The NFL odds have been very kind to Bill Belichick over the years. Will his New England Patriots start the 2015 season with another payday versus Pittsburgh?
We keep saying there's no offseason in the NFL, but really, it's been seven months since the New England Patriots won Super Bowl XLIX. The combine and the draft and the preseason are just thin gruel to keep us alive until September. And here we are – the Patriots start their title defense this Thursday night (8:30 p.m. ET, NBC) when they host the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first game of the 2015 NFL regular season.
Which means it's time for our first NFL pick of the regular season. Thank you for dropping by, too. Your support keeps the home office running and our friendly staff motivated. This year, we're going to sharpen our focus and deal more specifically with the things that recreational bettors tend to overlook. The goal, as always, is to make better football picks and communicate them more effectively. This should help in both regards.
When we did our opening odds report, the Patriots were 7-point favorites on the NFL odds board with strong support in early betting. There's been at least some pushback since then; New England is still –7 at most locations as we go to press, but some sportsbooks are offering plus juice at that number, and you can even find the spread at –6.5 if you shop around. Otherwise, the Patriots are still pulling in about 54 percent of bettors with 74 percent of the action.
On the injury front, Pats center Bryan Stork missed Tuesday's practice with a concussion and is considered questionable for Week 1. We'll assume Ryan Wendell starts Thursday night in Stork's place. Matt Miller at the Bleacher Report ranked Stork No. 20 at his position last year; he finished his rookie season well, though, and was a general improvement over Wendell, who rated last in pass blocking efficiency in 2013 according to Pro Football Focus.
Scobee Doo, Where are You?
The Pittsburgh Steelers will definitely be without their starting center. Maurkice Pouncey (ankle) won't debut until Week 9 at the earliest, which leaves sixth-year center Cody Wallace to take his place. Again, not an upgrade at arguably the most undervalued position on the field. We'll call it a wash with both Stork and Pouncey on the shelf.
Pittsburgh's troubles keeping place-kickers healthy are much more of a concern – at least they should be. First it was Shaun Suisham (knee), then it was Garrett Hartley (hamstring). Next up is Josh Scobee, who went 20-for-26 last year with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and is 80.8 percent lifetime on his field-goal attempts. Scobee was around 90 percent in each of his three previous seasons, so maybe he'll get his groove back.
Maybe. The New England Patriots already look like the right pick, given the way the action is falling, and the past performances of head coaches Bill Belichick (191-149-8 ATS) and Mike Tomlin (68-67-2 ATS). Throw Scobee onto the pile, and give us that extra half-point away from the magic number, and we'll gladly take the defending champs with our NFL picks this week. May the prolate spheroid be with you.
Free NFL Pick: Take the Patriots –6.5 (–115) at William Hill