NFL Betting Guide: Week 1
Do you think you know a lot about NFL football? Try regularly picking five games against the spread.
Even with all the information, advanced stats, and people attempting, elite sports bettors are lucky to get about 53% to 54% of -110 (even probability) bets correctly. It's essentially flipping a coin.
That being said, people try -- myself included. There are plenty of contests, media personalities, and other casual games at work or with friends that pick five games each week against the spread to see how they fare.
Using NFL odds from FanDuel Sportsbook, here are my five picks against the spread and a couple of totals I like this week. Play or fade as you please.
Final Results: 47-42-1 (52.8%)
Last year was a fun year. That record was in the 97th percentile of a certain famous contest had I entered, but I just bet these lines personally.
We started out of the gates hot with a 9-1 record in the first two weeks of 2021, and then I definitely scuffled from there.
I can't wait to see what 2022 has in store, and I'll link our five picks each week so everyone can follow along. Here is the setup for those curious already.
Pick #1: Vikings (+1.5) at Packers
I placed one future bet last season -- Minnesota over 9.5 wins. They responded by setting an all-time record for one-score games in a season (15) and lost eight games of that nature. It may benefit them in the long run since rigid head coach Mike Zimmer was let go to make room for the young, progressive Kevin O'Connell fresh off a Super Bowl in Los Angeles.
This is a dynamic roster filled with top-five guys at their position like Dalvin Cook and Justin Jefferson. Now that Davante Adams is out of Green Bay, there is a severe mismatch in the personnel around Kirk Cousins and Aaron Rodgers.
Rodgers has all sorts of turmoil to deal with amongst his corps of wideouts. Per the injury report, Allen Lazard is a gigantic question mark, and Robert Tonyan is closer to the doubtful side. It's possible only one wideout will be active in the group that's seen more than five targets from Aaron (Randall Cobb).
Considering Rodgers didn't make too much of an offseason effort to get rhythm and timing down with his new guys, and Rodgers' worst game of 2021 was against the Saints in Week 1 after that adventurous offseason. Now, without his most reliable target, it's hard for me to see Green Bay reaching their 24.5 implied team total.
Swami Swaim's Score Prediction: Vikings 27-17
Pick #2: Commanders (-2.5) vs. Jaguars
There's tremendous value on the Commanders even if we just believe FanDuel Sportsbook.
Most cappers agree that home field in the NFL is worth approximately three points, so this spread is essentially saying the Jaguars are 0.5 points better than Washington on a neutral field. If that's true, why is Washington's win total (8.5) on Sportsbook higher than Jacksonville's (6.5) in a harder division?
It doesn't make sense to me. The Commanders have won 14 games the past two years with abhorrent quarterback play, and at the very least, Carson Wentz is an upgrade. Wentz's 0.11 Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back was higher in 2021 than Russell Wilson, Mac Jones, and Lamar Jackson.
While Jacksonville spent a ton of money on their offense, it'll remain to be seen exactly how much they upgraded with Christian Kirk and Evan Engram. Where they didn't upgrade a ton was their problematic defensive front, which Pro Football Focus still is projecting to be the 28th-best unit.
If those win totals are in the vicinity of correct, I should have to lay more than a field goal to the worse team on the road. I don't, so I'll bet the home team debuting their new team nickname.
Swami Swaim's Score Prediction: Commanders 24-20
Pick #3: Cardinals (+5.5) vs. Chiefs
The Chiefs will always be a favorite of the public, but they're getting way too much respect here.
I've been on an island all offseason expecting a major step back for the Kansas City offense. When you have one dynamic downfield playmaker who complies 35.8% of your team's air yards in 2021, it's reasonable to expect a step back when he's gone. JuJu Smith-Schuster isn't really a burner, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling wasn't productive with the two-time defending MVP.
This is a tough draw for an offense that should be in flux. The Cardinals under Kliff Kingsbury have come out of the box pretty hot. They covered five of their first six against the spread (ATS) last year, and they covered four of their first six in 2020.
Now, Arizona also has moving parts, but they've replaced Christian Kirk with Marquise Brown this offseason, which is a substantial upgrade. Unfortunately, the Cards are used to missing DeAndre Hopkins at this point after he missed seven of nine games to close 2021.
