Justin Fields doesn’t have many playmakers on a Bears team that should be faded in the first half of preseason games. Mike Dinovo/USA TODAY Sports
Anyone who even mildly bets the NFL preseason — and yes, there is value to be had and my head might explode if I have to endure another discussion about its merits — is well aware of the unexpected scoring that has occurred so far. Of the first 17 preseason games this month, 14 have cashed the over. I asked a professional bettor who heavily attacks the preseason market, and he definitely plans to adjust accordingly. However, one oddsmaker told me that he will not adjust his numbers, given such a small sample. However, he does anticipate higher totals this week, given starters are expected to play longer than they will at any other point this preseason.
As for the micro, I watched every single preseason game from start to finish. I picked up a few tidbits that I either will apply to the rest of preseason or regular-season futures. It’s unwise to react drastically to anything, given some starters played only a series or two. But sometimes that’s all you need to uncover a good angle and scoop other bettors. This is a competitive space, so it’s all about deciphering noise, circumstantial occurrences and actionable information. This is what resonated most:
1. Truthfully, I am scared for Chicago Bears fans. They are just a tad bit too optimistic about Justin Fields. They want it so badly, and that desire might lead to devastation. Personally, I am not completely sold on Fields, but regardless, I also think he has the fewest playmakers of any starting QB. It’s just not a good situation, and thus there are seemingly opportunities to fade Chicago in the first-half odds during the preseason. I prefer the first half because Trevor Siemian and Nathan Peterman have enough starting experience to excel against backups. Chicago’s 14-0 halftime deficit on Saturday is more likely to be an omen than anomaly.
2. Speaking of which, the Bears visit Seattle on Thursday, and this seems like a good situation to back the home team in the first half. Not much is expected from the Seattle Seahawks this season. In fact, they are the fourth favorite at Caesars Sportsbook to score the fewest points. (Yes, you can wager on that.) Pete Carroll will likely need a 13th and 14th man to avoid the NFC West basement.
However, with Geno Smith and Drew Lock, the offense seemed polished and competent in its preseason opener. The two QBs have been scapegoats and verbal punching bags in their careers, and while that might mostly be warranted, they are fairly experienced and can handle vanilla defenses that are so prevalent in August. I like Seattle’s chances in the first half against the Bears. Plus, because Smith and Lock were the only two quarterbacks who saw the field in the preseason opener, I really like Seattle against the Dallas Cowboys in second-half odds of its Week 3 game. Whether it’s Smith or Lock who comes off the bench, their regular-season experience should shine against a Dallas team that will likely lean on Ben DiNucci and still seems as undisciplined as ever. Mike McCarthy’s team led the NFL in penalties last year and had a whopping 17 on Saturday.
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3. So there’s McCarthy, and then on the complete opposite end of the spectrum is John Harbaugh. The details and specifics that defined him as a special teams coach from 1988 to 2006 at both the college and pro levels have not waned one iota since he became a head coach. They are in his DNA — both figuratively and literally. The Harbaugh men know only one way to compete, and many bettors are thrilled about it. The Baltimore Ravens won their 21st straight preseason game on Friday, extending their own NFL record. Not only is that inexplicable, given the popular disinterest of preseason wins and losses, but the Ravens are 19-2 ATS during this preseason run. The point spread is supposed to make the outcome 50/50 — but that’s only until you account for a Harbaugh.
Baltimore visits Arizona on Sunday, and I think it’s a given which bird I will back. How can you not?
Jalen Hurts looked dynamic running the Eagles offense in their first preseason game. Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
4. Along those avian lines, I am reconsidering my Philadelphia Eagles stance. They are a trendy pick to win the NFC East, and I was having a hard time joining the conga line for a flock that did not beat a single double-digit win team last year and looked completely overmatched in its playoff loss to Tampa Bay.
