Week 1 Picks & Week 2 Leans

OHHHHH MAN we are VERY close to the first Sunday of the football season! The mere sight of the gorgeous Scott Hanson and the even-more-gorgeous Octobox will have me stammering like Brett Kavanaugh or the Falcons red zone offense. This Sunday truly is Christmas for sports bettors, and the Mad Capper himself is hoping to deliver presents in the form of winning bets to all the little degenerates this year. HO HO HOP ON THE MAD CAPPER’S DEGENERATE SLEIGH!!!

Today, I’m going to lock in some Week 1 picks and take a brief peek at some Week 2 lines. The lines for the Week 1 picks will be the lines I got at the time of publishing unless otherwise specified, and the Week 2 lines are the Westgate advanced point spreads for the games. For each wager, the amount I’m risking is shown in units, the odds are shown in parentheses and in American units, and the name of the home team is capitalized.

Back in June, I placed a few Week 1 bets in hopes of getting ahead of some line moves. The lines I bet on ended up making significant moves and now I’m sitting pretty with some juicy tickets that SHOULD *furiously knocks on wood* work out in my favor. You can revisit my post to see the full explanation of these picks, but just to provide a brief recap:

MINNESOTA VIKINGS (-4.5) vs. San Francisco 49ers (-110) for 4 Units At the time, I had the Vikings rated 4 points higher than the 49ers. I also argued that the Vikings should be given a 3.5 point home field advantage (HFA) in this game and that they may have a motivational edge on multiple levels – the defense, for getting smoked by a backup QB on national television the last time they played, and Kirk Cousins, for wanting to make the Redskins look foolish by refusing to sign him to a long term deal. I noted the personnel advantage the Vikings WRs have against the 49ers DBs and the advantage the 49ers DL has against the Vikings OL. My handicap had the Vikings as roughly 8 point favorites.

In terms of my handicap, not too much has changed since June. The Vikings OL is more banged up than I anticipated it would be at the time, but the impact of those injuries will be somewhat neutralized by the suspension of 49ers LB Reuben Foster. I bumped the Vikings down a half point in my last post because of the OL injuries, but I still have the Vikings as roughly 7.5 point favorites. The spread is currently sitting at Vikings -6.5, so the fact that I got ahead of a 2 point line move is great news.

BALTIMORE RAVENS (-4.5) vs. Buffalo Bills (-113) for 4 Units – There are many parallels between this game and the Vikings one, so it makes sense that I bet on both of them for similar reasons. I had the Ravens rated 4 points higher than the Bills at the time, and because of their consistently great track record at home I gave them 3.5 points for HFA. I also cited a motivational edge regarding the Bills taking the playoff spot from the Ravens at the end of last season and the personnel edge of the Bills having a one-dimensional offense against a well rounded Ravens defense.

This line got steamed up all the way to Ravens -7.5, so needless to say I’m feeling good AF about this right now. It turns out that the Bills look like they’re really gonna stink this year. Even with Ravens CB Jimmy Smith suspended for the first four games of the season, I have a difficult time imagining Kelvin Benjamin and the Joe Schmoes filling out the receiving corps being able to consistently find openings against guys like Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Carr.

BALTIMORE RAVENS vs. Buffalo Bills Under 42.5 Points (-130) for 1 Unit – I’m not a big totals guy but I saw value in this total at the time, even with the -130 juice. My thinking was that the Bills will have a ton of trouble moving the football and the Ravens will opt to move the football on the ground, given that the Bills have a much better pass defense than run defense. The total is now down to 40.5, so it seems as if most bettors agree with that line of reasoning. I’m slightly more concerned now that Nate the Not-So-Great Peterman is starting, as another five interception half would almost guarantee the over hitting, but hopefully that sort of performance is in his rear view mirror.

Now we’re on to some NEW BETS that are being placed this week. I actually placed the first of these two bets Wednesday night on Twitter, but the other bet has yet to be officially placed.

