BEST GAME – Pittsburgh at Buffalo
A battle between one team hoping to take the Next Step and another desperate to bleed one more year out of its veteran quarterback. As if emerging QB Josh Allen wasn’t already one of the best in the league, his job got easier with the emergence of RB Devin Singletary as a potent weapon. Meanwhile, the Steelers will be relying on their defense this season and praying that Ben Roethlisberger’s 39-year-old battered body will grind its way through 17 games and one last decent playoff run. This game opened at Bills -6.5, and that number has held steady with early money pretty much evenly divided.
WORST GAME – Jacksonville at Houston
Anyone and everyone who follows the NFL seems ready to toss dirt on both teams, and this could be the first time in league history that the No. 1 draft pick is determined on Opening Day. Houston, which still hasn’t figured out what to do with accused miscreant QB Deshaun Watson, is in full 76ers-type tank mode. Meanwhile, new Jags coach Urban Meyer has more than his share of problems repairing a team which lost its last 15 games last season, by an average margin of nearly 13 a game. Still, SOMEONE has to win, and the books like Jacksonville as a 3-point road favorite.
LARGEST SPREAD – San Francisco at Detroit (+7.5)
It’s always about the future for the Lions, and this season is no different. Sending out Matthew Stafford for Jared Goff is an obvious downgrade, and the receivers are hardly household names. Detroit really needs its O-Line to improve so it can make defenses at least somewhat respect the running game. If that’s not too encouraging, the Lions drew a short straw with SF in the opener. The Niners are a much better team than the injury ravaged 6-10 club of a year ago, and if they sort out the Garoppolo/Lance quarterback situation it could own the NFC West. Simply put, there is a huge talent gap here and the 49ers would have to turn over the ball several times to make this a game.
SMALLEST SPREAD – Los Angeles Chargers at Washington (+1)
This one opened as a PK until some early Charger cash pushed it to 1. LA has its 10-year franchise quarterback, which is always the most expensive and difficult part of a rebuilding franchise. Now the Chargers just have to build on Justin Herbert’s foundation. HC Brandon Staley figures to make the defense better and avoid last year’s maddening string of close losses. The WFT most likely won’t be able to win the NFC East with 7 or 8 wins this year, but playing in the worst division does have its perks. Can a good draft and athletes all around cover for aging (he turns 39 the day before Thanksgiving) QB Ryan Fitzpatrick? This one opened as a PK until some early Charger cash pushed it to Washinton +1.
LARGEST TOTAL – Cleveland at Kansas City (53.5)
Tough opener for the Browns, who are coming off an 11-win season and want to keep the momentum flowing this season. There will be immediate pressure on a Cleveland secondary which was awful last season and rebuilt over the summer. The good news is that the Browns figure to be able to move the ball against a mediocre Chiefs defense. Over players figure to hit this one hard despite the large number.
LOWEST TOTAL – Denver at New York Giants (42.5)
Wasn’t that long ago that the average betting total in an NFL game was 41. This week no game is that low, and six games opened at 50 or above (although Seattle-Indianapolis was quickly bet down to 48.5). Bettors are looking at a Giants QB, Daniel Jones, who was just ok in the pre-season, and a Denver defense that will carry the Broncos this year. Hardly a recipe for a lot of points.