Look at you, with your parlay card and your mini pencil, your cold beer and your hot dog, your big screen and your two-sizes-too-small jersey. Damn right, you’re ready for football. The only thing left to do? Grab that bankroll that’s been gathering dust for the past seven months … and double it! Here are my seven best bets in the season’s opening week:
Florida Atlantic +32½ at Miami(Aug. 30)
After closing out 2012 by winning three of four, Miami enters 2013 as a dark horse to make an ACC title run. However, with a much bigger—and more important—test against Florida on deck next week, I don’t see the Hurricanes’ motivation to run up the score here. Sure, Miami cashed in eight of its final nine last year (including the last five in a row), but the ‘Canes were only favored in three of those contests. Meanwhile, last year, FAU went 5-0 against the spread as a double-digit underdog and 6-0 ATS in its final six road games.
Washington -3½ vs. Boise State (Aug. 31)
This is a rematch of last year’s Las Vegas Bowl, a back-and-forth battle that Boise State won 28-26, the decisive field goal coming with 76 seconds to play. However, the Huskies covered as a 4-point underdog and rolled up 447 yards (205 rushing) against a stout defense that surrendered just 15 points and 305 yards per game. Now, rather than a neutral venue, the Broncos have to travel to Seattle, where the Huskies—who return 18 starters—went 5-1 straight-up and ATS last year.
Northwestern -5½ at Cal (Aug. 31)
Counting a 34-20 bowl victory over Mississippi State, Northwestern was an impressive 4-2 SU and 5-1 ATS away from home last year (including an overtime loss at Michigan State). Now the 22nd-ranked Wildcats head to Berkeley to face a Cal squad that features a new coach and a new quarterback. In fact, the Bears (1-6 ATS at home in 2012) return just 10 starters.
Ravens-Broncos Over 48 (Sept. 5)
When these teams met in the playoffs back in January, they combined to score 73 points … in 13-degree weather! The Mile High conditions figure to be just a little bit better for Peyton Manning, Joe Flacco and their high-powered offenses. Conversely, the two defenses—minus such studs as Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Von Miller and possibly Champ Bailey—figure to be worse. Much worse.
Chiefs -3½ at Jaguars (Sept. 9)
No, you’re not hallucinating. I really am laying more than a field goal on the road with a team coming off a 2-14 season. Here’s why: The Chiefs, who had six Pro Bowlers last year, get back some key injured players, and they significantly upgraded at quarterback (Matt Cassel out, Alex Smith in) and on the sideline (Romeo Crennel out, Andy Reid in). Finally, unlike Kansas City, the Jaguars were every bit as awful last year as their 2-14 record indicates—and unlike the Chiefs, they did little to upgrade in the offseason.
Falcons-Saints Over 54 (Sept. 9)
Since Matt Ryan landed in Atlanta, the Falcons have played five games in the Superdome against the rival Saints. Those five games have ended thusly: 31-27, 45-16, 27-24, 35-27, 29-25. All five went over the total.
Panthers +3 vs. Seahawks (Sept. 9)
The Seahawks won 16-12 in Carolina last season. The Seahawks are also 11-2 SU and ATS in their last 13 regular-season, playoff and preseason games. And those 10 victories were by an average of 21 points. So why back Carolina? Because 95 percent of the betting public won’t. Call this my Contrarian Play of the Week.