Recent trend gives home edge

August 07, 2007 6:26 AM
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The pro football preseason kicked off this past weekend in the Hall of Fame game as the Steelers battled the Saints.

Steelers fans got a look at their new coach, 35-year old Mike Tomlin. Remember that each season is different, with players changing teams, new coaches and assistants coming aboard, and star college players joining the pros as highly touted rookies. August football offers fans their first peak at all the new additions.

It’s not uncommon for new coaches wanting to prove something early on, even in preseason. Veteran coaches might take a different approach.

Buffalo coach Marv Levy had veteran teams and rarely cared about preseason. Indy’s Tony Dungy is similar, more interested in health, while taking it easy on veterans. Dungy’s Colts are 1-8 SU/2-7 ATS the last two preseasons.

WEEK 1

Jets vs Falcons: The Jets stole RB Thomas Jones from the Bears to add some balance to the offense. They also have been busy renovating their defensive line, signing defensive ends Eric Hicks, David Bowens, Kenyon Coleman, Andre Wadsworth and Michael Haynes. In addition, the offense is in the second year of coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s high-tech scheme that features an array of shifts and motions.

The Falcons have even more changes. Former Louisville coach Bobby Petrino, an offensive wizard, takes over. His offenses couldn’t be more different than former coach Jim Mora, who favored a conservative ground attack. The bigger story is QB Michael Vick’s legal problems, which means Joey Harrington is the top signal caller. Chris Redman and D.J. Shockley will battle for the No. 2 spot.

It’s also worth noting that Petrino has not been hesitant to put his stamp on the team. He has been promoting and demoting players, opening competition or moving players. The release of WR Fred Gibson three days into training camp sent a warning that there is no tolerance for not doing things the right way. That’s another thing to keep an eye on in August — a different attitude, either from coaches or certain players.

Of course, starters won’t see a lot of time just yet — and for good reason. Four years ago Vick suffered a serious injury in August, wrecking his season. No coach wants to jeopardize his job and no owner wants to risk his investment by losing a key player to a devastating exhibition injury.

Bucs vs Patriots: With coaches rotating players, examining depth, testing new game plans, and individual athletes battling for roster spots, there’s plenty of competition in August. Keep an eye on subtle strategic adjustments. Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden has made all kinds of changes.

Newcomer QB Jeff Garcia is No. 1, giving Gruden the veteran presence they haven’t had since Rob Johnson left town. Chris Simms is battling for the backup job with second-year pro Bruce Gradkowski and Luke McCown. Garcia’s presence has prompted Gruden to consider the shotgun as a legitimate option for his version of the West Coast attack. Gruden is eager to expand his playbook in terms of rollouts and bootlegs to capitalize on Garcia’s mobility.

Defensively, the Bucs are considering new packages in an effort to disrupt timing and generate more heat on opposing quarterbacks. Last season, QBs feasted against Tampa Bay’s defense, posting a cumulative 91.0 rating. All of which means past preseason stats can be rendered meaningless if coaching staffs revamp.

Broncos vs 49ers: A year ago there was a QB controversy between veteran Jake Plummer and rookie Jay Cutler. There is no such controversy this season. Plummer retired and Cutler, with his rocket arm, is No. 1. The 49ers have lost star RB Frank Gore for the preseason. Note that Denver coach Mike Shanahan is 38-22 SU, 33-23-2 ATS in preseason, including 12-5 SU/10-7 ATS the last four Augusts.

Keep an eye on home field play. In August of 2004, the home teams went 21-10-1 ATS the first two weeks. Two years ago, the home team went 10-5 SU/ATS the first week of exhibition play. Last season, the home side was 11-5 SU, 8-7-1 ATS.

Sometimes coaches are disappointed with their team’s first game, particularly if it’s a road loss. They want to see a more determined effort in Game 2, especially if it’s in front of the home fans. This happened a year ago when Denver looked sloppy in a 20-13 loss at Arizona as a favorite. A week later, at home, Shanahan demanded a better effort and the Broncos went on to destroy the Tennessee Titans, 35-10.