The 2014 NFL season is underway and the very first game of the pre-season – the annual Hall of Fame Game – illustrated the challenges of forecasting and betting these “exhibition” games.
As game day drew near and the public started to get involved in assimilating the information coming out of both training camps, the money poured in on Buffalo such that the Bills closed as favorites of 3 or 3.5 points pretty much universally.
The Over/Under, which opened at 32.5, also saw dramatic movement getting as high as 37 before closing at most sports books at 36.5 or 37.
The Giants scored the final touchdown of the game early in the fourth quarter and held off the Bills for a 17-13 win, paying off their backers, the UNDER and moneyline wagers.
Of course it is just one isolated game and there will be games over the next month during the pre-season that will go the bettors’ way. But so many of these games produce random results that caution is urged even when the information seems iron clad.
These games – often little more than glorified scrimmages – are not played or coached as they would be if they were regular season games that counted. By the fourth quarter, the starters have long since been removed and third or fourth stringers, or even players who won’t be on the Opening Day roster, will be deciding the final score.
Heading into the first full week of pre-season games the Giants and Bills do have some built-in advantages over the other 30 teams. In addition to having started training camp earlier than the rest of the league both have had an opportunity to evaluate players, plays and schemes under game conditions, putting them slightly ahead of those other 30 teams.
Whether that translates to the Bills winning (and covering) Friday night at Carolina or to the Giants doing the same at home on Saturday night against Pittsburgh remains to be seen. But that extra game does give the Bills and Giants some fundamental advantages.
Pay close attention to news that comes out of training camps in the middle of the week. Some general concepts to keep in mind are quarterback rotations, including battles for the backup role, overall team experience plus the overall stability and continuity of a franchise.
In the four weeks leading up to the start of the regular season the eight Divisions will be looked at with an eye toward forecasting the prospects for success or failure.
Since Divisional realignment in 2002 the NFC East had long been considered either the best or second best in the NFL. That is no longer the case.
Philadelphia won the division last season in coach Chip Kelly’s debut season and his up tempo style of play caught many opponents ill prepared to contain. QB Nick Foles, inserted as starter in mid-season, had a season that will be tough to duplicate after tossing 27 TD passes while being picked off just twice (he was sacked 28 times).
With an entire offense to pick apart Kelly’s schemes the Eagles may find it tougher to be as potent this season. At the LVH the Eagles’ season win total is 9 with the OVER priced at -130. A repeat of last season’s 10-6 would reward OVER backers.
The New York Giants finished 7-3 following a 0-6 start as two-time Super Bowl winning QB Eli Manning had his worst season as a pro. The Giants have a new offense this season and a rebuilt offensive line.
Although RB David Wilson is likely lost for the season, the G-Men may have shrewdly drafted Andre Williams from Boston College, the nation’s leading rusher last season, with a fourth round draft choice. The Giants’ season win total is right at 8 with a -110 vig attached to both the OVER and the UNDER.
Washington has a new head coach (Jay Gruden) and, if QB Robert Griffin III can regain the form he flashed in 2012 prior to his injury, the Redskins will both have less internal controversy and put forth a better on-field product than the one that went 3-13 last season. Their projected win total is a flat 7.5 (-110 either way).
Dallas could be the NFL poster child for mediocrity following three straight 8-8 seasons, each of which saw the Cowboys lose a final regular season game that might have enabled them to make the playoffs. The defense was horrible last season and looks to be no better this season.
There is already great pessimism for Dallas with a win total of 8 that has a huge -190 vig attached to the “UNDER” at the LVH. Of these four the Redskins may have the best chance to exceed their total of 7.5. Asking the Redskins, with a healthy QB, to go at least 8-8 is not a stretch.
The AFC East has been the kingdom of the New England Patriots for more than a decade. The Pats have won a dozen regular season games in each of the past four seasons and have had 10 or more wins for 11 straight seasons. Their season win total for 2014 is “only” 10.5 but with a huge -180 vig attached to the OVER.
The defense will be improved this season and, unlike last season, Brady will not have a virtually entirely new cast of receivers with whom to play catch. Based on season win totals the Dolphins (8) are expected to finish second with the New York Jets (7) third and Buffalo (6.5) last.
In other words, none of the three is expected to be a legitimate challenger to the Pats or even contend for a Wild Card. The Bills and Jets will be relying on second season quarterbacks with Miami relying on a third season signal caller. It often takes several seasons for most quarterbacks to mature and develop to reach their maximum potential.
It will be hard to call for any team other than New England to win this division but to play the Pats OVER 10.5 wins is expensive, laying almost 2-to-1. With four straight seasons of at least 12 wins such a play is defensible.
Buffalo UNDER 6.5, +140, might be the most attractive, considering the Bills have not won more than 6 games since going 7-9 in 2007 nor have more than 7 wins since 2004. The Bills have won exactly 6 games in each of the past three seasons.
In next week’s column a look at the North Division in each conference shall be previewed.
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]