The 2023 NFL season starts Thursday night when the Detroit Lions face the Kansas City Chiefs. No more camp battles or clips of over-the-shoulder catches in mesh jerseys. It’s nothing but meaningful football from here on out.
We got a quick reminder of how volatile the betting market can be when reports surfaced that Chiefs TE Travis Kelce suffered a hyperextended knee in practice, putting his availability for Thursday night’s game in jeopardy. Bettors leaped to the counter to get a piece of the Lions as 6.5-point underdogs, pushing the spread down two full points.
Let the real handicapping begin. You didn’t think the most efficient betting market in all of sports would give you a layup in the first game, did you? All the data points pieced together from the summer in preparation for this game now get an asterisk. How much does Kelce matter? It's hard to tell because there is such a limited sample size of Mahomes stepping on the field without him. Last season, we found out that the Chiefs didn't need much else besides their QB/TE combo. In a year when Kansas City invested less in the skill-position players surrounding Patrick Mahomes, the result was a Super Bowl victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.
Do you really want to start the season betting against Mahomes? To be fair, Kansas City was only 7-10 ATS last season. So, betting against the Chiefs during the season hasn’t been the worst idea. Originally, I had my eye on using the Chiefs as a teaser leg if they ever reached -7.5. You can kiss that idea goodbye, thanks to Kelce.
Where do we turn from here? Do we just take the short number with the underdog Lions and hope there is enough rah-rah in the pregame speech to stop Mahomes? If I wasn’t taking the Lions at +6.5, I am not biting on them now.
Here are three ways I am putting my money on Mahomes for Thursday night’s season opener.
Kansas City -4.5 (-110)
The last time Mahomes stepped on a football field, he orchestrated a 17-point fourth-quarter, against the best pass rush in the NFL, to win in the Super Bowl. Oh, and he did it on a bum ankle. Kelce is a tough loss (assuming he doesn’t play), but this is still Mahomes against a Detroit Lions defense that was 31st in EPA per play allowed. LB Jack Campbell was a solid addition in the draft. However, you need to make more than a few tweaks to one of the worst defenses in the NFL to slow down Mahomes in Arrowhead. The Chiefs blasted the Arizona Cardinals, 44-21, in their season opener a year ago. Mahomes threw for 360 yards and five touchdowns in the rout.
Kansas City is always at its best when Andy Reid has additional time to prepare. Per Josh Ingles at Covers, Reid has covered the spread in 70% of his season openers with the Chiefs and 80% with Mahomes under center. The potential loss of Kelce isn’t ideal, but the Chiefs still have plenty of ways to move the football. It could carve out a bigger role for Isiah Pacheco, if Reid chooses to exploit the Lions on the ground. Detroit finished 27th against the run and was gashed unmercifully for 320 yards by Carolina in Week 16 of last season. It was a game where Jared Goff threw for 355 yards and three TDs, and the Lions still lost by 14 points to a team led by Sam Darnold.
Detroit will move the ball successfully early by taking advantage of the absence of Chris Jones. Eventually, the scoreboard pressure applied by the Chiefs' offense will force Goff into costly mistakes, allowing Kansas City to move into a comfortable lead. I can't pass up getting the defending Super Bowl champs on a short number. Bet: Kansas City -4.5
ML parlay: Kansas City/Baltimore (-137)
If life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. The injury gods took the Chiefs teasers off the table for the time being, but we can still get creative with a two-team moneyline parlay. The history of Reid's and Mahomes’ success in season openers is even more impressive when you remove the point spread. Mahomes is unbeaten in Week 1 in his career, while Reid has only lost once in his decade tenure in Kansas City.
The Ravens hold the most chalk this Sunday as 10-point favorites over the Houston Texans. Ever since Baltimore bludgeoned the Dolphins, 59-10, in the opening week of 2019, the Ravens have been a popular team to back to start the season. John Harbaugh’s group has usually delivered with an 11-4 ATS record in the league’s first week. However, this bet is more about an undermanned Texans team that is showing a few red flags. Houston has a rookie head coach making his NFL debut, along with a rookie QB in C.J. Stroud starting behind a banged-up offensive line. I am not trying to start my season laying 10 points, but I will pay the -137 to bet on Chiefs and Ravens both winning outright.
Patrick Mahomes anytime touchdown (+350)
Here is the thing about Mahomes. He will do it all by himself if he has to. Mahomes won’t be above making magic happen with his feet if his favorite red-zone target isn’t on the field. The Lions allowed six different quarterbacks to scamper into the end zone in 2022. Here is the list:
Jalen Hurts (90 yards, 1 TD)
Justin Fields (132 & 147 yards, 2 TDs)
Geno Smith (49 yards, 1 TD)
Josh Allen (78 yards, 1 TD)
Daniel Jones (50 yards, 1 TD)
Sam Darnold (19 yards, 1 TD)
It’s safe to say the Lions weren’t great at containing mobile quarterbacks. The Chiefs’ team total in the game is currently 30.5 at BetMGM, which projects four touchdowns. At +350 odds, it’s worth a small play to get involved. With the Lions' potent offense on the other side, there will be urgency to convert these red-zone opportunities to touchdowns by any means necessary.
Stats provided by: rbsdm, pff, action network.