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Against the Spread: 2011 NFL Picks: Week 1

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- Wagering on games during the first week of the NFL season is a joyous time for many gamblers, as they are free to bet on games by betting on their beliefs in the absence of any statistics for teams so far.

The problem with these bets, though, is that they run up against a lot of smart money that has already been wagered on games months ago. Although the NFL season was put in jeopardy due to a four-month lockout of players earlier this year, many sports books in Vegas and offshore posted Week 1 lines for every game. While recreational gamblers were off enjoying spring and summer weather, the pros were putting their money down where they saw value.

Now, with the 2011-2012 NFL season set to kick off tonight with the New Orleans Saints traveling to Green Bay to play defending champion Packers, the pros are looking to hedge their bets as the public begins to move the lines on games. With public money about to pour into Vegas books in the next few days, this type of action can make it more difficult to find the right value and start the betting season off on the right foot.

"These lines have been out a long time, so a lot of the money bet has been from the wise guys," says Bryan Leonard, a professional sports handicapper with Pregame.com. Leonard is part of the Tuesday Group, a collection of professional bettors in Vegas who get together to handicap the games each week.

"It's not necessarily that the wise guys like that side. They set themselves up to make bets both ways," Leonard says. "Especially in Week 1, just because you see a line move, that doesn't mean that's the side the wise guys prefer. They know that's the side where money is going to come in."

Leonard says that with so much public money running up against sharp money, the first week of the NFL season makes it tough to find value.

"Sometimes you have to hold your nose and play these games," Leonard says. "The way I've made a lot of money in the past is to go against the hyped teams in Week 1. It's worked every year because there are certain teams that the public is on. The line gets inflated, the players start to believe the hype, and then they come out flat in Week 1."

While the lines may move a bit now after the lockout has ended and football is about to begin again, the numbers that professional model builders use aren't swayed much. Paul Bessire, the general manager and creator of the Web site PredictionMachine.com doesn't anticipate that the lockout will play a significant role in his model's numbers for Week 1. His Prediction Machine is a quantitative way to break down NFL games as it simulates each contest 50,000 times to come up with a pick against the spread.

Related: 6 NFL Stocks to Kick Off the Season

"Week to week, every year, every team is different," he says. "In the NFL, there's change and things are always in flux. The lockout itself won't make much of a difference."

With that, let's get on to the picks for Week 1 of the NFL season. As I'll remind you through the entire season, these are for entertainment purposes only. Just as I did last season, I have enlisted the help of PredictionMachine.com's Paul Bessire, who offers analysis of the data his model provides for the games I've picked this week.

I've also collected commentary on each game from Pregame.com's Bryan Leonard. His analysis focuses on the spread movement by Vegas oddsmakers to determine where the public and professional money is moving on each game. These trends prove to be critical for bettors who are on the hunt for inefficiencies and value.

Read on for the first game preview, the Saints and the Packers.
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