NFL Picks: Week 1

Written by Football, Sports

Are you ready for some football? Lord knows Zack Dennis is — and with Week One’s kickoff just around the corner, he’s also ready to make his inaugural picks.

Welcome to Week 1! I can’t tell you how excited I am for this football season to get started. Vegas set the lines for these games almost a month ago, before preseason even began, and there’s been a bit of movement in a few games since then, but most lines have stayed pretty much the same. I think many people put a lot of stock in the changes that teams make from season to season (draft picks, free agent signings, coaching and system changes) but in truth the players and philosophy that make up the team’s core rarely change all that much during the offseason. Vegas tends to use this misconception to set a few traps. The computer’s historical performance in Week 1 doesn’t deviate much from its overall performance; the Weighted Win Percentage (WWP) is 54.3% compared to a lifetime WWP of 55.6%. Hedge bets during the first week tend to perform poorly, but this is balanced by the flip bets, which do quite well. There’s only one team that the computer is 90% confident about this week, and that’s the Atlanta Falcons. But the largest bet of the week is actually Philadelphia, where over 1/3 of the models call for a bet on the Eagles with 85% confidence. The other big bets are hedges on Denver, Detroit, and Oakland. It’s important to remember that the lines you see here are from when I placed my bets, and don’t necessarily reflect the final lines on each game. It’s also important that you listen to the computer, not me. The computer is better at this than I am.

TENNESSEE TITANS

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PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Computer’s Pick: Pittsburgh (-5)

Bet Amount: $5.72 (Flip Conflict)

WHY I AGREE: Even though these teams should be relatively evenly matched (the last time they played, Tennessee spanked the Steelers 31-14), I’m actually a bit surprised the spread isn’t even higher. The last time Pittsburgh was on the field, they won the Superbowl. Ben Roethlisberger’s Achilles tendon should be fine, Kerry Collins is a year older and is already looking banged up, and the crowd at Heinz Field will be absolutely rabid.
UPDATE: The line has been pushed all the way up to 6.5. I’m not going to change my bet, but this makes the computer much more confident that the Steelers will cover.

MIAMI DOLPHINS

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ATLANTA FALCONS

Computer’s Pick: Atlanta (-4)

Bet Amount: $51.17 (Flip – 90%)

WHY I AGREE: I think Miami probably pulled off the biggest single-season improvement in history, going from 1-15 in 2007 to 11-5 last year. Are they headed back to earth this season? To me this spread seems just about right, but the computer apparently sees this as a much closer contest and thus considers this line to be a dead giveaway that Atlanta is going to run away with this one. I think Atlanta gets the edge here, mainly because I think the Falcons are a complete enough team to contain the Dolphins.

DENVER BRONCOS

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CINCINNATI BENGALS

Computer’s Pick: Denver (+3.5)

Bet Amount: $28.62 (Hedge)

WHY IT’S WRONG: I don’t think Kyle Orton brings anything special to Denver, and the defense on that team is dysfunctional in the worst way – they gave up an average of 28 points per game last year. Cincinnati rediscovered their pride at the end of last season while the Broncos watched their own playoff hopes go down in flames, and I don’t see the momentum for either team changing in this game. The computer sees this one as being close, but I’m expecting one of these teams to run away with this one – and without Cutler, it’s not going to be Denver.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

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CLEVELAND BROWNS

Computer’s Pick: Cleveland (+3.5)

Bet Amount: $9.37 (Hedge)

WHY IT’S WRONG: Again, the computer likes this spread a lot – I have to say I’m surprised that it doesn’t view this line as a trap. Cleveland fell to pieces at the end of last season, and Adrian Peterson should make fantasy owners who used the first pick on him feel vindicated as he racks up ~200 yards and two touchdowns against a defense that doesn’t see the point in putting forth a genuine effort when they’re supported by an offense that failed to score a single touchdown in their last six games. It won’t matter who’s playing quarterback for the Vikings or how many illegal crackback blocks they throw, at least not here. The line has actually moved up to +4 since I placed my bet (I’m not sure if the book was offering a teaser or what, but they were giving +110 juice on the Browns) so hopefully I don’t get burned by this one.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

