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Aaron Jones
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
Sunday's Best

Week 1 Marquee Matchups

by Warren Sharp
Updated On: September 11, 2020, 2:11 pm ET

Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings

Although variance in a single game needs to be accounted for, this game may go a long way to help us understand the value of home field in 2020 without fans. The Vikings have the best home field advantage in the NFL. They built their new stadium in 2016 to have a noise-refracting roof to bounce sound back onto the field.  Since moving into their new stadium, they are 24-9 SU and 21-9-3 ATS (70%). Without that crowd noise, this team’s home field may be hurt more than most.

If home field is minimized, based on our expectations of these two teams (both right around 8-9 wins and both having close odds to win the division) the original 3.5 point line was too high. While the Packers didn’t do themselves many favors for this Week 1 game in the draft, what they also didn’t do was get notably worse. They have nine returning starters on both offense and defense. They have the same play caller and the same defensive coordinator.  

On the other hand, the Vikings had massive turnover, including their best offensive player and only return half of their starting defense. They also have new offensive and defensive coordinators. The 2020 Vikings passing game is likely to digress without WR Stefon Diggs. The Vikings completely overhauled their defense, allowing most of their starting secondary to walk, as well as multiple players along the defensive line. Gone are Linval Joseph (Chargers) and Everson Griffen (Cowboys) from the line and all three starting corners: Xavier Rhodes (Colts), Trae Waynes (Bengals), and Mackensie Alexander (Bengals).

When a team can run the ball successfully on the road, it makes life easier on the QB. Last season, Aaron Jones delivered games against Zimmer’s defense of:

• 116 yards, 5.0 YPC, 65% success, 1 TD
• 154 yards, 6.7 YPC, 48% success, 2 TDs

On early downs in the first three quarters in both games, Jones gained 5.3 YPC with a 65% success rate on 34 rushes. And when Jamaal Williams toted the rock, he recorded a 75% success rate at 4.9 YPC. And this was when the Vikings actually had a defensive line. I anticipate the Packers will be able to run the ball on the depleted D-line of the Vikings.

Over the course of the season, we’ll discuss line movement and line value. I got involved on this game over a week ago, grabbing the Packers +3.5. I absolutely do not recommend them at +2.5. There are few instances you would want to buy points, but moving an underdog from +2.5 to +3 is that time. That said, the Packers make for a perfect teaser leg at that number to move through the key numbers of 3 and 7. 

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints

In what is sure to have the largest handle of the games prior to Sunday Night Football, we finally get to see what Tom Brady looks like in the Bucs offense. But the most interesting angle here is to discuss how an otherwise great coach always appears to behind the ball when it comes to getting his team prepared for the season.

Since 2014, the Saints are 2-10 SU and 1-11 ATS the first two weeks of the season. The last time they covered a game was 2016 week 2 in New York against the Giants.

This type of consistent underperformance out the gates is troubling. Especially when you consider since 2018, while they went 2-1 with Brees as a full-game starter in these games (at home in every single one of these games), they needed to average 16 fourth quarter points just to get back into these games. On average, they trailed entering the fourth quarter by a score of 25-15. Their need to turn it on late and rally has led to many of these games going over the total.

Also confounding this game’s result is the fact that Tampa Bay turned the ball over on a league-high 22% of their drives last season, 10% above average and highest rate since 2006. When a team turns the ball over, they generally allow for shorter fields, opponent points, and then puts more pressure on the offense to score more. The end result is more points scored in games with more turnovers.

The last 10 seasons, let’s examine the result of totals based on total turnovers combined:

·    0-1 turnovers: 45% overs
·    2-4 turnovers: 50% overs
·    5+ turnovers:  56% overs

In 2019, the Saints had the fewest turnovers (eight) in league history. Turning the ball over on 4.4% of their possessions. And if Brady’s Bucs turn the ball over significantly less in 2020 than they did in 2019, this game’s scoring could look different than it did in previous Bucs/Saints matchups, which have gone over in 4 of the last 5 years.

Editor's Note: For Sharp's breakdowns of the rest of the Sunday slate, don't miss this article!

Warren Sharp

Warren Sharp is a football betting analyst for NBC Sports. As a leading voice in football analytics, Warren writes a yearly book previewing the upcoming season from all angles at his Sharp Football Analysis website. You can follow Warren Sharp on Twitter @SharpFootball.