Week 1 Recap

This is the most important part of my process. I watch every game in full so I can analyze my picks. Sometimes I learn something new. Sometimes my prior convictions are strengthened. Sometimes I learn new angles or strategies to consider. I am not defined by my results, but by my process. And I believe in my process.

In Week 1, we went 7-5 on bets but due to unfortunate unit allocation we lost 0.62 Units on those bets. I went 5-2 on 1 Unit bets and 1-3 on 2 Unit bets. Moving forward I will be using a 1.5-2-2.5 unit scale instead of at 1-2-3 unit scale for my bets to minimize this type of variance in outcomes.

BetOddsUnitsDate PlacedResultNet
MIN -2.5(-112)25.12.21 (DK)L-2
TEN -2.5(-110)26.6.21 (FD)L-2
PIT +7(-110)18.13.21 (FD)W+0.91
SF -7.5(-105)18.26.21 (DK)W+0.95
NYJ +5.5(-110)18.31.21 (DK)W+0.91
NE -2(-110)28.7.21 (DK)L-2
DEN ML(-112)28.15.21 (FD)W+1.79
KC -6 (-110)18.30.21 (MGM)L-1
NO +4.5(-110)19.4.21 (FD)W+0.91
LAR -7 (-110)18.22.21 (FD)W+0.91
BAL -4(-110)19.1.21 (DK)L-1
LAC +7.5 +
KC +0.5
(-120)1.29.11.21 (DK)W+1

MIN -2.5 (-112) @ CIN (2u) – CIN 27-24 (OT), Loss 2 Units

I played this one very early in the summer, anticipating beating the closing line (which we did). I projected continuity from the Vikings offense but they looked completely out of sync. They had a ridiculous amount of offensive penalties, which are particularly problematic for an offense that relies on staying ahead of the chains and using the run game to set up the pass game. This put them in a big hole, which obviously had a compounding effect. Yet despite this, the Vikings still could have covered -2.5 as they were driving in overtime to set up a winning field goal when Dalvin Cook fumbled.

The Bengals offense was almost as unimpressive as the Vikings, but I expected that. The big shock was how effectively the Bengals defense disrupted the Vikings offense. It’s possible that the defensive personnel improvements for Cincinnati could elevate their play on that side of the ball. It’s also possible that the Vikings offense missed a lot of time together during training camp while Cousins was on the Covid list and thus was out of sync. No hard conclusions here, but important context for both these units moving forward.

TEN -2.5 (-110) v. ARI (2u) – ARI 38-13, Loss 2 Units

This may come as a surprise, given how badly I missed on this pick, but my thesis on the Titans offense doesn’t change with this outcome. They are a team that dominates offensively when they win the the line battle, establish Henry, and feast on play action concepts. The problem was the Arizona defensive line absolutely dominated the Titans. If I had known that matchup would go that way, I would have been all over Arizona. Some analysts are making a lot out of Tennessee’s lack of play action here and projecting that new OC Todd Downing will be a major downgrade. That’s possible, but they were also playing a majority of this game from behind. Play action generally requires you to convince the defense you might run. I’m not ready to write them off, particularly given that the Titans also missed important preseason time together with Tannehill (and Vrabel for that matter) on the Covid list. But they will need to show better offensive line play.

On the other side of the ball, Arizona’s offense looked a lot like 2020 but Rondale Moore does add some needed explosiveness. With no pressure from the Titans and awful coverage, Murray was able to play backyard ball to win easily. My big miss here was expecting the Titans to play as well against Murray as they did against Lamar Jackson, but Jackson and Murray are very different players. Murray scrambles to buy time for his receivers to get open, whereas Jackson scrambles to get downfield. The Titans secondary was the weakness, which played into Murray’s strength as a passer. I still did not see any indication that the Murray/Kingsbury combination can be successful long-term in the NFL, and will be looking to fade them in the appropriate spot.

PIT +7 (-110) @ BUF (1u) – PIT 23-16, Win 0.91 Units

Exactly how I drew this one up. I thought both offenses would struggle for consistency, and they did. The game could have gone either way, and the Steelers were fortunate to block a punt for a touchdown, but they were also touchdown underdogs so the cover was easy. The offseason hate for the Steelers was out of control, and my only regret was not putting more on my conviction. As for Josh Allen and the Bills, there is no need to sound the regression alarms. This Steelers defense is legitimate and healthy again, and they were able to lock up all of his available receivers by getting pressure without blitzing. It’s rare that a defense has the talent at every level to accomplish this (and rarer now with the Ravens’ DB injuries). Expect a bounce-back from Allen.

