One of the most hotly anticipated weeks on the sports calendar is the one leading up to NFL Week 1.
Week 1 will have a little less star power than usual thanks to a couple rather unusual circumstances involving elite players. One is naturally the Andrew Luck retirement bombshell, which came just 10 days before Thursday’s opener. The other involves the contract holdout of a top running back in the league, Melvin Gordon.
With Green Bay and Chicago having kicked off the season on Thursday, it’s time to dive in with a quick glance at each of the remaining 15 games on the docket as the opening weekend draws even closer.
NFL Week 1 Lines 2019
Week 1 analysis and predictions
And then there was one. Holdout, that is. With Ezekiel Elliott now officially back in the Cowboys fold on a multi-year extension as of Wednesday, Gordon remains the league’s lone holdout. How much Elliott will be able to contribute against the Giants in Week 1 remains to be seen. However, he’s reportedly kept in tip-top shape while away and undoubtedly has the talent (and youth) to jump right into the fray and play effectively, albeit perhaps while not quite hitting on all cylinders yet.
Meanwhile, Cam Newton seems to be progressing nicely from the mid-foot sprain he suffered on the third offensive series of the Week 3 preseason battle against the Patriots on a sack. Latest reports indicate Newton appeared to be moving well during the portion of Monday’s practice open to the media, lending credence to the notion he’ll be a full go by the time the Panthers’ Week 1 showdown against the Rams rolls around.
The betting picture heading into Week 1 now appears about as clear as it’s going to get, so let’s take a look at each game on the ledger:
Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears (-3) — Thursday, Sept. 5
The Bears remain just slight favorites in a divisional matchup they’ve lost five out of the last six times. Green Bay should be at or near full health in all key positions, the most important being the guy under center. Aaron Rodgers was a one-man MASH unit by the end of last season and should be key to the Pack not only keeping this close, but possibly pulling an upset. Meanwhile, the Bears are dealing with the increasing likelihood of taking the field without TE Trey Burton, who’s headed toward a game-time decision due to a groin injury.
More analysis for this game on our Thursday Night Football page.
Atlanta Falcons at Minnesota Vikings (-3.5)
The Vikings get slightly better than a default home-favorite spread here. However, this could be an even tighter battle than projected. Julio Jones should be a full go for the Falcons after resting his foot this preseason and Calvin Ridley looks like a player ready to explode in his second season. The Vikings will look forward to a fully healthy Dalvin Cook hitting the ground running, literally, helping keep defenses honest against the star wideout duo of Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen.
Baltimore Ravens (-7) at Miami Dolphins
A well-stocked Ravens squad may have a bit of a struggle with the early-September South Florida humidity. However, that shouldn’t be enough to offset the talent gap between the two squads. A five-point spread in favor of the road team is huge. Yet it’s difficult to see a Dolphins offense helmed by either Ryan Fitzpatrick or Josh Rosen making consistent headway versus Baltimore’s defense. On the other side, Lamar Jackson should be in line for some improvement as a passer in his second season and the Ravens should have more than enough on the ground in particular to control this contest.
Buffalo Bills at New York Jets (-2.5)
The oddsmakers currently see this contest as a pick ‘em scenario, with the Jets only getting the default three points as the home team. Two young quarterbacks in Josh Allen and Sam Darnold should help keep this one interesting. The Jets are 4-2 over the last six encounters with the Bills and have the more talented offensive squad on paper. The addition of Le’Veon Bell this offseason tops off what is a very deep backfield loaded with both solid running and pass-catching talent.
However, division matchups can be unpredictable. Allen demonstrated plenty of improvement in December of last season and Buffalo also sports an impressive cadre of running backs that features a nice blend of accomplished veterans (LeSean McCoy and Frank Gore) and a high-pedigree rookie (Devin Singletary). A high 30s total may also be a bit off the mark here, especially with Jets star linebacker Avery Williamson having been lost for the season earlier in preseason due to an ACL tear.
Kansas City Chiefs (-3) at Jacksonville Jaguars
Another relatively sizable road favorite is in play here in the form of the Chiefs. There’s been plenty of talk about a revitalized Jaguars defense this summer. However, the offense remains riddled with question marks despite the arrival of Nick Foles to take over for the perpetually ineffective Blake Bortles. Foles won’t have a truly full arsenal to work with to open the season, however. Receiver Marqise Lee continues to recover from last season’s ACL tear and isn’t likely to be at full strength even if he plays. The overall depth at receiver is concerning as well. That sets up the possibility of the Jacksonville D eventually tiring out due to too many series against Kansas City’s high-powered attack.
