Week 2 of the NFL season commenced with the Kansas City Chiefs defending home turf against the AFC West division rival Los Angeles Chargers in a 27-24 win. What will Sunday’s slate hold for bettors? Our crew explores the biggest storylines, key matchups, which teams will or won’t bounce back and offer their favorite plays and props. And don’t forget, we’ll have more to come on the Monday Night Football doubleheader this week with Titans-Bills on ESPN/ESPN2 at 7:15 p.m. ET and Vikings-Eagles at 8:30 p.m. ET on ABC/ESPN+.
For now, let’s take care of Sunday.
Betting analysts Doug Kezirian, Tyler Fulghum, Joe Fortenbaugh, Anita Marks and Erin Dolan, fantasy and sports betting analysts Eric Moody and Andre Snellings, ESPN Stats & Information’s Seth Walder, ESPN analyst Jason Fitz and Football Outsiders’ Aaron Schatz provide insights into the games and offer their tips and picks.
Note: Lines from Caesars Sportsbook unless otherwise indicated.
What is your biggest betting storyline entering Week 2?
Schatz: The decline and fall of the Dallas Cowboys shows us just how much the quarterback means to wagering in the NFL. With Cooper Rush as the starting quarterback, the Cowboys are now dead last in ESPN FPI. They would likewise be 31st in Football Outsiders’ DAVE ratings if we assumed Rush would start the entire season. The Bengals-Cowboys contest that was to be a marquee game, televised to most of the nation at 4:25 p.m. ET, now looks like a blowout with a 7-point line and a low total of 42.
Fulghum: Five teams that lost in Week 1 are TD+ favorites in Week 2. The Rams, Packers, Bengals, Broncos and 49ers are all laying at least a touchdown despite an 0-1 record. Which teams assail some of the concern by not only getting in the win column, but doing so convincingly? Which of these teams squeak by but fail to cover, intensifying the scrutiny? And which, if any, of these teams fall to 0-2 on the season and force fans and media to enter a full on DEFCON 5 meltdown? I’m most confident that the Bengals (-7 at Dallas) and the Packers (-10 vs. Chicago) cover their large numbers.
Moody: How Russell Wilson and the Denver Broncos respond after suffering a heartbreaking loss to the Seattle Seahawks on the road. Wilson’s homecoming ended up being a nightmare, especially when coach Nathaniel Hackett took the ball away from him with the game on the line. I digress, but seriously, the Broncos must convincingly defeat the Houston Texans. Denver is a team with playoff aspirations, a team with a potential MVP candidate in Wilson, and one that some bettors view as a dark horse to win the Super Bowl. I’m taking the Broncos (-10) to cover the spread against the Texans.
Kezirian: I echo the sentiments of Tyler and Aaron. The 0-1 teams laying a big number, which includes Cincinnati, is definitely noticeable. It has only happened 22 times since 2000, and we have a whopping five such scenarios. One oddsmaker told me Cinci would be a 2.5-point favorite, if not for Prescott’s injury, because Dallas looked bad in the opener even before his injury. I think Cinci’s loss is misleading. The Bengals would have won comfortably if not for losing the turnover battle, 5-0. ESPN FPI made this line 11. I think the Bengals roll.
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There are two matchups of unbeaten teams Sunday in Week 2: Dolphins at Ravens (-3.5, 44.5) and Buccaneers (-2.5, 44) at Saints. What are your thoughts on the total and spread, and who are you taking in these games?
Rob Ninkovich, Bart Scott and Damien Woody give their picks for the Week 2 matchup between the Saints and Buccaneers.
Schatz: The biggest lesson of Week 1 is not to overrate Week 1. Historically, a lot of money has been lost assuming that Week 1 results are more important than all that preseason information we had about teams just one week ago. In ratings we use for the rest of the season at Football Outsiders, Week 1 results are worth just 7%, compared to 93% for preseason forecasts. With that in mind, I’m happy to take the Baltimore Ravens and give 3.5 points to the Dolphins. Miami looked impressive at times in beating the Patriots, but Baltimore was our No. 2 DVOA projection in the preseason at Football Outsiders. Likewise, we were very high on the New Orleans Saints. We had them projected with one of the league’s top defenses, and while things don’t look as good after giving up 26 points to the Falcons — again, this is just one game. The Saints defense should still be very good and has a strong recent history against the Buccaneers. So while Tampa Bay is one of the top teams in the league, I would take the Saints +2.5 here.
