Early leans & analysis Wk 1
Early leans & analysis

Posted at 4:00 PM EST and are subject to change.

NFL Week: 1

What you see below is our early leans. Many of the selections below will stay the same and some will be moved into official plays with wagers on Sunday. However, there is also the possibility that we see, read or get a sense that something is not right with one of our selections and change our pick. There are several different criteria we use to grade a game and make it an official play and a lot of things can happen or change between Friday and Sunday. We’ll have all write-ups (except Monday Night Football) posted on Friday but our actual wagers won’t be posted until Sunday morning between 10 AM and 12:00 PM EST

Sunday, September 10

Indianapolis +5 over Jacksonville

1:00 PM EST. The market is high on the Jacksonville Jaguars entering the 2023 season and for good reason. Trevor Lawrence ascended in dramatic fashion last year, earning his very first Pro-Bowl honors along the way, confirming that the marriage between Lawrence and new coach Doug Pederson was a perfect fit. The two led Jacksonville's offense to top-10 marks in yards per play, points per game, yards per game, pass yards per game, and yards per rush; just one year after the Jags were the laughing stock of the league under Urban Meyer. The Jags made no one wonder about their priorities this offseason, resigning the rejuvenated Evan Engram, drafting power-back Tank Bigsby to complement Travis Etienne's flashy style, and reinstating Calvin Ridley, who's reportedly ready to explode in 2023. They also added more depth to their offensive line. This is an offense ready to fire on all cylinders again and to no one's surprise, Jacksonville is a heavy favorite to win the AFC South.

All these things can be true, but it still doesn't mean that the Colts should be 5-point dogs at home in their first game of the season. The biggest reason we’re buying the Colts at this price? New coach Shane Steichen. Colts' owner Jim Irsay has made plenty of enemies in the media and among the NFL coaching community, but few can contest the decision to hire Steichen fresh off the Eagles' amazing Super Bowl run last season. One could argue he was the single biggest reason for their success.

In his first stint as an offensive coordinator, Steichen led Justin Herbert to offensive rookie of the year honors, where Herbert broke records as a rookie QB (31 TDs, 396 completions). According to Colts.com, LAC finished in the top 10 in yards per game (382.1 – ninth), passing yards per game (270.6 – sixth), first downs per game (23.3 – sixth), third down percentage (44.2 percent – ninth) and fewest turnovers (16 – tied-fourth) in the same campaign. Steichen then went to Philadelphia for the 2021 season, scoring 28 ppg in their last 5 contests and helping a new-look Eagles' offense earn a Wildcard round playoff berth. What Steichen and the Eagles did in 2022 was downright legendary, earning top five statistical marks in nearly every offensive category that matters. Perhaps most impressively, they were 2nd overall in points per game (29.1), explosive plays (0.435 points/play), and 1st in TDs per game. Steichen, Hurts, and the Philadelphia offense weren't the reasons why the Eagles lost Super Bowl LVII, and now Steichen takes his innovative schemes and QB-grooming ability to Indianapolis.

It's hard not to like Steichen and the Colts' offensive potential even more with Anthony Richardson at QB. The Colts 2023 first round draft pick is a massive 6'4", 245 pounds, and he plays like a young Cam Newton with more poise. Even in a Week 3 preseason spot that would have shaken up many rookie QBs (at Philadelphia against some of their starters), Richardson showed command and avoided making mistakes. Whether he plays perfectly or not, it's likely that Steichen will bring play-designs and schemes that Jacksonville hasn't seen before. Whispers about unique formations like the PRO (power-run-option), for example, have been circulated by local reporters leading up to Week 1. Richardson will lead Indianapolis behind a very formidable offensive line and plenty of talent, even without star-running-back Jonathon Taylor. Michael Pittman Jr. and Alec Pierce are cemented pieces of their receiving corps, and new slot receiver Josh Downs has been apparently turning heads in practice. We’d be lying if we said we had any idea how good their tight end room is, but Richardson is the kind of athlete that can make everyone better.

Defensively, give an edge to the Colts. The Jaguars are full of young, hyper-athletic talent on defense but they were more of an Achilles heel than a security blanket last year. Their pass-defense earned bottom-third rankings in nearly every category and they permitted a startling 352 yards per game a season ago. They also struggled to get off the field (JAX allowed opponent's to convert on 43.78% of 3rd downs); that fits the archetype of a defense that's young and talented but without the leadership and experience it needs. The Colts can't relate, still anchored by all-pro veterans like DeForest Buckner and Shaquille Leonard. The Colts' secondary is young and exposable, which is not a small concern going up against Trevor Lawrence but we trust the Indy-offense can keep pace.

With less to play for and certainly less to be excited about, the Colts beat the Jaguars at home last year in Week 6. That game looked very similar to what we suspect we'll see Sunday in this matchup - lots of offense, lots of lead-changes, and a hard-fought battle between two division rivals. At home and with the motivation of a clean slate entering Week 1, there's inherent value in a home underdog. With a potentially electric, dynamic QB and a proven offensive-minded coach who knows how to fool enemy defenses, the Colts are in a great position to win outright or come in under the number. Recommendation: Indianapolis +5

Cincinnati -1 over Cleveland

1:00 PM EST. Talk about fickle, eh? How can the Bengals be just a -1-point favorite against a Browns side that is coming off a 7-10 season? Yes, we know the Browns will have criminal Deshaun Watson under center in Week 1, but so what? It’s not like the Cleveland faithful are planning the parade route for next February’s Super Bowl. Oh, what’s that, the Cleveland faithful ARE planning the parade route. Good lord.

