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NFL picks: Week 1 best bets

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Intro by Doug Kezirian

It's rare to have a player beloved by both the betting public and house, but Patrick Mahomes was just that in 2020.

"He was the darling of the bettors last year and definitely the bookmakers where they had that unbelievable streak of winning but not covering," MGM director of race and sports Jeff Stoneback told ESPN, referencing Kansas City's stretch of nine straight wins with only one cover (1-8 ATS).

Recreational bettors remained undeterred and willing to lay points, and that appears as though it's carrying over into 2021. The Chiefs (-6) represent about 75% of the betting handle for Sunday's game against Cleveland, according to Stoneback, who doesn't anticipate a need to shade the line once the weekend arrives. "It won't be as one-sided as if they were playing the [Houston] Texans or someone like that."

Every Friday during the season, ESPN betting analysts Doug Kezirian, Joe Fortenbaugh, Anita Marks and Tyler Fulghum, sports betting deputy editor David Bearman, Seth Walder of ESPN analytics and Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders will tell us what they like from Sunday's NFL slate.

Note: Lines courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook as of Thursday night.


8:20 p.m. ET game

Chicago Bears at Los Angeles Rams (-7.5, 46.5)

Kezirian: The Bears are who we think they are, as the late Denny Green insinuated. They have a below-average quarterback in Andy Dalton with limited weapons and a respectable defense. That is no match for a Rams squad with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations. While Matthew Stafford is highly regarded by most bettors, he will still outperform expectations. That's how strongly I believe he jells with Sean McVay and how much the Rams upgraded at the QB position. Jared Goff had his moments, but for the most part he was not the answer. Stafford will shine once he rids himself of the Lions stench, and I think this a big performance for the home team.

Pick: Rams -7.5; Rams -1.5 in 6-point teaser with Buccaneers -2

Fortenbaugh: All the talk in Chicago this preseason has been about the quarterback battle between veteran Andy Dalton and first-round pick Justin Fields, but don't lose sight of the fact that the Bears are traveling to Los Angeles in Week 1 with a highly suspect offensive line and big question marks surrounding the cornerback position. That's bad news considering the fact that Aaron Donald and the Rams ranked first in the NFL in both total defense and scoring defense last season. Take note that head coach Sean McVay is 4-0 both straight up and against the spread in Week 1 since taking over as head coach of the Rams, with an offense that is scoring an average of 32.2 points per game and a defense that is surrendering an average of just 16.5 points per game.

Pick: Rams -7.5; Rams -1.5 in 6-point teaser with 49ers -1.5

Bearman: A great nugget from Stats & Information's Mackenzie Kraemer shows that this is the fourth consecutive year these two teams, with Matt Nagy and Sean McVay as head coaches, are meeting and that the previous three went under the total. Not just under the total, but the average combined score was 26.3, with scores of 15-6, 17-7 and 24-10. None of those came close to the total and all three were prime-time games, just like this one.

Yes, this is a different year, but how much has changed, as we can't just go off last year. Well, the Bears drafted Fields with a high first-round draft pick, but Nagy is going with Dalton, who is among the worst prime-time players in the league, going 0-6 outright (1-5 ATS) on Sunday night games. The Rams traded Goff for Stafford in the offseason and then lost starting RB Cam Akers before the first preseason game. So, we have Stafford without Akers vs. Dalton on Sunday night. Add in the Rams' top-ranked defense from 2020 and give me the under.

Pick: Under 46.5


4 p.m. ET games

Denver Broncos (-3, 42) at New York Giants