Ahead of NFL Week 2, OddsCritic looks at the key injuries and trends to help find the value in the betting markets.
The 2021 regular season kicked off last weekend with some incredible performances and some shocking NFL betting upsets.
There was plenty we did expect - notably Tom Brady is still as good as ever at the ridiculous age of 44 for an NFL quarterback (that preseason value to be league MVP has now gone).
And there were some things we definitely did not - notably reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay being destroyed 38-3 by New Orleans in Jacksonville.
Let’s look at some of the things we learned from Week 1, and ahead to some of the pointers for this weekend’s schedule.
The phrase ‘next man up’ is one you’ll hear a lot from NFL coaches. It’s a brutal league and a brutal game, and here are some of the key injuries from Week 1:
Ryan Fitzpatrick (QB, Washington): ‘Fitzmagic’ was meant to be the man to stablise the QB position in Washington and set up the Football Team for a run at another NFC East title. He didn’t even make it through a single game before being sidelined with a hip injury. He is likely to be out several weeks.
Raheem Mostert (RB, San Francisco): Mostert underwent season-ending knee surgery this week after sustaining cartilage damage in that season-opening victory in Detroit. Bad news for a player who will be a free agent in 2022, and for the Niners who lose their lead back. The fantasy players out there will have noted the performance of Elijah Mitchell (104 yards on 19 carries) in relief, and he will take on a much bigger role in the offense with Mostert gone.
Mekhi Becton (LT, New York Jets): When you are a struggling team with a rookie quarterback, losing your left tackle is never a great idea. That is exactly what happened to the Jets on Sunday when Becton dislocated his kneecap in the loss to Carolina in Charlotte. He will likely be out for four or five weeks. Bad news for Zach Wilson.
Jerry Jeudy (WR, Denver): Jeudy was placed on injured reserve and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks after suffering a high ankle sprain in Sunday’s 27-13 win over the Giants in New York. It’s awful news for Denver, with Jeudy catching six balls for 72 yards before that injury. He is a talented and fast-maturing weapon for QB Teddy Bridgewater, and the Broncos can ill-afford to lose him now. Keeping up with the Chiefs in the AFC West is not easy.
Russell Wilson: The offseason was not exactly sweetness and light in the Pacific Northwest, as Wilson’s camp openly briefed which four teams Russell would be happy to be traded to (Dallas, Chicago, New Orleans and Las Vegas for reference).
But all appeared to be well again on Sunday as Wilson threw four TD passes in a dominant road win over Indianapolis.
Wilson was playing at an MVP level for the first half of 2020 before things started to go offensively south. He remains a top-five NFL QB and served notice that he and the Seahawks will be a threat again in football’s hottest division in 2021.
Dak Prescott: Much of the talk in Dallas this summer was whether Prescott would carry any lingering issues from that season-ending ankle injury in 2020 and the shoulder problem he nursed through camp.
The answer was a resounding negative as he threw for 402 yards and three scores in a heartbreaking 31-29 loss to Super Bowl champions Tampa.
Prescott matched the aforementioned Brady yard for yard, and but for Dallas kicker Greg Zuerlein having an awful night, would have emerged with an upset win.
The Dallas defense still carries a ton of question marks, but one thing is clear. Even without WR Michael Gallup for the next three to five weeks, this offense will put up a ton of yards and points.
Any game Dallas plays, well worth looking at taking the ‘over’ on total points. Shootouts all the way…
Pittsburgh Steelers: It appears rumours of Pittsburgh’s demise may have been over-exaggerated (not by us).
Despite having one of the league’s best-run organisations and a terrific head coach in Mike Tomlin, there were plenty of gloomy pre-season predictions heading into 2021. Blame some of that on recency bias after a miserable finish to 2020.
Plenty of bulletin-board material for Tomlin and his men then, and it clearly helped as they claimed an impressive 23-16 upset win in Buffalo on Sunday.
The defense was excellent with newly-signed T.J. Watt showing that he should be worth every penny of that $112million contract extension. The line as a whole was stellar, terrorising Josh Allen.
Offensively Ben Roethlisberger struggled, but like we said in our offseason update, Pittsburgh is not quite dead yet. That 9/2 pre-season value to win the AFC North is now gone, and 10/3 looks much more realistic.
Arizona Cardinals: Going into 2021 the big question in Arizona was whether Kliff Kingsbury could finally unlock the potential in Kyler Murray and the Cardinal offense.
