NFL Picks Week #1 (2021 regular season)
NFL PICKS (WEEK #1)
BY PROFESSOR MJ
Written Wednesday September 8th, 2021 at 2 p.m. Eastern Time (spreads/odds may have changed)
Yeah baby, the NFL season is finally upon us!
Let’s kick it off by reviewing my record against the spread (ATS) since I started this Professor MJ business (all documented on my website at ProfessorMJ.com and via YouTube videos):
When handicapping the Week #1 games, I use various special betting angles that have proven to work over a long period of time. Obviously, I also incorporate my knowledge about each teams’ strengths and weaknesses.
Let’s get off to a strong start, shall we?
PICK #1 (4 STARS): LAS VEGAS RAIDERS +4.5 VS BALTIMORE RAVENS
At first sight, I did not like this wager that much. But after digging a little deeper, I came to the conclusion that it was one of the best bets of the weekend.
First of all, Baltimore will be travelling through three time zones to play this game. More importantly, researchers have found that athletes perform the best during the late afternoon or early evening. That’s exactly why it is a smart idea to back West Coast teams playing a primetime game, especially when facing an East Coast team for which the game is late in the evening. Over many years, such teams have posted a 15-10 record ATS.
Baltimore’s defense is strong against the pass, but showed signs of weaknesses against the running game in 2020. In fact, they ranked 26th in the league in terms of yards allowed per carry. I believe Josh Jacobs and Kenyan Drake could find a way to pick first downs and keep Lamar Jackson off the field.
The Ravens lost running back J.K. Dobbins for the season with a torn ACL. Gus Edwards becomes the starter, which is definitely a downgrade, especially as a pass catcher. The team added Sammy Watkins at wide receiver, but we’re still talking about a below average group. It won’t be easy to win by 5 points or more on the road in a tough environment in Las Vegas.
Non-playoff teams facing a playoff team in Week 1 of the subsequent season have done well ATS since 2003: a 56-41-2 record (a 57.7% win rate).
I’m taking the Raiders to cover the 4.5 point spread.
PICK #2 (3 STARS): CLEVELAND BROWNS +6.5 AT KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
If you have watched a certain number of my previous NFL videos, you know how much I value the “revenge” factor. I truly believe it has an underrated effect on the outcome of games. Guys play with more passion, which is an essential part of the game of football.
In this case, the Browns will be looking to avenge a heart-crushing 22-17 defeat in the playoffs last year in Kansas City.
I also think Cleveland is a good fit to upset K.C. The Browns have what is arguably the best offensive line in football, which opens up running lanes for their great running back duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. These two guys should be able to keep Patrick Mahomes and company on the sidelines, while the clock keeps running. And that is good news when you bet a 6.5-point underdog.
In the last Super Bowl, the main problem for the Chiefs pertained to protecting Mahomes. He ran for his life the entire game against Tampa’s ferocious pass rush. Things may be difficult for him next Sunday. First, the Chiefs completely revamped their offensive line, which will take time to gel. Also, the Browns have Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney, who are great pass rushers.
Finally, have you ever heard of the theory that you should FADE the Super Bowl loser from the previous year in their first few games of a new season? I kind of like this theory, although I don’t have numbers to back it up, except that last year the San Francisco 49ers went 2-3 ATS in their first five meetings. I can’t say I fully buy this betting strategy, but I thought I’d share it with you anyway.
PICK #3 (2 STARS): NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS -3 VS MIAMI DOLPHINS
Here is a super simple, and yet pretty lucrative, betting system for Week 1 in the NFL: betting a team who had a losing record facing a team who had a winning record.
Right off the bat, I like this strategy since it is contrarian by nature, which is at the core of my sports betting philosophy.
We also have great numbers to back it up: since 1990, such teams have compiled an 89-57 record ATS, a 61% winning percentage. That’s incredibly convincing, and it backs the Patriots for this AFC East showdown.
The betting public often underestimates the importance of offensive line play. In this matchup, we have a huge mismatch. Many websites rank New England’s OL around the 5th-10th spot, while Miami’s unit is among the league’s worst (25th – 30th).
I was really surprised by how well the Dolphins defense played last year. I expect their quality of play to drop this season since I don’t think they are that talented.
The key thing to note, in my humble opinion, is that Miami’s defense ranked 6th against the pass (based on opposing QBs’ passer rating) versus 18th defending the run (in terms of yards-per-carry average). Guess what is New England’s strength? That’s right, running the ball. Let’s go with the Pats from a gambling standpoint.
PICK #4 (1 STAR): PHILADELPHIA EAGLES +3 AT ATLANTA FALCONS
Did you know that road underdogs in Week 1 that won 4, 5 or 6 games the previous year have posted an impressive 63-34 record ATS over many seasons? That equates to a jaw-dropping 64.9% winning rate. The Eagles qualify under this betting system since they held a 4-11-1 record in 2020.
Let me go back to the importance of offensive line play. Philly’s unit is about the 10th – 15th best in the NFL, while Atlanta is around the 20th – 25th spot. Considering Matt Ryan is a statue in the pocket, that does not bode well for him.
Also, the Falcons lost Julio Jones in free agency. I know that many people expect rookie Kyle Pitts to be formidable right off the bat, but I don’t. Rookie tight ends often struggle during their first year as a pro.
I also liked what I saw from Jalen Hurts last year. He is great running the ball and that will allow Philly to extend drives. The Falcons defense is not good by any means, so the Eagles could certainly win this game, or at least keep it close.
The Eagles went through an absurd amount of injuries last year, so they could be flying under the radar. I’m banking on them to do well in their season opener in Atlanta.
PICK #5 (1 STAR): DALLAS COWBOYS +8 AT TAMPA BAY BUCS
Many Week 1 betting strategies apply here. Under normal circumstances, I would grade this pick higher, but I’m just too scared to do it because the Bucs lineup does not have many weaknesses.
Still, I have to go with the Cowboys here. Just remember the betting angle about non-playoff versus playoff teams facing each other. And also the one about a road underdog that won 4, 5 or 6 games the year before. Dallas fits both of them.
Moreover, I believe people view Dallas’ defense worse than they actually are, while the public also overestimates Tampa’s defense because they remember very well what happened in the last Super Bowl.
The Bucs defense is great, but they are vulnerable against the pass, which happens to be Dallas’ strength with Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup and even Blake Jarwin. They have what it takes to keep the game close, so I’m betting Dallas with the 8 points.
For entertainment purposes, here are some leans:
- Over 51.5 Cowboys-Bucs (Not much debate about Tampa’s offense being able to score points against Dallas’ defense. On the other side, I expect the Cowboys to be able to march down the field on many occasions, too. Why? Because they have a great passing attack, while Tampa’s secondary can be vulnerable. Indeed, they finished 18th in terms of opposing QB passer rating last year.);
- Rams -7.5 vs Bears (as mentioned with the Raiders pick above, West Coast teams hold an edge when playing primetime games since peak athletic performance is obtained in late afternoon / early evening. Also, the Rams defense is outstanding and will feast on Andy Dalton, who will soon be relegated to the backup role in favor of rookie Justin Fields.);
I hope you liked this post, enjoy the 2021 NFL season my friend!!!
(Sports Betting Expert / University Professor / PhD in statistics)