Perhaps the Browns just wouldn’t be the Browns if there were not unreasonable expectations saddled upon them, year in and year out, but it’s exhausting, really, and we don’t give two shakes about Cleveland unless we are betting on them or against them. As for Watson, do we really know what to expect this season?

Now, we’ve been following Brownies camp closely, and nary a reporter has had a negative thing to say about Watson or his effort in practice. In fact, some veterans of the Brownies beat have said that they’ve never seen a training camp of this quality for a starting quarterback in C-Town, at least not since the Browns 2.0 rebirth in 1999.

Watson’s sample size in 2022/23 was limited and it came with the weight of the world on his shoulders. The surface stats weren’t good, nor worth the “goods under the hood,” but one cannot say for sure if Watson is truly shot, or if his head has just been spinning after two years of drama. We acknowledge that drama was of his own making, but perhaps Watson has begun to take the steps necessary to try and make up for those life mistakes. Let’s not forget that dude was a top-5 pivot in this league and was on the way up that ladder before falling off. Only time will tell. Now, we cannot predict if the work Watson is putting in is going to translate into the regular season, but in case he does come out firing on all cylinders and partying like he’s in the CFP National Championship game in 2016, but we’d be remiss not to mention that the fact he’s “doing all the right things” is on our radar.

Meanwhile, the Bengals are buzzing, or at least they were. What happened over the offseason that caused Cincinnati to lose its luster as an “up and comer?” Does anyone really believe this team has peaked yet? If the lack of chatter is any indication, perhaps, however, that lack of chatter cannot be taken as anything other than total disrespect. How can the Steelers and Browns be getting more hype in the market than Cincy?

The Bengals had the ball with a chance to win Super Bowl LVI, but could not seal the deal. Last season, Cincinnati was in a similar situation, as they had the ball and were driving for the winning points in the AFC Championship game until Joe Burrow was sacked on third down, forcing the Bengals to give the ball back to Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. You know what happened next, Kansas City won the game and then went on to win Super Bowl LVII.

As for expectations in 2023, the Bengals are once again a true Super Bowl contender, unlike Cleveland. For some perspective on that, Cincy is +1100 to hoist the Lombardi Trophy, while the Browns are just +3300, and we’d argue that is generous when you consider teams like Giants, Vikings, Raiders, and Packers are all posting longer odds. Additionally, the Bengals are favored to win the AFC North at +140, while the Browns are third at +375. Finally, the Browns are predicted to win 8½ games over at -160, while the Bengals are sitting at 10½ over at -145. This line opened with the Bengals as a near-field goal favorite, and now they are favored by the slightest of margins. That’s not right. Recommendation: Cincinnati -1

San Francisco -2½ over Pittsburgh

1:00 PM EST. We discussed the Steelers and the tough road ahead this season in our analysis and subsequent selection of them to go under 8½ wins on this season, and this game is a big reason for that, as it has the potential to set the tone for the entire year in the Steel City. If you want our analysis on Kenny Pickett and the hype surrounding him this season, please check out that write-up if you haven't already, as it would be redundant to rehash that information here.

Rather, in this space, we are going to just talk a little bit about just how much hype there really is in Pittsburgh, and why that hype is amplified by 1000% because of the Black and Gold the Steelers wear week in and week out. There are a few blue blood franchises in the NFL like Dallas or Green Bay, and the Steelers are a team that has to be elevated to that level. We know there are huge fan bases for the likes of the Raiders or Dolphins, but those franchises have been so bad for so long, that we can only assume the remaining members of their fan bases are total masochists. At least the Packers and Steelers have won a few trophies along the way.

It’s because of that large fan base, that has such high expectations year in and year out that it doesn’t take long for the Steelers hype train to get rolling. We heard it both from the talking heads and on the street at the sportsbooks. However, we must warn that this would be a good time to pause and look at the Steelers without those legendary uniforms with their one decaled helmets, and see them for what they really are, which is a pretender, masquerading around as a contender just because they have the prettiest dress at the ball.

Let’s move to the 49ers, whose young quarterback has changed from opening day last season. Trey Lance is out, and we mean OUT, as he was unexpectedly traded to the Cowboys after Sam Darnold won the 'Niner backup QB job behind Mr. Irrelevant and newly minted starter Brock Purdy. You think NFL teams are fickle about running backs? Hell, the 49ers sent a former #2 overall pick that they traded the farm for and sent him packing for a seventh-rounder who is coming off a major injury. All that said, the 49ers really like what Purdy brings to the field, and Lance’s reported pouting and having to be sent home after the call to make him QB3 made the call to ship him out to Jerry’s World an easy one. Buy in or GTFO.

Some will call that trade to the Cowboys short-sighted or rash, but the 49ers under John Lynch have not had trouble cutting bait on “bad” decisions and moving forward with what they have, which is why they were able to make it to the NFC Championship game with the last player chosen in April at the league’s most important position. Now, it would have been easy to roll with three QBs, two of which were top-end draft picks, and see where the dust settled, but the 49ers didn’t want a bad attitude in their locker room. We respect that, but it also presents us with an opportunity, as the ‘Niners do not have a QB carousel that is known for consistent success. That’s what happens when you roll into a season that carries high expectations with a seventh-rounder and a “never was” at pivot.

