NFL best bets Week 1: 49ers, Packers and Ravens among smartest picks to target

Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season has arrived, and it figures to be one of the biggest seasons for bettors in league history. A recent survey suggests that the number of American adults betting on games has increased by 36 percent, so that means a lot of newbies will be looking to get in on the action.

If you’re one of those people, maybe you need some tips and advice. Conversely, maybe you have experience and have spent months scouring odds, researching underdogs and sleepers and reviewing every NFL trend known to man and are now looking to confirm your findings.

Whatever your skill level, the Week 1 slate presents a lot of opportunity for gamblers. At this early point in the season, there are still teams that are overrated and underrated because of their performances last year. Identifying those teams — in addition to the teams in advantageous Week 1 spots — will give bettors a good chance to start the season off well.

Here’s a look at Sporting News’ best bets for Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season, including picks against the spread, moneyline bets, over/under wagers and some player props.

NFL best bets Week 1

(All odds are courtesy of FanDuel Sportsbook.)

49ers (-7.5) at Lions

As of this writing, the 49ers are tied for the biggest Week 1 favorite with the Buccaneers. That said, San Francisco is the more appealing of the two and may be the most appealing team to take in Week 1.

The 49ers were one of the best teams in the NFL during the 2019 season but regressed badly in 2020 due to countless injuries. They are now healthy and should have a chance to pick apart a lackluster Lions defense.

Jimmy Garoppolo, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk and Raheem Mostert are all healthy, so they should key a solid offensive performance. Defensively, the 49ers should be able to contain Jared Goff. They have experience facing the former Rams passer, and while he has 14 passing TDs against the 49ers — the most he has against any one team — he also has six interceptions, five fumbles and just a 3-5 record against the Niners.

It will be harder for Goff to keep Detroit in the game given the lack of talent they have surrounding him, especially since D’Andre Swift has been banged up. The 49ers should win this game by double digits, even on the road.

Cardinals (+3) at Titans

The Titans may have a strong offense, but their defense is still a work in progress. Their front seven should be better after adding Bud Dupree during the offseason, but their secondary is still a problem. Their top corners are Janoris Jenkins, rookie Caleb Farley and second-year player Kristian Fulton, who had his share of issues in 2020.

The Cardinals have the firepower needed to make that a problem for the Titans’ defense, as their receivers can take advantage of the weakness at cornerback while Kyler Murray will be able to mitigate the Tennessee pass rush with his mobility. Their defense should be better after adding J.J. Watt and Zaven Collins to the fold, so they could win this one outright.

Taking Arizona as three-point underdogs seems like a no-brainer. After all, they nearly made the playoffs last year and probably would have if Murray hadn’t been dinged up.

Packers (-4) vs. Saints

The Packers seemingly have an advantage over the Saints heading into their Sunday meeting. Part of it is because of the matchup between Aaron Rodgers and the Saints secondary. New Orleans lacks cornerback depth — though it just signed Desmond Trufant to a contract — so Rodgers may be able to exploit that weakness.

Also, it’s worth noting that this game is no longer being played in New Orleans. It will be played in Jacksonville as New Orleans continues to recover from Hurricane Ida.

Recent examples of games being moved to a neutral site due to weather are rare. However, in three instances of this happening since 2010, the “road” team has outscored the “home” team by three points per game. And in each instance, the better-regarded team — home or road — ended up winning the game in blowout fashion.

The Packers are better than the Saints right now since they have such a big advantage at quarterback. Jameis Winston should allow the Saints to hang around, but the Packers should be able to cover here. 

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Best NFL moneyline bets Week 1

Washington moneyline (-108) vs. Chargers

Washington being a one-point home underdog doesn’t quite seem right, even against a well-built team like the Chargers. It’s true that Washington didn’t perform well in the preseason and averaged just 11 points per game. However, their starting defense — and Chase Young, in particular — looked very good. And if William Jackson III can get healthy, he will have a big impact on the secondary.

