- The Chargers' status as a preseason darling has them giving 3.5 points against the visiting Chiefs, but Andy Reid's penchant for early-season offensive wizardry gives the Chiefs a strong change of pulling off an upset on the road.
NFL bettors rejoice: The preseason is over, and you can finally turn your attention to football that really matters. Week 1 offers plenty of intriguing matchups, a few of which have caught our attention as enticing gambling opportunities. Here are our four best bets against the spread for 2018's opening weekend of NFL action.
Seattle Seahawks at Denver Broncos (-2.5)
Sun. 9/9, 4:25 p.m. EST
The Pick: Denver -2.5
Case Keenum is far from a gunslinger, but he’s a major improvement over what the Broncos had under center in 2017. The 30-year-old threw for 3,547 yards with 22 touchdowns and only seven picks for Minnesota last year, and he now leads a Denver offense that has plenty of talent to work with at wideout. Look for him to get off to a good start in front of one of the rowdiest home crowds. Keenum will benefit from facing a Seahawks secondary that lost the majority of its “Legion of Boom” members.
The secondary isn’t the only unit in Seattle that shed talent over the offseason. The Seahawks also lost TE Jimmy Graham and WR Paul Richardson, which might not seem like much but should make a difference—especially early in the season. And while the Seahawks did their best to address one of the league’s worst offensive lines, blocking Denver's Von Miller and No. 5 pick Bradley Chubb off the edges should prove to be extremely difficult. I think that duo will have Russell Wilson running for his life in Week 1, and the Broncos should win this game by at least a touchdown. It doesn’t hurt that Pete Carroll is a miserable 1-9 ATS in road games in the first two weeks of the season as head coach of the Seahawks. –Zachary Cohen
Buffalo Bills at Baltimore Ravens (-7)
Sun. 9/9, 1:00 p.m. EST
The Pick: Baltimore -7
We won't know for sure until they take the field, but this year's Buffalo Bills roster looks a lot weaker than the one that snuck into the playoffs last season. Nathan Peterman is your Week 1 starter at QB, which is really all you need to know about the state of the quarterback position in Buffalo. The Bills will need to rely on the run more than ever before this season, but the team has lost key pieces of its 2017 offensive line: Eric Wood, Cordy Glenn and Richie Incognito. LeSean McCoy seems set to play at Baltimore despite facing off-the-field controversy, but he hit the dreaded age of 30 in July.
The Ravens—who the Bills narrowly edged for a wild-card spot in 2017—have improved in the offseason, adding more receiving weapons for Joe Flacco. John Brown, Michael Crabtree and Willie Snead can take advantage of a Buffalo D that will be on the field for extended stretches of time in the late-summer heat, and Baltimore will once again trot out a stout defense. At home, John Harbaugh’s team poses a challenge to any opponent, and it should make quick work of a Bills team that has yet to find its way. That you can get them laying just 7 is found money. –Ed McGrogan
Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Chargers (-3.5)
Sun. 9/9, 4:05 p.m. EST
The Pick: Kansas City +3.5
The Chargers are coming off a season in which they went 0-5 against opponents that ended 2017 with double-digit wins and 6-2 against opponents that concluded the season with double-digit losses. Two of the Chargers’ five losses to 10-win teams in 2017 were at the hands of the Chiefs, who won 24-10 in Los Angeles in Week 3 and 30-13 in Kansas City in Week 15. To find the last time the Chiefs lost to the Chargers, you have to go all the way back to Week 17 of the 2013 regular season—and even that was a game the Bolts nearly lost despite being a 15-point home favorite against a Kansas City squad that was resting its key players after having already locked up its playoff seeding.
In the eight games the Chiefs have played and won against the Chargers since then, they’ve outscored their division rival by an average margin of more than 12 points per game. Each of the past three games Kansas City has played and won against the Chargers on the road have been decided by 10 or more points, with the Chiefs winning by an average of 18 points per game. Kansas City has a 13-4 ATS mark versus AFC West opponents to go along with its 16-1 win-loss record over that time frame. The Chargers, on the other hand, are 6-18 straight-up and 9-14-1 ATS against AFC West foes since the start of the 2014 season. Taking the points is the play here, as is a moneyline wager on Kansas City on anything north of +150. –Scott Gramling
Carolina Panthers (-3) at Dallas Cowboys
Sun. 9/9, 4:25 p.m. EST
The Pick: Carolina (-3)
By all reports, the majority of betting slips are coming in on the Panthers here. And while it may be tempting to fade the public in Week 1, there's just too much going against the Cowboys.
This game is going to be all about the rushing attacks, as these two teams built their offenses heavily around the run. Both the Cowboys and Panthers finished in the top four in the NFL in rushing yards per game last season (second and fourth, respectively), and each also finished in the bottom seven in passing yards per game (26th and 28th).
But in attempting to supplement their running games over the offseason, Dallas and Carolina went in two different directions. The Cowboys lost their two biggest receiving weapons in Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. And while I use the term "weapons" lightly here, an absence of pass-catching talent will allow opponents to stack the box in hopes of stopping Ezekiel Elliott. Given that All-Pro center Travis Frederick is almost certain to miss at least several weeks of action after being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, that's going to be a problem.
Carolina, meanwhile, is well-positioned to control possession on the road with a backfield trifecta of Cam Newton, Christian McCaffrey and C.J. Anderson. Anderson was a 1,000-yard rusher in Denver last season and represents a major upgrade over Jonathan Stewart. McCaffrey put on muscle in the offseason to help him work between the tackles. I like Carolina to grind its way to a decisive season-opening win in Dallas. –Sam Chase