NFL Week 1 best bets: Lions are a smart underdog bet against Chiefs

2M7M6CF Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff (16) looks to pass during an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers Sunday, Jan.8, 2023, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)

Detroit Lions a good bet against injury-ridden Kansas City ChiefsThe Lions have a good shot to be competitive against the Chiefs due to the injuries Kansas City has sustained at key positions.

Pittsburgh Steelers undervalued against San Fransisco 49ers: This Steelers team has real potential to be a contender in the AFC and is undervalued here in Week 1 against a 49ers team that should struggle to achieve the level of play they did last season.

Carolina Panthers match up well with Atlanta Falcons: The Panthers improved a lot since last season, giving them a good shot to best Atlanta.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

We made it. The NFL season is finally upon us. In a season with the most unknowns at the quarterback position across the league in recent memory, betting Week 1 seems as difficult as ever. Tread lightly in terms of bet size as we start to gather more information on these rookies and veterans starting for new teams in 2023. With that being said, there is value on the board starting with the first game of the season.

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Detroit Lions @ Kansas City Chiefs (-4.5, 53.5)

The Lions finished strong last season, going 8-2 and barely missing the playoffs. During that stretch, Jared Goff was first among quarterbacks in EPA+, a standardized version of EPA per play where zero is the league average. We have a lot of data on Goff, and it’s clear that he’s capable of elite production when he has creative play-calling, weapons and good protection. Last year, Goff had the third-best passer rating with a clean pocket and the fourth-worst passer rating when pressured, which was the second-greatest difference among all QBs. 

Goff is in a prime position to succeed because Kansas City should struggle to generate any sort of pressure. The Chiefs lost DEs Frank Clark and Carlos Dunlap and will be without star DI Chris Jones. By losing those three players alone, the Chiefs lose 49% of their total pressures from last year. They will also be missing PFF’s top-rated EDGE in this past free-agent class Charles Omenihu (75.6 pass-rush grade), who is suspended for six games, leaving their pass-rusher rotation incredibly thin. 

To make this matchup even better for Goff and the Lions offense, Detroit will be able to abuse the Chiefs’ secondary over the middle, as the Lions were the most efficient offense targeting that area of the field last year while the Chiefs were the second worst defending it last year. 

The Chiefs offense lost key pieces this offseason in LT Orlando Brown (75.4 PFF Grade), WRs Juju Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman, and will enter the season with one of the weakest WR rooms in the league. 

This wouldn’t be as big of a deal when you have the best QB and TE around, but Travis Kelce seems unlikely to play in this game, even if he is officially questionable. Without Kelce, Mahomes will have the weakest weapons he’s ever had at his disposal, which just has to affect their offensive output. 

The Lions also bolstered their secondary this offseason by signing players like CB Cam Sutton (70.4 coverage grade) and C.J. Gardner-Johnson (66.2 coverage grade), which should drastically improve a unit that ranked 29th in EPA per dropback allowed last season.

Best Bet: Lions +4.5 (down to +3.5 if Kelce is ruled out, at +4.5 or better if Kelce plays)

This line has moved two points from 6.5 and should close around here if Kelce is ruled out. Even if Kelce does play, I still like the Lions at this number or better, as Kelce will likely be limited or used as a decoy. Take the points here and sprinkle on the Lions on the ML as a live Week 1 dog.

San Francisco 49ers @ Pittsburgh Steelers (+2.5, 41.5)

Rookie Kenny Pickett settled in beautifully for the Steelers towards the end of last season, grading out as the second-best QB (88.9 PFF grade) and producing the sixth-highest QB EPA+ from Week 12 on. Pickett built upon his performance with an impressive showing in the preseason with the top grade amongst all QBs (93.7) and should help propel a Steelers offense that returns all key pieces to repeat their production from the end of last season.

Defensively, it’s all about T.J. Watt for the Steelers. When Watt was active last season, Pittsburgh was one of the best defenses in the NFL. However, when Watt missed Weeks 2-9 due to a torn pectoral muscle, its defense was torn to shreds. 

Once Watt returned in Week 10 last season, the Steelers were the fifth-best team in the NFL by NET EPA+, a metric that summarizes offensive and defensive EPA data into one number. Pittsburgh also upgraded their secondary this offseason, signing CBs Patrick Peterson (79.7 coverage grade) and Desmond King (71.8 coverage grade).

The 49ers were one of the best teams in the NFL last season, finishing second in NET EPA+. However, there are some worries with this roster, namely at QB as Brock Purdy returns from a UCL injury. The former Mr. Irrelevant thrived in Kyle Shanahan’s QB-friendly offense in 12 games last year (fifth in QB EPA+), but it’s hard to not question how repeatable that is for a full season, especially after a serious injury to his throwing elbow. 

San Francisco lost RT Mike McGlinchey (70.3 PFF grade) this offseason and there are valid concerns about how this offensive line will perform outside of LT Trent Williams. The defense also suffered key losses in the aforementioned Omenihu, along with S Jimmie Ward and CB Emmanuel Moseley

Adding more doubt to the 49ers gameday roster is the possible absence of George Kittle (questionable).

Best Bet: Steelers +2.5 (to PK)

This Steelers team has real potential to be a contender in the AFC and are undervalued here in Week 1 against a 49ers team that should struggle to achieve the level of play they did last season.

Carolina Panthers @ Atlanta Falcons (-3.5, 39.5)

It was ugly for Falcons QB Desmond Ridder in the first four games of his career (55.9 PFF Grade), as he ranked 30th of 32 QBs in EPA+.

Atlanta tried to ease Ridder in by running the ball at the fourth-highest rate when he was under the center. The Falcons may not be able to lean on rookie RB Bijan Robinson and their running game against a Panthers defense that has made massive strides defending the run, finishing 13th in EPA per rush allowed and top five in run-stop win rate last season, largely behind the development of DI Derrick Brown (80.7 run-defense grade). Ridder will need to be efficient through the air if the Falcons can’t run the ball, and there’s no reason to think he’s capable of that at this point in his career.

The Panthers offense is a question mark entering the season, as No. 1 pick Bryce Young makes his debut. Young enters a solid situation in Carolina with WRs Adam Thielen and DJ Chark replacing DJ Moore, and an experienced playcaller in HC Frank Reich. The Panthers offensive line struggled in the preseason but returns a unit that thrived in pass protection last season, finishing fourth in pressure rate allowed and will have a significant advantage over Atlanta’s pass-rushers that finished 31st in pass-rush win rate. 

It’s worth monitoring the statuses of Thielen and Chark, who both didn’t practice Wednesday, although the Panthers do have serviceable replacements in Laviska Shenault and second-round pick Jonathan Mingo.

Best Bet: Panthers +3.5 (to +3)

Carolina is built perfectly to shut down this one-dimensional Falcons offense and has some sneaky upside on offense if Bryce Young can provide solid production. I love getting the key number of three in a low-scoring, divisional game fading one of the worst QBs in the league.

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