With the 2021 opener between the Buccaneers and Cowboys just two weeks away, here are two NFL bets I like:
Arthur Smith (16/1) to win Coach of the Year
Sometimes the windows need to be rolled down and the bad stench let out of the room, the fresh air let in to cleanse everything out. That’s the case in Atlanta, where the 28-3 blown lead in the Super Bowl five years ago led to not only endless jokes and memes, but also scars for the franchise. The Falcons also blew 15-point leads in back-to-back weeks versus the Bears and Cowboys in 2020, and generally were in their own way much of the year.
In came Smith, who was highly regarded as the Titans’ offensive coordinator and who turned Ryan Tannehill into the maestro of one of the league’s more productive offenses at Tennessee. Dean Pees, an elite defensive mastermind who we last saw stifling the high-powered ’19 Ravens in one of the great upsets in playoff history, came out of retirement to orchestrate the other side of the ball.
We’ve seen the “new kid on the block” strategy pay off when betting Coach of the Year recently, as Sean McVay and Kevin Stefanski have both won the award with similar profiles — young, analytically driven offensive coaches who come in and take a team into the playoffs after missing in prior years.
The great thing about this award: You can eliminate a handful of guys because it’s about which team surprises the most. Andy Reid, Stefanski, Bruce Arians, etc., will have a hard time winning when their teams already have high expectations. Coaches of bad teams also can be crossed off, so if the Falcons were to right the ship, Smith will have a great chance of getting bettors to the window.
Week 1: Dolphins (+3) at Patriots
Somewhat surprised that 3s have popped up, and now it’s time to determine whether 3.5s will show and this line will continue to go up, or whether the 3s get gobbled up aggressively enough to drop this back down to 2.5. I’m also curious what drove this line movement. My guess is that the Patriots dismantling the Eagles’ backups 35-0 to improve to 2-0 in the preseason has influenced the market and bumped this up to the key number of 3.
Bill Belichick is on a mission (when is he not?) after an unusually bad season, so perhaps that has bettors bullish on the Pats. I simply believe these teams are too evenly matched and 3 is a touch high for home-field advantage. I believe the Patriots are a decent bet to make the playoffs and will hover around 10 wins. With a good offensive line and solid defense, they still have the best coach in the sport, so they do have a high floor.
But they also have a relatively low ceiling due to suspect quarterback play. I believe they will try to win by running the ball and shortening the game, so I will be looking to fade them as favorites until proven otherwise.
The Dolphins are much more volatile, depending on the development of their young quarterback and talented but injury-prone receivers. While these teams have different profiles, they are dead even in my rankings as the season begins, so I will gladly take the points in what should be a low-scoring opener.
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