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Preseason Pointers

   by Jim Feist - 08/05/2013

The pro football preseason kicked off this past weekend in the Hall of Fame game as the Dolphins battled the Cowboys. 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.
It's a short week for the Cowboys who have to head to Oakland to play the rebuilding Raiders. Dallas was a flop on defense last year so they dumped defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and brought in 72-year old Monte Kiffin. Despite sack masters DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer it’s going to take time to change their 3-4 defense into a 4-3 Tampa-2 scheme. As for the Raiders, for the second straight season they're overhauling everywhere. QB Matt Flynn is still trying to prove he's a legitimate NFL starter and is battling Terrelle Pryor and rookies Matthew McGloin and Tyler Wilson. Career starts for the 28-year old Flynn: 9 TDs, 5 INTs, 13 sacks.
The Dolphins also have the short week traveling to rebuilding Jacksonville. Jacksonville was outscored by -189 points last season, second worst in the NFL while going 2-14. Former Seattle defensive coordinator Gus Bradley is the new head coach and brings in Jedd Fisch as offensive coordinator, who ran the Miami Hurricane's offense last season. The offensive line was a mess adding to the team's quarterback woes with QBs Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne sacked 50 times.
A potential Super Bowl preview appears on the card as the Broncos are at San Francisco. However, it's Week 1. You're likely to see far more of Brock Osweiler and Colt McCoy behind center than QBs Peyton Manning and Colin Kaepernick lighting up the skies.
This weekend the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens head to Florida to take on Tampa Bay. It's a game the defending champs probably could care less about while the rebuilding Bucs might want to get up for the game to impress their home fans.
One of the big stories at the NFL draft was the Jets taking West Virginia QB Geno Smith. The Jets are at Detroit and will unveil QBs Smith, Mark Sanchez, Greg McElroy and Matt Simms to try to find someone reliable to throw the pigskin. The Lions had some impressive stats but a train wreck 2013 season losing a string of close games. Detroit has an impressive QB rotation in August deep in experience in Matt Stafford, Shaun Hill, Kellen Moore and Thad Lewis.
Speaking of quarterbacks the Redskins are at the Titans this week with QB Robert Griffin still rehabbing after the playoff loss to Seattle. That means QBs Rex Grossman, Kirk Cousins and mobile Pat White will be running the offense. Washington Coach Mike Shanahan is an impressive 24-13 SU, 22-14-1 his last eight preseasons (6-2 SU/ATS the last two years).
Meanwhile, Tennessee has new looks all over the offense. QB Jake Locker (10 TDs, 11 INTs) completed just 56% of his passes and will get some competition from QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, released by the Bills. The Tennessee passing game has WR Nate Washington (746 yards), Kenny Britt and speedy WR Kendall Wright (626 yards), plus they add WR Kevin Walker from the Texans and rookie WR Justin Hunter (Tennessee) with the No. 34 overall pick.
Another thing to keep an eye on is subtle strategic adjustments. Five 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.
Unlike last preseason there is only one game where with a long travel time: The Cardinals fly to Green Bay this weekend. A year ago the Packers were at San Diego in Week 1 of the preseason, Tennessee headed to Seattle, while the Vikings head to the Bay Area to play San Francisco. Tennessee looked jet-lagged in a 27-17 defeat as did the Vikings in a 17-6 loss to the 49ers and the Packers got beat up at San Diego, 21-13.
Two years ago the 49ers had the longest Week 1 road trip, travelling from the West Coast down to the Bayou to play the Saints. They looked gassed in a 24-3 Week 1 preseason loss. The 49ers then went 2-1 SU/ATS the rest of preseason, then wound up in the NFC Championship game in January, so don't read too much into Week 1.
Also keep an eye on home field. 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. Last season home teams went just 9-7 SU, 8-8 ATS, but in 2011 they went 11-5 SU/ATS in Week 1. There are edges in August football, you just have to know where to look and what to look for.

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