Week one of the 2017 NFL season is rapidly approaching, with the New England Patriots kicking things off against the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday.
Right away we get a fun, isolated NFL betting opportunity, as Tom Brady leads the defending champions up against a solid KC defense. It’s a fairly tough matchup on paper, but it’s even more difficult for bettors to peg when we look at a +9 spread and a Total of 48 at Bovada.
That first game of the year sets the tone in week one, as we’re headed for some murky waters if we’re looking to profit on the first 16-game slate. Are we headed for a tight, low-scoring affair when we look at the talent on both of these defenses, can Alex Smith and co. force a shootout or are the Pats just going to run away with an easy win?
Knowing the Pats, the most likely outcomes are a blowout win that is over fairly early or a grind-it-out affair where they run all over the Chiefs and the defense makes Alex Smith look just as pedestrian as he really is.
The point here is every game is going to take on a specific identity with both sides trying to enforce their will. Kansas City is already operating behind the 8-ball here, as they’re on the road, this is a Thursday night game and they lost top running back Spencer Ware (knee) for the year.
All of that is troubling and it’s just one side of one game. Let’s take a look at all of the dicey games and see where we’ll want to land with our Total bets in those contests:
Kansas City Chiefs(+9)
New England Patriots (-9)
Anytime there is a big spread, we need to question a Total. This gives way to a wide range of outcomes, or at least a clear outcome that can be reached in a variety of ways.
The Chiefs do not have an imposing offense standing in the face of a scary road date with a Bill Belichick defense. They arguably overachieved the last time they saw this defense and lost, 27-20.
On paper, the Pats have the defensive tools to stifle this Chiefs offense, while Kansas City probably won’t be shutting down New England on the road. Not only does Tom Brady have a slew of weapons in the passing game, but the Pats will also be facing one of the worst run defenses of a year ago.
I don’t expect New England to have too much trouble moving the ball, so the real question is how the Chiefs contribute to this game. Will they execute and keep it close like they did the last time these two teams faced, or will Alex Smith wilt under the bright lights as the Patriots cruise?
I honestly think it’s somewhere in the middle. The Chiefs have a balanced enough offense to potentially move the ball a bit, while both defenses are very talented.
Instead of a blowout, I think we get more of a methodical game on both ends and a relatively tight end low-scoring contest. This is still a very tricky Total, but it’s probably promoting more offense than we’ll actually see.
Pick: Under 48
Pittsburgh Steelers (-9)
Cleveland Browns (+9)
The spread is thick when the Steelers travel to Cleveland to battle the Browns, too. There are three obvious reasons to love the Steelers in this spot; Cleveland was 1-15 last year, the Browns are starting a rookie quarterback in Deshone Kizer and Pittsburgh is stacked offensively.
The Steelers are so loaded that they’re even getting deep threat Martavis Bryant (sat out of 2016 with a suspension) back. The Steelers are now as deep and balanced offensively as we’ve seen them in quite some time and it’s entirely possible they light up the Browns in this spot.
Add in the fact that Cleveland has a lot of new pieces on defense and also just cut loose veteran cornerback Joe Haden, and it’s difficult to see them shutting the Steelers down.
I think the Steelers as a straight up pick might be the easiest bet on the board in week one. Covering isn’t a bad bet here, either. This Total, though, could be pretty dicey.
The blowout idea is in play here, but we need to consider a few things. For one, Ben Roethlisberger – for whatever reason – has not performed well on the road over the past few years. He crushes at home, but he does not play well on the road.
These teams have played each other fairly tough lately, too. The Steelers barely snuck past the Browns last year (27-24 in OT) and only beat them 24-9 in their game in Cleveland earlier in the season.
There just has not been a lot of explosive scoring in this matchup lately in general, as this specific Total has been topped just once over the last five meetings.
Recent history, Big Ben’s road struggles, Deshone Kizer’s upside and Cleveland’s improved defense (on paper) make me think a massive blowout is going to be a lot harder to come by than bettors may first think. That and Cleveland’s best path to staying in this thing is riding Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson early and often.
I think the Browns are going to be shockingly competitive in this game, while we always want to consider tossing all data out the door when rivals face off. The Steelers have all of the upside in the world, but on the road in this matchup, I think they could disappoint to a certain extent. That may lead to fewer points than Vegas might be pushing us to in week one.
Pick: Under 47
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-1.5)
Miami Dolphins (+1.5)
While we want to pause for reflection when betting on Totals in games with huge spreads, we also want to consider the outs in weird spots like this 1.5-point spread.
Tampa Bay isn’t traveling all that far for a battle with the in-state Dolphins and they’ll also be taking on the always volatile Jay Cutler in his Miami debut. Both of these teams have a lot of potential for 2017, but they’re also incredibly tough to trust.
These pick’em types of games are understandably great contests to shy away from if you don’t fall in love with a specific betting angle and that’s my first instinct. Cutler gives the Fins a shot after losing Ryan Tannehill for the season (knee), but Tampa Bay is the more explosive team and seems to carry a little more upside.
Due to Cutler not being completely familiar with his teammates and Miami’s general strategy, their angle will be to pound the rock and limit Tampa Bay’s big plays. I doubt they completely stifle Jameis Winston, but their strategy likely paints a lower scoring game and one that also lives up to the spread expectations.
I’d stray from this game, but we can bank on a lack of huge plays and Miami trying to slow things down. Because of that, win or lose, the Dolphins should contribute heavily to the Under.
