Week 1: NFL Weekly with TJ Calkins

TJ Calkins in a car wearing a cap backwards

Finally, the NFL returns to our living rooms and pub screens this Sunday! It’s been quite a long time coming but as always, it’s worth the wait. Parity is alive and well in the NFL. It has long been the sport of generally competitive matchups across the board, and the Week 1 betting lines indicate that simply is not changing any time soon.

With the Bears and Packers have played Thursday night, we still have 15 more games this week with the what is now usual two games on Monday night for Week 1 only. Let’s get to the games and what to look for. All times are EST

Sunday Games

Atlanta Falcons at Minnesota Vikings

Game start: 1 PM
Opening Line: Minnesota -4.5 and 47.5
Current Line: Minnesota -4 and 47.5

The Falcons return a very similar team to the one it had in 2018 and additionally have running back Devonta Freeman back to full health to start the season. Their offense is a pass based attack and quarterback Matt Ryan is quietly coming off of a top 15 all-time statistical season that was overshadowed by the greatness of Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Keep an eye out for the status of star wide receiver Julio Jones who has intimated he may not play if a contract extension is not finalized before Sunday.

The Vikings also have star running back Dalvin Cook returning and healthy and have a new offensive coordinator in place that has historically been quite a boon for running back production in Gary Kubiak. The matchup is favorable and Atlanta was exploited by running back receptions to an egregious degree in 2018. This sets up well for the Vikings to pace the scoring and move the ball at will, likely pushing the game over the total. Keep an eye out for the status of Vikings number two receiver Stefon Diggs who is expected to play but has popped up on the injury report and is not certain.

Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles

Game start: 1 PM
Opening Line: Philadelphia -8.5 and 46.5
Current Line: Philadelphia -10 and 45

The Redskins are not at all considered contenders in 2019. Their offensive star power is wholly lacking and their success will generally rely on the scheme over ability and winning one on one matchups. Running back Derrius Guice will make his NFL debut after losing his rookie season to injury and journeyman Case Keenum will be under center. This is a team that will fare far better in closer games as their passing attack is lacking juice and the ability to come from behind. Their ability to get some points on the board in the first quarter will likely be the key to this one from a sports betting perspective.

The Eagles finally get their MVP candidate and franchise player back to full health and big things should be the expectation for this team. Wentz boasts the best group of pass-catchers he’s had to this point in his career and despite the group not being near elite, the best stable of running backs behind him. Word out of camp is Wentz built a quick rapport with veteran free agent signing Desean Jackson and that the deep ball connection between them has been nearly unstoppable. If wagering on this game there’s little reason to look away from the Eagles.

Buffalo Bills at New York Jets

Game start: 1 PM
Opening Line: New York -3.5 and 38.5
Current Line: New York -3 and 41

The Bills have a new look wide receiving corps with the additions of veterans John Brown and Cole Beasley. This should help with the development of second-year quarterback Josh Allen, who was far more of a threat with his legs than his arm in his rookie campaign. Neither of these players is elite at the position but should be a steadying presence for Allen. The expectation is the Bills are just a mediocre team this year with no real threat to unseat the Patriots atop the division.

The Jets also have a second-year quarterback in Sam Darnold who is closer to making a real step forward and has a chance to join the group of top 15 quarterbacks in the league from an ability standpoint. They also have a new coach in Adam Gase and a new superstar running back in Le’Veon Bell. Gase generally has a slow pace to his offense and an elite running back will likely help him to play an effective version of ball control. The Jets also add slot receiver Jamison Crowder as a chain moving presence in the slot and should be an efficient but slow-paced offense. They project similarly to the Bills and this betting line projects to be correct. The movement on the total took the attractiveness away from playing the over.

Baltimore Ravens at Miami Dolphins

Game start: 4:25 PM
Opening Line: Baltimore-4 and 37
Current Line: Baltimore -6.5 and 38.5

The Ravens are another of five teams with a second-year quarterback they acquired in the first round of the 2018 draft. Jackson will remain a dual-threat this year with the rushing ability being the most dangerous of his skill set. The team will remain with its principles of running the ball and defense in 2019 while Jackson attempts to take a step forward in both throwing accuracy and understanding the defensive schemes he’s seeing. Despite the limitations at the quarterback position, they are a playoff contender and should cruise in this one. The betting line remains attractive anywhere under a full touchdown.

