Use caution in rating preseason games

Aug 7, 2001 4:20 AM

After getting a taste of football last weekend with four games to open the NFL preseason only Pittsburgh will be on the sidelines as the other 30 teams are all in action. The schedule is spread out from Friday through Monday with at least a pair of games to tempt us each day.

As cautioned last week, care should be exercised if you are to make wagers on any preseason game since wins and losses don’t count, but it is more important to monitor the progress each team is making as the start of the regular season approaches. Pay attention to comments coming from the coaching staff regarding battles for specific positions and depth at the skill positions. Smart coaches realize that the preseason is for evaluating talent and making decisions on offensive and defensive schemes.

Remember that most teams have been in camp for barely two weeks and that play execution may not be crisp. Starters are likely to see very limited action and coaches will be concerned about watching how many of the players low in the depth chart handle live competition. And, as pointed out last week, try to get the midweek comments from coaches as to what they plan to emphasize in this weekend’s games. The comments might point you towards a play. Here’s a very general look at this week’s schedule.

Carolina (+5½) at Jacksonville (Over/Under 37) ”” Both teams begin their seventh NFL season with different concerns. Carolina has total inexperience at quarterback while Jacksonville is an aging team looking to make another run at the Super Bowl before likely having to retool the roster. Jacksonville coach Tom Coughlin is a no-nonsense taskmaster while Carolina coach Seifert is more laid back. Carolina may be more inclined to put the greater emphasis on offense as they search for a starting QB and the Panthers plus the points might be the way to look.

Cincinnati (+3) at Detroit (36½) ”” Cincinnati has a game under its belt while Detroit makes its preseason debut. The Bengals have uncertainty at quarterback while the Lions are committed to Charlie Batch. Detroit has injuries to its starting wide receivers so depth is an immediate concern. Detroit has won the past two preseason meetings in a pair of low scoring games and points might again be at a premium.

NY Giants (—1) at New England (34) ”” There’s much familiarity between these franchises mostly due to the Bill Parcells connection. The Giants have already suffered an injury as RB Tiki Barber was injured last week so their priority should be to find a capable lightning backup to Ron Dayne’s ”˜thunder.’ New England’s problem the past few years has been the lack of a running game which puts QB Drew Bledsoe under consistently tremendous pressure. With both teams likely to emphasize the run, a low scoring game might be in store.

Minnesota (+4) vs. New Orleans (38½) at San Antonio ”” The recent death of Minnesota offensive lineman Korey Stringer should make it difficult for the Vikings to be at their mental best for a few weeks and it could show up in this game. The Vikes are a veteran team with most starting positions set. New Orleans approaches the 2001 season with great optimism following their first ever playoff win last season. Given the circumstances of the past week, New Orleans may be the more aggressive team and worth a look.

Green Bay (—3) at Cleveland (35½) ”” Green Bay is the more veteran of the two teams with much more settled in the way of starters and depth. New Cleveland coach Butch Davis is more likely to be interested in simulating a regular season game than is his Packer counterpart Mike Sherman. The Browns have the greater uncertainty surrounding many positions and might be less likely to just go through the motions. Getting at least a field goal is worth considering.

Seattle (+4½) at Indianapolis (38) ”” Seattle is breaking in a new quarterback, Matt Hasselback, and just signed last season’s Super Bowl winning QB, Trent Dilfer. Indy is settled at most starting positions but will more concerned about showing defensive improvement. This sets up conditions conducive for a low scoring game with the Colts more interested in developing depth and Seattle’s offense still being learned by the key participants. Note, however, that the teams have played high scoring games in each of the past three preseasons.

Chicago (+4½) at Tennessee (35½) ”” Chicago played last week and the battle for the starting quarterback position is still unsettled. Tennessee is a veteran laden playoff team with most starting positions in place although depth is a concern. The teams met in the final preseason game last year which was high scoring. Execution should not be as sharp here and points figure to be scarce. Chicago may have an edge due to the quarterback competition and having played last week so getting over a field goal may be worthy of consideration.

