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NFL Preseason Handicapping

   by Al McMordie - 08/06/2007

We start the first full weekend of preseason football and there are plenty of betting angles and trends to digest. Granted, preseason football doesn’t mean much for the teams, especially the first week. Starters barely play, and the key is to evaluate the kids and avoid injuries. I heard an NFL scout recently say that preseason is all about depth: Evaluating who you have and whether you should keep a veteran, or go with a kid because he’s better or for salary cap reasons.

However, from a betting standpoint, there is a lot more taking place to the trained eye. For one, there isn’t usually much scoring. This is common, as game plans are basic. A year ago Detroit had a new offensive coordinator in Mad Mike Martz, but he didn’t play it flashy on offense in his first preseason game, with 20 points on less than 130 passing yards. When he was coach of the Rams, 130 passing yards might represent a good quarter! In fact, one year ago preseason games started 9-4-1 under the total.

Another thing that stands out is that home teams often have some motivation to play and win, while many road teams have only an interest in staying healthy. A year ago the home team started 10-4 straight up in August. In fact, the last two NFL Week 1 preseasons the home team is 17-12-1 against the spread. This isn’t a shock, either, since preseason games mean so little, it’s not surprising that one tiny edge – home field – could tip the balance ATS in favor of one club. After all, fans are paying top dollar to see teams in preseason. And with the NFL so popular and only once a week, teams are getting good crowds for games. It’s not surprising to see players and coaches delighted to put out a little extra effort for the home fans.

One final point is not on the players but the guys roaming the sidelines. The last two years there have been a lot of new NFL head coaches. San Diego opens with a new head coach in Norv Turner, the Dolphins introduce Cam Cameron, Wade Phillips is running the Cowboys, Arizona has Ken Whisenhunt, the Falcons bring out Bobby Petrino, Oakland has former USC offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, and Pittsburgh just played the Hall of Fame game with new coach Mike Tomlin.

Historically, teams want to play all out for their new head coach, even in preseason. This was certainly evident in the Hall of Fame game Sunday, as the Steelers won for their new coach. However, there have been so many new coaches of late that one has to be careful. After all, some of these guys will be fired in a year or two because they are poor coaches (it’s a high turnover job). Although keep in mind a year ago new head coaches at home or at a neutral site started 4-0 straight up and 3-1 against the spread, and it’s already 1-0 SU/ATS this preseason.

New coaches often want to impress the home fans and management that hired them, as if to show they are the right men for the job. New coach Art Shell won the Hall of Fame game a year ago, then was fired at the end of the season in Oakland! The Rams 2006 new coach (Scott Linehan) beat Indy, Houston’s new coach , Gary Kubiak, thrashed the disinterested Chiefs, 24-14, and the Lions first-year coach, Rod Marinelli, beat Denver as a home dog, 20-13. Of course, the Lions then went on to be one of the worst teams in the regular season.

Two years ago new head coaches Romeo Crennel (Cleveland) and Mike Nolan (San Francisco) went 7-1 against the spread in preseason. "When you win only two games and go through what we did in 2005, you feel good about a win, any win," Houston cornerback Dunta Robinson said. When first-year Houston coach Gary Kubiak got the win he said, "I think the coaches needed this game more than anybody." Interesting, isn’t it? The game is meaningless in the standings and in the grand scheme of things, but after a 2-14 season and a new coaching staff coming in, there was a LOT of motivation to play well and win. Keep tabs on the new coaches and when they are playing at home this August. There are betting edges to be found, you just have to know what to look for. Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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