The Cleveland Browns will start rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer in the season opener vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers. Less than 40% of spread bets are on the Browns +8 in the first game of the season. Is it smart to fade a rookie quarterback in Week 1?

This is the tenth straight year that a rookie will start in a team’s opener. Since 2003, 21 signal-callers have started Week 1 as a rookie and all but one was drafted in the first three rounds. Kizer was a second-round pick for Cleveland.

The public is unlikely to back an unheralded quarterback in their first professional start. However, that is a mistake.

Using the Bet Labs database, we found that rookie starters in Week 1 were on average underdogs of 5.1 points. The public often backed the opposing team as the lines moved by an average of 1.4 points against the teams starting a rookie. Going against this line movement has proven profitable, as first-time starters are 12-9 against-the-spread (57.1%). This is a small sample but the win rate is better than we would expect. On average, teams that are underdogs of 5 or 6 points only cover the spread 50.4% (188-185) of the time in the regular season.

Teams starting rookie quarterbacks went 8-13 straight-up (38.1%). This win rate also exceeds expectations. Again, teams getting five or six points have a straight-up win rate of just 33.0% (126-256).

Kizer will be the Browns fifth different opening day starter in the last five seasons and the 27th starting quarterback for the franchise since Cleveland got the team back in 1999. You’re first reaction might be to fade the Browns but rookie quarterbacks are underrated. Few expected Kizer to be named the Browns Week 1 starter, but that doesn’t mean Cleveland won’t cover the spread.

Rookie Starters in Week 1

YearQuarterbackTeamWin?Covered Spread?
2016Dak PrescottDallas CowboysNoNo
2016Carson WentzPhiladelphia EaglesYesYes
2015Marcus MariotaTennessee TitansYesYes
2015Jameis WinstonTampa Bay BuccaneersNoNo
2014Derek CarrOakland RaidersNoYes
2013Geno SmithNew York JetsYesYes
2013EJ ManuelBuffalo BillsNoYes
2012Russell WilsonSeattle SeahawksNoNo
2012Brandon WeedenCleveland BrownsNoYes
2012Ryan TannehillMiami DolphinsNoNo
2012Robert GriffinWashington RedskinsYesYes
2012Andrew LuckIndianapolis ColtsNoNo
2011Andy DaltonCincinnati BengalsYesYes
2011Cam NewtonCarolina PanthersNoNo
2010Sam BradfordSt. Louis RamsNoNo
2009Mark SanchezNew York JetsYesYes
2009Matthew StaffordDetroit LionsNoNo
2008Joe FlaccoBaltimore RavensYesYes
2008Matt RyanAtlanta FalconsYesYes
2005Kyle OrtonChicago BearsNoYes
2003Kyle BollerBaltimore RavensNoNo

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