With the much-anticipated 2021 NFL season set to open Thursday, bettors will once again be looking for the best information they can find to get off to profitable starts.
So it’s the ideal time to look more closely at four betting systems that have been successful and consistent in analyzing previous Week 1 action. These are angles that take into account how the teams fared the previous season and how they typically transition into the next season’s openers.
These systems are based on oddsmakers’ perceptions. Although the belief is that the house always wins, sometimes even the so-called experts are off, too. In other cases, they have the teams pegged accurately. The systems I’m about to unveil detail situations in which you can take advantage.
The most important note is that every team, regardless of what happened last year or what player or coaching transactions it made in the offseason, is starting with a fresh slate. That can do wonders for a team. It can also wipe out any momentum generated the previous season. All of this is very tough to measure, and with no on-field action to digest, how can those setting the lines be expected to accurately quantify teams’ Week 1 chemistry? This can be advantageous to bettors.
Remember, the bookies’ job theoretically is to try to maximize even action on the wagering options, not so much to pick the game. Naturally, weak spots will show up, and savvy bettors who are prepared with knowledge of the teams and a powerful weapon like systems can be ready to take advantage. Here are four to help you get ready for NFL kickoff 2021.
WEEK 1 DIVISIONAL HOME UNDERDOGS ARE 15-6-1 SU, 18-4 ATS (81.8%) since 2009
(Win: +13.6 units, ROI: 61.8%, Grade 70)
Unlike previous seasons, the Week 1 slate has few divisional contests. However, one of the two games fills the bill for this very successful system. Not much is more motivating than an opening-week contest at home against a targeted team in the division. In most cases, the road favorite was a returning playoff team, while the home dog was an aspiring one. In this season’s case, the team prospects are a bit different, with a returning 1-15 team playing the role of road chalk. As you can see, over the last 12 years, the aspiring team has enjoyed plenty of success and a great start to the season. Washington and Jacksonville qualified on this last season and won. For the latter, the shoe is on the other foot this weekend.
Potential play: Houston (+3) vs. Jacksonville
It is truly a rarity in the NFL when a team that was 1-15 in the previous season opens as a road favorite in Week 1, particularly in a divisional game. The Jaguars have a lot to be excited about with the switch to head coach Urban Meyer and the injection of top draft pick Trevor Lawrence at quarterback. However, you have to look at this line as oddsmakers getting a little overzealous. The line stems 100 percent from the legal situation involving Texans QB Deshaun Watson and the fact that they will turn to journeyman Tyrod Taylor. Houston was 4-12 in 2020 and has also changed coaches, opting for David Culley, who last served as the Baltimore Ravens’ assistant head coach. His team is generally being regarded as the league’s worst, but Taylor does provide some veteran presence and leadership. The Texans beat the Jaguars twice last season for half of their victories, winning in Houston 30-14. The glaring question here is: Are you willing to lay three points on the road with a 1-15 team?
WEEK 1 ROAD ROAD TEAMS THAT WON FOUR TO SIX GAMES PREVIOUS SEASON: 45-20-5 ATS (69.2%) SINCE 2004
(Win: +23 units, ROI: 32.9%, Grade 65)
Teams in the four- to six-win range usually qualify as potential bounce-back teams, with the new season offering fresh motivation and momentum. In many cases it was bad luck, injuries or even tanking that soured their records the previous season. Last year the four teams on the system went 2-2 ATS. Four teams qualify again for this angle in 2021. Let’s look at each of those games.
Dallas (+7.5) at Tampa Bay
Tampa Bay was the big story of the 2020 season, rising from the ashes to win the Super Bowl after years of failing to even make the postseason. Much of the credit, of course, went to the signing of Tom Brady. He is back for another go-round as quarterback, and as usual, he and his defending Super Bowl champion teammates will host the league’s opening-night contest. The Bucs are fairly sizable favorites, laying 7.5 points to the Cowboys, who were a total disappointment a year ago. Dallas was expected to be among the top contenders for the NFC crown but struggled early defensively and then lost QB Dak Prescott to a season-ending injury. America’s Team wound up finishing 6-10. For 2021, in head coach Mike McCarthy’s second season, the franchise has reloaded. Prescott is back, and this time the overwhelming expectations for greatness are not. Don’t be surprised to see a totally different Cowboys team in 2021 as the slate is wiped clean.
