The release of the National Football League schedule is to a true football fan what Christmas morning is to a 4-year-old. One of my best friends is a 49ers season ticket holder, and when he gets his spring renewal package with the upcoming schedule, he goes through all 16 games and puts a “W” for a win or “L” for a loss.
He is stingy with the losses based on being a true fan, marking contests that appear most challenging with a squiggly line that is neither an “W” or “L”.
In fact, my friend picking games before a season begins doesn’t include the advantage of knowing the path San Francisco took to their week 10 showdown with division rival Los Angeles. Elements that are a lot more reliable for identifying winners than basing assumptions not on this season, but years gone bye.
One true and tried method for winning on the opening weekend is to take last year’s Super Bowl winner when they host the Thursday night season opener. This is a tradition that began in 2004 and only twice has straight up wins been interrupted. The defending champion didn’t open at home in 2013, that’s because the Super Bowl XLVII winning Baltimore Ravens share a parking lot with the Baltimore Orioles of Major League Baseball and the Orioles wouldn’t reschedule their home game on the same day the Ravens would have opened the NFL season.
Instead of hosting the game to celebrate their Super Bowl triumph, the league dealt John Harbaugh and his men the toughest of all challenges. The Ravens had to open on the road against the team they had upset in overtime as a double-digit road underdog in the playoffs a few months earlier.
The result of the rematch was obvious, and the defending champions were beaten by a better team on their home field with a major revenge factor in their favor. Peyton Manning was only a game over .500 in his postseason career, but in the regular season he was as good as anyone at running up convincing winning margins.
Like he did for the Broncos against the Ravens in the 2013 opener, 49-27, as a 7½ point favorite. Only one time has the defending champion been an opening day home underdog, that was the Denver Broncos in 2016. In Manning’s last professional game, the Broncos had upset the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50, and opened the 2016 season with a one point win in the rematch, 21-20, while getting three points on the spread.
Only twice has a home favorite lost the Thursday night opener in defense of their crown, that being the 2012 New York Giants and the New England Patriots in 2016. The Giants, who lost to the Dallas Cowboys in defense of their Super Bowl XLVI triumph, were perhaps the weakest Super Bowl winner ever. They remain the only Super Bowl winner to have a regular season in which they were outscored in points for and against.
The Patriots had won the Super Bowl to complete the 2016 season in most dramatic fashion, overcoming a 28-3 second half deficit to beat the Atlanta Falcons in overtime. Off that emotional victory for the title, the Patriots lost to the Kansas City Chiefs to open the 2017 season, 42-27.
Overall, the defending Super Bowl Champions opening on Thursday night at home are 13-2 straight up and 9-3-3 against the point spread.
Whenever there is an obvious edge that bettors can take advantage of, the book makers go to work on pulling the rug out from under that advantage. They can do it with the spread alone, adding points on the spread to the visiting teams in the Thursday night season opener. This year, the schedule makers also chipped in an edge away from a proposition that has beaten the point spread 75% of the time since 2004.
In search of a team in position to capitalize on a good spot, the NFL schedule makers have sent the Dallas Cowboys into Tampa this year to do battle against the Super Bowl defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Dallas is beginning their second season under head coach Mike McCarthy. Seemingly on the precipice of something special, but always a bit short under former head coach Jason Garrett, team owner Jerry Jones opted to bring in McCarthy to get the Cowboys over the hump.
Instead of a boost, Dallas suffered one of their worst seasons in franchise history last year and if McCarthy doesn’t get it turned around in a hurry, Jones will be looking for a new sideline general. A major factor in the Cowboys 2020 collapse was the early season loss of quarterback Dak Prescott.
He’s back, and off their six win season, Dallas is in perfect position for a bounce in their results. It could start here with an upset of the Super Bowl Champions on the same field the Buccaneers won the title last February. And, because it is the defending champions opening at home, the books have chipped in a generous line, the Cowboys getting 6½ points.