Sunday Night Football Betting Preview: Are the Favored Seahawks the Side to Back?
Seattle's famous 12th man will be absent from this one, as no fans will be in attendance in one of the most notoriously difficult places to play in the NFL. How that affects the game as well how the Patriots will look in their first real test of the season will be two of the bigger storylines on Sunday Night Football.
But we're really here to place some bets, and luckily this game is full of intriguing options. The Seahawks are favored by 4.0 points on FanDuel Sportsbook and are drawing fairly heavy action, as 68% of the bets and 73% of the money have jumped on Seattle's side of the spread, per our oddsFire betting tool. The moneyline has an interesting split, as 55% of the bets are backing the Patriots (+169), yet a whopping 72% of the money has come down on the Seahawks (-200).
We should wait to see if that stabilizes closer to kickoff, but it would appear that the public is taking a shot on an upset here, while the big-money bettors see a low-risk opportunity to turn a profit on the favorite. Similarly, 80% of the bets are hammering the over on the 44.0-point total, while 56% of the money is coming in on the under.
It would appear that the big-money bettors are predicting a low-scoring win from the Seahawks, while the public thinks that the Patriots can put up some points and make this a ballgame. Let's check numberFire's metrics to see what the numbers say.
Passing Game Preview
On the Pats' side, there's not a lot to cover here after one week once you separate out Cam Newton's rushing abilities from the Patriots' passing offense. Newton produced -0.08 Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back against the Miami Dolphins in the opener, good for a 27th overall in Week 1 among quarterbacks. Newton's 21 drop backs were the fewest in the league last week, and determining how much of that was due to the matchup against the Dolphins will be one of the keys to handicapping this game.
Julian Edelman led the way among New England's wide receivers, catching five of seven targets and producing 0.56 Reception NEP per target. If this turns into a higher-scoring affair than last week's game -- or if the Pats fall behind -- Edelman would likely be the primary beneficiary. James White saw just three targets against Miami but caught all three, and he would be another player to watch in negative game script.
N'Keal Harry was the second-most targeted Patriot last week, but the results were disappointing, according to our metrics. While he caught five of his six targets on the day, he turned those looks into just 39 receiving yards, including a fumble that went out of bounds into the end zone, resulting in a touchback and Miami's ball. Harry will look to improve on his -0.39 Reception NEP per target from last week, and Newton seemed to have his young receiver's back in the post-game press conference. The rest of the offense combined for three targets, so we can focus on Edelman, White, and Harry for Sunday night player props.
Seattle's pass defense surrendered a significant amount of late yardage and scoring to Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons last week, and they graded out as the 17th-best pass D in the league with 0.19 Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per drop back. Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley did major damage, which is to be expected, but Russell Gage's 0.96 Reception NEP per target on 12 opportunities really stands out when looking ahead to this week. Gage's slot role and success should mean good things for Edelman's chances of producing if the Patriots have to up their passing volume. Marquise Blair will likely matchup with Edelman.
Russell Wilson was cooking in Week 1, and the Seahawks' offense rode him from the start. Seattle ranked second in the NFL with 0.57 Adjusted Passing NEP per drop back against the Falcons, and Wilson appeared at the top of his game. Wilson had as many passing touchdowns (4) as incompletions last week on 35 attempts.
Nearly every target of Wilson's was productive, but wide receiver D.K. Metcalf clearly stood out, producing 1.46 Reception NEP per target on eight targets. Tyler Lockett tied with Metcalf for the team-lead with eight targets, and running back Chris Carson was a surprising third with six, an interesting trend to watch going forward. As long as the game-plan remains pass-heavy, we can expect Wilson to put up good numbers against even the toughest of defenses.