SF -7.5 (-105) @ DET (1u) – SF 41-33, Win 0.95 Units

This one should not have been close, but miraculously Detroit almost pulled off the backdoor cover. I expect the Lions to be in position to backdoor constantly this season, because they have a strong offensive line and a coach who will never give in no matter the score. For context, it was 41-17 heading into the 2-minute warning. The 49ers were clearly the right side. They did whatever they wanted to on offense and Detroit had no passing game. But once Verrett went down with injury, the Lions did get some things going on offense. Without Verrett, we have some legitimate concerns about the 49ers secondary and we will have to see if their front seven can make up for that weakness.

NYJ +5.5 (-110) @ CAR (1u) – CAR 19-14, Win 0.91 Units

In a week where most of the close calls went against me, this was the one I got away with. Not only did I get the best line at +5.5 to get the sneaky cover at 19-14, but the Jets had no business getting within 5 points here. I was really excited about this Jets offense based on what I saw in the preseason, but Zach Wilson looked a bit out of place on an NFL field in the opener. His line offered very little protection, he held the ball too long, and he made some questionable decisions. This is all very normal for a rookie and Jets fans should not be worried long-term. But the Mekhi Becton injury portends a rough year. Wilson did make enough plays in the end to cover, but the lack of run game was a problem when the game was still within reach.

I read the other side of the ball correctly. I thought the Panthers would struggle in the red zone, and they only had one red zone touchdown against the Jets. This is concerning. So far, the Darnold Panthers look a lot like the Teddy Bridgewater Panthers. That’s not a terrible thing – but it’s not a great thing either.

NE -2 (-110) v. MIA (2u) – MIA 17-16, Loss 2 Units

This was the most painful game on the slate. The Patriots significantly outplayed the Dolphins at home and only needed to cover a 2 point spread. They had a significant advantage in 1st downs, 3rd down efficiency, passing yards, rushing yards, and yards per play. They passed the eye test. But they had some critical penalties and lost two running back fumbles (read: not predictive). The most costly fumble came with just three minutes left on a first down run inside the Dolphins 10-yard line.

Both quarterbacks impressed me in this game. They both faced difficult matchups, and despite the low-scoring affair they both played fairly well. Tua displayed his elite accuracy and was let down by several key drops. Mac Jones looked better than any rookie I can ever remember in their first game, handling pressure, stepping up in the pocket seamlessly, and making excellent decisions. I still have some skepticism regarding Tua, but game 1 was an indication that he will be much improved in year 2.

DEN ML (-112) @ NYG (2u) – DEN 27-13, Win 1.79 Units

Another game that went exactly how I envisioned. The Broncos outplayed the Giants in every facet and were up 27-7 before Daniel Jones scored the definition of a garbage touchdown with 0 seconds on the clock. The biggest takeaway here is that both offenses actually played slightly better than the low score would indicate. Long drives ending in fluky fumbles will have that effect. The Giants just lack creativity on offense and cannot protect Daniel Jones. That’s a problem.

KC -6 (-110) v. CLE (1u) – KC 33-29, Loss 1 Unit

I made this bet before I knew Mathieu would not be playing. I was considering hedging when he was on the Covid list, but they activated him on Saturday so I thought he would be good to go. But he didn’t play, and without him and Frank Clark, the Browns offense absolutely dominated the Chiefs defense. My bet was predicated on the idea that the Chiefs would get out to an early lead, because the Browns are a completely different team when playing from behind. But it was the Browns who jumped to a lead, and would almost certainly have won this game outright if Chubb did not lose a fumble.

Stefanski coached circles around Andy Reid in-game, and all my pre-season hype about Cleveland is justified. But their weakness on offense is that when they get behind the sticks or when they get behind on the scoreboard, they lack the passing scheme to just line up and win. We saw it happen late here. Mayfield took one sack from Chris Jones, and they had to punt it away. Then on the next drive, with a minute left and needing a touchdown, the run game was off the table and Mayfield threw an interception. This will continue to be an issue against the very best competition.

