The hazards of betting on preseason football were on display this past Sunday in the Hall of Fame game in which Dallas upset Miami 24-20.
A week ago the Cowboys were a 1-point favorite, but as news came out that Dallas starting QB Tony Romo would not see action and Miami coach Joe Philbin would be taking a more serious approach to this game the line shot to Miami at -3. The total, which opened 34, dropped as low as 32 before rising up and closing at 33.
A pair of early Miami turnovers proved costly as the Cowboys converted those two miscues into 10 points en route to a 17-3 halftime lead, which put plays on the Dolphins/UNDER in jeopardy. At that point, it was impossible for both bets to cash. A scoreless third quarter had UNDER bettors in much better shape to cash, but players mostly low on the depth charts combined for 24 fourth quarter points to send OVER bettors home happy along with Cowboys backers.
Preseason games are often little more than glorified scrimmages, generally geared toward working on schemes and evaluating personnel more than trying to win games. Winning is often the by-product of factors other than an intent to win.
Coaches know the value of the preseason is to get set for the regular season. They want to have the best roster available, confidence in plays, schemes and player combinations that work best. Also, they want an understanding of the areas likely to be slow to develop once the games count for real.
Preseason betting success is geared to information, which flows at a much greater pace than ever before with the advent and increasing use of social media. As noted last week, information about an injured player is tweeted out and known by thousands before that player has even made it to the sidelines. So a strategy is developing to counteract the impact by determining which line movements are an over-reaction to such information.
Thus, in a few short years there has been a shift in successfully betting and beating the preseason by accepting the fact line moves will happen at warp speed and deciding which moves represent too much of an adjustment.
Basic fundamentals like coaches’ historical approaches, the degree of competition at key positions (especially QB), stability and continuity of the coaching staff/veteran rosters and specific areas of emphasis coaches plan to address in an upcoming game are also important.
If you plan to consider plays in these games be sure to monitor information coming out of the teams’ training camps in the day or two leading up to game day.
Thursday Pro Football Games
Ravens +3 at Bucs (35): Baltimore is transitioning with many new faces on both sides of the football following key losses from last season’s Super Bowl winning team. Tampa showed signs of improvement in coach Greg Schiano’s rookie season, which should give them some edges. BUCS -3.
Redskins +2 at Titans (35): Washington will not have starting QB Robert Griffin III in action as he recovers from injury. Coach Mike Shanahan understands the purpose of preseason football. Tennessee has many more concerns in terms of personnel with more decisions to make. TITANS -2.
Rams +3½ at Browns (35): The Rams look ready to improve in Coach Jeff Fisher’s second season, whereas Rob Chudzinski is Cleveland’s fourth head coach since 2008. That means back to square one which should be a disadvantage early in preseason. RAMS +3½.
Bengals +3 at Falcons (37): Both teams are veteran squads with plenty of recent playoff experience. Much of the starting lineups from both teams return, which suggests much of the focus on looking at backups and depth. Those factors are conducive to limited scoring. UNDER 37.
Broncos +3 at 49ers (35½): Denver starting QB Peyton Manning is likely to see limited, if any, action. The 49ers have concerns at wideout, which means we might see a more aggressive plan on offense than Denver’s. 49ERS -3.
Seahawks -2 at Chargers (35½): New coach Mike McCoy inherits a talented but woefully underachieving Chargers team. Seattle seeks to build upon last season’s success and should be more inclined to develop depth. The Chargers could be a surprise team following the departure of Norv Turner. Early reports are that the players are enthusiastic about their new coach and developing culture. That could translate into above average intensity compared to most preseason games. CHARGERS +2.
Friday Pro Football Games
Dolphins (PK) at Jaguars (35½): Miami has an edge in having already played one preseason game. Jags have the benefit of training camp continuity as they start anew with Gus Bradley taking over as head coach for Mike Mularkey after just one season. Bradley’s background is defense and we can expect that phase to be emphasized in August. UNDER 35½.
Jets +4 at Lions (36): Both were major disappointments in 2012 yet each believes it is capable of making the playoffs with their current rosters. The Jets have a QB controversy with rookie Geno Smith challenging incumbent Mark Sanchez. The Lions are more settled on offense but might want to give ex-Dolphins RB Reggie Bush some first quarter action. Jets have some pressure to have a more productive preseason than last year when “inept” would be too high praise. JETS +4.
Patriots +4 at Eagles (40): The high total suggests both teams might choose to emphasize offense. The Patriots have multiple receivers to replace from last season. New Philly coach Chip Kelly will look to see how his preferred uptempo offense will fare in the NFL and what phases need work. OVER 40.
Cards +4 at Packers (35): Bruce Arians’ outstanding work as interim coach with Indianapolis last season earned him this gig and he will be eager to establish a positive culture. The Cards were a solid defensive team last season but lacked punch on offense. Green Bay is much more settled at most positions and likely to treat these games as scrimmages. CARDS +4.
Bears +2 at Panthers (34): New Chicago coach Marc Trestman has the reputation as an offensive guru following several stints as an NFL assistant and head coach in the CFL. He inherited talent from ex-coach Lovie Smith who was canned despite a 10-6 record last season. Carolina is a team with upside, but needs to overcome the sluggish start that has marked coach Ron Rivera’s first two seasons. We could see a pair of teams with aggressive approaches on offense. OVER 34.
Chiefs +3 at Saints (37): Whatever crowd that shows up in New Orleans will be wildly enthusiastic in support of Coach Sean Payton’s return following last season’s suspension. The Chiefs will debut new coach Andy Reid and QB Alex Smith. They could be surprise playoff contenders. The hosts consider themselves to be the favorite to win the NFC South and will seek to build momentum from the start. SAINTS -3.
Texans +1 at Vikings (35): Houston returns with a solid nucleus that has had the Texans make the playoffs the past two seasons. Minnesota made the playoffs last season but has many more questions on both sides of the football. Thus they may have a greater purpose in evaluating front line talent here. VIKINGS -1.
Cowboys -2½ at Raiders (35): The Cowboys showed many positives in their win over Miami. The starters are still likely to see limited action although QB Romo may play a couple of series. The Raiders have many more questions that need to be answered. That might be enough to suggest they will be the more aggressive team. RAIDERS +2½.
Satruday Pro Football Games
Giants +2½ at Steelers (35½): Both teams have veteran rosters and are led by veteran coaches with Super Bowl titles. The Steelers do have to work on finding a primary running back while the Giants have more issues to address on defense than on offense. This forecasts as a battle in the trenches with few big offensive plays and limited scoring chances. UNDER 35½.
Sunday Pro Football Games
Bills +3½ at Colts (36): Chuck Pagano returns with a clean bill of health to coach the Colts, hoping to duplicate the feat done by his assistant, Bruce Arians. The Bills begin yet another new regime with ex-Syracuse coach Doug Marrone the new head man. The Bills have a QB battle between newly acquired (and oft injured) Kevin Kolb and Florida State rookie EJ Manuel. The Colts are likely to give starting QB Andrew Luck very limited playing time, focusing more on developing depth. BILLS +3½.
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]