Look between the lines: Handicapping NFL’s Week 1 slate

James Hernandez has more than  15 years in the sports handicapping industry and will contribute weekly for FOXSports.com as our betting expert. Have comments or questions? Make sure to email him at jameshernandez1981@gmail.com.

James Hernandez, Contributor to FOXSports.com

Over the next 17 weeks, I will attempt to guide you to the winner’s circle more often than not. I consider a combination of statistical trends, my own personal player ranking system, and meticulous attention to various wagering techniques that allow me to analyze and formulate a plan of attack each week.

Each week I will post my five favorite plays in order of preference, best on top and so on. All right, let’s get into it:

Pittsburgh (-7) over the Tennessee Titans

Most people will look at this play and say REALLY?! Lay a touchdown with a team that features the amazing running talents of Isaac Redman, Le’Veon Bell and LaRod Stephens-Howling? Yeah, thanks but no thanks.

However, the Steelers have won 10 straight season openers at Heinz Field and let’s face it; it’s not as if Peyton or Brady are coming to town. With the mediocre Jake Locker scampering around the pocket like a lost child in the mall, the Steelers’ front seven should have no problem getting into the Tennessee backfield and wreck shop all day long. This, along with Big Ben’s knack for getting the home W — 49-15 career record at home — and the fact that he still has two thirds of “Young Money” (Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown) to help make plays for him downfield should prove to be too much for the Titans to overcome.

Look for the Steelers to shut down the Titans’ run game of Chris Johnson and Shonn Greene and cruise to a double-digit win.

San Francisco/Green Bay over 49

At first glance, this may seem like a high total to open the 2013 season, but nothing could be further from the truth.

The over has easily hit the last two times these teams met. The most recent meeting went 30 points over the posted number of 46 in the NFC Divisional playoff game at Candlestick in January, which is better known as Colin Kaepernick’s coming out partyas he electrified the masses with 444 total yards and four touchdowns.

In fact, since Kaepernick took the reins of Jim Harbaugh’s offense few teams have had more success.

Although the sample size is relatively small, look for Kaepernick to continue to carve up opposing defenses with his arm and legs as the 49ers continue to steamroll the opposition behind the game’s best offensive line and most consistent running game.

I got so caught up in Kaepernick that I nearly forgot to talk about the best quarterback in the league, Aaron Rodgers. What can you say, this man has been everything you want in a leader, throwing 112 touchdown passes the last three years against 25 picks. Mike McCarthy will once again ride Rodgers until the wheels fall off and with the addition of Eddie Lacy and the emerging presence of yardage monster Randall Cobb, a healthy Jordy Nelson and red- zone beast James Jones look for the Pack to be a top-five scoring offense.

Look for this game to fly over the total and have you in line by the start of the fourth quarter waiting to cash a winner.

Houston Texans (-4) over San Diego Chargers

I never understood the infatuation with “home dogs” in the NFL. The urban legend is that the home underdog has become a betting method for many gamblers looking to outsmart the public and look like the smartest person in the room. However, that won’t be the case in this one.

Looking up and down these rosters I had a hard time finding an advantage for the Chargers on either side of the ball. J.J. Watt may singlehandedly win the game for Houston as he cements himself as the favorite to repeat as Defensive Player of the Year. Watt, up against that offensive line, is truly a case of abuse both mentally and physically for the patch-work unit that has the impossible task of trying to keep Philip Rivers upright.

Houston is a legitimate threat to be playing the first Sunday in February and San Diego is a legitimate threat to be in the mix of teams that are “Clowning for Clowney.” With that being said look for Houston to crush an inferior unit and take advantage of the biggest Week 1 mismatch in the NFL. Texans cruise to a double-digit victory and make it look easier than Watt’s 59.5 inch vert. 

St. Louis Rams / Arizona Cardinals under 41.5

Wasn’t it just a few seasons ago when football purists were disgusted with the NFC West? Saying how pathetic the division was and refusing to give any credit to a Seattle team that won the division the last weekend of the season with a sub-.500 record. My, how the tables have turned.

The NFC West appears to be the deepest division in the NFL and home to the most ferocious defensive units. The Rams tied for the league lead in sacks (52) with Robert Quinn (10.5) and Chris Long (11.5) each reaching double figures and making life miserable for opposing signal callers.

Both defenses excelled last year at keeping opponents out of the end zone; Arizona picked off 22 balls, (seven by Patrick Peterson).

Combine that with a Rams team that allowed 19.7 points per game at home last season and you have all the makings of a defensive struggle, which will most likely produce more fantasy points for Greg “Legatron” Zuerlein and Jay Feely than any other members of their respected offenses. Look for a knockdown, drag-out fist fight with the winner scoring in the 17-20-point range.

New York Giants ( +3.5) over Dallas Cowboys

Since the opening of Jerry’s World in 2009, no team has made themselves more at home than the G-Men.

Over that time, the Giants are 4-0 in the building, not to mention Eli Manning has 10 career wins over Big D and seems to get the best of Tony Romo whenever they go head to head. With the Giants hungry and looking to re-establish themselves as contenders,  it seems like a no-brainer to take the better team, quarterback and coach especially when you get the added bonus of 3.5 points in a game that has all the makings of a nip-and-tuck battle that will most likely go down to the wire.