By Marc Lawrence — Looking for an upset on the first week of school:
W Kentucky over LOUISVILLE by 1
Intriguing match-up between two teams that posted the biggest turnarounds in college football last season, with the Hilltoppers finishing 9-4 after a 3-9 effort in 2018 and the Cardinals rebounding from a 2-10 disaster in Bobby Petrino’s final season to an 8-5 finish last year.
Considering both squads were breaking in new head coaches in 2019, their success is even more impressive. WKU made the right move when they brought in Tyson Helton as their head coach. The brother of USC boss Clay, Helton improved everything on both sides of the ball as the ‘Toppers tripled their production last season.
Louisville’s Scott Satterfield left the comfy confines of Appalachian State (48-16 at ASU) to step into a chaotic situation with the Cardinals, and all he did was win ACC Coach of the Year as Louie became just the second program to go from 0-8 to 5-3 in conference play. Tonight’s game, a rematch from last year’s 38-21 U of L win over WKU at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, gives Helton a chance to square his head-to-head record against Satterfield.
From an ATS standpoint, the boys from Bowling Green bring the better numbers: 5-0-1 ATS Game One, 9-3 ATS as dogs of 12 or more points, and 8-3 ATS with non-conference revenge. Compare that to Louisville’s 0-4 ATS home effort versus non-con revenge, and a 2-7 ATS mark as favorites of more than 11 points. WKU’s two deep is much more experienced this time around and the fact is the Hilltoppers are downright territorial when facing FBS teams from the state of Kentucky since 2011, going 4-1 ATS.
The Cardinals also return 16 starters, including star QB Micale Cunningham, who the broke the school record for pass efficiency (hey, didn’t Baltimore QB Lamar Jackson play here?). Yes, coach Satterfield is pumped up about his offense and, after being shut out in the original AP Top 25 rankings, the Cardinals assumed the No. 20 slot in the adjusted preseason AP poll (sans the Big Ten and the Pac-12).
Accolades aside, Western Kentucky should be considered dangerous anytime the ‘Toppers are taking points – which they figure to do this season with 9 of their 10 FBS foes appearing in bowl games last season. All of which segues nicely into THE CLINCHER: Louisville is 5-15 ATS as a double-digit home favorite since 2013, including 1-9 ATS versus a foe that won 5 or more games the previous season.
Tampa Bay over New Orleans by 6
The addition of Tom Brady at quarterback as Tampa Bay’s quarterback this season certainly shook up the NFL. However, to put it into a better perspective, the pressure to deliver is arguably greater on Bucs’ head coach Bruce Arians than it is on Brady.
This is where both Arians’ offenses and Brady’s Patriots have ranked in terms of average air yards per attempt going back to when Arians took over as Steelers offensive coordinator in 2007:
In each of his past 11 seasons as the person in charge of the offense, Arians’ teams have ranked in the Top Ten passing attacks in football all eleven times. Brady and the Patriots have ranked in the top 10 once in that time. So where does the intersection meet between the coach and his new quarterback this season? Does Arians elevate Brady’s recent faltering numbers, or does Brady tarnish Bruce’s sterling stats?
Perhaps the better question is, as Football Outsiders put it, how much longer can Tom Brady be Tom Brady? With the recent addition of Leonard Fournette and LeSean McCoy to the backfield, along with receivers Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and TE Rob Gronkowski, its safe to say Brady will have a lot of mouths to feed. And speaking of delivering the rock, one thing is for certain – it’s not often you’ll fi nd a backup quarterback in this league that averages 274 passing yards per game in his NFL career, including a league-high 5,109 last season.
That’s what Brady’s standby Jameis Winston brings to the table. However, Brady had better stay upright this season as Winston was picked off 30 times last year (it’s been 31 years since anyone has tossed 30 INTs in the NFL) and has tossed multiple interceptions a league-high 25 times. We do know the Bucs will play six games with fewer days rest than their opponent this season, the most such games in the NFL. Not good news for a soon-to-be 43-year old quarterback, thus winning early and often has to be a priority for the Bucs this season.
Today Brady will match serves with fellow future Hall of Fame QB Drew Brees, certainly no spring chicken in his own right. The 41-year-old Brees has aired it out for an NFL all-time 77,416 yards in his 14 seasons in the league, nearly 3,000 yards more than runner-up Brady. In addition, his 547 passing TDs is the most-ever in the NFL, 6 more than Brady. Safe to say this is a true battle of the Goliaths. New Orleans’ addition of WR Emmanuel Sanders, now alongside the NFL best pass catcher in Michael Thomas, certainly the Saints makes the Who Dats’ as dangerous as ever.
However, the bottom line is that Brady’s 32-21 SU and 36-16-1 ATS NFL career mark as an underdog, and Arians’ outstanding 6-3 SU and 7-2 ATS dog log during the month of September, leaves us on the take in this battle of the behemoths. We seal the deal with THE CLINCHER: The Saints are 1-5 SU and 0-6 ATS ledger in season opening games the past six years.
Cleveland over Baltimore by 1
Like we said in the 2020 Playbook Football Guide magazine, we’re all dealing with a challenge of some kind. The Cleveland Browns just hide it better than most. A blue-collar Dawg Pound fan base won’t let them see it any other way. What more can you say about a team that hasn’t had a winning season since 2007? One that went 4-44 from 2015-2017. Or one that stands a staggering 1-19-1 straight up in season openers since rejoining the league as an expansion team in 1999? But that was yesterday.
Today’s team has new management, a new coach and a new attitude. 35-year old Ivy League whiz kid GM Eric Berry hired Kevin Stefanski from the Vikings, and was a shrewd wheeler-dealer in the offseason. New OL coach Bill Callahan is simply one of the best in the business. On the flip side, next to the Chiefs, the Ravens are the team no one can get enough of.
On the heels of a 14-win effort last year, the Black Birds will face the weakest strength of schedule this season (based on opponent’s win-loss record in 2019). What we don’t like is they are 0-8 ATS as division home chalk of 8 or more points, as well as the fact that NFL head coaches in their first year with a new team are 48-28-1 ATS as dogs in their first game, including 30-11-1 ATS away.
And as far as that rotten Game One record that has haunted the Browns, all we can say is that all bad things come to an end – starting here.