In 1960 veteran CBS newsman Walter Cronkite narrated a 30 minute documentary titled “The Violent World of Sam Huff.” That half hour program was the first exposure many Americans had to the burgeoning sport of professional football through the relatively new medium of television.
Television and pro football were a perfect match and both industries would, over the next half century plus, go on to impact the lives of much of the US population in terms of how Americans would spend their leisure time.
Pro football was back then, and even more so now, a violent sport that involved athletes putting their bodies at risk with every snap of the football. The athletes of today are bigger, stronger and faster than their counterparts of 1960 and as such the risk of injury has increased greatly.
Each season more and more players are lost to injuries that occur during preseason training camps and exhibition games. Older readers may remember that as football was gaining popularity in the 1960’s and 1970’s teams played a 14-game regular season schedule that was preceded by – get ready for this – a 6-game preseason. In 1978 the NFL went to a 16-game regular season and reduced the preseason to 4 games.
In the years since there has been discussion of reducing the preseason even more, to just two games, perhaps by increasing the regular season to 18 games. The players union would likely voice strong opposition to the increased regular season but might be receptive to increasing the number of Playoff teams to 14 or 16 in exchange for the elimination of two preseason games.
With the off-season organized team activities (OTAs) and other mini-camps that precede the start of training camps players are in much better shape when they report to camp than ever before. Conditioning has become a year-round part of player routine and the need for preseason games is less than a generation or two ago.
The Green Bay Packers may well have lost one of the best wide receivers in the NFL when Jordy Nelson appeared to suffer a torn ACL in Sunday’s preseason game at Pittsburgh. In the same game Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey also suffered a leg injury that is expected to require surgery and sideline the Pro Bowler for an undetermined length of time.
Other players of lesser note have already been injured since training camps opened a month ago, either in practice or in exhibition games. It’s no wonder coaches limit starters’ playing time. Ask any coach what his most important priority is for the preseason and it will be an almost unanimous “to start the regular season healthy.”
Traditionally the third week of the preseason is when coaches give their starters the greatest amount of playing time, often choosing to rest them in the final preseason game in favor of making final personnel evaluations and in having the starters as fresh as possible for the regular season opener.
As such many professional bettors who get involved with preseason football do so by making first half plays in these “dress rehearsal” games. Starters will often play the entire first half and perhaps a series or two into the third quarter before yielding to second and third teamers.
Some coaches, recognizing most preparation for the regular season is accomplished during practice, will still limit the time for starters in Week 3, especially if there are any lingering injuries involved.
Thus, as with the rest of the preseason, being aware of information coming from training camps is vital in increasing your chances of success in betting the week three games – be they first half wagers or full game bets. We continue to see the most volatility and line movement in the hours leading up to kick off and that should not change this week.
One interesting tidbit from the first half of the preseason involves low scoring first halves. Prior to Monday night’s week two finale between Cincinnati and Tampa Bay there had been 32 preseason games. The breakdown: 39 of 64 teams scored 10 or fewer points in the first half.
This may be further indication of a conservative approach taken by offensive coordinators while their starters are in the game, which likely changes once the games counts.
Here are some early thoughts on how the coaches and teams may approach their week 3 preseason matchups.
Pro Football – Friday
New England Patroits at Carolina Panthers: Both teams have their starting rosters pretty much set for the start of the season although the Pats may be interested in giving QB Jimmy Garoppolo extra work with the potential Tom Brady suspension still unresolved. It might also lead to additional work for Garoppolo’s potential backup, giving more edges to the Patriots.
Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs: Titans rookie QB Marcus Mariota continues to impress and may quickly emerge as a team leader in the locker room as well as on the playing field. Both teams have the need to develop RB depth and might be inclined to favor a slower paced game that works more on blocking and tackling than on big plays in the passing game.
Detroit Lions at Jacksonville Jaguars: The conditions may favor a more intense effort from the hosts who have more holes to fill and thus more competition for roster spots. Detroit is progressing nicely and appears in better shape to start the regular season although development of a stronger running game remains a priority.