Cincinnati Bengals +3 vs. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (-120) for 4 Units – I wanted to make sure I got on this bet before the line shifted off of 3, which is why I took to Twitter to announce it. I know some of you don’t have Twitter, so ideally I’d first announce these bets via a blog post, but there will absolutely be cases where the lines are shifting rapidly and I need to act fast. Twitter is a great tool for those situations, so if you haven’t already done so, stop surfing MySpace on your Zune and make a Twitter account so you can join the rest of us in modern society.

Purely in terms of my current Power Ratings, this is a good play. I have the Bengals at -2 and the Colts at -3, so my handicap would have the Colts -2 instead of Colts -3. I’m not going to make any adjustments to HFA, but I think the bulk of the personnel advantages favor the Bengals in this game, which make them really stick out to me as a great pick.

It starts with a major mismatch in the trenches with the Bengals defensive line going against the Colts offensive line. There is a reason why Nate the Not-So-Great is starting for Buffalo this weekend, and it’s because Josh Allen got absolutely devoured by the Bengals defensive line in Week 3 of the preseason to the tune of five sacks. The Bills offensive line is definitely worse than that of the Colts, but this is a deep and talented defensive line that will almost certainly have their way with a Colts front that may be missing their best player in left tackle Anthony Castonzo (limited participant in practice thus far).

The Bengals secondary is also in a favorable position against the Colts receivers. The only Colts receiver that is really a proven playmaker is T.Y. Hilton, and I imagine that Cincy will have their ace cornerback William Jackson III shadow him for at least most of the game. WJ3 completely shut down Antonio Brown whenever he covered him in both games last season, and there is enough overlap between the skill sets of Brown and Hilton to suggest that the Bengals CB should have success against Hilton too. Darqueze Dennard and “Forgot About Dre” Kirkpatrick are solid secondary and tertiary corners, and they should be well equipped to handle the uninspiring likes of Ryan Grant and Chester Rogers.

Even if Hilton or another Colts receiver found an opening down the field, I’m not sure if Luck can get them the ball, which brings me to the most important aspect of my handicap. Anyone who watched the Colts during the preseason saw that although Luck’s accuracy seems to be intact, his arm strength is still clearly not there. I think this will greatly limit what the Colts can execute on offense. Cam Newton struggled with a shoulder injury in the beginning stages of last season, and although he was back to full strength after a few weeks, he did not look good in those few weeks. Luck should be able to throw to his tight ends against a Bengals linebacking corps that will be missing Vontaze Burfict, but with his limited arm strength and a messy depth chart at running back, I’m not sure how the Colts are going to move the football aside from that.

On the other side of the ball, it should be open season for the Bengals receivers and tight ends against the Colts defense. Indy’s cornerbacks and linebackers both rank amongst the worst units in the league, and that is a major issue considering that they’ll be responsible for defending a number of receiving threats. An 11 set featuring A.J. Green, John Ross, Tyler Boyd, Giovani Bernard, and a healthy (for now) Tyler Eifert has the potential to be terrifying in the passing game, and I truly have no idea how the Colts would make any stops against that unit. The only hope is defensive end Jabaal Sheard against a weak Bengals offensive line, but the Bengals should be able to devise a game plan that will slow down the Colts only weapon on the defensive line.

Marvin Lewis and OC Bill Lazor will be responsible for devising that game plan, and they should have a major advantage against a brand new coaching staff in Indianapolis. Lewis is not at all sexy and arguably should’ve been fired by now, but he has had moderate success as an NFL coach. Cincy has a new DC, but with Lazor having a full offseason to prepare after becoming OC during last season and with the return of Lewis, there is a good amount of continuity with this coaching staff. Meanwhile, the Colts have a head coach that was previously an OC, an OC that was previously a wide receivers coach, and a DC that was previously a linebackers coach. It’s hard to get excited about any of those hires at this point, especially considering that Josh McDaniels played them in the offseason.

Although the Bengals are underdogs in this game, this is the sort of game that Marvin the Farty Animal will need to win if he wants to get off the hot seat. He warmed his seat up with some stinkers last season and was nearly forced out of Cincinnati by the Bengals ownership. There is legitimate pressure for him to win, whereas the Colts are very clearly (and wisely) taking a long term approach with team building. I say that Lewis will get the job done here and give himself another 45 years of job security, and the fact that we’re getting 3 full points in a game that I think the Bengals will win makes this a great bet in terms of value.

