The great American obsession known as the NFL has returned and after six months of controversy and commentary the first of 65 preseason games was played last Sunday.
In the annual Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio, it was the New Orleans Saints defeating Arizona 17-10 in Joe Vitt’s debut. Before taking a look at the 16 games that will kick off the preseason for all 32 teams, here are some general thoughts.
Betting preseason football has increased greatly in recent seasons. The NFL continues to receive year round coverage and an incredible amount of information is disseminated on a regular basis.
There are hundreds if not thousands of Internet websites and blogs devoted exclusively to the NFL. ESPN has year round shows and segments of shows dedicated to the NFL. And, of course, the NFL itself has its own cable TV network.
All of which feeds the appetite of the public for more NFL. Preseason games are handicapped unlike regular season games. Power Ratings, recent matchups and other “traditional” handicapping tools are irrelevant.
Winning games is often more a byproduct of play execution rather than by design. While coaches always like to “win” that is rarely the primary objective of coaches in preseason games. Coaches are more interested in evaluating personnel, making personnel decisions, implementing new players and new plays in offensive, defensive and special teams schemes.
Betting on coaches in their first season or two at the helm of a new team often makes for winning wagers. Often these coaches will be making critical decisions about players and playing time and thus the players may be more motivated to go all out, both in practices and games, with their jobs more on the line than in more relaxed camps or where coaches have been in place for several seasons and positions’ pecking order is more established.
Many of the games are decided in the final quarter and by players who may not even make the opening day rosters. And play can often be sloppy and produce random results.
The “intangibles” become a very significant aspect of handicapping games in the preseason. Often these early games are low scoring, which makes sense from a fundamental standpoint. Teams will have been in training camps for a very short time, often barely more than a week to ten days.
Scoring generally requires plays to be executed on offense. It takes a while for quarterbacks and receivers to develop their timing just as it takes time for offensive linemen to hone their blocking schemes.
Defenses are generally ahead of offenses early in the preseason as they are more concerned with merely reacting rather than scheming as they do once the regular season starts.
With those thoughts in mind, here’s an early preview of the first full week of preseason games that get underway on Thursday and conclude with the return of Monday Night Football on ESPN as they telecast the game between the Dallas Cowboys wannabees and the Oakland Raiders wannabees.
The pointspreads and totals used are representative of the major Las Vegas Sports Books as of mid-morning on Monday.
Thursday, Aug. 9
Redskins – 2 at Bills (35): It’s rare that we see road teams favored early in the preseason but Mike Shanahan’s proclivity to win games in August likely is what prompts this line. Buffalo is expected to be improved, especially on defense. Debut of Redskins QB Robert Griffin III. BILLS.
Saints +2½ at Patriots (40): Normally there are advantages to playing a team that has already played an extra preseason vs. a team making its debut. But the Saints have only a few days for the first bumps and bruises to heal after playing just four nights earlier. PATRIOTS.
Steelers -1 at Eagles (33½): Death of Coach Andy Reid’s eldest son, Garrett will make it difficult for the players to focus. Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger is nursing a tender ankle in addition to a shoulder tear that dates back to last season and likely only for limited action. UNDER.
Ravens +2½ at Falcons (34): Both teams have excellent skill position players and tactically are likely to be more concerned with the blocking and tackling aspects of the game. UNDER.
Packers +2 at Chargers (37): Although defenses usually have the edge early in August the playbooks of these two offenses could make this game the exception. OVER.
Broncos +3 at Bears (33): It’s uncertain how much work new Denver QB Peyton Manning will get, but it is likely to be minimal. Both offenses should be vastly improved. At this point defenses are the better units. UNDER.
Friday, Aug. 10
Bucs +2½ at Dolphins (33½): Both teams have new head coaches.Tampa is more settled at starting QB with Josh Freeman while Miami has a trio of quarterbacks to assess. DOLPHINS.
Jets +1½ at Bengals (34): The Tim Tebow era gets underway on the playing field as the new Jets backup QB shares time with Mark Sanchez. Cincinnati seeks to build upon last season’s success, much of which came from the efforts of a rookie QB and WR and an improved defense. UNDER.
Browns +3 at Lions (36): Cleveland has a QB battle involving poorly proven Colt McCoy and a 28-year-old rookie elder statesman Brandon Weedon. Detroit needs to find answers for a running game. UNDER.
Giants +2½ at Jaguars (33½): The defending Super Bowl champs open their preseason facing a team with a new coach as Mike Mularkey takes over for Jack del Rio. The Giants have no sense of urgency about winning. JAGUARS.
Cardinals +3 at Chiefs (34½): Arizona’s QB situation got even messier after Kevin Kolb got banged up in the loss to the Saints. That should give John Skelton more of an edge. When healthy the Chiefs are arguably the best balanced team in the AFC West. CHIEFS.
Vikings +4 at 49ers (33): Vikes second year QB Christian Ponder should benefit from having had a full offseason to learn from the coaching staff. Minnesota’s problem is depth. We could see SF coach Jim Harbaugh work on opening up the offense. OVER.
Saturday, Aug. 11:
Texans +2 at Panthers (35½): Carolina has more concerns on defense to address and more spots are open for competition. That might be the difference maker in this contest. PANTHERS.
Titans +3 at Seahawks (34): Long time Seattle QB Matt Hasselbeck should be warmly received as should former U-Dub QB Jake Locker. Seattle has a QB battle among Tarvaris Jackson, Matt Flynn and impressive rookie Russell Wilson. Has the makings of the most entertaining game of first week. OVER.
Sunday, Aug. 12
Rams PK at Colts (34): St Louis brings in yet another head coach and Jeff Fisher seems perfect. Team has talent but has suffered crippling injuries during the past few seasons, including franchise QB Sam Bradford. Fisher’s strength is defense. Andrew Luck’s debut as Colts QB. A conservative approach. UNDER.
Monday, Aug. 13
Cowboys +1½ at Raiders (34½): Dallas is better situated to work on tweaking the offense and improving the defense while the Raiders’ early concern is more related to personnel decisions. COWBOYS.
If you are going to seriously bet the preseason it is imperative that you keep up to date with as much information during the week from the respective training camps as you can find.
Above all, remember that these preseason games don’t count nor do they serve as much of a barometer as to what will occur once the regular season begins.
After all, you can probably name the winners of the last 10 Super Bowls.
But how many of you can name the teams with the best preseason records in 2010 and 2011? See what I mean?