Starting with the Hall of Fame Game between the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers, 2021 NFL preseason games are upon us, which means lots of football wagering opportunities for the public.
With 16 games on the 2021 Week 1 preseason slate, there are plenty of betting options to consider. I’ll dissect my top three games to wager on as well as my best bets for each of them below.
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2021 NFL Preseason Week 1 Best Bets
New Orleans Saints at Baltimore Ravens (Saturday, August 14th, 7:00 p.m. EST)
The Saints will visit the Ravens in the 2021 NFL preseason opener for both teams. Although both clubs have ranked amongst the league’s elite in recent memory, they appear to be heading in opposite directions in 2021. While Baltimore once again looks like a legit Super Bowl contender, New Orleans has question marks all over the place, especially at quarterback following the retirement of Drew Brees.
We know we won’t see much of Lamar Jackson in this game, if at all. Now that Robert Griffin III is out of the mix, however, Baltimore is in need of a No. 2 signal caller. Trace McSorley is the frontrunner for the job, but expect to see a competition between McSorley and Tyler Huntley. Third-stringer Kenji Bahar could also see some action under center in this game for the Ravens.
Meanwhile, the Saints are in the midst of a quarterback battle to see who will replace Brees. So far in training camp, we’ve seen both Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston get their runs with the first-team unit, with the former opening camp as the starter.
While you’d expect both Hill and Winston to see a good number of snaps here, I highly doubt that will happen. Why put any potential starter in harm’s way or reveal your playbook in the preseason opener, especially when you will run two entirely different offenses depending on who the eventual starter will be?
What’s more, New Orleans drafted Ian Book out of Notre Dame in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft while also bringing in veteran Trevor Siemian in free agency. Look for both Book and Siemian to receive most of the snaps at Baltimore.
All things considered, I’ll err on the side of the Ravens here, as they project to be the better team this year (by a lot) and have not lost a preseason game since 2015. Head coach John Harbaugh takes these games more seriously than most and believes they can help set the tone for a successful regular season. The same can not be said of the Saints, however, who are 7-13 in preseason action since 2015.
Prediction: Ravens 20, Saints 17
Saints vs Ravens Best Bets
Best Bet: Ravens Moneyline (-140 at DraftKings)
Baltimore has one of the deepest rosters in the NFL, which means GM Eric DeCosta knows what type of talent to bring in for camp bodies as well. Ravens backups also saw meaningful snaps last season because of COVID-19, which bodes well for their betting outlook against the Saints.
As I suggested at the top, there are some coaches who want to win and some who just want to get out alive. Harbaugh wants to win, as reflected by his 37-12 carer preseason record. He’s also 12-1 in preseason openers while Payton is 8-8.
If this game is mostly McSorley against Book, I’ll take the quarterback with more experience, which is the former. Give me the Ravens to win at home.
Best Bet: Ravens -2.5 (-110 at DraftKings)
The Ravens are favored to win by less than a field goal, which they should be able to cover fairly easily. Baltimore’s head coach has been dominant in the preseason and they’re also at home, which could give them an edge as well.
Denver Broncos at Minnesota Vikings (Saturday, August 14th, 4:00 p.m. EST)
Earlier in the week, the Minnesota Vikings placed three quarterbacks on the reserve/COVID-19 list including Kirk Cousins, Kellen Mond, and Nate Stanley. While the Vikings claimed Danny Etling off waivers from the Seattle Seahawks, they also received positive news as both Cousins and Stanley will be activated following a five-day stint. For Mond, however, he must remain on the list for 10 days after testing positive.
While Cousins could see a series in the preseason opener, look for Etling, Stanley, and Jake Browning to get the majority of the playing time under center for Minnesota.
Similar to New Orleans, Denver also has a quarterback battle raging between the incumbent Drew Lock and newcomer Teddy Bridgewater. Although reports suggest they are neck-and-neck, I don’t see either one of them getting a ton of reps in Week 1 of exhibition play. Instead, expect Brett Rypien to receive multiple quarters of action.
Both clubs are coming off disappointing seasons on the defensive side of the ball. While Minnesota’s issues were youth, inexperience, and loss of personnel in the offseason, Denver’s main problem was injuries.
Given that, I expect Mike Zimmer and the Vikings to showcase a defense poised for a 2021 turnaround, smothering the Broncos out the gate. Under Zimmer, Minnesota is 20-5 in preseason play, including 7-0 in preseason openers. Accordingly, look for the Vikings to come out strong at home and keep the Broncos at bay.
Prediction: Vikings 20, Broncos 13
Broncos vs Vikings Best Bets
Best Bet: Under 34.5 Total Points (-110 at BetMGM)
I am not expecting many points to be scored between these two teams. Not only are we poised to see Rypien versus a slew of underwhelming Vikings backup quarterbacks, but both head coaches are also more defensive-minded. Accordingly, the under is the safe play here.
Best Bet: Vikings Moneyline (+100 at DraftKings)
This is another game in which a head coach is extremely good in the preseason but is getting the underdog treatment at home. As mentioned, Zimmer is undefeated in preseason openers, which is a trend I expect to continue.
Miami Dolphins at Chicago Bears (Saturday, August 14th, 1 p.m. EST)
The Dolphins don’t have any questions at quarterback heading into 2021, as they are Tua Tagovailoa’s team for now. Although Tagovailoa can use all the reps he can get, the brittle signal caller will not see a ton of snaps in the exhibition opener. Veteran Jacoby Brissett will likely see the majority of the playing time early on while ceding the rest of the game to Reid Sinnett.
How the Bears will deploy their quarterbacks in the preseason opener is a huge question mark. I don’t expect Andy Dalton to play a lot against Miami. In theory, it should be Justin Fields getting all the reps he can, especially when Nick Foles is behind him.
Foles has been getting the bulk of his practice reps with the No. 3 offense, however, which suggests he will see heavy action against the Dolphins. That said, I’m anticipating a close split between Fields and Foles. The rookie needs it more, especially if Matt Nagy expects to use him at some point in 2021.
In this game, I think Miami has the edge because of Brissett, who is better than Foles. Additionally, Nagy has a 3-6 preseason record with the Bears and is winless thus far in Week 1. Meanwhile, Brian Flores is 3-1 in the preseason with the Dolphins and has won the only preseason opener he’s ever coached.
Prediction: Dolphins 23, Bears 12
Dolphins vs Bears Best Bets
Best Bet: Dolphins Moneyline (+165 at DraftKings)
The Dolphins are the road dogs in this game, but I believe they will emerge victoriously. Flores is one of the best young coaches in the NFL and his team will come prepared and ready for a fight.
We know Miami’s defense will be sound, but this will be the first chance for co-offensive coordinators Eric Studesville and George Godsey to showcase their system. Though Tagvailoa will not play a lot, the Dolphins have a proven No. 2 in Brissett who will manage the offense and lead drives down the field.
On the Bears’ end, I’m not expecting much out of Foles, who will likely see most of Chicago’s offensive snaps. He couldn’t put enough points on the board last season with the starters to save his job, so I’m not expecting much out of him with the No. 3 unit here.
Best Bet: Under 36.5 Total Points (-125 at DraftKings)
Neither side is much to write home about offensively, especially with the Bears still figuring out their quarterback situation. Given the defensive talent on both sides as well, I’m expecting this to be a low-scoring affair.