NFL Betting 2022: How preseason injuries affect Week 1 lines

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) and center Ryan Jensen (66) in a game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

• The Cardinals are nursing injuries to TE Zach Ertz, WR Rondale Moore and C Rodney Hudson.  Despite this, the game total vs. the Chiefs has only climbed, making it the highest-projected game of the weekend.

• It was a rocky road for the Bucs and Cowboys this preseason, but given Tom Brady’s absence, along with injuries to Aaron Stinnie and Ryan Jensen on the offensive line, and the uncertain nature of the skill positions (e.g. Chris Godwin), the number has moved ever so slightly toward Dallas — with the total declining a bit as well.

Estimated reading time: 9 mins

Week 1 is upon us, and with that the myriad of picks columns, both early and late.  With these lines already beaten in considerably, there’s little in the way of fundamentals that change the point spread over the next few days, while unexpected weather has the potential to change totals.

However, injuries — and the uncertainty that surrounds them — can often change betting spreads. This is especially true as players who were questionable — both officially and unofficially — are ruled in or out.  But a point of caution: sharp bettors already have these injuries baked into their models and are often privy to information through their network regarding whether players are playing — and how effective they’ll be — well before it is officially reported.  When they bet that information, the line will move, and hence much of what people are betting vis a vis injury reports amounts to double counting something that is already reflected in the number.  

Still, it’s good to be able to contextualize these injuries, and using our PFF WAR model tells us how much these players are worth come Week 1.  

Bills @ Rams (+2.5, 53)

The big injuries in this game are Bills CB Tre’Davious White, who is out because of his recovery from an ACL surgery, along with WR Van Jefferson, OLB Leonard Floyd and CB Jordan Fuller on the Rams side.  The latter three players are very likely to play this week.  

White has been worth roughly 0.27 WAR on average the past two years, which corresponds to about 0.6 points per game, accounting for his recent form.  This number is a bit high, but considering the weak-link nature of the secondary, it could weaken the Bills more than the sum of one player and present an exploitable opportunity for the Rams.  The biggest risk to the Rams is posed by the elbow of QB Matthew Stafford, who is worth about a touchdown to the point spread over his replacement.  All signs point toward a healthy Week 1 for the Rams signal caller, but it is something to monitor down the road.  

Saints @ Falcons (+5.5, 42.5)

There are some high-profile players out of this game, including Saints first-round OT Trevor Penning and Falcons star LB Deion Jones — both officially ruled out while on injured reserve.  Jones was roughly replacement-level last year, so his absence is likely not a big deal from a point-spread perspective, while Penning could cause a cascading effect along an offensive line that lost Terron Armstead in the offseason and is protecting a quarterback in Jameis Winston who is coming off of an ACL and a subsequent preseason injury.  

Michael Thomas, who was worth an average of two-thirds of a win from 2017-19, returns from an injury that kept him out for all of last year.  A full return for him would be worth a point and a half to the spread.  I’m skeptical it could be that much right away.  Additionally, he is counterbalanced by the arrival of rookie Drake London, selected No. 8 overall in April’s draft.

Ravens @ Jets (+7, 44.5)

The Ravens seemingly are perpetually banged up, missing OLBs David Ojabo, Tyus Bowser, TE Charlie Kolar, NT Travis Jones and RB Gus Edwards for this game.  They do return CBs Marcus Peters (0.32 WAR average), Marlon Humphrey (0.35), OT Ronnie Stanley (0.18), and QB Lamar Jackson (1.34), their four biggest cap hits this year.  

The big one for the Jets is the likely absence of QB Zach Wilson, who, although basically a zero WAR player last year for the team, had a knee injury that has been partially responsible for this number moving from -4 or so on the open to -7 right now.  

Steelers @ Bengals (-6.5, 44)

There’s a few players that might be slowed in this game, namely WR Diontae Johnson and OLB T.J. Watt for Pittsburgh, and QB Joe Burrow, WR Tee Higgins and CB Eli Apple for the Bengals.  However, we’re very likely getting full strength for both teams in their opening-week rivalry game, which is why the point spread hasn’t moved since the game opened.

Patriots @ Dolphins (-3, 46.5)

This game opened at MIA -2.5, and while Patriots rookie WR Tyqyan Thorton is out with a collarbone injury, there isn’t much from an injury perspective moving this line.  In fact, if anything, there’s a pretty big contributor in DB Byron Jones (worth 0.32 WAR over the course of his career) out with an ankle injury for the Dolphins.  

Dolphins star WR Jaylen Waddle (lower-body injury) should be fine for this game.

Eagles @ Lions (+4, 48.5)

The big losses for the Lions are players they’ve never had in the first place, as first-round WR Jameson Williams (knee) and second-round DE Joshua Paschal (hernia) are both out.  The Eagles should be relatively healthy, with RB Miles Sanders, DL Javon Hargrave and C Jason Kelce likely to play, albeit at positions that don’t really move the point spread anyway.

Jaguars @ Commanders (-3, 43.5)

Commanders QB Carson Wentz faces Jacksonville for the second time in as many regular-season weeks after a nightmarish Week 18 a season ago failed to get the Colts in the playoffs. But he’s now quarterbacking a Washington team that is extremely banged up, with TE Logan Thomas, S Kam Curl, OG Trai Turner and others questionable, and RB Brian Robinson, DE Chase Young and RB J.D. McKissic out.  With the Jaguars relatively healthy, this is one of the reasons the point spread has gone from WAS -3.5 to WAS -3.