DENVER BRONCOS (-3) vs. Seattle Seahawks (-110) for 2 or 3 Units – I’m waiting to see whether Earl Thomas plays on Sunday to lock in this wager. If he plays this will be a two unit wager, otherwise it will be a three unit wager. Earl the Pearl is absolutely crucial to the Seahawks defense, especially in the wake of Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor leaving the team in the offseason. I would argue that he is worth half of a point towards the line, so his presence will dictate how much I risk here. Once his status for Sunday is officially announced, I will lock in the bet via Twitter.

My latest Power Ratings actually have the Seahawks rated 1.5 points higher than the Broncos, but when making the Power Ratings, I struggled with slotting the Seahawks between -0.5 and -1 and the Broncos between -1.5 and -2. If I adjusted my Power Ratings so they were at 0.25 intervals instead of 0.5 intervals, I would have the Seahawks at -0.75 and the Broncos at -1.75. This is all to say that I only think the Seahawks deserve to be rated 1 point higher than the Broncos, and that rating doesn’t truly account for all of the issues the Seahawks are dealing with.

Alongside the Earl Thomas debacle, Seattle is dealing with a slew of injuries that have them in a less than ideal situation for Week 1. Linebacker K.J. Wright is out and he is arguably the third best player on this defense, so if Thomas is out too then the Seahawks will be down to stud linebacker Bobby Wagner as their only plus player on the defensive end. Starting cornerback Dontae Johnson is questionable too, and his absence would leave this secondary even more vulnerable than it already is. On the offensive end, starting offensive guard D.J. Fluker has been ruled out and Doug Baldwin will play but admitted earlier this week that he will be at 80-85% because of his knee. A total of 11 Seahawks are on the injury report for this week, which puts them among the most banged up teams heading into the start of the season.

Especially with the injuries on offense, I’m not sure how the Seahawks are going to move the football in this game. Russell Wilson’s only receiving threat is Doug Baldwin, and with a knee injury likely restricting his movement and stud cornerback Chris Harris Jr. following him all over the field, I have a difficult time imagining him being productive. Running the football will also be tricky, given that Fluker’s injury will limit the effectiveness of an already flawed offensive line that is trying to create holes against the third best run defense of 2017. There should also be consistent pressure off the edge – Germain Ifedi has been a major liability on the right side of the offensive line for years, and whether it’s Von Miller or rookie Bradley Chubb lining up against him, they should be able to win that matchup consistently. Wilson is a wizard at avoiding pressure and is the sort of talent that can potentially overcome such lopsided conditions, but asking him to move the ball down the field in a spot like this is asking for a lot.

Although the Broncos offense was abysmal last season, they should have more success moving the football in this game. I have concerns about Case Keenum and I don’t think he’ll come close to replicating his numbers from last season, but this is a favorable matchup for him and he should be extra motivated to put up big numbers after the Vikings let him go last season. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders should have no trouble getting open against these cornerbacks, especially if Dontae Johnson is ruled out for the game. Keenum has shown a great rapport with Sanders in particular during the preseason, and given how much Keenum loved throwing to Adam Thielen out of the slot last season, I expect the new Broncos QB to look to Sanders in the slot early and often. Running backs Devontae Booker and Royce Freeman should have moderate success against the Seahawks linebacking corps as well, but I expect an aerial attack from the team that was completely incapable of throwing the football last season.

A slew of other factors push the needle further towards the Broncos. The Seahawks are notorious for starting slow under Pete Carroll and I have no reason to expect them to buck that trend this season. The fact that Seattle is breaking in a new OC and DC should also contribute to a rocky start, especially considering that both hires were suspect and that the Broncos had very little turnover for their coaching staff. If that wasn’t enough, the Broncos are 8-4-2 against the spread (ATS) in home games within the first two weeks of the season since 2010. I’m not a big trends guy but there is strong logic behind this one – Denver is at a higher altitude which places an emphasis on player conditioning, and if there is any time over the course of the season in which players may not be in great shape, it’s the start of the season.