Just based on preseason hype alone, the Steelers should be worthy of fade consideration here, as there might not be another team that the market sees returning to its rightful glory than Pittsburgh. However, if we are mining for value (and we are), there are no gold nuggets to be found with the Steelers. The media and the market have picked those bone-dry, so that has us looking towards the 49ers, who are a great team with an uncertain QB, which from a wagering perspective is far more appealing to back than an average-to-below-average team with an uncertain QB. The Steelers should be a way bigger underdog here, but they aren’t. Recommendation: San Francisco -2½

Houston +9½ over Baltimore

1:00 PM EST. The Texans come off yet another bad year with a 3-13-1 record that included no home wins. Subsequently, the Texans moved on from HC Lovie Smith to DeMeco Ryans, who last ran the defense for the 49ers. He brought QB coach Bobby Slowik to take over the offense. C.J. Stroud became the 1.02 pick when the Texans opted to draft an elite quarterback instead of "making do" with the cast of players that have gone through the Texans offense. They brought in Devin Singletary, Robert Woods, and Dalton Schultz to upgrade a struggling offense. The franchise needs help in every area and on both sides of the ball, but they found their running back last year with Dameon Pierce and C.J. Stroud should solidify the offense for many years but that’s a story for another day. On this day, we’re only concerned about where the value lies. No matter how you break it down, Houston’s stock is as low as any team in the NFL with the exception of perhaps the Cardinals. That makes us buyers, at least in Week 1.

As for C.J. Stroud, the Ohio State star, was taken with the second overall pick this year and after throwing for over 40 touchdowns in each of his two years as the starter. Stroud is a pocket passer and won't run unless chased. He lacks any known stud receivers but has enough talent to learn the ropes and win a few games along the way. He ushers in optimism about the future, even if the present may not start well. At least that’s what the media and market are selling. Baltimore is the biggest favorite in Week 1.

The 10-7 Ravens snuck into the playoffs despite dropping their final two games and then promptly lost to the Bengals in the Wild Card Round. However, Cinci was lucky to escape. The Ravens lost to the hated Bengals 24-17 on 98-yd scoop and score. To make matters worse, they outgained Cincinnati 364-234. The Ravens swapped offensive coordinators from Greg Roman to Todd Monken and there's genuine excitement with the new offensive scheme. So join us in saying goodbye to former offensive coordinator and future St. Louis BattleHawks head coach Greg Roman, and say hello to former Georgia OC Todd Monken, whose job will be to draw up plays that don’t end with Lamar Jackson desperately heaving the ball to Mark Andrews. Monken’s last NFL job was as OC in Cleveland under Freddie Kitchens, which ended precisely the way you think it did. His job before that was running the Jameis Winston/Ryan Fitzpatrick Bucs offense. Funny how going back down to the college ranks and joining a historically loaded program in Georgia improved Monken’s reputation after all of that. John Harbaugh always fixes his offense two years too late.

Speaking of Lamar, it’s still Lamar Jackson. After sitting out that aforementioned Wild Card game, the Ravens slapped the rare non-exclusive franchise tag on Jackson after putting him out on the market. No team offered Lamar a contract after that, because of collusion and because Jackson opted for a combination of himself, his mom, and unauthorized Florida Men as his representation, instead of just hiring an actual agent. Bereft of options, he turned around and inked a fat contract to stay put. Everyone is happy. For now. We are too because we get to sell Baltimore and Lamar at a pretty hefty price.

Here’s what else the media is selling: the Ravens have won and covered six of their past seven season openers with a 28 point average margin of victory in those wins. That’s appealing for those looking for Week 1 “safe bets” to kick things off. However, Since 2003, there have been only 31 games where the Week 1 spread was 9 points or higher. Favorites are 26-5 straight up but only 9-22 Against the Spread (ATS) in those games. We have a database of coach and QB factors too, and since 2003, there have been only 39 Week 1 games where a team was an underdog of 4½ points or more while playing its first game with a new head coach. The underdog with the new head coach is 24-15 ATS over that span. There have been only 15 games where the underdog of 4½ points or more was starting a rookie QB in Week 1 in the last 20 years. The team starting the rookie QB is 10-5 ATS. We have admittedly small sample sizes in these real-life cases of rookie QBs and coaches, but the proof is in the pudding that the market does overvalue certainty and teams/coaches/QBs it has seen before, and there is value on the new coaches and young QBs in their debut, when getting a lot of points.

For what it’s worth, Lamar Jackson got paid and the Ravens will play on Monday Night Football next week at Washington. For Lamar and the rest of the team, this might feel like a glorified practice. Grab the inflated points. Recommendation: Houston +9½

Tampa Bay @ Minnesota -5

1:00 PM EST. Look, we know the Vikings were one of, if not the luckiest teams to take the field in the NFL last season, but you know what? EVERYONE knows that the Vikings were one of, if not the luckiest teams to take the field in 2022. This is not news, y'all. In fact, it’s the biggest talking point out of Minnesota headed into Week 1.

The Vikings were champions of the NFL North last season, despite their best efforts, so what does that mean for 2023? Are we to assume that just because the Vikes were “lucky” last year, they can’t be “good” this year? Of course, they can, and it looks like Minny has taken some great strides to patch the many holes they had last season. They cut veteran wide receiver Adam Thielen, and look to replace him with rookie Jordan Addison, who in a draft that has some talented, but no “game-breaking” WRs like the last two drafts, might have found the softest landing spot in his class.

Opportunity is everything, and out of the gate, Addison immediately becomes the Vikes #2 behind Justin Jefferson, who has emerged as the premier WR in this league. Of all the WRs graded in the 2023 draft class, Pro Football Focus graded Addison at a 90.5, which was the third-best among wide receivers in this group. However, Addison made the most of his opportunities at USC, where he had just a 3.3% drop rate on catchable balls thrown his way. Prior to his transfer to the Trojans for his final NCAA season, Addison was the top WR in college football, winning the Fred Biletnikoff Award while playing for the Pitt Panthers in 2021, where Kenny Pickett was his QB.

