Four games in the opening week of the 2012 regular season feature a team favored by less than two points. This list of short favorites includes a pair of 2011 playoff teams, including one who has flopped as an opening-week road favorite in each of the last two seasons.
What follows is a brief look at each of these games from a handicapping perspective. The lines referenced are the consensus lines at VegasInsider.com. All historical data is from Mark Lawrence’s 2012 Stat and Log Book, which compiles pointspread and totals from the last 10 seasons.
Atlanta (-1) at Kansas City
Analysis: If the Chiefs are indeed improved, as some suspect they are, then this is a situation that could really appeal to home-underdog players. Of note: the Chiefs are 6-1 ATS as underdogs at Arrowhead Stadium the last two seasons, with five outright wins.
I’m high on the Falcons, whom I pick to win the NFC South and see as real threats to win the conference. They have been exceptional favorites in Mike Smith’s tenure as head coach, posting a 26-14-1 ATS mark since 2008. That said, they were just 3-6 vs. the spread away from home last year, covering just twice in five games as road favorites (against Indianapolis and Carolina). Moreover, they have lost as road favorites in each of the last two seasons, falling to Pittsburgh in 2010 and Chicago in ’11.
Early lean: I like the Falcons as a season-long proposition, but it’s hard to love them as a favorite in Week One. That said, I’m not exactly crazy about the Chiefs, given such a small cushion.
Seattle at Arizona (-1½)
Analysis: The Cardinals finished a game ahead of the Seahawks a season ago, and the clubs split a pair of games. Why, then, are the Cardinals favored by less than a field goal? Well, when the clubs met in the final game of 2011, Arizona was just a two-point favorite … and won by three. The murkiness of the Cardinals’ QB situation could also be a factor — though it’s not as if Seattle has significantly more clarity at that spot, either.
Early lean: The Cardinals are intriguing at a short price. They have won and covered in five of the last six games in this series at University of Phoenix Stadium, and they have posted winning ATS home records in four of Ken Whisenhunt’s five seasons as head coach. The Under could also have some appeal, though, that has fallen to 40½ at most Nevada books monitored by VegasInsider.com after opening a little higher than that. Hence, some of the value is already zapped out of the Under, though would anyone be surprised by a 14-10 grinder between these two solid defensive clubs?
Pittsburgh at Denver (-1)
Analysis: This game will not lack for betting action, as it features two marquee teams playing on Sunday night. Yes, we can put the Broncos in this category, what with Peyton Manning under center. Manning loyalists will have a hard time passing on Denver at a short price, even off a one-season layoff, while the Steelers, playoff-caliber once again, will have their ardent backers, too. That said, we have a club that was 2-6-1 at home vs. the spread in 2011 hosting a team that covered just twice in nine road games a season ago.
Early lean: This is a head-scratcher for numerous reasons. Until Manning plays a full regular-season game, it’s difficult to be exceptionally confident about whether he’s returned to form — assuming that’s possible. The Steelers will likely be without valuable FS Ryan Clark in Week One, and their secondary faltered against Tim Tebow last January in Denver, so who knows what to expect with Manning at the controls?
San Diego (-1½) at Oakland
Analysis: I would love to be in a sportsbook on the Las Vegas Strip for this game. Monday. It’s the last game of a football-filled long holiday weekend of sorts for NFL fans, what with the season kicking off five days earlier. Some bettors will be winning, and some will be chasing, and there will be some doubling-down going on.
The Raiders were a sneaky-good team vs. the spread in 2011, covering in 10-of-16 regular-season games. They were outstanding as underdogs, too, posting an 8-3 ATS mark. The Chargers, by contrast, were 6-10 ATS in 2011, with a 4-6 mark as favorites. They have failed to cover in their last four openers, losing twice outright, including in Week One of 2010, when they were surprised by the underdog Chiefs in Kansas City.
Early lean: Like the Falcons, I like the Chargers’ long-term potential, but I am less confident in their Week One outlook. The Raiders have won three of the last four meetings between these teams and have the pass rush to give San Diego trouble. I’m guessing San Diego, which has a very good offense, will end up being the public side in the last Monday-night game of Week One, but the higher this number creeps, the more wary I would be of the Chargers.