Real NFL football is back on fields and TV sets beginning Thursday night, but wagering on Week 1 matchups has been going on at sportsbooks for months. Covers checks in on four games seeing noteworthy line movement and action, with insights from John Murray, sportsbook manager at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook.
Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles – Open: -3.5: Move: -4; Move: -4.5; Move: -5.5; Move: -4.5; Move: -4; Move: -3.5; Move: -3; Move: -2.5; Move: -1.5
Philadelphia is expected to have Super Bowl-winning quarterback Nick Foles under center, while No. 1 QB Carson Wentz draws closer to full recovery from a torn ACL late last season. The Eagles made it work without Wentz, riding Foles to three playoff wins, including a riveting 41-33 victory over New England as a 4.5-point underdog in the title game. That capped a 16-3 SU and 13-6 ATS year.
Atlanta won the NFC title two years ago, then blew a 28-3 Super Bowl lead, losing to the Patriots 34-28 in overtime. Last season, the Falcons got back to the playoffs, but lost to Philly 15-10 as a 2.5-point road favorite in the divisional round to finish 11-7 SU (8-10 ATS).
“We opened the Eagles -3.5 back in April. It briefly got as high as 5.5, but mostly was in the -4/-4.5 range during the summer,” Murray said of activity for Thursday’s 8:20 p.m. ET kickoff. “We had a respected player come in and make a large wager on the Falcons +4.5 back in July, and we moved it to 3.5. It’s continued to drop since then and is now all the way down to Philadelphia -1.5, with Carson Wentz looking doubtful for the opener.”
Ageless Tom Brady and New England hope to churn out another title run. The Patriots, who posted a memorable Super Bowl comeback to beat Atlanta two seasons ago, lost a championship shootout to Philadelphia last season, 41-33 as a 4.5-point favorite. Bill Belichick’s squad finished 15-4 SU and 12-7 ATS.
Houston gets its starting QB back into the fold, with the promising Deshaun Watson returning from an ACL tear that shelved him for the last two months of his rookie season. The Texans lost nine of their last 10 games, including the last six in a row, to finish 4-12 SU (7-9 ATS).
“We opened the Patriots at -7 back in April. We took some smaller bets on the Texans at +7, but have mostly just been moving with the market here,” Murray said. “We are currently dealing the game at -6.5. I’m almost positive that we will need Houston on Sunday. There will be a lot of Patriots teasers, and the Patriots will be included in a lot of moneyline parlays.”
Kickoff is at 1 p.m. ET.
Buffalo Bills at Baltimore Ravens – Open: -3.5; Move: -4; Move: -4.5; Move: -5; Move: -5.5; Move: -6; Move: -7; Move: -7.5; Move: -7
Buffalo played musical quarterbacks months ago, trading Tyrod Taylor to Cleveland and signing AJ McCarron as the presumptive starter. But the carousel continued over the weekend, when the Bills traded McCarron to Oakland. Now, either second-year QB Nathan Peterman or first-round draft choice Josh Allen will start the regular season.
This all comes after the Bills actually made the playoffs last year, losing at Jacksonville 10-3 as an 8-point pup in the wild-card round to finish 9-8 SU (10-6-1 ATS). The line movement shows bettors aren’t impressed with any of Buffalo’s decisions, heading into this 1 p.m. ET Sunday contest.
Meanwhile, Baltimore blew a chance at the postseason last year in a shocking 31-27 loss to Cincinnati laying 8 points at home in the season finale. The Ravens had the Bengals in a fourth-down situation at midfield in the final minute and gave up a touchdown pass, losing the game and a playoff berth in one fell swoop. John Harbaugh’s squad went 9-7 SU (8-7-1 ATS).
“This game opened Ravens -3.5, but the Bills looked very different in April than they do now,” Murray said. “Buffalo looks like a team that is committing to a rebuild. I don’t think much of McCarron, but he is an upgrade from Peterman or the rookie Allen. We jumped this line from -6 to -7 when McCarron got hurt (in Week 2 of the preseason), but it had been steadily climbing all summer. We will need the Bills on Sunday.”
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints – Open: -7.5; Move: -9.5
The news for this game isn’t who is playing, but who is not playing. Over the summer, the NFL hit Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston with a three-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. So Ryan Fitzpatrick gets the nod for the Buccaneers, who are coming off a 5-11 campaign (6-9-1 ATS) in which they lost five of their last six games.
New Orleans practically had its bags packed for the NFC Championship Game before ending up on the wrong end of one of the most stunning postseason plays ever. The Saints blew the coverage and a tackle on the final snap of a divisional playoff at Minnesota, giving up a 61-yard TD pass to Stefon Diggs to lose 29-24 as a 5.5-point ‘dog. Sean Payton’s squad ended up 12-6 SU (10-8 ATS).
“The line has gone up over the summer, due mostly to the Jameis Winston suspension,” Murray said of action for this 1 p.m. ET meeting Sunday. “Most of the money we have on this game right now is actually on the Bucs at +7.5, but the market moved up when Winston got suspended, and the Saints look to be one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL this season, which guarantees the public will be on New Orleans next weekend.
“Much like the Patriots and Ravens, I expect to see a lot of teasers and moneyline parlays that include the Saints.”
Patrick Everson is a Las Vegas-based senior writer for Covers. Follow him on Twitter: @Covers_Vegas.