Week 1 Throwing Darts: Bill Belichick's redemption year
And now it’s time for Throwing Darts, a spot where I pick five NFL games every week against the spread (all lines provided by our friends at BetMGM).
We’ve been doing this since 2010, and have posted a winning record in nine of 11 seasons. Unfortunately, last year was one of the wayward seasons. Let’s try to correct that.
Patriots -3 vs. Dolphins
One of my favorite in-season handicapping tropes is to back a strong team that was just recently embarrassed; the idea is you get a focused, motivated, high-end performance the next time out. This idea can also work season-to-season. Bill Belichick is coming off a 7-9 record, his first losing season in 20 years.
Last year, Belichick didn’t have the pieces to work with, especially on defense. This year, despite Stephon Gilmore being on the PUP list, the Patriots defense is loaded. And we know Belichick’s masterful record when working against an inexperienced opposing quarterback. Have a seat, Tua Tagovailoa. New England isn’t one of the AFC’s kingpins entering 2021, but this should be a winning team now that the personnel is where Belichick wants it.
Raiders +4.5 vs. Ravens
Long-term, I’m not a fan of this Raiders team. Jon Gruden wasn’t the right hire, the offensive line is below average, and they probably haven’t adequately fixed a defense that was 28th in DVOA last year. But I do like Gruden in a game that’s as much about emotion as execution — the first full-fan experience in Vegas, on a Monday night no less — and Baltimore just had the worst bad-luck summer of any NFL team. The Raiders have started fast and run out of gas in the last two seasons, and I suspect this year will also follow that pattern.
Rams -7.5 vs. Bears
Sean McVay finally has a quarterback that opens up his playbook, and the horrendous Chicago offensive line is overmatched against Aaron Donald and friends. The right play for Matt Nagy is to sacrifice Andy Dalton Week 1, then let Justin Fields debut in a friendlier spot — perhaps next week’s home game against Cincinnati.
Football Team -1 vs. Chargers
Two teams I’m excited about long-term. WFT gets a body-clock advantage (the Chargers, meanwhile, will feel like it’s 10 am) and Ryan Fitzpatrick should be a notable improvement over last year’s primary starting quarterbacks (full disclosure, Taylor Heinicke is also interesting). The Football Team had a Top-5 defense last year (third in DVOA) and given the ages and shape of that unit, I fully expect it to dominate again. Let’s give the new Chargers staff a few weeks to find its stride. Hail to the … Football Team.
Packers -3 vs. Saints
It’s rare that this column will be heavy on favorites (when in doubt, always take the points), but we go where the slate takes us. Sean Payton is entering the Gap Year hell that Belichick just dealt with; brilliant coach, lack of adequate personnel. Payton can still play chess with anyone, but he doesn’t have a full set of material. It’s just another road game for Green Bay, while the Saints have had to deal with the unfortunate reality of being unrooted. The last time Jameis Winston was an NFL starter, it was a carnival — fun, but dysfunctional. I’ll happily play against that again.