For openers, try Oakland

Aug 1, 2006 6:15 AM
Well, folks. the 2006 NFL season has finally arrived.

OK, so it’s just the preseason. Sunday’s Hall of Fame game in Akron, Ohio is the first step in a seven month journey that will culminate in Super Bowl XLI crowning the NFL champ next February.

The NFL frowns on the phrase exhibition games, preferring preseason games to better justify the charging of regular season ticket and parking prices to season ticket holders as many clubs do. The fact is that these really are nothing more than exhibitions, often with certain agreements between coaching staffs to allow each team to work on certain aspects of the game under live conditions.

Starters rarely see much action, especially in the first couple of games. In the penultimate game of the preseason many teams use it as a dress rehearsal for the regular season opener two weeks forward. The starters often play into the third quarter. It’s very rare for starters to play much beyond the first quarter (or a series) in the first two contests.

If winning really did matter, then starters would be more likely used and effective in the fourth quarter when the game is on the line. Rather, outcomes are often dictated by guys three and four deep on the depth chart, some of whom will not survive the next roster cut.

Still, there are opportunities for those who wish to wager on games that carry no weight. It’s not as easy as years ago, when lines were ”˜soft’ and rather homogenous. They were usually around a field goal favoring the home team or a pick when a strong road team was visiting a weak or rebuilding team. Nowadays lines are more varied and bear at least some relationship to the relative differences in talent.

The oddsmakers have access to the same mid week information that the betting public has and thus are more likely to set lines based on public opinion. If you play the preseason games do so cautiously and not risk too much capital from your regular season budget.

Often the approach of the coaches is the most vital piece of information that can be used in handicapping these games. Competition for starting positions, especially at QB, can also be used in assessing which team is likely to be in a better position to have successful play execution.

Sunday, July 30

Eagles -3 vs Raiders (36½): Eagles QB Donovan McNabb returns from a couple of injuries that ended his 2005 season early and likely to see only limited action. Oakland is debuting QB Aaron Brooks, who enjoyed decent success with New Orleans. Art Shell returns as coach for a second tenure on the sidelines.

Conditions favor the Raiders with the new staff having the greater need to evaluate progress. Also, Brooks is likely to see more action than McNabb, increasing the chances for big plays wideouts Randy Moss and Jerry Porter. RAIDERS, OVER.