NFL handicappers and oddsmakers will tell you that the first week of the regular season is the hardest to pinpoint because no one really knows what teams truly are yet.
Odds courtesy of OddsShark.com
The NFL has the most parity of the four major professional sports leagues in the United States, and every year a few clubs that were supposed to be good aren’t and a few that were supposed to stink don’t. Just look at the Philadelphia Eagles. In 2016, they were last in the NFC East. Last year, they won the franchise’s first Super Bowl.
The biggest Week 1 home underdogs for 2018 are, to no surprise, the Cleveland Browns as they are +6.5 against the AFC North rival Pittsburgh Steelers. The Browns come off the second 0-16 season in league history and have one victory in 32 games under head coach Hue Jackson.
In addition, Cleveland hasn’t won a season opener since 2004. Last year, Cleveland also opened at home against Pittsburgh and managed to cover a 10-point spread in a 21-18 loss. It was only the Browns’ fourth cover in their past 20 season openers.
One interesting game is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the New Orleans Saints, which we will call the Suspension Bowl. That’s because Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston is suspended the first three games of the season for an off-field issue and Saints running back Mark Ingram is banned the first four because he failed a drug test.
The Saints opened at -7 but that line already has moved as high as 9.5 points at some sportsbooks in the wake of the Winston news. Veteran journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick, barring injury, would start in his place.
There is one game currently listed as a pick’em on the Week 1 NFL betting board: Washington Redskins at Arizona Cardinals. Both teams will have new starting quarterbacks: Alex Smith for Washington and, presumably, Sam Bradford for Arizona, which also has an entirely new coaching staff.
The first Sunday night game of the year is Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers, the NFL’s oldest rivalry. That had the biggest spread on the board at Packers -8 but has been passed at some books by Bucs-Saints.
Aaron Rodgers is the early betting favorite to win a third NFL MVP Award. He missed a big chunk of last season due to a broken collarbone and the Packers missed the playoffs. Green Bay has been a good Week 1 bet in recent years, covering eight of its past 11.
And it’ll be the head coaching debut of former Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy for Chicago. The Bears were busy this offseason adding offensive weapons around second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.