Oakland Raiders (0-0) at Tennessee Titans (0-0)
This line favors the Titans by 2.5 points, suggesting the Raiders are a little bit better than the Titans. I think that’s backward. The Raiders won 12 games last season, while the Titans won just 9, but I think the Titans enter the season as the better team. They finished last season 6th in first down rate and scored 10 more offensive touchdowns than their opponents, the 2nd best margin among non-playoff teams behind the Cardinals and the 6th best in the NFL overall. They missed the playoffs because of close losses and return touchdowns (-8 in that metric), but those tend to be fluky. They also addressed their only weaknesses this off-season, shoring up their secondary and receiving corps, and enter the season as arguably the most complete team in the NFL.
The Raiders, meanwhile, required a lot of luck to go 12-4, even though they lost Derek Carr with injury week 16. Eight of their 12 victories came by 7 points or fewer, including a 5-0 record in games decided by a field goal or less, and their point differential of +31 was just behind non-playoff teams in the Eagles and Ravens (both at +36). That’s despite the fact that they finished with a league best +16 turnover margin. Turnovers tend to be very inconsistent on a year-to-year basis, so the Raiders won’t be able to count on that as much in 2017. Before Carr went down, this team ranked just 12th in first down rate differential and likely would not have gone on a long playoff run either way.
They’re a young team that added more talent this off-season, so they should still be considered the favorites in the AFC West, especially with the Chiefs losing All-Pro safety Eric Berry for the season, but I have the Titans a few spots ahead of them in my rankings and I have them with one more win in my season previews (11 vs. 10). They are one of my favorite sleeper teams this season and this gives me an opportunity to take them before their price gets too high. As long as this line is lower than a field goal, it’s worth putting money on the home team. About 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal and I like the Titans’ chances of winning by a field goal or more.
Tennessee Titans 27 Oakland Raiders 23
Pick against the spread: Tennessee -2.5