Los Angeles Rams (-1.5) at Carolina Panthers
The oddsmakers have the NFC champs as field-goal road favorites with Cam Newton’s status firmly up in the air. Los Angeles will be at full health and ready to attack with an offense that’s arguably better than last season’s conference-winning one. Todd Gurley appears to be back to his normal self and will be able to rely on rookie Darrell Henderson for breathers more frequently this season. This looks like a bargain line if Newton misses and a winnable one for Los Angeles in a tighter battle even if Cam suits up.
Tennessee Titans at Cleveland Browns (-5.5)
The much-hyped Browns are somewhat lofty favorites here at home and deservedly so. Cleveland appears to be both style and substance with the array of talent it’s assembled on the offensive side of the ball. Meanwhile, a defense that already made significant strides last season looks ready for the next step and should benefit from a more efficient offense that could afford them some big leads. The Titans are still fiddling around with Marcus Mariota at quarterback and will be missing elite left tackle Taylor Lewan (suspension) to help ward off the relentless pass rush of Myles Garrett in this contest.
Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles (-10)
A single-digit spread may not be enough to underscore the difference in talent between both teams. The Eagles’ most dangerous opponent here will be their own possible overconfidence. To begin with, Philadelphia outclasses Washington at essentially every position on offense. The gulf between Carson Wentz and Case Keenum is wide, to say the least. The Skins will also bank on 34-year-old Adrian Peterson to helm the running game to start the season while talented but still recovering Derrius Guice looks to return to full strength from last season’s ACL tear.
There may be no bigger disparity between the two teams at any position group outside of quarterback than at receiver. Philly trots out Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, Nelson Agholor and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside as its top four wideouts. Washington counters with a top trio of Paul Richardson, Josh Doctson and Trey Quinn that’s straight out of Third Receiver Central Casting. And while a healthy Jordan Reed could serve as a competent answer to Zach Ertz at tight end, that doesn’t seem likely to unfold in Week 1; Reed is in the concussion protocol following the third preseason game. Where the Redskins find more than 10 points in this game against the Eagles talented defense is increasingly a mystery as the opener draws closer.
Cincinnati Bengals at Seattle Seahawks (-9.5)
I saw what had been a 7.5-8.0-point line in favor of the Seahawks earlier this summer is a bit inflated. That was pre-A.J. Green injury, however. The Bengals were 5-2 against the number as road underdogs last season. But, with Green now almost assuredly missing the opener, the line continues to climb in Seattle’s favor. This still may be a very good spot to jump on underdog Cincinnati against a good-but-not elite Seahawks squad. Notably, the Bengals still bring plenty of offensive talent to the table and have key injuries to largely blame last season’s 6-10 record on.
Indianapolis Colts at Los Angeles Chargers (-6.5)
Luck’s absence makes the Chargers better than a touchdown favorite at this point. It’s tricky to gauge how accurate that might be, despite the incalculable loss that Luck’s retirement represents. Jacoby Brissett certainly held his own after being thrust into the fire in similar fashion back in 2017. He’s back under center two seasons later with presumably more maturity and mental preparation for the starting quarterback role at his disposal. The talent around him is also formidable and should help facilitate his return to the top job.
The Chargers look like serious postseason contenders again. But, they’ll likely be without Gordon to start the season. Gordon has already been informed by Chargers management that the team will not continue negotiating with his agent on an extension until after the season. This comes following a report earlier in the weekend that the team is allowing Gordon and his representative to explore a trade. A move elsewhere could be the one way Gordon gets his money this season, but otherwise, his situation appears to be a lot more intractable for the time being. His absence will leave Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson to handle the Los Angeles running game.
Ekeler and Jackson will undoubtedly do a capable job filling in. However, neither quite brings what Gordon does to the table. Indy may be playing with a chip on its shoulder here and could make for another viable underdog in Week 1.
Detroit Lions (-2.5) at Arizona Cardinals
This could easily be one of the most difficult games of the opening slate to peg. A rookie quarterback, no matter how talented, is always a bit of a wild card. That also describes the Lions as a whole in their first season under Matt Patricia in 2018. It’s difficult to know what to expect on many fronts here, including with the full rollout of Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury’s “Air Raid” offense at the NFL level. The crowd in the desert should be rabid for Kyler Murray’s regular-season debut; in a matchup of two teams with comparable talent, that can be a pivotal factor, at least enough for an Arizona cover.