Pick: Under 46
New York Jets (+7)
Buffalo Bills (-7)
Boy is this a brutal game in just about every respect. The Bills get a pretty big line (likely the biggest they’ll see in 2017) and that has everything to do with taking on the 38-year old Josh McCown and a Jets team that seemingly doesn’t even want to win games this year.
While we probably have to brace for the Jets being utter trash, perhaps we should consider that McCown really isn’t a bad starting quarterback when healthy. He has precious few weapons to work with in New York, but even in Cleveland last year he effectively drove an equally apathetic offense down the field.
I think it’s possible we’re getting duped here and the Jets could put up a few more points than we’re expecting. New York’s defense got stripped down just as badly as their offense, too, so we can safely bank on the Bills dropping some points in this home tilt.
Buffalo has the more talented rushing attack (one that ended 2016 as the #1 unit in the NFL), and while that directly conflicts with the Jets’ solid run defense, it should give way to some offensive production. Tyrod Taylor is passable under center, too, so the Bills should put up some points against an exploitable New York secondary.
Maybe the Jets only surprise us with a scoring drive early and they burn us later – we can’t know. But a healthy McCown deserves a little credit and Buffalo’s upside here helps me think this Total can be topped. It isn’t a safe bet, but I think the Under feels like a trap.
Pick: Over 41
Indianapolis Colts (-3)
Los Angeles Rams (+3)
This is another weird game and it will surely end up being heavily impacted by the actual status of Colts quarterback, Andrew Luck.
Indy has been mum on his week one status all summer, but all signs point to him sitting out due to shoulder rehab.
The Colts having Luck makes the Over very playable here and it also keeps them as favorites. Without Luck, though, they turn to career backup Scott Tolzien and the line might turn into more of a pick’em or (*gulp) even shift in the Rams’ favor.
As this line shifts, the Total will probably adjust. It’s open at Bovada and most NFL betting sites right now, though, so I’m perfectly fine attacking the Under. As things stand, we’re set to showcase one stacked defense in L.A. and two pedestrian-to-unproven commodities at quarterback.
If you think Tolzien is good enough to keep the Colts from missing a beat offensively and the Rams can drop 20+ points with ease, then shoot high. But no Luck makes this dicey and I think what could have been a shootout turns into more of a grind-it-out defensive battle.
Pick: Under 47
Seattle Seahawks (+3)
Green Bay Packers (-3)
Speaking of defense, it is quite obvious that the bookmakers are trying to get us to aim high at Lambeau Field in week one. Yes, Aaron Rodgers can go nuts on anyone and the Seahawks have some firepower, but are we seriously to believe Seattle’s defense is going to be this trashy in such an opener?
Both offenses are plenty capable of putting up points, but these battles tend to lean more toward chain-moving drives, field goals, and either side being quite thankful for whatever points they can get. Green Bay tore the Seahawks up at home last year, but Seattle was without star safety Earl Thomas and just wasn’t the same unit.
It’s going to be different to start 2017, as the Legion of Boom will be healthy, Seattle will try to run the ball and Green Bay will also probably try to be a little more balanced.
Seattle will surely be out for some revenge, while brutal early season schedules make this week one battle kind of a must-win for both sides. Instead of this exploding into some shootout, it’s much more likely we get a very tight, somewhat low-scoring slugfest.
Looking back on the history between these teams, we really shouldn’t expect anything different. Not including last year’s demolition by the hands of the Packers, we’ve seen this matchup top this Total twice out of the last four meetings and one of those games went into overtime in a playoff game where Green Bay blew a 19-7 lead.
Vegas has the spread right and this game isn’t going to be as explosive as many want it to be. It could end up being close, but I’m leaning toward the Under.
Pick: Under 49.5
New Orleans Saints (+3.5)
Minnesota Vikings (-3.5)
Our last game stops in Minnesota, where a talented Vikings defense hosts one of the more explosive offenses in the league.
Vegas is clearly boosting Minnesota for their matchup against a traditionally terrible Saints defense, while simultaneously crediting New Orleans for their past offensive success. Throw in an Adrian Peterson revenge narrative, and this game has all of the upside we can ask for.
Except it probably doesn’t – or shouldn’t.
I don’t mind biting on a tight game (as the spread suggests), but the Vikings have a stingy defense that got them off to a 5-0 start last year. That hasn’t changed, as injuries and a late season slide still couldn’t keep that unit from ending 2016 ranked 3rd against the pass, 6th in points allowed and 5th in sacks.
Minnesota struggled with consistency on the ground, but they have the coaching and tools to stuff the run and I wouldn’t be shocked if they did that in week one. New Orleans can still shred any defense, but they usually struggle on the road and this is not an ideal matchup.
The Total makes it seem like the Vikings’ defense won’t stifle the Saints and/or that a poor New Orleans defense on paper automatically makes Sam Bradford and the Vikings an elite offense.
Ultimately, it’s probably something in the middle. Both teams will slightly exceed expectations and we’ll get a tight game, but with this spread in mind, something like 23-20 would make a lot of sense. That gets us just under this Total and that’s probably where we’ll want to be.
Pick: Under 48
There are more games than this and you can argue there are tougher Totals to call in week one. While that could be true, in our opinion, these are the diciest week one NFL betting Totals and/or they’re probably the toughest to gauge.
Game flow is going to be very tough to figure out without any prior data to rely on. One major reason is roster turnover, while schematic changes can also toss a wrench in what we think we know.
Based on what we’re seeing here, perhaps we now have a better insight on these games and can correctly pick the Total. Still, these are the games to avoid when it comes to betting on NFL Totals if we’re not looking to take on obvious risk.
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