Fortenbaugh: I’m playing New Orleans to win the game outright. Since joining the Buccaneers, Tom Brady is 0-4 both SU and ATS against the Saints during the regular season, getting outscored by a grand total of 117-53. The New Orleans defense, combined with the crowd noise, will wreak havoc on the suspect Tampa offensive line. I know some people are down on the Saints after they almost lost at Atlanta last week, but keep in mind that Jameis Winston missed most of the preseason due to injury. Now that he knocked the cobwebs off, I’d expect a better performance.
Fulghum: Although I think it’s dangerous to do, I’ll lean into the history of the Saints against Brady and the Bucs. It appears New Orleans may have been looking ahead to Week 2 when they started so poorly against the Falcons. They rallied and escaped that game with a win, and now they can fully focus on the only other team that matters in this division at the moment. New Orleans +2.5.
The Rams, 49ers, Broncos, Bengals and Packers are all a touchdown or more favorites for this week despite being 0-1. Who do you like to bounce back this week and cover?
Schatz: I know that anecdotally backup quarterbacks seem to play well in their first starts, but as noted above, the drop from Dak Prescott to Cooper Rush is huge. It’s very unlikely that Rush keeps up the level of play that gave him a positive passing DVOA and reasonable 47.8 QBR a year ago. Joe Burrow showed last Sunday that all those Bengals sacks in 2021 were heavily his fault, because he took seven more sacks even behind a rebuilt offensive line. But he’s not going to throw four picks again, even against a strong Dallas defense. I’m happy to take the Bengals as favorites and give over a touchdown to Dallas in this one.
Fortenbaugh: Cincinnati BIG. Outside of going -5 in turnover differential at Pittsburgh in Week 1, the Bengals owned the box score by running 33 more plays than the Steelers, amassing 165 more total yards and holding the ball for an additional 17 minutes and 26 seconds. This team will be out for blood after blowing that game. The thing about Dallas is that they weren’t good prior to the Prescott injury thanks to issues at OL, WR and on defense. Now that Dak is down, do we expect Mike McCarthy to start out-coaching the opposition? I think not.
Moody: Mr. Fortenbaugh is right. It’s the Bengals for me. Despite a tough loss to the division rival Steelers, the Bengals will be fine, especially offensively. The offense of Cincinnati is too talented, with players like Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase and Joe Mixon, to fail. The Bengals defense looked good in Week 1. Cincinnati allowed just 269 total yards of offense, and the run defense was impressive. That’s important since they’ll face a Cowboys team without Prescott, who is out due to a thumb injury. Dallas has played 12 games without Prescott since 2016. They’ve seen a decrease in points per game and the total QBR is 43. The Bengals were 5-2 against the spread following a loss last season. Cincinnati is well positioned to cover the seven points in Week 2.
What are the three most important things that our analytics say?
The model happens to have a slew of big differences of opinion with the market on sides this week. Let’s dive in!
Cincinnati Bengals (-7) at Dallas Cowboys
FPI prediction: Bengals by 11.2
FPI ratings are based on a team’s current strength. And following Prescott’s injury, the Cowboys currently rank 32nd. Literally last. Sound crazy for a team that was a serious playoff contender a week ago? I don’t think it is. From FPI’s perspective here’s what it sees in the Cowboys:
• The worst current starting QB in the league in Rush.
• A slightly below average non-QB roster.
• A poor performance in Week 1.
Put it all together and, yeah, a good team like the Bengals should be more than a touchdown favorite.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-2.5) at New Orleans Saints
I understand being wary of this contest because of the Bucs’ recent history against the Saints, which has been about as bad as it gets. But from FPI’s perspective the Bucs are a complete team with an elite QB, excellent receivers and a very good defense. Even if there is some matchup factor not considered by FPI, surely a team of Tampa Bay’s quality has to be worth more than a field goal against a middling Saints team even in New Orleans?
Green Bay Packers (-10) vs. Chicago Bears
This is a don’t-overreact-to-Week-1 daily double, as the model is (mostly) sticking to its priors on Green Bay, despite a mess of a game against the Vikings, and Chicago, despite an upset victory over the 49ers. Making me personally even more confident here? The model isn’t aware than the win over the Niners occurred in wet conditions, which surely leveled the playing field. That’s even less reason to like Chicago.
What is your best bet for Week 2?
