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Preseason 'Capping

   by Scott Spreitzer - 07/30/2007

The process of handicapping preseason NFL footall is not quite as simple as
it used to be. Just a few short seasons ago, you'd get almost all you needed from
reading a coach's plan in the local newspaper. But if you've been watching most
of the games over the past couple of seasons, you've seen the following:

*The top priority for all teams is to avoid injuries! Star players
aren't on the field nearly as often as they used to be, and the plays
that are run have a low risk for serious contact.

*The second top priority is to get the timing down between quarterbacks
and receivers. They do this all the time in practice anyway. The coaches
want to see that it's working at game speed as well. Once they see that,
the passing game basically disappears. Teams don't want their receivers
or quarterbacks exposed to big hits.

*The third priority is running the clock. This fits with avoiding
injuries. The fewer number of plays, the fewer chances for injury. But
even with the backups now, you see offenses focused on moving the chains
and running the clock rather than storming their way into the end zone.
In a sense, ball control offense has become a style of defense, and
teams are practicing their defense.

Folks, this isn't even football as we know it any more! It's as if there's a
gentleman's agreement NOT to play football in the exhibition season. The
players agree to it because they don’t want to get hurt. Coaches agree
to it because they're conservative go begin with. I don't think the average
fan has truly noticed it yet. They're just so excited to
watch games again that they don't realize what's really going on.

Well, I noticed what's going on! And it greatly affected my
handicapping approach.

*I focus on Unders because the games have gotten so low scoring. There
are certain coaches that are just automatic Unders in the preseason
unless there are defensive touchdowns or the refs keep handing away free
pass interference penalties. These coaches are particularly strong on
Unders in the second halves of games because they just want to get
things over with and go home. If you can play halftime lines, look to
take advantage this year.

*I focus on the handful of coaches who have established that scoreboard
results still matter to them. These guys will usually cover three of
their four games. A 2-2 ATS record is a worst-case scenario. So, backing
them means you're risking the vigorish in a split record to make some
good money. You have to look at the month as a four-game hunk with these
teams. Don't try to cherry-pick the wins. Let the tendency play out
however it’s going to play out, and count up the profit at the end of
the month.

*I focus on the quality of the third-team quarterback. Winners in August
typically come down to this level of quarterback. In the past, it was the
#2 guy that you focused on. The starters would get their timing down,
then the backups would come in and determine who won the game. Now,
the starters get their timing down, the #2 guy works on running the clock,
and it’s up to the #3 guy to win the game. I can tell you some local bettors
took a bath last year when #2 guys that they loved to bet on were kept on a
tight leash by their coaches. If you can find a handful of #3 guys who like to
go for the glory, they'll take you to the winner's circle.

*I allow myself the luxury of passing many of the games. This is the
toughest thing for the general public to do, but the easiest thing for
professional wagerers to do. In past years, there were really a lot of
edges to exploit in preseason games. It wouldn't be surprising for me to
have more team side action in a preseason weekend than a regular season
weekend in the NFL. Those days are over. Now it's a matter of
emphasizing Unders, and finding the few games each weekend where either
a head coach or a third string quarterback is going to sway the equation
my way.

As a fan, I'm disappointed with this turn of events. Sure, preseason
football has always been less entertaining than the regular season. But
there would typically be a few games each week that turned into exciting
shootouts when the backups went bombs away on each other. That just
doesn't happen much any more. Games are ending 16-13 because both teams
are running clock and settling for field goals. Worse, many games are
even lower scoring because the teams are just trading punts!

As a handicapper, my percentage hasn't changed at all. You take what
they give you. Right now, you're going to make money with Unders,
particularly if you can play halftime lines in front of dead second halves.

It won't be fun to watch unless you’re a timekeeper with a plane to
catch. But preseason football will always be profitable for
handicappers who can stay at least one step ahead of the oddsmakers!

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