All 32 NFL teams are supposed to be in action in the first four weeks of the season, with byes starting in Week 5. But this year, only 30 of the 32 teams took the field as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Miami Dolphins had their Week 1 game pushed to November (Week ) because of Hurricane Irma. As most bettors overreact to the games that did take place last week (Tom Brady finally is regressing; Andy Dalton should be replaced by AJ McCarron; the Jaguars are going to contend for a playoff spot), I’m here to provide calm, rational analysis on how bettors should handicap Miami and Tampa Bay in Week 2, when the Dolphins travel to LA to face the Chargers (0-1) as 4.5-point underdogs and the Bucs welcome the Bears (0-1) to Tampa as seven-point favorites.
Though no team wants their bye to come at the start of the year, since there is great benefit to having a week to heal during the middle of the campaign, there is an advantage to not playing in Week 1. The Fins and Bucs had a chance to watch their opponents and get an idea of what they’ll be facing, while the Chargers and Bears opened up their respective playbooks and were rightfully focused on their initial opponents.
Miami will be playing on the other side of the country, which is usually a tough ask for any team. But the team was already situated in LA and studying the Chargers’ tendencies while Los Angeles played the late Monday night game in Denver. The usual travel disadvantage shouldn’t come into play.
The Bears, meanwhile, hosted Atlanta in Week 1 and had the Super Bowl-runner up on the ropes in a game that came down to the final play. They now have to travel to Tampa, while the Bucs watched and waited.
Though the Dolphins and Buccaneers will not be happy campers later in the season as they play 16 straight games, they have a decided edge heading into Week 2: they are rested, healthy, and still a mystery to their opponents.
If there is a negative to not playing in Week 1 it is lack of chemistry. For the Dolphins, Week 2 will be quarterback Jay Cutler’s Miami debut. Though he played during the preseason, timing and continuity takes reps, and that could be lacking early on. That said, he is familiar with the offensive system from coach Adam Gase’s time in Chicago. Additionally, it takes time for coaches to get a feel for what plays will work when, and that could be a particular challenge with new Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke, who has to adjust to a role he did not have last season, and face a team with 60 minutes already under its belt.
For Tampa Bay, QB Jameis Winston will need to develop a rapport with new targets DeSean Jackson and OJ Howard. But chemistry shouldn’t be as big an issue with the Bucs, as top WR Mike Evans is back in the mix, along with dependable tight end Cameron Brate.
While it is impossible to have a first reaction to Miami and Tampa Bay, we have a game of evidence to pour over with the Chargers and Bears. As a three-point dog, Los Angeles built themselves a hole in Denver, climbed out of it, and lost by a field goal. LA played a relatively clean game, though they were dominated in time of possession. They were about what we expected. On the injury front, the Chargers lost safety Rayshawn Jenkins to a concussion, but the way this team has dropped like flies in recent years, that should be considered a win.
As for Chicago, the Bears had every opportunity to beat NFC champion Atlanta. They ultimately lost 23-17, but they defended the run effectively, watched rookie running back Tarik Cohen breakout, and did not commit a turnover. They weren’t as lucky with injuries as former first-round pick Kevin White is now out for the year with a shoulder injury (further depleting an already rail-thin receiving corps) and linebacker Jerrell Freeman went down with a chest issue. All in all, Chicago’s performance in Week 1 was better than expected, but it wasn’t all good news for a team that went 3-13 last year.
I’m bullish on the Fins and Bucs in Week 2. NFL teams run vanilla offenses and defenses in the preseason so opponents can’t scout them effectively. Both teams are rested, healthy, ahead of their opposition in game-planning. Sure, there could be a little rust, but several positives outweigh minimal negatives. A wager on the teams debuting this week makes sense.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-7) over Chicago Bears
Miami Dolphins (+4.5) over Los Angeles Chargers
Featured photo: Jameis Winston pitches the ball (Keith Allison (Flickr) [CC License]).
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