The Kansas City Chiefs’ victory over the New England Patriots on Thursday night is a perfect case study in NFL betting and survivor pool play: no team is ever a sure thing, no matter what the point spread says, not even if Mark Wahlberg introduces the team to its raucous home crowd. Last night’s game is also a reminder that life is simply less enjoyable and meaningful from February through August. That’s a bit of an overstatement, sure, but this is a safe space for individuals who derive substantial enjoyment from NFL games and/or wagering.
Week 1 NFL Survivor Pool Analysis, Lines of Note, Top Viewing Picks and More
New England Patriots went off as 8.5-point favorites and for the first quarter they looked like the right side, when momentum swung early when the Chiefs stuffed Mike Gillislee on a fourth-and-one on the Chiefs’ 10-yard line. KC ended up torching the Patriots for an average 6.9 yards on the ground plus one 75-yard touchdown reception apiece by rookie running back Kareem Hunt and second-year WR burner Tyreek Hill. After Patriots defensive leader Dont’a Hightower went down in the third quarter with a knee injury, New England looked lost as Kansas City pulled away, erasing anywhere from 6 to 12-percent of survivor pool fields.
Easy for me to say the morning after, but I would have cautioned against New England because of the quality of the opponent. Weeks 1 and 2 are the most treacherous because we’ve not yet seen much meaningful football from either team, nor have they seem much recent play of each other. But Kansas City is largely the same team as last year that won 12 games. Let’s review the rest of the slate, but first a programming note: This is the debut Three-Point Stance Report Friday column. I will also be writing a Monday recap of Sunday’s action from a betting/line perspective, looking at the Vegas SuperContest results on Tuesday, offering a full 32-team Power Rankings on Wednesday, and overall relevant or semi-relevant GIFs, videos and asides that you may find amusing or distracting.
NFL Week 1 Survivor Pool Breakdown
Considering the Patriots got waxed as the co-biggest favorite on the board (Bills are also 8.5/9-point favorites against the Jets and likewise for the Steelers at the Browns), it should be evident that every pick is dangerous. Accordingly, I’m going to look at the viable (or at least popular plays) in order, corresponding to a dangerous or somewhat risky activity. (Remember we’re talking outright wins here in survivor pools, not spreads, but spreads are noted for informational purposes.)
Cutting open a can of beer and shotgunning it
Pittsburgh Steelers (-8.5) at Cleveland Browns: Browns rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer is making his first start against a defense with top-3 potential this season. The defensive line is stout with Cameron Heyward’s return; linebacker is stacked with Bud Dupree coming on late last year plus Ryan Shazier and rookie TJ Watt, as well as Pittsburgh’s acquisition of DB Joe Haden and second-year players DB Artie Burns and SS Sean Davis have a year experience under their belts.
Do you want to be taking a road team against a divisional foe this early in the pool? No. The Browns have an improved offensive line and they can run the football effectively with Isaiah Crowell. And maybe WRs Corey Coleman and Kenny Britt get behind the secondary for a 75-yard score. Meanwhile the Steelers have an embarrassment of riches on offense with Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, a healthy Ben Roethlisberger and a solid offensive line. And the Browns lost No. 1 overall pick, defensive end Myles Garrett to a high-ankle sprain. So, good luck to them. The Steelers are a sub-optimal selection but they’re about as low-risk as you can get this week. Yahoo! Survivor players and ESPN-ers alike are picking the Steelers at a 32% rate.
An average homeowner climbing onto his roof to do work
Buffalo Bills -9 vs. New York Jets: Popular consensus is that the Jets will stink this year. The consensus is correct. The Jets’ team total is a mere 4.5 games (with a good bit of juice), a horrifying proposition in general but perhaps cold comfort to rational fans rooting for a complete tank job, en route to the No. 1 overall pick in ‘18. That effort appears to be going swimmingly, especially after their recent trade that sent stud DT Sheldon Richardson to Seattle for a ‘18 second-round pick and wideout Jermaine Kearse. That’s good news for the Bills’ prospects of controlling the clock and taking this game. Not that the Jets offense will offer much opposition.
The Bills aren’t going to be good this year either, but at least they can run the ball effectively via LeSean McCoy. The Jets’ one strength was its rushing defense but the losses of Richardson and linebacker David Harris and Damon “Snacks” Harrison the year before that should allow the Bills to do their thing. The Bills’ defense is lacking in the secondary and, well, pretty much all over but the Jets don’t have the weapons to fully exploit them. Yahoo! Users like the Bills at 25% while ESPN-ers are a bit less enthusiastic with a 17% pick rate.
Eating a huge amount of Taco Bell and then attempting to sit through an important meeting
Atlanta Falcons (-7) at Chicago Bears: The defending NFC champs star in the Week 1 film, “Beware of the Road Chalk!” The Falcons are getting 78% of spread bets, but the line the has moved in many books to 6.5, indicating reverse-line movement from bigger bettors on Chicago. The Falcons still have a plethora of offensive weapons, namely Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman, but the offense may take a bit of time to reform under new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, and the road is not ideal to begin that task.
The Bears defense is better than you think and overhauled its secondary this offseason, adding DBs Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper, safety Quinton Demps and former No. 1 DB Kyle Fuller is back after missing ‘16 with a knee injury. Also OLB Leonard Floyd is quite good. It’s best to take a home team this early in the game. The Bears have a good O-Line and can control the football with Jordan Howard on the ground, potentially limiting Atlanta’s ability to gash them. I will not be shocked if the Bears win outright. 15% of ESPN survivor poolsters are on the Falcons as well as 14% of the Yahoo! contingent.