This is also the first game the Seahawks are playing in Denver since 2010. That is significant for two reasons – many of their players are not accustomed to playing at the higher altitude of Denver, and this is also the first game the Broncos fans have an opportunity to boo the Seahawks since the Super Bowl beatdown over four years ago. I don’t think the Broncos players have any extra motivation because of that game, but you better believe the Denver fans remember that game vividly and want to see a vengeful slaughter of the Seahawks. These fans will be rowdy and deafeningly loud, and even though Russell Wilson is good enough to keep this game from being the massacre the fans are itching for, I think they’ll see their favorite team win convincingly against a limp dick Seahawks squad.

I know I teased the idea of potential bets in the Cowboys-Panthers and Chargers-Chiefs games in my last post, but I ended up staying away from those bets. The Panthers have enough question marks on the offensive line for me to hesitate on betting them, and while the Chiefs are a tantalizing side, Eric Berry is doubtful for the game and that defense might be a complete black hole without him. So I’m just going to wrap up this post with some games I’m eyeing up for Week 2. There won’t be a segment for this post, but I promise I’ll be back next week for some segments. Here’s what I’m looking at for Week 2.

Eagles at Buccaneers – The Westgate advanced point spread has the Eagles as 3.5 point favorites on the road for this game. That is a very reasonable number, but if the Buccaneers get slaughtered in New Orleans this weekend (very possible), this line could open at Bucs +6 or Bucs +7. If it opens at Bucs +7 I will certainly bet on them, and if it opens at +6 I would strongly consider it. The Bucs are not a good team at all, but Fitzpatrick is a capable backup and this would be an 0-1 team facing off against a 1-0 team which is a very favorable trend for the 0-1 team. The Eagles also looked shaky in Week 1 – although they won, they got outgained by a full yard per play and were unable to attack down the field, which is the ideal way to attack the Buccaneers defense given their weak safety play. I doubt this line opens at Bucs +6 or +7, but if it does I’ll place my bet quickly and post it on Twitter.

Colts at Redskins – The advanced spread only has the Redskins as 3 point favorites in this game, which essentially implies the two teams are even. I strongly disagree with that idea, and given the unfavorable situation the Colts are walking into in Week 1, I would be surprised if this line actually opens at that number. I think it will open around Redskins -5.5 which is a far more reasonable number. In the off chance that this line opens at the Redskins anything less than 4 point favorites though, I’ll very likely place an early bet on this game. Remember that the Redskins are one of the teams I think are underrated going into this season, and I see this as potentially a good spot to back them.

Cardinals at Rams – Another team that I believe is underrated is the Cardinals. They’re actually playing the Redskins this weekend, so I don’t see much value in betting a game between two teams that I think are underrated, but they could have value in a matchup against a talented but flawed Rams team. The advanced point spread of this game is Rams -8.5 which is a pretty reasonable number in my opinion, but a Cardinals loss along with the Rams grinding Gruden and the Raiders to dust could steam this line up to Rams -10 or -10.5. Unless Bradford gets hurt in the Redskins game or stubs his toe in the locker room afterwards, I would like the Cardinals if they were getting anything north of 10 points. It could be another matchup of an 0-1 team versus a 1-0 team, and Arizona is equipped to attack the Rams weak linebacking corps with short passes to Larry Fitzgerald, David Johnson, Jermaine Gresham, and Ricky Seals-Jones. The Rams will also be coming off of short rest after playing the late Monday night game.

Chargers at Bills – I get that people are bullish on the Chargers and that the Bills stink, but the advanced spread has the Chargers as SIX POINT FAVORITES on the road in this game. I would make the Chargers three point road favorites, so if they actually open as six point favorites there could be a lot of value there. I know that backing the Bills is a scary thought, but the Chargers will be traveling all the way east for this game and the Bills Mafia will be ready for the home opener. Whether or not I bet this will depend on the outcome of the Chargers and Chiefs game – if the Chargers lose, there will be less value with a line that is likely closer to -4 and more motivation for the team to get their first win of the season.

Raiders at Broncos – The advanced point spread has this at Broncos -3 while my handicap would have the Broncos -4.5, so there is also potential value here. This will probably open closer to my handicap though, so unless I get a pleasant surprise this one will be a no go.