Schatz: I’m taking Jacksonville +4 at home against Indianapolis. I know that Football Outsiders was fairly alone in how low we had the Colts in our preseason projections, but we had the entire AFC South clustered together, with no team better than league average. In Week 1, Matt Ryan certainly did not look like Frank Reich would bring back the fountain of youth for him, although again, that’s just one game. I also still believe in what I’ve been calling the “subjective case for Jacksonville,” which is that Doug Pederson is such a better NFL head coach than Urban Meyer that he can’t help but improve the Jaguars significantly and unlock some of Trevor Lawrence’s prodigious talent.
Fortenbaugh: Cincinnati -7 for all the reasons listed above.
Fulghum: It smells fishy … but I’ll bite. Why are the Patriots favored by 2.5 points in Pittsburgh against the Steelers? I know T.J. Watt is injured and Mitchell Trubisky looked far from impressive against the Bengals, but what did the Patriots do against Miami to inspire this kind of confidence at the books? The concerns about New England’s offense were fully realized in Week 1, and even without Watt, I believe the Steelers at home are a tougher defensive test than the Dolphins in Miami. It’s probably a low-scoring game given the offensive limitations on both sides, but I trust the Steelers’ playmakers way more than New England’s. Oh, by the way, Mike Tomlin is 44-24-2 ATS in his career as an underdog, including 14-4-1 ATS as a home underdog. Steelers +2.5.
Moody: The Browns (-6.5) to cover against the Jets. The Jets are anxiously awaiting the return of Zach Wilson after Joe Flacco’s performance against the Ravens in Week 1. New York only scored 0.8 points per drive and punted on six of their 12 drives against Baltimore. Jacoby Brissett is by no means elite, but he was able to lean on the Browns running game with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt and a stellar defense with Myles Garrett. It makes sense given Cleveland’s personnel that this will be their identity. Ball control will play a key role in the Browns’ success this season, especially while Deshaun Watson serves his suspension. Cleveland’s defense should be able to overpower Flacco. Baker Mayfield was sacked four times by the Browns in Week 1, and the Jets’ offensive line still needs work. Cleveland is 6-2 against the spread over their last eight home games against teams below .500. The Browns excel against lesser opponents.
What is your favorite player prop?
Liz Loza explains why fantasy managers should expect Saquon Barkley to continue his stellar fantasy play.
Schatz: Give me over 44.5 receiving yards (+100) for Rashod Bateman of the Ravens. Xavien Howard is a great cornerback, but the Dolphins still allowed an opponent-adjusted 62 yards per game to opposing WR1s last season. I’m not discouraged that Bateman got 55 of his 59 yards in Week 1 on a single catch; he’s more of a possession receiver than a deep threat and was steady with at least four catches in seven of his 12 games last season. That included a six-catch, 80-yard day against Miami, although that game came with Byron Jones covering Bateman instead of Howard. Miami will blitz Lamar Jackson a ton, and he’ll be looking for either Bateman or Mark Andrews when that happens.
Fulghum: Saquon Barkley over 27.5 receiving yards (-133). The Giants’ pass-catching corps is an absolute mess. Kenny Golladay appears dusted. Wan’Dale Robinson is hurt. Kadarius Toney is only trusted to play seven snaps a game. Daniel Jones doesn’t have much to work with on offense besides his running back. Barkley was a beast in Week 1 against the Titans, playing 83% of the offensive snaps and earning a team-high seven targets in the passing game, which he parlayed into six catches for 30 yards. I expect Barkley to have similar pass-game opportunities and production in this matchup with the Panthers.
Walder: Allen Robinson under 4.5 receptions (-129). Oof. Robinson did not look good in that opener. He ran a ton of hitches in Chicago, and I was curious if Sean McVay would employ him differently. Nope. Robinson ran 25% hitches in the season opener. Plus, now he has to face Casey Hayward, who is great at deterring targets, and A.J. Terrell, who is just great. My receiving model — which doesn’t know about the hitches or the specific corners he’s facing — projects just 3.7 receptions for Robinson.
Moody: Aaron Rodgers over 246.5 passing yards (-117). Rodgers and the Packers had a terrible start to the season against the Vikings in Week 1. It was encapsulated by Christian Watson burning cornerback Patrick Peterson on a deep route but then dropping what would have been a long touchdown catch. The back-to-back MVP will look to bounce back at home against the division rival Bears. Rodgers has averaged 260.3 passing yards per game against Chicago at home since 2018.