After nearly five months of nothingness and the cancellation of the Hall of Fame Game the NFL gets back into action this week with a full slate of preseason games from Thursday through Monday.
Add in the inability to sign rookies and free agents until just a couple of weeks ago and all 32 teams have a very limited time to organize their rosters and make player evaluations in time for the start of the regular season which is less than a month away.
This is uncharted territory for all involved, including the wagering community. The two previous NFL work stoppages, in 1982 and 1987, occurred after the season had already started so there had been full off season and pre season activities.
Those stoppages also occurred in seasons prior to widespread free agency so there was more continuity and roster stability from one season to the next.
As to how the absence of springtime preparations will affect both preseason play and the start of the regular season there are no definitive answers but only conjectures that seem to make sense.
The prevailing thought is that the well run organizations have prepared well for the free agent feeding frenzy that we’ve witnessed since the lockout ended. Teams such as New England and Pittsburgh had been planning to address their needs throughout this period of inactivity better than some of the less well run organizations.
Teams that have had head coaches and most of their coaching staffs in place figure to also be well prepared for a shortened time to prepare for the regular season as well.
Teams that figure to have the greatest difficulty should be those teams with new coaches or new quarterbacks – or both.
Such teams will have precious little time to implement new offensive or defensive schemes and to familiarize new quarterbacks with their philosophies – activities that are normally done during the spring. Playbooks that are normally reviewed during the offseason are hot off the presses for such teams.
But that may actually create some edges in betting the preseason.
Veteran and stable teams are more likely to follow traditional paths during the preseason by limiting the playing time of established players and spending more time concerned with developing depth.
New coaches and teams with new quarterbacks may well take a tack of giving added playing time to players that will be relied upon the most – the starters – in an effort to get added “reps” and timing down in game situations.
Thus the “weaker” teams may make for the better bets early in preseason,
That will be the tone of the forecasts that follow.
But it is still imperative that despite any advantages – perceived or real – that may exist, the results of these games matter not once the real season starts.
Despite what you might hear from coaches, who often are as honest about upcoming game plans during preseason as they will ever be, the goal in these games is not to win the games but to be as best prepared as possible for the start of the regular season when the games do count.
So it’s best to not go overboard when playing these preseason games even though the urge for action may be great. There will be plenty of time to get involved in another month when the games start to count and each one of them is extremely important in a season that lasts only 16 games.
Exercise caution in playing preseason games and – by all means to the extent possible – follow mid week developments on the internet to learn of coaches’ intentions as to the time they plan to play starters and what they expect to focus upon in each game.
Here’s a look at the opening week of the preseason with representative lines current as of Monday morning
Ravens +3 at Eagles (34): Starters for each likely to see very limited action. Depth a major focus. Philly has made significant improvements to its defense. UNDER.
Jaguars +4 at Patriots (35): NE has a host of new players, especially along the DL. Look for lots of playing time to backup QBs. UNDER.
Seahawks +3½ at Chargers (35½): Seattle might be more interested in offensive execution with new QB Tarvaris Jackson. SEAHAWKS.
Broncos +3 at Cowboys (35½): Denver has many position battles, including Tebow vs. Orton at QB. Game should be played at a frenetic pace. OVER.
Cards +4 at Raiders (33): First action for QB Kevin Kolb. Expect Arizona to have made better use of the short preparation time for this game. CARDS.
Bengals +4½ at Lions (35): The Bengals figure to have trouble showing crispness on offense. Lions will place a great emphasis on improving defense. UNDER.
Dolphins +2 at Falcons (33): Both likely to use the game as scrimmage with individual play execution more important than time consuming drives. UNDER.
Steelers PK at Redskins (32½): Mike Shanahan has always been a no-nonsense coach. Could place an emphasis on winning. REDSKINS.
Bucs -1½ at Chiefs (32½): With running back a position so prone to injury look for both teams to focus on developing depth there. UNDER.
49ers +3 at Saints (36): Could be an entertaining shootout with an above average number of pass plays relative to other games this week. OVER.
Packers -2 at Browns (35): Little more than a scrimmage for GB. Should see greater intensity from the hosts. BROWNS.
Giants +1½ at Panthers (33): With more positions and roster spots up for grabs, the situation favors a better effort from the hosts. PANTHERS.
Bills +3½ at Bears (33½): Both teams should place a preseason emphasis on developing depth at running back and offensive line play. UNDER.
Colts +7 at Rams (34): We might see a more aggressive approach taken by the Indy offense which makes laying a TD too big for Rams to handle. COLTS.
Vikings +3½ at Titans (33): Possible both teams looking to emphasize offensive execution, increasing the chance for a higher than expected score. OVER.
Jets +2½ at Texans (34½): Should be more important for Houston to generate some enthusiasm during the time leading up to the regular season. TEXANS.