Preparing for the NFL Season

Last week at this time, we talked about doing initial preparations for the coming college football season. Today's coursework in my College of Advanced Sports Betting and Handicapping will focus on getting ready for the NFL. Did you realize that the Hall of Fame game is less than a month away?!

I'll give you some initial help today. Several teams will have new starting quarterbacks in 2018. You need to start THERE before you do anything else. Some offenses will be better, some worse, just by the nature of the change they've made at this position.

Here's a quick list of new faces in new places. I'll use alphabetical order from last names.

Sam Bradford: Arizona Cardinals
Kirk Cousins: Minnesota Vikings
Case Keenum, Denver Broncos
Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
Alex Smith, Washington
Tyrod Taylor, Cleveland Browns

Mahomes isn't a "new face" in Kansas City because he's been biding his time learning the ropes. He'll be the new starter for the Chiefs with Alex Smith off to Washington.

Also, rookie Josh Allen out of Wyoming is expected to start for the Buffalo Bills. He's an unknown quantity at this point. He has a huge arm, which we saw a lot of here in Mountain West country in Las Vegas. Horrible accuracy for a big-time quarterback though. And, a tendency to disappear vs. top teams. Your typical "prototype" NFL quarterback in terms of size and arm strength, but his actual production potential is still a mystery. (Note that pro bettors have been fading the Bills on Regular Season Win propositions here in Las Vegas.)

I should also mention Teddy Bridgewater will be in the camp of the New York Jets. Everyone's hoping he can come back from his horrible leg injury. We'll just have to see how well he moves during the exhibition slate. Rookie Sam Darnold of USC may be starting for that franchise before long if the team gets off to a slow start.

Don't assume what you saw last year from any NFL team is going to automatically continue in 2018. Start with last season's key stats (like yards-per-play, third down conversion rates, turnover rate), and adjust for how the new quarterback is likely to change those for better or worse.

With quarterbacks who are returning to start again (or Andrew Luck, who's returning after a very long injury absence), you need to evaluate where they stand on the following scale...

*Improving as a young QB
*Plateauing as an established veteran
*Starting to fade as an older quarterback

Is Eli Manning about to fall off the map as an aging veteran? Will Carson Wentz and Jared Goff continue to show improvement as they ride the learning curve? How many established starters are probably going to give you the same exact performance level they always give you? At the very least, draw arrows pointing up or down by each name...maybe an equals sign if you think the QB will stay the same. NFL teams aren't frozen in time. There's a lot of churn in this parity driven league. Smart handicappers must learn how to anticipate direction from year to year.

You regulars know I always focus on PLAYMAKERS and GAMEBREAKERS when handicapping any sport. In football, quarterback is always job one. Not only are they PLAYMAKERS themselves, but they're in charge of getting the ball to other PLAYMAKERS! That's why you start here.

After you're confident of your quarterback reads for all 32 teams, then move onto the following:

*Wide Receivers...focusing on explosiveness and team depth
*Tight Ends...focusing on hands and an ability to avoid injuries
*Running Backs...few stars any more, you want somebody reliable

I don't mean to suggest that offensive lines are irrelevant. It's just that they're not part of the PLAYMAKER and GAMEBREAKER initial approach. Once you have a full sense of how teams are going to score, you can then focus on how well they'll protect. We'll talk about that in future articles.

And, of course, we'll also talk about defense. It takes a lot of work to prepare for a new pro football season. Point spreads are very well informed these days because of the number of smart oddsmakers and professional bettors. You can beat them if you're willing to do the work. I'm grateful so many of you return for each class session for tips and guidance.

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I understand that many of you focus most of your energy on football. Maybe you're football only. Maybe you just pick your spots in baseball and basketball. Now's the time to really gear up so you're ready to hit the ground running. Far too many bettors wait until the last second, then just kind of wing it based on what they remember from last season. That's why Las Vegas sports books have those big, fancy TV screens! Easily affordable in a city that's built on bad gambling choices by casual bettors.

The Dean of Sports Handicapping will see you again Monday for more coursework.

 

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Winning In The Pre-Season Is Determined By Just Two Handicapping Factors

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"Inside information" is an overused term during the regular season but not during the Pre-Season. It exists and one must uncover it to determine a team's game plan, what facet of its game it is working on and keep in mind both coaches meet beforehand to discuss what they hope to accomplish in these glorified practice games.

The coaching  factor. Coaches have a history in Pre-Season games. For instance Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh is 28-12 in Pre-Season games, Minnesota's Mike Zimmer is 14-3 and Washington's Jay Gruden is 11-5. Simply put, some coaches like to win early, while winning means little to others.

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