The NFL season finally gets underway, but not without uncertainty and the controversy COVID-19 has inflicted on almost every institution. In the first game, the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs host the Houston Texans in what would ordinarily be loud and raucous Arrowhead Stadium.

Instead, they’ll be playing in front of 17,000 properly socially distanced fans that will try to make up for the lack of the other 60,000 that will be watching somewhere in the Kansas City area.

Last year, on their way to the title, the Chiefs spotted the Texans a 24-0 lead four minutes into the second quarter before Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes took control. Ten minutes later, the Travis Kelce hauled in a five-yard touchdown pass from Mahomes to give the Chiefs a 28-24 lead.

They eventually extended it to 41-24 before the Texans got on the board again. The Chiefs advanced with a 51-31 win, and we get to see the rematch to begin the season.

The biggest story of the offseason was the 10 year, $450 million contract that Mahomes signed, making him the highest-paid player in the history of the league. Interestingly though, his base salary for 2020 is still just $825,000, a paltry sum compared to the potential value of the contract.

In reality, it’s probably no more than a five or six-year deal, after which the Chiefs will look to renegotiate to keep from taking an almost $60 million cap hit in 2027.

Betting Lines

The Chiefs are nine-point favorites for Thursday night after winning by 20 in their last meeting. Neither roster looks that much different than when they last met on Jan. 12.

If you’re the Texans, it’s possible to get confidence from how they were able to build a 24-0 lead over the eventual Super Bowl champs. On the other hand, the last score you saw on the scoreboard wasn’t particularly pleasant.

The over/under for the game is 53.5, quite a bit lower than the combined 82 in the playoff game. Despite all of the Mahomes induced hype, the Chiefs averaged a little over 28 points a game, which was second in the conference.

The Texans gave up more points than the just under 24 points they averaged. As usual for NFL games, that over/under is a tough bet, but judging from late last year, it could be on the low side.

The first game of the season is always tough to bet. In most seasons, barely half the prior season’s playoff teams make a return trip to the postseason, so upsets can abound in Week 1.

The nine-point spread is relatively high for any NFL game, so it’s worth a look when it happens. With no preseason games, can a high precision offense like that of the Chiefs be sharp enough to generate the offense necessary to beat that spread?

Game Preview

The Chiefs are plagued with no preseason, no home field noise, a potential Super Bowl hangover, and some overconfidence stemming from a 20-point playoff win. The Texans have a good defense and some serious motivation to avenge the way the Chiefs beat them down for three quarters in January.

Quarterback Deshaun Watson has enough weapons to put points on the board, as was demonstrated in the playoffs. The Texans’ defense has a good shot at disrupting the Chiefs’ offense, at least well enough to cover the spread. An outright Texans’ win pays +350, so it might be worth taking a chance.

In the bigger picture, Thursday’s game will be the first in a season that will most assuredly be unique in the history of the NFL. Reduced spectator capacity, ongoing testing for Covid-19, the threat of player opt-outs, and even the cancellation of games will seriously affect the season.

As the NBA has already found, television ratings are in danger of decreasing amid all of the issues affecting the country in general, sports in particular. It will be an exciting fall, which is probably the surest bet of them all.