Are ya ready for some football? Ya better be ready because for the next six months football will be the focus of the Las Vegas sports scene. It all gets under way this weekend with a quartet of NFL exhibition, er, preseason games.
There are widely disparate views about the NFL preseason with some wiseguy sports bettors loving these games because coaches will come right out in their midweek comments and admit exactly what their approach will be to an upcoming game. Other observers take the view that preseason games are not about winning and losing but rather about evaluating personnel and implementing philosophical changes in the type of offense or defense a team plans on running once the regular season begins.
My view is somewhat in the middle although I do lean more to the latter position and believe that while there are opportunities to profit during the preseason, the games are really controlled scrimmages in front of thousands of spectators played under game conditions.
The best way to approach and to bet preseason games is to scour newspapers and the Internet for information about how coaches are approaching an upcoming game. Will one team play their starters longer than their opponent? What will the quarterback rotation be? Is there competition for a starting job at a position? Is there a lack of depth at a position? Is the team implementing a new offense or defense? Will the team be using a game plan or will the emphasis be more upon the execution of certain plays? As mentioned above, coaches will freely discuss their plans for an upcoming game ”” something they will never do during the regular season.
Much of the information is generally available during the middle part of the week so if you plan to bet preseason games be sure to look for the coaches’ comments on Wednesday and Thursday. Yet even with the importance of midweek information there are still some general observations that can be made when looking at upcoming games early in the week.
Let’s begin with a look at the four games this weekend that will kick off the 2001 NFL season.
Pittsburgh (+2) at Atlanta (Over/Under 341/2): Pittsburgh had a 9-7 record last season and but for some poor officiating decision, acknowledged as such by the NFL, likely would have made the Playoffs. The Steelers have a solid defense but face questions on offense at quarterback and wide receiver. A major emphasis in the preseason will be to determine the backup to starting QB Kordell Stewart. Teams have had very little practice time in preparation for this game which might more resemble a scrimmage. Timing will be off so we might not see many points scored by either offense. The preferred way to look will be to the under and to ATLANTA.
Cincinnati (+2) at Chicago (34): Both teams have quarterback battles with neither team having settled upon a starter as training camp begins. Cincinnati will decide from amongst slow developing Akili Smith, veteran backup Scott Mitchell and Jon Kitna who was disappointing in Seattle. Chicago is looking at Cade McNown, Shane Matthews and currently injured Jim Miller. The line opened with Chicago a four point choice and the early two point move may be related to the injury to Miller. Again, timing figures to be off and the defenses are more likely to be effective than are the offenses. Chicago will also be looking to settle on a starting running back so attention is likely to be paid to developing the offensive line. The slight preference is to CINCINNATI and the under.
Dallas (+61/2) at Oakland (36): Dallas is replacing longtime QB Troy Aikman and veteran Tony Banks has been brought in as the expected starter. The three leading contenders for backup are inexperienced and include top draft pick Quincy Carter. If this was a game that counted the Raiders would probably win by 20. But given that Dallas has much more of a need to determine starters and backups we can expect a much more spirited effort. Dallas should be much more interested in developing their offense and the points are worth considering. The preference is for DALLAS and the over.
Miami (—3) vs. St. Louis (37) at Canton, Ohio: The Hall of Fame Game marks the debut of Monday Night Football and there has been a huge move in this game. St. Louis opened up as a four point favorite but following comments by Rams’ coach Mike Martz that they will treat this game as a scrimmage with the starters perhaps seeing action for just a series or two one sided action came in on Miami. It will take time for teammates to recognize and react to what everyone is doing and that could cause some breakdowns and allow some big plays to develop. Yet St. Louis also must develop a backup to starting QB Kurt Warner with Trent Green off to Kansas City. We might see the Rams work on the passing game with current backups Joe Germaine and Paul Justin. The Rams realize their success hinges upon their offense and with Warner having been injured for a part of 2000 Martz will make the development of a backup a priority. The Over/Under line also dropped from 40 to 37. The preference is buck the line move and look to ST. LOUIS and the over.