Oct 31, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields (1) throws a pass against the San Francisco 49ers during the second half at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2022 NFL schedule release, teams can officially start preparing for the first game of the season. Bettors, meanwhile, can start looking ahead to Week 1’s lines.

Dave Mason from Bet Online tweeted out not only the Week 1 NFL schedule but also the point spreads in those games.

By and large, these feel about right. But two games really jump out.

The underdog pick that stands out is the Chicago Bears (+6.5) hosting the San Francisco 49ers.

At a glance, this feels about right. The 49ers were in the NFC Championship Game last season and minutes away from reaching the Super Bowl. Chicago, meanwhile, is coming off of a 6-11 campaign in 2019 and was 8-8 in both 2020 and 2019. On top of that, the 49ers beat the Bears 33-22 in Chicago during the 2021 season. So, what gives?

Well, it’s Week 1. If Week 1 is known for anything, it’s head-scratching results. Case in point, in 2021, the New Orleans Saints routed the Green Bay Packers 38-3 in the first week of the 2021 season. And while that was officially a home game for New Orleans, the game was played in Jacksonville. By the end of the year, that was one of the season’s biggest outlier games.

Week 1 is always weird. Now, with a shortened preseason, it’s even more so. The 49ers will probably beat the Bears. And if this was any other week, we’d feel good about them covering 6.5 points. But the combination of Week 1, a cross-country road game, Trey Lance likely making his first start as San Francisco’s true starter (his two starts in 2021 were due to injury), and the possibility of a backdoor cover, Chicago feels like the right play.

Now, if you’re looking for a favorite to cover, New Orleans (-3.5) against the Atlanta Falcons is worth a hard look.

There’s some risk involved, for sure. The game is in Atlanta, and these two are rivals. Furthermore, while the Saints don’t figure to be a bad team in 2022, they have some questions. That’s all true. But this is more about the Falcons. With Matt Ryan gone, the Falcons are fully invested in a rebuild. They will be one of the worst teams in the league in 2022.

In 2021, the league’s two worst teams were the Jacksonville Jaguars in Detroit Lions. While Week 1 is often wonky, it wasn’t for either team. The Lions lost 41-33 at home to the 49ers. Jacksonville, meanwhile, fell 37-21 to the Houston Texans — the league’s third-worst team in 2021. A mediocre team can play a good team close or even beat them in Week 1. But even the strangeness of Week 1 isn’t enough to overcome a team fully invested in a tank.

Also, while San Francisco’s -6.5 spread against Chicago lends itself to a backdoor cover, -3.5 doesn’t do the same thing. Unless we’re literally talking about the final seconds of a game, defenses aren’t going to be that likely to surrender a cheap touchdown to allow an opponent to get within a field goal. New Orleans is the wise play here.

[Dave Mason]

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