Colts @ Texans (+8.5, 47)

Matt Ryan’s Colts debut comes in Houston, the place where he infamously surrendered a 28-3 lead at the hands of New England. Indianapolis arrives with some concerns, as OLB Shaq Leonard, DE Kwiti Paye, C Ryan Kelly and WR Isaiah Rodgers are all iffy for the game, while P Rigoberto Sanchez is out with an Achilles injury.  The point spread has remained unchanged from the open, though, showing the lack of value in those positions, relatively speaking.  For the Texans, WR John Metchie, who is battling cancer, is the most notable player out.  

Browns @ Panthers (-2.5, 41.5)

The Panthers, who are now favored against a Cleveland team without its preferred quarterback, have health question marks regarding WR Robbie Anderson (quad) and DT Derrick Brown (oblique), in addition to two backup quarterbacks on injured reserve.

The Browns have their own injury questions — OT Jack Conklin (knee) and S Grant Delpit (hip) — but the biggest movements in the betting market here are largely about things other than injuries.

49ers @ Bears (+7, 41.5)

Both of these teams dealt with a lot of injuries during camp, with the 49ers nursing WR Deebo Samuel, S Jimmie Ward, RB Elijah Mitchell, CB Charvarius Ward — who was worth 0.38 WAR to the Chiefs last season — OT Mike McGlinchey, DE Drake Jackson and DT Arik Armstead.  But they’ve done nothing to move the spread, which actually has moved toward the 49ers after an initial opening of SF (-6.5).  

Already a weak-link position, the Bears receivers are banged up. Couple that with their already-bad offensive line, and Chicago’s concerns might overshadow some of the health issues the 49ers dealt with this preseason.

Chiefs @ Cardinals (+4.5, 53.5)

The Chiefs are mostly healthy, as OT Lucas Niang (WAR = 0.07 last year) their only missing starter.  The Cardinals are nursing injuries to TE Zach Ertz, WR Rondale Moore and C Rodney Hudson.  Despite this, the total for the game has only climbed, making it the highest-projected game of the weekend.

Raiders @ Chargers (-3.5, 52.5)

The big loss in this game on the Chargers side is J.C. Jackson, worth about 0.51 wins last year. But it might be offset by the potential big absence of Raiders stud TE Darren Waller (worth 0.47 WAR in 2020).  This price has stayed the same since it opened, and given the lack of injuries beyond these two, that makes sense.

Giants @ Titans (-5.5, 43.5)

Titans top pass rusher Harold Landry went down with an ACL injury recently, and this price has moved toward the Giants to the tune of about a half of a point — and off of the semi-key number of TEN (-6).  Given that the Giants are struggling themselves with injuries to QB Tyrod Taylor, DEs Azeez Ojulari, Kayvon Thibodeaux, DT Leonard Williams, WRs Kadarius Toney, Sterling Sheppard and PK Graham Gano, the Landry injury evidently represents a huge loss to the AFC’s reigning top seed. 

The Titans finished atop the conference last season despite relying on an NFL record 91 different players. I think the markets are less bullish on them overcoming such significant injury turnover again.

Packers @ Vikings (+1.5, 48)

This game opened around GB (-1.5), got out to GB (-2.5) and bounced back with key injuries to the Packers, including WRs Allen Lazard, Christian Watson, OT David Bakhtiari, OG Elgton Jenkins, S Darnell Savage and TE Ryan Tonyan — many of whom are expected to play this week.  Minnesota lost WR4 Bisi Johnson to a preseason ACL, and TE Irv Smith (worth 0.20 WAR per season in 2019-20) to a thumb injury.  Smith should play, but given that these injuries have mostly evened out, look for a good one in U.S. Bank Stadium come Sunday.

Buccaneers @ Cowboys (+1.5, 50)

It was a rocky road for both teams this preseason, but given Tom Brady’s absence, along with injuries to Aaron Stinnie and Ryan Jensen on the offensive line, along with the uncertain nature of the skill positions (e.g. Chris Godwin), this number has moved ever so slightly toward Dallas, with the total declining a bit as well.

The Cowboys recently lost OT Tyron Smith (worth an average of 0.23 WAR during the course of his career), but will replace him — at least eventually — with Jason Peters, who has been worth 0.2 WAR during his career and 0.11 last year. Thus, the drop-off shouldn’t be that big to the point spread.  The questionable nature of Cowboys S Jayron Kearse (back), CB Jourdan Lewis (hamstring), and WR CeeDee Lamb (foot), along with Smith and WRs Michael Gallup, James Washington being out, has me pausing on whether or not to bet Dallas.

Broncos @ Seahawks (+6.5, 43)

This is an interesting game, with the opener of Seahawks (+4) reflecting in large part the uncertainty at their quarterback position.  We know they haven’t upgraded since the Russell Wilson trade, which has pushed the number out to almost a full touchdown.  Additionally, injuries to RB Kenneth Walker, CB Artie Burns, OLB Boye Mafe, LB Jordyn Brooks, CB Sidney Jones and others threaten to weaken what is already a bad roster.

The Broncos are dealing with the injury to Tim Patrick, who was worth 0.20 WAR last year — roughly a half-point per game — but have good players left in the passing game in WRs Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, TE Albert Okwuegbunam and others.  

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