Week 1 of the new NFL season is always a bit of a unknown with so many changes to teams and coaches not wanting to show their hand in pre-season, but nonetheless I've picked out a few bets for the weekend’s games.
First up, my best bet this week, is the Houston Texans -3.5 to beat the San Diego Chargers at the standard handicap price of 10/11. I can't quite figure out how the handicap is set so low for this game as, in my view, Houstan are a far superior team on both sides of the ball.
The Chargers offensive line looked horrible last year and still looked horrible in pre-season this year, giving up a number of sacks. That line going up against the Texans front 7, which includes reigning defensive player of the year JJ Watt, should result in Chargers QB Philip Rivers picking himself up off the ground far too much to be able to consistently sustain drives.
Speaking of Rivers, he has been in decline the last few years and I'm not convinced a change in the coaching staff will arrest this. He also hasn't had any truly dominant weapons to throw to since WR Vincent Jackson (now in Tampa) and TE Antonio Gates in his prime.
Houston on the other hand have strengthened further on the offensive side of the ball, finally adding a compliment to WR Andre Johnson in DeAndre Hopkins who has looked the part in pre-season. Add this to one of the best running games in the league and Houston should have a strong offense this year.
Add all of this together and I can’t see Houston having any trouble covering the handicap.
Next, I’ll be taking the Miami Dolphins over the Cleveland Browns at around Evens.
Now I do actually rate Cleveland as an up and coming team, but I don’t think they are quite there yet. 2nd year QB Brandon Weeden now has a coaching staff that will play to his strengths, but with #1 WR Josh Gordon suspended for this game he is going to lack options in the passing game. As a result of this, expect Miami to put 8 men in the box to stop the Brown’s RB Trent Richardson and challenge Weeden to air the ball out downfield to unproven pass catchers.
The Dolphins spent big in free agency and the draft to improve their team on both defense and offense, specifically trying to help another 2nd year QB in Ryan Tannehill with WR Mike Wallace and TE Dustin Keller. Keller was lost in pre-season to a gruesome injury but Wallace should stretch the field and help Tannehill take what the Cleveland defense is giving him.
I do have my concerns with Miami’s offensive line, LT especially, after they failed to replace Jake Long who left for St. Louis, but their running game should do enough to reduce the pressure on Tannehill and allow him to make enough key throws to provide the Dolphins with a week 1 win.
Interestingly, Browns TE Jordan Cameron was targeted a fair bit in pre-season and picked up a couple of TDs along the way – he’s available at around 7/4 for anytime TD scorer..
Finally, I’ll be backing the New York Giants to prevail over the Dallas Cowboys at around 6/4. New York has never lost in the new Cowboys Stadium and I think that will continue on Sunday night.
Despite having the talented WRs Dez Bryant and Miles Austin on the outside, Cowboys QB Tony Romo could well struggle to get the ball to them as he has been under pressure a lot, particularly from the right side. If Justin Tuck rediscovers his previous form and Jason Pierre-Paul is ready to go (currently listed as questionable for the game) then it could be a long day for Romo.
Conversely, Dallas’ defensive line is ageing and injured at the moment and aside DE DeMarcus Ware I can’t see where the pressure on Giant’s QB Eli Manning is going to come from. If Manning has time, he’ll pick apart the Cowboys’ secondary, finding WRs Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz with regularity.
The Cowboys will put up points, but the Giants should get enough stops to pull out the win.