Here is a 5-Pack of NFL value plays for Kickoff Weekend to build your bankroll, including a duel of the top two picks in the NFL Draft, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota.
Well, the 2015 season has begun, which means we are back again this year every Friday with our weekly 5-Pack of Sunday NFL picks as we attempt to help you build your bankrolls. We are coming off of a dream 2014 NFL season where we finished 79-57-2, 58.1%, +21.50 units over all of our plays as documented in the Sportsbook Review Forum, and we are hoping for some similar results this year.
This NFL season actually got under way Thursday night with the New England Patriots defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers 28-21. A “meaningless” touchdown by the Steelers with two seconds remaining was not meaningless at all to bettors, as it allowed Pittsburgh to cover the closing +7½ point spread at Pinnacle Sports and ‘push’ the consensus closing line of +7. The final outcome also barely stayed ‘under’ the closing total of 51.
And now we move on to Sunday, and those of you that became familiar with our naturally contrarian nature in the past will not be surprised to learn that our 5-Pack for Week 1 is comprised of four underdogs and one ‘under’. As has become our custom in recent years, all of these NFL odds come from Pinnacle Sports.
Sunday, September 13th
Kansas City Chiefs, Houston Texans ‘under’ 40½ (+103) (1:00 ET): This is a matchup of two defenses capable of finishing in the top five in the NFL this season as well as two offenses that are conservative in nature, so the ‘under’ certainly seems like the logical call here as long as this total does not dip below 40. The Texans actually struggled defensively for about two-thirds of last season under coordinator Romeo Crennel, but it seems they finally figured out his complicated schemes during a season ending 4-1 run during which Houston ranked fourth in the league in points allowed, second in total defense and first in third-down conversions. They have now added another behemoth in Vince Wilfork to line up next to two-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt, and this unit should have no trouble containing the Kansas City attack. Sure the Chiefs added wide receiver Jeremy Maclin to an offense that unbelievably did not have a single touchdown pass to a wide receiver last season, but we simply do not trust Alex Smith to give Maclin enough looks downfield. Meanwhile Kansas City finished second in the NFL in points against last season at 17.2 per game, and the Texans figure to be run-heavy as usual here even without the injured Arian Foster with a game manager at quarterback in Brian Hoyer.
Jacksonville Jaguars +3 (+100) over Carolina Panthers (1:00 ET): The Jaguars are a franchise that appears to be heading in the right direction, and they look like enticing home underdogs here vs. a Carolina team that is severely lacking at the wide receiver position. With Kelvin Benjamin out for the year with a torn ACL and rookie Devin Funchess slowed by a hamstring injury, it looks like the starting wide-outs for Carolina this week will be Ted Ginn Jr. and Corey Brown. Sure, the Jaguars ranked 27th in the NFL against the rush last year and the Panthers have a more than capable running back to take advantage of that (when he is healthy) in Jonathan Stewart, but the motley Carolina receiving corpse could allow the Jaguars to put an extra man in the box here, simultaneously slowing down Stewart and adding a spy on mobile quarterback Cam Newton. That does not exactly instill confidence in Carolina as a road favorite! Meanwhile the young Jacksonville trio at the offensive skill positions in quarterback Blake Bortles, running back T.J. Yeldon and wide receiver Allen Robinson is a nice nucleus to build a franchise around, and Bortles’ maturation in his second year could accelerate under new offensive coordinator Greg Olsen (no relation to Carolina tight end Greg Olsen), as he has worked wonders with quarterbacks in the past.
New Orleans Saints +2½ (-105) over Arizona Cardinals (4:05 ET): The Saints come off of a disastrous 2014 season where they finished 7-9 overall including just 3-5 straight up and 2-6 ATS at home in the Superdome, which is unheard of for what had been one of the most dominant home teams in the NFL in previous seasons. The silver lining there though was that they went 4-4 straight up on the road, where they had struggled a bit in previous years, so is it a good thing that they are opening up 2015 on the road in the desert? All of that aside and looking at the product on the field, New Orleans made a major trade exchanging tight end Jimmy Graham for center Max Unger, and that deal could change the culture of the offense in a positive way as the Saints had offensive line issues last year and Unger is a great run blocker. With running back Mark Ingram finally looking like the former number one pick that he was last year, the Saints may run the ball a lot more this year, which in turn should make quarterback Drew Brees even more dangerous with defenses no longer keying solely on him. Arizona collapsed down the stretch last year after losing Carson Palmer for the season, but while Palmer is now back, we do not quite trust an offense with a diminutive Andre Ellington as the lead running back with washed up veteran Chris Johnson listed as his primary backup, and wide receiver Michael Floyd trying to play through a couple of dislocated fingers could be another detriment.
Tennessee Titans +3 (-116) over Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4:25 ET): Who could have imagined last year that a meeting between the Titans and Buccaneers would be played in this late afternoon time slot to get better exposure nationally? After all, these teams tied for the worst record in the NFL in 2014 at 2-14, with Tampa Bay “winning” the tiebreaker for the number one draft pick. Of course, the Buccaneers promptly selected 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston with the first pick and the Titans promptly followed with reigning Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota with the second pick, and this season opener suddenly became much more interesting. This is also the type of matchup where the underdog figures to have inherent value with neither team probably good enough to be favored, and that gets amplified by favored Tampa Bay going 0-8 straight up here at hone last season. Besides, while we rarely base plays on preseason results, Mariota had the better preseason but the bigger takeaway was how poised he looked while Winston made some questionable decisions while under constant siege behind a poor Bucs’ offensive line. And for you trend lovers out there – and you know who you are – consider that the Titans are actually 6-2 ATS in their last eight opening games and one of their two straight up wins last year came during Kickoff Weekend on the road over the Kansas City Chiefs!
Baltimore Ravens +4 (-101) over Denver Broncos (4:25 ET): This is one of the more marquee battles of this Week 1 with each of these teams favored on the NFL Future Odds to win their respective divisions. However, we think these are two teams heading in different directions, with the Ravens probably up-ticking to an AFC North title this year after just missing last season and the Broncos regressing downward a bit, although they may still win the AFC West due to a lack of real quality competition. Peyton Manning is now 39 years old and he recently revealed that he can no longer feel his fingertips following four neck surgeries. Now, the good news is that the Broncos will no longer have to rely on Manning to win games, as they found a legitimate running back last year in C.J. Anderson and he will now be the bellcow back in the run-oriented offense of new head coach Gary Kubiak. The bad news though is that the Ravens were third in the NFL in rushing defense last season yielding just 82.8 yards per game on the ground, and that was while playing without the now departed Haloti Ngata for much of the time, so they are used to stuffing the run without him. At the risk of being sacrilegious, can one of the all-time great quarterbacks in Manning still be trusted with his butterfly throws if Baltimore successfully contains the Denver running game?