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Preseason brings out best qualities in weaker teams

Aug 14, 2001 5:43 AM

All teams have now seen at least one game of preseason action and are at various stages of readiness for the regular season.  Most teams have many personnel decisions to make affecting backup positions and depth.

Few teams are set at most starting positions and thus the second full week of preseason play will again feature limited time for starters and much more time for players both competing for second string status or to just make the team way down the depth chart.  In general. playoff caliber teams will be more interested in developing depth while teams struggling to rebound from sub .500 seasons in 2000 are more likely to be concerned about deciding on starters.  When two such teams match up it might be best to look at the weaker team since more is often on the line in terms of finding the right starting combination.

Jaguars (+3) at Giants (Over/Under 35): The Giants failed to score in New England and Jacksonville could not find the end zone, tallying six field goals in a last minute win over Carolina.  Both teams should be a bit more interested in developing their offenses this week. The Over is an attractive option.

Steelers (+ 4) at Vikings (40): Minnesota displayed aggressiveness and emotion in their opening game against New Orleans with stars QB Daunte Culpepper and WR Randy Moss looking sharp in limited action.    An edge here may belong to Pittsburgh.  The Steelers have  had a stretch of almost two full weeks of uninterrupted practice.  Getting more than a field goal is worth considering for a team that figures to be sharp.

Titans (+ 3½) at Rams (37½): No, this won’t resemble a rematch of Super Bowl XXXIV since the starters will see limited action.  The reserves will likely decide this game and the Rams appear to have the deeper roster, especially at the skill positions which emphasize speed on both sides of the ball.  In their first two preseason games the Rams’ defense has shown signs of being much better.  Both teams can be expected to play conservative.

Falcons (+1) at Redskins (34): Neither team has shown much in the early stages of preseason and even Atlanta’s rookie QB Michael Vick saw limited action in his second preseason game. Neither coach feels a win is urgent. Washington went through the motions last week in KC, gaining less than 100 yards and seven first downs.  Starting QB Jeff George did not play last week so check for his status here.  Both teams are looking to run  so a low score can be expected.

Chargers at Dolphins (NL) : San Diego showed energy in last week’s win over San Francisco while Miami is off of their second straight Monday night contest.  This is one of those strong vs. weak matchups and thus the preference will be for San Diego as they look to progress from last season’s 1-15 record. The Chargers may be more interested in winning this game with new QB Doug Flutie becoming more integrated into the offense.

Eagles at Bills (NL):   The Eagles seem to be the more established team with more starting positions settled.  Buffalo is in a rebuilding mode under their new coach Gregg Williams as they play their final preseason home game. The Bills need a  running game in order for their gifted set of receivers to be effective.  The scheduling dynamics  may make it more important for Buffalo to have a good showing.

Patriots (+4) at Panthers (34 ½): Carolina would appear to be closer to contending for the playoffs than the Patriots except for the lack of a proven quarterback.  The Panthers  might be the more aggressive team in this game.  New England must settle on a feature RB and thus may spend more time tinkering with offensive line combinations in this game.  Both teams were involved in low scoring games last week. The Under  may be the preferred play.

Ravens at (NL): Baltimore played last Monday night and the injury to star RB Jamal Lewis in practice makes finding a replacement the main concern for the Ravens.  Jets coach Herman Edwards was conservative in his first game against Atlanta.  Note that prior to Monday’s game at Philadelphia, Brian Billick had won all eight preseason games as Ravens coach.  Points should be scarce.

Cowboys (+ 7) at Saints (35):   Many of the key Dallas starters have yet to see action and RB Emmitt Smith, WRs Joey Galloway and Raghib Ismail should see limited action here.  New Orleans looks like a playoff contender once again and will continue to evaluate whether Aaron Brooks or veteran Jeff Blake is best suited to run the offense.  We may see both teams emphasize the passing game more than last week.  The preferred approach here might be to the Over.

Bucs at Browns (NL): Tampa Bay began its preseason last Monday against Miami while Cleveland opened with a dull 10-7 win over Green Bay.  Cleveland is set at QB with Tim Couch looking to recover from last season’s injury but many positions are unsettled under new coach Butch Davis.  This is Cleveland’s preseason home finale and the Browns may be more focused.  The underdog   Browns deserve consideration.

Lions (+6) at Colts (39½):   Indianapolis is favored to win the AFC East while Detroit has the potential to contend for at least a Wild Card after going 9-7 last season. . The Over and Underdog makes sense in a game featuring tough defenses..

Bears (+5) at Chiefs (35): The battle for the starting QB job is Chicago is quite contentious and makes the Bears worth a look getting more than 4 points.  Kansas City is building team speed, especially on offense, as new coach Dick Vermeil evaluates his roster. The ”˜chief’ concern here may be in continuing to develop the rushing game.

Cards (+6) at Seahawks (35 ½): The Seahawks’ primary concern on offense is the development of QB Mark Hasselback.  Arizona’s concerns are more on defense, especially with the departure of several key veterans.  Seattle played with enthusiasm in last week’s loss at Indianapolis while Arizona was uninspired in a home loss to Oakland.  It’s uncomfortable to lay nearly a TD in preseason so look at the Over.

Raiders (—1½) at 49ers  (39): How strange will it be when Jerry Rice takes the field in an Oakland uniform?  The Raiders are amongst the elite in the AFC and figure to give their backups most of the playing time here.  San Francisco has talent at many key positions and their defense showed improvement over the latter half of last season and thus may be a surprise contender for the Playoffs.  Both teams like to use the big play as an important part of their offense and thus the Over is the first way to look here.  The 49ers may be worth a shot in this nearly pick ”˜em game.

Broncos (—1) at Packers  (40):  Denver is another of the AFC elite and is one of the favorites to make it to the Super Bowl.  Green Bay will go as far as QB Brett Favre can take them but otherwise the Packers are just an average team. Denver has depth at most positions and thus figure to have an edge when both teams’ reserves take the field.  If this were a regular season game the Over would be an easy call but the Under may represent the better value here.