The Dolphins are committed to a much-needed rebuild of the franchise and are in tank mode whether they are publicly saying it or not. They will start journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback and he’s intended to just be a stop-gap and steadying presence until they draft their franchise quarterback in 2020. Overall there are countless holes across the roster and the Dolphins are easily the top candidate to end the season with the league’s worst record.

San Francisco 49ers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Game start: 4:25 PM
Opening Line: Tampa Bay -2.5 and 49
Current Line: Tampa Bay -1 and 50.5

The 49ers return Jimmy Garroppolo at quarterback and Kyle Shanahan will be looking to jump-start his wide receiving and running back corps in 2019 after tight end George Kittle showed he can be and already likely is among the elite at the tight position in 2018. The defense is a work in progress and traveling to the east coast to start 2019 is far from ideal and it raises questions as to why the betting line has moved in their favor in this game. The total increasing makes perfect sense as these two teams should be among the league’s worst defensively but the 49ers do not seem a sound bet on the road.

The Buccaneers have brought in Bruce Arians as their head coach and he will have his right-hand man Byron Leftwich acting as offensive coordinator. Jameis Winston returns under center and he should get help from the likely emergence of Chris Godwin to pair with Mike Evans as a potent wide receiving tandem. Tight end OJ Howard should also take a step forward this year and the offensive overall should be able to outpace most teams under Arians. The defense will continue to be a problem and overall the Buccaneers will be a mediocre team. They should, however, be able to pull off a home win in week 1 against a visiting west coast foe.

Kansas City Chiefs at Jacksonville Jaguars

Game start: 1 PM
Opening Line: Kansas City -5.5 and 52
Current Line: Kansas City -3.5 and 52

The Chiefs were the most potent offense in the league last season and are unlikely to miss a beat in 2019. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes had the best statistical season of all time in just his first season as the starter and he has only gained skill-position talent around him while returning all of his familiar targets, including elite tight end Travis Kelce and wide receiver Tyreek Hill. If the defense is able to close the gap at all and perform half as well as the offense, they will be the class of the league this season. This is a very tough matchup to start the season on the road, but again, the money seems to be flowing in the wrong direction. This seems another sound spot to fade the public.

The Jaguars made a change at quarterback this offseason, bringing in Nick Foles to be their starter after respectable late-season relief performances in Philadelphia. Their offense will be centered around oft-injured running back Leonard Fournette, who is currently healthy and in a spot to have a massive individual game here, as he should see a good deal of receiving work. The pass-catching grouping as a whole in Jacksonville is quite shaky and not at all a dominant one. This team is undoubtedly still lead by their elite front to back defense and they will be forced to lean on them often this year. For this week, Mahomes and company likely price to be too much for even the best defensive units out there.

Tennessee Titans at Cleveland Browns

Game start: 1 PM
Opening Line: Cleveland -5 and 45
Current Line: Cleveland -5.5 and 45.5

The Titans handed the keys of the offense to Derrick Henry to close the 2018 season and will continue that methodology in 2019 with a rushing heavy attack. They return Marcus Mariota at quarterback, who has proven to be at best a bottom half starting quarterback in the league and any passing volume is likely to be borne of necessity when trailing, rather than game plan. The rushing attack will shorten games and keep them as a mediocre team, but they are likely in over their heads in week 1 and not a sound wager.

The Browns have morphed into the darlings of most casual fans and return wholly promising quarterback Baker Mayfield for his second season. They also return Nick Chubb to lead the ground attack and acquired elite wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr from the New York Giants to pair with Jarvis Landry and tight end David Njoku. This is a grouping that should truly be one of the league’s most potent offenses and the team as a whole is very complete. The defensive line is one of, if not the absolute best in the league and a strong candidate to lead the league in sacks. Behind them is an opportunistic secondary that will force turnovers. This line should be at least a full touchdown and there is value in betting the Browns.