However, Jalen Hurts does look quite dynamic, and Friday’s broadcast shared an eye-opening factoid. This is the first time since high school that Hurts has led the same offensive system in consecutive years. The learning curve of terminology and nuances is pretty steep for anyone, so just imagine the hurdles he has had to endure. Granted, it was a preseason game, but Hurts ran his unit smoothly and efficiently. These Eagles knows who they are (the broadcast also shared that Philly ran the ball 59% of plays over the final 10 regular-season games), and there’s just an appealing swagger and moxie permeating that sideline. If life is all about timing, then everything just feels right for this Eagles squad that is led by an underrated head coach in Nick Sirianni.
I haven’t fully decided what I want, but I certainly can’t fault anyone for firing on the Eagles +155 to win the NFC East.
5. The Eagles drafted Matt Barkley in 2013, and he has now collected checks from nine different NFL teams, including multiple stints with the Arizona Cardinals and Buffalo Bills. To say he’s a journeyman backup quarterback is an understatement. Needless to say, in normal circumstances, he’s not one to make you run to the betting window. However, in a preseason betting world with hidden gems and obscure angles, there is an allure to Barkley. In fact, he just might be an in-game betting cheat code.
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On Saturday, with the Bills trailing 24-10 at home in the fourth quarter and the Bills about +1200 on the live money line, Barkley promptly led Buffalo on consecutive TD drives to tie the game and then positioned the Bills for the winning field goal. In between those three scoring drives, Indianapolis Colts rookie Jack Coan was ineffective with back-to-back three-and-outs. And that’s where in-game wagering is so valuable. One QB could be on the depth chart to provide stability and leadership while the other is fighting an uphill battle to make a roster. In the preseason, late in the game against third- and fourth-stringers, who would you rather bet on?
6. If you’re not a complete die-hard and laying in the weeds to pick off a bad in-game line, that’s OK. You might actually prefer maximizing the final few weekends of summer with conventional activities. I can’t blame you. So here’s one observation I have for the regular season: There is no part of me that sees this season ending remarkably well for Tennessee Titans QB Ryan Tannehill. He might start every game and play fine, but I highly doubt he will represent a huge positive storyline come January. Specifically, it’s time to pound the under on Tannehill’s 3,525.5 passing yards. There are just too many variables mounting against his having a strong season.
Rookie QB Malik Willis started and played into the third quarter Thursday, showing off his upside with a nice play-action TD pass and also a TD run. He looked dynamic at times, albeit against backups. He’s officially listed as a third-stringer, but I think it’s enough to think Tannehill’s starting days are numbered this season. And even if he starts all 17 games, I still believe the under cashes, especially after trading away receiver A.J. Brown. Also, Willis might be used for a drive or two each game to force opposing defenses to prepare for a dual-threat quarterback, thus diminishing Tannehill’s opportunities.
In 2021, Tannehill surpassed that prop total by fewer than 200 yards in a season in which so much went right; the Titans finished with the AFC’s top seed and needed their QB a bit more than usual, thanks to running back Derrick Henry missing more than half the season because of an injury. Does Tannehill have the chops to handle the calls for the rookie Willis once the veteran struggles? Keep in mind a giant egg remains in the minds of many fans and coaches. Tannehill threw three interceptions and finished with a 10.3 QBR in a three-point home playoff loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. He’s entering on thin ice and with a low ceiling, so this wager has way more ways to win than lose.
7. I have yet to watch HBO’s “Hard Knocks” this season. I am not enamored with the personalities behind the scenes and whatever intimate connection this team has formed with viewers. However, I am still leaning toward jumping on the Detroit Lions bandwagon — at least in terms of backing them on a weekly basis. It’s just one preseason game, but this team looked remarkably more competent than what I saw to begin the 2021 campaign.
Detroit started 0-11, which included double-digit deficits in the fourth quarter in five of its first six games. Let’s face it. Head coach Dan Campbell looked completely overwhelmed in his first season in Detroit. But that hard-nosed mentality has won over a locker room and adjusted to the demands his position necessitates. The team closed last year with a 10-3 ATS mark, and I like their vibe and direction — at least to cover a lot of games again.