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Week #1 Picks by University Stats Professor (includes a 5-star play!)

ProfessorMJ

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Week #1 in the NFL is finally upon us!

Right off the bat I’ve got a great betting angle that’s been doing wonders historically in Week #1:

"Bet a team facing a divisional opponent against which they lost both meetings the year before."

Let’s call it the “Week #1 Double Division Revenge” factor.

Over the past 10 years, this strategy led to an astounding 22-10 record against the spread (ATS), a 68.8% win rate!

This year we’ve got five teams meeting this criterion for betting. Out of those, there’s one squad I won’t bet for different reasons, while the other four are all part of my weekly picks.

We are starting strong, already with a 5-star play!

PICK #1 (5 STARS): ARIZONA CARDINALS +7 AT SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

First of all, the Cards represent a good bet according to the Double Division Revenge strategy described earlier. Arizona lost 28-25 at home and 36-26 on the road against the Niners last year.

Secondly, teams who had a losing record the year before facing a team that had a winning record tend to do very well in Week #1. Indeed, they have gone 89-57 ATS since 1990 (61.0%), and 46-23 ATS since 2006 (66.7%). Arizona finished with a 5-10-1 record in 2019 versus 13-3 for San Francisco.

Thirdly, the betting public could be overlooking the injury bug that’s been hitting the 49ers recently.

At wide receiver, the team is in trouble. Deebo Samuel is either out, or will be on a snap count due to a foot injury. Following the departure of Emmanuel Sanders to New Orleans, who was set to become their #2 guy? The answer wasn’t clear to begin with, and things got even worse in the past few weeks. Travis Benjamin, Jalen Hurd and Tavon Austin are all out.

Rookie Brandon Aiyuk was projected to be the starter opposite Samuel, but he’s also hurt and his status is uncertain. Kendrick Bourne and/or Trent Taylor might need to be more involved, which is hardly good news.

The defense also has numerous guys who are questionable or banged up: Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw, Dee Ford and K’Waun Williams.

For these reasons, I’m going to back the Cards. Now in their second year in the NFL, QB Kyler Murray and head coach Kliff Kingsbury should be more comfortable. I would not fall off my chair if Arizona won the game outright. As you could read in my 49ers 2020 preview, I’m afraid their 2019 season was a fluke.

PICK #2 (4 STARS): WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM +6.5 VS PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

In 2019, Washington lost both matchups with the Eagles: 32-27 in Philly and 37-27 in D.C. In other words, the Double Division Revenge betting angle applies here.

Also, who likes to put his money on a team that finished 3-13 a year ago? Only contrarians like myself do.

Injuries have already taken a toll on Philly’s roster. Alshon Jeffery is out, and rookie Jalen Reagor is questionable but likely out as well. That leaves the team with 33-year old DeSean Jackson, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and Greg Ward as starters. Not good.

The organization also lost two key pieces on their offensive line: stud right guard Brandon Brooks and left tackle Andre Dillard. Ouch.

That’s not it. Starting safety Will Parks is out, while Javon Hargrave, a beast on the defensive line, is banged up with a pectoral strain. Finally, running back Miles Sanders will be in the lineup, but a hamstring injury is bothering him.

I was close to rating it 5 stars, but one factor stopped me from pulling the trigger on this one. I don’t like the fact that Washington has a new head coach, a new offensive coordinator and a new defensive coordinator. That’s far from ideal in Week #1.

PICK #3 (3 STARS): DETROIT LIONS -3 VS CHICAGO BEARS

Once again, we’ve got the Double Division Revenge betting strategy on our side. Indeed, Detroit lost 20-13 in Chicago and 24-20 at home last season against Da Bears.

Starting running back David Montgomery is likely out, or limited. The backups are Tarik Cohen, Cordarrelle Patterson, Ryan Nall and Artavis Pierce, who have combined for 83 carries in 2019. I liked Cohen a lot early in his career, but he was plain awful last year.

I do believe the Lions are an underrated team who could explode this year. They have much more talent than you’d think. Matthew Stafford has been great throughout his career, but he doesn’t get the credit he deserves because his teams have done badly.

The defense has a lot of new faces: Danny Shelton, Nick Williams, Jamie Collins, Desmond Trufant, Duron Harmon and #3 overall pick Jeffrey Okudah. They are likely to lift this unit, but how much time will it take to gel?
 

ProfessorMJ

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PICK #4 (3 STARS): LAS VEGAS RAIDERS -3 AT CAROLINA PANTHERS

The Covid-19 virus forced the NFL to shorten its training camps and to cancel all preseason games. That’s likely to have the following impact:

Teams with more continuity will have a big advantage over teams who don’t. In other words, having the same coaching staff and the same core players will provide a huge advantage.

That favors the Raiders in a big way over the Panthers.

On one hand, Las Vegas retained the same coaching staff, while Carolina has a new head coach, a new offensive coordinator and a new defensive coordinator. What makes it even worse is these three guys have just 7 years of combined NFL experience. To put things in perspective, the team with the second-lowest NFL experience among its coaches has 31 years behind the belt. There is an overwhelming gap between Carolina and any other squad.

The Panthers may also be the team that had the largest player turnover this offseason. On offense, they have a new QB (Teddy Bridgewater), a new No.2 WR (Robby Anderson), a new starting tight end with Greg Olsen leaving the franchise and 2-3 new starters on the offensive line.

As for the defense, the unit lost Gerald McCoy, Dontari Poe, Bruce Irvin, Mario Addison, Luke Kuechly and James Bradberry (omitting a few more players that are now off the team). Unreal.

I’m taking the more stable Raiders team since Carolina might be lacking cohesion and timing on both sides of the ball.

PICK #5 (2 STARS): MINNESOTA VIKINGS -2.5 VS GREEN BAY PACKERS

Again, the Double Division Revenge factor comes into play. Minnesota lost both meetings with the team from the Frozen Tundra: 21-16 in Green Bay, 23-10 in Minnesota.

This pick is not rated very high because that’s pretty much the lone argument favoring them. Green Bay returns the same coaching staff, while the Vikes have a new OC and a new DC.

You could argue, though, that the Packers defense’s Achilles heel was its run defense, which happens to be Minnesota’s strength with Dalvin Cook leading the way (and a very promising RB #2 in Alexander Mattison).

Both teams have a hole at the WR #2 position. Can Allen Lazard or Bisi Johnson truly assume that role for their respective teams? I doubt it.

I’m also afraid the Vikings defense might regress significantly after losing many key pieces like Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph and three cornerbacks.

PICK #6 (1 STAR): HOUSTON TEXANS +9 AT KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

Big underdogs have fared very well in the opening week of NFL regular seasons.

As a matter of fact, 8+ points underdogs have gone 43-25 ATS in recent years in Week #1; that’s a 63.2% winning play.

I think the DeAndre Hopkins trade was horrible for the Texans, but they still have a strong WR corps with Will Fuller, Brandin Cooks, Randall Cobb and Kenny Stills. And the team still has one of the best young quarterbacks in the league in Deshaun Watson.

Their defense worries me, though. Their secondaries are fairly bad, which does not bode well when facing the Chiefs aerial attack! Also, losing stud defensive lineman D.J. Reader is a blow.

I do think the Chiefs defense is pretty bad and overrated, so I’m hoping the Texans can keep the score close enough to cover this big point spread.

Enjoy Week #1 and I’ll talk to you again very soon!

Professor MJ
 
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