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INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

Computer’s Pick: Jacksonville (+7)

Bet Amount: $6.44 (Flip)

WHY IT’S WRONG: Jacksonville usually plays pretty tough against Indianapolis, but the Colts were very strong at the end of the season last year – and the Jaguars are still pretty bad. The spread seems about right here to me, though apparently the computer expects a bigger one. I think Indianapolis can cover these seven points, but seeing a push or having Jacksonville cover through the back door wouldn’t surprise me one bit.

DETROIT LIONS

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NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Computer’s Pick: Detroit (+13)

Bet Amount: $33.65 (Hedge)

WHY I AGREE: The line on this game opened up at 11 three weeks ago, and it’s moved all the way to 13. At 11.5, the model saw this spread as being just about perfect – calling for one of the biggest hedge bets the computer has ever made. Fortunately, the shift up to 13 has gotten the computer to back off a little bit. It’s pretty hard to have the stomach to bet on a team as awful as Detroit, but whenever the spread is greater than ten, they seem to respond. And I suspect a lot of money is already on the Saints. It’s hard to imagine New Orleans getting properly motivated for this contest, so I think they’ll gallop off to a big lead early and Detroit will creep back up on them enough to keep this one within two touchdowns.

DALLAS COWBOYS

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TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Computer’s Pick: Dallas (-5.5)

Bet Amount: $42.15 (Flip)

WHY IT’S WRONG: The computer sees this spread as far too lopsided towards Tampa, but I think that’s just Vegas trying to keep too many enthusiastic Texans from loading up on the Cowboys – the line opened at -3. Tampa Bay blew its engine at the end of last season, Garcia’s gone (and even if he were still around I’d be indifferent to him), and Romo’s ittle bittle pinky woes are ancient history. So why do I like Tampa Bay here? Because after getting humiliated at home by the Oakland Raiders in their last game at home last year, I think their defense will manage to keep this one close.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

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CAROLINA PANTHERS

Computer’s Pick: Philadelphia (-1.5)

Bet Amount: $64.00 (Flip)

WHY I AGREE: The computer doesn’t know or care about Jake Delhomme’s six turnovers during last year’s NFC Championship game (playoff results aren’t entered into the model) – all it knows is that Carolina didn’t lose a single game at home last season. There’s not a single model that sees Philadelphia covering this spread in more than 25% of the permutations – which is indicative of a huge trap. Philadelphia is a “sleeper” pick this year for a lot of folks, and the Eagles really seem to defy any kind of expectations. Plus, I think the addition of Vick will give them an “us against the world” mentality on the road that should serve them well. I don’t see the spread as being a factor in this game; either Philadelphia picks up a few early turnovers and blows this one wide open, or Carolina keeps it close but not quite close enough. Either way, I’m with the computer 100% on this one – I love Philadelphia in this game.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

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BALTIMORE RAVENS

Computer’s Pick: Kansas City (+10)

Bet Amount: None

WHY I AGREE: The computer is completely unenthusiastic about this game, with all of the models seeing it as a minor trap – that Kansas City isn’t getting enough points. I think Cassel makes a big difference for Kansas City, though against the Ravens’ defense he probably won’t accomplish much. I’m expecting a conservative game from both him and Flacco, which will lead to a low final score and a likely cover by the Chiefs.

