The NFL season kicked off in earnest Thursday night with the defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams falling to the Buffalo Bills 31-10. It was the first meaningful game action for fans -- and bettors -- but now the real fun begins. Sunday's Week 1 features a full slate of 14 games to potentially wager on. There are storylines galore this weekend, with Russell Wilson facing off against his former team on Monday Night Football, an NFL-record 10 home teams playing the role of underdog, a Buccaneers-Cowboys rematch and much, much more.
If you're looking to make some bets, you've come to the right place. Betting analysts Doug Kezirian, Tyler Fulghum, Joe Fortenbaugh, Anita Marks and Erin Dolan, fantasy and sports betting analysts Eric Moody and Andre Snellings, ESPN Stats & Information's Seth Walder, ESPN analyst Jason Fitz and Football Outsiders' Aaron Schatz provide insights into the games and offer their tips and picks.
Note: Lines from Caesars Sportsbook unless otherwise indicated.
What is your biggest betting storyline entering Week 1?
Schatz: My biggest storyline entering Week 1 is the way the NFL has gotten more condensed than in previous years. Football Outsiders numbers, at least, suggest a league in which the difference between the best and worst teams is smaller than usual. Part of the reason for this is all that big-name player movement from this past offseason, with the best teams losing talent primarily to lower-rated teams. (Von Miller going from the Rams to the Bills is an exception.) Since 2011, Week 1 has averaged 2.5 games with a line over seven points. This year, there is only one such line, Indianapolis (-8) at Houston ... and our preseason projections suggest taking the underdog in that game.
Kezirian: I agree with Aaron in that the NFL betting market is tighter than ever. So when we compare Tom Brady and Bill Belichick's legendary ATS (against the spread) run to that of Bill Walsh and Joe Montana from the 1980s, it is almost apples and oranges. It's just a different (betting) world now. However, Week 1 is nowhere close to a solidified market and can throw a lot of curveballs, much like we saw last year with a record nine underdogs winning outright. So I would say that giant unknown is this week's biggest storyline, especially with most of the sizable favorites on the road.
Moody: Russell Wilson's ability to succeed under center for the Denver Broncos against his former team in prime time with Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy in an offense built around his strengths is a storyline I'll be watching closely. During his Seattle Seahawks coaching career, Pete Carroll is 19-8-1 against the spread as a home underdog. It might come as a surprise, but Geno Smith is 6-3 against the spread as a starter and home underdog. Week 1's Monday Night Football game will be intriguing from a betting perspective because Wilson is considered an MVP candidate and the Broncos are in the Super Bowl conversation.
Marks: I agree with Eric. Wilson returning to Seattle to face his former team is the story of Week 1. I love Denver -6.5; #RunDontWalk before it jumps up to 7 or 7.5 before kickoff! Another top storyline for me is that I don't understand the love affair many analysts have for Trey Lance. Lance has very little football experience, along with facing subpar competition in college. I just don't believe he is ready to win games in the NFL. And the 49ers are a team that is built to win right now! San Francisco renegotiating Jimmy Garoppolo's contract, along with Lance not being voted a team captain, screams trouble in the Bay. The Bears (+7) and Lance INT (+120) are worth playing.
Snellings: I'm all over the plethora of superstars coming into Week 1 with something to prove and favorable matchups. Patrick Mahomes has spent the summer hearing about how he'll struggle without Tyreek Hill, while Kyler Murray had a follow/unfollow party with his team before signing a huge extension that has people publicly questioning him. I think both put on a show and that Kansas City Chiefs-Arizona Cardinals game goes over. There's no telling what Ravens QB Lamar Jackson, fresh off missing the playoffs and lacking a contract extension, might do against the Jets. The Titans' Derrick Henry might rush for 200 yards in his healthy return against the Giants. Aaron Rodgers will be anxious to show that he can still lead the Packers to victory without Davante Adams, which makes me like Green Bay even against a tough Vikings squad. Almost across the board, I'll be finding the elite players and backing them and their teams in Week 1.
The season is here! Sign up for ESPN Fantasy Football today. Play for free
There are an NFL-record 10 home underdogs. Which one do you like the most? How many do you think will win?
Fulghum: I don't like hardly any of them to win outright. If I had to pick the most likely home 'dog to win it would be the Detroit Lions (+4 vs. Eagles) or Minnesota Vikings (+1.5 vs. Packers). Ultimately, I think two to three of the nine playing on Sunday/Monday win outright. However, I think a few of these home 'dogs provide some value ATS -- specifically home underdogs in Week 1 division matchups. It may be scary to bet on the Colts and Falcons against superior competition, but since 2014, underdogs in Week 1 divisional matchups are 28-9-2 ATS (76%). Just something to consider.
