NFL Handicapping: Don't Believe the Hype on these Training Camp Stories
by Trevor Whenham - 8/15/2014
We are, as a society, NFL crazy. There is no limit to the amount of news and coverage we can happily consume about the league. That often causes problems, because the truth is that there just isn't enough to say a lot of the time to satisfy our hunger.
That is especially true in training camp and the preseason. We are excited about things getting going, but teams aren't really keen on allowing full access to what they are doing. That means that each year there are storylines that stick out that get far more attention than they should. If bettors aren't paying attention and showing some restraint then it can be easy to get distracted by these storylines and attach far more significance to them than they deserve. Early in the season that can lead to bad betting decisions.
Here are four preseason storylines this year that are earning far more attention than they should:
Cleveland's quarterback situation: Johnny Manziel took a breath yesterday. I know that because 14 different media outlets covered it in detail. The frenzy is in full force in Cleveland, and the race between Manziel and Brian Hoyer to be named the starter is the biggest story in the NFL right now. It's ridiculous for about a hundred different reasons. For starters, Hoyer is coming off a serious knee injury, and he has four career starts. While he has shown some real promise, it wouldn't exactly be like beating out Brady or Manning if Manziel were to be named starter. More significantly, at this point it really doesn't matter that much to the team who is named starter - at least not in the short term. This is a team with serious talent deficits in several positions, their best receiver is likely to be out of action for quite a while, and they are adapting to yet another new coach. The best quarterback ever born would not have an all star-level year with this team. From a betting perspective everyone just needs to relax and ignore this team for a while - at least until we know what they are actually capable of. In the short term there is no value to be found here.
Marshawn Lynch's contract: Lynch held out early in camp, looking for more money heading into the season. It became a big story. Would Lynch be ready if he missed time? Would it be a distraction for the team? People are looking for any reason to doubt whether the Seahawks can stay on top. After all, so many other good teams have struggled as defending champs. While we won't know for a while yet if Seattle is ready to defend their title, we can be reasonably confident that Lynch's aborted holdout won't be the reason they struggle if things don't go well. For starters, other stars on this team have been paid this offseason, so guys are not going to have big issues with players looking out for themselves - especially when he backed off when the time was right. More significantly, Lynch isn't exactly a rookie who needs to learn a new playbook and adapt to the speed of play in the NFL. He knows his stuff, and training camp is more about getting fit and staying healthy than anything else. Lynch could have held out through the first two preseason games and I still wouldn't be too worried.
Chip Kelly: Philadelphia's coach, if you believe media reports this summer, can walk on water. He has cured most major diseases and is just waiting until the time is right to wipe out the rest. He has ended war, famine, and global warming, and he has wisdom like no other. It is ridiculous how much coverage we are getting into his insights and methods this years. Sure, the guy does some exciting things and has some real potential to do some good things in this league. He's smart and he really understands the sport. So do many other coaches in the league as well. It's hard to really understand why Kelly gets so much more praise than other guys in similar stages of their career - Trestman, McCoy, and so on. Bettors need to be sure that they maintain their perspective when evaluating Kelly and his progress, though - at least until he wins something.
Officiating changes: We have heard a whole lot so far about how the league has changed rules - most significantly in terms of how they are letting cornerbacks interact with receivers. The changes have been called aggressively so far in camp and have had some significant impacts. That, in turn, has led to a flood of articles about how this is going to change everything, redefine the league as we have known it, destroy the watchability of the league, make it impossible for defenders to defend, and so on. It's all ridiculous. Yes, there have been some changes, and some are significant. That is the case, though, every year in one way or another. There are rule changes that happen every year, and each year they are called aggressively early in the preseason. As the season progresses, though, a few things happen. Officials get more comfortable with the rules, and better learn to implement them without detracting from the game. Players better understand what they can and can't get away with, and they make fewer sloppy mistakes. Coaches adapt and adjust their game-planning with the rule change in mind. Add it all up, and what seems like a massive, transformational change now will be hard to even remember by November.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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