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NFL Preseason: Know Your Game Plans

   by Scott Spreitzer - 08/16/2005

There's nothing more important than knowledge when it comes to trying to beat the odds in sports wagering. Even though only the first week has been played in the NFL preseason schedule, there's plenty of information that bettors can cull from those contests. There's also plenty that can be learned BEFORE the games, as well.

For example, we all know that the starters aren't that important in the first week of NFL preseason because they rarely play more than a few series. Michael Vick hardly played last preseason as he was knocked out for the season the previous August. The same thing happened last week in Tokyo, as Vick threw just 7 passes and ran once. Ditto for Peyton Manning and the Colts' starters. This is why it's essential to look at the second and third stringers to see who's competent and who's hungry. Atlanta backup QB Matt Schaub was a terrific pinpoint passer while in college and he's an above-average quarterback for preseason because of this. Schaub displayed that accuracy against the Colts by completing 11-of-13 passes!

Another thing to keep in mind is what teams are working on based on their weaknesses from last season. For instance, the Colts were very poor against the run last season, a weakness exploited by the Patriots in the playoffs as Corey Dillon ran all over them in a 20-3 victory. Indy has quickness on defense, something coach Tony Dungy preaches, but they lack big run stoppers up front. And they still do, after Atlanta out-rushed the Colts 127-27. Simply put, if the Colts face a team that can run the ball well, look for that opponent to have success on the ground. For bettors, this can mean going against the Colts if they're a big favorite, or perhaps looking at the game to go "over" the total.

In my analysis for customers over the weekend analyzing the Colts/Bills matchup, I wrote, "Look for Buffalo to follow suit by running until the Colts prove they can stop the middle-run. Also, as we saw last week, when Manning is on the sideline, the Colts are anemic at the QB spot. Jim Sorgi looked clueless at times. The Colts' defense looked as shaky as last year's version. When Atlanta ran outside the Colts used their speed and generally shut them down. But just like last season, when Atlanta ran the ball up the middle, the Colts were unable to deal with it." Those are the things I noticed while watching Indy from just ONE preseason game! So what happened? The Bills out-rushed the Colts 123-to-minus-5, averaging 4.6 yards per attempt. After two games, the Colts still can't stop the run. And QB Sorgi completed less than half his passes for no TDs and one pick. The Bills (not to mention myself and my clients) got the money, as well, in a 17-10 road win.

In addition, notice how effective the Bears offense was against Miami in their opener: 27 points, 478 total yards! Part of the reason is newcomer WR Muhsin Muhammad, and partly because of a new offensive coordinator, Ron Turner, who is opening things up. For sports bettors, this means that it's not wise to compare Chicago's conservative, weak offense from a year ago to this unit: They probably are much improved for a variety of reasons. Again, they could be worth a look at "over" the total until oddsmakers catch up, although the loss of Rex Grossman could change things for a week or two. Simply put, handicapping is not an accident: Successful sports bettors put the pieces together from week to week to help find winning selections.

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