NFL Week 1 best bets and expert picks for the Sunday Slate. Find best bets for NFL Week 1, featuring Texans-Ravens, Panthers-Falcons, Eagles-Patriots, and Dolphins-Chargers.
NFL Week 1 Best Bets: 7 Bets To Make This Sunday
Well, here we go. I’m fired up to be bringing you another year of my best bets column this season, and I’m excited to bring on some new friends in Kody Malstrom and Will Schwartz. We hope that the three of us can provide you with unique insights all season long.
Last year in this column, I ended the regular season with a 141-110-2 record, good for a hit rate over 60%. None of that matters now, though, as it’s time to find some winners in the 2023 season. As always, feel free to hit me up on X @wayne_sports with any questions about the upcoming slate of games. Let’s get to work.
Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens Best Bet
As soon as I saw that there was going to be a favorite of 10 points on the Week 1 slate, I was intrigued. The Texans had the second-worst record in the league last year and are on the road with a rookie head coach and rookie quarterback against Baltimore, one of the most consistent franchises in football. This number isn’t shocking.
However, I believe it’s wrong. The Texans hired DeMeco Ryans away from the 49ers, and the 39-year-old first-time head coach and former Texans linebacker is ready to shift the culture in Houston. Naturally, as a former defender and defensive coordinator, it starts on that end.
The Texans had a sneaky good pass defense last year, ranking above average in DVOA and EPA, and it’s poised to only improve further. Derek Stingley Jr. and Jalen Pitre should ascend on the heels of promising rookie seasons. Jimmie Ward is a massive veteran addition to the secondary while Will Anderson Jr. will provide a much needed pass rush boost.
Meanwhile, the Ravens are implementing a brand new offense under coordinator Todd Monken. I believe the modernization of the offense and shift away from Greg Roman will help Lamar Jackson and potentially make this team a dark horse Super Bowl contender. However, it’s also the biggest change any team is enduring on either side of the ball.
Per Sharp Football, the Ravens had the lowest rate of 11 personnel – three wide receivers, one running back, one tight end – in at least a decade last season. Now, they’re expected to run 11 personnel at one of the highest rates in the league. There will inevitably be some growing pains, as evidenced by offseason reports and brief preseason action.
On the other side of the ball, the Texans could see some growing pains of their own with C.J. Stroud. However, I’m not sure how much he will be under pressure here. Baltimore had the eighth-worst pressure rate in the league last year while Laremy Tunsil was the highest-rated pass-blocking left tackle in the league last year per PFF.
Stroud will also be working against a secondary without its best player, Marlon Humphrey. I already had questions about Baltimore’s cornerback depth, so losing Humphrey right away hurts. I expect offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik, former passing game coordinator for the 49ers, to scheme easy throws for Stroud.
Everyone is putting the Ravens in their survivor pools, and it seems like a foregone conclusion that Baltimore will pick up an easy win over the team that finished with the second-worst record in the league last year. However, I believe this game will be much closer than most expect, and I wouldn’t be floored by an outright upset.
Best Bet: Texans +10 (play to +10)
Author: Jacob Wayne
Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons Best Bet
I’ve been high on the Falcons all offseason, and I can’t wait for this game as we’ll finally be able to put proof to concept. The foundation for Atlanta’s success will be its run game, and we already saw that last season. The Falcons ranked third in rushing DVOA behind an offensive line I had fourth in my offseason rankings.
Now, Atlanta adds Bijan Robinson, one of the best running back prospects in recent history. Not only will Robinson be transformative for this offense as a runner, but he’s also a highly capable receiver. Carolina will have to account for him at all times, especially since they ranked just 18th in rushing success rate allowed.
That likely means more stacked boxes, which will give second-year passer Desmond Ridder opportunities for play-action downfield passing. Ridder will at the very least be a significant upgrade over Marcus Mariota, who ranked 39th out of 41 qualified passers in adjusted completion percentage per PFF.
The bottom line is that Atlanta ran this same offense to great success last year, and now likely sees a big upgrade at quarterback and running back. Carolina appears likely to be without edge rusher Brian Burns, its best defensive player, as he’s currently holding out for a new contract. That’s a developing situation that needs to be monitored.
I don’t have much confidence in the Panthers’ offense right out of the gates, and the injuries aren’t making things better. Wide receiver D.J. Chark has been ruled out while Adam Thielen was a late Friday addition to the injury report. A concerning offensive line also has Austin Corbett on the PUP list.
Bryce Young might be a great quarterback someday, but he needs help in the form of quality blocking and pass-catching. He doesn’t have that in Carolina right now, and I don’t love that Frank Reich is trying to juggle being the head coach and offensive play-caller at the same time – this could all be a mess in the opening game.
Atlanta overhauled its defense over the offseason, adding veteran safety Jessie Bates II and a bevy of new defensive linemen including Calais Campbell. New defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen is also expected to make a big impact.