The Buccaneers will move on to life without Tom Brady, and we are about to find out if pushing everything aside to sign Tommy Boy and immediately winning a Super Bowl is going to cost them in the long term, as there is no clear “plan” now that Brady has headed for the owner's box in Vegas. Tampa Bay drafted Kyle Trask to serve as Brady’s understudy two seasons ago, but Trask is apparently not up to the task, as he has been surpassed by the loose car parts that make up former #1 overall pick Baker Mayfield, who was named the starter as the preseason came to a close.

While Mayfield has the pedigree, his most notable start as a professional came late last year, after he was cut by the Panthers, in a game where he walked off the street to start a game for the struggling Rams on Thursday Night Football on about 48 hours' notice. Mayfield’s performance was admirable, as he led the Rams to a 17-6 win over the Raiders, but it was really just one drive that defined that game. It just so happens that drive was a 98-yard game-winning effort that ended with a 23-yard touchdown from Mayfield to Van Jefferson. At the time, Mayfield said it best. "I don't know if you can write it any better than that.” Truer words may have never been spoken, as this might be a good time to remind you that Mayfield has started 69 career games in stops in Cleveland, Carolina, and Los Angeles. All that to say, if he finally puts it together here, on the road, against a team that is being wholly disrespected by the media and market alike, just might make for a long first day at the office. Recommendation: Minnesota -5

Tennessee @ New Orleans -3½

1:00 PM EST. The new-look Saints have a new franchise quarterback in Derek Carr, who comes over from Vegas in what was the biggest QB shakeup of the offseason. Yes, we acknowledge that the pieces that began that move began last season when Carr was unceremoniously cut from the Raiders before the end of the season, but there might not have been a better landing spot for the veteran pivot, who takes over the 16th best passing offense in the NFL last season. Another new face joining him on that 19th-ranked offense from last year is running back Jamaal Williams, who might be the best “guy” in the NFL to have on your team. If you’ve seen or heard Williams in interviews, he has all the vibes one would want in their locker room. Just ask the Lions, who Williams played for and led the league in rushing touchdowns in 2023.

It feels like the Titans are at a crossroads that leaves them between a rock and a hard place when it comes to ascending up the NFL ladder. First, they are led by a veteran pivot, whose best days are behind him in Ryan Tannehill, who they have tried to draft a replacement for in the last two NFL drafts. Last season it was Malik Willis, and this year it was Will Levis, who they took at #33 overall. Neither of the young pivots is expected to challenge Tannehill this season, but you know what they say about the best-laid plans.

That brings us to the elephant in the room, which is running back Derrick Henry, who, while still a force, is going to be chasing his incredible 2021 season until he no longer laces up his cleats. Henry has averaged 1,420 yards as a starter in Tennessee, but he is no longer expected to carry the entire load, as third-round pick Tyjae Spears, who played his college ball at Tulane, is on the depth chart to provide a change of pace for the Titans. Despite the young blood coming up in Tennessee, it is not expected that the game plan will change much, as stated by Saints head coach Dennis Allen, "I don't think there's any question that this team runs a lot of their offense through the running game, particularly Derrick Henry. Obviously, with Tyjae Spears being there now, they've got a couple of different runners that they can utilize. They have home-run hitters running the ball.” Coach, we couldn’t have said it better ourselves, and it sounds like you’ve got this under control.

With so much change in New Orleans, specifically at the league’s most important position, we can understand the hesitancy to lay better than a field goal with New Orleans, but that is precisely the point. Rarely is anything that is worth doing easy, and that includes not biting on the “hook” on a “key number” like three. In what LOOKS like a 50/50 proposition, that hook on a field goal is going to look mighty tempting; however, we must warn that it would be prudent to proceed with caution in that regard. Recommendation: New Orleans -3½

Arizona +7 @ Washington

1:00 PM EST. There is actually A LOT going on in what might look like a sleepy game on the board, and so we’re going to get right to it and take a close look at this contest. So, let’s start with the Commanders, or Football Team, or Red…, well, you get the idea, as there is no team in this league with less of an identity than the one that currently wears Burgundy and Gold and has beautiful offices in Ashburn, Virginia.

Washington football is set to go through more changes if new part-owner Magic Johnson is to be believed, as he said as much when the group he is the face of bought the team. Early word was that Washington was considering taking a step back and going with the pretty damn racist moniker it desperately clung onto for decades, but thankfully, cooler heads have prevailed, and majority owner Mitchell Rales told a group of 700 at a D.C. dinner that the new owners would be looking for a new identity and that it would not be forged in the former Red-you-know-whats. That’s a relief because for much of its existence, at least since their last great run in the early 1990s, Washington football's identity was wrapped up in one sentiment, “our name isn’t racist, bro,” which is to say, it had no identity at all. Perhaps one day that will change, but for now, it appears that the lack of identity will be the status quo.

Now, over to the Cardinals sideline, where 2023 has already been written off by pretty much everyone from the pundits to the pick sellers and everyone in between, as Arizona will be without Kyler Murray in new head coach Jonathan Gannon’s first season as the man in charge. We know expectations are low, as the Cards have the lowest season win total on the board at 4½, which is a full two games less than both the Rams, Texans, Panthers, and Colts, who are all in the 6½-win range or thereabouts. The point is, the Red Birds are expected to be dregs, and they are priced as such.