NEW YORK JETS

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HOUSTON TEXANS

Computer’s Pick: Houston (-4.5)

Bet Amount: $0.35 (Flip)

WHY I AGREE: Houston looked good and strong at the end of last season, winning five of their last six. By contrast, the Jets lost four of their last five, and their only win in that stretch was a gift from J.P. Losman and the Bills. While the good riddance of Favre will give the Jets some enthusiasm, it will quickly evaporate when Houston scores on their opening drive. Neither Mark Sanchez nor Kellen Clemens is anywhere near ready to air it out fifty times in a shootout with Matt Schaub, so this should be a pretty one-sided contest. I wish the computer had the balls to risk a little more money (any money at all, actually, since the minimum bet is $5.00), so if the line moves up at all I will re-run the simulation and adjust accordingly.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS

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NEW YORK GIANTS

Computer’s Pick: Washington (+6.5)

Bet Amount: $0.87 (Hedge)

WHY I AGREE: Not much to say here; the Giants are a good bit weaker without Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer, but they’re still a pretty strong team. It’s hard to make a call on this one, so when in doubt, I’ll take the points. But I won’t bet any actual money on this one.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

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ARIZONA CARDINALS

Computer’s Pick: San Francisco (+6.5)

Bet Amount: $2.94 (Hedge)

WHY I AGREE: Teams that lost the Superbowl tend to struggle in their first game the following season (only three of the last fifteen Superbowl losers have covered the spread in their first game back) and I don’t see the Cardinals bucking the trend here. San Francisco looked pretty tough at the end of last year, and I think they’re strong enough to at least keep this one close. I’m bumping this one up to the minimum and putting money on this contest.

SAINT LOUIS RAMS

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Computer’s Pick: St. Louis (+7.5)

Bet Amount: $8.67 (Hedge)

WHY I AGREE: St. Louis sucks, and so does Seattle. There’s no reason Seattle should be laying 7.5 points here, even though the computer is telling me that this is an appropriate spread. Everyone seems to be making a big deal about Hasselbeck being back, but he was 1-6 as a starter last year! Seattle has beaten the hapless Rams eight times in a row, and usually beats them up pretty good as a home team, but that’s just too many points for the Seahawks to cover, even at home.

CHICAGO BEARS

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GREEN BAY PACKERS

Computer’s Pick: Chicago (+3.5)

Bet Amount: $9.19 (Hedge)

WHY IT’S WRONG: I’ve seen too much good stuff out of Aaron Rodgers and the Packers to fall for this one. Cutler’s a great addition to Chicago, and I’m pretty optimistic about his future especially with Devin Hester to throw to, but it will be a while before they get in synch. Chicago’s defense is good, but I expect either Greg Jennings or Donald Driver will slip through once or twice and it’s not easy to make a comeback on opening day at Lambeau Field when you’ve got those those cheese-for-brains fans hollering against you for all they’re worth. I’d love to be wrong about this one, and getting the extra half-point (the line moved up from 3) will hopefully make that difference.

BUFFALO BILLS

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NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Computer’s Pick: Buffalo (+10.5)

Bet Amount: $6.24 (Hedge)

WHY I AGREE: This should be a nice welcome back for Tom Brady, and I think he’ll have no trouble cutting up Buffalo’s secondary. But I presume Buffalo is still stinging from getting shut out at home during last season’s final game – despite howling winds that should have amplified Buffalo’s home-field advantage – and they’ll manage to keep this one close. I think bettors will be a bit too enthusiastic about Tom Brady being back, and Vegas is planning to take advantage of this. Don’t be surprised if the spread factors into this one, with Buffalo covering by half a point. That said, I’m glad this is a small bet.

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS

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OAKLAND RAIDERS

Computer’s Pick: Oakland (+7)

Bet Amount: $30.53 (Hedge)

WHY IT’S WRONG: I hate having to place this bet for the computer. It sees this spread as being just about right, but Oakland is still completely awful in every possible way and will most likely open their season by getting their asses stomped silver and black and blue in front of their long-suffering home crowd. San Diego looks as strong as ever, and I think they’ll dismantle the Raiders and look as casual doing it as New Orleans’ ninth-stringers did when they beat the Raiders 45-7 two weeks ago.The line has already moved up two points (from 7) and I’m not quite sure it’s done moving yet. I suspect Vegas would love to set a trap here, but there’s just no number that they can trust Oakland to cover. All they’re doing is trying to limit their losses on this one.

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