Frank Reich has seemingly had a different starting quarterback every season he’s been a head coach, and he’s started slow as a result – he’s never won a Week 1 game as a head coach and is 0-4-1 ATS, failing to cover by a whopping 8 points per game.
I rarely bet favorites in the NFL, especially in Week 1, but I don’t believe the market has properly accounted for just how good this Falcons team is going to be. I don’t see a reliable path for Carolina to score here, and I’d consider the under on their team total, as well.
Best Bet: Falcons -3.5 (play to -4)
Author: Jacob Wayne
Philadelphia Eagles at New England Patriots Best Bet
I’m going to give the counterargument to Schwartz’s pick of the Eagles to cover this week, so if you want to read his section first feel free. I’m taking the Patriots as home dogs here. When betting the NFL, the bet that feels the most uncomfortable is often the right one, and I believe this is the right one.
The Eagles were excellent last season, but we found success fading them as favorites down the stretch, and I’m happy to keep that going here. Philadelphia is implementing a new offensive coordinator, Brian Johnson, who is replacing the highly regarded Shane Steichen, now the head coach for the Colts.
This is just about the worst spot for this change to be happening. Bill Belichick is the league’s preeminent defensive mastermind, and he led a defense with one Pro Bowler to the best ranking by DVOA in the league. That defense only gets better with first-round cornerback Christian Gonzalez who has shined during the offseason.
As teams started to figure Jalen Hurts out over the second half of last season, he fell from 3rd to 20th in adjusted completion rate. Belichick has had several months to figure out whatever caused that decline and use it to his advantage this week. He’ll be hungry to do so on a night where Tom Brady will be honored.
I already would have had the Eagles’ defense tagged as a unit due for regression after they played the second-easiest schedule by DVOA. However, the loss of defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon and five starters from last year’s unit is a lot of change to overcome in one week.
Schwartz is right when he says the Patriots don’t have a great offense. They ranked 31st in my receiving corps rankings and the injuries on their offensive line are concerning. Right tackle Riley Reiff is out while guards Mike Onwenu and Cole Strange are listed as questionable. That’s terrifying against the Eagles’ pass rush that led the league in sacks.
However, the Patriots hired new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, and it’s difficult to understate how much even a competent play caller will help. The decision to hire Matt Patricia as the offensive coordinator was puzzling at the time and went as horribly as we all expected.
The Eagles lost both coordinators from last season and find themselves in a difficult road spot. Hurts is just 6-13 ATS on the road, which is the worst of 86 quarterbacks since 2020 per BetLabs. I expect a slow start for the Eagles on the road while the Patriots’ defense ends up being the best unit on the field.
Best Bet: Patriots +4 (play to +3.5)
Author: Jacob Wayne
Note: Titans +3.5 is also a best bet for me, and you can find my analysis in the YouTube video we recorded. It seems like that spread is about to jump to +2.5, and I wouldn’t play it at that number, so I didn’t do a full write-up for it. If you want to get in on the TItans, I’d use them as a teaser piece with the Steelers, as Kody breaks down below.
San Francisco 49ers at Pittsburgh Steelers Best Bet
The San Francisco 49ers and Pittsburgh Steelers are heading into two different directions and that will be made apparent in their week one matchup.
The Steelers were arguably the winners of the NFL Draft by adding an abundance of starting quality talent. They upgraded their two weakest positions by drafting Broderick Jones to bolster their offensive line and Joey Porter Jr to anchor the secondary.
As for the talent they already have, young quarterback Kenny Pickett made tremendous strides in his development in the back half of his 2022 campaign.
He has steadily built a repertoire with George Pickens who oozes superstar potential while also getting the benefit of Diontae Johnson on the opposite side. Factor in rookie athletic specimen Darnell Washington and the always reliable pass catching Pat Freiermuth and the Steelers have an abundance of talent in their pass attack.
As for the 49ers, their offensive production has taken a nosedive. Brock Purdy is still not 100% after sustaining an injury in the NFC Championship, now thrusting Sam Darnold back into a starting role.
Speaking of injuries, star offensive tackle Trent Williams has yet to play a full season since 2016 while dealing with never ending injuries year in and year out. The guard production is also as low as it has ever been, grading out near the bottom of the barrel for the position by PFF.
What was once their main strength has now turned into a potential major weakness. This could be detrimental to their offense as they heavily rely on elite blocking to set up their unique pulling approach.
With the Steelers defense returning a healthy TJ Watt, they regain an elite pass rusher who will consistently force Sam Darnold into scrambling situations and throwing into tight windows while under pressure.
This number is starting to crash down, making this a fantastic Wong Teaser piece at +2.5. If playing it as a straight, take them at no lower than +3.
