Our part-time pigskin correspondent (and full-time MLB/NCAAB handicapper extraordinaire) Kreighton Rahn published WagerBop’s NFL picks for Thursday and early Sunday of Week 1. That was a lucky break for readers.
Tampa Bay’s 30+ point total, as a Beatles fan might put it, was For the Benefit of Mr. K. (No, I didn’t lose a wager and have to put classic-rock references and reviews in 2 straight prediction columns, it just sort of happened.) My Week 1 TNF pick, published only on other blogs, was Under (52.5).
I was going by the premise that with an all-valuable QB in his mid-40s (and a favorite QB-target who’s getting up there) combined with a newly-conceived 17-game NFL regular season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would approach 2021-22’s opening kickoff with the same mentality an English Premier League club might tack-to in August – that it’s going to be a marathon that’s best begun with simple, slow-paced victories.
Tom Brady can throw for 4 bills against any defense in the NFL. He could even do it 17 straight times, if not for Father Time. Tampa’s cognizance of the old-timer’s “pitch count” is something we can absolutely count on for sure in an otherwise chaotic era.
My mistake was to avoid noticing a TNF prediction angle of the “he-knew-she-knew-he-knew” variety. NFC rivals know that Buccaneer HC Bruce Arians can’t overtax Tom Brady en route to another playoff bid. But the wise old skipper also knows that they know that. Arians clearly wanted to send a message to every opposing defense on Tampa Bay’s schedule that the Bucs can open up and score through the air at any time, to help keep heat off the Tampa backfield while coaches look for ways to increase the team’s runs-to-passes ratio over the long haul.
In hindsight, it was the only thing for Arians to do against the dangerous Dallas Cowboys. The alternative was to hand-off 50+ times and try to win 16-7, which even if it had worked, would have invited other opposing front-7s to overload the edge and rush Tom Terrific in the pocket for 64 upcoming quarters.
We’ll try not to miss any more crucial psychology in our NFL prime-time picks. Not everyone will prioritize sending a message over carefully working starters back into shape this Sunday, but some coaches will, and exciting game-plans are far more likely to come from coaching staffs whose teams were already hot and hungry for more success as the book closed on 2020-21.
NFL Week 1 Odds, Lines, and Predictions
Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs (Sunday 4:25 PM EST)
National Football League fans anticipated a classic Super Bowl struggle between 2 great quarterbacks in February. It didn’t work out that way, due to QB Pat Mahomes’ injury problems, which became apparent as the Chiefs fell behind in the 1st half and called on the team’s trademark high-octane offense.
The NFL’s maiden COVID-era Super Bowl turned into a 31-9 blow-out for Brady and his new bunch.
KC’s dual-threat superstar is now healthy enough to spearhead Kansas City’s offense again, fueling hype of a potential “20-0” season for KC, with 20-0 now a possible (if highly unlikely) record for an NFL team given a 17-game regular season schedule, 2 playoff wins, and a Super Bowl victory. Wacky summer speculation has a way of being tempered by Las Vegas, but the Chiefs are indeed a favorite to lift the Lombardi Trophy in February ’22, an outcome offered at around 5-to-1 odds.
But it’s unwise to blow-off Cleveland’s optimistic (+200) moneyline to win at Arrowhead Stadium as a product of Week 1 roster chaos or a conservative tactic by bookmakers. (Action has filled the Week 1 NFL ledger with “public” odds by now, so there’s no need to ascribe such well-brewed numbers as “bookie” strategy until we get to next week.) No team in the NFL was braver in the 2021 postseason than the Cleveland Browns, who have earned the respect of the gambling public with a 16/1 line to win the next Super Bowl in February. For anyone who’s counting, that means the Browns are considered 2x as likely to win an NFL championship as an average team would be, a scenario that seemed almost unthinkable as QB Baker Mayfield stumbled and struggled alongside his teammates in the late 2010s.
Thursday’s game portrayed the NFL in its usual late-summer makeup, a league in which good QBs and WR corps simply waltz around in between the 20s, and defenses wait patiently for the leaves to start falling. 2 young gun-slingers and fresh supporting casts should lead to an O/U line even higher than the (54.5) number on Chiefs vs Browns, the real “conservative” market in Las Vegas that would be accurate in colder weather.
Los Angeles Rams vs Chicago Bears (Sunday Night Football)
L.A. is another “sexy” pick to win the next Super Bowl on home turf. Coach Sean McVay, however, is less interested in abiding an R-rated orgy of fan satisfaction on Sunday night than about beating the Bears (+8) in a game with a (47) point O/U number.
Yes, Matt Stafford is the new QB. But he’s got to be protected every bit as much as Brady over the months to come, possibly even more due to his tendency to wait on deep WRs before pulling the trigger. Chicago’s offense could easily be a subpar unit again in 2021 given the team’s ongoing muddle behind center, giving McVay an opportunity that Arians didn’t have on Thursday – a chance to win a Week 1 game on the ground.
Baltimore Ravens at Las Vegas Raiders (Monday Night Football)
The NFL may have decided to kiss and make-up with the legal sports-betting community, opening the Monday Night Football ledger of 2021 with a kickoff in Sin City.
Las Vegas bookmakers are not giving the “home team” optimistic odds, despite head coach Jon Gruden’s efforts to revitalize the Raiders over the last 3 years, and despite the fact that Gus Edwards and Marcus Peters were sadly and rather recklessly knocked out for the season with ACL tears during a last-minute practice for Week 1.
Baltimore, a 5-point favorite against the spread, has done more than improve since Lamar Jackson took over at QB. While still frustrated in the playoffs, the Ravens have revolutionized NFL pigskin with an NCAA-style option attack that “Big Truss” adores and opposing fans love to hate.
But if Sunday’s marquee late afternoon game is bound to go “Over,” a scrum between a flagging revival-project and a demoralized playoff loser is bound to go under the sunny (50) point O/U total fans are betting on.
Pick: Raiders (+5) and Under
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.