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Preseason Pointers

   by Jim Feist - 08/07/2012

The pro football preseason kicked off this past weekend in the Hall of Fame game as the Cardinals battled the Saints. 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 defending Super Bowl champion Giants are at the Jaguars. However, it's Week 1. You're likely to see far more of David Carr and Jordan Palmer behind center than QBs Eli Manning and Blake Gabbert lighting up the skies.
The Redskins are at the Bills, two teams with huge makeovers. Washington Coach Mike Shanahan feels as though he finally has an elite signal caller as they moved up to draft Heisman winner Robert Griffin giving Shanahan the kind of rollout QB he has prefers. Shanahan is an impressive 21-12 SU, 20-12-1 his last eight preseasons.
Meanwhile the Bills were very busy this offseason, upgrading their defense with pass rushers Mark Anderson and Mario Williams. Just as significant is the offense for Buffalo, which is looking for a No. 2 wide out behind Steve Johnson. Week 1 of preseason finds good competition for the spot with Donald Jones, Marcus Easley, David Nelson, Derek Hagan and rookie T.J. Graham. The Bills run a spread offense and like to air it out as Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick had a career-high 569 pass attempts last season.
The Eagles and Steelers battle it out in Pittsburgh for the annual pride of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia has dealt away two talented starting quarterbacks in the last three seasons, dealing away QB Donovan McNabb in 2010 and in 2011 sending Kevin Kolb to Arizona. That means after injury-prone Mike Vick they have third-year QB Mike Kafka, Trent Edwards and rookie Nick Foles. That trio will see far more time as they can't risk letting Vick get banged up -- again. Speaking of which, coach Andy Reid historically cares less about preseason with a record of 22-30 SU, 23-29 ATS in August.
Of course, starters won't see a lot of time just yet, and for good reason. Who can forget nine 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 in 2010, as did the Colts with Andrew Luck, so getting them experience is important, but so is keeping them 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.
There are two games with a lot of travel to take into consideration: The Packers travel to the West Coast down to San Diego to play the Chargers, while Tennessee travels 3,000 miles west to play at Seattle. A year ago the team that had to travel the most in Week 1 was the 49ers, who flew down to the Bayou to play the Saints -- and got blasted, 24-3. The offense had just 234 total yards, 2 turnovers and nine penalties.
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. Seven 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. Two seasons ago the home team went 11-5 SU/11-5 ATS in Week 1 and last August the home teams were 12-4 SU, 11-5 ATS. That's 22-10 ATS the last two years! Who says there aren't edges in August?
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 four 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. Last season Jack Del Rio chewed his team out after a 47-12 loss at New England and the next week they beat Atlanta allowing just 13 points. Yes, Virginia, there are wagering edges in August football, you just have to know where to look and what to look for.

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