Injuries hurting NFL’s case for 4 exhibitions

Aug 24, 2004 7:45 AM

One of the best arguments made in favor of reducing the length of the NFL preseason is the high cost of injuries.

Perhaps no more than two games may really be needed for coaches to assess the progress of their teams. Much more in the way of adjustments and fine tuning occurs in practice during the week, when the hitting is less intense and the risk of injury is also considerably less.

This week is often when coaches view the games as dress rehearsals for the season openers in two weeks. Some game planning may be involved as coaches give starters the most playing time they will see in the preseason. Coaches will rest starters in the final preseason game as a last chance to evaluate backup talent and made decisions on depth.

Here’s a look this week’s games.

Thursday, Aug. 26

Steelers (+4) at Eagles (37½): Both teams figure to be addressing injuries that will affect the running game. Pittsburgh lost an outstanding offensive lineman and Philadelphia lost a solid running back. Special attention should be focused on that aspect of both offenses which translates in many more running plays than passing. UNDER

Friday, Aug. 27

Giants (+2½) vs Jets (38½): The Jets had covered 11 straight against the Giants before last season’s non-covering one point victory. The Giants have more questions to be answered and might be more inclined to go for a win. The Jets need to decide on QB Chad Pennington’s backup, while the Giants are still debating between rookie Eli Manning and veteran Kurt Warner as their starter. GIANTS.

Packers (+3) at Jaguars (37): Both teams have focused more on defensive improvement than offensive execution. All four games played by these teams have gone "under" the total. Often this is indicative of coaches not concerned with wins or losses but with preparation. UNDER.

49ers (+5½) at Vikings (40½): Minnesota’s offense has performed well in splitting its first two games. The 49ers did put up some decent numbers in last week’s loss at Chicago but still have many questions on both sides of the line. San Francisco is likely to continue working on the passing game, making for a more wide open pace. OVER.

Redskins (NL) at Rams: This game presents Washington coach Joe Gibbs with an opportunity to use his methodical approach to offense. Expect him to slow down and frustrate a more high-powered offense with ball control to keep the Rams offense on the sidelines. Patrick Ramsey and Mark Brunell are in a battle for the starting QB job. St Louis also has a short week of practice after Monday nighter in KC. REDSKINS.

Saints (+3) at Bears (36½): Chicago has won both preseason games for new coach Lovie Smith. The Saints need to be concerned about their backup QB situation with starter Aaron Brooks banged up last week. That should make for a conservative approach to the offense which when combined with Chicago’s still emerging offense suggests a low scoring contest. UNDER.

Titans (+5½) at Broncos (37): The Broncos have already racked up thousands of frequent flyer miles by playing three games away from home. In their first home game of the preseason against a decent defensive team that is well coached, look for the Broncos to show their most dedicated offensive effort. The running game was solid in last week’s win at Seattle. Expect more emphasis on the aerial game. DENVER.

Seahawks (-1½) at Chargers (37): The Chargers have played decently in splitting their first two exhibition games. Seattle was understandably flat last week after the opening week Monday night win in Green Bay. The home team has won each of the past two preseason games. CHARGERS.

Saturday, Aug. 28

Dolphins (+3½) at Bucs (33): Both teams count heavily on defense. Miami has really struggled with its offense during the preseason and is more likely to open things up. Holdover QB Jay Fiedler in a battle with former Eagles backup A.J. Feeley for the starting role. MIAMI.

Bengals (+3) at Falcons (40): The Cincinnati coaching staff has to feel good following last week’s effort against New England. Atlanta’s starters have not looked good on either side of the ball in either of their first two games. The Falcons may have a greater sense of urgency to show progress as the regular season approaches. ATLANTA.

Lions (+4½) at Ravens (35½): This is an interesting matchup that features strength against strength and weakness against weakness. The two best units are Detroit’s offense and the Ravens defense. The Baltimore offense and the Lions’ defense are the units being counted upon to improve. UNDER.

Patriots (+1½) at Panthers (37): This much hyped but totally meaningless Super Bowl rematch features a well rested Carolina team taking on a Patriots team that was listless in last week’s loss at Cincinnati. Both teams are fundamentally sound, set at most positions and likely to work on the running game. UNDER.

Bills (+4) at Colts (38): Neither team’s starting offense has been especially sharp. Indianapolis did suffer a key injury at WR last week and will need to work on building depth opposite Marvin Harrison. But Buffalo has many more questions to answer and likely to be more aggressive with its starters. BILLS.

Browns (NL) at Chiefs: Kansas City has a short work week after playing Monday night. The Chiefs are more concerned with defense rather than offense this preseason. The Browns are still assembling an offense around QB Jeff Garcia and have not been especially productive. UNDER.

Raiders (-2½) at Cards (38): Oakland’s first two efforts suggest a rebound from last season’s explainable disaster. There is renewed enthusiasm as Coach Norv Turner has opened up the offense. The defense also appears much improved. Arizona has the look of a team that will struggle to win any games this season. Arizona is the more motivated team and that should make a difference. ARIZONA.

Monday, Aug. 30

Titans (+3) at Cowboys (37): Both teams’ defenses seem well ahead of the offenses. Both coaches would prefer to practice rather than play and risk injury. That approach might turn this game more into a scrimmage. That means lots of running and plenty of defense. UNDER.

It becomes especially important this week to search the Internet for information coming from coaches and training camps as to team’s intentions. Although many coaches may view the games as dress rehearsals, they may go about it in different ways.

Quarterback rotations and time allocated to the starters are especially important factors but pay attention to the time defensive starters are expected to play. Keep in mind that even though these games are in many cases approached with a more serious attitude by the coaches, the results still don’t count.

Remember, winning and losing is secondary to execution and continued progress towards being prepared to start the regular season.