Gambling in Week 1 of the NFL season can be difficult because teams have yet to play any meaningful games, but it’s also an opportunity to find some real value within the week's point spreads. Picking teams that are overlooked or going against ones that have unrealistic expectations is a good way to make some money at the start of the year.
The Seattle Seahawks are the biggest favorites in Week 1, and no other team is even favored by a touchdown, according to the latest Las Vegas betting odds. Only two teams that made the playoffs last year are underdogs, including the Denver Broncos, who face the Carolina Panthers in a rematch of Super Bowl 50. Three of the four primetime games feature betting lines of three points or fewer.
There’s no such thing as a “sure thing” when it comes to gambling, but here are the five best bets for Week 1 of the 2016 NFL season.
Seattle Seahawks (-10.5)
The Seahawks are giving the Miami Dolphins a ton of points on Sunday, making them easily the biggest favorites of Week 1. Even though neither team has played a meaningful game this year, it’s not hard to figure out what kind of seasons Seattle and Miami will both have. The Dolphins have won between six and eight games in each of the last seven years, and they’re in for another mediocre season. The Seahawks have won at least 10 games in each of the last four years, and they might be the best team in the NFC.
Seattle might have the best home-field advantage in the NFL, and they seem to feed off the crowd in home openers more so than in any other games. Since 2009, the Seahawks are undefeated in their first game of the season at home, and six of those seven wins have come by 20 points or more. Ryan Tannehill should have multiple turnovers against the defense that’s allowed the fewest points in the NFL four years running, as the Seahawks cruise to a Week 1 victory.
Buffalo Bills (+3)
The Bills are getting three points for their season-opening visit to the Baltimore Ravens. Buffalo had a rough training camp with a few notable injuries and suspensions, but their outlook for the season remains bright as a top contender for one of the AFC’s two wild-card spots. Baltimore should improve upon last year’s 5-11 finish, but the Bills might be the better team, making them a smart pick as Week 1 underdogs.
Buffalo went 8-6 in games that Tyrod Taylor played last year, and he's good to go for the 2016 season. With a healthy LeSean McCoy and Sammy Watkins at Taylor’s disposal, the Bills can put up a lot of points against a Ravens defense that isn’t nearly as good as it used to be. Buffalo has lost against the spread just twice in their last 11 Week 1 games, and Rex Ryan is 6-1 in season openers. Baltimore has lost their last three season openers, and that streak could be extended to four on Sunday.
Chicago Bears (+6)
Chicago looked awful in the preseason, so it’s no surprise that they are one of the biggest underdogs in Week 1 when they visit the Houston Texans. The Bears might not be a playoff team, but they could be undervalued heading into the start of the year.
After losing 10 games behind a defense that allowed nearly 25 points per game, Chicago was active this offseason, improving their linebacking corps and signing one of the top free agents in Danny Trevathan. Houston spent plenty of money in the offseason, but Brock Osweiler might not be worth the guaranteed $37 million he received. He had an unimpressive 86.4 passer rating in his first eight games of real NFL action, and he joins a team that went just 4-6 when playing against teams outside of the AFC South, the NFL's worst division. J.J. Watt will play, but he could be limited by his recent back surgery, and the Texans won’t have an easy time pulling out a Week 1 win.
Cleveland Browns (+4)
Picking one of the NFL’s worst teams to cover the spread on the road is not always the smartest idea, but it makes more than enough sense in Week 1. Cleveland is getting more than a field goal against the Philadelphia Eagles, who could be just as bad in 2016.
It’s hard to find any reason to be optimistic about the Eagles, who essentially gave up on the season by trading Sam Bradford. That leaves Carson Wentz as the team’s starting quarterback with virtually no experience. The rookie played one preseason game, posting a 41.8 passer rating, and he could have a nightmare of a regular-season debut. Philadelphia’s defense should be improved from last year, but that’s not saying much for a unit that ranked 30th in yards allowed. Taking four points from the Eagles in Week 1 is a gift, no matter who Philadelphia is playing.
Pittsburgh Steelers (-3)
The betting line for Monday night’s game between the Steelers and Washington Redskins is just three points, but it could end up being one of the least competitive games in Week 1. Look for Pittsburgh to win big on the road as they prove why they are the biggest threat to the New England Patriots in the AFC.
Even without Le’Veon Bell, the Steelers have one of the most explosive offenses in football. Pittsburgh went 8-4 with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback in 2015, averaging more than 28 points per game. Roethlisberger might get injured later on in the season, but he’s healthy in Week 1, facing one of the NFL’s worst defenses. The unit that ranked 28th in total defense a year ago might not be much improved, even with the addition of cornerback Josh Norman, and Kirk Cousins and Co. won’t be able to keep up with the Steelers.