News & Analysis

NFL Betting 2020: Betting preview for every Week 1 NFL game

We are finally less than a week out from the first game of the 2020 NFL season.

At this point, hope overflows for every team and fan, and there seems to be nothing but possibility before us. And while we are fairly confident in how some teams will stack up, there is an element of unpredictability in Week 1 that doesn't exist in any other week of the regular season.

We took our first steps toward measuring this predictability — or lack thereof —  this past week when PFF's Eric Eager investigated the most versatile positions, and players, in the NFL.

This approach used a measure called Shannon entropy or information theory. This theory is used to quantify information occurring in an event and a variable — entropy — that is calculated using probability. As Eric stated: Given a set of probabilities, Shannon entropy is the sum of each of the probabilities multiplied by their logarithm (base 2), all multiplied by -1.

You can apply this theory to measure how predictable something is.

One way we can utilize this approach is to help us define uncertainty in relation to moneyline odds for a week's worth of NFL games. Calculating the entropy for each regular-season week quantifies betting-market certainty for that given week. The output can be helpful when it comes to assessing weekly risk for betting markets along with providing context for weekly survivor contests and pick 'em leagues. 

We see this play out in our calculation, as Week 1 has the highest measure of uncertainty based on moneyline probability over the past 10 seasons, and games get progressively easier to predict after Week 1 is played. When comparing Week 1 of the 2020 season to all previous season and week combinations, it finishes above the 75th percentile of weekly uncertainty over the past 10 seasons.

All of this to say, buckle up! We are in for a wild Week 1 of NFL action. Let's dive into each game from a Greenline perspective to see if these lines offer any betting value.

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Houston Texans @ Kansas City Chiefs

The 2020 NFL season kicks off with the reigning Super Bowl champions hosting what many believe to be a team heading in the wrong direction.

The dubious offseason trades have led many to question how Texans head coach Bill O'Brien is building around his young franchise quarterback, but despite this discourse in the public domain, it seems that betting markets are buying up the Texans for Week 1.

This spread was initially released for the Chiefs at -10 and moved a full point up before readjusting, crossing back through 10 and settling down to -9.5. Since 2010, we have seen 3.4% of NFL games end on -10 for the home team, making this line movement significant for Houston's cover probability. 

According to PFF's prediction algorithms, a heavy portion of the spread tickets booked for this matchup have been on the side of the Chiefs, though this doesn't come as a surprise, as teams coming off Super Bowl-winning performances typically come with this disclaimer.

Still, that isn't stopping people from taking shots on the Texans' moneyline, as 83% of the cash sales on the moneyline have been on the underdog side. Our win probability has the Texans' chances at 21.9%, just short of the break-even percentage needed to make this a worthwhile bet. There is a value play offered in this matchup, so if you are hoping to wager on the first game of the NFL season, make sure to lock in Greenline's recommendation to get the NFL season started on the winning side.

Seattle Seahawks @ Atlanta Falcons

One of the best early-game matchups of Week 1 has Seattle traveling to Atlanta as slight favorites. This line has held relatively steady throughout the offseason, bouncing between a pick 'em and +1, depending on the book.

The movement is one of the smallest and least worthwhile that we have in Week 1. The spread cash percentages are relatively split between the two teams, but Seattle has received most of the backing in the moneyline market. The total has taken on a pounding on the over but hasn't moved off of 49. We see a higher percentage of games end with a total of 48 or 50, so this total should hold steady until game time. 

Atlanta had the second-highest pass-play percentage on offense a season ago. So, with Seattle fans clamoring to Let Russ Cook, this is an opportunity for Pete Carroll to observe how that is actually done with a franchise quarterback.

Despite the public backing of the over, Greenline still leans slightly in that direction but doesn't have a cover probability great enough to cover the break-even percentage. As the second-highest total on the main slate, this will be a popular game stack for DFS players. Greenline is in need of some line movement to find value in this game, but our player props tool will be highlighting tons of opportunities once prop markets are released.

Dec 30, 2018; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) is congratulated by Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) after the game at M&T Bank Stadium. Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland Browns @ Baltimore Ravens

An AFC North showdown awaits in Baltimore as the Ravens look to rebound after their early playoff exit in 2019. Baltimore stacks up right behind Kansas City in seemingly every power ranking, but when we focus solely on betting market power rankings, our model has Baltimore in the first spot. 

Our Elo model has the Browns at 21st overall but sees potential in their offense, ranking them 17th according to our opponent-adjusted grades. The Browns and Baker Mayfield have failed to live up to the hype in previous seasons, but new head coach Kevin Stefanski is looking for a quick rebound in his first year in Cleveland. Betting markets look to be buying in early, as we have seen some slight line movement toward the Browns since this line opened; -9 is an inconsequential number, but coming off -10 open implies the Browns have found backing. 

