Oddsmakers are already tipping their hands at what teams they anticipate to jump out of the gate in 2016 in the NFL.

Here’s the way too early look at the week 1 lines to hammer and to avoid.

Lines to exploit

Carolina (+3) at Denver

I get why oddsmakers and the betting public like Denver in this game. Historically, the defending Super Bowl champion does well on opening night. In the last 16 seasons, the defending Super Bowl champ is 13-3 straight up and 10-5-1 against the spread. The data points to the Broncos to cover this one.

Not so fast, though. Despite the loser in the Super Bowl being 3-13 ATS in that same span on opening night, I can’t forget how the Panthers’ season ended. Motivation is a strange force and there’s plenty of reason to believe Cam Newton will point to this game during his offseason workouts as one that will garner special attention. It’s a national broadcast and pretty much everybody interested in sports will watch this game.

Newton realizes that and will put on a show to erase the bad taste left over in his mouth from the Super Bowl. Factor in Carolina’s motivation with the Broncos taking a step back, and this is a spread I love in favor of the Panthers.

Jay Cutler had a better season than some expected. Flickr/http://bit.ly/1h1u2Q5
Jay Cutler had a better season than some expected. Flickr/http://bit.ly/1h1u2Q5

Chicago (+4.5) at Houston

This line will eventually move down I assume, but while it’s more than a field goal, it’s time to back the Bears. This line was made as an overreach based on Houston’s offseason acquisitions in Brock Osweiler and Lamar Miller. The Texans should be able to compete for a .500 record, but they shouldn’t be more than a field goal favorite in the opening week.

The Bears were not great last season, but they did well on the road, going 5-3 away from the confines of Soldier Field. Chicago also was 3-1 against the AFC last year, a far better mark than the 3-9 effort against the NFC. Chicago has the ability to surprise people every now and then and with the second year under John Fox’s helm, and continued stability at the quarterback position, the Bears are likely to offer more resistance this season than last.

Lines I like

Green Bay (-3.5) at Jacksonville

I’ve been on the Jacksonville-covering-spread-bandwagon for a couple of years, so I understand that the Jaguars are improving. But the Packers should be closer to a five-point favorite than a field-goal favorite.

Green Bay will have extra focus this season thanks to having a bit of a down year last season. Aaron Rodgers is still the best in the game for my money at the quarterback position and he has a way of making mediocre defenses look silly on a consistent basis. Jacksonville has some nice young pieces, but it won’t be enough to slow down the Packers’ offense.

Jameis Winston should be better this season. Flickr/http://bit.ly/1IAvBy4/Keith Allison
Jameis Winston should be better this season. Flickr/http://bit.ly/1IAvBy4/Keith Allison

Tampa Bay (+3.5) at Atlanta

The Falcons got off to a hot start last season and fizzled horribly down the stretch. They were exposed in the latter portion of the season, while the Buccaneers continued to get better. Tampa Bay’s offense should be much improved from last season, and the defense was respectable at times last season.

I just don’t see the infatuation with Atlanta. The offense doesn’t register much for me and that defense faded last season. They didn’t get better in the offseason, either. Maybe people are expecting a better Matt Ryan this year. I’m not, so I’m going with Tampa Bay.

Spreads to avoid

Oakland at New Orleans (-1.5)

Before Will Smith’s untimely death, I would have hammered the Raiders in this position. Oakland should be much improved with a dynamic offense and an improving defense. However, sports are a tricky thing to dissect when motivation swings heavily in the other team’s direction. Will the Saints come out inspired to play in memory of Smith in the opening week?

Or will New Orleans be the same product we’ve seen during the last two years, with a good offense and a horrendous defense?

I’m not sure, so that’s why I’m avoiding this game like the plague.

Pittsburgh (-2.5) at Washington

As the season progresses, I would likely pick the Steelers in this position. I love Pittsburgh’s offense and that young defense will only get better this season. They will be a favorite of mine if spreads continue to circulate in the three or less range.

However, on opening week, the team that will have the better season isn’t always the team that covers on opening week. Remember last year on Monday night and the Vikings were heavy favorites against San Francisco? I mistakenly picked Minnesota, which proceeded to lose. Then, oddsmakers must have kept that game in their minds for the remainder of the season, since Minnesota was heavily undervalued and the 49ers were overvalued, leading to the Vikings being the best pick against the spread last season on a week-to-week basis.

This could be a similar situation, with the Redskins opening on Monday night at home, with a quarterback who is the face of the franchise now. The Steelers have the better season to look to, but don’t dismiss Washington in week 1.


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