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NFL Week 2 best bets: Breaking down Chargers-Cowboys and four intriguing opening lines

 Justin Herbert (10) threw 47 passes and led the Chargers into the red zone six times against Washington.
Justin Herbert (10) threw 47 passes and led the Chargers into the red zone six times against Washington.
(Daniel Kucin Jr. / Associated Press)
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Week 2 is an overreaction week in the NFL. All the buildup and anticipation for the season comes to a head in Week 1, and bettors formulate strong opinions about what they’ve most recently seen.

Oddsmakers and bettors both will make adjustments that are too big based on what happened with the first set of games. Oddsmakers sometimes overreact to games that had onesided action. Bettors overreact to the results. We have only one data point out of 17 in the books for each of these teams, but that one data point seems to carry a whole lot of weight.

Initial line moves are worth paying close attention to every week, but especially early in the season when everybody involved is looking to formulate an opinion on a team. Astute bettors can get some good numbers and some good line value in Week 2 by keeping a level head about what happened in Week 1.

Here are four games whose early lines stand out for Week 2:

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Dallas Cowboys at Chargers (-3, 52)

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott calls a play against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday.
(Mark LoMoglio / Associated Press)

Dak Prescott threw the ball 58 times in Week 1 against Tampa Bay. The Cowboys were forced to keep pace with the Buccaneers’ offense, but Mike McCarthy had no reservations about putting his QB in harm’s way. Even with reports in the preseason of a tired shoulder, Prescott was firing away.

Prescott had at least 47 pass attempts in four of his five full games last season. Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore seems to prefer throwing the ball. Prescott should be throwing early and often against the Chargers as well.

Justin Herbert threw 47 times in his first game with new coach Brandon Staley and new OC Joe Lombardi, who called a ton of pass plays in 2014 and 2015 with the Detroit Lions.

With all these pass attempts in the forecast, the over 52 looks a tad low on the fast track of SoFi Stadium. The Chargers had six red zone trips in Week 1 but scored only two touchdowns. The Cowboys had four trips inside the 20 and scored only one touchdown. We should see lots of yards, lots of passes and lots of scoring opportunities.

Pick: Over 52

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3

New England Patriots (-3.5, 47.5) at New York Jets

New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson throws a pass against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
(Nell Redmond / Associated Press)

The Patriots vs. Miami Dolphins game had a heavy betting handle last week, as bettors had opinions on both sides of the game. New England lost 17-16 as a 3.5-point favorite. The Patriots were one of the more polarizing teams in Week 1 because everybody wanted to see how Mac Jones would play and if New England’s defense would improve.

The Patriots may have fallen short but they were undoubtedly the better team. New England had 5.6 yards per play to 5.0 for the Dolphins. New England was 11 for 16 on third down, while Miami was just four of 11. The Dolphins scored touchdowns on both red zone trips, while New England scored one in four trips with two field goals and a turnover. New England should have won.

The Jets, meanwhile, managed only 4.2 yards per play against the Carolina Panthers. The running game was nonexistent and New York got to the red zone only once. The Patriots are 9-1 straight up in their last 10 games against rookie QBs. Coach Bill Belichick is 21-7 against rookie QBs since taking the reins in 2000.

Rookie QB Zach Wilson, who was sacked six times by a Panthers defense that had just 29 sacks last season, didn’t look comfortable and now faces an evil genius who dials up great game plans against rookies. This line was more like -4.5 in the market before the Week 1 results. New England did nothing to deserve a discounted number. The Patriots are a good early week pick.

Pick: New England Patriots -3.5

4

Buffalo Bills (-3.5, 47.5) at Miami Dolphins

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen throws a pass against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.
(Adrian Kraus / Associated Press)

The Week 1 results are having too much influence in the line. Buffalo lost to Pittsburgh and, as nearly a touchdown favorite, it was an ugly loss. The Steelers scored a special teams touchdown on a blocked punt that wound up being the deciding factor in the game. Buffalo had some unfortunate drops in third-down situations and wound up essentially minus-three in turnover margin with a pick and two turnovers on downs.

The Steelers didn’t cross midfield in the first half. Pittsburgh’s defense played really well, so that unit deserves a lot of credit, but we know that the Buffalo offense has a much higher ceiling than what we saw.

Miami couldn’t get off the field on third down against New England, and most of the Patriots’ conversions came on Mac Jones passes. Buffalo’s Josh Allen had the highest completion percentage on third down (67%) of any QB with at least 100 pass attempts last season. Tua Tagovailoa was only at 50% last season and the Dolphins had third-down issues in Week 1.

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This line has not been adjusted down, but the Bills are better than what they showed us and the Dolphins may not be.

Pick: Buffalo Bills -3.5

5

Houston Texans at Cleveland Browns (-11.5, 48)

Houston Texans quarterback Tyrod Taylor carries the ball against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.
(Eric Christian Smith / Associated Press)

Penultimate game manager Tyrod Taylor played very well for the Texans in Week 1, but that was against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jags already seem to be a team in turmoil based on the reports coming out of Florida. Houston converted 12 of 21 third-down attempts, a percentage that this offense will have no chance to uphold in the near term, let alone the long term.

The Texans ran 75 plays, a pace that they are unlikely to keep up against a ball-control offense like Cleveland’s this week. The Browns may have played a little more aggressively, especially early, against Kansas City because the way to beat the Chiefs is to outscore them. The Browns went for it twice on fourth down in the first quarter and were rewarded for their aggression. Maybe they settle for three points against a different team.

Once Kansas City adjusted to Cleveland’s offense, the Browns had 126 yards on 21 plays in the second half. They had 318 yards on 32 plays in the first half.

The look-ahead total for this game was 45.5. This seems like a big adjustment, particularly against the backdrop of what Houston did against a bad Jacksonville team. Cleveland’s game plan to beat Kansas City likely will end up being a lot different than the plan against Houston. That should slow down this game and the Texans offense also should experience some regression.

Pick: Houston/Cleveland Under 48

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