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NFL Preseason Motivation

   by Scott Spreitzer - 08/06/2007

Pro football is all about parity. About half the league finished the regular
season last year with a record between 9-7 and 7-9. In preseason football,
you get the sense that hardly anybody is trying anyway.
Picking a winner when dead-even teams don't care who wins is not for the
faint of heart?

Many times it's best to leave those games alone. Then you try to find the handful
of teams that will bust the mold.

One approach for finding extremes in terms of attitude heading into
the preseason is to look at the top and bottom of the prior year's
standings. The theory is very simple:

*First place teams are coming off January action. They know how
irrelevant August results are in the big picture. And, they've largely
got their starting lineups set on both sides of the ball anyway. There's
just no reason to bring an effort in the preseason. You'll want to go
against these teams, particularly as favorites.

*Last place teams have a chip on their shoulder, and are motivated to
get things moving in the right direction immediately. If anyone is going
to care about August, it's teams who are embarrassed about the prior
season. This is a group you want to invest in, particularly as underdogs.

Let's list the teams in both categories so you can start making some plans?

2006 DIVISIONAL WINNERS
New England
Baltimore
Indianapolis
San Diego
Philadelphia
Chicago
New Orleans (Already 0-1)
Seattle

I'd be careful going against New England. I mentioned last week that
some coaches have a history of getting results in the preseason. Bill
Belicheck of New England is one of those. I wouldn't be shocked if the
other seven teams posted a losing ATS record in their season openers,
and over the course of August as a whole. The public just can't help
themselves when it comes to betting successful teams. It doesn't matter
if the game is meaningless, the public wants to back the better team.
Many times, that drives the line up in games involving divisional champs. I think
you'll be getting value going the other way this month.

I should mention that I'm hearing some insider reports that many of the
top teams from last season are really going slowly through the first few
weeks of training camp. They've cut way down on two-a-days. They've cut
way down on contact drills. These teams naturally want to save
themselves for the regular season. That's always been true to a degree.
This new reduction in preparation could lead to much sloppier play from
big name teams than we've ever seen before. It very well could be
a window of opportunity to score some extra winners before the
oddsmakers and public have realized what's happened.

2006 LAST PLACE TEAMS
Miami
Cleveland
Houston
Oakland
Washington
Detroit
Tampa Bay
Arizona

Probably the best nominees each year for success in the preseason are
last place teams that have just changed head coaches. They don't always
work out for a profit. But you'll typically be getting teams who are at
least TRYING to win their games. That's well over half the battle in the
preseason. A few of the teams above have changed head coaches. You
should be paying extra attention to those squads out of the gate.

A few others though started their building processes last year. They may
not be as motivated in 2007 as they were in 2006 to put wins on the
board in August. If you're Arizona, are you trying to win or keep Matt
Leinart healthy? If you're Houston, are you trying to win in August, or
keep new quarterback Matt Schaub healthy so he can hit the ground
running in September? Leinart and Schaub may shine in their dress
rehearsal games. There's no reason to shine every week.

I do think that the grouping as a whole will post a winning ATS record
as underdogs. I've got two or three of the 2006 cellar dwellers on my
"take" list because a combination of indicators are pointing to
preseason success.

The public HATES betting on teams like this. That's why you're almost
always getting value betting on last place teams. The lines are stacked
against them for no valid reason in the preseason. Winning handicappers
love going against the public. Preseason football, the way it's played
RIGHT NOW, may be the best time in all of sports to use that strategy.

Last week I suggested you should focus on Unders, and the head coaches
with proven success against preseason pointspreads. This time around,
let's add in some percentage plays against the extremes. Be careful when laying
points with divisional champs. Gladly take points with "chip on the
shoulder" last place teams. Don't worry about trends and angles that
used to work in August. Focus on what still does!

At Smash Mouth Sports, we're already off to a winning start, cashing our Preseason
Game of the Month with the Steelers. Stay tuned for more winners later this week.

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