Take a breather. The dog days of summer have come and gone.
Thermometers might disagree, but sports bettors should be notified that the best action of the summer is fast approaching.
Bettors typically grow tired of Major League Baseball’s regular season monotony by the end of July. Then, like a cool sea breeze, the NFL blesses bored bettors with a breath of fresh air.
NFL training camps opened for the season on July 27. Over the following two weeks, teams begin a grueling schedule of curfews, diets, and two-a-days to get in shape for the upcoming season. In the following month, all 32 NFL teams will work toward making the playoffs.
The NFL begins its pre-season this week. This time of year is without question the best kept secret in sportsbook wagering.
Most NFL fans know that very little can be learned from pre-season games. The main purpose for the scrimmage-style contests is for coaches to make starting lineup evaluations. Last year’s starters are only on the field for a few plays, mainly to avoid getting rusty for the pending season. While they see their only bench time of the season, reserve players and rookies get the majority of snaps, hoping that their performance will earn them a roster spot.
For the first (and only) time of the NFL season, line makers have no advantage. They are creating lines blindly, forced to set the spread as if the games are regular-season contests.
The reason they are in this situation is simple. No consideration can be made on their part for how reserve players and rookies play. How can bookies create an accurate line when players they haven’t seen play are taking the snaps?
Example. When the St. Louis Rams play the Kansas City Chiefs on August 23, the spread and over/under will be set assuming that KC’s defense (one of the five WORST in 2003) is lining up for each snap against St. Louis’ high flying passing attack, which ranked third in 2003.
The spread for this contest could favor St. Louis (for this example, we’ll say it does). The Rams’ three-headed offensive monster (quarterback Marc Bulger; receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt) likely will not play past halftime. Also, KC’s one-man offensive machine, running back Priest Holmes, should see more bench than turf. These two events make the game wide open. Your guess about the outcome is as good as the bookies.
The second half should see the field full of unproven players. Who knows where the game will go from there? Will it be a low-scoring contest, or a barnburner? No one can be totally sure. This comes as great news for bettors, and bad news for bookies.
“The NFL pre-season is easily the most unpredictable time for offshore sportsbooks,” said Anthony Wayne, marketing director for EWINNER.com. “Very often, the field is full of players who have similar skills. Without big game playmakers on the field, how are line makers supposed to know who the favorite will be?”
Following below are several pre-season contests which could prove to be very beneficial to the sports bettor. Strike while the iron is hot. (All spread statistics courtesy of Gold Sheet):
New York Giants at Carolina Panthers, 8/19, 8pm on FOX: New York finished a dismal 4-12 last year, and failed to cover the spread in their final eight games However, they have reloaded by acquiring quarterback Kurt Warner as a mentor to rookie quarterback Eli Manning, and have a new coach, former Jaguars leader Tom Coughlin. Coughlin is a pre-season safe bet, with a 16-8-1 exhibition record against the spread.
With the exception of their offensive line, Carolina has maintained most of the lineup which won the NFC championship last season. The Panthers have covered the spread in their last five pre-season contests, but four of them were as the underdog. During the 2003 regular season, they went 3-9 when favored.
Bet on: Coughlin and his G-men, especially if Carolina is favored.
Atlanta Falcons at Baltimore Ravens, 8/12, 8pm on ESPN: After an off-season of drastic changes, Atlanta has nothing to do but improve after finishing 2003 with the league’s worst defense. New coach Jim Mora, Jr. is going to put some youth in their booth, and with Michael Vick healthy, 2004’s Falcons should play more like 2002’s playoff team. During Vick’s first two seasons, Atlanta was 7-1 during exhibition season; last season, they went 0-4 (Vick broke his leg in Atlanta’s second pre-season game).
Baltimore should be the beast of the AFC North this year, as well as a contender for the Super Bowl from week one. Quarterback Kyle Boller will be a year learned, and their top rushing offense (thanks to marathon HB Jamal Lewis), will be complimented by newly acquired wideout Kevin Johnson. This team should improve on last season’s 10-6 record, as their storied defense remains one of the NFL’s fiercest. Head Coach Brian Billick is 11-4 career in exhibition games against the spread, and is 6-2 as the underdog. Last year, the Ravens only went 1-3.
Bet on: Atlanta if Vick is healthy. Keep an eye on Baltimore, especially if they are the underdog.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Philadelphia Eagles, 8/26, 8pm on ESPN: Pittsburgh has a lot to recover from after last season; mainly injuries. Their offense was only imposing on paper, thanks to injuries on the offensive line and a lack of carries for “The Bus” (Jerome Bettis), who only averaged 3.3 yards per touch. Head coach Bill Cowher has turned into a perennial pre-season choke artist. Last year, his team was 0-4 heading into the regular season, and they have had trouble covering the spread in past seasons as well (0-4 the last two seasons at home versus the spread).
Philadelphia is once again the favorite to go to the Super Bowl in the NFC. They addressed their two most pending needs in the off-season, adding wideout Terrell Owens and defensive end Jevon Kearse. The Eagles also have a tendency to choke. Unfortunately, the pre-season is no different. For his career, coach Andy Reid is 2-7 in exhibitions when favored at home.
Bet on: Philly. These games don’t count. They’re less likely to blow it.
Tennessee Titans at Dallas Cowboys, 8/30, 8pm on ABC: The Titans cut a lot of salary (and talent) in the off-season, but they will still find a way to compete for the playoffs thanks to ironman QB Steve McNair. Tennessee’s 13 draft picks will see a ton of snaps before the season starts, as this team attempts to gel into a solid unit. A virtual lock in exhibitions, the Titans covered all four games last pre-season against the spread, and over the last four schedules are 7-1 in away exhibitions. As an underdog, they are more of a sure bet, a perfect 6-0.
Eddie George, a Titan as late as July, now runs for Dallas. George should carry a large chip on his shoulder after being one of Tennessee’s salary cap casualties. The 2004 Cowboys will also feature wideout Keyshawn Johnson, and rookie QB/retired minor league baseball player Drew Henson. Henson is going to see quite a lot of snaps in exhibitions to get rid of his diamond rust. Dallas was 10-6 last season, which is Bill Parcell’s best first season record as a head coach. However, quality opponents (teams with a winning record) went 4-2 against them last season, 3-1 against the spread.
Bet on: Titans. With their record in the pre-season, and Dallas’ tendency to lose to good teams, this should be a sure win.
For more information on NFL wagering, plus links to preferred online sportsbooks, check out Bet-Online-Sports.