If Washington’s defense shows up, it could make life difficult for Justin Herbert and the Chargers. Los Angeles opted to sit most of its starters during the preseason, so Herbert hasn’t seen in-game action since Week 17. He could be slow out of the gate against a good defense as a result, especially if his new-look offensive line takes some time to jell. Add in that this will be Brandon Staley’s first regular-season game as an NFL head coach and Washington looks very appealing as an underdog.

Jets moneyline (+205) at Panthers

Look, this might be a bit crazy, but if you look at recent trends, the numbers favor the Jets.

According to CBS Sportslines’ Allan Bell, quarterbacks in their first career NFL starts are 18-5 against the spread over the last two seasons. Also, the Jets have never had a rookie quarterback lose in a Week 1 start. They’re 4-0 straight up. That’s an advantage to Zach Wilson. 

Wilson will have growing pains at some point this year, but he well may earn a victory out of the gate. The Panthers aren’t exactly the strongest competition; they have a good roster, but if former Jets first-round pick Sam Darnold struggles behind a mediocre offensive line, that could open the door for a Jets victory.

Is this likely? Maybe not. But if you’re looking to take a risk on a road underdog this week, the Jets are a solid bet. If that’s a bit too rich for your taste, then you can take Jets (+5) instead.

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Best NFL over/under bets Week 1

Eagles at Falcons: UNDER 48.5 (-115)

Since 2018, head coaches leading new teams have averaged just 17.1 points per game in Week 1. Only three of those 20 coaches have seen their team score more than 23 points.

The Eagles and Falcons are both breaking in new coaches for the 2021 NFL season. Nick Sirianni is in charge of Philadelphia while Arthur Smith is running the show in Atlanta. They could end up being great head coaches, but given the recent history, it seems likely that their offenses will sputter out of the gate.

Granted, neither the Eagles nor the Falcons have a strong defense. Still, Jalen Hurts has had accuracy issues for the Eagles while Matt Ryan could struggle if he faces pressure from a strong Eagles pass rush. This game has the seventh-highest point total of the week, but it’s safe to bet the under here in what should be a low-scoring game.

Ravens: OVER 27.5 points at Raiders (-108)

John Harbaugh has won five consecutive Week 1 games for the Ravens, and almost all of the wins have come in convincing fashion. His Ravens should have a chance to continue that streak and rack up some points against the Raiders.

Las Vegas was one of the NFL’s weaker defenses last season. Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden added talent like Yannick Ngakoue, K.J. Wright and Casey Hayward to the fold to help bolster each level of the stop unit, but will it all come together? That remains to be seen. Even if they do, they’ll have a hard time slowing down a dynamic Ravens offense led by Lamar Jackson.

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The Ravens will have a chance to post 30+ points in this one. That’s something they’ve done in each of their last three season openers.

You can certainly trust the Ravens to put up at least 28 if they perform the way their offense has in recent years. And betting on them at (-4.5) or the game’s over total of 51 wouldn’t be a bad bet either.

Best NFL player prop bets Week 1

Player props will be added throughout the week leading up to games.

Ezekiel Elliott rushing yards: UNDER 54.5 (-114)

Elliott faces a tough task against the Bucs on Thursday night. He’s taking on a run defense that allowed a league-low 82.7 yards per game last season and will do so without the services of his top offensive lineman, Zack Martin (COVID).

Last season, Elliott played in five games that Martin missed due to injury. He averaged 63.4 rushing yards per game on 15 carries, but on three occasions, he was held to under 50 rushing yards. Those teams ranked sixth, 15th and 29th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed during the 2020 season.

And though, Elliott will benefit from having Dak Prescott back, but if the Cowboys fall behind early, they may not run as much as they play catchup. There are a lot of factors going against Elliott in this matchup, so even at this very low total, it’s hard to recommend trusting him. The Bucs should find a way to shut him down.

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