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November 17, 2018

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Vegas pick’em: NFL week 1 winners against the spread

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AP

Falcons running back Devonta Freeman, left, celebrates his second touchdown run of the day with quarterback Matt Ryan during the second quarter of their NFL football game against the Texans in Atlanta on Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

Week 1: Cowboys at Panthers

Which side would you take in Cowboys at Panthers? (Poll consensus last season: 9-11-1)
Panthers minus-3 — 67.2%
Cowboys plus-3 — 32.8%

This poll is closed, see Full Results »

Note: This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

The 2018 Super Bowl champions play tonight as the NFL season kicks off. The 2019 Super Bowl champions might be playing too.

Talking Points is making the Atlanta Falcons its official bet to hoist the Lombardi Trophy six months from now at the end of the season. The Falcons are available at as high as 18-to-1 in sports books.

They’re one of several teams that come into the season looking undervalued by the betting market. Nothing is more consistent on a year-to-year basis than a highly efficient offense, and Atlanta stands right with New England, Pittsburgh and New Orleans as the best in the NFL over the last half-decade.

And the Falcons are the one team in that group almost sure to improve offensively this season. The Falcons had the seventh to 10th best offense in the NFL last year depending on the metric, and it was considered a down year.

Much of the blame fairly fell on first-year offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, who’s also a cause of pessimism heading into this season. But last season was Sarkisian’s first year calling plays in the NFL.

What if he just needed some time to acclimate?

It’s not as if previous coordinator Kyle Shanahan had the Falcons marching up and down the field immediately. Shanahan presided over a record-setting offense in his second year, with the Falcons scoring 540 points and gaining 6.7 yards per play, but in his debut campaign, they only put up 339 points and 5.6 yards per play.

The Falcons scored 353 points and averaged 5.8 yards per play in Sarkisian’s first year.

They’re due to see a boost, and not just on offense. Atlanta is quietly just as star-studded on defense, with young stars at every level — including Vic Beasley up front, Deion Jones at middle linebacker and Desmond Trufant in the secondary.

Almost everyone is entering their primes together, which is a scary proposition for the rest of the league this year.

It’s often been considered an inevitably that a team would end up playing in the Super Bowl in their home stadium, and the Minnesota Vikings came within a victory of pulling it off last year. Look for the Falcons to finish the job in 2018, as they'll thwart the Steelers, widely available at 10-to-1 to win the championship, in front of a partisan crowd on Feb. 3, 2019, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta.

It didn’t feel right to begin the season without making a Super Bowl prognostication, but it’s not the primary objective of the initial column. Let’s get to the picks of every game, which are coming off of a banner year.

Talking Points went 148-111-7 against the spread picking every game last season, including 36-17 on top-rated “plays.”

Check below for selections on all of week 1 games, separated into three confidence categories — plays, leans and guesses — and listed in rough order of confidence. Lines are the best currently available in Las Vegas on the chosen side.

Plays (0-0)

Miami Dolphins plus-1.5 vs. Tennessee Titans No team in the NFL overachieved more than the Titans last year, which not only advanced to the playoffs but won a game despite mediocre offensive and defensive metrics that made for a negative point differential on the year. With Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill healthy, the Dolphins are roughly the Titans’ equal and should not under any circumstances receive points on the betting line at home in the matchup.

Dallas Cowboys plus-3 at Carolina Panthers It feels foolish to expect new offensive coordinator Norv Turner to catalyze the Panthers’ dwindling offense given his underwhelming recent track record. It feels even more foolish to ignore how efficient the Cowboys’ offense has performed with both running back Ezekiel Elliott and left tackle Tyron Smith healthy.

Indianapolis Colts minus-3 vs. Cincinnati Bengals Looking for spots to back Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, whose stock is at an all-time low following a prolonged shoulder injury, and new coach Frank Reich, who was an underrated part of the Eagles’ Super Bowl coup last season. Indianapolis’ ceiling is much higher than the dependably average-to-mediocre Bengals.

