Opening Day is a personal holiday for obvious reasons. I can’t sleep the night before the first full Sunday of games, and I am usually pacing by the time pregame shows are airing. But, despite the excitement that a new season brings, there is one week of the schedule that is always my favorite: Week 2.
We have everything we could possibly want, and it’s been like this for years. With two Monday Night Football games in Week 1, there are eight teams that were just highlighted by a national spotlight – two on Thursday, two on Sunday night, and the four from Monday. We also have the unforgettable statistic that basically states, “If you start 0-2, you’re finished.” And then there’s the short-term memory. Forget everything that happened last season, or even last month. There were only 60 minutes of football played by each team, and those are the 60 minutes from which all conclusions will be drawn.
Overreactions run abound in the short time between the end of Week 1 and the start of Week 2, but it is in this period where we find the most volatility. Spreads have been moving to keep pace with the frenetic nature that precedes Week 2, where arguably the most movement of the numbers takes place, all year.
Last week may have been the holiday, but this is the week we get to open our presents and have some fun.
Below are predictions for each game against the spread. Spreads have been taken from various websites and are subject to change. The spread in parenthesis denotes the selected team. An asterisk denotes a confidence pick.
*Confidence Picks – 2018 Season: 4-2-1 (Last Week: 4-2-1)
(2017 Season: 53-48-4) (2016 Season: 53-67-3) (2015 Season: 69-45-2) (2014 Season: 61-46-2) (4-Year Total: 236-206-11)
All Picks Against Spread – 2018 Season: 8-7-1 (Last Week: 8-7-1)
(2017 Season: 137-119-11) (2016 Season: 123-136-8) (2015 Season: 143-117-7) (2014 Season: 149-114-4) (4-Year Total: 552-486-30)
Miami Dolphins at New York Jets
Allow me to walk you through Monday’s night’s experience.
I don’t hide the fact that I am a Jets fan, but I insist that my fandom does not play into my picks regarding the team – as I’ve stated in the past, you can read older articles and see how neutral I am in their games. I mention my fandom here because it’s relevant to the narrative.
I was literally pacing the floor until the game kicked off, anxiously awaiting both the pick and my team’s future. I have bought heavily into Sam Darnold and, prior to him getting drafted by the Jets, projected him as the best quarterback in the class. I also doubled down by picking the Jets OVER 6 wins as one of my season-long picks, and then went all-in by making them a confidence pick against the Lions. There was a lot on the line.
To send everything crashing down in one fell sweep, Sam Darnold’s first pass was not only intercepted, but also returned for a touchdown.
My phone exploded.
I started laughing.
I still expected the Jets to win, Darnold to be great, and the pick to be fine against-the-spread, but it was impossible how quickly I was grounded.
This part of the story is critical for all Jets fans, because there was a collective curiosity that followed. Namely, how would Sam Darnold and the team respond?
Throughout the next few hours, my phone never stopped buzzing – to the point that I had to charge it twice – the superlatives were soaring higher than the Jets, and all expectations for the season skyrocketed. I was thoroughly satisfied as both a fan and author of this column. I wrote what would happen and, to a much more severe extent, it happened.
As the texts flooded in, one, in particular, caught my attention. It was of the mocking tone, and was from someone who had openly laughed when I said the Jets could win ten game, this year.
His message read something like, “What’s the win total at now? 12?”
My response was, “…I said they’d win tonight…this is par for the course…”
The point is, a team pulling off an ‘upset,’ no matter the magnitude, does not always change the team’s outlook. Anyone who read my articles before this game knew I fully expected the Jets to win. Not cautiously, either. So, when it happened, should that increase my expectations?
Of course not!
Except, of course, the collective minds of everyone who refused to believe in the Jets prior to Monday night. And that is where we have a problem.
My job is to read the spreads, but an oddsmaker’s job is to move them accordingly. Maybe my readers and I knew the Jets would win and are unfazed by this outcome, but we are a small minority in the football world.
Prior to the game – and after Miami’s Week 1 win – the Jets were small underdogs for Week 2. During the game, the spread vanished to a ‘pick ’em.’ Now, the Jets are favored.
The story has as obvious a conclusion as any. The world is now catching up to the fact that the Jets should be good, and the balance of the numbers has been shifted. So, too, has the spread. As a result, the Monday Night Football game against the Lions was not the test for the Jets and their rookie quarterback. What happens after is what we need to watch.
And, since so few people actually got to watch the Dolphins’ win against Tennessee, all eyes are pointing in the wrong direction. As is the spread.
New York will experience its home opener in front of a desperate crowd finally able to find hope in the future of the team and, under those circumstances, it will be able to edge Miami for the win. But, the number will continue to move until it captures the Jets and their backers.
New York wins by a single point, but the Dolphins beat the spread.
Prediction: Miami Dolphins (+3)
Kansas City Chiefs at Pittsburgh Steelers
It’s amazing how many times I’ve written the same thing about the Pittsburgh Steelers over the years. And it’s not about Antonio Brown or Ben Roethlisberger or even Le’Veon Bell. It’s about head coach Mike Tomlin at home in the second week of a season.
Under Tomlin, the Steelers have been downright excellent – 116-60-1 in the regular season – and that success rate has led to a relatively decent record on Opening Day – 7-4-1. Lately, however, Pittsburgh has been slow-to-start, perhaps overlooking opponents in a season opener. All four losses and the lone tie have occurred over the last 8 seasons – including this year – and the Steelers’ record in their most recent eight Week 1 games is a disappointing 3-4-1.
If the Steelers overlook their first opponent, they rarely do it again.
In those seven previous examples, the Steelers have hosted a team in Week 2 five times. They are a perfect 5-0 in those games.
In fact, they aren’t just perfect when playing at home in Week 2, they are dominating. Here are the final scores: 24-0, 27-10, 43-18, 24-16, and 26-9. The closest game was decided by eight points. And, if you’re wondering about the level-of-competition, the 26-9 victory from last year came against the Minnesota Vikings, who would only lose two more games over the entirety of the regular season.
Pittsburgh may not show its cards in Week 1, but it does not miss in Week 2. This year is no different.
After tying the Cleveland Browns on the road in a sloppy division game in which the Steelers turned the ball over six times – how they didn’t lose is a testament of how bad Cleveland still is – Pittsburgh has the unfortunate fate of drawing one of the hottest teams from Week 1 in the Kansas City Chiefs. But, as we’ve already established and will continue to repeat, we cannot take anything away from a division game. In addition, we can use the always-popular “this was supposed to happen” when assessing Kansas City’s win against the Chargers.
It was supposed to happen. The Chargers may be good, but they weren’t ready for the Chiefs.
The Steelers will be. Because the Chiefs now have everyone’s attention. We can be grateful, as the spread has now dropped a full point in reaction to Kansas City’s Opening Day win. We know better. We don’t change with a single game.
Pittsburgh wins by six points and covers the spread.
Confidence Pick: Pittsburgh Steelers (-4.5)
Click here to sign up for Sporfolio to see the rest of Mario Mergola’s NFL picks against the point spread. Mergola finished with the highest total of correct NFL picks against the spread for 2015 and 2016 – tracked by NFLPickwatch, and finished 2015 with an accuracy of 60.53% for his confidence picks. His 4-year record for all NFL games against the spread is 552-486-30!
Photo Credit: Keith Allison/Flickr C.C. 2.0