by Rob Gillespie
Issue #78 - 2004 NFL Exhibition: The Power of Football
For bettors, handicappers and bookmakers, there are a number of key differences between NFL's regular season and preseason action. But you know what? It's football. It's the NFL and it's back!
It's really just the power of football. When the crowd is so loud the quarterback can't even hear - that's excitement. Remember the 4th quarter of the final game of the season for Minnesota and Arizona? Randy Moss and Daunte Culpepper celebrated going up 17-6 on the sidelines. But the offense would never return to the field again as Arizona rallied to win the game 18-17. That's the part of football you don't get with any other sport. You can go from hero to goat without even leaving the sidelines, all in just five minutes. Plus, having a bet on the game that you're watching on TV makes it that much more exciting to watch!
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The 2004 NFL Exhibition season has been good. The interest level is definitely up over last year, but we haven't really dealt with any pointspreads since last January's Super Bowl, so it's a bit of a warm-up for us, too.
Finding the Advantage
For bettors, you have to try and play psychologist at this time of the year. Try to get into the coach's head. Look for teams that are having position battles - where the top two quarterbacks are vying for a start (unlike teams like Green Bay or Seattle with quarterbacks like Brett Favre and Matt Hasselbeck who are cemented into the favorite).
Then you look at a team like the New York Giants. You've got three quarterbacks challenging for starting and back-up positions. Sometimes these players can put undue pressure on themselves.
Other things to look for in the preseason? A real strong rally from teams that have had to face adversity. Take the Miami Dolphins and Ricky Williams. Yes, the Dolphins are definitely a weaker team. But you have to look at whether there's going to be a stronger team resolve, or whether they're going to band together. With Ricky Williams gone, you've got a motivating factor and the coaches have leverage on those players for the rest of the season.
Handicapping sports is about trying to give yourself any kind of edge that you can get. Read the local papers and listen to the late-night talk shows for interviews with players and coaches. It's amazing the kind of insight you can get from a coach. Coaches will talk candidly about who they're going to start - or not start - in the next game. (That said, a coach can change his mind and you can end up being steered down a blind alley.)
Anything that you can use to get an advantage over what the bookmaker is doing is an advantage. It's more about the psychology. Look for a situation where a team's got an incentive to win. If the coach is established, if the starting players are established, and the team's got a winning tradition, if tickets are all sold out for the regular season - then there's zero incentive to win.
If you've got a quarterback who's battling for a one or a two spot, if you've got a new coach who's trying to impress ownership, if you've got new offensive coordinators who are trying to impress his team, if you've got unsold season tickets - those are all situations where they've got an added motivation to go out and win. Look for these things.
Preseason vs. Regular Season
Some teams simply don't have the same incentive to win in the preseason as they do in the regular season. The regular season is only 16 games in 17 weeks, so playoff positions are frequently determined by one or two games. Every game is really important; teams pull out any stop to win.
Also, you don't get the same kind of one-sidedness in the preseason that you get in the regular season. You get a game like Green Bay-Chicago last year where everyone in the world thought Green Bay was going to win by more than four points. Four points for the road favorite is a lot - it's like being an 11-point favorite at home. Then they go and win the game fairly easily by seven points, and all of a sudden, you've got a game that's super-one sided. You just don't get that in the preseason. During this time of year, the games are unpredictable and bettors will look for value and take that extra half-point.
In the regular season, you can count on certain things. You can count on teams making a concerted effort to win. You can count on teams playing their best players for every single play. You get week-to-week action and results are far more important than they are in the pre-season.
The preseason is also a warm-up for "From the Frontlines." If you can believe it, this is my fourth season of writing this regular column. The rush of an NFL Sunday in this business is unequalled and I hope to bring you some of that excitement each week.
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