NO +4.5 v. GB (1u) – NO 38-3, Win 0.91 Units

Another smash play that I wish I had leaned into more. I was higher than market on New Orleans heading into the season and it was a perfect matchup for New Orleans on both sides of the ball. The offensive line kept Winston in comfortable positions while Kamara took advantage of Green Bay’s defensive weaknesses, and the stout Saints front seven got the better of a Packers offensive line without Bakhtiari. I obviously had the right side, but the score was a little misleading. The Saints kept long drives alive with several fourth down conversions early and effectively kept the ball away from Aaron Rodgers. This caused Rodgers to press harder than normal in his limited opportunities and the game was over quickly. The “Rodgers looks like he wants to retire” angle is an overreaction to what was simply a bad game. However, the Packers offense taking a step back without Linsley and Bakhtiari powering the offensive line is a valid angle.

One last note: as a vocal Winston supporter in this offense, it was very satisfying to see him light up the scoreboard. But be careful not to read too much into this performance, as he missed some easy throws and had an interception overturned on a phantom penalty. He’s a good fit, but “Winston for MVP” is also a vast overreaction.

LAR -7 (-110) v. CHI (1u) – LAR 34-14, Win 0.91 Units

Another easy win and cover, this time for a vastly superior team. Most people watched this game so I don’t have a lot of counter-market opinions but I think the Bears were closer here than the scoreboard indicated. Stafford took advantage of poor cornerback play on some nice downfield throws, but they failed to crush Andy Dalton the way I expected them to. Outside of Ramsey (who did another excellent job on Allen Robinson) and Donald (who always occupies multiple offensive linemen), the defense was pretty good (but not great). They gang tackle and trust each other, which is huge. But they weren’t consistently getting in the backfield and they were vulnerable to short passes and the run game. That will be something to watch.

Towards the end of 2020, the Bears operated a grind-it-out offense that relied on completing short passes and avoiding mistakes. They carried this into the game against the Rams with Dalton. But this style leads to razor thin margins, so any small thing going wrong (a drop, sack, etc.) ends a drive. They also failed on several 4th down conversions that would have greatly impacted the score. This means that the Bears should project to outperform against bad defenses where they can get the better of these tight situations.

BAL -4 (-110) @ LV (1u) – LV 33-27 (OT), Loss 1 Unit

I played this game before Edwards and Peters got injured in practice. A SharpClarke Member asked me the day before the game whether I would still play it and I told him I would not, but that I had enough confidence in Harbaugh not to hedge the bet by betting on Las Vegas. So I let it ride. I think this was probably the right decision at the time, despite the outcome. The Ravens still held a lead throughout most of this game, but the Raiders made an incredible 4th quarter comeback and win in overtime. But this situation illustrates an important (and unfortunate) lesson: I cannot play the Ravens the same way I played them in 2020.

In 2020, the Ravens had two strengths: a run game and a secondary. When you run well and stop the pass, you press leads and win big. The Ravens led the league in 14+ point wins last year. But both of those have taken a hit, with 3 RB injuries and 2 CB injuries. They can no longer rely on blowing out bad opponents. Last year’s blueprint will not work. As for the Raiders, I was extremely impressed with how they masked weakness on the offensive line. They used 3-TE sets, RBs and FBs that picked up blitzes, and Carr’s excellent ability to read defenses and make quick decisions. It was truly impressive how clean they kept the pocket given what I projected to be a major disadvantage. I had the Raiders ranked 7th on offense last year but projected them to take a major step back in 2021. That may have been an overreaction, but we will see.

Teaser: LAC +7.5, KC +0.5 (1.2u) – LAC 20-16, KC 33-29, Win 1 Unit

When playing a teaser, the question isn’t “is this team likely to beat this number?” That answer is almost always yes. The real question is “is there a significant range of outcomes that land between the spread line and the teaser line?” For these two games, the answer was yes. The Chargers won and covered, but easily could have lost that game. They outplayed Washington but still needed several huge 3rd down conversions to seal it. Meanwhile, once the Chiefs-Chargers game got tight, it was advantage KC because they have superior quarterback play. We may have been fortunate to get that leg, but teasing KC to 0 is always a good proposition.

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