• The Bears (+6.5) roster has been criticized all offseason, but they have enough star power to surprise the 49ers in Week 1 if not taken seriously.
• While the Raiders (+3.5) offensive line is a real concern, the team is being overlooked in a talent-laden division. The addition of Davante Adams gives them enough firepower to pull off the Week 1 upset over the Chargers.
• New users who bet $10 or more at BetMGM will receive a free year’s subscription to PFF+ — a $79.99 value.
Week 1 of the NFL regular season is always crazy. We spend nine months getting a picture of the upcoming season in our heads, and it all gets dashed once game action commences. Upset results are the norm in any given week, and so here are some of the underdogs I think are best positioned to spring the upset in Week 1.
As always, head over to the PFF App to see weekly best bets as highlighted by the best football database on the planet, but here is where I would put my money this week when it comes to underdogs:
Pittsburgh Steelers (+6.5) @ Cincinnati Bengals
Pittsburgh ushering in the post-Ben Roethlisberger era with Mitchell Trubisky under center doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, nor does the two games they lost to Cincinnati last season by a combined 45 points, but the Steelers are never bad under Mike Tomlin, and they’re being spotted almost a touchdown in a divisional game to open the season.
The Steelers defense still has plenty of talent, and as much as Cincinnati’s offense drove them last year, it was on the back of explosive plays. Including the playoffs, the Bengals offense ranked 14th in expected points added (EPA) per play and 23rd in successful play rate. The Bengals did a great job this offseason, but there are a lot of warning signs for potential regression from them.
Indianapolis Colts @ Houston Texans (+7)
Houston is definitely one of the weakest teams in the NFL, but it has the talent concentrated in key areas to cause Indianapolis problems in this game. The Colts are starting Matt Pryor at left tackle, a player with around 1,500 career snaps, most of them below average. In five starts last season, he allowed nine pressures and earned a solid 75.6 pass-blocking grade, but the Texans can test that with legitimate edge rushers this season.
Jerry Hughes will bring a baseline of 50 pressures a season to the table, and last season Jonathan Greenard recorded the seventh-best pass-rushing grade among edge rushers on limited snaps. Add in new talent like Derek Stingley Jr. and the fact that the Colts are still very top-heavy in terms of playmakers, and the Texans could spring a shock.
San Francisco 49ers @ Chicago Bears (+6.5)
Chicago’s roster is not in good shape — the 49ers are in a much better position — but the Bears may have the better quarterback in Justin Fields given what little we have seen from him and Trey Lance so far. Fields looked exceptional in the preseason, earning the joint-best grade among quarterbacks with at least 20 passing snaps. He didn’t make a turnover-worthy play and the offense was actually working to help him with plays designed to move the pocket and get him on the move.
The Bears have been hearing all offseason about how hopeless this team is, but they have enough playmakers to be dangerous if they’re not taken seriously.
Las Vegas Raiders (+3.5) @ Los Angeles Chargers
The last time the Raiders faced the Chargers, it was for all the playoff marbles. Las Vegas came out on top, albeit by the skin of their teeth in overtime. The Chargers certainly made some big improvements in the offseason, but so did the Raiders. The team added the best receiver in football (Davante Adams) as well as one of the best edge rushers of the past decade (Chandler Jones), while one of the Chargers’ biggest additions (J.C. Jackson) is not expected to play.
There are concerns about the Raiders offensive line, but those existed last season, too, and they didn’t have Adams to help expedite the ball being put in the air as fast as possible. Las Vegas is being overlooked in arguably the toughest division in football and has more than enough firepower to spring the upset.
Cleveland Browns (+1.5) @ Carolina Panthers
I’m all for buying into the narrative that an angry Baker Mayfield will bring his A-game to the Panthers to try and topple the Browns in Week 1, and with Cleveland only being able to answer with Jacoby Brissett, there are real reasons for buying into a Panthers victory. However, the Browns roster is better top-to-bottom, and they have Myles Garrett squaring off against a rookie left tackle whose pass blocking is the weaker area of his game. Ikem Ekwonu recorded a 64.6 PFF pass-blocking grade in the preseason and his best season in college saw that number rise to only 78.3 — good but not great.
Garrett is the kind of force that can ruin a day for an offense if the Panthers don’t have a better plan than letting Ekwonu sink or swim in Week 1. And as maligned as Brissett is as a starting quarterback, he can operate an offense that makes use of a power ground game.