Football fans have been waiting for what seems like an eternity for the beginning of the 2020 NFL season.
During these unprecedented times, the National Football League hopes to capture the attention of the sporting world while competing directly with both the NBA and NHL playoffs.
This should not be an issue as football has a firm hold at or near the top of the viewership food chain. Nonetheless some match-ups are more exciting than others. Without the customary preseason, there could be some surprising outcomes, especially early in the season.
Let’s take a look at three games on the Week 1 slate that could have unexpected results.
All odds accurate as of Thursday afternoon on SPREADS.CA
Home Underdog of the Week – Carolina Panthers (+3.0 vs Raiders, O/U 47.5)
The Carolina Panthers host the Las Vegas(!) Raiders in Week 1 with a lot of new faces across the entire roster. Teddy Bridgewater is the new quarterback in Carolina, replacing Cam Newton after nine seasons under center (more on him later). The Panthers also were the first team to utilize an entire draft on one side of the ball, that being defense. They will start four rookies on defense against the Raiders in what could be an exciting under-the-radar match-up.
Meanwhile the Raiders underwent a ton of changes on their own, most notably their zip code. Jon Gruden leads the Silver and Black enters the third season of his second tenure with the Raiders and expectations are mixed for the 2020 season. With David Carr under center and Josh Jacobs in the backfield, along with rookie Henry Ruggs III outside, the Raiders have plenty of weapons on offense. Their problem is on defense, a unit that struggles particularly against the pass and forcing turnovers. Last season the Raiders ranked 29th with just nine interceptions and 27th in touchdowns allowed with 33.
Carolina will attack the Raiders with a heavy dose of Christian McCaffrey in both the running and passing game, with the highly accurate Bridgewater calling the shots. Teams typically struggle travelling from the West Coast to the East, and with the less than typical off-season there may be a Vegas hangover.
The Pick: I like Carolina to not only cover, but to win outright 27-21.
Lock of the Week – Buffalo Bills (-6.5 vs Jets, O/U 39.5)
The new look AFC East has all four teams facing off to start the year, and many analysts think the Buffalo Bills are next in line to win the division. They get a chance to jump out early as they host the New York Jets, fresh off another losing (7-9) season.
Adam Gase enters his second year and may already be on the hot seat. Pressure will be on the so-called “Quarterback Whisperer” to get the most out of Sam Darnold in his third season and turn around an offense that was abysmal in 2019. The Jets ranked dead last league-wide in yards and second from the bottom in points last year, but did add some help in Le’Veon Bell and Brashad Perriman.
Meanwhile the Bills were one of the best defenses in the league, allowing the second fewest points and third fewest yards last season. On offense quarterback Josh Allen has high expectations, along with emerging running back Devin Singletary. Of course, do not forget about their biggest free agent acquisition, wide receiver Stefon Diggs. Allen may struggle at times against a solid Jets defense, but Buffalo is simply too talented on both sides of the ball. Look for them to wear down the Jets with both Singletary and Allen on the ground, while forcing Darnold into at least one critical mistake.
The Pick: I am taking Buffalo to pull away late and win, 24-14.
Upset of the Week – Miami Dolphins (+6.5 at Patriots, O/U 42)
Speaking of a new look in the AFC East, no team has undergone more transition than the New England Patriots. GOAT Tom Brady migrated south to sunny Tampa Bay, along with Rob Gronkowski after a one year sabbatical.
Cam Newton joins the Patriots looking to resurrect his career and is now with an organization which will give him ample opportunity to succeed. New England does not appear dynamic on offense, especially at the skill positions. They do have James White who will be a primary target out of the backfield. White only had six touchdowns last season but he managed one in each game against the Dolphins.
For the Dolphins they march into Foxboro with nothing to lose. Ryan Fitzpatrick is back at the helm with what appears to be a vastly improved offense. Jordan Howard and Matt Breida give the Dolphins a solid 1-2 punch at running back, and the emergence of DeVante Parker and Preston Williams will be something to watch.
The defense has what may be the best cornerback tandem in the NFL with Xavien Howard and Byron Jones. All in all, Miami got better while New England has some questions, but until someone dethrones them the Patriots still have to be considered a dangerous team.
Week 1 may act as a litmus test for both teams, and the Dolphins can make an early season statement. These teams have split victories in six of the last seven seasons, and Miami finally broke through for their first win in Foxboro since 2008 last year.
The Pick: In the upset of the week, I take the Dolphins to not only cover but win outright 28-24.
-- written by Taylor Robinson