Los Angeles Rams at Carolina Panthers

Game start: 1 PM
Opening Line: Los Angeles -2.5 and 51
Current Line: Los Angeles -2 and 50

The Rams open in an unideal spot in an early game on the east coast, but last year’s conference champs are the objectively better team. They return every meaningful player on both sides of the ball and are quite a balanced team. Quarterback Jared Goff was far better at home last season but is too young in his career to have any degree of certainty on the level of trust to be put into his home/road splits. This is an offense that moves the ball incredibly well and is a high-end offense with a very good defense as well.

The Panthers return the combo of franchise quarterback Cam Newton and elite, if not too overall running back Christian McCaffrey. They will also the elevation of their pair of young wideouts DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel who will both be large contributors. The offense overall is above average but far from elite outside of McCaffrey. The defense is also middle of the pack and it would be at least moderately surprising if they were able to make noise in the NFC South this year, let alone in the conference. This should be a tight game with Carolina at home and doesn’t have any overly attractive bets.

Detroit Lions at Arizona Cardinals

Game start: 4:25 PM
Opening Line: ArizonaPick Em And 49
Current Line: Detroit -2.5 and 46.5

The Lions enter their second year under Matt Patricia and return all notable skill position players from a season ago. They didn’t move quickly on offense a season ago but team pace will be elevated in games against Arizona this season. They are a middle of the pack team on both offense and defense and a team that would be surprising to see make a playoff push. While they are likely a better team than the Cardinals, it’s probably incorrect for them to be favored on the road.

The Cardinals saw an overhaul this season. New head coach Kliff Kingsbury will run a fast-paced, spread offense and will lead to an increased snap count in most games this season. Overs are more probable to hit and it’s worth a shot in week 1. They will have a rookie quarterback and top overall pick Kyler Murray under center and bell-cow running back David Johnson behind him with a mix of youth and veteran presence as pass catchers. The defense could struggle and we could see some high scores and we simply don’t know how well this specific spread offense will translate to the NFL game. Both the Cardinals and the over are worth a look in this game.

Cincinnati Bengals at Seattle Seahawks

Game start: 4:05 PM
Opening Line: Seattle -9 and 43.5
Current Line: Seattle -9.5 and 44

The Bengals have some high-end players in place but will be one of the worst teams in the league this year. They continue to have what is likely the league’s worst offensive line and a lack of difference-makers on the defensive side of the ball. Star wide receiver AJ Green will miss the early parts of the season and it will be up to slot receiver Tyler Boyd to carry much of the pass-catching load. Joe Mixon returns and is a very high end back but it appears they will deploy a running back by committee approach, which could work to their detriment. They could have problems staying competitive in some games this season and this road spot is one of them.

The Seahawks continue to have a heavy volume rushing attack and an elite quarterback in Russell Wilson to bail them out often if they find themselves behind the down and distance sticks. They will continue to be an above-average team as long as Wilson is present but lack the number of difference-making players and a high end coaching to be true players in the postseason. They will however likely cruise to a victory in week 1 and are worth a look

Indianapolis Colts at Los Angeles Chargers

Game start: 4:05 PM
Opening Line: Los Angeles -3.5 and 48
Current Line: Los Angeles -6.5 and 44.5

The line movement in this game is due to the sudden retirement of Colts franchise quarterback Andrew Luck last week. He was the face of the franchise and their best player on the field and the franchise path is now extremely questionable. They were to be a playoff team atop their division behind the leadership of high-end head coach Frank Reich but the team ceiling plummets without Luck. They are still going to be just mediocre on the offensive side of the ball and very much the same on the defensive side of the ball.

The Chargers return franchise quarterback Philip Rivers and top wide receiver Keenan Allen, along with emerging up and comers Mike Williams And Hunter Henry. The passing attack has true weaponry and will be a difficult one to stop. They are currently without bell-cow running back Melvin Gordon who continues his hold out. They have adequate substitutes in the meantime and a high-end defense and this team are likely to be a playoff team. They will get a home win in week one and are worth a look for a cover.

