I wasn’t even finished analyzing how the NFL schedule-makers screwed over my Chargers—seven road games by Thanksgiving weekend (including six that start at 10 a.m. body-clock time), plus a Manning brothers home-road doubleheader just four days apart?—and Jay Kornegay was already taking Week 1 wagers over at the LVH. It’s become something of a tradition for Kornegay to be the first to post Week 1 odds, and this year the veteran sportsbook director did so less than 24 hours after the NFL released its 2013 schedule.
In the past, I’ve praised Kornegay for his aggressiveness in taking action before the NFL conducts its overhyped draft—kind of risky since it’s unknown where the impact rookies will land. Except this year’s draft has very few impact players—so few that the Buccaneers happily traded their first-round pick for a cornerback (Darrelle Revis) with one healthy knee, while the Seahawks dealt their first-round selection for a receiver (Percy Harvin) with a history of attitude and injury issues. (Usually, I’m a sucker for the draft, but the only way I’m tuning in this year is if someone assures me that Manti Te’o will walk to the podium with a blowup doll and introduce it to Roger Goodell as his girlfriend.)
So which of the Week 1 numbers offer actual value some 4½ months before the season kicks off? Glad you asked. Here are my seven best bets for opening weekend (in reverse order):
49ers -5½ vs. Packers: Green Bay started and ended last season against San Francisco. Cumulative results: 49ers 75, Packers 53. Including the playoffs, San Francisco is 15-3-1 at home under coach Jim Harbaugh, while Green Bay went 4-5 on the highway last season (capped by an ugly 45-31 playoff loss at Candlestick in January).
Chargers +3½ vs. Texans: You’re giving me 3½ points and no Norv Turner? Sold! (Little-known fact: The Chargers have won six of their last nine openers, including three of the last four.)
Panthers +3½ vs. Seahawks: Sure, the Seahawks are trending upward. Yes, they won 16-12 in Carolina last year. But does Seattle, which went 3-5 away from home in 2012, really deserve to be the second-biggest Week 1 road favorite—against an opponent that closed last season with a four-game winning streak?
Colts -7 vs. Raiders: I hesitated on this one a bit, since only one of Indy’s seven home wins in 2012—a season-ending 28-16 victory over Houston—was by more than a touchdown. Then I remembered the Raiders went 1-7 away from Oakland last year, including losses by 11, 24, 35, 31 and 22 points. I also remembered the Colts have Andrew Luck, while the two QBs on the Raiders’ depth chart (Matt Flynn and Terrelle Pryor) have started two NFL games … combined.
Bengals +3½ at Bears: Last season, Cincinnati reached the playoffs for the second straight year, which hadn’t happened since quarterback Andy Dalton was in diapers. Here’s why: With Dalton at the trigger, the Bengals are 11-5 on the road (and 11-3-2 against the spread). Meanwhile, the biggest news out of the Windy City this winter was the Bears let a Hall of Fame linebacker (Brian Urlacher) walk and went to the Canadian Football League to find a new head coach (Marc Trestman).
Giants +2½ at Cowboys: Dallas’ records the last three seasons in Jerry Jones’ palace: 2-6, 5-3, 4-4. Dallas’ ATS record the last two seasons in Jerry Jones’ palace: 3-13. Dallas’ record against the Giants in Jerry Jones’ palace: 0-4. Number of points the Giants have scored in their four victories in Jerry Jones’ palace: 140.
Chiefs -2½ at Jaguars: Rarely does a team open a season as a road favorite one year after winning a grand total of two games. Then again, rarely does a team win two games and send six players to the Pro Bowl, a feat the Chiefs accomplished in 2012. (Let’s pause for a moment of silence to remember the Romeo Crennel-Matt Cassel era.) True, the Andy Reid-Alex Smith marriage isn’t exactly the second coming of Belichick-Brady … until it’s compared with the Gus Bradley-Blaine Gabbert union in Jacksonville. Anyway, the Chiefs actually have some talent. The Jaguars … not so much.
Since I expect this line to close north of Kansas City minus-3, this is the best bargain on the Week 1 board. So put me down for $330 on the Chiefs. After all, it’s not like Reid has let me down before or anything …