Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown, and Pete Carroll is wearing it now. But if Carroll is worried, he never shows it. He exudes the confidence and enthusiasm of a high school cheerleader.
This is not about the Seattle Seahawks’ quest to repeat as Super Bowl champions, not yet anyway. Before he won the biggest game of the season, Carroll was king of the NFL preseason.
Carroll coaches to win in August. He went 8-0 in the past two preseasons and is 11-1 straight up and against the spread the past three years. He set out to establish a winning culture in Seattle, and it paid off.
Will his preseason game plan change now? That’s one of many questions bettors will be asking as football makes a comeback, six months after the Seahawks embarrassed the Denver Broncos in Super Bore XLVIII.
Most preseason games, especially in the first week, are something between a coin flip and a crapshoot. Star quarterbacks make cameo appearances, and obscure backups decide bets in the second half.
“I wouldn’t bet it,” Golden Nugget sports book director Tony Miller said. “It’s hard enough to win in the regular season when you know who’s playing.”
While that’s true, regular-season games can be unpredictable, too. Miller said his book consistently beats the bettors in the preseason, but that does not mean it’s insane to bet on the games.
Preseason wagering, like whiskey drinking, is best done in moderation. Pick a few spots to take shots and avoid spraying parlays all over the board.
Ten years ago or so, when inside information was harder to find, “sophisticated” bettors often could exploit edges and soft lines, Jimmy Vaccaro said. These days, the preseason is more about entertainment for public bettors, and bookmakers see August as an opportunity to spark interest in the NFL and promote contests.
“The normal guys can’t get enough of it. People can’t wait for football,” said Vaccaro, an oddsmaker at the South Point sports book. “But it has decreased considerably over the past 10 years. If you have a chance to stay here and grind out a few dollars or go to Del Mar, more of the pros are going to Del Mar.”
Beating the horse races is no easier, but Del Mar is on the beach, and it’s much cooler on the California coast.
Preseason lines still move on sharp money, sometimes by 3 to 4 points, but bookmakers are cautious and betting limits are low ($1,000 to $3,000 on sides and $500 to $1,000 on totals at most Las Vegas books).
There are angles to winning in the NFL preseason, and they are not top secret. Some coaches reveal more game-plan information than others, and some such as Carroll put more emphasis on winning. Of course, quarterback competitions and depth charts can be crucial factors.
The Cleveland Browns and New York Jets are eyeing quarterback controversies. Brian Hoyer and rookie Johnny Manziel have a lot to prove, with Hoyer favored to be the Browns’ starter. In Jets camp, Geno Smith is No. 1 for now, with Michael Vick in the live ’dog role.
Manziel is not the only rookie gunning for playing time. Blake Bortles (Jacksonville), Teddy Bridgewater (Minnesota) and Derek Carr (Oakland) want to make big first impressions, as well. Under the radar, Jordan Palmer and Jimmy Clausen are battling for the backup job in Chicago.
“Even if you know who’s starting, you get to the fourth quarter and the quarterback is me,” Vaccaro said, “so that’s what you’re up against.”
Not every fourth-quarter quarterback is a stiff. Washington could have one of the better preseason situations with three experienced passers — Robert Griffin III, Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy.
How about the Cowboys? Dallas, 4-8 ATS in its past 12 preseason games, appears to be a bet-against team again. Tony Romo is returning from back surgery, and backups Brandon Weeden, Caleb Hanie and Dustin Vaughan will take most of the snaps.
In the Hall of Fame Game on Sunday in Canton, Ohio, I’m betting on Buffalo as a 2-point favorite over the New York Giants for two reasons. The Bills’ quarterbacks — EJ Manuel, Thad Lewis, Jeff Tuel and Dennis Dixon — can move the ball and put points on the board.
Here’s another reason: The Giants have little to offer in this spot. Eli Manning is unlikely to play more than a series or two, and reports out of camp indicate backups Ryan Nassib and Curtis Painter are making a mess in a new offense.
There are seven new head coaches in the league, and a popular theory is most of those coaches — Jim Caldwell (Detroit), Jay Gruden (Washington), Bill O’Brien (Houston), Mike Pettine (Cleveland), Lovie Smith (Tampa Bay), Ken Whisenhunt (Tennessee) and Mike Zimmer (Minnesota) — will want to make winning a priority.
But that theory is far from foolproof. In Carroll’s first preseason in Seattle, the Seahawks went winless.
When the Broncos host the Seahawks next week, revenge is not a factor to consider. The quarterback who leads the game-winning drive will not be Peyton Manning or Russell Wilson, so prepare your backup plan.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.