Juggling a machete, an apple and a burning torch, and attempting to bite the apple during the rotation while standing on a tightrope
Houston Texans (-5) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars: At a young age I witnessed a stuntman doing that in San Francisco and was absolutely blown away. I could not wrap my mind around it. By the way, it was a Granny Smith apple, a nice big round one and a healthy snack option because apples have lots of fiber.
The 5-point spread is off a key number and an indication that the oddsmakers aren’t quite sure where to go with this line. Put another way, what the heck do we make of these teams? Jaguars QB Blake Bortles is probably onto his last shot as the starter. Meanwhile the Texans are using the highly uninspiring Tom Savage as a placeholder until ‘17 first rounder Deshaun Watson is ready to take over. This QB matchup is only slightly less abominable than the ‘16 Wild Card Round matchup between Brock Osweiler and Raiders third string QB Connor Cook, who made his first career start in the playoffs. Good luck to Jacksonville against a front seven with Jadeveon Clowney, JJ Watt and Whitney Mercilus. Also, how many points can a Houston offense, missing starting left tackle Duane Brown, score against a pretty good and improving Jaguars defense that added immovable defensive lineman Calais Campbell? Six-percent of ESPN-ers are choosing their own adventure with Houston and 7% in Yahoo! pools.
Changing a tire on the side of a busy highway with no shoulder
Carolina Panthers -4.5 at San Francisco 49ers: The Niners have turned the page on Chip Kelly and his frenetic offense and ought to be much improved on offense under new head coach Kyle Shanahan’s direction. San Fran’s the defense will benefit from not having to spend a league-worst 32-plus minutes on the field, a by-product of Kelly’s offense. Also they’ve drafted three top 10 picks to the defensive line in the last three years as well as talented Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster. The main issue with Carolina is that we just don’t know how well Cam Newton has recovered from offseason shoulder surgery. I do like the Panthers as a bounce back team with a solid defense, but the uncertainty with Newton, on the road, against a new-look squad with a decent rushing attack, is a dangerous proposition. Six-percent of Yahoo! players like the Panthers while 7% are on them in ESPN pools.
One more less popular option:
Los Angeles Rams -4.5 vs. Indianapolis Colts: The drop-off from Andrew Luck to Scott Tolzien might be bigger than between Peyton Manning and longtime backup Jim Sorgi, which says the most about Tolzien. Coupled with a Colts’ wet paper bag defense and a poor offensive line, they might finish dead last in the AFC South. Meanwhile the Rams have upgraded at wide receiver (Sammy Watkins), added veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth and still have a pretty good front seven seven despite Aaron Donald’s holdout. I would definitely tap the Rams before jugging machetes or changing that tire. Three percent of poolsters agree.
Lines of Note
1. Arizona Cardinals -2 at Detroit Lions: This game opened with the Lions as a 2.5-point favorite and has swung big time with the Cardinals now as a 2-point favorite. Nothing significant has changed but perception, and to bet the Cards now you’re certainly no longer getting the best of the number, unless of course you’re in a pool with static lines. The Lions seriously overachieved last season (discussed more here) as the Cards trudged through an injury-riddled disappointing season. I’m not looking too hard at the Cardinals in a survivor pool this week but do think this line now reflects the reality of the situation.
2. New York Giants +4 at Dallas Cowboys: The G-Men won both games last season against Dallas, which only fell to one other squad in the regular season — the Eagles in a meaningless Week 17 contest in which Mark Sanchez started for Dallas. Last year Dez Bryant got shut down by the Giants secondary, collecting only two catches (on 14 targets!!) for 18 yards in both games combined. Right now Odell Beckham Jr. is not back to full health after a preseason ankle injury and listed as questionable. Regardless of his status, the Giants D remains well stocked. They held Dallas to just 26 total points combined. OBJ’s status is a big factor but in a closely-contested divisional game, those points look awfully tasty.
3. Philadelphia Eagles -1 at Washington Redskins: Speaking of NFC East teams… the Eagles are now a 1-point road favorite after Washington opened a full 3-point favorite. I think this one ranges between a narrow Redskins win and an Eagles two-touchdown blowout. Philly’s front seven is pretty scary and if they get pressure, Kirk Cousins could get skittish and start launching torpedoes into traffic.
Highly Watchable Games Not Yet Mentioned:
1. Oakland Raiders at Tennessee Titans (1:00 pm ET): Two AFC upstarts looking for their first playoffs win in a long time. The total of 50.5 is almost the biggest on the board and there should provide some fireworks.
2. Seattle Seahawks +3 at Green Bay Packers (4:25 pm ET): One of these teams is probably going to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl (not exactly going out on a limb there), assuming neither starting QB misses extended time. Seattle got torched 38-10 at Green Bay last season but was missing stud safety Earl Thomas at the time and Wilson was still nursing an ankle injury. This one is probably decided by a field goal game either way.
Three Closing Points:
1. Do energy shots even work? I threw back a Costco-brand shot an hour ago and feel like it’s eroding the lining of my stomach with minimal caffeine benefit.
2. The return of college football season and the NFL, combined with sports betting, means better health. I try not to force action but admit to doing it sometimes: plunk down a small wager, watch Louisville battle North Carolina, and hopefully profit. At the very least it makes an hour on the treadmill pass by fairly painlessly and burns a load of calories.
3. For those unaware, the State of New Jersey is fighting the NCAA, NFL and other major pro sports leagues in court, seeking to have the court rule the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act — the 1992 law that’s effectively banned sports betting outside of Nevada — ruled unconstitutional. If New Jersey succeeds in the Supreme Court in the coming months, it will open up the door to a lot of other states, particularly those that have already expressed interest in legal, regulated sports betting. We’re following the case very closely here at SportsHandle and will keep you plugged into developments and providing analysis within and through conversations with legal scholars and experts. Stay tuned.