Welcome to the inaugural edition of our NFL Bets of the Week column. Here, I’ll strive to identify a handful of games per week that I feel have profit potential at DraftKings Sportsbook.
Depending on the circumstance, I’ll hone in on money lines, point spreads or projected totals, and sometimes I may even touch on multiple metrics for one game. We’ll strive for quality over quantity here as well — the focus will only be on spots that seem to truly be advantageous, and I’ll then take you on a fairly deep dive as to why.
Without further ado, let’s delve further into some intriguing opportunities for the long-awaited Week 1 of the regular season!
Kansas City Chiefs at San Diego Chargers
DraftKings Line: Chargers -3
Over/Under Total: 47.5
From the point-spread perspective, this game is a pick ‘em for all practical purposes, with the Chiefs installed as just three-point underdogs on the road. While Patrick Mahomes is essentially a rookie in terms of experience, he’s a supremely talented one who’s gotten extensive exhibition work the last two summers (and in the 2017 regular-season finale). And he’s looked pretty sharp while doing so. The typical caveats about placing too much stock in preseason performances aside, Mahomes has a much more dependable, tried-and-true formula for early career success at his disposal — a lights-out arsenal of weapons.
KC brass has hooked up the offensive house that Mahomes inherits from the departed Alex Smith with all the trimmings: an elite back to keep defenses honest in Kareem Hunt, an insomnia-inducing outside speed threat for defensive coordinators in Tyreek Hill, an only slightly less nightmarish complement (when healthy) in Sammy Watkins, and the Midwestern version of Rob Gronkowski in Travis Kelce. Throw in not just one but two dependable pass-catching outlet options in Spencer Ware and Damien Williams, and you’ve got quite the decked-out crib for Mahomes to throw himself a bash or two.
The Chargers were also dealt with rather handily by the Chiefs last season in both encounters, including a 24-10 loss at home in Week 3. With Los Angeles sporting a near-elite secondary, Andy Reid stuck to the ground game and saw Hunt rattle off 172 rushing yards and a touchdown. Hill wasn’t a slouch by any means, either, totaling 77 yards and a score himself on five receptions. Meanwhile, the KC defense picked Philip Rivers off three times on their way to limiting him to a 50.0 percent completion percentage.
The beating was only worse at Arrowhead Stadium in Week 15, a game in which Hunt racked up another 155 on the ground and added 51 through the air. That time out, Hill totaled 88 yards and another receiving score. Then, Kelce pitched in six catches, and the Chiefs victimized Rivers for another three interceptions.
The Chiefs had a pedestrian 4-4 road record in 2017 but a 5-1 mark against the division. They were a Derek Carr miracle pass to Michael Crabtree from having a perfect 3-0 road record versus division opponents as well, dropping a 31-30 decision to the Raiders in Oakland on the last play of the game. Interestingly, Kansas City was also a markedly better offense on the road overall last season, averaging 280.4 passing yards per game (compared to 232.6 at home), allowing three fewer sacks (17, compared to 20), rushing for 127.4 yards per game (compared to 110.5 at home) and doing so at a clip of 5.2 yards per tote (4.2 at home).
While Mahomes is relatively green, the rest of Kansas City’s front-line skill players are an ideal mix of young veterans with game-breaking potential. This is a stadium the Chiefs were clearly comfortable in last season, and it isn’t like the Chargers have a true, tangible home-field advantage to begin with. This shapes up as a highly winnable matchup that KC could well control with a young quarterback’s best friend, an effective rushing attack.
FRIDAY, 9/7 UPDATE: Star Chargers DE Joey Bosa is now officially ruled out for Sunday’s game, furthering my conviction in the Chiefs offense, particularly the running game.
Pick: Chiefs +155 moneyline
Carolina Panthers vs. Dallas Cowboys
DraftKings Line: Panthers -3
Over/Under Total: 42.5
Dallas took a very “un-Cowboys-like” approach to restocking the shelf this offseason, so much so that it almost seemed as if the typically aggressive Jerry Jones had been swapped out for some watered-down, vanilla, cap-conscious version of himself. Allen Hurns, Deonte Thompson, and Tavon Austin aren’t offseason additions that send the fans’ collective pulse racing. The bargain-bin approach to free agency is highly likely to lead to similarly mediocre results more often than not this season.