When a team is so wholly undervalued because of an injury, as the Cards are, we are presented with the opportunity to take back inflated points in a game those inflated points have no business being offered up in. For some perspective, the Texans are nearly a double-digit dog (+9½) at the time of this writing in their game at Baltimore. Now, nobody is comparing the Ravens to the Commanders, and we’re sure if those two teams played on a neutral field, the Ravens would be spotting much more than a field goal, yet, for some reason, the ‘Manders are better than a touchdown to the Cards. We appreciate that math isn’t perfect, but it’s certainly close enough to make our point, which is that Washington cannot be spotting points in this range to any team in this league, the Arizona Cardinals included.

If the inflated points weren’t enough, the total in this game is a Week 1 low of 38 (at the time of posting), which is not conducive to one team covering a significant spread, which this line most certainly is. So much has to go right for Washington, who have an unproven commodity at QB in Sam Howell, just as the Cards have an unproven QB in Joshua Dobbs, although if he struggles, the always rock-steady Colt McCoy is right behind him. Howell has a veteran to back him up too, but the Commanders and more specifically head coach Ron Rivera are content to let the kid sink or swim so they may see if they have their future franchise QB on the roster.

Finally, we want you to picture a scenario where one has a ticket on the Commanders to cover this inflated price in a game with a low total, where the Cardinals, gosh forbid, actually score first. Now, that is scary enough, but we’re moving into the spooky season, so we know you can handle it, so we want you to visualize a future where Arizona goes up maybe 7 or hell, even 10 points. It’s not likely, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility, and if that were to happen, that ticket where the ‘Manders are spotting better than a touchdown becomes a very tough swim back to shore.

Last season, the biggest price the Commanders spotted in a game was -4½ over the Giants, and they lost that game outright by 12 points. In 2021, Washington was never a -7-point favorite. In 2020, the Football Team was favored just once by -1 and they lost to the Jets by 17. In fact, the last time you can find a game that the former Football Team was favored by -7-points or more was in the 2016 season. To hammer that point home one more time—who the f**k is Sam Howell, a fifth-round pick, to be spotting a price like this?

History, while it does not repeat itself, it often rhymes, and that rhyme is not on the Commanders' side here in Week 1. There is only one wager to be made on this game, and it’s one where one has to hold their noses and take the visiting Cardinals. Recommendation: Arizona +7

Atlanta -3½ over Carolina

1:00 PM EST. The Panthers and Falcons face off in Week 1 after splitting last year's series 1-1 in two of the more contentious games played in the NFC South. The offseason brought plenty of change for both franchises, but no unit incurred more changeover than the Atlanta defense. The Falcons enter this contest with significant upgrades on that side of the ball, up to six new starters, including big names like Jessie Bates III and Calais Campbell. 

The Atlanta offense is full of well documented talent (ahem, Bijan Robinson alert), but their expected improvement on defense could really make life difficult for the Panthers. Carolina surprised its doubters before, claiming upset wins against the Bucs, Lions, and Seahawks last season, but this is a new administration and more importantly, there's a new QB1 in the Tar Heel state. Bryce Young says all the right things. He's a poised, well-coached thrower from the best college football program the world has ever witnessed. He's also small, and he looked awfully green in the preseason. Not one physical skill jumped off the screen in his limited exhibition snaps. If anything, he looked overwhelmed. It didn't help that he faced constant pressure when he was on the field either; Carolina allowed 10 sacks in the preseason. 

No one knows if Desmond Ridder is a legitimate long-term starter for the Falcons; we haven't seen a big enough sample size. What we do know is that a rookie QB, on the road, in his first ever NFL start, well - typically that's not a recipe for success. Especially not against a reloaded defense. Sharps haven't moved this line as it sits comfortably just over the key number of 3. Anecdotally that's an indication (just like a -6.5 or -7.5) that oddsmakers aren't convinced that Carolina can keep this one close.

L.A. Rams @ Seattle -5½

4:25 PM EST. You probably have already noticed that we pegged the Seahawks to be underachievers here in 2023, but that does not mean there are not going to be weeks where all signs point to Seattle as the value play. It just so happens that one of those times is here in Week 1, with, we don’t even know what to call them, Rams visiting the Emerald City.

Much has been made about the gutting of the remainder of the Seahawks' glory days, as star linebacker and face of the legendary “Legion of Boom” defense being jettisoned after a decade in Seattle. Goodbyes are always hard, but after 10 years, any relationship is bound to get stale unless both sides are willing to put in the effort to keep things fresh. As a defensive player, Wagner is the exception to the rule that usually sees those high-impact (literally and figuratively) breakdown much sooner than their offensive play-calling counterpart behind center. Wagner was the QB of the Seattle defense; he was identified as their heart and soul, and he was, at the time of his being cut, the most recognizable player on the team.

When a team loses its franchise player, for the second year in a row, we might add in light of Russell Wilson being sent to Denver prior to 2022, a certain part of their luster goes with that player for better or worse. The two biggest examples of that the last few seasons were, of course, Tom Brady moving on from New England and Aaron Rodgers leaving the land of the Cheeseheads. The Pats haven’t been the same since, and the jury is still out on the Packers, but we know that expectations are at their lowest in Wisconsin since 2009. While Wagner doesn't have the same high profile as those two future Hall of Famers, we hope that you can take our point that Seattle's defense hasn’t had this many question marks since Obama's second term in office.