Best Bet: Pittsburgh +3 (play to +3)
Author: Kody Malstrom
Miami Dolphins at Los Angeles Chargers Best Bet
In one of the most fascinating matchups of the season, let alone week one, we have two teams who figure to be in the thick of the AFC playoff race if they can just stay healthy, led by two very different offensive coaching minds. It’s also a clash between two of the stars from the unfathomably loaded 2020 quarterback draft class, Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa and LA’s Justin Herbert.
For the Dolphins, the key here and all season is Tua’s health. When he was active last year, their offense was absolutely unstoppable. No matter how brilliant of a defensive mind you are, you can’t scheme against the fastest wideout duo in the league, if not league history, paired with one of the best deep ball passers in the league. In fact, the group was so effective that Tagovailoa silently led the NFL in passer rating, despite his numbers being dragged down by a few injury-laden performances.
The Chargers will be adjusting to Kellen Moore’s new offensive system, so it’s easy to imagine that there could be some slight growing pains, just enough for them to be a step behind in this battle against Mike McDaniel’s Miami attack. Both defenses have some solid talent, but the offenses have more, and I expect this one to be a good old fashioned shootout.
50.5 is a wild points total for a matchup between elite offenses, as it would require one or both teams to stay below the 25-point threshold, something I don’t believe is in store for either squad. The over is my most emphatic bet for this one; +3 is a decent football number to grab the Dolphins on the spread in what could be a close one, but if the number falls any lower, switch to the moneyline, they should be able to get the opening day win on the road if it comes to late game scenarios against Brandon Staley.
Best Bets: Dolphins +3 (switch to ML if number falls), over 50.5 (play to 52.5)
Author: Will Schwartz
Philadelphia Eagles at New England Patriots Best Bet
As evidenced by my play-to number, this is probably my lock of the week- the line makes absolutely no sense and the Patriots have absolutely no chance to keep this one close. The only thing they have going for them is that it’s Tom Brady’s jersey retirement night, but the intangible motivation there might be canceled out by Bill Belichick’s personal off-the-field turmoil as he goes through a major breakup.
The Patriots roster is a total mess. They have close to the worst offensive personnel in the league, with a bottom-five group of skill players, a rapidly declining offensive line, which is already dealing with injuries, and Mac Jones, a quarterback who I still think is a solid enough passer, but not strong enough to overcome the dire circumstances. The defense has some more playmakers, like star edge rusher Matthew Judon, but there are definitely still some concerns about a slow linebacker corps and secondary, even with the addition of rookie cornerback Christian Gonzalez, who could take some time to establish himself.
Even Judon will be in for a long night as he tries to keep up with Jalen Hurts, one of the best players in the entire sport and perhaps the best pure athlete to ever play the quarterback position. Hurts will be able to victimize the Patriots at all levels of the game, using his legs between the tackles and outside, as well as stretching the field with stud wideouts AJ Brown and DeVonta Smith.
The recent news around this Patriots team, even beyond the Belichick drama, is all negative; JuJu Smith-Schuster’s knee is described as “a ticking time bomb,” and with Rhamondre Stevenson out of practice but expected to play, it’s unclear how much the Patriots will be leaning on Ezekiel Elliott, who is absolutely not to be leaned on at this point in his career. Even at their best, the Belichick Patriots are not an early-season squad, and considering how far they are from their best, this is a terrible opening day spot against an outstanding team, maybe the best in the league.
Best Bet: Eagles -3.5 (play to 13.5)
Author: Will Schwartz
Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears Best Bet
For the Chicago Bears, this is the year- to beat the Green Bay Packers at least. It hasn’t happened since 2018, but with Aaron Rodgers out of town and the Bears roster as strong as it’s been at least since that season, hopes are high on the South shores of Lake Michigan.
Week one is a bit of an early spot to host your archrivals while incorporating a bevy of new pieces, such as Justin Fields’s first bona-fide top wideout DJ Moore, so we’re going to shy away from the spread in what could be a very close, gritty rivalry game. But the Packers are also making a big adjustment as they shift to Jordan Love as their signal caller, so it’s a great spot for the Bears to finally squeak out a win against their archrivals.
The Bears have shifted their entire offensive philosophy, making the game easier for Justin Fields and leveraging his athleticism as well as that of his offensive skill weapons. The defense could still be problematic, but they made some key adds there as well. T.J. Edwards and Tremaine Edmunds have taken linebacker from a position that was visibly hurting the Bears after the Roquan Smith trade to a definitive strength, while Yannick Ngakoue is a nice veteran pickup who could lend some life to an anemic pass rush and make Love’s job harder.
The Packers are in no position to exploit the Bears’ weaknesses either; the offensive line is not in a state to dominate the line of scrimmage, wideouts Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs are both hurt, and while the healthy return of Rashan Gary is a huge deal, not even he may be enough to keep up with Fields. It’s a new era in the NFC North, and it’s time to Bear Down for a huge year from Chicago.
Best Bet: Bears ML (play to -140)
Author: Will Schwartz