The moneyline cash percentage is split evenly between these two teams, which is surprising given how often the public likes backing the big underdog on the moneyline. Baltimore should receive significant public backing all season, which is one reason why they may sit so well in our betting market power rankings.

If bookmakers are shading lines toward Baltimore with the expectation that bettors will still flock to bet them, it could mean Baltimore could be a team to fade early in the season. Greenline has the correct source and offers value in every line for this game. Check out the breakdown to make sure you are getting your money down on the right bets. 

New York Jets @ Buffalo Bills

There are obvious reasons why the lowest total of any Week 1 game could be avoided altogether. But opportunity still exists with betting markets available, even if that means you don't tune in to actually watch the action. The Bills have sat between 6- and 6.5-point favorites at home in this matchup. It is significant they haven't touched -7, given the futures market view on both of these teams.

The Bills are 13 spots better than the Jets in our Elo rankings but, interestingly enough, have a worse offense according to our opponent-adjusted grades. The Bills are 10 spots better defensively, but it is the expected offensive performance that is anchoring this total down. Cash and ticket splits are reversed for the total, with cash percentages leaning toward the over but ticket numbers skewing towards the under. Given the public narrative, this looks like one of the few totals that the public is on the under. Greenline sees some value on this total, with a cover probability on one side closely in line with the break-even percentage. 

Our stance on the Bills — and quarterback Josh Allen, in particular — is well documented. Still, we look for opportunities wherever we can find them, and this AFC East matchup offers value on the current spread and moneyline. If you want to be on the right side of the action, let Greenline help guide in your decision-making process. 

Las Vegas Raiders @ Carolina Panthers

This is another game that could be overlooked, as there are frankly more intriguing options available elsewhere. The Raiders travel across the country to play the Panthers as 1.5 -point road favorites. Bettors have been backing the new team in Las Vegas after seeing an opening line of pick 'em, as the Raiders have been pushed all the way out to -2 in certain spots.

Given the lack of real value moving between the current numbers, this is a spread to understand what side to act on if it is going to continue to slide to -2. A high percentage of both the spread and moneyline ticket and cash splits have sided with the Raiders. 

These teams are separated by only two places in our Elo rankings. The offensive and defensive rankings reflect the differences in these teams well, though, with the Raiders 13 spots better than the Panthers on the offensive side of the ball and the Panthers 12 spots better than the Raiders on the defensive side of the ball. Derek Carr gets the slight edge — according to PFF passing grade — but we know enough about both quarterbacks to comfortably say that they are not in the elite tier of NFL passers.

The total has held at 47 since the open, with cash and ticket percentages shaded to the over. Given the push percentage, Greenline doesn't have a valuable edge on the total. However, Greenline does have a heavy lean on this spread, but is it siding with the public or sharp side in this matchup? 

Oct 20, 2019; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) drops back to pass during the second half against the Minnesota Vikings at Ford Field. Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Chicago Bears @ Detroit Lions

This has been a spread on the move this offseason, with the Lions becoming the trendy preseason pick to emerge from the NFC North. The offseason steam the Lions received has been reflected in this spread, which opened as a pick 'em before rocketing out to -3. Since -3 has the highest probability that a game finishes with that differential, it changes everything when a spread moves to that number. Greenline was leaning heavily toward the Lions until this spread moved to the current price, which now looks unplayable from both sides. A high percentage of tickets have been placed on the Lions, but the cash split is essentially even at this point. 

According to our opponent-adjusted rankings, neither offense ranks in the top half of the league, but the Bears sit in the top 10 of our defensive rankings while the Lions sit at 31st. The total has dropped a full point, with a high percentage of the cash splits coming in on the under.

Greenline has a slight lean on the total, but depending on the number, it may not be enough of a value add. 

Indianapolis Colts @ Jacksonville Jaguars

The Colts are the only team in Week 1 that are road favorites of more than a touchdown. This says more about the current state of the Jaguars than it does about the new-look Colts, though.

This spread added the hook since the open, moving off the key 7 number and removing any value in betting the spread. Greenline leans toward the Jaguars slightly at that price but not enough to justify a bet based on the break-even percentage. 

The Jaguars project to be bad in every facet but could really struggle to move the football. We have the Jaguars 30th in our offensive rankings while the Colts sit at 19th. The total has dropped 1.5 points since the open and currently sits at 45. According to our cash and ticket splits, the under has been pounded in both categories and could see further movement to the downside. Greenline has a small lean on the current total, but any line movement could alter things quickly in this market. 

