The 2016 season got off to a bumbling start with the cancellation of last week’s Hall of Fame Game due to poor field conditions.
The announcement came a little more than an hour prior to kickoff and resulted in the refunding of bets. Those of us who have been longing for the NFL’s return will have to wait until this Thursday when the first full week of games begins.
The lines for the first full week of preseason football have been out for several weeks. That may change over the next three weeks as linemakers often wait for information to be released during the week from coaches and local media regarding injuries, quarterback rotations and other aspects of personnel use.
As kickoffs approach there is often great volatility in the lines as bettors rush to the windows based upon information nowadays disseminated via Twitter from folks at the game site.
The greater volatility is also somewhat related to not nearly as much action on preseason as there is for regular season and playoff games. Thus, books are quicker to move lines in the preseason to better manage their liability. When the season starts for real the volume of money dwarfs that of the preseason and it takes much more to move a line.
Readers of this column over the years know my reluctance to get involved in preseason football, mostly for philosophical reasons. Most importantly, the games do not count and winning is not the primary goal, despite what the coaches might say.
At least the smart ones (think Bill Belichick). Those coaches know the primary purpose of the preseason games is to get as best prepared as possible to start the regular season. Who are the best 53 players to have on the opening day roster? Which players will start and which will be backups? Is our running game operating smoothly? Are our pass defenders in synch?
More simply put, if winning were the priority why would we not see coaches play their best players – their starters – in the fourth quarter when the game is on the line rather than in the first quarter?
If you are inclined to play preseason football you should consider not just quarterback rotations but teams looking to decide on a starting QB or teams on which there is a strong battle for backup QB. These teams will use some starters with the backup QB in order to make a better assessment of the backup candidates. When such teams are playing teams with QB spots pretty much set, the conditions tend to favor the team with the QB battle.
Conventional wisdom also considers rookie head coaches or experienced coaches in their first season with a new team. Seven such coaches fit these conditions this season. The first time head coaches are Adam Gase in Miami, Ben McAdoo with the Giants, Doug Pederson with Philadelphia and Tampa Bay’s Dirk Koetter. Experienced head coaches taking over new teams are Hue Jackson at Cleveland, Chip Kelly in San Francisco and Mike Mularkey with Tennessee.
Chip Kelly in San Francisco might be one coach who does place an emphasis on winning in the preseason, especially with a starting QB position that appears to be up for grabs between Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert.
McAdoo and Koetter move up to the head coaching position after being their team’s offensive coordinators in 2015. That could also mean a greater degree of continuity during these games that could be worth a point or two in your handicapping.
Starters usually play very little in the first preseason game and then see additional action in games two and three before sitting out most if not all of the final preseason game. Most coaches use the next to last week as the equivalent of a dress rehearsal for the regular season.
Given these scenarios, first half plays in games two and three have some legitimate rationale behind them. Taking the better team, the more talented team or the one with fewer questions would make for good first half plays when matched up against teams that do not exhibit these characteristics.
In looking at this week’s slate of preseason games we can expect low scoring games as the offenses are likely to not be sharp. Starters will play very little and many coaches will use this first game with live contact almost as a scrimmage.
All Totals for this first week are between 35 and 39.5. No road team is favored and only three teams are favored by more than a FG, and each of those teams is favored by 3.5. As noted above, we can expect movement of some sort in all of the games as kickoffs approach.
Note that teams often do things in preseason games they normally do not do during the regular season. The most common event will be to go for 2 points following a touchdown, regardless of the score. This is especially true following fourth quarter touchdowns when needing one point to tie the game.
Coaches, and players, abhor overtime in the preseason almost as much as they don’t like preseason games in general. So do not be surprised when a team, trailing 14-13 with a minute to go in the fourth quarter, opts for a two point conversion attempt rather than kicking the extra point.
The normal key totals of 37 and 38 are less important in the preseason than regular season because of two-point attempts.
Over the next two issues I will provide my analysis for each Conference, Division by Division. In the issue preceding the final week of the preseason, I will have some thoughts on season win Totals with a history lesson that may assist readers in making their predictions and wagers in the futures market.
Once the regular season begins there will be selections in the form of a Side or Total for each game. In the issue covering Week 1 my overall predictions for the Playoffs and Super Bowl that, sadly, will continue the “new” tradition of eschewing Roman Numerals and will be referred to as Super Bowl 51 rather than Super Bowl LI.