NFL Week 1 Best Bets

Photo: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Before we get into my picks and research which you can hear on the Hot Read Hits Podcast, here are some Week 1 notes, courtesy of BetPrep:

Division dogs are 26-9-1 ATS in Week 1 since 2014 (5-4 ATS in 2020). Division home dogs of 1.5-points or more are 17-4 ATS in Week 1 since 2009.

By Tommy “The Hitman”

Minnesota Vikings (-3) at Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, 1 p.m. EST

Kirk Cousins crushes bad passing defenses like we expect from the Bengals (who actually have the highest percentage of cap dollars spent on defense in the NFL). With the Vikings, Cousins has 19 games against bottom-10 pass defenses, as the Bengals were in 2020, averaging 9.4 Y/A and 278.3 passing yards per game in those contests. Against other teams, Cousins has a 7.2 Y/A and 245.9 yards per game.

It’s pick your poison for the Bengals secondary, absent the injured Trae Waynes. Fourth-team journeyman Eli Apple is being forced to start in place of Waynes. So either Adam Thielen (14 touchdowns last year) or Justin Jefferson (seven 100-+yard games) should have big days, and maybe both will.

The Bengals will also have to deal with the explosive running of Dalvin Cook. Cincinnati allowed a league-high 4.6 carries per game to gain 10-plus yards and their rate of allowing 55.2% of their rushing yardage via big runs was the highest in the league. Cook was second in the NFL with 46 carries of 10 or more yards and gained 729 yards on those carries (second behind Derrick Henry).

The Minnesota defense faces second-year quarterback Joe Burrow in his first game back from a major knee injury. Burrow tore his ACL and MCL, plus had damage to his PCL and meniscus. Burrow is only 9.5 months post-injury and may not be 100% for a while. Minnesota had major defensive additions, getting back DE Danielle Hunter, DT Michael Pierce, LB Anthony Barr, and LB Eric Kendricks from injury. They also signed DT Dalvin Tomlinson, DT Sheldon Richardson, and corners Patrick Peterson, Mackenzie Alexander, and Breshad Breeland

Arizona Cardinals at Tennessee Titans (over 52 points), 1 p.m. EST

Ryan Tannehill has started 26 regular-season games for the Titans. They've gone an incredible 21-4-1 to the Over in these games.

His counterpart Kyler Murray is healthy, like in weeks 1-through-10 last year, when Arizona averaged 28.7 PPG and Murray had 7.5 YPA/9.2 carries per game. After he banged up his shoulder, Arizona averaged 21.8 PPG, and Murray had 6.4 YPA/7.8 carries per game. 

The Titans were 27th in EPA defending the pass in 2020 and Murray has done very well against bottom-half defenses. In 16 career games, he’s averaged 259.6 passing yards per game and 7.8 Y/A compared with 6.4 Y/A and 221.3 passing yards per game otherwise.

Both teams have paper-thin secondaries: The Cardinals expect to start 33-year-old Robert Alford (who hasn’t played since 2018), fourth-round rookie Marco Wilson and second-year slot corner Byron Murphy, who allowed a terrible 97.4 rating in coverage.  The Titans are rolling out a group of corners that logged just 81 coverage snaps in the NFL last season.

Another trend boosting the Over is that Both teams play fast: This matchup jumps off the page given the Cardinals again led the league in situation-neutral pace and no-huddle rate. The Titans’ tempo is less bankable after losing offensive coordinator Arthur Smith (now Atlanta’s head coach). Last year, they operated at the fourth-fastest pace and deployed the third-most no-huddle plays.

New England Patriots (-3) vs. Miami Dolphins, 4:25 EST

There is regression coming for Miami, which led the NFL last year in INTs, recovered opponents fumbles at the third-highest rate, and led the NFL in lowest 3rd-down conversions vs expected (a stat with little year-to-year correlation). Miami was also the league’s healthiest team last season.

New England is favored in the trenches. Per Pro Football Focus, Miami collectively graded out 21st in pass blocking and 30th in run blocking, and New England’s defensive line is greatly improved. New England’s offensive line is also projected to be a top-five unit while Miami’s defensive front is well-below average. 

Yes, New England has a rookie QB in Mac Jones making his first start. Jones had an impressive preseason, completing 36-of-52 (69.2%) passes for 389 yards (7.5 Y/A), with a touchdown and no interceptions. While Brian Flores seems to be a good coach in his own right, you have to love the Patriots with extra time to prepare.

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