This brings us to Week 1, which sees Dallas hit the road and roll out what could often be a one-man offensive show against the Panthers. In addition to lacking a true front-line receiver, the Cowboys are in exponentially worse shape at tight end. Jason Witten’s sudden retirement this offseason leaves them with the likes of Geoff Swaim and Blake Jarwin to start the season. Ezekiel Elliott is an elite option at running back, but eight- and even nine-man fronts could be the norm for him this season unless someone in the pass-catching corps significantly outperforms his career norms. An offensive line that could frequently crater in the middle without Travis Frederick is another major concern for Dallas’ biggest weapon.
The Panthers aren’t exactly the best season-opening scenario for Elliott, either. They finished 2017 ranked seventh in total defense, with that number largely a result of allowing the third-fewest rushing yards per game (88.1). The offseason addition of Dontari Poe gives them a chance to remain similarly stout. And while they were more vulnerable to the pass (229.1 yards per game), they weren’t slouches there by any means. Dak Prescott basically has no one on the outside to truly threaten a secondary.
On the offensive side, Cam Newton wasn’t necessarily better at home last year as a passer, but he gained 196 more rushing yards at Bank of America Stadium on just five more carries, along with doubling up his road rushing touchdown total of two. Christian McCaffrey also comes into the season with a head of steam from an impressive preseason and a commitment from the coaching staff to get him more consistent touches in 2018. New offensive coordinator in Norv Turner believes in feeding his lead back plenty when the talent is there. And Turner’s preference for leveraging proficient pass-catching tight ends makes Greg Olsen very appealing versus a Cowboys defense that will start Damien Wilson at strong-side linebacker.
Carolina’s 6-2 home record and 9-7 mark against the spread last season furthers their case versus a Dallas squad they should have outclassed by early in the fourth quarter. A three-point line for a team with true home-field advantage feels particularly thin. The projection seems at least somewhat based on a reputation of past Cowboys teams. This year’s version won’t come close to earning it.
Pick: Panthers -3
Arizona Cardinals vs. Washington Redskins
DraftKings Line: Cardinals -0.5
Over/Under Total: 44
Maybe it’s a lack of faith in the oft-injured Sam Bradford. Maybe it’s the misconception that David Johnson is subject to some bizarre medical condition where the fracture in his now-healed wrist somehow took up new residence in his knees. Or maybe the oddsmakers are Adrian Peterson die-hards, or a combination of all three. Whatever the reason, Arizona’s role as the thinnest of favorites in a home game against a Washington squad that has plenty of question marks feels like a great spot to jump on.
Washington rolls out a new quarterback in Alex Smith, a competent but far from game-changing replacement for the much more prolific Kirk Cousins. Smith unsurprisingly comes off the two most productive seasons of his career yardage-wise after having had the likes of Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and last season, Kareem Hunt, at his disposal. I suspect he’ll frequently long for his Arrowhead days this season. A serviceable but unspectacular cast now surrounds him in D.C.
Some of the more important pieces in that crew are a bit banged up to start the season as well. Jamison Crowder, whose acumen in the short- and medium-range passing attack should jive nicely with Smith’s style, is nevertheless nursing a nagging groin injury. Then, Jordan Reed — a reasonable facsimile of Kelce when he’s healthy (rarely ever) — is at least listed as questionable going into Week 1. That’s following offseason surgery on both toes. Finally, valued pass-catching back Chris Thompson – likely another Smith security blanket this season – missed all of preseason. He was in the final stages of recovery from last season’s leg fracture and has already conceded he won’t be 100 percent to open 2018.
The Cardinals allowed almost five fewer points at home last season (20.1, compared to 25.0 on the road) and surrendered the sixth-fewest yards per game (310.9) overall. They especially gave teams fits against the run, yielding a stingy 89.6 yards on the ground per contest. The offseason departure of Tyrann Mathieu is a concern from both a run- and pass-defense perspective, but a solid safety collective of Antoine Bethea, Tre Boston, and Budda Baker helps make up for the loss, especially against what could be a run-of-the-mill Washington passing attack.
On the Cardinals side, Bradford has repeatedly proven capable if he can remain upright. Having an asset like Johnson to both take the pressure off and serve as a lethal safety valve option is priceless. The ageless Larry Fitzgerald and speedy youngsters Christian Kirk and Chad Williams form an interesting and high-upside top receiving trio, as well. Washington also accommodated opposing rushers to the tune of 134.1 yards per game last season, and a potential absence by tackling machine Zach Brown – questionable for Week 1 with an oblique injury – would only make matters worse. The fact Washington allowed a healthy 27.1 points per game on the road last season and were only 3-3 as road underdogs are a couple of final points in the Cardinals’ favor with respect to comfortably covering a very manageable number.
Pick: Cardinals -0.5