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Halfway through the NFL preseason and the headlines continue to swirl around the large number of penalties being called related to defensive holding and defensive interference.

About a month ago it was reported the NFL had made it a “point of emphasis” that rules concerning what defensive players can or cannot do be stringently enforced. This is not a rules change but rather a call to more diligently enforce the rules already on the books.

The impact of the increased enforcement is expected to be increased scoring and that is in the NFL’s best interest, especially as it looks to attract and hold onto the more casual football fan. You know, the fan who has been playing in the many fantasy football contests in recent years, including those sponsored directly by the NFL and its partners.

There have been many complaints over the past couple of weeks from long time NFL observers that as a result of these penalties the exhibition games are becoming unwatchable.

The common line of thinking is once the regular season gets underway the number of penalties called will decrease dramatically from what we have seen the past two weeks. The thinking is, by perhaps going a bit too extreme in calling these penalties in the games that don’t count the defensive players will become more comfortable with what the “new limits” are for pass coverage.

We’ll see.

As was speculated, scoring increased significantly in the second full week of exhibition games. Including the Hall of Fame game, 13 of the 17 Week 1 games stayed UNDER the total.

The linemakers were not convinced this was the start of a new trend and actually set Week 2 totals a FG or so higher than they had in Week 1. Prior to Monday night’s game between Cleveland and Washington last week’s results produced 9 OVERs and 6 UNDERs.

The books may not have fared all that poorly, however following Thursday’s lone game between Jacksonville and Chicago, which stayed UNDER the Total of 42, all four games played on Friday went OVER.

That set the stage for the “late to the party” public, which had lost on playing the OVER in Week 1, to jump in on the OVER for Saturday’s larger slate of eight games.

Predictably, half of the games went OVER and half stayed UNDER, killing many of the OVER parlays played by the public after getting back into action after the 4-0 OVER result on Friday. In the minds of many that justified the expected higher scoring as a result of all the hype related to the intended effect of stronger rules enforcement.

Week 3 of the preseason often is the week chosen by teams for their “dress rehearsal” for the regular season. Starters often play into the third quarter of games and teams do a bit more game planning than in the other preseason games.

Then, in the final week of games, starters see limited action, if any at all, as coaching staffs get one final opportunity to evaluate second and third string players as they attempt to fill out their rosters with the best possible talent for the opening of the regular season.

Again, this is not a hard and fast pattern. Some coaches will treat this week just as they treat other weeks – as glorified scrimmages in which players are working into shape, offensive and defensive units are gelling and developing rhythm, and players are being evaluated to fill out rosters.

One interesting game to keep an eye on this weekend, and one that might produce a lot of scoring in the first half, is the annual “Snoopy Bowl” at Met Life Stadium in New Jersey between the Jets and Giants on Friday night.

Both teams, especially the Giants, have gotten very little production out of the their starting units. Eli Manning has done very little as the Giants have a new offensive coordinator who is implementing a version of the west coast offense with a team that still has concerns along the offensive line.

The AFC South shapes up as a battle for second place behind the Indianapolis Colts who have made the playoffs each of the past two years with Andrew Luck at QB. He has progressed nicely in his development toward being an elite NFL signal caller.

The Colts are the only team in the Division expected to win more than half its games, considering they won 11 games in Luck’s rookie season of 2012 despite horrible statistics that suggested they should have had a losing record.

Indy followed that up with a much more legitimate season in 2013 also with 11 wins. They are being held at 9.5 wins this season (priced at Even Money on the OVER). Despite some flaws, especially on defense, the maturity of Luck and his ability to lead fourth quarter comebacks suggests the Colts should reach double digit wins again and make the playoffs.

Houston fell from 12-4 in 2012 to 2-14 in 2013, resulting in a change at both starting QB and head coach. The Texans are expected to rebound this season and their season win total is 7.5 with a heavy vig to the OVER (minus 155).

The Texans still have a strong defense that should lead to a bounce-back season. With 9 losses last season by a touchdown or less there are more reasons to expect Houston will climb back to 8-8 or better rather than finish 7-9 or worse.

Tennessee also has a new coach. Mike Munchak was let go following a pair of losing seasons. For this season the Titans’ win total is 7 (minus 130 on the OVER) and based on the roster and the schedule that number seems right. Since going 13-3 in 2008 the Titans have been in the narrow range of from 6 to 9 wins in the five seasons since with one winning season, three losing seasons and one 8-8 season.

Finally, Jacksonville is held at 5 total wins with the OVER priced at minus 145. There is reason for Jaguar fans to be enthused about the future with head coach Gus Bradley held in high regard despite last year’s 4-12 rookie season and the drafting of QB Blake Bortles.

Still, the Jags have many areas that need to be bolstered and the Jags are more likely to be one of the half dozen teams or so that generally finish with 5 or fewer wins. But look for them to be much more competitive this season, especially over the second half of the season, even if the efforts do not translate into wins.

The NFC South has been one of the most unpredictable Divisions in NFL history and certainly since Divisional realignment in 2002. For five straight seasons the Division winner had finished last the previous season.

While that level of extreme performance has leveled off in recent seasons we have still seen many teams turnaround from one season to the next – in both directions.

New Orleans enters this season as Division favorite and after going 11-5 last season following the year-long suspension of coach Sean Payton in 2012 the Saints are poised to be even better in 2014, especially given the improvement shown by the defense in defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s first season with the Saints in 2013.

The Saints’ win total is 9.5 but the OVER is priced at minus 200. While the OVER is the way to play the attached vig is so high you might wish to wait and see if the total itself is moved up to 10 with a more modest vig to the OVER. The Saints are capable of winning 12 or more games.

The other teams in the division are Atlanta (8.5 wins with minus 150 to the UNDER), defending Division champion Carolina (8 wins with minus 135 to the UNDER) and Tampa Bay (7 wins at minus 110 each way).

Atlanta had been a solid winning team since coach Mike Smith and QB Matt Ryan joined the team in 2008 with 5 straight winning seasons and 4 Playoff appearances before falling to 4-12 last season. Key injuries on both sides of the football hurt the Falcons in 2013 and they may have still been out of sorts following their tough loss in 2012’s NFC Championship game.

There are still some concerns entering this season, especially on defense, but considering their recent pedigree it is reasonable to write off 2013 as a blip and look for the Falcons to resume their winning ways this season.

Carolina’s success hinges on the health of QB Cam Newton who had offseason surgery. The defense was a strength in 2013 but there are age concerns with the offense even with long time veteran WR Steve Smith now toiling in Baltimore. Their season win total of 8 already reflects an expected decline of 4 wins from last season, which is a considerable drop off for a 16 game schedule.

The total of 8 is reasonable but the talent and defense suggest a greater likelihood of winning 9 or more games than losing 9 or more.

Tampa Bay has a new head coach with Lovie Smith taking over and many long time NFL observers are bullish on the Bucs’ chances in 2014. But, as with Jacksonville earlier, the enthusiasm might be a bit too soon. There are still some holes to fill on both sides of the football and after three straight losing seasons, with a pair of 4-12 seasons including last season, a jump to 8-8 may be a bit too optimistic.

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]

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About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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