At the NFL’s “Mission Control” in New York City, Commissioner Roger Goodell is preparing to announce the “all systems are go” for the launch of the 2020 NFL season next Thursday when defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City hosts Houston.
This promises to be the most unusual season in NFL history, starting with the total or significant absence of fans in attendance at game to the potential for postponements during the season due to positive COVID-19 testing that could result in the extension of the season and playoffs beyond the scheduled playing of Super Bowl 55 on February 7, 2021.
Preparation is one of the key factors that lead to success in virtually all facets of life and the handicapping and betting on pro football is no exception. To that end, here are five factors worth considering as we chart our course into and through the 2020 season.
1. No preseason games: The NFL canceled the preseason, restructuring training camps to allow initially for non-contact drills to allowing contact over the final few weeks. This means players worked themselves into shape for the start of the season without the benefit of “live’ contact,” even the lower intensity level of preseason games.
They’ll be effectively going effectively slow motion to full speed in Week 1. We might see lower-scoring games as the passing game may suffer. Quarterbacks and receivers won’t have had the normal opportunity to develop patterns and timing as in the past. Instead, they’ll be facing linebackers and defensive backs going at full speed and intensity, a large leap from facing teammates in practices and workouts.
— Tom Brady (@TomBrady) August 31, 2020
2. Playing before few to zero fans: Since high school, football players have grown accustomed to reacting to roars and boos of the crowd. That atmosphere will be mostly absent this season. Some municipalities have banned all fans while others plan limiting attendance to a small fraction of capacity with masks and social distancing protocols in place.
What will this mean to home field advantage? One line of thought suggests road teams will benefit from being able to hear signals on offense that are often drowned out by crowd noise. Another consideration is whether teams will be regulated as to how much, if any, crowd noise will be allowed to be pumped into largely empty stadiums.
Atlanta was fined $350,000 and lost a fifth round draft pick for piping in crowd noise early last decade. Interestingly, this aspect has made NBA and NHL games in their “bubbles” more enjoyable for many television viewers.
3. The Brady Factor — Part A: Tampa Bay goes from the NFL’s most turnover prone QB (Jameis Winston with 30 interceptions and 5 lost fumbles) to one of the least prone (Tom Brady, 8 and 1). That difference of 26 is an average of more than 1.5 per game. That projects a huge turnaround for a Tampa team that was 7-9 last season with six of the nine losses by 7 points or less.
Sure, Brady just turned 43 but Methuselah’s been to four Super Bowls in the past six seasons, winning three. He’ll need both better protection and be asked to throw fewer deep balls. But with un-retired TE Rob Gronkowski and a host of talented receivers Brady should succeed under coach Bruce Arians. Which would take the pressure off a defense that showed steady improvement over the second half of last season.
4. The Brady Factor — Part B: In New England, Cam Newton, reportedly as healthy as he’s been in years, is likely to win the job of replacing Tom Brady at QB.
Of course coach Bill Belichick remains in charge of a Patriots team that won 10 or more games in 18 of the past 19 seasons, with 10 straight seasons of 12 or more. That streak likely ends but don’t count out the Patriots exceeding their Season Wins Total of 9 (plus 120).
You may recall in 2008 Brady was lost for the season in the first half of the first game. Yet Belichick, with QB Matt Cassel, guided the Pats to an 11-5 record. If you’re a big believer in the Pats, you can play Over 9.5 Wins at +155). Not only has Belichick excelled with in-game adjustments, he’s also been a master of in-season roster changes.
5. When to bet: Conventional wisdom holds that those who bet early — often the “sharps” and professionals — get the best number. Being proficient at projecting line moves offers not just the best line but also the possibility of ‘middles’ when the anticipated line move occurs.
The time-tested axiom is “bet favorites early and underdogs late” as the public comes in later in the week and usually backs favored teams. But that notion may be thrown out of whack this season should players test positive in mid- to late-week.
Depending on the number and importance of such a player who would likely be ruled out of an upcoming game, we may see some volatile line moves as rumors or announcements are denied or confirmed.