Job done it would appear if Week 1 is anything to go by as the sensationally talented Murray threw for four TDs and ran for another in a shocking 38-13 rout of the Titans in Tennessee.
It wasn’t just the offense which shone either - Chandler Jones was pretty good on the defensive side of the ball. How does five sacks and two forced fumbles sound? That is just for him btw.
The ‘Cards came into 2021 as the underdog in a stacked NFC West, but if this was not an opening-day blip, they could be bona fide contenders in football’s hottest division.
New Orleans Saints: Nobody, and we mean nobody, expected this. The Saints were expected to struggle in their first season AD (After Drew). Then they were turfed out of their home and asked to play this opener against highly-touted Green Bay in neutral Jacksonville due to Hurricane Ida. No problem.
All the Saints did was destroy Aaron Rodgers and the Pack to the tune of 38-3 - unreal.
This was about as complete a team performance as you could find. Jameis Winston threw five TD passes AND protected the ball while the Saints ground attack (171 yards) was highly productive.
Defensively the Saints were terrific - creating pressure up front and covering well on the back end. The net result was one of the worst days of Rogers’ (future) Hall of Fame career. He passed for just 133 yards, threw two picks and registered a lamentable 49.8 passer rating.
As with all of these Week 1 reflections, the sample size is small. But it appears these Saints might be a little better than we all expected.
Washington Football Team: WFT came into 2021 with genuine hopes of making a run at another NFC East title after clinching the division in 2020.
The hope was that Ryan Fitzpatrick would be an upgrade on the likes of Taylor Heinicke at QB and Curtis Samuel would add another potent pass-catching weapon.
But now Fitzpatrick is out for several weeks while Samuel (groin) has yet to suit up in anger.
Washington has a talented roster, but it needs improved QB play (at least serviceable) to match Dallas in the East. For now, the jury is very much out.
Next up is a home game vs the New York Giants on Thursday night. Washington should win, and though the season is still in its infancy, it really must.
Green Bay Packers: This was just too horrible to be true.
When the aforementioned Rodgers kissed and made up with the Packers front office as he returned to the fold, everybody expected Green Bay to pick up where it had left off.
But instead of MVP level play from Aaron and dominant team performances, the Cheeseheads laid a sizeable egg in that rout at the hands of the Saints.
Maybe things are not all well in Wisconsin, and maybe there is still a hangover from that offseason standoff between #12 and the front office.
Next up on Monday night is banged-up Detroit at home and normally this should be an absolute gimme.The Packers are 11-point favourites and even that might be generous to the Lions.
Either way, we will get a better idea of whether this awful season opener was a sign of things to come, or merely a one-off.
Greg Zuerlein: The Dallas kicker was a key factor in the Cowboys’ heartbreaking loss in Tampa. He missed a short field goal and an extra point - the difference between success and failure for ‘America’s Team’.
Zuerlein hardly kicked in preseason as he battled back problems, and he looked way short of 100 percent based on those misses on Thursday night.
He will keep his job for Week 2, but Dallas has announced its intent to look for competition for Zuerlein, and he is clearly on notice.
This team has waited too long in the past to address concerns about the kicker position - maybe not any more…
Quarterbacks in Chicago: This concerns multiple players thanks to Chicago’s (mystifying) decision to have veteran Andy Dalton and rookie Justin Fields share snaps in Week 1.
Dalton - underwhelming despite the weapons at his disposal in Dallas in 2020 - took on the bulk of the work in Sunday night’s opener vs the Rams in Los Angeles. The end result was a 34-14 loss.
All Chicago has done here is create uncertainty at a position where it is absolutely paramount. Bad move in our book.
The decision is all the more surprising given the fact Fields’ development will likely decide the futures of HC Matt Nagy and GM Ryan Pace. It suggests they have no confidence in anything right now - this is a fudge of the worst kind. And fudges generally do not end well.
The sooner Nagy and Pace decide the Fields era properly starts now, the sooner the Bears will have hope.
Kansas City @ Baltimore
An absolute beauty which you can watch live on Sky Sports, as the Ravens try to bounce back from that infuriating loss in Las Vegas on Monday night.
The Ravens could well be the team to dethrone the Chiefs in the AFC, they have the talent and the style of play.
First though, Lamar Jackson needs to shake off the memory of those fumbles in Las Vegas to get the Ravens a first win of 2021.