Week 1 of the NFL season routinely tells lies. The goal of any winning handicapper has to be figuring out which teams were lying in their opening game performances.
Look no further than last year for some excellent examples. On opening day of the 2015 NFL season, the Tennessee Titans blew out Tampa Bay 42-14. Marcus Mariota looked like a superstar, throwing four TD passes in his NFL debut and finishing the game with a perfect passer rating.
If you bet the Titans the following week, you watched them lose outright by two touchdowns to the NFL’s worst team, Cleveland. Mariota threw only five TD passes over the next four weeks before getting hurt. Tennessee finished the season tied for the worst pointspread record in the NFL, cashing only three winning bets in their final 15 games. The Titans lied to us in Week 1.
Remember when the Dolphins beat the Redskins, and covered as four point road favorites in Washington, thanks to a Jarvis Landry punt return touchdown in the fourth quarter. Miami lost their next three games so badly that head coach Joe Philbin didn’t survive their bye week. They finished the season, like Tennessee, with only three more pointspread covers in their final 15 games; one of which came in Week 17 against a Patriots team that was resting starters. The Dolphins lied to us in Week 1.
So did the Redskins, for that matter. Washington was a four point home dog to Miami last year in Week 1. They were three point home dogs to the Rams in Week 2, a game Washington won by two touchdowns. By the time the playoffs rolled around, the Redskins were laying points to the Packers. Washington was a big fat liar in Week 1 last year.
I certainly can’t forget the Monday Night Football late game in Week 1 of the 2015 campaign, perhaps the best example in recent memory of how much a Week 1 performance affects the pointspread moving forward. Minnesota got blown off the field by San Francisco in a 20-3 loss. The Vikings defense got abused by San Fran’s ground game while their own offense went a combined 1-for-10 on third and fourth downs; unable to generate anything.
The Vikings went 13-2 ATS in their final 15 regular season games, and covered the spread in their playoff loss to Seattle as well. Following that ugly Week 1 national TV loss, the next time Minnesota lost a bet for their backers came on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Meanwhile, the 49ers followed their national TV blowout win by losing their next three games by a combined margin of 107-28, and had a losing ATS record thereafter. Both the Vikings and the 49ers lied on the Monday Night Football opener in Week 1.
So, as soon as the 2016 Week 1 results were in the books, our goal should be to figure out which teams were lying. That’s not info we’re going to find from box score analysis – only one of the Week 1 wins or losses outlined above was statistically fraudulent (Miami’s win at Washington).
The markets believed what happened so sincerely that there was ATS value for months betting on or against teams that gave outlier efforts to open the season. Stats aren’t going to help us. There’s got to be an overriding narrative that trumps the stats!
The one team that stands out like a sore thumb in this regard is the Philadelphia Eagles. Philly enjoyed the single biggest margin of victory in the entire NFL in Week 1; the only blowout all day. This was a week where, were it not for the “meaningless” last-play-of–the-game safety from Indy, eight of the first 14 games were decided by two points or less, or in overtime. So there weren’t a ton of games that stood out as making any team look particularly good or particularly bad.
I can confidently write that rebuilding Cleveland is the worst team in the NFL (even after watching the Titans on Sunday, and before watching San Fran on Monday Night). Therefore a team that looks good against the Browns – like the Eagles sort of did – is likely to be a notch or two overvalued moving forward. I’d take the “Carson Wentz Under 101 QB rating” (his rating against Cleveland) in any remaining Eagles game moving forward, and will be looking for opportunities to bet against Philly in the short term.
The Jets found a way to lose at home against the Bengals thanks to a handful of blown coverages, red zone chances, a botched extra point and a missed short field goal? New York notched seven sacks on Andy Dalton, the most he’s taken in his career, and that came without defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson on the field.
Ryan Fitzpatrick was so close to converting about a half dozen big plays in the passing game; a correctable problem for a squad that averaged only 5.2 yards per pass while allowing 8.8 to Cincy.
The markets are likely to view those passing game numbers as problematic for New York, especially given the way shutdown corner Darrelle Revis got torched by AJ Green. And the Jets upcoming schedule is downright brutal. They travel to Buffalo this Thursday on a short week, followed by games against the Chiefs, Seahawks, Steelers and Cardinals in their next four.
There is only one home game in that span, meaning that the Jets are likely to be underdogs in all five of those games. The markets weren’t particularly high on New York heading into the season. That Week 1 home loss has the potential to offer additional value on the Jets as dogs moving forward.