As for the Rams, what is there to say, really, other than coach Sean McVay has won his Super Bowl and his coaching seeds are now spread throughout the league, for better or for worse. Maybe we’re off base, but the Rams look like a team that is “complacent” with its lot this season, which is to contend for the #1 overall pick in the draft, and McVay is just sick enough, and he has a lifetime’s worth of job security to steer that ship where it needs to go without drawing too much attention to it. The Rams have not been labeled as a “tanker” like, say, the Texans of last season, but that is only because McVay is a media darling, who has friends on every sideline and on every studio show on the boob tube.

However, the reality is, everything is aligned here for the Rams to take one step back this season, reload with potentially a new franchise QB that McVay can mold into his own. To highlight this point, only the Cardinals (4½ wins), who will be without their franchise pivot in Kyler Murray (who is out for the season with injury) have been tabbed to win fewer games than the Rams (6½ wins). That might sound like a significant number, but it’s not, and you could make more foolish wagers than to back the Rams to pick #1 in April with two potential franchise QBs on the board in Caleb Williams (-330) of USC, and Drake Maye (+450) of North Carolina, who have been posted by oddsmakers to be the first two players off the board.

To summarize, motivation is not going to be an issue for the Seahawks, but we cannot say the same for the Rams. Until further notice, the Rams are not a team that one should look to get mixed up with, at least not yet. Our lean here is a hard one to the Seahawks. Recommendation: Seattle -5½

Las Vegas @ Denver -3½

4:25 PM EST. There is no sugarcoating Russell Wilson's first year in Denver. It was a complete and total disaster on all fronts. As to why the future Hall of Fame quarterback struggled so mightily, one could chalk it up to poor coaching, as former head coach Nathaniel Hackett was totally in over his head in the Mile High City as the big kahuna. Hackett made his reputation as Aaron Rodgers' lapdog in Green Bay, and Hackett has gone back to the sweet bosom of his BFF in New York, where he is now a coach with the Jets.

With amateur hour over, the Broncos lured Sean Payton away from the broadcast booth and back onto the sidelines after just a one-year sabbatical following his legendary run with the Saints. We won’t get into all of that here, but those who were around in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and saw how it totally devastated The Big Easy, with the Super Dome playing host to the many residents of the city that found themselves houseless, with nothing but what they could carry and their clothes on their backs. There is a happy ending to that story, as there always is in the aftermath of a tragedy, and for his work to rebuild that beautiful city, Payton’s Karma card is going to be full for a long, long time.

Now, before you get typing too fast in your email, please note that we are not comparing the events of the Summer of 2005 to the shit show that took place in that skunky mountain air, but we are going to use Wilson as a stand-in for Drew Brees, with regards to the current state of the Broncos. This is a proud franchise that finally broke through and won back-to-back Super Bowls in the mid-1990s but did little before (other than break hearts) and has done diddly squat since. When your best highlight in 15 years is a Tim Tebow strike to Damarious Thomas (RIP) in overtime in a playoff game Denver was a +9-point underdog in, well, those are hard times, baby. HARD TIMES. We don’t know for certain if Payton has the magic fairy dust he did in New Orleans where he revived Drew Brees to legendary status, but we do know that if anyone can get the best out of Wilson before it’s all said and done, it’s the former Saints coach.

What can we say about the Raiders other than they are a total and utter joke. A mess. A pile of old shoes in the corner for the dog to chew on. There might not be a team in professional sports that asks for more and gives back less than the Raiders. Their entire existence has been centered on chasing the almighty dollar, and it’s not lost on us that the reign of terror led them to the “Death Star,” AKA Allegiant Stadium, just off the strip in Las Vegas. Rather than bore you with the comings and goings, there will be plenty of time for that. We are going to highlight that everything that owner Mark Davis touches, much like his father Al, turns to shit.

The senior Davis spent his life fighting everything and everyone for what he believed to be right, and what he believed to be right was his ability to use his football team for his own personal gains. Well, the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree, as Mark took the opportunity to uproot the team from a city it truly represented in Oakland (tough, gritty, and in your face) to one that is full of fake plastic bullshit. When one chases riches over what is right, one often gets what they deserve. In case you are wondering how that is working out for Mark Davis, you don’t have to look any further than the bowl haircut he’s been sporting since he was eight years old. The junior Davis is a man-child through and through, and he acts like it every day. For fuck's sake, he allowed Tom Brady to buy into the team, and why? So he can sit next to greatness in the owner's box. Well, we have Davis like the bed he’s made in Vegas because his Raiders are going to lie in it. It’s going to be a long season in Vegas, and that long season starts here in Week 1. Remember, kids, the grass isn’t always greener, ya know? Recommendation: Denver -3½

Miami +3 @ L,A. Chargers

4:25 PM EST. Fresh off a stellar inaugural season from first-time head coach Mike McDaniels, the Miami Dolphins open up their 2023 campaign as 3-point underdogs at Sofi Stadium. The Chargers beat the Dolphins last year in Week 14 in what may be perceived as a close game, but a deeper look at the box score indicates otherwise. Tua Tagovailoa and the Miami offense had their worst game of the season, accumulating just 219 total yards. The Chargers held the ball for two-thirds of the contest and Justin Herbert was ultra-efficient, slicing and dicing his opponent's secondary for 367 yards and a touchdown.

Ironically, these two teams are built very similarly. They both made the playoffs last year and lost in the first round, but neither program looked awful. Confronting their perceived weaknesses, each team brought in a new coordinator (Vic Fangio is Miami's new DC and Kellen Moore, formally Jerry Jones' golden boy in Dallas, takes over LAC's play-calling duties), and both teams are stacked with A+ roster talent.

