Week 1 Best Bet: Bengals-Ravens UNDER 43 (Sept. 7). If you had played Baltimore’s last 37 AFC North games “under” 43.5, you would be 32-5. Baltimore was horrendous on offense last year, averaging an NFL-worst 4.5 yards per play. But during the draft, they stuck to their defense-first focus, using their first three draft picks on defensive players.
NFL Win-Total Best Bet: Bengals UNDER 9 (-110). Cincinnati has lost both of its coordinators, including Mike Zimmer on the defensive side. The Bengals simply aren’t the type of well-run organization than can remain on top after such key departures, and because they finished first last year, they have to face Denver and New England, the two best teams in the AFC.
Long Shot for the Future: Take the Packers at 11-to-1 odds to win the Super Bowl. Green Bay’s records the last three seasons when QB Aaron Rodgers was actually under center: 15-1 (won Super Bowl), 11-5 and 7-2.
Week 1 Best Bet: Central Florida -1 vs. Penn State, in Dublin (Aug. 30). The sanctions from the Jerry Sandusky scandal will finally catch up with Penn State this year. Add in a new coaching philosophy, and the Nittany Lions are in for a rough season—right out of the blocks.
NFL Win-Total Best Bet: Chiefs UNDER 8 (-140). Kansas City has offensive line problems, a shaky defensive backfield and a very tough schedule. The Chiefs have gone from my favorite “over” win-total prop in 2013 to one of my bigger “under” plays in 2014.
Long Shot for the Future: I agree with Fezzik on the Packers to win the Super Bowl. For my money, Green Bay has the best QB in football with a better offensive supporting cast than last season. A couple of additions on the defensive side make the Packers the team to beat in my book.
Week 1 Best Bet: Washington -15½ at Hawaii (Aug. 30). The Huskies have a huge edge in the trenches on both sides of the line of scrimmage, and they’re not likely to let down after halftime in coach Chris Petersen’s debut.
NFL Win-Total Best Bet: Bills OVER 6.5 (-180). Buffalo has a very manageable schedule, a loaded defense and a bevy of skill-position talent. If QB EJ Manuel is decent, the Bills could be a surprise playoff contender by the time December rolls around.
Long Shot for the Future: Go with Ohio State at 50-to-1 to win college football’s national championship. The season-ending injury to starting QB Braxton Miller has given us an overlay to support the Buckeyes to win it all. Freshman J.T. Barrett ran the Buckeyes’ first-string offense in the spring, and we’ve seen a redshirt frosh QB guide his team to the national title game in each of the last two years.
Week 1 Best Bet: Louisville -3½ vs. Miami (Sept. 1). Oddsmakers are trying to say these programs are close to even if this game was on a neutral field, but that’s not the case. Louisville’s 36-9 rout of the Hurricanes in their December bowl matchup was every bit the blowout the score indicates. QB Will Gardner has looked impressive in practice under new coach Bobby Petrino’s tutelage, while the Miami QB rotation was still unsettled a week before kickoff because of suspensions.
NFL Win-Total Best Bet: Bengals OVER 9. New offensive coordinator Hue Jackson’s playbook is ideal to get the most out of QB Andy Dalton’s skill set; and Cincinnati’s big, physical receiving corps, plus two tight ends who can get down the field, make this offense one of the most likely to take advantage of the new rules limiting contact by the defense. The declining state of the rest of the AFC North makes for an easier path.
Long Shot for the Future: I’m with Teddy on Ohio State at 50-to-1. Since Braxton Miller wasn’t around for spring practice, or the first two fall scrimmages, Barrett already has a good grasp of the offense. A very favorable schedule should allow the wins to mount as Barrett develops.
Week 1 Best Bet: Tennessee -6½ vs. Utah State (Aug. 31). New head coach Butch Jones is changing the landscape in Knoxville, where the Vols have struggled in recent years. Senior running back Marlin Lane, and WRs Marquez North and Pig Howard will help Tennessee’s offense roll over Chuckie Keeton and the Aggies.
NFL Win-Total Best Bet: Vikings OVER 6 (-125). Minnesota may be good enough to split its six NFC North contests (Packers, Lions and Bears), and home games vs. the Falcons, Redskins, Panthers and Jets are all very winnable.
Long Shot for the Future: Like Teddy and Dave, I’m also taking a shot with a Big Ten team to win the national title, but it’s Michigan State. At 30-to-1, this is great value on the best team in the Big Ten, especially with Ohio State losing Miller. Spartans QB Connor Cook grew up in last year’s Rose Bowl victory over Stanford, and RB Jeremy Langford will provide great support in the backfield. Meanwhile, Mark Dantonio’s stingy defense remains intact.
Week 1 Best Bet: UTEP +7.5 at New Mexico (Aug. 30). Two low-level border rivals renew hostilities after last year’s overtime thriller, which New Mexico won, 42-35. While I do see the Lobos as the better squad here, it’s not by a big margin. Rivalry revenge in opening games is always enticing, and this game is no exception.
NFL Win-Total Best Bet: 49ers UNDER 10.5 (-125). No question, the 49ers are still a playoff-caliber team on paper. But residence in the ultra-tough NFC West virtually guarantees at least two or three losses, and I’m just not sold on San Francisco’s offense right now. I’ve got the 49ers finishing at 9-7, so a confident call on the “under” here.
Long Shot for the Future: Roll the dice with UCLA at 14-to-1 to win the national title. The Bruins are unquestionably championship timber on offense. The defense also has loads of talent and by season’s end could be something special. If college football’s first-ever playoff were in September, I’d say no thanks. But by January, this could be the best team in the land.
Week 1 Best Bet: Packers +5½ at Seahawks (Sept. 4). The NFL season kicks off with this matchup, as does the NFL bettor’s tradition of focusing on the recent past—Seattle is the champ! Green Bay barely made the playoffs last year!—instead of the here and now. With Rodgers completely recovered from the broken collarbone that cost him seven games last season, the Packers might be as good as anybody.
NFL Win-Total Best Bet: Browns UNDER 6.5 (+110). The public has bet up Cleveland because of the Johnny Manziel hype. However, the pros I’ve spoken with believe Brian Hoyer is better for the team this season. But we all know it won’t be long before Johnny Football is running the show.
Long Shot for the Future: I like the Eagles at 30-to-1 to win the Super Bowl. Whenever an NFL coach installs a new system, the team tends to struggle the first half of the first season as they transition. But Chip Kelly’s up-tempo system is a genuine game changer, and Philly played elite football in the second half of 2013 once the players got comfortable. The weakness of the NFC East paves the way to the playoffs, and from there, anything can happen.