Tips for Week 1 NFL picks: Browns line moves, fading the public, teaser play and injuries to watch
Most picks articles will tell you which side the writer is taking and why. This one is a little different.
If you want to know which sides I like, you can find that info at the SportsLine link below, where all my rated plays appear during the season along with my five SuperContest picks each week and plenty of great analysis from a fantastic collection of experts. You can also check out where all our CBS Sports staff lands on each game each week right here.
But each week in this space, I’m going to go behind the lines and picks to bring you a bit of a deeper dive into what you should know before locking in your plays. That includes which lines are on the move, which home-field advantages aren’t getting enough credit, which injuries you should be monitoring, my top teaser play of the week and plenty more.
Let’s get right to it.
Over at SportsLine, I’ve entered eight Week 1 picks and likely have more on the way in the coming days. Join now and use promo code WHITE for $1 on your first month and you can get mine and every SportsLine expert’s picks throughout the year, as well as my SuperContest picks each Saturday.
Biggest line move
When the Week 1 lines came out in April, I hit my five best bets immediately over at SportsLine. We’ve seen a significant move on four of those lines over the summer and preseason. I recommended Falcons +3.5, and they’re either down to Falcons +1 or a pick ’em at most sites. I liked Ravens -3.5, and that line is all the way up to Ravens -7.5. I suggested Vikings -4.5 and they’re now up to Vikings -6.5, and I liked the Rams -1.5, which is now Rams -4 and could easily go up by kickoff Monday.
If we reduce our timeframe down to just this week, the two lines we’ve seen change the most are Falcons-Eagles and Steelers-Browns. We know why people are pounding the Falcons, as Carson Wentz is officially out along with top target Alshon Jeffery. So let’s focus on the Steelers game, which was Steelers -5 at the Westgate as of Sunday morning but was down to Steelers -3.5 as of Wednesday night. This is after the line already moved significantly to the Browns over the summer, as it opened at Steelers -6.5 at Westgate and even at Steelers -7 in many books.
What’s at play here? Tyrod Taylor had already been traded to the Browns by the time the lines opened, so you can throw that theory out. The Browns used their four top-35 picks on a quarterback who won’t play on Sunday, a good cornerback who nonetheless had many suggesting the team should have brought in Bradley Chubb, an offensive lineman who may start the year on the bench and a running back who’ll start the year buried on the depth chart. Those players shouldn’t have much of an effect on this matchup.
Three big factors are at play here. First, the Browns just starred in HBO’s yearly NFL doc “Hard Knocks,” so people have gotten to know this group of players and have started to talk themselves into the Browns actually being good. Two, the Steelers have become known for road letdowns against poor teams. They only won by three in last year’s opener against the Browns (never mind that it took a garbage-time TD to get it under double digits), then lost to the Bears in overtime in their next road game. They needed a fourth-quarter comeback to beat the Colts in Indy coming out of their bye. Why would this matchup be any different?
Three, Le’Veon Bell was expected to be with the team by now, but that hasn’t happened. That to me is the biggest reason for this late line movement, as bettors start to realize that the team won’t have one of its top offensive weapons in Week 1. But should Bell, or any running back, move a line by 1.5 points? I’m skeptical, and I think the Steelers -5 line was the correct spot for this one. I’d expect smart money, which was likely on the Browns back in April, to come in hard on Steelers -3.5 hoping to catch a middle with a Steelers win by four or six points.
So who should you back in Week 1 of the NFL season? Visit SportsLine now to see which teams are winning more than 50 percent of simulations, all from the model that has outperformed 98 percent of experts tracked by NFLPickWatch.com the past two seasons.
Home-field edges to know
I broke downduring the preseason, and Week 1 features the team that surprisingly had the best raw HFA number heading into 2018: the Dolphins. Miami is historically considered to be one of the worst home-field advantages in the league, so I’m not ready to automatically give the Dolphins as many points for for HFA as the raw numbers suggest, but it’s still worth a better-than-average 3.5 points to me at this point. That means that for this line to be accurate, the Titans should be favored by five points on a neutral site. That seems like a lot for this Titans team, doesn’t it?
Four teams that are playing this week get four points of home-field advantage to me: the Eagles, Vikings, Broncos and Packers. If my numbers are accurate, that means the Seahawks are being rated as one point better than the Broncos and the Falcons are considered three points better than the Eagles without Carson Wentz. Whether you agree or disagree will determine where you think you should be betting these lines.
Conversely, here’s the two teams that I have rated with just two points of home-field advantage this week. The Colts have been better offensively on the road in two of the last three years. The Giants struggled defensively at home last year, and we’ll see if they can right the ship in 2018. When accounting for this reduced home field, the lines say the Colts are being rated one point better than the Bengals, while the Jaguars are five points better than the Giants.
