The last rehearsals

Aug 28, 2001 3:50 AM

Thirty of the NFL’s 31 teams go through their final dress rehearsal this week with Chicago getting a Bye.  Many teams will have used last week as their serious tune-up for the start of the regular season while others place more emphasis on this week.  But continue to keep in mind that winning is deeply secondary to being ready to start the games for real.  This week presents the final opportunity for coaches to evaluate the state of their teams in terms of starting positions, depth, progress being made and all the other factors that need to be in place when the hitting starts for real.

The coaches have only one prayer this weekend ”” that nobody get hurt on the eve of the season beginning.  Starters may actually play less this week in an attempt to both keep them fresh and to have more time to evaluate second, third and fourth stringers.  There may be some semblance of game planning this week with many teams working on plays they plan to rely on in their season openers next week.  Again, caution is urged in betting on this week’s games as we crown the Exhibition Season Champion, a team that will long be forgotten once the season gets underway, especially if that team gets off to a 1-5 start.

Here are some thoughts on the final week of preseason games.  Keep in mind that these are early observations and if you intend to play these games you should consider monitoring training camp news during the week to get a better idea of how coaches will treat these final tune-ups.

Buffalo (+3) at Pittsburgh (Over/Under 34): Both teams figure to conservative on offense this season and both coaches are defense oriented.  That suggests that both will be content on not showing too much in the way of flash this week and might prefer to work on the running game and blocking schemes.  Both teams have questions about the quarterback position with Pittsburgh’s Kordell Stewart’s ability called into question and Buffalo’s Rob Johnson being injury plagued during his career.  The preference is to the UNDER.

Tennessee (+1) at Detroit (34): Tennessee seems to be ready for the start of the regular season with most starting and backup jobs decided.  The Titans are a veteran team and should be interested in just looking at this game as a tune-up.  Detroit has a new front office and a new coaching staff in place and has the greater need to answer question before the season starts for real.  Thus the Lions have the greater need to find answers in this game and should be the more aggressive team offensively.  The preferred way to look is DETROIT.

New York Jets (+3) at Philadelphia (341/2): Both teams have taken conservative approaches to the preseason, placing a greater emphasis on defense than on offense.  In this preseason neither team has been involved in a game in which either team has scored more than 20 points.  Look towards the UNDER.

Indianapolis (+1) at Cincinnati (371/2): Indy QB Peyton Manning was banged up in last week’s game and is likely to sit this one out.  Cincinnati still has a QB battle between Jon Kitna and Scott Mitchell with Akili Smith likely third string.  The Bengals clearly have the greater need to resolve key issues while the Colts should be more concerned with staying healthy, often a theme for teams that figure to be playoff contenders.  The preference is for CINCINNATI.

Washington (+3½) at New England (34): These teams meet almost annually in the preseason although usually earlier than the final week.    Again, the preference is for the UNDER.

Jacksonville at Dallas (No Line): The scheduling situation clearly works against Dallas with the Cowboys having just played Monday night in Mexico City.  We could anticipate a sloppily played game with mistakes creating a scenario for the OVER.

New York Giants (+3½) at Baltimore (34½): Forget any hype about this being a Super Bowl rematch and the Giants seeking revenge.   The way to look is to the NEW YORK GIANTS.

Minnesota (+3) at Miami (38½): Both teams are veteran laden Playoff teams and will be more concerned with starting the season healthy than in wins and losses. The preference is for the UNDER.

Tampa Bay (—2) at Atlanta (34½): Tampa Bay’s defense has fared well this summer and this week the backups may get the bulk of the work.  The preferred way to look is on ATLANTA.

Kansas City (+ 6) at St Louis (42): This game would have much more intrigue if it counted for real as KC coach Dick Vermeil returns to St Louis, the team he led to a Super Bowl title two seasons ago.  Look towards the OVER.

Cleveland (+3½) at Carolina (34½): Interestingly, Carolina may have more issues unresolved than do the Browns.   The preference is the UNDER.

Green Bay at Oakland (No Line): Oakland played in Mexico City this past Monday and may be less prepared to end the preseason with a sharp effort than the Packers.  The best way to look might be towards GREEN BAY.

San Francisco (+6½) at Denver (44): There are many similarities between these teams in their overall philosophy and approach. The preference is on SAN FRANCISCO.

San Diego (— 1) at Arizona (36): The Cards have more reasons to approach this game with a sense of urgency, especially on defense.   The preference is to the UNDER.

New Orleans (+3) at Seattle (40½): Despite a matchup that normally would produce lots of points, this looks to be a game played in the trenches.   Look to the UNDER.