Jan 19, 2020; Santa Clara, California, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) reacts against the San Francisco 49ers during the second half in the NFC Championship Game at Levi's Stadium. Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Green Bay Packers @ Minnesota Vikings

The battle for king of the north begins in Week 1 with the two presumed favorites facing off on opening weekend. The Packers received a lot of negative reviews this offseason, mainly related to their lack of interest in giving talented receivers to quarterback Aaron Rodgers. This hasn't played out in betting markets, however, as the Vikings initially opened as -3.5-point favorites but currently sit at -2.5.

Again, that is some of the most significant line movement you will see for a home favorite. The cash and ticket splits have been reversals of one another, with a high percentage of the cash in on the Packers but a high percentage of the tickets on the Vikings. This highlights the amount of sharp action that has moved this spread to its current number. It could be a slight overreaction from the betting markets, but only Greenline can accurately show the opportunity that is available.

The total has dropped since the open, with both cash and ticket splits heavily pointing to the under. Both offenses rank in the top half of the league, with Kirk Cousins posting a slightly better passing grade than Aaron Rodgers in 2019. The Vikings currently have the second-ranked defense but could be slightly overvalued based on the cornerback position. Still, the pass rush could be one of the league's best while the Packers' defense is also impressive, sitting 11th in our opponent-adjusted rankings. Greenline has a small lean on the total but needs some line movement to offer a bet worth taking in this market.

Miami Dolphins @ New England Patriots

After opening as a touchdown favorite, bettors have moved away from the Patriots with this spread collapsing down to -6. This is not the Patriots of yesteryear, despite their No. 5 placement on our Elo ranking, though the Dolphins are the worse team heading into this matchup.

The expectation is that the Dolphins are much improved in 2020, while no one is yet able to pinpoint exactly how well the Patriots will perform. The cash percentage on the spread leans slightly towards the Dolphins, but a staggering percentage of tickets lean towards the Patriots. The public will continue to gravitate towards the Patriots, and that is only reinforced in our splits. 

The total has dropped a half-point, with a high percentage of both cash and ticket numbers pointing to the under. This makes sense given the public knowledge of the Patriots' defense, but our rankings actually have them as the NFL's fourth-best unit. Meanwhile, the Dolphins are last in defensive ranking and only improve slightly in offensive ranking, moving up to 29th. Greenline sees little value in the spread or total market, but our player prop tool should offer numerous plays based on this matchup.

Philadelphia Eagles @ Washington Football Team

The Eagles opened as a touchdown road favorite but have dropped a half-point, settling at either -6.5 or -6 depending on the book. The football team from Washington is the second-worst team in the NFL according to our Elo rankings, 17 spots behind the Eagles. The Eagles currently have the seventh-ranked offense but have been decimated by injuries to the offensive line and wide receiver positions.

Bettors have pounded the under, pushing it two full points down since the open. And 44 is the second-most-likely number for a game total to end on, so moving through this number is noteworthy from a betting perspective. The cash percentage for the total is skewed toward the under but tickets have been split 50/50. Sharp money may have pushed this total down, but it would be surprising to see it move any lower. Value options for DFS exist in this game, but will enough opportunity be present for this to be a worthy target for DFS players?

Los Angeles Chargers @ Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals begin a new era at home as a field-goal dog to the Chargers. These teams are within six places according to our Elo rankings, but the Bengals have the worst-ranked offense in the league according to our opponent-adjusted grades.

This should change quickly with Joe Burrow at the helm, as the Bengals have more buzz than any other team this offseason. The buzz hasn't been reflected in betting markets, though, as their futures have seen little movement, and this number has held at the field-goal spread since the open. 

The Chargers are routinely praised for having an outstanding defense, but our ranking has them at 14th — just seven spots better than the Bengals. The loss of Derwin James is a significant one, so the idea that Tyrod Taylor can ride a strong defensive unit to a number of victories doesn't seem grounded in reality.

The spread market is skewed towards the Chargers in both cash and ticket percentage, but the higher ticket percentage seems to point out that the public is backing the road favorites. Greenline has no strong lean on the spread, but a play exists on the moneyline if found at the right price. 

Aug 20, 2020; Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) trains during training camp at AdventHealth Training Center. Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ New Orleans Saints

Potentially the most anticipated game of the Week 1 slate involves what most believe to be the front runners for the NFC South. Tom Brady leads the revamped Bucs in his first clash as Drew Brees' division foe. Tampa Bay has been one of the trendiest teams from a betting perspective, picking up significant steam throughout the offseason. This spread is no different, after dropping a full point from an opening print of -4.5 to -3.5. The move through -4 changes some probability, but a move even further down to -3 would change everything in this market. 