NY Giants at Dallas Cowboys (-7)
The Giants may be one of the teams that elicits the widest range of expectations ahead of the coming season. They boast one of the top five offensive weapons in the game in running back Saquon Barkley and a proven although oft-maligned quarterback in Eli Manning. The top two receiver spots will also eventually be in solid shape once Sterling Shepard is fully recovered from his thumb injury and Golden Tate returns from a four-game suspension. However, there are also plenty of question marks in the front seven that help negate some of the value that a talented secondary could bring.
A short-handed squad on the road against a division rival that knows them well isn’t exactly a promising scenario. That’s precisely what Big Blue is up against in Week 1 versus the Cowboys. The fact Elliott now appears a near certainty to play at least a limited amount of snaps after not participating in training camp or preseason makes the task all the more formidable for the Giants.
The seven-point spread in the Cowboys’ favor still may be a bit much, especially considering Big D’s 3-3-1 record versus the number as home favorites last season.
San Francisco 49ers at Tampa Bay Bucs (-1)
The books clearly see this as a barn burner, and with good reason. Both teams certainly allowed their fair share of yards and points last season. There’s plenty of optimism surrounding coach Bruce Arians’ offense in Tampa. However, like all new systems, there will be growing pains. On the other side, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo still has questions to answer about both the health of his knee after last season’s torn ACL and his ability to lead a team for a full season. For Week 1 purposes, we’re naturally more concerned about the former in what could well turn into a high-scoring affair. The spread is potentially one to stay away from, but a high 40s total could be one to exploit by taking the Over.
Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots (-5.5)
The Steelers step into unfamiliar waters when they take the field without both Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown to open the season. However, this is a team that’s largely prided itself on building and replacing from within when necessary. They seem to have the pieces in place to do just that in this case with the likes of James Conner, Jaylen Samuels, JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington. Of course, recent history against the Patriots is anything but encouraging for the Black and Gold – they’re 1-5 over the last six meetings with New England.
The Steelers have covered the current six-point spread in their last two games versus the Patriots and will be at full health. A primetime season-opening matchup on the road against the defending champs is the most uphill of uphill battles, and the Pats will come into the contest enjoying full health at key positions. Sure, Julian Edelman will be playing his first snaps since the Super Bowl after recovering from thumb surgery and Josh Gordon will also be jumping into game action after an extended layoff. Yet it’s common knowledge that such factors seem to matter little as long as Tom Brady is under center. The Pats were 7-2 (NFL-best 77.8 percent) against the spread at home last season and have the talent to win by at least a touchdown.
More analysis for this game on our Sunday Night Football page.
Houston Texans at New Orleans Saints (-7) — Monday, Sept. 9
The Texans are getting very little respect from the oddsmakers. However, there are reasons behind their steep underdog status. Naturally, the mere fact it’s a road date against the Saints is one. Another is Miller’s injury, which an MRI has confirmed as a torn ACL. It appears to primarily be Duke Johnson’s backfield for the moment, even as the pass-catching back still gets up to speed with the playbook following his trade to the Texans on Aug. 8. Johnson is also still in the final stages of recovery from a hamstring injury.
It all adds up to an even fuller plate for quarterback DeShaun Watson and his talented group of receivers. The only issue is that two of those wideouts, Will Fuller and Keke Coutee, seem just as likely to limp off the field as catch a pass at times. Accordingly, they’re both presently banged up with less than two weeks to go until the regular season. In contrast, the Saints are healthy at key spots and seem to have found a free-agent bargain in new tight end Jared Cook. This is a scenario where the big spread is justified, especially with New Orleans determined to avoid a repeat of last year’s Week 1 home upset at the hands of the Buccaneers.
More analysis for this game on our Monday Night Football page.
Denver Broncos (-2.5) at Oakland Raiders — Monday, Sept. 9
The most ballyhooed team outside of the Browns this offseason kicks off its final pre-Las Vegas season against a bitter division rival in the Broncos. Oakland is now officially without Antonio Brown (off to New England) and also lost Doug Martin for at least the first eight games of the season with a shoulder injury when they placed him on injured reserve following the third preseason contest. However, talented rookie Josh Jacobs and an experienced complementary duo of DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard should help keep the running game afloat.
After a long stretch of dominance in this series, Denver is just 3-4 over the last seven meetings against the Raiders. That includes an 0-3 mark in the last trio of road encounters. But this is a different Denver team that should have greater stability at the quarterback position with Joe Flacco and talented pieces at both running back and receiver. The Broncos defense also projects as a strength, although linebacker Todd Davis could miss the opener with a calf injury. The pick’em line seems about right in what could well be a toss-up, but the 43-point projected total seems to underestimate both offenses.