Behind a re-tooled defense, K.C. is still the third-best team in our nERD power rankings, but the Cardinals are a respectable 13th. These are two solid squads, so taking nearly a touchdown (sans the extra point) with the home squad is sweet. After all, underdogs have hit at a 53% clip ATS in Week 1 since the start of 2000.
Swami Swaim's Score Prediction: Cardinals 24-23
This is the least "sharp" pick of the week, but I can't pass it up just needing a touchdown. I see these teams in two totally different dimensions. The reigning AFC champion Bengals added several key impact offensive linemen to shore up -- really -- their only weakness. Meanwhile, the Steelers haven't chosen a chance to upgrade at quarterback yet. They've opted for Mitchell Trubisky to open the year behind PFF's 30th-ranked offensive line.
Joe Burrow torched the Steelers last year for an insane 80.1% completion rate against a Pittsburgh secondary that's the 28th-best unit to PFF as well. Those are two key weaknesses that match up terribly with Burrow's downfield accuracy and the Stripes' pass rush. Cincinnati's +45 point differential against the Steelers last year is a matchup issue -- not a fluky pair of games.
Swami Swaim's Score Prediction: Bengals 31-14
I'd be remiss to not mention the two "sharp" lines that don't make a ton of sense on paper. The other is on Monday; the lowly Seahawks are getting less than a touchdown in a Russell Wilson revenge game for Denver.
Detroit is getting just 3.5 points here, but last year's ATS heroes might just win games outright this season. They now boast PFF's third-best offensive line in front of a weaponry group that added D.J. Chark. Defensively, top pick Aidan Hutchinson should help a pass rush that boasted one of the league's lowest pressure rates.
It was a busy offseason for the Eagles, as well, adding A.J. Brown to a wideout room that lacked dynamic talent. They also snatched Chauncey Gardner-Johnson a few days ago for their secondary. They've got a quality roster top-to-bottom as well, but it'll come down to Jalen Hurts' consistency and accuracy as the signal-caller.
The Eagles torched Detroit last season, so 78% of the bets and 82% of the money are on Philadelphia, yet this line shrank from 4.0 points to 3.5 earlier this week. I think we all know how that usually ends.
Swami Swaim's Score Prediction: Lions 23-21
Totals of the Week
Pick #1: Browns at Panthers (Under 41.0)
I don't think we've all reached the same conclusion on Baker Mayfield.
The Browns undoubtedly have one of the best offensive lines in the league, and they had Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry as a strong tandem to start 2021. Mayfield floundered to 0.00 Passing NEP per drop back, and in Carolina, he'll have a worse situation at every single offensive position.
Now, in the immediate revenge game, the Browns' sixth-ranked passing defense, per our nERD model, will be his opponent. Familiarity works both ways, but there's also a talent disparity. As for Cleveland's offense, they'll more than likely play at a glacial pace quite literally killing the clock until Deshaun Watson can return. After all, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are a phenomenal duo behind that aforementioned line.
I expect Mayfield to struggle a bulk of the season -- especially if Christian McCaffrey doesn't stay healthy in the backfield. Against a strong Browns defense that's going to be protecting its backup quarterback, I'm expecting a game that will be pretty hard on the eyes.
Swami Swaim's Score Prediction: Browns 16-13
Pick #2: Colts at Texans (Over 44.5)
Given their situations, Davis Mills was heroic to reach the 0.00 Passing NEP per drop back that Mayfield stumbled into. Now, with an offseason as "the guy", he and Brandin Cooks will look to carry the passing game. Houston had a 100-yard rusher in just one game last year, so any lift Pierce brings should help this offense dramatically.
As for the Colts, they made -- at worst -- a lateral move from the erratic Carson Wentz to the stable Matt Ryan. Ryan will get to attack a Houston secondary ranked dead last by PFF in overall ability.
Indianapolis scored 31 points in both meetings last season, but the Texans just scored 3 points...total. Not great, Bob!
With an improved rushing attack, and Indy's former defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus now in Chicago, I anticipate the Texans are more functional this go-round, and the Colts still shouldn't face a ton of resistance on the ground or through the air. Our model likes the Houston spread, and a competitive game would only help the total.
Swami Swaim's Score Prediction: Colts 27-20