Not much has changed about the Chargers' defense or Miami's offense, they'll battle all game, but the great unknown is how Vic Fangio's defense will stack up against a new-look Chargers' offense. Jalen Ramsey, Miami's biggest acquisition during the offseason, is on IR, but reports from Miami's camp suggest the Dolphins' defense will be much improved. Or at least they're confident that it will be. We can't imagine too much of a struggle from Justin Herbert, but the total suggests a showcase of offense- it's the highest listed number this Sunday. We’d expect Miami's offense to regress and look more like it did early last season, but that doesn't mean the Chargers can't keep up.

The reality is: the +3/-3 is a dead number, particularly in this contest. 3 is the most common key number in NFL betting, meaning more games end by a margin of 3 than any other digit, and normally the home team gets the nod as a favorite, assuming neither team stands out as drastically better. It's tough to surmise a distinct difference in power rankings between these two franchises. In other words, we could see significant improvement in each team for different reasons, but there are still more questions than answers. Either go with the inherent value of the Dolphins at +3 for a light play, or skip this one entirely. From our viewpoint, it’s priced correctly. Recommnedation: Miami +3

Green Bay +1½ @ Chicago

4:25 PM EST. For the first time in two decades, the Green Bay Packers will not have a bona fide future Hall of Famer at quarterback, as Aaron Rodgers took his bong to the swamps of Jersey to join the New York Jets after fulfilling his destiny and becoming everything he once hated—Brett Favre. Rodgers has had a bee in his bonnet ever since the Packers took Jordan Love late in the first round of the 2020 draft. History might not repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme, as those same Packers chose Aaron Rodgers late in the 2005 draft, which got in the craw of “The Ol’ Gunslinger” and led to his eventual trade to you-know-where—the Jets.

If fall is a time for change, this change looks good on the Packers. Rodgers had become an entity of his own. He was, in a sense, bigger than the team, and on some level, like Favre before him, he WAS the Packers, but now that the pot smoke has cleared, the Packers' locker room is now brimming with youthful exuberance. If you’ve been following the Pack’s camp on social media, you’ve seen the smiles, the high fives, and yes, the hairdos, oh, the hairdos. If you haven’t seen the flow the Packers are representing these days, do yourself a favor and Google Christian Watson. You can thank us later.

Despite all the change in Green Bay, we must point out that the Packers are still the Packers, and more often than not, you are going to pay a premium to back them, especially when they play the rival Bears, who they have owned for the better part of two decades.

That brings us to the Bears, who under Justin Fields have some hype around them after finishing dead last in 2022 and earning the first overall pick in April’s draft. Rather than pick their player of the future, the Bears traded that pick to Carolina for a haul that included wide receiver D.J. Moore. Moore is a legit #1, but a legit #1 does not make a star quarterback. That’s not to say that Moore and Fields cannot be great together, but assuming that they will be great is, well, you know what they say about “assuming.”

As for where the value lies in this game, based on the opening line, which saw Chicago as a near field goal underdog, has dropped to the modest price you see now. Now, if we had to make a wager today, we would lean to the Bears, but because we do not have to make a selection today, we are going to wait to see what Sunday morning brings, as it may give us a hint as to where the winds of change are blowing in their long-storied rivalry. ***Update*** It's Sunday morning, and we have a lean to Green Bay in this game.

Recommendation: Green Bay +1½

Philadelphia @ New England +4½

4:25 PM EST. Like many situations in Week 1, the public has to choose between a home underdog and what many pundits consider a sure-fire championship contender. And like nearly all of those situations, the number is inflated. This game is no different.

The Eagles enter the 2023 season with another stacked roster. With big names in the trenches in every conceivable skill position, it's easy to see why analysts are envisioning another big year for Philadelphia, a team that ascended to the championship stage last February. And let's face it, Jalen Hurts was sensational in Super Bowl LVII. Many even think the fourth-year QB outplayed Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes, but a costly fumble and more than a few mistakes by the Eagles' defense led to another Lombardi Trophy for Chiefs Kingdom. Unfortunately for Philly fans, the road back to the Super Bowl will be more challenging this season.

The Eagles had a lot of things go their way in 2022. What sticks out more than anything is the incompetence of QBs and defenses they faced, aka - they weren't very good. You'd be remiss to find another legitimate defense or top-tier QB outside their division or in an advantageous position last year against Philly. They dropped 35 on the Steelers without TJ Watt (check out Pittsburgh's defensive stats with and without Watt), they squeaked by Indianapolis on the road after only scoring 17 points in Week 11, they barely outlasted a reeling Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, and they experienced their worst offensive performance of the season in a loss against a young and high-upside Saints' defense. In the playoffs they were even more fortunate, beating up on a far-less-talented Giants team and then defeating the Brock Purdy-less 49ers. Excuse us while we offer a silent slow clap at their 2022 success.

This bet is more about Eagles' stock rising too high. The fact that Philly is at Foxboro, against one of the best defensive minds the NFL has ever seen, only makes the angle more comfortable.

We won't venture to guess how the Patriots offense will look because in truth, it's a giant question mark. We’re higher on Mac Jones than most writers in the gambling world but there's no denying that New England's offense hasn't experienced much continuity or consistency the last few seasons. They have a better chance this year with Bill O'Brien assuming the role of offensive coordinator. O'Brien served with the Patriots during their heyday, from 2007-2011, and then went on to coach the Houston Texans for seven seasons, where he experienced some success. Most recently he worked at Alabama as a QB coach and offensive coordinator in what some might consider a failure since no title came to Tuscaloosa during his two-year reign. Others might point to how consistently explosive ‘Bama's offense was during his stint but, we digress. Regardless, O'Brien has ample experience and a rock-solid relationship with coach Belichick, two intangibles we like in a play-caller. The offense knows it needs massive and immediate improvement- this is a good spot to show it against last year's NFC champs.

