The NFL regular season kicks off September 4 and some Week 1 underdogs offer nice value. Here are what we feel are the five most overlooked underdogs of Kickoff Weekend.
The 2014 NFL Preseason is winding down and soon the teams will be playing for real with the regular season kicking off September 4th with the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks hosting the Green Bay Packers in a rematch of the infamous “Referee Game” that turned out to be the last game refereed by replacement officials a couple of years ago.
As we draw closer to Kickoff Weekend 2014, there are still some Week 1 underdogs that appear to continue to be a bit overlooked by the oddsmakers even at this latter stage that have the look of valuable NFL picks to get your 2014 season off to a nice start financially.
Keep in mind that we will once again be back this season with our weekly 5-Packs of NFL picks every Friday beginning on September 5th, and that these early selections are not yet considered to be official Week 1 selections. However, it still could be a good idea to bet these dogs now in an attempt to beat whatever these lines will be once Week 1 finally rolls around.
So with no further ado, here five NFL underdog plays for regular season Week 1 that all appear to offer nice value at this time. As will be the case all year long, all NFL odds come from Pinnacle Sports.
Sunday, September 7th
Jacksonville Jaguars +10½ (-107) over Philadelphia Eagles (1:00 ET): First off, let us say that we fully expect the Eagles to win this game on the field. However, that is hardly the point as covering a double-digit spread on the opening week of the season is an entirely different matter. Yes, the Eagles have that high-octane hurry-up offense that Coach Chip Kelly brought with him from the Oregon Ducks of the NCAA, but there is still the matter of a defense that ranked 30th in the NFL last year in total defense surrendering a disgusting 396.4 total yards per game and we have seen nothing in the preseason to suggest much improvement on that side of the ball. One unit that has impressed during preseason has been the Jacksonville defensive front seven, and that unit can single-handedly keep the Jaguars within single-digits here by disrupting the Philadelphia offense several times, as the unit seems young enough not to be slowed down by a no-huddle offense. Remember, it was this defense that allowed Jacksonville to win four out of five games last season following an 0-8 start. And the Jags are capable of attacking the weak Philadelphia cornerbacks with wide receivers Cecil Shorts and rookie Marqise Lee out of USC. If Toby Gerhart can handle being an every-down running back, Jacksonville should be improved this year.
Cincinnati Bengals +2½ (-109) over Baltimore Ravens (1:00 ET): It is understandable that the Ravens are small favorites at home here, but we still like the Bengals to pull the outright upset. Yes, Cincinnati losing both its offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator is a bit of a concern as it means there are brand new systems in place on both sides of the ball, but we think the Bengals have the personnel to pull it off. New offensive coordinator Hue Jackson favors a power running offense, and that plays right into the hands (or shall we say feet) of second year running back Giovanni Bernard, who had over 1200 yards from scrimmage as a rookie last year and is now primed to possibly touch the ball 300 times this season. Effective running by Bernard could set up quarterback Andy Dalton to hit some deep passes to superstar receiver A.J. Green vs. a rather weak Baltimore secondary. Conversely, the Cincinnati strength is its pass defense and we are not sure the Raven are equipped to exploit the Bengals’ run defense with Bernard Pierce serving as the lead running back while Ray Rice serves the first game of his two-game suspension. Pierce averaged an awful 2.9 yards per carry last season after averaging 4.9 as a rookie two years ago and the Baltimore offensive line remains suspect.
Buffalo Bills +6 (-105) over Chicago Bears (1:00 ET): The Bears had one of the worst defenses in the NFL last season as they finished 29th in total defense at 394.6 yards per game allowed and 31st in points against at 29.9 per contest. Frankly we do not think they have done enough to improve on that side of the ball, and perhaps most critical in regards to this game is that the Bears were dead last against the run in 2013, yielding a simply atrocious 161.6 rushing yards per game on 5.4 yards per carry! Sure, Buffalo added the wide receiver in the draft that will probably have the most impact in the league his rookie year in Sammy Watkins, but remember that the Bills are still one of the better rushing teams in the NFL with their two-headed backfield of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson, and they ranked second in the NFL in rushing last year with 144.2 yards per game on 4.2 yards per carry, trailing only a Philadelphia Eagles’ team that ran far more plays with a hurry up offense. The Buffalo running backs should be able to gash the Chicago front seven here, and if Watkins is healthy for this game and recovered from his current rib injury, he could give the Buffalo offense better balance than it has had in recent years, which seems like a tough task for the shaky Chicago defenders.
Tennessee Titans +5 (-106) over Kansas City Chiefs (1:00 ET): The Chiefs led a charmed life into the playoffs last season as they took advantage of an abnormally soft schedule after finishing with the worst record in football two years ago. Look for regression this season and that regression may begin immediately in Week 1. If quarterback Jake Locker can stay healthy, the Titans are actually very talented at the offensive skill positions as rookie Bishop Sankey and veteran Shonn Greene, who has looked good in preseason to alleviate concerns about returning from knee surgery, compliment each other nicely at running back, while Tennessee also has a trio of good wide receivers in Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter and Nate Washington. Remember that while the Kansas City defense graded out well statistically last season, much of that had to do with the schedule and the Chiefs had poor defensive showings vs. the better teams that they faced, so the Titans’ balance could give them fits. One thing the Chiefs definitely have going for them is probably the best all around running back in the game in Jamaal Charles, but at least the Titan can combat that somewhat with their three athletic and active linebackers in Zach Brown, Akeem Ayers, and Zaviar Gooden.
Monday, September 8th
San Diego Chargers +3 (+113) over Arizona Cardinals (10:25 ET): The nightcap of the Kickoff Weekend Monday Night Football Doubleheader is an interesting matchup as the Chargers surprised many experts last year with their playoff run while the Cardinals had the unwanted distinction of failing to make the playoffs despite winning 10 games, which is what could happen when you play in the toughest division (NFC West) of the league’s better conference! With that said, the Chargers appear to have the edge in quarterback play here as Philip Rivers regained his status as an elite NFL quarterback last year in his first season under new Charger Coach Mike McCoy, while Carson Palmer continued his erratic play in the desert. The strength of the Cardinals was defense last year, but they just suffered a major loss on that side of the ball with the most important cog of their three-man line, premier pass rusher Darnell Dockett, being lost for the season with a torn ACL and MCL. That makes three losses for Arizona on the defensive front seven from last year with Daryl Washington suspended for the 2014 season for substance abuse and Karlos Dansby departed to the Cleveland Browns, which could give the San Diego offense a nice edge in this opener.