough motivation to pass for 4,600 yards for the first time since 2013.
While the Rams acquired Sonny Michel last month from the Patriots, the loss of Cam Ackers to a season-ending Achilles injury could transform Sean McVay’s attack into a more passing-oriented offense. Plus, the return of Cooper Kupp gives the Rams the most firepower at receiver since 2018, when Goff himself threw for 4,688 yards. There is relatively little juice on the “over” at -120, compared with a prop on Stafford to toss at least 27 touchdowns, which requires a bet of $150 just to win $100.
Photo: Ken Blaze/USA Today