Opening line: Giants -3/46.5
Current line: Giants -4/45 (SportsInteraction, Pinnacle), Giants -3.5/45 (Bet365, 5Dimes)
Current betting consensus: 75% backing the Giants, 64% backing the OVER
Dallas Cowboys (2011): 5-10-1 against the spread, UNDER was 10-6
New York Giants (2011): 8-7-1 against the spread, OVER was 8-7-1
Trends: In their last six meetings, the underdog is 5-1 against the spread, while the OVER is also 5-1.
The NFL changed the setup of this game in 2004 so that the game would be hosted by the defending Super Bowl champions, and since adopting that format, the home team has won all eight contests.
This year that team is the Giants, who are 9-4-1 against the spread in their last 14 games in September. They opened their 2011 season with a 28-14 loss on the road against Washington.
The Giants had some cap issues in the offseason and were forced to let some players go, most notably Brandon Jacobs and Mario Manningham. However, the team added some good pieces through the draft, so expect David Wilson and Rueben Randle to pick up the slack. Meanwhile, Eli Manning, Hakeem Nicks, and Victor Cruz are back to lead one of the most dangerous passing offenses in the NFL.
Ahmad Bradshaw will start the season as New York’s lead running back. The Giants scored an average of 26.33 points in the 12 games that he played last season, compared to 19.5 points in the four games he missed.
Defensively, the Giants struggled to defend the pass last season and did nothing to address that in the offseason. They were hoping to get Terrell Thomas back, but he was placed on IR early in the preseason.
Speaking of passing defenses, the Cowboys shored theirs up for games just like this one, drafting Morris Claiborne and adding free agent Brandon Carr as they hope to improve their 23rd-ranked pass defense.
Offensively, Tony Romo may be without his favorite target, as Jason Witten will be a game-time decision and likely won’t play, according to ProFootballTalk. Miles Austin and his balky hamstrings will play, as will Dez Bryant, assuming he doesn’t break any of the ‘Dez Rules’ before game time.
The Cowboys are 4-1 against the spread in their last five Week 1 games. They began last season with a 27-24 loss at the hands of the New York Jets after leading for the majority of the game.
Ultimately, this game is terribly difficult to handicap. I really feel as though the Giants should be bigger favorites, especially with Cowboys’ DT Jay Ratliff being ruled out for tonight’s game. Ratliff is a beast at nose tackle and is a force as both a run stopper and a pass rusher. I think that the losses of Ratliff and Witten outweigh the health of Bryant and Austin.
The biggest concern for me, and the main reason that I won’t pull the trigger on the Giants in this contest, is the heavy amount of action from the betting public. With three quarters of all side bets coming in on New York, I’ve chosen to stay away. The first week of college football this season saw the books make a killing on primetime games with Vanderbilt, Boise State, and Georgia Tech all beating the spread, and I don’t want to go down that path with the Giants tonight.
I’d be more inclined to bet the total if I had to. Typically, we want to play on under bets in the first couple weeks of the season as teams fine tune their offenses, and this game will be no different as I don’t believe either offense will be firing on all cylinders.
Both teams have dealt with injuries throughout training camp and the preseason, and that leads me to believe that their passing offenses won’t be quite game ready just yet. Hakeem Nicks played only one preseason game after missing most of training camp, while Romo’s main targets (Austin, Bryant, and Witten) have each missed large chunks of camp with various injuries.
Green Bay and New Orleans showed us last year that this game can produce some points, playing to a 42-34 final, but the four Kickoff games before that one stayed under the number, averaging just 30 total points per game. Even the high-powered Saints offense averaged only 12 points per game in their first two Kickoff games, and the last time the Giants played in the Kickoff Game, the game produced only 23 points.
Tonight’s matchup features teams that have averaged 60.67 combined points in their last six meetings, going over the number five of six times, with a total of 45 points scored in that lone under. However, those games have seen the Giants average 328 passing yards, including an average of 368 passing yards over the last three contests. Dallas’ improved passing defense should limit that type of production.
Prediction: Giants 24, Cowboys 20
Recommendation: Don’t bet this game! Yes, it’s the first game of the NFL season, and I’m sure you’ve been dying all offseason to finally get some plays in, but this isn’t the game to do it. It may appear as though New York is a solid play, especially with the line at -3.5 at many sportsbooks, but don’t fall into the public trap. Wait for the weekend when there are much better options on the board. My best recommendation would be UNDER 45 total points, but I have no confidence in that selection whatsoever. Good luck!