This evening, the 2019 NFL regular season kicks off with the year’s first edition of Thursday Night Football.
According to online sportsbook Bovada, when the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers renew their ancient rivalry for the 199th time tonight, the boys in blue playing at home in the Windy City will be slim 3-point favorites in odds.
That field goal spread is essentially the difference between Soldier Field and Lambeau Field, so bookmakers really have these Super Bowl hopefuls ranked rather evenly. The money line odds tilt toward the Bears at (-160) over the Packers (+140), while the Over / Under offers a 46.5 number for bettors to beat.
To even the all-time series – which currently stands at 97-95-6 in Green Bay’s favor after beginning back in 1921 – Chicago would need an even sweep of the regular season’s two head-to-head contests. The reloaded Bears defense, sparked by the arrival of all-purpose outside linebacker extraordinaire Khalil Mack, led Chicago to an NFC North divisional title at 12-4 in 2018.
That mark included a narrow 24-23 road defeat to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers to open the regular season, followed by a 24-17 win at home in Week 15. A disappointing 6-9-1 season forced Mike McCarthy’s ouster as Green Bay head coach, so look for new hire and offensive guru Matt Lafleur to unleash Rodgers’ arm with a more modernized passing scheme.
Of the 13 games scheduled for a Sunday smorgasbord of NFL action, six offer point spreads of four points or fewer.
That includes an early matchup between two perennial playoff teams in the NFC, with the Minnesota Vikings (-3.5 / – 180) hosting the Atlanta Falcons (+3.5 / +160). Both teams suffered letdown seasons after making the playoffs in 2017, as only Minnesota could (barely) break the .500 barrier at 8-7-1.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins enters his second season under center for the Vikings, and after his historic $84 million fully guaranteed three-year deal made him the highest-paid player in NFL history, he can’t afford another humdrum year. As for his counterpart in the Falcons huddle, 34-year old QB Matt Ryan knows it’s now or never for a core that includes wideout Julio Jones and running back Devonta Freeman – one which seemed to have Super Bowl 51 in its grasp just three seasons ago.
Another tight spread awaiting Week 1 bettors features two AFC East contenders looking to make the leap and overtake the New England Patriots dynasty for the first time in two decades.
The Buffalo Bills will visit the Big Apple as (+3 / +130) underdogs against the New York Jets (-3 / -150), and both teams will sport second-year QBs poised for a breakthrough season.
The Jets traded up to select Sam Darnold at #3 overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, before the Bills traded for the #7 overall pick to take Josh Allen. Darnold has drawn rave reviews for his play this preseason, giving fans of “Gang Green” hope at the game’s most important position for the first time since the halcyon days of a pre-butt-fumble Mark Sanchez.
For other close spreads, check out the Los Angeles Rams (-3 / -140) visiting the Carolina Panthers (+3 / +120) and the Detroit Lions (-2.5 / -150) visiting the Arizona Cardinals (+2.5 / +130) as rare road favorites.
To cap Week 1 off in style, the NFL has scheduled a doubleheader for Monday Night Football.
The festivities begin with the recently revamped Houston Texans (+7 / +240) visiting the typically stacked New Orleans Saints (-7 / -290) as heavy underdogs.
The head coach turned de facto general manager Bill O’Brien mortgaged Houston’s franchise future late in the preseason, trading a boatload of draft picks to the tanking Miami Dolphins in exchange for left tackle Laremy Tunsil and wideout Kenny Stills. O’Brien has clearly gone “all in” on a Houston title run with QB Deshaun Watson and defensive end J.J. Watt still in their prime, but the moves – which included dumping a disgruntled Jadeveon Clowney – mean 2019 is a make or break year for the Texans.
The MNF nightcap sends the Denver Broncos (-1 / -115) to Oakland for a date with the division-rival Raiders (+1 / -105).
The Raiders spent their preseason preening for the “Hard Knocks” cameras on HBO’s hit behind the scenes series. Head coach Jon Gruden didn’t disappoint with his caricature of an old-school ball coach, but even the addition of all-world wideout Antonio Brown hasn’t been an instant fix.
Denver, meanwhile, are gambling yet again on another tall statue of a QB in Joe Flacco, who fits the Elway-esque template to a tee. Flacco just lost his job in Baltimore to a rookie in the electric Lamar Jackson, so he’ll no doubt be looking to prove the Ravens brass wrong in his last hurrah at the infamous “Black Hole.”