NFL Week 1 betting tips: Points galore in ‘Brady vs Brees’, Steelers and Raiders to make winning starts

September 10, 2020

THE early weeks of the 2020 NFL season are going to be amongst the hardest to predict in recent memory, given the fractious nature of the off-season. Team preparations have been hit significantly by Covid-19 with all preseason games scrapped, and limited interaction for much of the spring/summer.

Franchises with significant changes such new head coaches and co-ordinators, or rookie starters and multiple free agent signings, will be the ones affected most, whilst those who have maintained continuity – step forward reigning champs the Kansas City Chiefs who return most of their starters, and their senior coaching staff – will benefit more than usual.

Similarly, teams with strength in depth often fare well in the grind of a typical NFL season and even more so in 2020, with Covid-related absences expected from the expansive testing process that the league has put in place. There’s also the jeopardy factor here, as is always the way with injury or illness. Teams could get really unlucky in terms of the extent of an outbreak within the camp, perhaps taking out of action three or four linemen in one go or a starting QB, or both.

It’ll be interesting to see how absence of fans, for the immediate future anyway and realistically for much of the season, negates homefield advantage. It will obviously have some bearing, with road teams not having to deal with the noise of home fans disrupting play calling. The hosts will lose the edge provided by the energy from the crowd that they feed off, but will still the benefit from familiarity of the build-up to the game and the facilities, not to mention the lack of travel, which, coast to coast on a short week, is not to be underestimated.

Week One has some intriguing match-ups, and I’ve pulled out three to consider some action on.

New Orleans Saints vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Sunday September 13, 21:25 GMT

Tom Brady vs Drew Brees is tantalising at the best of times, but factor in TB12’s break from the only thing he’s ever known – enduring success with New England – landing in an explosive offense that re-unites him with his erstwhile go-to Rob Gronkowksi, and even more intriguingly the lethal tag team of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.

Bruce Arians’ offense will obviously benefit from Brady’s composure, so the 30 interceptions (INT) last season, when Jameis Winston was quarter-back (QB), will come right now, but the productivity – 30 Passing Touchdowns (TDs) – shouldn’t waiver too much. Add Leonard Fournette to the backfield and you have a team capable of piling on the points, even against the Saints who possess one of the most balanced rosters in the NFL.

Their D got stronger with the addition of Malcolm Jenkins, and their D-Line could cause Tampa Bay problems – the Bucs gave up 47 sacks last season, although if you’re glass half full kind of person, then you’ll point to the Top 3 offense it underpinned, plus the addition of Tristan Wirfs in the first round should stabilise things further.

Brees and the Saints could be coming to the end of the road, with many suggesting this will be his last year, and the Sean Payton-schemed offense will hum as well as it ever has. In Michael Thomas (1725 yards, 9 TDs last season) they have one of the best receivers in the game, and adding Emmanuel Sanders should only make him even more effective, by drawing attention.

Alvin Kamara comes back fitter than in 2019 (and he still had over 1200 yards combined with six TDs), Jared Cook is solid at Tight End (TE) and a Redzone threat (9 TDs last year) – the line will hold up, and when it doesn’t Brees’ smarts will. Plenty of points here, so take the over.

Match odds: Saints (11/20) Buccaneers (29/20)
Handicap: Saints -3.5 (10/11) Buccaneers +3.5 (10/11
Tip: Over 49 total points (19/20)


New York Giants vs Pittsburgh Steelers

Tuesday September 15, 00:15 GMT

The Steelers scratched out an 8-8 record despite Ben Roethlisberger missing most of the season, leaving less than adequate back-ups scrabbling around. Big Ben is back, which will boost a talented receiving corp that has added Tight End Eric Ebron to WR’s Juju Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, James Washington and rookie Chase Claypool. Injuries also effected the Steelers running game, but James Conner returns and rookie Anthony Mcfarland backs him up.

New York have handed the reins to Joe Judge, a rookie Head Coach, formerly of the Patriots, and are in a developmental year, not least with second year QB Daniel Jones still having much to prove. They’ve drafted Andrew Thomas to shore up line to give Jones a fighting chance, but he doesn’t have much around him talent wise, save for elite rusher Saquon Barkley, who underperformed last year by his standards but still snagged 1000+ yards and 4.6 yards a carry in an injury-hit season.

New offensive co-ordinator Jason Garrett will lean on Barkley much as he did Zeke Elliott in Dallas, but it’s going to take time to gel, particularly in this off season, so I like the Steelers to start strongly.

Match odds: Giants (39/20) Steelers (29/20)
Handicap: Giants +5.5 (10/11) Steelers -5.5 (10/11)
Tip: Steelers -6 (49/50)

Carolina Panthers vs Las Vegas Raiders

Sunday September 13, 17:00 GMT

The Raiders will struggle to make the playoffs because the AFC West is tough to get out of, given Kansas City have it virtually locked and Denver are fast improving. But they should dispatch a Carolina side that is firmly in transition with a new Head Coach in Matt Rhule, a new QB in Teddy Bridgewater, and an offense that, Christian McCaffery and DJ Moore aside, doesn’t exactly excite. All seven draft picks were used by the Panthers on Defense, that will soldier on without Luke Kuechly and other vets including Eric Reid and James Bradberry.

The Raiders, now in Vegas, added Henry Ruggs of Alabama in the draft – a speedster pick that would have pleased the late Al Davis, who loved selecting burners for his team – and he adds immediate spice to the offense. Derek Carr stays on the hotseat but has the upside to be a Top 12 QB in the league, Josh Jacobs and Darren Waller excelled last year, and Jon Gruden will need more of the same if they’re going to contend.

Match odds: Panthers (6/4) Raiders (11/20)
Handicap: Panthers +3.5 (22/25) Raiders -3.5 (23/25)
Tip: Raiders -3 (17/20)

Check out the Nat Coombs Show podcast on ESPN right here.