NFL Week 1 O/U best bets: Defense will shine early for Broncos, Dolphins

AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images / Denver Post / Getty

NFL side bets get all of the attention each week. However, there's a pretty penny to be made in the totals market, which can be harder to price efficiently but easier for finding large windows for value if you trust your insights. That's never been more true than in Week 1 when intel is at its lowest for books and bettors alike.

Here are five totals we're targeting in the first week of the season:

Jets @ Panthers (-5, 45)

I'm already circling the Panthers as one of my favorite over plays this campaign, and that starts with a Week 1 revenge spot for new quarterback Sam Darnold. Darnold struggled through three years with the Jets, but he'll benefit from a better offensive line, a loaded receiving corps, and one of the league's best weapons in Christian McCaffrey - who should substantially improve this offense after playing in just three games in 2020.

New York's offense has a reason for optimism, too, after swapping Darnold for big-armed rookie Zach Wilson and adding legit weapons in wideouts Corey Davis and rookie Elijah Moore. Both of these defenses still have major question marks, which makes this an easy over play on a modest number.

Pick: Over 45

Chargers (-1, 44.5) @ Washington

Both of these teams should be better offensively than they were in 2020 based solely on offseason moves at key spots. Still, the strength for both of these squads is on defense - Washington was among the NFL's best units in 2020, while the Chargers ranked 10th in yards allowed per drive in an injury-plagued season.

Los Angeles heads into 2021 with a healthier roster and a defensive-minded coach in Brandon Staley, who captained the Rams' top-ranked defense a year ago. Expect him to employ the Chargers' array of versatile and athletic defensive stars in creative ways from the opening kickoff.

Pick: Under 44.5

Cardinals @ Titans (-3, 52)

The Titans have quietly owned one of the league's best offensive units since Ryan Tannehill took over as the starter midway through 2019. Tennessee averaged 30.4 points in his 10 starts that year - which would have ranked second in the NFL - and followed that up with the fourth-highest scoring average (30.7) and a league-best 12-3-1 record to the over in 2020.

And that was before the Titans added Julio Jones this summer, joining A.J. Brown and Derrick Henry in one of the most explosive offenses in the league. The same can be said for the Cardinals, who added James Conner, A.J. Green, and Rondale Moore to an already stacked offensive depth chart.

Don't be scared off by the gaudy total, either. Games with a total of at least 52 went 35-26 (57.4%) to the over in 2020 and are a combined 85-63 (57.4%) to the over since 2016. The last six Week 1 contests with a total this high went 3-1-2 to the over with a combined 59 points per game.

Pick: Over 52

Dolphins @ Patriots (-3, 43.5)

The Patriots finished last campaign with an 11-5 record to the under despite overhauling their NFL-leading defense from 2020. That side of the ball should improve in 2021, but New England's offense is still an enigma, with rookie Mac Jones leading an uninspiring group of skill-position players.

Jones will face a stiff test in his debut against the Dolphins' defense, which ranked fifth in points allowed per drive a year ago behind its chaotic blitzing schemes and shutdown secondary. The rookie signal-caller has been lauded for his on-field processing, but he hasn't faced anything like what Brian Flores' group will throw at him on Sunday.

Pick: Under 43.5

Broncos (-3, 41.5) @ Giants

The Broncos' defense took a step back in Vic Fangio's second season, but the unit should return to the league's elite with Von Miller returning to the field after missing all of 2020. As good as the squad's pass rush can be, its secondary might be the NFL's best after adding Kyle Fuller, Ronald Darby, and standout rookie Patrick Surtain to a group that already excelled a year ago.

Denver should have a field day against Daniel Jones and the Giants' offense, which averaged a paltry 17.5 points in 2020 and is likely to start slow after a sloppy, injury-riddled offseason. Both of these teams will rely heavily on their defense to lift a slowly developing offense - which should be music to under bettors' ears.

Pick: Under 41.5

C Jackson Cowart is a sports betting writer at theScore. You can follow him on Twitter (@CJacksonCowart) or email him at

NFL Week 1 O/U best bets: Defense will shine early for Broncos, Dolphins
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