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Let The Games Begin!

   by Al McMordie - 08/03/2008

Football is king and August kicks off the 2008 football season. Yes, exhibition football is largely meaningless for the players and coaches, with starters sitting more than playing. Yet, there are plenty of wagering angles and insights available to help identify soft betting numbers.

Teams have made offseason changes, bringing in new personnel on the field and on the sidelines. The Ravens, for instance, have a new coach in John Harbaugh. Former coach Brian Billick had a reputation for taking it easy on his players in August, yet the new coach has a very different approach. Baltimore players are calling it "Camp Hardball," and several of the players are hurting, frustrated and tired.

Harbaugh has the players practicing in old game jerseys, instilling the philosophy that you should play like you practice. "We're going to be ready for anything," center Jason Brown said. Harbaugh's practices are pad-thumping and helmet-cracking, clearly designed to add some discipline and toughness to what was a soft, underachieving Ravens team in 2008. That's something to keep in mind in the preseason: Are the Ravens taking the exhibition games seriously and hitting hard for their new coach?

The opposite approach is being taken in Minnesota. Coach Brad Childress has dramatically altered his approach from the previous two years. Rather than overwork his players, Childress has allowed his team to practice in shorts and shoulder pads early in camp. We will see if the milder approach has any preseason effect.

Herm Edwards has a decent preseason record at 16-12 SU, 15-13 ATS. He has revamped the KC defense for this season, getting younger all around. However, the centerpiece of their rebuilding effort, top pick rookie defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, injured his left knee in practice Saturday. Edwards described the injury as a sprain. "He's probably going to be week-to-week," Edwards said. Keep close tabs on Dorsey, as rookies often see more action in August than veterans.

Tank Tyler, a third-round draft pick last year, will replace Dorsey in the starting lineup, perhaps slowing Edwards’ rebuilding plan.

One betting angle to remember is that the defending champs have been awful (or overvalued) in preseason, at 2-10 SU/ATS the last three years. Part of it is that there’s only one defending champ each year and opposing teams are more likely to want to stick it to the champs, especially at home. Any type of extra motivation, no matter how seemingly insignificant, is essential when examining August exhibition lines. That label falls on the NY Giants this August. It's interesting that after veteran Eli Manning, the Giants have new QBs in David Carr, Anthony Wright, and rookie Andre Woodson.

One team that is in bounce-back mode for 2008 is the New Orleans Saints. After reaching the NFC Championship game two years ago, the Saints were a flop in 2008, starting 0-4 SU/ATS and failing to reach the playoffs. They've added TE Jeremy Shockey, and also hope to have a healthy RB Deuce McAllister back. Additionally, speedy WR Robert Meachem is playing after being inactive for all 16 games last season. He was a first round pick in 2007.

The defense also added talent, with free-agent defensive end Bobby McCray and 7th-round draft pick defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis coming on board. They also added cornerback Randall Gay via free agency.

Since QB play is so important in preseason, notice the Saints have veterans Drew Brees and Mark Brunell, plus Tyler Palko. All three are mobile.

For those of you who put a lot of emphasis on backup quarterbacks in preseason, take note of the San Francisco 49ers situation. J.T. O'Sullivan is listed as the No. 3 QB behind Alex Smith and Shaun Hill, but he's having a great camp because of a head start. Mike Martz is the new offensive coordinator in San Francisco, and O'Sullivan played with Martz last season in Detroit. Martz has a complicated playbook, but O'Sullivan has looked the most game-ready thus far, perhaps giving a small edge to the 49ers in the second half of the first few preseason games. After all, small edges can mean significant paydays at the betting window! Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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