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NFL Preseason Pointers
by Jim Feist - 08/10/2010
The pro football preseason kicked off this past weekend in the Hall of Fame game as the Cowboys beat the Bengals. Remember that each season is different, with players changing teams, new coaches and assistants coming aboard, and star college players joining the pros as highly touted rookies. August football offers fans their first peak at all the new additions.
This weekend, the marquee matchup that jumps off the page is the defending Super Bowl champion Saints against the Patriots. However, it's Week 1. You're likely to see far more of Sean Canfield and Brian Hoyer behind center than QBs Drew Brees and Tom Brady lighting up the skies.
The Jaguars are playing at the Eagles. Jack Del Rio had a reputation as a defensive wizard, but this team slipped to 23rd in total defense last year without DT Marcus Stroud and for this season they lose John Henderson. Preseason is different, though, and keep in mind Del Rio is 19-9 SU, 18-9-1 ATS in August.
The Eagles have home field, but a very different look on offense after dealing away star QB Donovan McNabb in the biggest offseason surprise. So now it's the Kevin Kolb show, with backups Mike Vick and rookie Mike Kafka. Speaking of which, coach Andy Reid historically cares less about preseason with a record of 17-27 SU, 19-25 ATS in August.
Of course, starters won't see a lot of time just yet, and for good reason. Who can forget seven years ago when Vick, then the starter in Atlanta, suffered a serious injury in August, wrecking his season? No coach wants to jeopardize his job and no owner wants to risk his investment by losing a star player to a devastating exhibition injury.
The Rams have invested a lot in QB Sam Bradford, the No. 1 overall pick, so getting him experience is important, but so is keeping him healthy. Still, with coaches rotating players, examining depth, testing new game plans, and individual athletes battling for roster spots, there's plenty of competition in August.
Denver is playing at Cincinnati in the preseason opener, which will be the debut of several new offensive weapons taken high in the draft. The Broncos traded up for QB Tim Tebow, plus grabbed WR Damaryius Thomas (Georgia Tech) in the first round to replace departed problem child Brandon Marshall. The Bengals were able to fill a major need on offense with TE Jermaine Grisham (Oklahoma), the 21st overall pick.
Another thing to keep an eye on is subtle strategic adjustments. Two years ago the Saints loaded up in the offseason trying to improve a defense that was 26th overall. They moved up in the draft to take USC nose tackle Sedrick Ellis with the 7th pick, along with DT DeMario Pressley (5th round, NC State) and CB Tracy Porter to improve the 30th ranked secondary. It took just one season for those moves to pay big dividends as the Saints attacking style defense under their new defensive coordinator went on to win the Super Bowl.
It's not uncommon for new coaches to want to prove something early on, even in preseason, while veteran coaches might take a different approach. I recall Buffalo coach Marv Levy and Tony Dungy rarely caring about preseason while going easy on veterans.
For this weekend, Tennessee is at Seattle and the Seahawks have a new coach in Pete Carroll. New coaches often want to impress the fans in preseason and that first game happens to be at home for the new coach.
The Redskins are also at home with new coach Mike Shanahan and McNabb, so the crowd will likely be fired up. Shanahan is an impressive 16-9 SU, 14-10-1 his last six preseasons. On the other hand, after McNabb the Washington QB rotation has Rex Grossman and Colt Brennan.
Also, keep an eye on home field play. In August of 2004, home teams went 21-10-1 against the spread the first two weeks of preseason. Five years ago, the home team went 10-5 SU/ATS the first week of exhibition play, and in 2006 went 11-5 SU, 8-7-1 ATS. Last season home teams went 11-5 SU, 8-7-1 ATS in Week 1 and 11-5 SU, 8-8 ATS in Week 2.
Sometimes coaches are disappointed with their team's first game, particularly if it's a road loss, and they want to see a more determined effort in Game 2, especially if it's in front of the home fans. This happened two years ago when Philadelphia looked sloppy in a 29-3 loss at Baltimore in the exhibition opener. A week later, at home, Andy Reid demanded a better effort and the Eagles destroyed Carolina, 27-10. There are edges in August football, you just have to know where to look and what to look for.