The Patriots' defense is what the Eagles should fear, and it's only gotten better. Matthew Judon leads a group of exceptional pass rushers, armed with schemes that misdirect and confuse QBs as good as any in the NFL, and they re-stocked their secondary. NFL.com called their backfield, "without question, the deepest safety group in football." Last year the Patriots' defense was top 10 in so many categories it's hard to count. If this group is truly better, this is the brand of defense that could keep the Patriots in tight games all season, and it's by far the best group Philadelphia has seen in a long time.

Astoundingly, Super Bowl losers are a putrid 4-19 ATS in Week 1. It's actually not all that surprising - Super Bowl contenders have a newfound target on their back after a big season, odds on these teams are typically inflated, and the underdog is always more motivated to prove themself against one of last year's top teams. Patriots outright is the call but we’ll put these inflated points in our pocket. Recommendation: New England +4½

Sunday Night Football

N.Y. Giants +3 @ Dallas

8:20 PM EST: It’s really easy to assume, dear reader, that you are as sick as we are when it comes to following the NFL or any of these silly games grown men play for money. But perhaps this Sunday night affair in Dallas is the perfect opportunity to pause and reflect on what we do know, not what we “think” we know.

That is to say, the Dallas Cowboys are America’s Team. Full stop. Period. End of sentence. That might not be news, as they have that moniker trademarked, and you’ll hear it a dozen times or more each time they are on TV, which is more than Leave It to Beaver reruns at this point. Look at the Cowboys' schedule, and you will see that everyone wants a piece of Big D.

The Cowboys play 17 games, as all teams will this season, barring a potential tragedy on the level of the Damar Hamlin situation we saw play out on Monday Night Football to close out last season. A close look at that schedule shows that the ‘Boys play SEVEN prime-time games (yes, we are counting Turkey Day) scattered across Thursday night (twice), Sunday night (thrice), and Monday night (twice) this season. Furthermore, the Cowboys are the anchors of the late window (4:25 PM EST), where most, if not all, of their games in that time slot will be seen by a national audience.

Only twice this season do the Cowboys play in the early slate, and it’s in two “easy” games versus the Rams and Panthers, which makes total sense when you consider our maker is thought to be a Cowboys fan, and so the game cannot start until their work is done. Hell, Jerry Jones himself once declared so confidently that the reason there was a hole in the roof of Texas Stadium (the former home of Jerry’s boys) was so that the “Almighty” might peek in on the game if they had the time. That’s some ego, eh? Well, if you’re a Cowboys fan or know one, you know all about that ego.

The Giants, on the other hand, made the bold move to stick with Daniel Jones and not pull the chute when it might have been easy to do otherwise after they didn’t really get a clear-cut picture for the future under him before the end of this 3-year rookie deal. Rather than throw the baby out with the bathwater, which is what Jones seems desperate to do with Dak Prescott (we’ll save that for another day), the G-Men took a risk and bet on #10, and why not?

Jones (Daniel, that is) has shown flashes of brilliance along the way, and one could argue that the Giants haven’t necessarily put him in the best position to win since drafting him #6 overall in 2019. While it was a lifetime ago now, coming out of Duke, Jones was something of an enigma, that QB from a second-tier football school that many had hoped for having all the tools it takes to make it at the next level.

Jones reminds us a lot of Jordan Love in Green Bay, who played his college ball at Utah State. Other than their affinity for the #10, much of the makeup of Love and Jones is similar, but the big difference is, Jones was left to twist in the wind for three seasons in the swamp, while Love was learning and listening on the bench. It used to be said that it took at least three years for a quality college QB to develop into a quality pro, with Aaron Rodgers being the most notable QB still playing that had to come up that way.

The Giants “tried” this with Jones, as he sat behind Eli Manning for all of two games before replacing the two-time Super Bowl winner in Week 3 of the 2019 season. In that first start, Jones threw for two touchdowns and rushed for two more, showing everyone what he could do and even overcoming an 18-point deficit to win his first start. We’re not saying that first start was the peak thus far, but it’s damn close to it, and it’s been nothing but rough waters since, as the G-Men are just 21-31-1 with Jones as their starting pivot. Like we said above, it would have been REAL EASY to cut bait, but the Giants did not. Now, that doesn't guarantee success, but it does put the G-Men in a better position to be successful this season than if they decided to start over, again. Perhaps the best thing for Jones and the Giants is what their tenants down the hall decided to do in bringing in Aaron Rodgers to be the King of New York, or New Jersey, or whatever, as all the attention at Giants Stadium is not on the Giants.

The Jets are Super Bowl contenders, the Jets have the weight of the world on their shoulders, and it’s the Jets who have the highest-profile pivot in the Tri-State area with ‘ol hash pipe himself. That leaves plenty of room for Jones to grow without the red-hot spotlight that he’s had to cook under during his entire stint in New York. We’ll see if that tree bears any fruit in Week 1, but if this modest price is any indication, the Giants are not only going to compete here on Sunday Night Football, but they have a great goddamn chance to win this game outright. Recommendation: New York Giants +3

Our Pick

Early leans & analysis (Risking 0 units - To Win: 0.00)