NFL NEWS

Milham’s Take: Top bets for Week 1 NFL action

Simon Milham

September 04, 2019 at 10:45 am.

The 100th NFL season is celebrated in 2019. It begins with the NFL Kickoff Game, as the Chicago Bears host the Green Bay Packers on Thursday, September 5. Simon Milham, Lindy’s UK NFL contributor and handicapper, gives his picks on Week 1 action:

Green Bay Packers @ Chicago Bears

The Bears snapped the Packers’ eight-game winning streak at Soldier Field with a 24-17 success in Week 15 last season. It was just their third win in the previous 18 meetings. Seven of the Packers’ last eight wins in Chicago came by more than three points.

The Bears have conceded at least 21 points in each of their last seven season openers and the Packers have tallied 21 points or more in eight of the last nine trips to reigning NFC North champion Chicago.

The Packers are coming off back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1990/91 and will bid to avoid successive road losses in Chicago for the first time since 2007/08.

Packers’ QB Aaron Rodgers turns 36 this season and his is just 24-24-1 in his last 49 starts, but has a 103.1 career passer rating – the best in NFL history – and despite sloppy mechanics at time last season, invariably performs at his best when he has a chip on his shoulder. He has been widely criticized this off-season, so we an expect him to have a big say in getting Matt LaFleur – who is just four years older than Rodgers – a winning start to his NFL head coaching career.

Thanks to his running ability, Chicago QB Mitch Trubisky made his offensive line look better than they were last season and while running back David Montgomery could well top 1,200 yards this season, the Bears may find the free-agency loss of safety Adrian Amos (to the Packers) disrupting their communication in the secondary. Rodgers and top receiver Davante Adams will need no invitation.

The BetVictor NFL odds are 9/10 for the Bears to cover a 3.0-point handicap. Yet the Packers’ comfort-level at Soldier Field means it might be worth forgoing the additional field-goal spread at odds 37/40 and take the visitors to win outright.

Tip: Green Bay Packers to win – 11/8

 

Tennessee Titans @ Cleveland Browns

Are expectations a little too high for the Cleveland Browns, a team that went 7-9-1 last season? They are certainly one of the most intriguing teams in the league, with several new pieces including receiver Odell Beckham Jr, who is reunited with his old LSU buddy Jarvis Landry, and some other big egos like cocky/confident, polarizing QB Baker Mayfield.

Their offense could be one of the most dynamic in the league, with running back Nick Chubb joined in the backfield by another game-changer in Kareem Hunt, once he serves an eight-game suspension.

Many opponents used to look at the Browns as an ‘easy win’. While that label has been ripped off by some excellent moves by GM John Dorsey, the Browns still have a rookie head coach in Freddie Kitchens, who will have to manage those expectations and personalities.

Do not get lost in the offensive hype, as the defense, led by elite edge-rusher Myles Garrett, could provide the impetus for a playoff run. The Browns have attempted to shore up the interior of their defensive line by signing former Vikings defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, and with tackle Larry Ogunjobi helping push the pocket back, expect Garrett and veteran former Giants’ pass-rusher Olivier Vernon to grab a few headlines.

Young cornerback Denzel Ward showed flashes of superstar potential as a rookie and while there are still concerns over the linebackers and secondary, the pressure up front may well paper over some cracks.

On Sunday, they attempt an opening-day win for the first time since 2004, when Jeff Garcia was under center as the Browns beat Baltimore 20-3. This will be the 14th time they have started a campaign at home in the last 18 years.

They face a Tennessee Titans team who have lost their last three season openers, conceding 25 points or more in each.

However, the Titans are arguably the most talented team in the AFC South and there will be some who think BetVictor’s NFL odds of 3/1 to finish first in the division are a little too generous to ignore. The odds of 4/6 to have over 7.5 wins this term also appears to represent storming value.

They have a talented, young receiving corps, spearheaded by Corey Davis and even with Taylor Lewin suspended, the offensive line is stout and is the basis for a front that can attack in multiple ways.

With the much-needed addition of a decent nose tackle in Isaiah Mack, and with a fearsome pass rush from Jurrell Casey and Daquan Jones – who has been outstanding in pre-season – look for the Titans to be a match for anyone.

They have won five of their last seven trips to Cleveland and given the hosts’ struggles on opening night, the Titans may be worth playing in receipt of the points.

Tip: Tennessee Titans +5.5 points – 10/11

 

New York Giants @ Dallas Cowboys

The Giants and Cowboys play each other for a seventh time on opening day since 2002 and Dallas have won five of those. The Giants also have a 1-6 record in their last seven at AT&T Stadium.

The Cowboys’ defense consists of a decent pass rush and a solid linebacking corps, although their DBs have room for improvement. This unit will give its ho-hum attack plenty of opportunities to grind out victories, even if running back Ezekiel Elliott does not get on the field from day one.

The main concern is that outside of Amari Cooper, they boast a mediocre-at-best pass-catching unit and should they get behind in games against quick-strike attacks, it would be surprising if QB Dak Prescott could go toe-to-toe in an aerial duel.

The Giants will move on from QB Eli Manning at some stage this season and rookie Daniel Jones has impressed in pre-season. With elite running back Saquon Barkley operating behind a potentially solid offensive line, expect their attack to be much more potent, even with Odell Beckham Jr having been shipped to Cleveland and Golden Tate suspended for the first four games.

