The ‘under’ hit at a nearly a 60 percent clip in Week 1 of the past three NFL seasons, and with Week 1 NFL sides extremely tight, finding value in the ‘under’ may be the key to a winning week.
The 2011 NFL season kicked off with a bang on Thursday night as the Green Bay Packers beat the New Orleans Saints 42-34 with the Saints coming up one yard short of potentially tying the game on an untimed play at the end of regulation.
However, odds are that most games will not be that high scoring this weekend based on recent history. You see, generally speaking, defenses are ahead of the offenses this early in the year, especially if the offenses have some major changes over last season. In fact, the ‘under’ went 28-19-1, 59.6 percent in Week 1 over the past three seasons, and one reason the Saints and Packers overcame that is because both teams have great offenses and had few changes from last year.
Something else to keep in mind when making your NFL picks this week is that the ‘under’ went 9-4-1, 69.2 percent in Week 1 the last three years in games that had posted totals of less than 40, a case that was not on effect in Thursday’s shootout.
Now generally speaking, Week 1 NFL lines are very tight against the spread, as this league has the tightest lines in the industry to begin with, and the fact that bookmakers had several months to set these lines only makes them tighter. However, totals are not nearly as efficient, so that may be where the value can be found in Week 1, especially with the ‘under’.
With that in mind, here are six totals we like for opening weekend, all of them being on the ‘under’ based on the current odds from Pinnacle Sports on Friday morning, September 9. 2011.
Sunday, September 11
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens ‘under’ 36 (-106): These are two of the best defenses in the NFL, and the teams almost always play low scoring games when they meet here in Baltimore. In fact, in the last three meetings here, the Steelers won twice by scores of 13-9 and 13-10 respectively, and the Ravens won the other game 20-17 in overtime in a game that was ‘under’ at the end of regulation time. We look for both offenses to struggle again here. Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco had developed a nice rapport with receiver Derrick Mason and tight end Todd Heap, and both of those players are gone right now. Now new wide-out Lee Evans might be an upgrade, but Anquan Boldin has slipped very noticeably in recent years and Ed Dickson is very raw. On the other side, the Pittsburgh offensive line has had holes the last few years and has had trouble containing the great Baltimore front seven, and we do not see that changing this week.
Indianapolis Colts vs. Houston Texans ‘under’ 43 (-104): Perhaps the biggest news in the NFL this season is Peyton Manning being out for the Colts, and he will now be out longer than anyone expected and perhaps for the entire season after having a second neck surgery. Thus, Kerry Collins has come out of retirement to take over as the Colts’ quarterback, and although he is very cerebral, it is probably impossible for him to pick up the intricate Indianapolis offense in the short time he has been with the team, and the offense may be ‘dumbed down” a bit in the early weeks of this season. He is also facing what should be an improved Houston defense with Wade Phillips as the new defensive coordinator. The Texans beat the Colts 34-24 in Week 1 last season with Arian Foster rushing for 231 yards. Now Foster is out for this game, but Houston’s game plan will probably still be to attack the weak Colts’ run defense, especially considering how surprisingly little success quarterback Matt Schaub has had vs. Indianapolis over the years. Besides, Houston probably does not need 34 points to win this season.
Philadelphia Eagles vs. St. Louis Rams ‘under’ 43½ (+100): The Eagles made big waves this off season, and they have assembled an outstanding defense, especially in the secondary. Thus, look for Rams’ quarterback Sam Bradford to have trouble finding his mediocre receiving corps downfield for big plays, meaning that any success that St. Louis has offensively will lie with the hard running of Steven Jackson. Now Jackson can indeed be effective here, but that would also serve to shorten the game by eating up some clock. As for the Philadelphia offense, Michael Vick is coming off of a career year at quarterback that he will probably never duplicate, but the few times that he struggled last season came against teams that put a lot of pressure on him. Well, the defensive line may be the best aspect of the entire Rams team, as St. Louis recorded 43 sacks last season.
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Cleveland Browns ‘under’ 35½ (-111): The Bengals and Browns split two low-scoring games last season, and the Bengals have generally played low scoring affairs inside the division, with the ‘under’ going 8-2 in their last 10 games against the AFC North. Sadly, their offense is the worst now that it has been during that recent span, so this divisional contest should be no different. Gone are quarterback Carson Palmer and veteran receivers Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens, and they have been replaced by rookie quarterback Andy Dalton, who did not look like an NFL quarterback during preseason, another rookie in wide receiver A.J, Green and the untested Jerome Simpson at the other receiver spot. The Browns went 5-11 last year which was actually an improvement, but they still averaged only 16.9 points per game and relied too much on running back Peyton Hillis despite quarterback Colt McCoy looking very good in his rookie season. Then again, Cleveland has a weak receiving corps right now, so look for a lot of reliance on Hillis and the running game again here, which helps the ‘under’.
Carolina Panthers vs. Arizona Cardinals ‘under’ 36½ (+107): The Panthers had the worst offense in the NFL last year, averaging a disgusting 12.2 points and 259.4 total yards per game, and no we do not see any improvement this year with Cam Newton at quarterback. We have serious doubts about Newton ever being a good NFL quarterback as he is still woefully inaccurate with his passes, which was obvious during preseason, and the daunting physical specimen may be best served by a position change. The fact that the number one draft pick of the entire draft this year was not even named the starter for Week 1 until after the final preseason game speaks volumes, as he would not be in there if Carolina had another competent signal-caller. The Cardinals are also going through a transition, but in their case it is an upgrade with Kevin Kolb taking over at quarterback. Now Kolb should excel once he fully learns the offense, and he could even lead Arizona to a division title in the terrible NFC West. However, he has not fully grasped the offense yet based on his erratic preseason, so it may take a game or two before we see Kolb at his best.
Seattle Seahawks vs. San Francisco 49ers ‘under’ 38 (-115): We do not expect much passing success in a game matching up quarterbacks Tarvaris Jackson and Alex Smith, so look for a lower scoring contest than some people expect here with both teams relying heavily on the run. Now that is nothing new for the 49ers, and the fact that running back Frank Gore is probably the healthiest he has been in about two years certainly helps. The Seahawks, on the other hand, were not a great running team when they had Matt Hasselbeck, but they got away with it on the few occasions when he wasn’t injured. They have no such trust in Jackson however, nor should they given his erratic past. The good news though is that they actually have a very good chance to run the ball well here with the 49ers losing one of their best run-stoppers in nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin.