Football is back! The 2019 NFL season got underway Thursday night, and while it was an underwhelming game, football is still back! The Thursday kick off normally features the defending Super Bowl champion, but for this year’s anniversary, the NFL had the oldest rivals in the league square off.
Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers traveled to the Windy City to face Mitchell Trubisky and the Chicago Bears. After a sloppy first quarter, Rodgers picked it up in the second quarter to give the Packers a 7-3 lead. It turns out that’s all they really needed. Green Bay added a field goal en route to a 10-3 win, claiming the outright upset as a 3.5-point underdog.
The NFL always wants to get out on the right foot, and so we usually get fun primetime matchups out of the gate. Packers-Bears is an obvious one, but it continues with Sunday Night Football and into Monday Night Football — well, at least the first half of the now traditional MNF doubleheader.
The primetime openers will provide plenty to keep people interested. They’ll be loaded with fantasy football options, and they will be some of the most heavily wagered regular season games of the season. All odds via DraftKings Sportsbook.
SNF: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New England Patriots
Ben Roethlisberger vs. Tom Brady is hard to pass up, particularly with both in or approaching the twilight of their respective careers. The Patriots remain perpetual AFC East favorites, listed at -590 ahead of the New York Jets at +650. New England also has the best Super Bowl odds, listed at +700 — just ahead of the Kansas City Chiefs at +800. They don’t hold the value of some other teams, but if you’re going to bet on one team to win the Super Bowl, they’re generally the best call.
On the other hand, the Steelers find themselves in an odd situation. For the first time in a long time, they do not enter the season with better odds to win the division than the Cleveland Browns. The upstart Browns are the public favorite, and are being bet heavily every which way. The Browns and Steelers are both listed at +150 to win the AFC North. On the other hand, the Browns have +1400 Super Bowl odds, while the Steelers are at +1800. It’s a whole new world, folks!
Point spread: The Patriots are 5.5-point favorites at home. The line opened at Patriots -6, so there has not been much movement. Considering Josh Gordon has been reinstated, the Patriots receiver depth is looking considerably better. Their offense will need to figure out life after Rob Gronkowski, but Tom Brady has some solid options. At this early juncture, I’d lean Patriots to cover at home, but we’ll see what the final injury report brings.
Fantasy player to watch: For the Patriots, Josh Gordon is the big name for the Patriots. It remains to be seen what his workload will look like, but at 100 percent, he’s shown himself to be among the best pass catchers in the league. He’s had a hit and miss career due to suspensions, but all eyes will be on him on Sunday. For the Steelers, the departure of Antonio moves JuJu Smith-Schuster into the top role. The question now is which of Donte Moncrief or James Washington emerges as the No. 2 receiver.
MNF opener: Houston Texans vs. New Orleans Saints
How can you not be excited about DeShaun Watson vs. Drew Brees? We get the electrifying youngster coming to town to face the long-time veteran star.
The Saints once again enter the season as division favorites, but all three teams below them in the NFC South have reasons for optimism. That being said, the Saints remain one of the Super Bowl favorites at +900 — tied with the Los Angeles Rams for third overall.
Meanwhile, the Texans are favored in the AFC South, thanks in large part to Andrew Luck’s shocking retirement. The Texans are +125 favorites, just ahead of the +250 Jacksonville Jaguars. The Texans currently hold +2200 Super Bowl odds.
Point spread: The Saints are a touchdown favorite. They opened at 7.5, so there has been only modest change. One of my favorite stats heading into Week 1 this year is that the Saints are 2-13 against the spread in their last 15 Week 1 and 2 games. It’s hard to assess things year-over-year, but one has to wonder about their slow starts and what that might mean for Houston on Monday. I’m leaning the Texans in part because of that stat, but also in part because I have a feeling we might see the Saints take last year’s second half issues and fall further.
Fantasy players to watch: For the Texans, it comes down to their two most recent additions: Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson. Lamar Miller is out for the season with a torn ACL, which came shortly after the team acquired Johnson from the Browns. The Texans added Hyde after the injury, which sets up a potential complement — with Hyde handling first and second down work, and Johnson handling passing down work. For the Saints, I’m curious to see how Latavius Murray is worked into the mix. Alvin Kamara will be getting the bulk of the work and remains a must-start, but will Murray develop into a viable option?
MNF closer: Denver Broncos vs. Oakland Raiders
While it’s fun having two games on the opening Monday, the late start of the second matchup regularly results in a less than stellar matchup. The Raiders and Broncos are fun rivals, so it could still be a quality matchup, but the NFL almost never puts a high profile matchup as the late game.
And it applies in Week 1. The Broncos and Raiders are both longshots to win the AFC West. While the Kansas City Chiefs (-167) and the Los Angeles Chargers (+180) lead the way, the Broncos sit at +1300 and the Raiders are +1700. It’s no surprise then that the Broncos are a Super Bowl long shot at +6600, and the Raiders are an even bigger long shot at +8000.
Point spread: It’s fitting that this game is a pick ‘em. The Raiders opened as three-point favorites, but the betting public has low expectations for them. You can find the Broncos as a slim favorite at some sportsbooks, but at the DK Sportsbook, it’s a pick ‘em. I don’t think the Raiders are winning the AFC West, but they’re going to be a little more dangerous than people expect. I think they get the season-opening victory.
Fantasy players to watch: For the Broncos, I’m fascinated to see how much work Royce Freeman can win from Phillip Lindsay. Freeman was expected to claim the starting job, but that didn’t work out, and Lindsay came out of nowhere. We’ll see if any of that changes for fantasy owners. For the Raiders, it’s all eyes on rookie Josh Jacobs. Oakland spent one of their first round picks on him, and expectations are high. Given Derek Carr’s struggles, the Raiders will be looking for Jacobs to come out strong and make life a little easier for the veteran quarterback.
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