Philadelphia (+3.5) at Atlanta
Philadelphia was among the three NFC East teams that won between four and six games last season in an underwhelming campaign. The Eagles begin anew under Nick Sirianni, who left his role as offensive coordinator in Indianapolis for his first shot as a head coach. Sirianni’s first and perhaps most important decision will be at quarterback, where returning starter Jalen Hurts is trying to hold off newly acquired Gardner Minshew. The first test for Sirianni’s club comes in Atlanta, where new coach Arthur Smith also faces his first game as head of an NFL team. The Eagles lost seven of their last eight games in 2020 but are expected to threaten in the NFC East. The latest line would suggest the Falcons are deemed to be the better club, as they lay 3.5 points despite matching Philly’s win total of four last season. Is this the type of game when it’s not safe to lay points with either side? We’ll see.
San Francisco (-7.5) at Detroit
San Francisco is actually regarded as the team most likely to win on the entire NFL board, installed as 7.5-point favorites in Detroit. This might seem somewhat surprising considering the 49ers went 6-10 last season and the Lions were just a game worse at 5-11. But the perception appears to be that one club has righted the ship and one is about to crash into an iceberg. Head coach Kyle Shanahan’s team endured debilitating injury woes last season and was unable to match the expectations that go with being the defending conference champion. San Francisco has most of its stars back for 2021 and could be turning to an exciting young quarterback in Trey Lance. The Lions lost their franchise QB from the last decade in Matthew Stafford and replaced him with Jared Goff. They also are turning to a new head coach in Dan Campbell, who will at least try to bring fire and passion to a roster that most experts think will be overwhelmed. The opening-game line matches that line of thinking.
Denver (-2.5) at New York Giants
Denver is the other road favorite qualifying for the returning four- to six-win system as the Broncos and new quarterback Teddy Bridgewater travel east to take on the Giants. This game will be a true test as to whether the experts setting the odds have an accurate gauge on evaluating certain teams. New York actually had a better record than Denver last season and brings back some key players who were lost for 2020. Head coach Vic Fangio’s team did not beat a playoff team all season yet has seemingly earned the respect that a typical divisional favorite might. New York could surprise in 2021, but oddsmakers appear to be focused on the fact that the Giants scored just 14.2 points per game in their final six games of 2020 and could be stymied by the Broncos’ respected defense.
WEEK 1 HOME FAVORITES ABOVE .500 THE PREVIOUS SEASON ARE 45-20-5 ATS (69.2%) SINCE 2000
(Win: +23 units, ROI: 32.9%, Grade 65)
Home favorites hosting quality opponents are likely very strong themselves or at least expected to be much better, and opening the season provides extra motivation. Alternatively, in the case of our visiting teams this season, none is expected to reach its 2020 heights. For 2021, three plays are on tap.
Buffalo (-6.5) vs. Pittsburgh
If you’re among those who believe that franchises achieve greatness by taking the little steps necessary to reach their goals, perhaps Buffalo is the team for you in 2021. The Bills have reached the playoffs in three of the last four years, most recently losing to the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game. They have a solid defense, a decent running game and an MVP-level quarterback, and from the looks of it, they are starving to give their fans a championship. The potential run at that title begins at home against Pittsburgh, an AFC foe that has been to the top of the mountain several times. It appeared the Steelers were going to get there again last season after an 11-0 start, but the wheels fell off and they lost six of their next seven. That is the momentum, or lack thereof, with which head coach Mike Tomlin’s team enters the season. The Steelers have been great under Tomlin as underdogs, but Pittsburgh doesn’t seem to fit the model Tomlin prefers. I can’t think of a more difficult environment to play a season opener.
