NFL Handicapping: Preseason Warning Signs Bettors Should Heed
by Trevor Whenham - 8/18/2014
August is far too soon to worry about teams in the NFL. We still don't know what teams are going to look like, and even teams with fairly obvious rosters are far from full intensity. The best thing you can do now is to relax and wait patiently for real games to start. That is easier said than done, though. We are bombarded with news and speculation out of training camps, and we can't easily block it all out. Through all the noise and unnecessary details a few things have stood out that are real warning signs for the teams going forward. Here are three of the biggest warning signs coming out of camps:
Atlanta Falcons: What were the two biggest concerns about this team during their disastrous season last year? They couldn't run the ball at all, and they didn't seem to care about how badly they were playing. They didn't make the sweeping coaching changes that many expected or hoped for, but the sentiment heading into this year seems to be that they are going to be much better. They have improved personnel, and the mindset should be better as well.
You can accuse me of being a skeptic, but so far we haven't seen it. In both games they have played they have really struggled to get anything going on the ground. In the first game against Miami they looked largely disinterested, and though they won 16-10 they relied on three field goals for their last nine points. In their second game at Houston - hardly a powerhouse of a squad themselves - they were just terrible. They lost 32-7, and they were remarkably underwhelming in many aspects of play.
It's only the preseason, so all the normal disclaimers apply, but I sure would like to see a team coming off such a terrible season looking more interested in winning than this one is. No one is accusing Matt Ryan of being a Brady or a Manning, but if one of those guys were trying to erase such an epic humiliation you would be sure they would be demanding a higher attention to detail than the Falcons have demonstrated so far.
San Francisco 49ers: Wow, was that second preseason game ever ugly! All of the fans showed up to check out the new building for the first time. Unfortunately, no one thought to let the players know that there was a game. The 34-0 final score against the Broncos was, if anything, flattering for the 49ers. There are caveats as always in the preseason, of course - most notably, that Kaepernick attempted only nine passes in his limited action. Still, it was a shockingly flat game when you might have expected the players to be fired up about the new stadium.
It exposed a couple of issues that have seemed like real problems for a while now. First, between injuries and suspension there are some real questions about the depth and talent that this defense has to offer. As significantly, the backup quarterback situation is just horrifying. Blaine Gabbert has been terrible, but Josh Johnson was given so little time to play - just three passes, which was the least of the four QBs who played - that it seems unlikely that he, as the only really viable backup alternative, is being given a chance. If Kaepernick were to get hurt - which is obviously a concern with a playing style like his - then things could really get ugly.
Buffalo Bills: The Bills have a chance to have a very good defense this year. That won't mean much, though, if E.J. Manuel and the offense can't at least score enough points to minimize some of the work for that defense.
Unfortunately, at this point in his second season Manuel has yet to convince me or anyone outside of the most loyal fans that he is an NFL quarterback. The best way to describe his camp effort has been inconsistent. He can make plays from time to time, but he is not consistently a top-level QB - or even an average one a lot of the time. More concerning, the progress that he is making is more subtle than obvious. He doesn't have the most loaded toolbox in the league to work with, but the offensive weapons are better than you would guess by watching him deal with them. It is hard to believe that Manuel is going to be ready to get the best out his team in his sophomore season, and that isn't good news for Bills backers.
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