There has been some talk that the NFL might change the preseason as early as next year. It will be hard for the league to drop a game or two because that's taking money out of the owners' pockets. But if you watched any of those final preseason games, as usual, they were full of scrubs and empty seats. And it makes you wonder where the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings would be if the preseason was just two games as it should be -- and I think will be eventually as a trade off for owners getting a 17th regular-season game.
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Of course, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo suffered a fractured vertebra in Dallas' third preseason game, and he's likely out until midseason. It's now pretty clear that guy's body isn't built any longer to take a beating in the NFL. Wouldn't shock me if this is Romo's final season, whether he retires or the Cowboys release him if rookie Dak Prescott plays as well in the regular season as he has in the preseason.
Bridgewater's torn ACL and dislocated knee didn't happen in a preseason game, and he wasn't even touched in practice when he went down in a heap. But it was during Minnesota's final practice before its final preseason game, so there's at least a chance Bridgewater wouldn't have gotten hurt if there were only two or three exhibition games.
Romo and Bridgewater were the only two injuries that altered the odds of Super Bowl contenders this preseason. At BetOnline, the Vikings are now +1600 to win the NFC and +400 to win the NFC North (Editor's Note: this article was written before the Vikings acquired Sam Bradford from the Eagles, and the odds are currently off the board); they were right here with the Packers (now -300) in the division pre-injury. The Cowboys are also +1600 to win the NFC and +260 to win the NFC East; they were the favorites before the Romo injury but are now behind the Giants (+150) and Redskins (+250).
My prediction for the coming season is a Seattle-Pittsburgh Super Bowl; not ready to pick that winner yet but am leaning Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger wins his first NFL MVP Award. He's +700 on that prop. Buffalo's Rex Ryan (+1000) is the first head coach fired.
I'm early by three days for this story because we have Week 1 lines out already, but every Monday barring something unforeseen I will take a look at the opening lines of a few of games and any potential injuries or other factors that could shift them. I also will be individually previewing three games a week here at Doc's, and if all things are equal they will be the Thursday, Sunday and Monday night games. The MNF game is a lock, but not always the TNF of SNF games as I try not to preview a team twice in a row, and if I only stick to prime time I'll be stuck doing Patriots, Steelers, Packers, Cowboys, etc., all season. And the point of those previews isn't to focus on the marquee matchups but where the best betting value is.
Here are some Week 1 games and opening lines that caught my eye. I won't touch on the Thursday game (Panthers-Broncos), marquee Sunday game (Giants-Cowboys) or Monday night second game (Rams-49ers) as I will be previewing those.
Bears at Texans (-5.5, 44): This line opened at -4 and with the big lean the Texans are getting (biggest on board at two sites I checked), I think it will keep going up. Chicago looked worse than any team but Cleveland this offseason. Granted, I take nothing from the preseason, but that offense sure seems to miss former coordinator Adam Gase, now the Dolphins head coach. The best player on the offensive line, Kyle Long, has a labrum issue in his shoulder he's trying to play through. Chicago lost starting center Hroniss Grasu early in camp to a season-ending injury. Last year's first-round pick, receiver Kevin White, hasn't looked great after missing all of 2015. This year's first-round pick, linebacker Leonard Floyd, looks overmatched physically. The Bears are totally banged up on defense with the team's top three cornerbacks, Kyle Fuller, Tracy Porter and Bryce Callahan, all hurting as is the defense's best player overall, linebacker Pernell McPhee. For sure Fuller and McPhee aren't playing here. This will be the Houston debut of QB Brock Osweiler, but the big question is whether three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt will play after missing all the preseason following back surgery. He is ahead of schedule and it's looking pretty good that he will, although perhaps in limited fashion. The pick: Probably more confident on Houston than any team this week. And on the "under" too.
Patriots at Cardinals (-5.5, 47.5): The Sunday night game and the only reason I'm not doing a full preview of it is because I'm more interested in talking about Prescott than Jimmy Garoppolo. To no surprise, this game had the biggest line move (opened at pick'em) and total drop (was 51) of any but that happened weeks ago when Tom Brady's suspension was reinstated by the U.S. Court of Appeals. This certainly could be a Super Bowl preview as the Pats are +350 favorites in the AFC even though Brady will miss the first four games. Arizona is a +500 second-favorite to win the NFC, and while I do believe that the Cardinals have perhaps the best overall roster in the NFL I have a feeling Carson Palmer is going to regress this season and get injured. Clearly what to watch here is the NFL starting debut of Garoppolo. He looked OK in the preseason, completing 66.7 percent of his passes with a touchdown, no picks and three sacks. He didn't play at all in the Pats' preseason finale, while Brady surprisingly started. I don't wish injury to anyone, but I really want to see how New England might fare with third-round rookie backup Jacoby Brissett being forced into action. For Arizona, the story is the return of defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, who was playing like a Defensive Player of the Year in 2015 before tearing his ACL in Week 15. That Cardinals defense wasn't the same without the "Honey Badger" in the postseason. The pick: Cardinals and over.
Vikings at Titans (pick'em, 41): Minnesota was a 3-point favorite before the Bridgewater injury. I fully expect the Vikings to either trade for a veteran quarterback or pick one up off waivers by the end of the weekend; NFL rosters have to be trimmed to 53 on Saturday. But 36-year-old Shaun Hill is the starter for now (Editor's Note: this article was written before the Vikings acquired Sam Bradford from the Eagles, and the odds are currently off the board). I would call Hill one of the better backups in the NFL and a competent starter for a few games, but that's about it. He is 16-18 as starter in his career and has plenty of experience filling in for former first-round picks, doing so for Alex Smith (49ers), Matthew Stafford (Lions) and Sam Bradford (Rams). It was in St. Louis that Hill last started in 2014. I'm actually not panicking all that much on the Vikings. Do I think they win the division now? Nope. But they were always going to be run-heavy and win with ball control and defense. No team passed fewer in 2015 than Minnesota. A wild-card spot is still doable. The team I think that will pass the fewest in the NFL this year is Tennessee as it will bash people with its two-headed tailback rotation of DeMarco Murray and rookie second-round pick and 2015 Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry. If Murray goes down injured, Henry's my pick to win Offensive Rookie of the Year. The pick: Vikings and under.
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