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NFL’s biggest betting mismatches: Week 1
By Jason Logan
Each week, Jason Logan breaks down some of the underlying mismatches in the NFL, hoping to give you an inside edge when handicapping the schedule and setting your daily fantasy lineup. Here are four of the biggest betting mismatches from Week 1:
Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills (+2.5, 45)
Colts’ rushing defense vs. Bills’ run-heavy playbook
Rex Ryan isn’t keeping his offensive gameplan under wraps for his debut as the Bills head coach. Ryan pretty much tipped his pitch when he announced Tyrod Taylor as his starting quarterback, meaning expect a lot of rushing plays from Buffalo as they try to control the clock and keep Andrew Luck off the field. New running back LeSean McCoy is ready to roll and looking to do similar damage to the Colts defense as he did last season with the Eagles.
McCoy and former running mate Darren Sproles torched Indianapolis in Week 2, totaling 105 yards and two touchdowns on the ground while adding another 175 yards on catch-and-runs from short looks and screen passes. The Colts suffered a similar fate against Steelers RB LeVeon Bell in Week 8, giving up 92 yards rushing and 56 yards through the air to Pittsburgh’s versatile rusher. Indianapolis, which gave up 113.4 rushing yards per game and 4.3 yards per carry in 2014, also hasn’t faced a true dual-threat QB since Week 5 of the 2013 season when Seattle QB Russel Wilson tacked on 102 rushing yards to his 210 passing gains and two touchdowns.
Daily fantasy watch: RB LeSean McCoy, QB Tyrod Taylor
Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos (-4, 48.5)
Ravens’ Week 1 conditioning vs. Altitude at Mile High
The Broncos hold one of the best home-field advantages in the NFL, with the thin air at Sports Authority Field challenging the conditioning of visiting teams. Even in the middle of the schedule, when teams are in game shape, the altitude can leave opponents sucking wind in the final frame of the game. That impact is felt even more in Week 1 of the NFL season, when teams are in camp/preseason shape but not yet in peak physical condition. If you’ve ever player high-level sports, you know the only thing that can really get you into game shape is playing games.
Denver has dominated visitors in its home openers, losing just once in front of the Mile High faithful in the past 15 seasons. And the team uses this to their advantage, with Peyton Manning putting his foot down on the gas pedal and forcing opponents to pick up the pace with his no-huddle attack. The Broncos new offense, under Gary Kubiak, is blending that up-tempo style with his renowned smash-mouth zone-blocking rush, which should leave rivals running on empty. Baltimore has been in this spot before, losing a 49-27 Week 1 matchup in Denver as defending Super Bowl champs in 2013, buckling for 35 points the second half.
Daily fantasy watch: QB Peyton Manning, RB C.J. Anderson, TE Owen Daniels
Cincinnati Bengals at Oakland Raiders (+3.5, 43.5)
Bengals’ kick return talent vs. Raiders’ weak kick coverage
The Raiders had numerous faults in 2014, so singling out just one is like saying Al Davis had ugly teeth. However, for the purpose of this mismatch, Oakland’s trouble with kick coverage is the main culprit. The team allowed opponents to average 32.5 return yards on kickoffs – worst in the NFL – and 10.9 return yards on punts – fifth worst. Opponents of the Black & Silver started their offensive drives at an average just the 32-yard line, which snowballed into a defense that allowed a NFL-worst 28.3 points per game in 2014. The Raiders did added special teams standout Lorenzo Alexander, who was cut by Arizona. But it’s a nice character hire of a hometown guy and merely a finger in the dam for Oakland’s not-so special teams.
The Bengals are loaded with special teams talent, especially on their return team. Cincinnati still has Adam Jones returning kicks, coming off a season in which he lead the league in average yards per kickoff return (31.3) and finished second in average yards per punt return (11.9). Behind “Pacman”, Cincy has WR Brandon Tate, RB Giovanni Bernard, and rookie speedster Mario Alford from West Virginia, who ran a 4.43 second 40-yard dash at the combine. Andy Dalton and the Bengals offense benefited from an average starting spot of almost the 30-yard line in 2014 (29.89).
Daily fantasy watch: Bengals defense/special teams
New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys (-6, 51.5)
Giants’ small defensive line vs. Cowboys’ massive blockers
Tony Romo and Dez Bryant may sell the most jerseys but the real stars of the Cowboys are the offensive linemen. Dallas dominated the trenches last season, helping the team own the football for 32:13 per game and giving Romo time to drop back, read the defense, read his stacks of hate mail, then find the open receiver. The starting offensive line runs an average height of over 6-foot-4 and combines to weigh 1,590 pounds – or about the same as a U-HAUL van minus the furniture. And that’s not counting the other bodies on the bench, like La’el Collins who runs 6-foot-4 and 321 pounds.
The G-Men started the season light on the defensive line, playing without top pass rusher DE Jason Pierre Paul, who blew off his index finger with Fourth of July fireworks. The Giants defensive line is smaller and built for speed, topping out at starting DT Johnathan Hankins (320 pounds), and gets diminutive very quickly once they start going down the depth chart. New York doesn’t have a lineman that demands a double team, which means maximum protection for Romo and gives the Cowboys extra blockers in TEs and RBs to pick up the blitz.
Daily fantasy watch: QB Tony Romo, TE Jason Witten, RB Joseph Randle/Darren McFadden