It is fitting that the NFL will again kick off its season in the shadow of its legends, its myths, and its history. Football is the new national pastime in this nation, and it has reached its chimerical level in part because of the consistent, communal, and seasonal nature of the sports. The whims and amusement of summer is winding to a close and our consciousness is slowly settling back into another focused fall and, inexorably, an unwavering winter.
Football is back. And the first step in our six-month national battle march begins this Sunday with the Hall of Fame Game. Dallas will meet Cincinnati for an exhibition game at 8 p.m. at Fawcett Stadium in Canton. This is the first “live”” action of the season and our first opportunity to look through the shadows of the past into the action that will determine the future of the 2010 season.
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Of course, having the carnal violence of our favorite wartime diversion is a big part of the draw. But let’s be clear on one salient point: football has become the all-encompassing monolith that it is in this country due to one undeniable component: gambling. Be it in the form of fantasy football, NFL office pool picks, survivor pools, parlay cards or good old-fashioned weekend action, gambling is the fuel to this sport and the Hall of Fame Game gives us our first opportunity to get the kinks out and make some coin on these savages and beasts on the gridiron.
Cincinnati enters the NFL preseason opener as a slim 2.5-point favorite for NFL Hall of Fame Game odds. Dallas actually opened the contest as a 3.0-point favorite, but the line has since steamed toward the Bengals, despite the fact that the Cowboys are taking nearly 70 percent of each individual wager on the game.
The favorite is 5-1 straight up and is 5-2-1 against the spread in this game. Last year the game was a late ‘push’, with Tennessee earning a win but Buffalo scoring late to steal money from the Titans backers. In 2008 Washington used a 21-3 second half to earn the cash as a 4.5-point favorite.
The Bengals have gone 12-8 ATS in their last 20 preseason games and they are 3-1 in their last four NFL preseason openers. The Cowboys are 11-9 ATS in their last 20 preseason contests but they are just 2-6 ATS in their last eight NFL preseason openers.
The total for this game is set at 32.5, which is down from an open of 35.0. There is no weather expected on Sunday, but apparently books and bettors are expecting a lower scoring game. Five of the last seven Hall of Fame Games have gone ‘over’ the total, including each of the last two.
I have been wondering if the rush of money on the Bengals is a legit wise guy play or if it is a bit of a public reaction, or overreaction, to the buzz created by the Terrell Owens signing. If it does have anything to do with T.O. that would be ridiculous, considering he will likely play about two series and just go through the motions.
It should be noted that this is a fifth preseason game for each team. That means that coaches will be even less willing to expose their starters or key backups because they understand that they have extra time to get them ready for the regular season. Instead, they will take this extra game as additional time to evaluate rookies and fringe free agents that are fighting for the last few spots on the roster or on the practice squad.
One of the angles that I like to look at in handicapping the Hall of Fame Game is motivation from the fans. Generally, it would be a lock for Cincinnati because they are playing in their backyard in Ohio. You know that they will have a strong showing of support and a little fanfare can sometimes be enough to push a team in the second half. However, Emmitt Smith is being inducted into the Hall of Fame this weekend so you know that the stands for this game will be packed with Cowboys backers that came down for the weekend for the festivities. As a result, I think that’s a ‘push’.
On edge that Cincinnati does have according to my NFL predictions is that they have shorter travel plans. Dallas has been working out in Texas so far and they are headed to their traditional Southern California stomping grounds after this game.
Neither Marcus Spears nor Alex Barron will be playing much on Sunday. And Dez Bryant won’t be suiting up because of a bum ankle. Beyond that, no one major will be out of the lineup for Dallas. Antonio Bryant won’t play for the Bengals.
Finally, one thing that I like to view is who will be quarterbacking in the fourth quarter. Dallas will be going with Tony Romo for a series or two and then turning things over to Jon Kitna. After that, Stephen McGee and then Matt Nichols, a rookie from Eastern Washington, will take over the controls. Cincinnati will start with Carson Palmer. After his time he’ll turn it over to J.T. O’Sullivan and then Jordan Palmer will be guiding the offense for most of the second half. The Bengals get the slight edge because Jordan Palmer has more experience than Nichols, who will likely finish the game.
Robert Ferringo is a writer and a professional sports and NFL handicapper for Doc’s Sports. Last year his NFL picks brought home +62.5 Units for his clients and he is regarded as one of the top totals players in the sport. He guarantees a winning football season this year or he will work for free until you turn a profit. You can sign up for his college football and NFL picks and get more information here.