Atlanta (+3½) at New York Jets (36) ”” The Jets begin life after Bill Parcells with a new coach but plenty of veterans on the roster. They faded late after a quick start last season so depth would appear to be the major concern of new coach Herm Edwards. Atlanta is likely to continue to develop rookie QB Michael Vick who performed well in last week’s opener. Atlanta coach Dan Reeves has not placed a great deal of emphasis on winning in preseason. The Jets will look to give backup QB Chad Pennington considerable work this preseason and we might see both teams dent the scoreboard in this game with special teams play also receiving attention.

Denver (—4) at Dallas (38) ”” Dallas looked sharp in the early stages of last week’s game at Oakland but the overall lack of talent suggests it will be a long regular season in Big ”˜D’, especially on defense. Denver is a solid team with most starting positions set and depth being the key concern. Dallas coach Dave Campo was animated on the sidelines in the loss to Oakland and his team may be the more aggressive and imaginative on offense while Denver is more likely to treat this game as a scrimmage. There may be more reasons to back Dallas in this game although with both teams looking to solidify the backup QB position, we may see many points scored.

San Francisco (—2) at San Diego (37) ”” These teams have met in each of the past three summers with all three games going Over the total. San Francisco has the need to develop a running game with RB Charlie Garner having gone to Oakland. The running game has been a problem for San Diego for the past several seasons and figures to be a focal point of this preseason. San Francisco still relies on the passing game, however, for the bulk of their offense while San Diego’s offense should improve under new offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who held the same position in Dallas in the early 1990’s.

Oakland (—4½) at Arizona (36) ”” Oakland’s reserves looked pretty good last week against Dallas as both backup quarterbacks Bobby Hoying and rookie Marcus Tuiasosopo led impressive scoring drives. Arizona has some key defensive holes to fill with the defensive front a major concern. Oakland clearly has all of the edges but may actually prefer to use this game to evaluate third and fourth string reserves. Whether Arizona can take advantage is another story however. The Cards do have the greater need to generate fan enthusiasm and thus might be a bit more aggressive.

St Louis at Buffalo (No Line) ”” The Rams are off of their Monday Night Scrimmage against Miami and figure to be equally as reluctant to showcase many of their offensive starters in this game after a short week of practice. Buffalo has a new coaching staff in place and needs to replace several defensive starters from last season. The offense has been turned over to full-time starting QB Rob Johnson. The teams played a high scoring preseason game last summer but that was later in the preseason. This game might present an opportunity for an Under if the linesmaker prices the game on the reputation of Rams. At a line of 41 or higher the Under would be the first way to look.

Washington (+2½) at Kansas City (36½) ”” Washington was one of the most disappointing teams in 2000 and with low expectations placed upon them for this season don’t be surprised if the Redskins are a playoff contender. Developing a backup to starting QB Jeff George will be a priority this summer. Kansas City has a new attitude with new coach Dick Vermeil but the roster is short on talent. Vermeil does have his former Ram backup QB Trent Green to run what should be a similarly wide open offense that might be equally as prone to turnovers as to big plays. This game could feature a bunch of points as both teams figure to have the mentality of a big play offense.

Baltimore (—2) at Philadelphia (32½) ”” Both teams are developing teams that made the Playoffs last season after several seasons of mediocrity and worse. Philly won its opening round game before falling to the New York Giants, the team that Baltimore dominated in winning the Super Bowl. Both teams figure to treat this game more like a scrimmage in which backup talent is evaluated and the focus is upon individual play execution and the play of the defense rather than sustaining offensive drives.  These teams have met in each of the past three preseasons with no more than 29 points scored in any of the games.

Miami at Tampa Bay No Line ”” These teams have met twice in preseason play over the past three seasons with Miami winning a pair of tight, low scoring games. Both are veteran teams with recent playoff experience and are more likely to be concerned about developing depth rather than deciding upon starters. Tampa QB Brad Johnson will need some time to get into rhythm with the Bucs’ offense but under coach Tony Dungy Tampa has run an offense much more reliant on the run. They don’t take chances on offense since they have such an outstanding defense. Miami is also more gifted on defense. The best way to approach the game is to look at the under and to take three points or more.