NFL Best Bets: Week 2

Last week against the spread: 0-3-1

2021 overall ATS: 0-3-1

While it’s hard to do much worse than no wins, three losses and a tie during the opening week of football, I remain optimistic. Betting on the NFL is not entirely an exercise in outcomes, but more so the process that leads you to making the best possible decisions. My process last week sucked; that’s the only rationale for going winless. But it was also the first necessary step to gathering enough information to do better the next time around.

1. Dallas Cowboys (+3.5) at Los Angeles Chargers

I didn’t see the Cowboys’ valiant 31-29 loss (and clear cover) on the Thursday Night season opener in Tampa Bay coming. And I’m far from alone in that. After an offseason where everyone was understandably concerned how Dak Prescott would return from his season-ending broken ankle of a year ago, which was exacerbated by a shoulder issue during training camp, we just wanted to see what he — and the plethora of playmakers on the Dallas offense — looked like.

The results were better than anyone could have anticipated. He threw 58 fucking passes and completed 42 of them, and thanks to some turnover luck the Cowboys were on the verge of winning outright against the defending Super Bowl champs. Obviously it didn’t happen, because Tom Brady did what Tom Brady does when he has a minute and a half left on the clock in the 4th quarter, but it was basically the best-case scenario for a team that didn’t win a football game.

Dallas now heads to Los Angeles to play the Chargers, a team that had a fairly impressive performance — 20-16 win on the road in Washington — of their own. The thing I don’t understand about this line, Chargers favored by 3.5, is that it’s actually the Cowboys who had a higher over/under win total heading into the season (9.5 compared to 9), and it’s an absolute given that Dallas will have more fans in the stadium than Los Angeles. The Chargers may have the worst home-field advantage of any team in football.

It’s true that the Cowboys will be without their best pass rusher, Demarcus Lawrence, who is supposed to be out for 6-8 weeks. But considering Dallas was projected to be the better team before the season started, that they should have the crowd advantage despite playing on the road, and that they ought to be upgraded more than any losing team from Week 1, I can’t imagine that this line should be higher than Chargers -2. I am predicting a shootout in this matchup, one that Dallas either wins outright or loses by less than a field goal.

Score prediction: Cowboys 34, Chargers 30.

2. Chicago Bears (-2.5) vs. Cincinnati Bengals

Here’s the thing: home field advantage is worth about 2.5 points, and the spread in this game is Chicago (the home team) -2.5. Basic math would suggest that betting markets view these as equal teams, and that’s just wrong. The Bengals won a home game that nobody watched, in overtime, while the Bears lost a very public game — on Sunday Night Football — to the Rams. And they looked pretty bad while doing so.

There is some element to this line being a little too good to be true; it opened at 3.5, immediately fell by a full point, and hasn’t moved since. Are people especially thrilled by the Bengals? Do they simply believe the Bears stink? I think both of these things can be true and yet I still can’t arrive at the conclusion that if this game was being played on a neutral field that it would be a pick ’em.

I guess, to me, it’s all about how much of an adjustment I’m supposed to make after Week One — the least important of the entire football season. The Bears were 7.5-point road underdogs against the Rams, and just as most everyone expected they lost. The Bengals, meanwhile, were a 3-point home dog against the Vikings and wound up sneaking out an OT win. In terms of expectations, I think the Bears were going to lose that game about 85% of the time. And I think the Bengals were going to win their game about 40% of the time.

In the end, it doesn’t take a lot for me to see that these two teams were going to meet in Week Two with their records as they are. The Bears are not a good team — their season win total was only 7.5 before the year started — but at the same time they are playing a squad whose season win total before the year was only 6.5. I am happy to lay less than a field goal for the home team in this spot.

Score prediction: Bears 30, Bengals 21

3. New York Jets (+6) vs. New England Patriots

Just so you know how heavily I believe in the Jets, I opined that both (a) they would fall below their season win total of 6, and (b) that “I am already all the way out on 2nd overall pick Zach Wilson,” per my AFC East Preview that I posted on July 5th. The fact that I am picking them plus the points in this Week Two matchup against the Patriots would seem to say that six points is way too many.

Don’t get me wrong here, I think the Pats are the better team and I fully expect them to win this game. It’s more a reflection of if this game was played in New England, betting markets are saying that the Patriots would be -12? I understand there’s a lot of Mac Jones love and Bill Belichick is the greatest coach who ever did it, but I still find it an extremely tall task for a rookie QB on the road to be laying 6 fucking points to another rookie who was drafted 13 spots before him.

Basically, the math doesn’t add up. The Patriots lost their home opener as 3-point favorites against the Dolphins, and now betting markets are essentially saying that New England is something like 9 points better than the Jets on a neutral field. I expect to be proven wrong here, but I can’t come to drips with the idea that an inferior rookie QB is almost a touchdown favorite in his first road game.

Score prediction: Patriots 24, Jets 20

4. San Francisco 49ers (-3) at Philadelphia Eagles

Hammer this one down. The 49ers are one of a handful of the best teams in football, and don’t forget that the Eagles were only expected to win 6.5 games before the season started. Sometimes gambling isn’t complicated. You just roll with the better team and don’t worry about a line as small as a field goal, regardless if you factor in the west coast team traveling east or whatever the fuck they used to do to handicap football games.

Score prediction: 49ers 27, Eagles 20

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