Preseason handicapping angles focus on intangibles

Aug 5, 2003 6:48 AM

The NFL preseason is in full swing between Thursday and Monday with all 32 teams seeing action.

It was noted last week that the preseason can’t be handicapped in the same way regular season games are approached. Information and intentions during preseason are much more important and obvious.

An interesting ”˜angle’ to watch will be the performances of teams with new head coaches, especially those that have come from outside the organization. Such coaches have many more decisions to make than those returning from the previous season.

The competition for starting jobs and backup roles is often more intense since most of these new coaches ”” especially those from the outside ”” are starting with an open mind. Their focus is to see which players are giving the best combination of effort and talent in training camp practices and preseason games.

Cincinnati, Dallas, Detroit, Jacksonville and San Francisco all have new head coaches for 2003. All will be involved in this week’s contests.

Thursday, Aug. 7

Giants (+3) at Pats (33½): Both teams are playoff quality and settled at QB. New England was a stronger passing team than expected last season. We might see some more wrinkles in preseason. Giants also seem to have more confidence in the passing game behind Kerry Collins and mates. OVER.

Friday, Aug. 8

Bucs (+2) at Dolphins (33): Champion Bucs looked smooth in their win last weekend over the Jets. However, the long trip back from Japan may be an edge for a fresh Miami team. The Dolphins figure to exploit the less polished TB reserves who will have missed some key practice time. MIAMI.

Cards (+3) at Raiders (38): An interesting QB competition may be developing for the Rams with upstart Marc Bulger poised to give Kurt Warner a serious run at the starting job. The Rams high-powered offensive philosophy, may try more big passing plays. Tampa Bay exposed Oakland’s defensive holes in the Super Bowl. ST LOUIS.

Saturday, Aug. 9

Steelers (pk) at Lions (35): Pittsburgh begins a new era without Kordell Stewart at QB and will look to decide between Tommy Maddox and Charlie Batch. Detroit begins the rebuilding process under former 49ers coach Steve Mariucci who has many decisions to make regarding starters. DETROIT.

Colts (+2½) at Bears (35½): Colts figure to work on improving their defense this preseason. Chicago has many questions on both sides of the ball, especially with a new starting QB. This could be a very sloppy game with field position and field goals determining the winner. UNDER.

Jaguars (+3) at Vikings (38): Head coach Jack del Rio takes over at Jacksonville. Mike Tice begins his second full season with Minnesota, which took a trio of narrow wins to end last season. Jags rookie QB Byron Leftwich may see extended action and might be an early starter for injury-plagued Mark Brunell. JAX.

Browns (+3) at Titans (35½): Both made the playoffs last season and have higher expectations in 2003. Cleveland has a QB battle shaping up between Tim Couch and Kelly Holcomb. Tennessee is in search of depth at QB for oft-banged up starter Steve McNair and 37-year-old backup Neil O’Donnell. OVER.

Packers (+3½) at Falcons (39): Green Bay is at a disadvantage having played this past Monday night, while Atlanta has had uninterrupted practices since beginning camp. Both teams figure to work on developing QB depth and solid running games. OVER.

Bills (+3) at Ravens (34½): Buffalo is thinking playoffs this year while Baltimore seeks to return to postseason after a year of rebuilding. Bills have more questions on defense than offense. The reverse is true for Baltimore. UNDER.

Skins (-2½) at Panthers (37½): Washington coach Steve Spurrier delighted in displaying his offensive ”˜genius’ in last year’s preseason debut. Most expect the same this year. Spurrier is bright and adjusts well, so expect a more conservative and structured approach. The Panthers have a more interesting QB battle developing. CAROLINA.

Broncos (—3) at Texans (34): Denver breaks in new QB Jake "the Snake" Plummer in what is expected to be one of the league’s top offenses. Houston seeks to improve the performance of its offensive line, which allowed QB David Carr to be sacked a record 76 times in 2002. UNDER.

49ers (+3) at Chiefs (38½): San Francisco begins a new regime with Dennis Erickson as head coach. Kansas City, coming off the Hall of Fame Game this past Monday night, should be better defensively. The Niners need to find a capable backup for injured starting QB Jeff Garcia. SF.

Chargers (+3½) at Seahawks (36½): Both thinking playoffs after displaying encouraging signs in 2002. Coaches Marty Schottenheimer and Mike Holmgren each view preseason more in terms of development than wins. Expect both teams to be conservative. UNDER.

Cowboys (-3) at Cards (32½): New Dallas coach Bill Parcells demands maximum effort, be it practice or preseason. With questions at QB and RB expect this preseason to be no different. Arizona has questions due to defections from this historically weak organization. More new faces in same old scenario. DALLAS.

Sunday, Aug. 10

Bengals (+5) at Jets (35½): Marvin Lewis "finally" gets his long deserved shot as a head coach, trying to overturn a long line of failed predecessors at Cincinnati. The Jets, back from a disappointing effort in Japan, figure to be more interested in fixing some significant problem areas. More than a FG is huge in the preseason. CINCY.

Monday, Aug. 11

Eagles (+1) at Saints (35): Philadelphia is again one of the favorites to win it all. The Saints, a major disappointment in recent seasons, have a history of strong starts and late fades under head coach Jim Haslett. The heat is on Haslett to produce. N.ORLEANS.

Preseason record: 0-1.