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NFL Best Bets: Week 1 (2021)

by September 10, 2021
Ben Roethlisberger

Week 1 of the NFL season is finally here. Betting at the start of the season always puts us in a unique spot. Given the lack of data, sportsbooks typically end up pricing this week farther from the eventual outcome than usual. However, the same situation leaves individual bettors with the same problem: limited information. Nonetheless, you can follow our process to find value and minimize risk by:

  • Shoring up your priors (where did each team rank last season by true performance indicators, such as SIS EPA/Play Rank)
  • Adjusting priors based on clear changes to the team (coaching changes, key personnel changes, etc.)
  • Incorporating regression analytics where necessary (which teams were lucky or performed well in “non-sticky” variables)

With that, here are the top picks our model likes for Week 1.

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Seattle Seahawks (-2.5) at Indianapolis Colts 

Seattle ATS: 58% of Cash / 73% of Tickets / 48.3% Breakeven (BE) Point

Beyond the fact that it’s under the key number (-3), much of this play stems from the quarterback matchup. Yes, PFF currently grades Wilson as .8 points “better” than Wentz, but Wentz will start in a new offense and is coming off an injury. Few thought he would even recover in time to play Week 1. Also, although Week 1 creates an information problem, we do have some numbers on how well teams start their seasons. The Seahawks have come out and put up 37.% (2nd best) and 9.7% DVOA (12th best) in the last couple of Week 1s, according to Football Outsiders. In contrast, the Colts have come out the gates cold, recording -27% (26th) and -14% (23rd) in opening day contests.

Overall, this selection rests upon several of Indy’s new players in key positions coming into the game, either hurt or out. Not only did Wentz rush back, but so did new left tackle Eric Fisher. Even in the best circumstances, the Colts seem too shaky to handle Russell Wilson and the Seahawks.

Pick: Seattle -2.5 (-115)

Arizona Cardinals at Tennessee Titans: Under 52.5

Under: 73% of cash / 37% of ticket / 52.4% BE Point

This selection has both macro and micro-level reasoning to support it. On the macro side, both teams team enter the year with their offenses trending down and their defenses trending up. For the Titans, plenty of evidence supports how much former offensive coordinator Arthur Smith propped up the offense, particularly with high play-action rates and a distinct understanding of Ryan Tannehill’s ability to make throws to certain areas of the field. For the Cardinals, we have two general reasons to not trust their offense: the hourglass is about to run out for head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s run and shoot offense. His high reliance on an up-tempo offense limited the pre-snap motion rates and matchup-based movement of certain wide receivers within the formation last year.  Secondly, as Sharp Football Analytics pointed out, Murray was insanely efficient as a runner last year. However, promises from Kingsbury and Murray suggest that the Cardinals will run less this season.

These factors, along with the total sitting below the key number (52), make us confident in targeting the under here.

Pick: Under 52.5 (-110)

Ben Roethlisberger Longest Pass Completion: Under 36.5 Yards

We absolutely love this play. And frankly, we have loved it for almost 18 straight weeks. It’s been well-documented that Big Ben’s elbow has limited his throwing velocity since the surgery. Besides that, limitations along the offensive line led to him release the football at an NFL-leading 2.33 seconds per throw. You obviously can’t throw the ball that far when you release it that fast. And for better or worse, this has been a clear tactic for the Steelers to protect Big Ben while covering up his age and elbow issues. With that, the team sent a clear message in taking Najee Harris in the first round. They essentially want to do more of the same with Big Ben with a better running game. On top of all this, the Steelers lost two key offensive linemen in Alejandro Villanueva and David DeCastro. Lastly, according to the Football Outsiders Almanac,for the second straight year, Buffalo opponents threw the lowest rate of deep passes against their secondary.” That’s a pretty telling stat that has remained static across multiple seasons.

We don’t usually come across props this strong, especially this early in the year, but I recommend that you jump all over this.

Pick: Ben Roethlisberger Longest Pass Completion Under 36.5 Yards (-110)

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Ryan Newman is a featured writer at BettingPros. For more from Ryan, check out his archive.

NFL, Picks