NFL Week 1 Best Bets
Pittsburgh Steelers +6.5
Sportsbooks are practically begging you to tease the Bengals down and pair it with the 49ers or Ravens, but we aren’t falling for it. The Steelers are undervalued in the market. I rate Mike Tomlin as the best coach in the NFL, and he added Brian Flores to his defensive coaching staff this offseason, which makes a massive difference.
The Bengals overhauled their offensive line over the offseason, but integrating four new starters upfront can take time, particularly as right tackle La’el Collins has missed most of training camp with a personal issue. Over time, it should help Joe Burrow stay upright and complete downfield passes to Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins, but the immediate impact might be overstated.
In Week 1, you’re looking at an offensive line lacking continuity facing a Pittsburgh defensive line featuring T.J. Watt and Cam Heyward, two of the best at their respective positions. It’s worth noting that Watt missed these teams’ first meeting last year and was working his way back from a knee injury in their other matchup. He’s fully healthy to start the year and ready to tee off on Burrow.
You might be concerned about the Pittsburgh offense, but I’m not. Mike Tomlin coached this team to the playoffs with the corpse of Ben Roethlisberger under center, and Mitchell Trubisky can be a very efficient, solid passer at times. With an improving offensive line and deep group of playmakers, I believe the Steelers can do enough to keep this thing close.
My Power Rating Spread: Bengals -4.5
My Prediction: Bengals 24, Steelers 21
Miami Dolphins -3
A new era is under way in Miami as Mike McDaniel takes the reins as one of the most promising up-and-coming offensive-minded coaches in the game. The Dolphins’ biggest issue as of late has been their awful pass-blocking, and that should be light years better this year with the additions of Terron Armstead and Connor Williams.
The Patriots’ pass rush isn’t a major concern in this game as they have limited proven producers outside of Matthew Judon and Christian Barmore, neither of whom are blue-chip talents. McDaniel will also be able to scheme the offense to keep the pass-rush at bay and buy time for Tua Tagovailoa, who has been very efficient throughout his career when he’s had time to throw.
The Dolphins added Tyreek Hill alongside Jaylen Waddle this offseason, and also have Cedrick Wilson and Mike Gesicki as dynamic playmakers. The Patriots lost J.C. Jackson in the offseason, and their secondary already would have been at a disadvantage. The market is overvaluing Bill Belichick’s impact on this defense as this might be the worst personnel he’s ever had at his disposal.
Speaking of Belichick, I have no idea what the Patriots are doing on offense. Belichick hired Joe Judge and Matt Patricia to be co-offensive coordinators this offseason, and the early returns have been horrible from offseason training to the preseason. The offensive line has struggled and the skill position talent is underwhelming. Mac Jones might be set for a sophomore setback with the surrounding situation.
If all of that wasn’t enough for you, keep in mind that the Dolphins are 7-2 in their last nine home meetings with the Patriots. The talent gap has never been greater between these teams in favor of Miami as it is right now. We’re already seeing significant market action in favor of the Dolphins, and I’d jump on this line while it’s still set at 3 points.
My Power Rating Spread: Dolphins -6
My Prediction: Dolphins 26, Patriots 19
Jacksonville Jaguars +3.5
The Jaguars are one of the teams that I’m higher on entering this season, and it shows up in my power ratings where I have them ranked two spots ahead of the Commanders. I believe the switch from Urban Meyer to Doug Pederson is worth at least two wins on its own, and while Jacksonville overpaid for some players this offseason, there’s no question that its moves give it a much higher floor this season.
The Jaguars’ Josh Allen will have real support on the defensive line from Arden Key, Roy Robertson-Harris, Folorunso Fatukasi, and rookie Travon Walker. Meanwhile, the additions of Foyesade Oluokun and Devin Lloyd give the Jaguars a much needed boost in run defense. With Darious Williams joining Shaquill Griffin and the ascending Andre Cisco in the secondary, this defense should be much better than last season.
Meanwhile, the additions of offensive guard Brandon Scherff and wide receiver Christian Kirk give Trevor Lawrence more help on offense as he enters his second season. Don’t forget that Travis Etienne is now healthy, as well. This is a better roster than the market is currently conceding, and Lawrence offers immense upside as a supposed generational prospect at quarterback.
The Commanders struggled mightily on defense last year, and they will be without Chase Young to start the season as he is still rehabbing from injuries. Washington’s defense dropped from third in DVOA to 27th last season, and I’m expecting it to be closer to last year’s version than 2020’s. This isn’t a defense I’m particularly scared of.
I still don’t really understand Washington’s decision to turn the offense over to Carson Wentz, and I don’t have high hopes for him entering this season. Jacksonville arguably has a better quarterback, coach, and defense, and my power ratings make this closer to a pick ‘em. Take the points on Jacksonville while you can.
