The NFL preseason gets a bad rap.
Sure, most veterans take only one game seriously and we’ll all be ready to be done with it before the month is up, but don’t sleep on its charms.
In the Hall of Fame game alone, Steelers LB Ryan Shazier and RB/WR Dri Archer attempted to atone for rough rookie years by attacking the first available opportunity. Minnesota showcased impressive depth and saw intriguing rookie WR/KR Stefon Diggs back up what he’s been doing in practices with an electrifying punt return on Sunday’s most memorable play.
There will be reasons to tune in for every preseason contest even if you abstain from getting in any action. Here’s how Week 1 shakes out (odds c/o Station Casinos):
Pro Football – Thursday, Aug. 13
New Orleans Saints +3 at Baltimore Ravens (38): Drew Brees didn’t play in last year’s preseason opener, yet New Orleans still beat St. Louis, 26-24, behind Luke McCown, who returns as the primary backup. Baltimore welcomes Matt Schaub to the party, looking to ease concerns about his uneven play in camp thus far. The Ravens were 4-0 last preseason.
Green Bay Packers +3 at New England Patriots (37.5): Tom Brady has been brilliant in practice, but this preseason is all about getting Jimmy Garoppolo ready to play in Week 1. The Packers have lost their preseason opener in five consecutive seasons.
New York Jets +3 at Detroit Lions (36.5): Jets QB Geno Smith has looked sharper, but don’t expect more than a cameo from him and new No. 1 WR Brandon Marshall. The Lions saw Matthew Stafford dominate this weekend’s scrimmage with brilliant throws, but backups Kellen Moore and Dan Orlovsky combined for three picks and no touchdowns. They’ll do the bulk of the work here.
Miami Dolphins PK at Chicago Bears (37): Ryan Tannehill’s continued improvement has been a positive sign considering the Dolphins just gave him more guaranteed money. The Bears hope Jay Cutler bounces back from last season’s implosion and won’t expose him much, if at all, this early.
Washington Redskins +2 at Cleveland Browns (36.5): Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel get more attention and scrutiny than even Tim Tebow, so this one is must-see TV. Both are expected to play, but it’s likely Manziel gets much more time here since RGIII is slated to start opposite Josh McCown. Manziel put together an improved, eye-opening performance in this past weekend’s scrimmage.
Dallas Cowboys +3.5 at San Diego Chargers (38): Young players will be on the field for both sides throughout most of this one, so not even veteran backups Brandon Weeden nor Kellen Clemens should see much action. Instead, this quarterback battle will pit San Diego’s Chase Rettig and Brad Sorensen against Dallas’ Dustin Vaughan and Jameill Showers. The Chargers beat the Cowboys 27-7 in last year’s preseason opener, if that helps any.
Pro Football – Friday, Aug. 14
Tennessee Titans +2.5 at Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons are nursing multiple injuries and have no desire to expose Matt Ryan, so this is all about Marcus Mariota’s debut. Having drawn rave reviews so far, he can really get them riled up in Nashville if he’s sharp out of the gate.
Carolina Panthers +3 at Buffalo Bills (35.5): While Cam Newton may not play for the Panthers, new Bills coach Rex Ryan is going to need EJ Manuel, Matt Cassel or Tyrod Taylor to break through. None has managed to gain much separation thus far.
Pittsburgh Steelers NL at Jacksonville Jaguars: After scoring just three points against the Vikings, coordinator Todd Haley should have Ben Roethlisberger available. Backup Bruce Gradkowski remains out with a shoulder injury, so the Jags should still get a heavy dose of Landry Jones, who lacked a pocket presence and command of the offense on Sunday. Word is Blake Bortles has looked impressive in camp thus far.
New York Giants +3 at Cincinnati Bengals (37): It’s likely the Giants continuing their preseason win streak will hinge on the shoulders of new acquisition Ricky Stanzi, out to prove he should stick as the team’s third QB. The Bengals are looking for ex-Alabama star A.J. McCarron to continue displaying growth and lock up the top backup job to Andy Dalton.
St. Louis Rams PK at Oakland Raiders (36): The two franchises who once shared Los Angeles are thrown together to open their seasons amid speculation relocation may be in the immediate future. Improvement should also be in the cards, as both teams have promising young talent that should be on display here.
Denver Broncos +5.5 at Seattle Seahawks (37): Expect Peyton Manning to play at least a series against the two-time defending NFC champs, who provide a nice early measuring stick. The Seahawks are 10-2 in preseason play over the past three seasons.
Pro Football – Saturday, Aug. 15
San Francisco 49ers +3 at Houston Texans (35.5): The 49ers are basically starting over under new head coach Jim Tomsula, moving on from Jim Harbaugh, Frank Gore and multiple key defensive leaders. Houston has to pick a starter between QBs Ryan Mallett and Brian Hoyer. Promising third-stringer Tom Savage is likely to get the bulk of the snaps here.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers NL at Minnesota Vikings: Teddy Bridgewater looked sharp in his lone series, so with Adrian Peterson expected to sit out the entire preseason, all eyes will be on his continued development. Jameis Winston has the Bucs excited thus far in camp, particularly in red-zone drills. Lots of eyes on this one.
Kansas City Chiefs +2.5 at Arizona Cardinals (36): The Chiefs are looking for new offensive weapons to step up, but Andy Reid has never put much emphasis on these exhibition games beyond the third one. Bruce Arians is 2-for-2 in preseason openers, but has dealt with a host of injuries.
Pro Football – Sunday, Aug. 16
Indianapolis Colts +4 at Philadelphia Eagles (42): We’ll get to see what the heavily scrutinized Chip Kelly and Chuck Pagano bring to the table in this first installment. The Eagles want to play fast above all else and averaged an NFL-best 32.7 points per game last preseason. Sam Bradford is likely to make his first in-game appearance since tearing his ACL in the third of last year’s exhibitions.
Tony Mejia is a national sports writer and senior contributor at VegasInsider.com. He’s also the owner and operator of Antony Dinero, the most successful documented volume handicapper in the industry. View his analysis daily at VegasInsider.com. Contact Tony at [email protected].