Injuries to watch
On Wednesday, I Riley Reiff and cornerback Xavier Rhodes. Losing either could be the difference in covering this line or not. The Colts’ presumably mediocre defense could be in even worse shape with three key defenders limited on Wednesday. The Texans and Jaguars also listed key players as limited.around the league and what you should be keeping in mind heading into the Week 1 matchups. The Vikings saw four players listed as limited, including left tackle
I see two games at potentially delivering the biggest injury edge. The Titans listed Jack Conklin, Rashaan Evans, Derrick Morgan and Harold Landry all as limited. On one hand it’s good news, as Conklin and the two edge rushers looked on the wrong side of questionable heading into the week. But they’re not out of the woods yet, and the losses of any of these players could swing this game.
In the AFC West battle, Chargers edge rusher Joey Bosa popped up as limited with a foot injury. This is the type of injury that could tip the balance, as this defense must have consistent pass rush to slow the Chiefs offense. On the other side, Eric Berry was a non-participant in Wednesday’s practice due to a hip injury. I’ve been high on the Chiefs this preseason, taking them at +320 to win the AFC West, but their defense absolutely can’t afford to lose Berry for a lengthy period of time again.
Fading the public
If 80 percent of the action or more is on one side of a line, you want to be thinking about taking the other side, a practice commonly known as fading the public. This week, there’s a whopping six games that qualify in Week 1! Remember that this is the time of year when we know the least about how good or bad each team is. If the consensus thinks it has a game figured out, that should be flashing warning signs for you. All betting trends data is from BetOnline via Vegas Insider.
The Ravens were getting a large chunk of the action all offseason, causing the inflation from an opening line of Ravens -3.5. That game settled at Ravens -7 before the books finally bounced it to Ravens -7.5. We’ll see if it stays there or whether enough sharp plays come in on the Bills to move it back to Ravens -7.
The Colts saw a lot of early action once Andrew Luck was confirmed to be healthy, but a line move to Colts -3.5 caused action to flip to the Bengals, where it remained even as the line dropped back to Colts -3. The line has been moved down to Colts -2.5 in many books after the scales tipped even further in terms of bets on the Bengals on Wednesday, and I expect the books are going to be rooting for the Colts on Sunday.
The Saints have been getting hammered this week, and they sat with around 85 percent of the action as of Wednesday night. That game could easily close at Saints -10.
The Titans opened as 2.5-point favorites, but action drove the line down a point, where it seems the public is loading up on the favorites. It’d shock me if the sharps aren’t on the Dolphins here.
Nobody believes in the Seahawks, as a massive amount of the action has remained on the Broncos all summer and into this week, even after the line moved from Broncos -2.5 to -3. The books definitely don’t want to get middled on this game, so don’t expect it to climb any higher. If you like the Seahawks, now’s the time to jump on them.
That’s the same scenario the Cowboys find themselves in with most of the action on the Panthers. I can’t get a handle on this game, so I’m surprised that everyone’s lining up on one particular side.
Lines I’d move
Steelers -3.5 at Browns
49ers at Vikings -6.5
Bills at Ravens -7.5
I explained during the preseason how I, and while I’m not automatically playing any line I perceive as value, that’s at least the way I’m leaning while deciding whether or not it’s worth a play. While my lines differ by a half-point or even a full point in most of this week’s matchups, the three lines above are the ones that I feel are the furthest away from where they should be.
My current Week 1 ratings say the Steelers should be about five-point favorites on the Browns, though that’s somewhat of a no man’s land when it comes to setting lines (final scores are much more likely to fall on four points or six). The 49ers are still being overvalued on the market, and I have the line as Vikings -8.5. I liked the Ravens at -7 a lot better before it bumped up half a point, but I still think there’s some value there, as I’d make the line Ravens -9. Not sure I’d bet it at this point though, as taking any team at more than a touchdown in Week 1 is playing with fire.
Teaser of the Week
Vikings -0.5 vs. 49ers
Ravens -1.5 vs. Bills
I don’t like teasing the Saints down to -3.5, because that could easily wind up being a field-goal game if the Saints offense comes out sloppy. I’m not teasing the Browns up to +9.5 or +10 because the Steelers offense could easily show up and rally around each other after feeling slighted by Le’Veon Bell. I can’t tease the Packers down to -1.5, as there’s going to be an excitement around the Bears locker room after their go-for-it acquisition of Khalil Mack that could have the team playing at a higher level than expected.
I think there’s five potential teaser sides I like this week: the Vikings, Ravens, Patriots, Dolphins and Lions. While I think the Dolphins line is off, putting such a poor team in a teaser is asking for trouble, so they’re out. The Texans have a chance to top the Patriots in a shootout, so I’m holding off on New England. I like any of the other three teams, but I’m pairing the two Sunday games here as I can’t see either of those road teams winning in Week 1. At least there’s a chance Sam Darnold is excellent right out the gate, even as the youngest quarterback to ever start the opener, and the Lions aren’t exactly trustworthy to me at this point.