The loss of two other Pro Bowl stars in safety Landon Collins and edge rusher Olivier Vernon, will hurt though. The Giants may not suffer a third straight last-place finish in the division following a year to adjust to Pat Shurmur’s system and the house is being slowly rebuilt with some solids drafts and the addition of players with great leadership qualities such as Antione Bethea, Michael Thomas, Nate Solder and Kevin Zeitler.

Yet for all the locker-room harmony following a 4-0 pre-season, the Giants may not be able to overcome a few offensive injuries – not against this stout Dallas defense. Whether the hosts can cover a lofty line in this NFC East battle is open to argument, however.

Tip: New York Giants +6.5 points – 10/11

 

Pittsburgh Steelers @ New England Patriots

Both teams have ageing quarterbacks and less star power, yet both figure to be AFC playoff teams when the dust has settled. The reigning Super Bowl champion Patriots have lost the miss-match nightmare, tight-end Rob Gronkowski, to retirement, while the Steelers have lost the distractions that were running back Le’Veon Bell and diva receiver Antonio Brown.

Bill Belichick has assembled arguably his most talented roster in a decade, with a bevy of pass-catching talent at the wide receiver and running back positions. There are some question marks concerning the offensive line, with the team’s starting center since 2015, David Andrews, seeing his 2019 season ending prematurely after blood clots were found on a lung, and second-year man Isaiah Wynn likely to replace free-agent departure Trent Brown at left tackle.

However, 42-year-old QB Tom Brady releases the ball so quickly it may well be a teething problem and little more.

Expect both teams to run the ball more this season and the Steelers to defy some gloomy prognostications, as the acquisitions of free agent cornerback Steve Nelson and the drafting of middle linebacker Devin Bush should address the problems in the secondary, which has been spotty since Ryan Shazier’s horrific, career-ending injury.

The Steelers have lost five of the last six meetings with the Patriots and also five of the last six in New England by a seven-point margin or more.

The Patriots won season-openers at home against the Steelers in 2002 (30-14) and 2015 (28-21), and have won 14 of their last 17 opening-day games since 2002. The hosts are 10/11 to successfully ceded 5.5 points to the Steelers on the handicap and that is a tempting play.

However, this is the time of the season where defenses often hold sway and the points total line is high enough to warrant playing the under.

Tip: Under 50.5 total points – 10/11

 

Houston Texans @ New Orleans Saints

The first of a double-header on Monday Night sees two more teams with playoff aspirations going head to head.

It has not been a particularly good pre-season for the Texans, who need to find a viable starter at the running back positions after waiving D’Onta Foreman and losing Lamar Miller to a season-ending knee injury. Recently acquired Duke Johnson was not an every-down back in Cleveland, and depth behind him is lacking.

The Texans’ front office fired GM Brian Gaine in the offseason, but were unable to hire the man they wanted, and with news leaking out that they wanted to trade pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney – possibly for a left tackle or a first/second-round draft choice – there have been plenty of unwanted distractions.

The Saints are coming off two heart-breaking post-season defeats, yet they have every chance of hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy. boasting offensive talent like Drew Brees, Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, and a strong defense led by Cameron Jordan.

This could be a fascinating battle between Brees and the Texans’ defense, who boast a deep and versatile linebacking corps and a tough defensive line, with impressive youngster D.J. Reader expected to blossom as a leader this term.

The Texans’ secondary has undergone a revamp and while cornerback Bradley Roby is quicker than the departed Kareem Jackson, Houston will miss his sure-tackling ability.

Houston has lost both previous trips to New Orleans by seven points or more, and the Saints will be motivated to snap a five-game run of losses on opening day.

Opening day games involving New Orleans have produced more points than any other team since 2002 and the line reflects that trend. Perhaps a little too much.

Tip: Under 53 total points – 10/11

 

Denver Broncos @ Oakland Raiders

The Raiders were the last team to beat the Broncos on the opening weekend of the season in 2011. That was one of just four Week 1 wins for the Silver and Black since 2002 and this will be first time since 2011 that the Broncos start their campaign on the road.

The BetVictor NFL odds are 17/20 for the Broncos to win on the handicap, where they receive a 1.0-point start.

There are high expectations for Denver pass rusher Bradley Chubb entering his second season bookending Von Miller. He could well flash his immense ability against an Oakland offensive line that improved significantly with the arrival of Trent Brown, but may not gel effectively until left guard Richie Incognito returns from a two-game suspension and right guard Gabe Jackson is back mid-season from a left knee injury.

They Raiders’ O-Line, which allowed QB Derek Carr to be sacked 51 times last year, has got bigger, but Carr could struggle against Vic Fangio’s defense. Fangio is a master with personnel groupings and multiple looks, and the Broncos will likely go as far as their defense can take them this season.

Denver’s attack could be limited outside of the running game, and they need one of their second-year receivers to step up to provide a reliable target for QB Joe Flacco.

The Broncos have lost their last three trips to Oakland, but have not lost four consecutive visits since dropping eight back-to-back between 1998 and 1994, and the visitors are taken to snap that streak and win outright.

Tip: Denver Broncos to win – 10/11