There is such a strong thirst for NFL football that many people spend valuable time watching mostly meaningless exhibition games primarily contested by back-ups and soon-to-be-cut nobodies. And they do it with glee!
Beyond major injuries and training camp battles, football in August is a waste of time … except for each team’s third preseason game.
Wouldn’t you know it, this week marks the third preseason game for each team! (It’s like we timed this article to coincide.)
For whatever reason, the third game is the only one that coaches take seriously, and the only one in which starters play a lot. That means bettors will get their first chance to assess each and every team for the upcoming season.
But you have to know where and when to look if you’re going to glean the right information.
The second drive of the game for each team
The third preseason game is usually the first opportunity for all the starters to play together during game action. While it is certainly a good sign if their first drive goes well, things may not click immediately. If the offense shines on the first drive, maybe the opposing defense needed to make an adjustment, or vice versa. After one drive, teams can assess what went right or wrong, re-focus, and put together a top-notch effort on the second drive. Mistakes about quarterback cadence and schemes should be worked out.
In sum, a good second drive is a good omen.
The third quarter
For several reasons, the third quarter of the third preseason game is revealing. Frequently, starters continue to play, and now they’ve had time to go to the locker room, talk to their coaches, and make sure everyone is on the same page. It’s like the second drive of the game, but with more prep time.
Also, primary back-ups tend to mix in with starters at this stage. This simulates the regular season games we’ll see in a few weeks. If injuries occur – make that when injuries occur (this is the NFL, after all) – primary back-ups must be able to come in and not be a liability.
How does the team look when back-ups and starters play together? (Because it’s bound to happen a lot in the regular season.)
Teams have had ample time to fix any special teams issues that arose during camp or the first two preseason games. If a team is still struggling on special teams in the third exhibition game, expect it to be a problem throughout the year. This doesn’t mean your field goal kicker needs to hit 50-yard tries, or the punter needs to be pinning boots in coffin corner, but allowing big returns and/or tons of pressure are serious concerns.
Whether veterans play well in the preseason or not, they have a track record bettors can rely on. They tend to know their teams’ systems and can be counted on to perform around their mean come the regular season.
For rookies, everything is new. Unless they were injured, they should have played in the first two preseason games. Now they are performing with the same unit they’ll start the year on. If they are running the wrong routes, having difficulty understanding the play calls, or are in the wrong place at the wrong time, that is a bad sign. If they are playing well against the opponent’s first team, it’s a good bet they’ll be a factor come opening day.
If you plan on betting on the NFL at all during the coming season – especially in the early weeks – play close attention to these four areas. They will help you gauge whether a team has made strides since last year and hopefully give you that slight edge you need.
(Photo credit: Brandon Schulze (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/legalcode].)