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Preseason means proceed with caution

Aug 10, 2004 4:38 AM

The NFL preseason gets into full swing this week, but proceed with caution.

The games don’t count and coaches are best served in using these dress rehearsals for evaluating talent in game conditions, putting in playbooks, adding new schemes and making decisions who starts.

Still there are situations that occur during August that point towards better execution by one team in a game, thus improving the chances of that team winning (and covering). Unfortunately most of these situations develop later in the week when coaches openly discuss their plans for the upcoming game.

The best we can do in these game previews is to provide an idea of what the teams are likely to focus on in preparing for the regular season. As the preseason progresses, it becomes a bit easier to determine which teams are close to being ready and which are not.

Thursday, Aug. 12

Falcons (+3½) at Ravens (34): Atlanta QB Mike Vick should see very limited action. Falcons need to shore up the backup QB spot. Baltimore also figures to work on the QB situation with second year QB Kyle Boller still developing. OVER.

Bears (+4) at Rams (37): A new era begins in Bearville with former Rams defensive coordinator Lovie Smith overseeing the Chicago operation. Chicago should be more motivated to put forth the effort as jobs are on the line. Rams’ primary objective will be to stay healthy. BEARS.

Friday, Aug. 13

Eagles (+3½) at Patriots (33): Both teams are solid at QB but looking for running back depth. Corey Dillon joins the Patriots so much of the work will be looking for backups. The Eagles will have a new starter at RB with Duce Staley gone. UNDER.

Chiefs (+1½) at NY Giants (36 ½): Kansas City is pretty much set at the starting positions, though emphasizing defensive improvement. The Giants are in transition (especially at QB) and figure to take a conservative approach to the preseason. UNDER.

Jets (+2½) at Saints (37): Both teams are fashionable picks to be the Carolina Panthers of this season. Both rosters have the talent and, at many positions, the depth. And, both teams are looking for improved defense. Saints are ahead on offense. SAINTS.

Saturday, Aug. 14

Bengals (+3) at Bucs (33½): Cincinnati is looking to build upon last season’s progress. Tampa Bay looks to rebound from a losing season. Both teams figure to place great emphasis on defense. Bengals integrating QB Carson Palmer into the offense. UNDER.

Jaguars (+3) at Dolphins (33 ½): Much of Miami’s offseason plans and preparations were built around ”˜retired’ RB Ricky Williams and recently injured WR David Boston. Ouch. Back to the drawing board. JAGS.

Steelers (+3) at Lions (36): There is great enthusiasm in Detroit with young starters at skill positions on offense, while Pittsburgh seemingly is in offensive transition. Detroit might be more motivated. Bill Cowher not in that sense of urgency. LIONS.

Panthers (NL) at Redskins: There is no line as Washington played Denver on Monday night. The Redskins do have the advantage of that extra game, which for many years translated into pointspread profits but has been neutral in recent years. UNDER.

Browns (+3) at Titans (36): Tennessee will have a new look with QB Steve McNair surrounded by several new key performers. Cleveland is under much more pressure to produce and inclined to build a winning attitude. BROWNS.

Cards (+4½) at Vikings (38): Dennis Green returns to Minnesota but as coach of Arizona. The Cardinals have already been hit by a key injury at RB. Minnesota needs to work on offensive line play and depth at running back. UNDER.

Cowboys (-1½) at Texans (33): Dallas has questions at QB with release of Quincy Carter. Boys just 2-2 in Parcells’ first preseason as coach, then made the playoffs. Winning is not an issue. Houston is much more likely to be concerned. TEXANS.

Raiders (-1½) at 49ers (35): Oakland seeks to rebound from disastrous season. San Francisco hopes to avoid the disastrous season many have projected. The Raiders are a veteran team with less pressure to win in preseason. 49ERS.

Colts (-2) at Chargers (36): This is another game between a contender and a team looking to rebuild. Depth and avoiding injury will be the goal of Indianapolis. San Diego is looking for WR starters. CHARGERS.

Sunday, Aug. 15

Broncos (NL) at Bills: There is a new coaching staff in Buffalo, which often breeds competition for jobs. Denver played Monday night and has the edge of being further along in development. But the travel factor is a negative. BILLS.

Monday, Aug. 16

Seahawks (+3) at Packers (37 ½): Both playoff teams return largely intact, which suggests depth will be the major concern for both coaching staffs. Backup QB will be a huge focus for both teams. OVER.