Leans (0-0)

Oakland Raiders plus-4.5 vs. Los Angeles Rams Khalil Mack might be the best defensive player in the NFL, and yet he’s still not worth the 1 to 1.5 points this point spread moved after the Raiders traded him to the Chicago Bears. Stock already couldn’t have been higher on the Rams, leaving little value to backing them early in the season.

Los Angeles Chargers minus-3 vs. Kansas City Chiefs Yes, the Chiefs are still loaded with talent but it seems presumptuous to assume quarterback Patrick Mahomes will step in as a polished product immediately. Grab the short price at the few sports books still offering it, before Los Angeles is giving the far-less valuable 3.5 points at every shop in town.

Atlanta Falcons plus-2 at Philadelphia Eagles Can’t follow that gushing introduction by picking against the Falcons in the season debut, even if the deluge of action on them to knock this spread down from minus-5 is a little disconcerting. Let’s not forget the Falcons were 2.5-point favorites in the divisional round at Philadelphia in January, and a few yards away from knocking off the eventual champions.

Denver Broncos minus-3 vs. Seattle Seahawks Denver might be coming into the season as the league’s healthiest team, and it maintains one of the league’s top home-field advantages at Broncos Stadium at Mile High. Seattle might be a bet-on team long term, but it’s breaking in a lot of new pieces in week 1.

Buffalo Bills plus-7.5 at Baltimore Ravens No one likes the Bills right now, and though they may have good reasons, the overwhelming consensus has pushed their betting numbers too high. The Ravens tied for last in the NFL last year by averaging only 4.6 yards per play, an ineptitude that indicates they shouldn’t be laying more than a touchdown to any team. Let alone attracting a midweek-high 95 percent of the money and 86 percent of the tickets at William Hill sports books.

Guesses (0-0)

New Orleans Saints minus-9.5 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers This line moved only two points after the NFL announced the three-game suspension of Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. The drop-off from the solid, and suddenly underrated, Winston to the 35-year-old, turnover-stricken Ryan Fitzpatrick might be worth a little more than that.

Green Bay Packers minus-7.5 vs. Chicago Bears Please reference the first sentence of the Raiders’ pick. This line has shot down since the Bears acquired Mack, but the Packers also made a big, offseason addition on defense in edge rusher Muhammad Wilkerson, who should help torment second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and a still-uninspiring Bears’ offense.

New England Patriots minus-6 vs. Houston Texans Anyone who’s read Talking Points before knows the rule about to be invoked — Don’t bet against coach Bill Belichick’s Patriots unless the line makes it unavoidable. Even with two straight against-the-spread losses coming into the season, New England is 187-132-6 versus the number under Belichick.

New York Giants plus-3 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars It’s unpleasant having to side with either of these teams to start the season, considering they both look like decided bet-against squads. Getting a full field goal with a home team that will heavily feature rookie running back Saquon Barkley against a defense that gave up a concerning 4.3 yards per rushing attempt last season feels like the lesser of two evils.

Pittsburgh Steelers minus-3.5 vs. Cleveland Browns There’s a lot to like about the Browns this season from a personnel standpoint. Coaching remains a massive issue, however, and the team has been so untrustworthy that some concrete signs of progress would be preferable before jumping in with them on a game-to-game basis.

New York Jets plus-7 at Detroit Lions The Lions have too many question marks on their roster — namely along the offensive line and in the defensive secondary — to lay this many points to start the year. They were only a touchdown or more favorite twice last year — once against the winless Browns and once in week 17 against the Packers, which had shut down a number of starters for the last game.

Washington Redskins plus-1 at Arizona Cardinals Taking a small number with an ordinary East coast team traveling West sounds like a losing proposition. Problem is, laying points with a team arguably undergoing the NFL’s most pronounced rebuild also sounds like a losing proposition. It’s probably best not to get involved.

San Francisco 49ers plus-6.5 at Minnesota Vikings Waited patiently all offseason to bet against the 49ers and over-lauded quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, but the situation requires holding off for at least another week. The Vikings are beaten up to an irregular degree coming into the season, especially along the offensive line, which are often impactful injuries not accurately reflected on the point spread.

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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