There may not be a better feeling in sports betting than cashing in on a big underdog. This past weekend, the NFL delivered for those diehard fans who felt like the rest of the world didn't give them a chance. Underdogs went 12-4 in the NFL this weekend, with nine of the 12 paying out on the moneyline.
Historically, Week 1 can be one of the wildest weeks of the season. In 2003, the Patriots opened their year by getting shut out 31-0 by the AFC East rival Buffalo Bills. Six months later Tom Brady was holding the Lombardi Trophy for the second time. When Aaron Rodgers was asked if he was embarrassed after getting blown out 38-3 by the New Orleans Saints as favorites on Sunday, he responded that it was only one game.
Every year I get excited about Week 2 as a sports bettor because it gives us a chance to find value in the overreactions from the first game. After extensively researching each team, it's incredibly easy to throw it all away over a single game that becomes your only point of reference.
A unique part about this week's NFL slate is that after only 25% of favorites covered the spread, three teams are favored by 10 points or more. Taking the underdog in these situations is rarely a popular public play because it involves betting on bad teams. Nobody wakes up in the morning excited to bet on the Detroit Lions, but last year double-digit underdogs were very profitable for bettors, winning 62% of the time. Here are the three biggest underdogs and my confidence level for each.
Detroit +10.5 at Green Bay
Aaron Rodgers has made a career of coming back just when you count him out. His famous 2014 "relax" quote righted the ship for the Packers before, and I expect the Pack to bounce back in a big way. The Detroit defense that lost CB Jeffrey Okudah for the season allowed a league-leading 12 yards per pass attempt against the 49ers and the second-most yards per play.
Divisional underdogs early in the season are usually a good bet, but another backdoor cover for Campbell is the only path I see. I would take the Lions before I bet the Packers, but I'm not running to the window to get money down on this Detroit defense. Taking the Lions in this spot is going to put hair on your chest.
Houston +12.5 at Cleveland
One week ago we wondered if there was value in betting the Texans to go 0-17. The same team sits alone atop of the AFC South after only one week. The Texans may be better than I expected, but Sunday's win was more about downgrading Jacksonville. Cleveland appears to be a top 3 team in the AFC after giving the Chiefs all they could handle.
The Browns' offense graded out sixth best in EPA and their 8.2 yards per play were the NFL's best. Now they come home after letting the defending AFC champs off the hook. Houston was a fantastic bet versus the Jaguars, but this is the least attractive double-digit dog on the board.
Atlanta +12.5 at Tampa Bay
You could always count on scoring from Atlanta — until last week. Coach Arthur Smith's dreadful debut is causing some overreaction with a team many had pegged as a playoff contender. The Falcon's were very conservative on offense and will have no choice but to open up to keep pace with Brady's Bucs. Todd Bowles' defense allowed 27 points to Atlanta in both meetings last season, so I'm confident Smith can deliver in this spot. Sean Murphy-Bunting's injury leaves a hole in a Tampa secondary that allowed 42 completions and 403 yards to Dallas.
Tampa is coming off a sloppy performance against Dallas in which it turned the ball over four times. It's hard to imagine the Bucs being motivated with two big games against the Rams and Patriots coming up. A divisional underdog getting 12.5 points in a classic look-ahead spot is too juicy for me to pass up. I know Georgia is bulldog country, and I'm betting Atlanta brings home the money as a big dog this weekend.
Stats provided by Football Outsiders and teamrankings.com.