Pro Football – Saturday
Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills: The Bills still have a three way battle for starting QB and figure to give Tyrod Taylor, Matt Cassel and EJ Manuel plenty of chances to become the front runner. The Steelers are pretty much set on offense and less likely to place a premium on scoring, working instead on developing line play with the injury to offensive center Pouncey.
NY Jets at NY Giants: Both teams figure to place emphasis on getting production from their starting units. The offenses have been sluggish in the first two games. That could portend higher than expected scoring in the first half with both units needing the extra work. As such we may see both teams place an emphasis on scoring.
Atlanta Falcons at Miami Dolphins: Both teams appear to be pleased with the development of their passing attacks and thus may place greater emphasis on line play and finding depth at RB. If so, there will be far fewer passing plays than running plays which would suggest fewer big plays and fewer scoring chances.
Minnesota Vikings at Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys have shown little to no interest in their first two preseason games, scoring 7 and 6 points while giving the starting offense very limited playing time. Minnesota has won all 3 practice games but this is the first true test. This could be a dull game as both coaches appear pleased with their teams’ progress thus far.
Cleveland Browns at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Both teams have many areas of concern with the Browns still deciding on their starting QB. The edges may favor the Browns here as Tampa is off a Monday night game. Cleveland has had 4 extra days to prepare after playing last Thursday.
Washington Redskins at Baltimore Ravens: Despite the blowout loss to the Eagles last week the Ravens are ready for the regular season in taking a conservative approach to preseason games. Washington has many more concerns as the preseason winds down, especially at QB, and thus can be expected to play more aggressively than the more experienced and settled Ravens.
Chicago Bears at Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals played Monday night and thus will have had less time to practice and make adjustments. Cincy is an experienced team with four straight Playoff appearances. More Chicago players are still auditioning for roster spots under new coach John Fox and thus might bring a greater level of intensity to this contest.
Philadelphia Eagles at Green Bay Packers: Both teams are pretty much settled at most positions and should be more interested in evaluating depth while giving starters limited minutes or running low risk plays while they are on the field. Such an approach would tend to deflate scoring for a pair of teams that will do plenty of scoring once the regular season begins.
Indianapolis Colts at St. Louis Rams: Both teams have lost their first two games. The Colts are more interested in staying healthy, especially with QB Andrew Luck poised for a huge season. There may be more motivation for the Rams to perform well in this game as this will be their first home game this summer after losing on the road at Oakland and Tennessee.
Seattle Seahawks at San Diego Chargers: Both teams are set in most starting positions and more likely to be concerned with depth rather than showing too much on film for future opponents. The Chargers are likely to work on improving their rushing game, especially when starting QB Philip Rivers is on the field. The conditions should favor a low scoring game.
San Francisco 49ers at Denver Broncos: The 49ers have many more concerns than do the Broncos, especially with an offense that has not looked sharp for most of their first two games. Denver QB Peyton Manning may see limited playing time as most of his preparation for the start of the season is done during the week. San Francisco may place the greater emphasis on the scoreboard.
Pro Football – Sunday
Houston Texans at New Orleans Saints: Houston is set to name Brian Hoyer starting QB and may be inclined to give him and the starting unit more playing time than the Saints will give to Drew Brees, especially given the strength of Houston’s starting defense. With issues also at RB due to the Arian Foster injury the Texans may be inclined to open up the offense while the Saints’ primary concern may be in finding the right defensive combinations.
Arizona Cardinals at Oakland Raiders: The Cardinals are more concerned with tweaking both sides of the football with most starters in place. New Oakland coach Jack del Rio is working to instill a better culture and that translates to putting more effort into preseason games, especially as he makes personnel decisions. The Cardinals are not concerned in the least by their 0-2 preseason start.
Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to Gaming Today readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Contact Andy at [email protected]