NFL picks: Week 1 best bets

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.

1 p.m. ET games

New York Jets at Carolina Panthers (-4, 44.5)

Fortenbaugh: As a rookie head coach with limited offseason preparation time due to the pandemic, Matt Rhule took a Panthers club that ranked 31st in scoring defense in 2019 and transformed it into the league’s 18th-ranked scoring defense in 2020 … despite the retirement of the unit’s best player in linebacker Luke Kuechly. Expect another big jump this year courtesy of a full offseason of prep time, as well as the additions of first-round cornerback Jaycee Horn, free-agent linebacker Haason Reddick and free-agent defensive end Morgan Fox.

On the flip side, the offense welcomes back dynamic dual-threat running back Christian McCaffrey and prepares for life with quarterback Sam Darnold, who should benefit immensely now that he has escaped the grasp of former Jets coach Adam Gase. Speaking of the Jets, expect some serious growing pains with both rookie head coach Robert Saleh and rookie signal-caller Zach Wilson.

Pick: Panthers -4

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