Right now, the Bucs have a slight edge in cash percentage but a significant percentage of tickets in their direction. It seems as though the public has found its new favorite team for 2020. These teams are close in our Elo rankings, with both teams in the top 10 and separated by just three places. The only unit that sits outside of the top 10 is the Saints' defense, which is 15th in our rankings but finished 12th in EPA allowed per pass play in 2019. 

The total has been locked on 49.5 since the open but has a high percentage of both ticket and cash percentage on the over. Greenline has a few potential opportunities in this game. Player props should also be fairly skewed towards the over, so make sure to check out the new player props tool once those markets are released.

Arizona Cardinals @ San Francisco 49ers

No opening-week spread has seen more line movement then this game. San Francisco opened at -9 but has dropped two full points down to a touchdown spread. The cash vs. ticket split differential is as opposite as you will see for a game, too. The public bettors appear to be all over the 49ers, but a high percentage of the cash has come in on the Cardinals, which justifies the line movement we have already seen. We have a high push probability at the current price, but Greenline finds value on both the spread and moneyline

Despite talk that the Cardinals would average the most offensive snaps in the NFL in 2019, they actually finished middle-of-the-pack in Kyler Murray's first season. Most have been complimentary of their offseason moves, which saw them add star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to their spread offense.

Movement has come for the total. After opening at 46, it has now bounced up to 47. Both cash and ticket percentages are heavily skewed towards the over, with 47 a significant number to land on. Greenline has a number of value opportunities available in this game, and our player props tool should help point you in the right direction for options in DFS contests. 

Dallas Cowboys @ Los Angeles Rams

Sunday Night Football showcases two teams that are hoping to be in the running for the NFC championship. Dallas opened as a field-goal road favorite, but the market has moved back some, settling in at +2.5.

We have seen a slight lean towards the Cowboys from a cash and ticket percentage, though it is nothing overly egregious. These two teams are more evenly matched than most expect, as they sit within two places of each other in our Elo rankings. Both teams have top-10 defenses and are set to field offenses that sit within three places of each other, at 13th (Rams) and 10th (Cowboys). The Cowboys were one of only four teams to have a positive EPA per rush play last year, but their passing unit really shined, generating the fourth-highest EPA per pass play in the NFL.

Thanks to the high-quality offensive production, this total is the second-highest number we have for Week 1. It has moved up 1.5 points since the open with a skewed percentage of both cash and tickets on the over. Greenline finds little value in the spread or moneyline but senses opportunity with a certain side of this total

Dec 30, 2018; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looks for a receiver against the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field. Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Steelers @ New York Giants

Big Ben is back for the Steelers, who turned into the best defensive unit in the NFL in the time he was gone. The Steelers' offensive ranking of 31st should rise quickly if Roethlisberger is able to return to his prior form. The betting market seems to be buying into this narrative, as the Steelers have pushed out a full point to -4.5 from the opening number. This has led to a highly skewed cash- and ticket-percentage lean towards the Steelers. 

Daniel Jones was a below-average quarterback in 2019, and things don't look like they will suddenly change for the Giants. Things will be difficult right away for this offense, as the Steelers' defense recorded the third-best EPA allowed per play in 2019. And because of the presence of this high-quality defense facing off against an unimpressive offense, we have seen the total drop a half-point to 47.5.

Again, the ticket and cash percentages show the trend, as they are heavily skewed towards the under with a higher percentage going to cash vs. tickets. This means that despite the high percentages, this is a spot that both the public and sharps are backing. The only question left to answer is if Greenline feels the same in this matchup on Monday night. 

Tennessee Titans @ Denver Broncos

The nightcap to Week 1 has the 20th-ranked Broncos as slight home favorites to the eighth-ranked Titans. The Broncos have been a trendy preseason pick in the betting markets, with Drew Lock seemingly “the next great Bronco quarterback.”

This has adjusted the team's future prices, but this spread has moved against them. After opening at a field goal, it has moved off the key number but is posted at -1.5 in the majority of spots, though it can be found at -1 in some others. PFF's view of Lock doesn't mesh well with those currently crowning him — his 58.1 PFF passing grade was 36th among quarterbacks with at least 100 dropbacks last season. In contrast, Ryan Tannehill was our highest-graded quarterback in 2019, but very few people think that he can repeat that excellent 2019 campaign.

The market has sided heavily with the Titans on both cash and ticket percentages, moving this number down. It should reach -1 by game time, which will modify the cover probabilities and could provide a value play on the spread or moneyline. 

Both defenses sit in the teens according to defensive ranking, with neither separating when looking at EPA allowed from either a pass or run perspective. The total dropping a full point — to the second-lowest number we have on the Week 1 slate — seems to indicate that the market is buying into these defenses (or, rather, it is not buying into the offenses). The cash and ticket splits point heavily towards the under. The question is if Greenline leans with or against the market in this matchup.

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