Wednesday night is the final night we have to endure before the NFL season is officially underway. The Los Angeles Rams host the Buffalo Bills on Thursday night. It might seem disrespectful for the Rams to open the season as underdogs on the same field they hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, but Josh Allen's Bills have been backed hard by the betting market all summer. As a result, Buffalo remains BetMGM's largest liability to win the Super Bowl, with the Bills getting the highest ticket count (11.9%) and highest handle (17.5%).
Catching points at home is unfamiliar territory for the Rams, but it's a common theme for Week 1. Only six of 16 home teams are betting favorites, as the books dare the public to lay the chalk on the road. I am sure bettors will get creative by cooking up teasers and moneyline parlays, but my best bet of the week is simply backing a road dog. I will also break down which side I am betting on Thursday night, along with a long-shot prop to see if we can start the season with a big hit.
Buffalo Bills (-2.5) at Los Angeles Rams
Maybe the sting of my Bills futures ticket going up in flames over the flip of a coin hasn't completely healed yet, but I again have Buffalo as my highest-rated team. Getting the Bills under a field goal is an opportunity we may not see too often. Last year's epic playoff duel with Patrick Mahomes only proved Josh Allen could go score for score with any quarterback in the NFL. There is a solid argument the Bills had the strongest overall roster on both sides of the ball. The Bills ranked No.1 in net yards per play (+1.1) and net success rate, and spent the offseason making strong improvements to key position groups.
While the Rams lost Austin Corbett and Andrew Whitworth from their offensive line, the Bills focused on the trenches. Buffalo's front office learned the valuable lesson that you couldn't rely solely on coverage against dynamic offenses. You beat elite quarterbacks with pressure, and the Bills adding Von Miller to a formidable pass rush will be the difference Thursday night. Both offenses will put on a show, but this one will be won by the Bills generating pressure without having to blitz Matthew Stafford. Take the Bills below the key number of 3.
Long-shot prop: Allen Robinson 2 or more TD's (+900)
After losing Levi Wallace to free agency, the injury to Tre'Davious White creates some vulnerability in the Bills' secondary. Rookie CB Kaiir Elam and third-year player Dane Jackson are expected to start on the outside. Jackson was PFF's 82nd-ranked cornerback with a coverage grade of 53.7. Last season, Stafford threw at least three touchdowns in eight of 10 games that finished with a combined score of at least 48 points. With a projected total in the 50s, I will take a shot his new toy gets some big opportunities against a leaky secondary.
Best bet: Jacksonville Jaguars (+115) at Washington Commanders
If you have been following me during the offseason, you already know I think Trevor Lawrence makes a big jump under coach Doug Pederson. Part of the reasoning is the soft schedule of pass defenses he faces this year. Washington presents the perfect matchup for Jacksonville's offense. Last season, Jacksonville thrived running the football on early downs. The Jaguars' 42.5% success rate ranked eighth best in the NFL. They're adding a more experienced play-caller in Pederson and a prototypical weapon on third downs in Travis Etienne.
In this game, the Jags' offense is set up to succeed against their opponents' biggest defensive weakness. The Commanders' secondary finished 32nd in EPA allowed per dropback on third downs. Without Chase Young to anchor the pass rush, there will be even more stress on the secondary. The early-down success will make life easy on Lawrence, but will open up the playbook for Pederson. I see Jacksonville constantly moving the chains, taking Washington out of its desired game script, and forcing Commanders quarterback Carson Wentz into mistakes. If anyone knows how to make Wentz uncomfortable, it's Pederson.
I think Jacksonville is live to win outright against a very fragile favorite in Washington. I bet the Jaguars moneyline, and I would recommend doing the same unless it gets back to +3. In games last season where the underdog covered, the money line also hit at over a 70% clip. So it makes sense with the low point spread to take the extra value at +115.