D dominates early

Jul 29, 2003 7:51 AM

The NFL preseason begins with games Saturday and Monday before all 32 teams take the field next week.

The opening matchup on ESPN features the New York Jets and defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay in Japan. Two nights later, ABC will air Green Bay and Kansas City in the Hall of Fame Game at Canton, Ohio. The Monday Night crew of John Madden and Al Michaels will handle the play-by-play.

There are two approaches to handicapping and betting the NFL preseason. One point of view treats these games as exhibitions in which the outcome is far less important than preparation for the real season. By betting on these games your goal ”” to win ”” may differ from the coach of the team you are backing.

Smart coaches know that these glorified scrimmages are opportunities to evaluate personnel along with installing schemes and combinations on both sides of the ball, Winning is often the result of good fortune rather than by design.

Yet many other professionals do very well in betting these Âí­August games. Good information is the key.

My approach is to treat these games as exhibitions. Much of the information required to make confident recommendations is usually unavailable until the middle or later part of the week. Still, some fundamentals can be used as guides in determining which team is most likely to succeed in executing its plan.

In preseason, statistics are virtually meaningless. The pointspread records of coaches from previous preseasons offers the most reliable info.

Bucs (—3) vs Jets (32): Both Tampa Bay and New York have been regular playoff participants in recent seasons. Each is fairly well set in its starting lineup, so much of the preseason will be spent developing depth and tweaking the playbook. The Jets do have quite a number of key personnel to replace from off-season losses. We see a low scoring game. The long travel and great number of players to be evaluated suggests sloppy play. Defenses usually round into shape before offenses.

Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden is not especially conservative but is unlikely to give much time to his starting unit. Jets coach Herm Edwards is more conservative and likely to focus on new defensive combinations. The reserves figure to decide this game in the fourth quarter. The Jets should want to develop a better passing game, needing to fill several holes at wide receiver. Take JETS.

Packers (—1½) vs. Chiefs (35½): Both emphasize offense in the regular season. Green Bay QB Brett Favre is one of the best ever, while Trent Green is more than adequate for KC when given solid receivers. It is doubtful either will see much action. Kansas City might be interested in giving rookie RB Larry Johnson (Penn State) quite a look with star tailback Priest Holmes recovering from a major injury. Both teams have questions on defense.

Green Bay may working on a ground game to keep defenses honest and relieve some of the pressure on the passing game. We might see less scoring than expected. The preferred play, if any, is UNDER.