Defending champion Patriots among early NFL Week 1 betting favorites

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With the completion of the NFL draft, it’s a bit easier to get a handle on how teams will come out of the gate when the regular season begins in early September.

The Week 1 slate of games begins with the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots listed as 7.5-point favorites against the Kansas City Chiefs at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. Tom Brady and the Patriots are 8-2 straight-up and 6-2-2 against the spread in their last 10 home games where they were favored by at least 6.5 points.

New England is 9-1 SU and 5-4-1 ATS in their last 10 home games played in September. The Chiefs are 4-1 ATS in their last five games as a road underdog.

The Dallas Cowboys are favored by 5.5 points against the New York Giants in the first Sunday Night Football matchup of the season. Dallas is 3-7 ATS in its last 10 games against the Giants when it was favored. The total has gone under in eight of the teams’ last 10 matchups in Dallas, according to the OddsShark NFL Database.

The Atlanta Falcons, the defending NFC champion, are favored by 6.5 points on the road against the Chicago Bears in Week 1. Atlanta is 7-3 SU and 5-5 ATS in its last 10 games as a road favorite. Since 2009, the Bears are 2-6 SU as a home underdog of 4.0 or more points.

The Detroit Lions are 2.5-point favorites against the Arizona Cardinals. Arizona is 5-2 ATS in its last seven road games in September. Detroit is 8-2 SU and 5-5 ATS in its last 10 home games as a favorite of 4.0 or fewer points.

The Tennessee Titans host the Oakland Raiders in a pick’em. Oakland is 8-2 ATS in its last 10 regular-season road games. Tennessee is 3-6-1 ATS in its last 10 conference home games.

The Washington Redskins are 2.5-point favorites on the NFL point spreads for Week 1 against the Philadelphia Eagles. Philadelphia is 0-3 ATS in its last three games as an underdog of 3.0 or fewer points. Washington is 4-6 SU in its last 10 divisional home games.

The Green Bay Packers are listed as three-point favorites against the Seattle Seahawks. Seattle is 2-8 both SU and ATS in its last 10 road games in September. Green Bay is 7-0 SU and 5-1-1 ATS in its last seven home games against Seattle.

The Minnesota Vikings, who could potentially be facing their former star running back Adrian Peterson, are 3.5-point favorites against the New Orleans Saints in a Week 1 Monday Night Football matchup. Minnesota is 8-2 ATS in its last 10 home games. New Orleans is 6-3-1 ATS in its last 10 conference road games.

And the Denver Broncos are four-point favorites against the Los Angeles Chargers in the second Monday Night Football matchup of opening week. Los Angeles (formerly San Diego) is 1-9 SU in its last 10 divisional road games. Denver is 3-6-1 ATS in its last 10 home games against the Chargers at sports betting sites.

Five NFL players who could become stars in 2019

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By Sam Monson, PFF Senior Analyst

One of my favorite aspects of PFF data and grading is how it can spot the obvious coming when it’s still some ways off on the horizon—getting ahead of the curve and identifying talent before it becomes self-evident. Every year there are players who excel in limited snaps before ultimately being handed a larger role and workload for their teams. When they continue dominating, we wonder how they were ever seen as anything other than superstars.

Case in point: When Joey Porter was a star and the sack leader for the Miami Dolphins back in 2009, coming off a 17.5-sack season, we at PFF were clamoring for his backup –- a former undrafted pass-rusher who had not long before been playing in Canada -– to get more snaps because he was generating pressure at a far greater rate than Porter. Cameron Wake ultimately went on to be one of the best pass rushers of the past decade and looked it from Day 1 if you were seeing beyond the box score numbers.

Such examples are everywhere, and each year it’s always an interesting exercise to take a look through the PFF grading and predict the players that could take that next step if they get the right opportunity. This past week we unveiled our PFF 50—a list of the best 50 players in football entering the season—but in this case let’s look a year from now and predict some players who could make that list in 2020.

Levi Wallace, CB, Buffalo Bills: If there’s a player with the backstory to rival Wake’s, it’s Wallace. With precisely zero scholarship offers coming out of high school, Wallace walked on at Alabama, and eventually earned a starting job. Then he had to do it all over again when he went undrafted before signing as a collegiate free agent with Buffalo. As a rookie in 2018, he earned the highest PFF grade of any first-year cornerback, along with the highest coverage grade, and wasn’t beaten for a catch longer than 29 yards all season. Though he played far fewer snaps than first-round selection Denzel Ward of Cleveland, Wallace looks like a potential star in the making if he’s given greater opportunity in year two.

Vita Vea, DL, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: At the other end of the scale, you’ve got Vea, a player who went in the first round in 2018 but fell off the radar a little because he began the season injured, then took a little while to get going and ultimately didn’t produce the box score production people want to see. Vea ended up with only three sacks, but had 23 additional pressures as a pass-rusher, 17 of which came in the final six weeks of the season. Over that stretch of play, his overall PFF grade was 86.4, and he had a top-20 grade at his position, hinting at what’s to come.

Mackensie Alexander, CB, Minnesota Vikings: Changing positions in the NFL can be a significant adjustment, and sometimes it takes time. The Vikings drafted Alexander in 2016’s second round and moved him inside to the slot after he principally played outside at Clemson. His transition wasn’t smooth, but he has now seen his overall PFF grade improve each year of his NFL career: from 47.5 as a rookie, to 54.1 in 2017, climbing to 78.1 last year. Over the final half of the season, he was the highest-graded cornerback in the league at 88.2, surrendering just 80 receiving yards in a seven-game span. Alexander could emerge as a force with the right opportunity in 2019.

O.J. Howard, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Another former first-round pick, Howard has yet to top 600 receiving yards or 35 receptions in a season, even while tight ends are breaking receiving records across the NFL. Dive deeper into the numbers, however, and Howard looks primed for a huge season with an uptick in opportunity. His overall PFF grade last season was 89.4, higher than any other tight end outside of San Francisco standout George Kittle. And on a yards per route basis, he was third behind only Kittle and Kansas City star Travis Kelce. His average depth of target was 11.3 yards downfield, a top-five mark in the league, and now the vertical threat he brings is being linked up with new Bucs coach Bruce Arians and an offense that lives down the field.

Jon Halapio, C, New York Giants: The Giants are revamping their offensive line in a major way, but one of the unsung components of the rebuild is at center, where Halapio could emerge as a foundation piece to the new-look front. He began last year as New York’s starter before going down with an injury after just 116 snaps of action. But in those snaps, he didn’t allow a single pressure, despite almost 50 pass-blocking snaps against the Jaguars and their array of pass-rushing weapons. With vastly improved players beside him, Halapio could prove to be a significant upgrade as a player who isn’t being talked about much heading into 2019.

Why Jameis Winston could win NFL passing title in 2019

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By Pro Football Focus

We think Jameis Winston will challenge for the passing yardage title in 2019. Last year he trailed only Josh Allen in average depth of target. These throws put Winston in a position to do great things at times (he was second among quarterbacks in the percentage of throws we grade as “positive”), as well as bad things (he was 21st in limiting negatively-graded throws). New Bucs head coach Bruce Arians has a track record of succeeding with high-variance quarterbacks like Winston.  In 2015 Carson Palmer had an MVP-caliber season under Arians, posting roughly the same average depth of target as Winston in 2018 and leading the league in percentage of positively-graded throws.  With Mike EvansChris Godwin and O.J. Howard a very capable trio of pass catchers, look for Winston to either make good on his 2015 draft position or give the Bucs no other option but to find his replacement the following year.