Fortenbaugh: A bit of a cop-out here because it's the cheapest home underdog on the board, but I'd back Minnesota to win outright. Green Bay is losing approximately 30% of its receiving production from last season with Adams joining the Raiders, and I think it may take a few games for this offense to find its groove. Minnesota plays much better -- specifically on the defensive side of the ball -- at home than on the road. The splits are dramatic.
Dolan: I would have to pick the Cardinals +6, given how much this line has moved. The Chiefs were -3 and then got as high as -6.5 over the last couple of days. The Cardinals typically play better to start off the season, as we've seen the past two seasons. The Cardinals are 3-0 ATS in Week 1 since 2019, 6-0 ATS as an underdog and 4-1 ATS against nonconference teams since 2021. Kansas City is still lethal with Mahomes and Andy Reid, but I would rather take the 6 points in this spot given how much the line has moved.
Last year's opener was Buccaneers-Cowboys and was a classic. We have the rematch a year later in the Sunday prime time. The Bucs are a 2.5-point favorite on the road (total 50.5). What do you like?
Fulghum: I like the under in the 2022 version of this matchup. Both teams have taken massive hits to their offensive rosters. The Cowboys have lost the following players from last year's No. 1-ranked offense either through trade, free agency, injury or retirement: WR Amari Cooper, WR Cedrick Wilson, LT Tyron Smith, RT La'el Collins. For the Bucs: G Ali Marpet, G Alex Cappa, C Ryan Jensen, G Aaron Stinnie, WR Antonio Brown, TE Rob Gronkowski and potentially WR Chris Godwin coming off ACL surgery. I'm sorry, this is just way too much. Plus both teams at the moment can tout a clear strength on the defensive side of the ball.
Fortenbaugh: Under 50.5. Bad offensive lines do not travel well in the National Football League. This matchup features not one, but two suspect offensive lines. That means it will be a grind trying to not only establish the run, but holding up in pass protection on a consistent basis as well.
Kezirian: The under is my favorite play of Week 1. Both offensive lines have experienced significant injuries. Tampa Bay will not be able to buy Brady time to throw deep, and thus he will need to matriculate the offense down the field. And Dallas was dealt a significant blow with Smith's injuries. The eight-time Pro Bowler has missed 20 games over the past two seasons, and his absence has a direct impact. Without him, the Dallas offense averaged .7 yards less per rush and .7 yards less per pass attempt. The sack rate also increases from 4.2% to 6.2%.
Moody: Like many of my colleagues, I like the under. The Buccaneers' last eight games against NFC teams have hit the under. Five of the Cowboys' last six games against the Buccaneers have gone under the total. Tampa Bay should cover the 2.5-point spread. The Buccaneers' offense is loaded with talent, while the Cowboys lack playmakers outside of CeeDee Lamb, Dalton Schultz, Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott. The offensive line further complicates Dallas' situation. By pressuring Dak Prescott early and often, the Buccaneers' defensive line could disrupt the Cowboys' passing game.
Marks: I still cannot believe the Cowboys aren't favored at home -- in prime time -- against a Bucs team that is a shell of themselves. The Bucs offensive line is a mess with Ryan Jenson and Aaron Stinnie injured, Ali Marpet gone, and Tristan Wirfs is dealing with an oblique injury. Brady is horrible under pressure (44.8% completion percentage last season when pressured). There are injuries to the Bucs' WRs, Gronk is not coming to the rescue, and Brady took an 11-day break from training camp to deal with personal issues. Micah Parsons begins his DPOY tour on Sunday night. Give me the Cowboys on the ML (+120) and Parsons with a sack.
Aaron Rodgers and the Packers (-1.5, 47) are in Minnesota for their first game without Davante Adams. Adams and the Raiders (+3, 52) face the Los Angeles Chargers. How do you see both games?
Schatz: I think Packers-Vikings is a surprisingly even matchup, so I'll take the Vikings to stun fans with an early win and cover. Our projections have the two teams neck-and-neck for the season, predicting a rebound for the Vikings on both offense (Kirk Cousins is very consistent in his good-not-greatness) and defense (where they should have much more pass rush than last season). I'm less excited about the Packers' defense than conventional wisdom, because the Packers haven't had a good defense for years, and it will take a really good year from those rookies to turn it around.
I think Chargers-Raiders is going to be a great matchup, and the Chargers are really going to miss J.C. Jackson in the secondary. Despite that absence, I'm going to be contrarian and suggest that my bet on this game would be to go under 52. The Chargers play at a slower pace than you probably expect, and last year the first matchup between these teams was not as high-scoring as you think it was. (It went under the number, which was coincidentally also 52.)
Marks: I have the Vikings winning the NFC North. New head coach Kevin O'Connell has a plethora of talent at his disposal, and I can't wait to see it unleashed. Cousins is one of the most underrated QBs in the league, and this could possibly be his finest season. On the defensive side of the ball, Za'Darius Smith has beef with the Packers organization and plans to take it out on Rodgers alongside a healthy Danielle Hunter. Rodgers will be without Adams, possibly Alan Lazard, and he might have to rely on a corps of rookie wide receivers. Give me the Vikings at home with the points (+1.5) and Aaron Jones over receiving props.