New England unsurprisingly graded out as a top-five defense in Week 1, and they were led by their pass defense. Allowing -0.27 Adjusted Defensive NEP per drop back to Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Dolphins, the Patriots ranked second in the league defending the pass in the opening week. It will be interesting to see how this defense holds up against much better competition in Seattle, as the Patriots' D was among the hardest hit by COVID-19 opt-outs in the offseason. While they may not be the dominant defense that they were in 2019, we know this unit will be among the best coached in the league with Bill Belichick at the helm. This week will give us more information on just how good they will be in 2020.
Rushing Game Preview
Newton and the Patriots racked up 0.39 Adjusted Rushing NEP per attempt last week, good for the second-best performance in the league. Newton led the way, rushing 14 times and recording 0.64 Rushing NEP per carry, good for the second-best mark among rushers with five or more attempts, trailing only Kyler Murray and ranking one spot ahead of Lamar Jackson.
Sony Michel contributed a positive performance on 10 carries, with White, Rex Burkhead, and rookie J.J. Taylor splitting up the rest of the work. Taylor looked good in his debut, and his 0.52 Rushing NEP per attempt backed that up, though it came on only four carries. He certainly doesn't profile as a workhorse, but he could earn more work as the season progress. This figures to be a heavily utilized rushing attack with the attempts divided up relatively evenly, and the Week 1 performance was very encouraging.
Seattle shut down Todd Gurley and the Falcons' run game in Week 1, holding them to -0.24 Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per carry. Seattle's rushing defense ranked just 25th in the league last year, according to our numbers, so this will be a test against Newton and the Pats. If Wilson and the offense can grab a lead and put up points, that will help take the pressure off of this run defense.
The Seahawks produced an acceptable 0.02 Rushing NEP per carry last week against Atlanta, which checked in 16th in the league. Seattle surprisingly rushed just 20 times overall despite the positive game script, and Wilson led the way with 29 yards on three carries. Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde split the work with six and seven carries, respectively, so we may want to avoid taking overs on this rushing attack until we better understand how things will be split up. Seattle may have been easing Carson back in after offseason rehab from injury, but Hyde is the type of back who could eat into his workload all season.
New England's rushing defense gave up 0.00 Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per carry on 27 rushes last week, as the Dolphins reminded committed to the run even while behind. While this may be the weaker part of the Patriots' D, Seattle would be wise to ignore that and let Wilson lead the way through the air for the second straight week.
Of the 10 most comparable games to this matchup, the favorite won outright in 8 of 10 games and went 5-4-1 covering the spread. With an even split on the over/under, the trends aren't very strong here to draw many conclusions. The closest match to this game was a December 2019 game with these Patriots on the road facing the Texans, a game in which Houston hung on for a 28-22 victory. With New England transitioning from Tom Brady to Newton, however, it's hard to read too much into that.
Game Projections and Props
Our algorithm gives the Seahawks a 61.5% chance of winning outright, making the Patriots moneyline at +169 a slightly profitable bet with a 3.1% return on investment. The market nailed the line, and we don't see an edge on either side of the 4.0-point spread, so you're likely better off avoiding that one. With the over/under also lacking a clear edge, we are going to need to lean on player props to make our money this week.
On FanDuel Sportsbook, I actually like Cam Newton +230 to score a touchdown (has to be rushing or receiving). I'm surprised this isn't a bit lower as this is a big name and a fun prop to bet, but with numberFire projecting him for a 34% chance at a rushing touchdown, there is a little bit of value here. I would also look to James White to hit the over on 29.5 receiving yards, a number he topped in all but five games last year and surpassed on just three targets last week. Julian Edelman over 54.5 receiving yards is another attractive play if New England gets caught in catch-up mode.
On the Seattle side, we have Russell Wilson projected for 270 passing yards while his passing prop is set at just 239.5. That's a significant difference. This may be the oddsmakers expecting the Seahawks to revert back to their run-heavy days of the past or maybe oddsmakers have a ton of respect for the Pats' defense. But after an impressive Week 1 performance, I think Seattle puts the ball in Wilson's hands for the second straight week, making the over an attractive play.