My Power Rating Spread: Commanders -1
My Prediction: Jaguars 23, Commanders 20
Green Bay Packers -1.5
The Vikings have been one of the darlings of the offseason, but I’m not fully bought in just yet. I’ve bet on Kirk Cousins too many times for him to make boneheaded decisions late in contests, and while I like the hire of Kevin O’Connell, the Vikings are facing a loaded Packers defense to begin his tenure.
Green Bay had several injuries on defense last year, most notably to cornerback Jaire Alexander who I rate as the best at his position in the NFL. The Packers added rookies Quay Walker and Devonte’ Wyatt, two former Georgia players, to a front seven that features Rashan Gary, Kenny Clark, and Preston Smith. With All Pro linebacker De’Vondre Campbell also in the front seven, the Packers quietly have one of the best defenses in the NFL.
Last season, the Vikings ranked 25th in run defense DVOA and 20th in PFF’s team run defense grades. While I expect that to improve over time, particularly with the additions of linebacker Jordan Hicks and defensive tackle Harrison Phillips, this is still a team that the Packers will be able to run the ball on with their elite offensive line and the dynamic duo of Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon.
Much of the focus will be on the Packers’ loss of Davante Adams to start this season, but I believe the reintroduction of Alexander and All Pro offensive tackle David Bakhtiari to the lineup helps cancel out that loss. Aaron Rodgers is still a top three passer and not someone I’m looking to fade in the regular season. I’m taking the Packers to cover the 1.5-point spread.
My Power Rating Spread: Packers -3.5
My Prediction: Packers 23, Vikings 20
Los Angeles Chargers -3.5
Public money has been hitting the Raiders in their matchup against the Chargers, but my power ratings disagree entirely with that movement. The Chargers had an excellent offseason that saw them load up the defense with talent. Khalil Mack and J.C. Jackson are a huge boost to the pass defense while Sebastian Joseph-Day and Austin Johnson help shore up what was a terrible run defense last season.
The Raiders have a bottom three offensive line in the NFL, and they will struggle mightily against the duo of Mack and Joey Bosa, as will most teams in the NFL. While Davante Adams is a massive addition to the Raiders’ offense, he doesn’t offset the fact that Derek Carr will be pressured a ton in this game. The potential absence of Darren Waller is noteworthy, as well.
Justin Herbert is on the verge of becoming one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, and he plays behind an elite offensive line with a bevy of pass-catching weapons. The Raiders added Chandler Jones across from Maxx Crosby, but their secondary has significant issues and Herbert threw for 579 yards and five touchdowns across two matchups against them last year.
The Chargers have had all offseason to think about this Week 1 matchup against the Raiders team that kept them out of the playoffs. They have a better roster on both sides of the ball, a much better quarterback, and a strong coaching staff with established continuity. I hate buying the hook at 3.5 points for a divisional game, and the Chargers don’t have a true home field advantage in Los Angeles, but I’m still backing them in this spot.
It’s worth noting here that the likely absence of All Pro cornerback J.C. Jackson puts the Chargers in a tough spot to cover Davante Adams. However, I still like them to cover the spread at home. If anything, the Jackson absence gives me more confidence in the over here, which is one of my favorite totals bets of the week.
My Power Rating Spread: Chargers -5.5
My Prediction: Chargers 33, Raiders 27
Power Ratings Explanation
My power ratings are essentially based on two things – overall roster talent and projected win totals. To start, I compiled a list of all of the players I believe should be treated as blue chip and red chip players as we enter the upcoming season. The famed Michael Lombardi came up with this concept, and you can read more about it here.
Essentially, blue chip and red chip players are the best at their respective positions. I gave 2 points to each blue chip player (top 5 ish, more or less depending on position) and 1.5 points to each red chip player. Then I ranked the teams based on their composite blue chip/red chip scores.
Next, I ranked teams by their Vegas projected win totals. When teams had the same projected win total, I used the juice as the tiebreaker. For example, the Chargers and Colts are both set at ten wins, but the Chargers are -140 to the over, so I ranked them ahead of the Colts in that list.
Once I had the blue chip/red chip rankings and win total rankings compiled, I averaged them out to get a base ranking for each team. From that point, I used a system I borrowed from Adam Chernoff, a journalist for Covers.com, to assign scores to each team from 0.15 to 0.9. You can read more about that process here.
I used a spread of 17 points to approximate the range of spreads across the NFL as I projected the top-ranked team – the Bills – would be favored by about 17 points over the Texans on a neutral field. In fact, the spread for their game last year was 17.5 points.
If you have any further questions about this process, please feel free to DM me on Twitter. I’m a nerd and I’m stoked about this model I built. Alright, let’s get into some picks.