Moody: The NFC North power hierarchy could change in 2022, and the Vikings might fill the void. O'Connell, formerly of the Rams, will bring a pass-heavy offense to Minnesota, which should test the Packers defense in Week 1. The Vikings have a 32-17 record at home since 2016, the second-best home record in the division over that span behind the Packers and the seventh-best in the league. In the past, the Vikings have done well against the spread when they are underdogs at home. In Week 1, I'm backing them.
The AFC West is loaded this season, and we get to see two of the teams face off against each other in the first week of the season. Los Angeles' defense was upgraded in a big way this offseason, but the Raiders, who ranked sixth in passing yards per game last season even without Davante Adams, could pose a challenge. It will be difficult for the Chargers to defend Adams, Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller. Since this is looking like a high-scoring game, I'm leaning toward the over.
Snellings: Though I like the Vikings this season, I'll go with the Packers to win a low-scoring game in the opener. While all the attention is on Adams' departure and the lack of brand-name receivers in Green Bay this year, the Packers quietly have one of the strongest 1-2 punches at running back in the NFL in Jones and AJ Dillon. And while the Vikings' pass rush should be better, their run defense was vulnerable last season. They allowed the eighth-most rushing yards in the NFL last season and finished in the bottom third in fantasy points allowed to opposing running backs as a composite measure of how opposing running games did against them. I expect Rodgers and the Packers to lean on that run game and their defense and grind out a win.
The Chargers come into this season feeling like a team of destiny. I am high on the Raiders on the season, but I feel like the Chargers should be better on both sides of the ball. The Raiders' offense is strong enough to put points on the board to challenge, but that should push the entire game over with the Chargers covering.
What are the three most important things that our analytics say (FPI)?
Packers (-1.5) at Vikings. FPI is all in on the Packers -- it makes them Super Bowl favorites -- and this is the first real test to see how Green Bay fares without Adams. It's worth noting, though, that Green Bay isn't just supposed to be a strong offensive team; their defense ranks third in FPI rating too. Plus, last season the Packers were awfully successful in the regular season despite playing most of it without three of its best six players: Jaire Alexander, David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins. While health remains a question, it's possible they'll have all three back Sunday. -- Walder
FPI prediction: Packers by 4.6
Cardinals (+6) vs. Chiefs. Just like the Packers, the Chiefs are a superstar quarterback-led team with an excellent offense that just lost its start wide receiver. Unlike the Packers, the Chiefs are weak on defense. The team lacks an outside pass rush, and FPI estimates they are currently the seventh-worst defense in the NFL. FPI sees Arizona as roughly average; though the way last season ended left a poor final impression, they still have an above average quarterback. That's enough, in FPI's mind, to keep this inside a field goal for Arizona at home. -- Walder
FPI prediction: Chiefs by 1.3
Bears (+7) vs. 49ers. This is literally all about Trey Lance, because FPI has absolutely no love for the Bears; it thinks Chicago is the worst team in the league! What it's not buying is the assumption that the 49ers will just be good with a virtual unknown at quarterback. And an unknown at QB translates not only to a wide range of outcomes, but also a fairly weak median outcome. Even with strengths at other parts of San Francisco's roster, FPI doesn't think a 7-point spread on the road is warranted. -- Walder
FPI prediction: 49ers by 4.8
What is your best bet for Week 1?
Schatz: Houston +8 vs. Indianapolis. Houston is notably mediocre this season. I mean that in the best light, as mediocrity doesn't go 4-13. It goes 7-10. The Texans have loaded their roster with quality rookies and reasonable, but unexciting veterans. Football Outsiders projections aren't excited about Frank Reich resuscitating Matt Ryan's career, so we've got the entire AFC South projected as below average. That puts these teams a lot closer together than conventional wisdom believes. I like the Colts to win, but the Texans have a strong chance to cover.
Fulghum: 49ers -7 at Bears. I will frequently be picking on the Bears this season. In this particular matchup, Justin Fields and the offense should struggle greatly to move the ball efficiently against an elite 49ers defense that made it to the NFC Championship a season ago. Kyle Shanahan should have no problem scheming against a Bears defense that has been declining for a couple of years and no longer has Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks. This is a massive mismatch in the trenches on both sides of the ball, and that should mitigate any QB concerns you may have about Lance. The 49ers should dominate this game.
