Want to know why the National Football League is unequivocally and without a shadow of a doubt the No. 1 sport in the United States of America?
When you think about it, it’s really quite simple. The NFL dominates the competition because it possesses the marketing genius to transform two administrative tasks in the NFL Draft and the compilation of the NFL regular season schedule into primetime must-see television.
Process that previous sentiment for a moment. The NFL Draft is nothing more than the league’s 32 member organizations hiring entry-level, fresh-out-of-college personnel. Companies like Microsoft, Amazon and Nike do that every spring to zero fanfare. Yet, when the NFL does it, the process takes place on a bedazzled stage while broadcast over multiple television networks during a three-day span.
Meanwhile, the NFL schedule is nothing more than the league alerting its teams as to when, where and against whom they will perform each of their 16 regular season contests. That’s akin to Southwest Airlines informing its pilots or Outback Steakhouse telling its servers when they are scheduled to work. But when it comes to the annual release of the NFL schedule, we all gather ‘round the internet machines and television sets to dissect every last bit of information.
On Thursday evening, the NFL released to the world the dates, times and locations of its 256 regular season games scheduled to be played during the upcoming season. Our mission at the moment is to identify 10 must-bet matchups contained within that schedule.
And so, it begins.
*The pointspreads listed below are projections created by the author.
Week 1: New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys
Date: Sunday, September 10 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Projected spread: Dallas -4.5
This one is becoming somewhat of a tradition as the Giants and Cowboys are scheduled to face each other in Week 1 for the fifth time in six years and for the third consecutive season in Dallas on Sunday Night Football.
Here are two more traditions that are starting to take shape when it comes to the Dallas-New York rivalry: The Giants are 5-0 against the spread in their last five games against the Cowboys, while the Over has cashed in seven of the last eight meetings between these two franchises in Big D.
Week 1: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns
Date: Sunday, September 10 at 1:00 p.m. ET
Projected total: 47.5
The Under has cashed in each of the last five meetings between the Steelers and Browns that have taken place in Cleveland.
Further, the Under is 8-1 over the last nine encounters between the Steelers and Browns that have taken place in Cleveland.
Week 2: San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks
Date: Sunday, September 17 at 4:25 p.m. ET
Projected spread: Seattle -10.5
Week 2 marks the commencement of a brutal stretch of football for first-year head coach Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers, who will play five road games in seven weeks after kicking off the season with a highly physical affair against Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers.
Since 2009, the Seahawks are a stellar 8-0-1 ATS when playing at home against the 49ers, which includes the postseason.
Week 4 & Week 10: Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers and Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears
Date(s): Thursday, September 28 at 8:25 p.m. ET and Sunday, November 12 at 1:00 p.m. ET
Projected spread(s): Green Bay -7 and Green Bay -4
These two games are listed for a very simple reason: since taking over as the starting quarterback of the Green Bay Packers in 2008, Aaron Rodgers is 14-4 ATS against the Chicago Bears.
Week 7: Kansas City Chiefs at Oakland Raiders
Date: Thursday, October 19 at 8:25 p.m. ET
Projected spread: Oakland -3.5
This is an absolutely horrific spot for Andy Reid and the Chiefs, who will host the Pittsburgh Steelers on a Sunday just four days before traveling over 1,500 miles across two time zones to challenge Derek Carr and the Raiders in front of a hostile Coliseum crowd.
History has been brutal to teams facing this situation. The shoe was on the other foot last December as the Raiders traveled to Kansas City for a Thursday night game that saw the Chiefs emerge victorious 21-13 as 3.5-point favorites.
In fact, the NFL has tried to eliminate situations in which Thursday night games feature road teams traveling over 1,500 miles across two time zones, but we still have one of these rare beauties surface from time to time to make us some easy money.
Week 9: Denver Broncos at Philadelphia Eagles
Date: Sunday, November 5 at 1:00 p.m. ET
Projected spread: Philadelphia -2
The Broncos come off a Week 5 bye to host the New York Giants before embarking on a three-game road trip that will pit the franchise against division rivals San Diego (Week 7) and Kansas City (Week 8) as well as an east coast showdown with the Philadelphia Eagles (Week 9).
Pay particular attention to the Eagles game. Denver will play back-to-back roadies against divisional rivals (San Diego and Kansas City), the second of which takes place on a Monday night. The team will then fly across the country on short rest for an early start time against a non-conference opponent one week before hosting Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
This game is being served up on a silver platter for Carson Wentz and the Eagles.
Week 15: Dallas Cowboys at Oakland Raiders
Date: Sunday, December 17 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Projected spread: Oakland -3
By the year 2020 at the latest, the Oakland Raiders will cease existence while the Las Vegas Raiders will rise to prominence. For Sin City, this is excellent news. For the great people of the East Bay, this is an absolutely devastating development. But that doesn’t mean we, as sports bettors, are without a silver lining.
Every primetime game at the Coliseum from now until the move is likely to feature the most hostile atmosphere in all the National Football League. And keep in mind that this fan base has witnessed only three home primetime matchups over the last four seasons. The results:
11/20/2014: Losers of 10 straight games to open the season, the Raiders upset Kansas City on a Thursday night by way of a 24-20 final.
12/24/2015: In future Hall of Famer Charles Woodson’s final home game at the Coliseum, the Raiders defeat the Chargers 23-20 on Christmas Eve.
11/6/2016: The defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos can’t stop Oakland’s ground-and-pound rushing attack as the Raiders emerge victorious 30-20.
Three games, three wins. Lay the points with the Silver and Black in this spot.
Week 15: New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers
Date: Sunday, December 17 at 4:25 p.m. ET
Projected spread: Pittsburgh -2.5
Tom Brady and the Patriots have owned Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers over the last decade, but this is where Pittsburgh exacts its revenge.
New England comes off the bye in Week 9 to play a daunting five road games over a six week stretch that looks like this: at Denver (Week 10), vs. Oakland in Mexico City (Week 11), vs. Miami (Week 12), at Buffalo (Week 13), at Miami (Week 14) and at Pittsburgh (Week 15).
As if that wasn’t enough of a ball-buster, the Pittsburgh game comes on a short week, as the Patriots will play Miami on a Monday night in Week 14.
Week 16: Los Angeles Rams at Tennessee Titans
Date: Sunday, December 24 at 1:00 p.m. ET
Projected spread: Tennessee -4
This marks the third away game in four weeks for the Rams, who will travel to Arizona in Week 13 before hosting the Eagles in Los Angeles in Week 14… and then it’s back on the road for daunting trips to division rival Seattle and non-conference opponent Tennessee before closing the season back in Southern California against the 49ers.
Coming off a physical road encounter with the Seahawks before traveling east for an early start time against an unfamiliar foe with a mobile quarterback in Marcus Mariota, it will be real easy for the Rams to slip up in this spot.
Further, the Titans will be returning home to Nashville for this showdown after back-to-back road trips against Arizona and San Francisco, so you should get a big finishing kick from Tennessee in this situation.