Kansas City (-6) vs. Cleveland
We have a rematch of a divisional-round playoff contest on tap in Week 1, and it pits the Browns against the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. Kansas City is a 6-point favorite, and it seems oddsmakers are willing to place their faith in QB Patrick Mahomes and head coach Andy Reid. What happened to Reid’s team on Super Bowl Sunday back in February was an absolute stunner, and this line seems to suggest the debacle was enough to wake up the two-time defending AFC champs. Cleveland won 11 games last season and demonstrated a run-pass balance like no other team in football. Still, matching up with the NFL’s best quarterback on the road in a reclamation spot will not be easy.
New England (-2.5) vs. Miami
As it turns out, New England spent exactly one season moving on from its quarterback of the past to its quarterback of the future. Cam Newton kept the spot warm in an underwhelming season for the Patriots and head coach Bill Belichick. After Newton was released last week, the Pats said rookie Mac Jones would receive the starting nod. Ironically, his first game comes against the QB he replaced at Alabama, Tua Tagovailoa. The Patriots should be a far better passing team in 2021 under Jones and have an explosive running attack and well-respected defense to ease the burden of Jones’ rookie status. Miami was a pleasant surprise in 2020, winning 10 games. However, the Dolphins failed to make the postseason despite that gaudy record and were unable to take advantage of a season that provided good turnover fortune. Traveling to New England has never been easy for them. Facing a fired-up Patriots team looking to earn back its stripes makes it even more difficult.
WEEK 1 NONDIVISIONAL CONFERENCE ROAD FAVORITES: 21-12-1 ATS (63.6%) SINCE 1999
(Win: +7.8 units, ROI: 23.6%, Grade 60)
The host teams in this system have scored just 14.7 points per game in the 34 contests. Historically, the home dogs in these games are not good offensive teams. Pretty easy to see why the road favorites have had ATS success. Last year featured two qualifiers, with the Chargers winning at Cincinnati and the Titans winning 16-14 at Denver but failing to cover a 3-point line. This year there are three plays.
San Francisco (-7.5) at Detroit
The 49ers are the one team that qualifies on two of the four systems. See the earlier breakdown on Sunday’s contest at Detroit.
Green Bay (-3) at New Orleans
While officially noted as a neutral-site game after being switched to Jacksonville, the Packers are still 3-point favorites and still playing on the road, so in essence, the fundamentals of this system still apply. In fact, if anything, the locale change should only strengthen the case for Green Bay, as the Packers historically have struggled to contain the Saints at the Superdome. Coach Matt LaFleur’s team has lost in back-to-back NFC Championship Games and, after a drama-filled offseason surrounding star QB Aaron Rodgers, will look to take it a step further in 2021. The Saints start their post-Drew Brees era as their longtime star retired after another playoff disappointment. Jameis Winston receives the nod as the new captain of head coach Sean Payton’s offense, but Winston was best known for throwing the ball to the other team while with Tampa Bay. He should keep things exciting for the Saints, even if not as successful.
Baltimore (-4.5) at Las Vegas
The “Monday Night Football” opener gives fans in Las Vegas a fresh chance to welcome their new home team, as 2020 threw a wrench into the Raiders’ first season in Sin City. The first test for head coach Jon Gruden’s team won’t be easy, though, as the Ravens have gone 35-13 in the last three regular seasons only to come up short in the playoffs. That has left them hungrier than ever to start a run at the Super Bowl. Head coach John Harbaugh’s team may have endured the preseason’s most critical injury, however, losing running back J.K. Dobbins for the season due to a torn ACL. They said goodbye to Mark Ingram in the offseason and are left with questions in the backfield. However, Baltimore is on a five-game SU and ATS winning streak in season openers and has done so in convincing fashion, outscoring opponents 177-26. Harbaugh has had a ton of success getting his team ready each year.
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