The opening week of the 2021 NFL season is nearly upon us. Currently, the game with the largest spread is the first one when the Dallas Cowboys head to Tampa Bay to take on the defending champion Buccaneers (-8.0). If that holds, then this would be the first week one since the 2015 season where no team was favored by more than eight points.
With many teams eager for a fresh start, which games should you be rushing to your favorite sportsbook to place a bet on now before the line moves?
Seattle Seahawks vs. Indianapolis
Sunday, September 12, 2021 – 01:00 PM EDT at Lucas Oil Stadium
Tale as old as time, the Colts are going through a lot of injuries right now. New quarterback Carson Wentz and All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson have both undergone foot surgery, which put week one into jeopardy for them. Both could still be available on opening day for the Colts, as could new left tackle, Eric Fisher, after about with COVID-19. Fisher also is coming back from an Achilles injury suffered in January with the Chiefs.
But now it appears that No. one wide receiver T.Y. Hilton has an injury that will keep him out for weeks. This may be the season Hilton passes the torch to Michael Pittman Jr., but it is one less weapon for an offense that has not been able to get together on the field this preseason.
Assuming Wentz is the week one starter, the Seahawks have been a nightmare matchup for him. Wentz is 0-5 against Seattle, including his only playoff game (2019 NFC wild card) where an injury knocked him out in the first quarter. Against Seattle, Wentz averages 5.65 yards per pass attempt and has never led his team to more than 17 points. Last year, only a Hail Mary touchdown pass with 12 seconds left got the Eagles to a cheap cover as a 6.5-point underdog in a 23-17 loss. Seattle was also the defense that Wentz infamously overthrew a pass to a wide-open running back in the flat in a 2019 loss. He seems to save some of his worst stuff for this opponent.
This is still the kind of game where Seattle may only win by a field goal, but that is just the team’s natural habit. But I would trust Seattle to cover and bet on it before the line moves anymore as we find out just how healthy the Colts are as an offensive unit to start this season. A unique pass rusher like safety Jamal Adams (9.5 sacks last year) could be a challenge for a team breaking in a new mistake-prone quarterback and a line that may not be up to par right away.
Cleveland Browns vs. Kansas City
Sunday, September 12, 2021 - 04:25 PM EDT at Arrowhead Stadium
Perhaps, the highlight of the late afternoon slate on this season’s first Sunday is the divisional round rematch between the Browns and Chiefs. Kansas City hung on for a 22-17 win in January, but even the most die-hard Cleveland fan should admit that the Patrick Mahomes injury is the main reason that one finished so close.
Mahomes left the game in the third quarter with the Chiefs driving again with a 19-10 lead. Their only non-scoring drive to that point was a missed field goal. This drive ended with a field goal, but the Chiefs were unable to score again and had to run the clock out with backup Chad Henne at quarterback. Baker Mayfield had a disappointing game and the Browns neglected their running game early on with five carries for 12 yards in the first half as the Chiefs led 19-3. The total for that game was 55.5 points, but it was headed towards blowout territory while never looking like a shootout.
Now, the Browns have a chance to show that 2020 was no fluke even though they are only the second team in NFL history to win 11 games while being outscored on the season. The Chiefs also should be motivated coming off that humiliating 31-9 Super Bowl loss to the Buccaneers in which the offense failed to score a touchdown.
Since 2018, the Chiefs are 29-2 SU and 16-14-1 ATS when favored by at least 5.5 points. They have not covered their last six games in that set, which are part of a historic streak where they won eight straight Mahomes starts by fewer than seven points. The Chiefs are also 12-0 in the first four games of the season under Mahomes with seven wins by at least ten points.
This year, I think the Browns have still not made enough strides on defense to slow down the Chiefs, so I would count on Kansas City to hang a good total on them in this game. It could be the shootout we thought January would produce with the total hanging around 52.5 points right now, but I will trust the Chiefs to cover this time.
Chicago Bears vs. Los Angeles Rams
Sunday, September 12, 2021 - 08:20 PM EDT at SoFi Stadium
Chicago’s rookie quarterback Justin Fields has arguably been the talk of the NFL preseason, and his draft slide to No. 11 has been the main point of contention with fans of teams that passed him by. But before we start to get any answers on how legitimate he is, Bears coach Matt Nagy insists that Andy Dalton is still the week one starter when the Bears open against Aaron Donald and the Rams in the first Sunday Night Football game of the season.
It is a bummer, especially after a flashback to the Bears losing 24-10 in prime time to these Rams a year ago when Nick Foles could barely move in the pocket for Chicago. Foles took four sacks that night and running back David Montgomery was held to 48 yards. Chicago’s only touchdown was a defensive return score after falling behind 24-3.
Dalton should be a little nimbler than Foles, but we know the chances of him playing well in an island game against a quality defense at this stage of his career are slim to none. Dalton is 6-17 (.261) in prime-time games with a 78.7 passer rating. Throw in an 0-4 record in playoff games with a 57.8 passer rating and we are talking about one of the worst island game quarterbacks in the league. Now, he has to take a shaky offensive line to meet Donald and company, while Jalen Ramsey should be drawing the assignment of covering Allen Robinson.
The Rams are going to want to start with an impressive win in the Matthew Stafford era after making that blockbuster trade. This season is such a huge opportunity for Stafford to break off the shackles from Detroit and see what he can do with a good coach and some top-tier talent. Stafford has faced the Bears 20 times and has an 11-9 record with a 402-yard performance in his last outing, a 34-30 win in Chicago last December.
For this one night, Stafford is the bigger story than Fields or Dalton. This is on him to shine, and I think he does so to get the Rams off to a 1-0 start and a cover.
Baltimore Ravens vs. Las Vegas Raiders
Monday, September 13, 2021 - 08:15 PM EDT at Allegiant Stadium
All expectations are for the Ravens to continue being a very good team with Super Bowl aspirations. Whether they can beat the likes of Buffalo or Kansas City in January is a question they will have to answer then, but a September game in Las Vegas is right up this team’s alley as it does not look like the Raiders have done enough to improve their defense.
Since returning in 2018, head coach Jon Gruden has led his Raiders to a record of 3-18 (.143) SU and 6-15 (.286) ATS against playoff teams. Sixteen of those games saw the Raiders lose by at least a touchdown, and two-thirds of the time, they lost by 14 or more points. When the Raiders allowed at least 130 rushing yards to a playoff team, they were 0-9 and lost by an average of 15.9 points.
The Ravens still look like a playoff team to me. Despite the loss of running back J.K. Dobbins to a torn ACL over the weekend, this offense is so unique and should be able to continue running the ball with unprecedented success in this era behind quarterback Lamar Jackson, Gus Edwards, and anyone else they call upon. Including the playoffs, Baltimore has rushed for at least 110 yards in 35 consecutive games, trailing only the 1974-76 Steelers (37) for the longest streak in NFL history. Baltimore has also rushed for at least 90 yards in 43 straight games since Jackson made his first start in November 2018. That barely trails the 1983-86 Bears (45 games) for the longest streak in NFL history.
This is not the kind of opponent the Ravens struggle with under Jackson. Also, Baltimore should still have one of the better defenses in the league, and a good defense is something I would not trust Derek Carr to shine against.
*The line and/or odds on picks in this article might have moved since the content was commissioned. For updated line movements, visit BMR’s free betting odds product.