Skins at -5 1/2! I don't think so

Jul 29, 2008 7:04 PM

Pigskin Picks by Andy Iskoe | The NFL returns, sort of, this Sunday in Canton, Ohio with the Hall of Fame Game between Indianapolis and Washington to kick of the 2008 preseason schedule.

The Redskins opened as 5 1/2-point favorites over the Colts with the over / under opening at 32.

Exhibition games do not count in the standings. Teams that win all their preseason games are no closer to making the playoffs than are teams that go 0-4. Preseason games are used to evaluate talent, assess progress being made in executing the playbook, deciding on which player combinations work best, etc.

Coaches do not have their best players on the field when the game is on the line in the fourth quarter. In fact, especially in the early preseason games, many starters hardly see any action at all.

Many handicappers and bettors have done well season after season in betting these games. Preseason games are generally "information driven," in that coaches will openly discuss their objectives for upcoming matchups. They will usually declare their quarterback rotations and how much playing time certain players, usually the starters, will see.

The best way to prepare for the preseason games is to get a sense of what various teams hope to accomplish. Again, this information is often available in the local media and is relatively easy to access by scouring the Internet. It takes time and effort but may well be worth it.

Another way to approach the preseason is to bet only the first halves of games at those Sports Books that offer first half wagering. Whatever playing time the starters will see will generally be in the first half.

Looking at teams that have not decided on their starting quarterbacks is also another way to approach playing the preseason games. A healthy quarterback competition often means additional playing time for offensive lines and some receivers, giving coaches the chance to look at how each quarterback does with similar personnel around him.

First-year coaches bear watching, especially those that are overhauling offensive or defensive systems. In Washington, for example, new coach Jim Zorn is looking to open up what had been a rather stodgy offense under former coach Joe Gibbs. The Redskins figure to play wide-open football during the preseason, working on timing patterns, personnel combinations, etc.

The upside is that the Skins may break off some big plays when they work. Of course there may also be turnovers when the timing just isnt there. In, the Hall of Fame Game on Sunday the Colts will be without star QB Peyton Manning who is recovering from some recent "minor" knee surgery that is not expected to keep him out of the Opening Day lineup. That means backup QB Jim Sorgi will see added playing time as will several other quarterbacks looking for a roster spot as a third-string QB.

Indianapolis is one of the favored teams to win the Super Bowl. They are a very experienced team with most starting positions set. Under coach Tony Dungy the Colts rarely extend themselves in preseason which partially explains their role as a 5-point underdog.

As a general rule in preseason, it is preferable to take the points with underdogs because of the randomness of results. That strategy would point you toward taking Indianapolis in the Hall of Fame Game.

The Colts have improved on defense in recent seasons and they could cause problems for the emerging Washington offense.

The low total of 32 suggests that both teams defenses will have more success than their respective offenses. Its hard to suggest playing the under with such a low total. The preference would be to pass on the total.

If you must make a play on game, you might catch the Colts at plus 6 or perhaps even a bit more.

Next week: A preview of the full 16-game schedule that marks the official debut of all 32 teams and the first Monday night game of the 2008 season Cincinnati at Green Bay.

Wonder who the starting quarterback will be for the Packers? Or the backups?