New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys

Game start: 4:25 PM
Opening Line: Dallas -7.5 and 46.5
Current Line: Dallas -7 and 44.5

The Giants are among the worst coached and worst managed franchises in the league. Head coach Pat Shurmer will soon enough be fired from his second head coaching post and general manager Dave Gettleman simply does not understand how to build a high-end roster in the NFL. They will return woeful quarterback Eli Manning to hand off to offensive centerpiece Saquon Barkley who is the heart of the offense. Evan Engram is a wholly talented tight end that will also have a large role and will act as another attempt to mask the poor quarterback play. The defense is a below-average unit lacking playmakers and this team will be in for a lot of losses this season, including week 1.

The Cowboys return their entire core, including franchise running back Ezekiel Elliott, who agreed to a contract extension this week that likely keeps him in Dallas for the remainder of his career. They will remain above average on offense thanks to the presence of Elliott and the defensive unit as a whole is above average as well. This team will be in the playoff hunt at the end of the season but far from a bye week contender and almost certainly trailing the Eagles atop the division. They will, however, get their first win in week 1 but are probably a better look on the money line than they are against the spread.

Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots

Game start: 8:20 PM
Opening Line: New England -6.5 and 51.5
Current Line: New England -6 and 49

The Steelers have a bit of a new look to the offense, with Antonio Brown having moved on to Oakland. Franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger returns and JuJu Smith-Schuster is elevated to top wide receiver status. Brown is replaced by underrated Donte Moncrief and Vance McDonald returns at tight end. James Conner returns to lead the ground attack and the offense as a whole will again be quite potent even without Brown. The defensive side of the ball is reascending with some playmakers and this team will be in the playoff hunt despite rightfully being a moderate underdog in week 1.

The Patriots dynasty remains competitive and lives as long as the Tom Brady and Bill Belichick combination remain in place. They have all their offensive skill position remaining in place and will continue to be a potent and balanced offense. Wide receiver Josh Gordon will play week one and plugs the one hole on the offense that was unknown for the majority of the summer. The defensive side of the ball is above average as well and this team will run away with their division again. They are likely for a win on Sunday night but the line is too wide for comfort.

Monday Games

Houston Texans at New Orleans Saints

Game start: 7:10 PM
Opening Line: New Orleans -9 and 54
Current Line: New Orleans -7 and 53

The Texans return a playoff-caliber roster on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Deshaun Watson returns to what is probably the best wide receiving corps in the league. This group is headlined by the league’s top receiver Deshaun Watson but also includes oft-injured but highly productive Will Fuller and Keke Coutee, who is questionable for Monday. They lost top back Lamar Miller for the season to a preseason injury and he’s been replaced by Duke Johnson who was acquired from the Browns. This will be a potent offense and a team that likely wins their division but are questionable for a win in week 1. The spread, however, is too wide and the Texans are worth a look, along with the over.

The Saints return their key offensive players, including the men who make it run. Most importantly quarterback Drew Brees but additionally head coach Sean Payton, wise receiver Michael Thomas and running back Alvin Kamara. The offense will remain quite potent, particularly at home in the dome. The defense will remain a pass funnel and stout against the run as in recent years. This will be a very fun game to watch.

Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders

Games start: 10:15 PM
Opening Line: Oakland -3 and 43
Current Line: Denver -2 and 43

The Broncos simply don’t have much to be excited about aside from star defensive end Von Miller. They’ve brought in Joe Flacco to play quarterback along with a mixed and matched group of skill position players that lacks a single player with an elite skill set. They have a ceiling of being a .500 team and anything more in the win column would mean their defense has carried them. As for week 1, the line is just one to avoid.

The Raiders are reaping what they sowed in the offseason as they continue to deal with the dramatics of Antonio Brown. As of now, he is not expected to play Monday night as they sort through the latest batch of dramatics. This is a fluid situation that can change by the hour and is something to monitor. The line shit is due to his expected absence and is perhaps a value spot for betting if something changes.

The Raiders return Derek Carr under center and they also lack difference makers at the skill positions outside of Brown. They may have an emerging player in tight end Darren Waller, but that is still purely speculative and remains to be seen. The defense is a below-average unit and this team is at least a year away from being competitive.

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