Dolan: Tom Brady to throw an interception (-133) . The Bucs interior offensive line has some question marks and Brady is coming off back-to-back seasons with 12 interceptions. Last year, he threw two interceptions against Dallas in Week 1. He's still the GOAT, but tends to throw interceptions under pressure. Looking at Brady's former team, I also like Mac Jones to throw an interception (-115). Jones no longer has offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. He threw 13 interceptions in the regular season including one in Week 18 in Miami. The Dolphins will try to make Jones pass the ball and Miami averaged a pick per game at home last season
Walder: Kyle Pitts under 58.5 receiving yards (-101). Our ESPN Analytics projection puts Pitts' number at 49.6, fully acknowledging that he's clearly the top receiving option on the team and assuming he'll maintain the 20% target share he recorded last year. The problem? As far as the model sees it, there just aren't going to be a ton of yards to go around with Marcus Mariota at the helm, and that dampens Pitts' projection. In addition, relative to his peers, Pitts runs lots of crossing routes -- which are less effective against two-man coverage, which the Saints ran more than any other team by a mile last season. Two-man won't be as easy to deploy against Mariota, who is more mobile than Ryan, but it's still a light knock against Pitts in this game.
Moody: Brandon Aiyuk over 47.5 receiving yards (-119). It was glorious when Aiyuk fully grasped Shanahan's offensive scheme during the second half of last season. In five of the last 10 games, Aiyuk finished with 85 or more yards. He had 16 receptions of 20 yards or more and averaged 6.7 yards after the catch. Aiyuk's 9.8 aDOT (average depth of target) was the highest among 49ers receivers. This makes him a good fit with Lance, whose arm strength is very capable of attacking defenses deep. Furthermore, Aiyuk was hailed as having the best rapport with Lance during training camp. The receiver is well positioned to exceed this prop.
Marks: Ravens -1 and Colts -1 in teaser. A healthy Ravens squad to start the season is dangerous, on both sides of the ball, and the Jets with Joe Flacco makes this a recipe for disaster. John Harbaugh knows Flacco well, so expect a long day for Joe behind a subpar offensive line. Lamar Jackson and his flock should be able to score at will. Matty Ice is a huge improvement at the QB position for a Colts offense that runs through Jonathan Taylor (he will set up play action perfectly for Ryan). The Colts defense is one of the most underrated units coming into the season. They have the potential to rank in the top five. Houston did very little to provide Davis Mills with more weapons.
Snellings: Ravens -7 at Jets. This seems like stealing money, even with the Ravens on the road. Lamar and the Ravens come into this season with a ton to prove and massive chips on their shoulders. They're coming off what easily appeared to be a playoff season before injuries broke them down, and they had to watch one of their division mates leapfrog them all the way to the Super Bowl. Jackson is going to try to put on a show all season in a contract year. The Ravens are healthy and ready to show that they deserve the top spot in the North. And they're facing a Jets team missing their top quarterback and their best offensive linemen, helmed by an old and stationary Flacco. This just feels like a blowout waiting to happen.
What is your favorite player prop?
Fulghum: David Montgomery under 52.5 rushing yards (-142). As mentioned above, the 49ers defense should dominate the woeful Bears OL at the point of attack. That alone is going to significantly hinder Montgomery's efficiency. Then there is the question of volume. As a 7-point underdog, Montgomery could quickly be looking at a negative game script that requires the Bears to play catch-up for most of the game. And if you believe that Khalil Herbert is a talented compliment, he too could steal snaps from Montgomery, who owned one of the best roles for volume in the league last year.
Fortenbaugh: Trey Lance over 38.5 rushing yards. Nobody schemes a better rushing attack than 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan. Given San Francisco is facing one of the worst defensive lines in the NFL, expect a heavy dose of the ground and pound from the 49ers on Sunday. Not only would I anticipate a few designed runs called for Lance, but as a young quarterback on the road in Week 1, don't be surprised if he decides to tuck and run should the opportunity present itself.
Walder: Donovan Peoples-Jones over 2.5 receptions (+136). My favorite bet is a prop (above), but why not throw another in here? Peoples-Jones averaged 2.4 receptions per game last year, when Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. were soaking up targets at least some of the time. Now, he's the No. 2 wideout after Amari Cooper, only fighting off players like David Njoku and rookie David Bell. My projections put Peoples-Jones at 3.35 receptions in Week 1, an easy over given the plus money.
Moody: Derrick Henry over 10.5 receiving yards (-101). Henry was on track to have a career season as a receiver out of the backfield before his foot injury last season. He averaged 19.2 receiving yards per game. In Week 1 against the Giants, I'd be surprised if Henry wasn't more involved in the passing game for a Titans team with 351 available targets.
Marks: Saquon Barkley over 29.5 receiving yards (-110). I'm excited to see Brian Daboll's new offense he has brought to New York to help resuscitate Daniel Jones. It will begin and end with Barkley, especially in the passing game. I expect Saquon to have over 70 receptions this season, and it begins on Sunday against the Titans. Hopefully you drafted him on your fantasy football team!