NFL Betting and Handicapping: Scouting the Week Ahead
by Alan Matthews - 9/2/2013
Have we gone into an NFL season in recent memory with such uncertainty at quarterback for a handful of teams?
Let's start with the New York Jets, who very much appear poised to have their worst season since going 4-12 in 2007. We all know by now that Rex Ryan made the disastrous decision to play Mark Sanchez in the fourth quarter of the team's third preseason game. Sanchez hurt his shoulder playing behind a bunch of second-stringers and will not play in Week 1. In fact, there's talk his injury is very serious and that he could be out weeks. Shoot, the Jets might just cut him and take the salary-cap hit at this point. It seems like rookie Geno Smith will start against the Tampa Bay Bucs on Sunday in the Darrelle Revis Bowl (Revis will play). Smith looked simply terrible in his preseason start against the New York Giants and obviously isn't ready. New York is so desperate that it signed Brady Quinn on Monday. You'd think the Jets would learn about overrated college stars. Oddsmakers sure don't expect much from the Jets as they are three-point home dogs against a Bucs team that was 7-9 a year ago.
The Buffalo Bills, meanwhile, could have it worse. We should know by Wednesday whether rookie E.J. Manuel will start. The former Florida State star looked good in camp and probably would have won the job if not for a knee injury that required minor surgery. In two preseason games, Manuel completed 26 passes in 33 attempts for 199 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. If the Bills are smart they won't rush Manuel back as he's obviously the future, and they are highly unlikely to beat the Patriots as it is. Buffalo is a 9.5-point home favorite on WagerWeb -- that line was 7.5 points most of the offseason but jumped as high as 11.5 at some books when Manuel and Kevin Kolb went down. The latter is done for the year with a concussion.
Thus, it seems somewhat likely that undrafted free agent rookie Jeff Tuel could be fed to the wolves on Sunday. Tuel, who wasn't even very good last year for an awful Washington State team, would become the first undrafted quarterback of the modern era (since the AFL's first season in 1960) to start his NFL team’s first regular-season game as a true first-year professional. There have been five undrafted free agents who started their first game, but they all had some pro experience. Warren Moon (CFL) was one of them, and that worked out pretty well. Tuel has looked good in his exhibition games, and he can simply hand off 40 times to Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. If that line climbs over 10.5, I'd probably bite on the Bills even though they may also be playing without star safety Jairus Byrd, who is questionable with plantar fasciitis.
I thought the Jacksonville Jaguars were in line to be the worst team in the league this year, but the Oakland Raiders have looked pathetic. Coach Dennis Allen, who is probably a goner after this season, still hasn't announced whether Matt Flynn or Terrelle Pryor will start on Sunday against Indianapolis. Perhaps you can understand why the Colts are tied with New England as the biggest Week 1 favorite on WagerWeb at -9.5 (the closest line is a “pick'em” between the Dolphins and Browns). Allen says he knows who is starting but hasn't announced it as of this writing. Flynn and Pryor had 13 drives during the preseason. Flynn produced 10 points in those and Pryor 32, although Flynn's was against first-team defenses. As bad as Oakland's offensive line looks to be, I feel bad for either guy. I think it's Pryor, who practiced with the first team Monday. I also think Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater will look good in Silver and Black in 2014.
Finally, it appears that Blaine Gabbert will be good to go Sunday at home against Kansas City for those Jaguars. He was named the starter after Jacksonville's second preseason game over Chad Henne but hasn't played since because of a thumb injury. The Jags are 3.5-point home dogs to a team that won just two games last year in the Chiefs. Most think Kansas City will be vastly better this year, however, with Andy Reid and Alex Smith.
Falcons, Steelers Won't Win Super Bowl
If you believe in trends, then don't bother putting down money on futures odds for the Atlanta Falcons and Pittsburgh Steelers. The Falcons are 12/1 at Bovada to win the Super Bowl while Pittsburgh is 28/1. Both clubs were winless in the postseason, and the only team to win a Super Bowl with a winless preseason was the 1982 Washington Redskins. The Falcons and Steelers are the only two clubs who didn't win an exhibition game.
Last year, three teams were winless: the Dolphins, Jets and Bills. All finished the regular season below .500. Don't read anything into the Redskins and Seahawks being the only unbeaten teams in the preseason. For example, last year's Eagles also were 4-0 and then matched that win total in the regular season. The Detroit Lions were the only unbeaten team in the 2008 preseason and then promptly followed it with a 0-16 record when it counted.
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