It was hyped by some scribes and talking heads as a potential Super Bowl preview. Peyton Manning led one drive that resulted in a punt, and that put an abrupt end to the hyperbole.
The NFL preseason, especially the first week of it, is a costume party. The players are dressed up and the teams seem familiar, but looks can be deceiving.
Starting quarterbacks make cameo appearances, and the rest of the game is a roll of the dice. Manning contributed nothing in the Denver Broncos’ 10-6 victory over the San Francisco 49ers, who got a field goal out of Colin Kaepernick’s only drive.
Six games were on the schedule Thursday, there are eight more today, and you don’t need to see a psychiatrist if you’re placing a preseason wager.
“It’s not crazy. Let the doubters say nobody likes to bet it. I have proof positive that they do,” said Jimmy Vaccaro, director of public relations for William Hill sports books. “We pay in the same denomination whether it’s a preseason game or the Super Bowl. What’s so crazy about it?”
Betting the preseason is the same as any other form of gambling — it’s only a problem if you’re losing. These scrimmages in August do take on a roulette wheel feel, but plenty of regular-season games are unpredictable, too.
The games get more realistic in preseason Weeks 2 and 3. The key is to find an angle, and reduce the luck factor, by digging for valuable information.
“I do a lot of reading. You definitely have to do your homework for the preseason,” SportsXRadio.com handicapper Ken Thomson said. “I don’t recommend playing the whole card like you’re going to examine a regular NFL week. You’ve got to be careful and pick your spots. There are a few games where you’re going to find a distinct advantage, if you get them early enough.”
It’s not uncommon for preseason games to move 3 to 4 points from the opening line. The bookmakers are cautious, as well. At the LVH, wagering limits are $3,000 for sides and $1,000 for totals. If everyone was losing, the limits would not be so low and the parlay cards would be stacked high.
“All of the angles, the players know about it and we know about it,” Vaccaro said. “The competition between the quarterbacks is real. Sometimes you will hear the coaches are going to tell you who’s going to win or lose these games. But they also can put you on a wild goose chase.”
Coaches and quarterbacks still are the most important characters in the preseason, but for different reasons than in the regular season. Some coaches reveal more game-plan information than others, and some play to win more than others. It’s just as imperative to know how long the starting quarterbacks will play and which teams have the strongest backups.
“I like teams with quarterback controversies where both quarterbacks are decent,” said Thomson, who should like the Philadelphia Eagles.
The competition between Michael Vick and Nick Foles is the best and most intriguing one of the preseason. The Eagles’ depth is another positive, with rookie Matt Barkley at No. 3.
It’s logical to surmise that Chip Kelly, Philadelphia’s new coach, is looking to evaluate talent while also instilling a winning attitude in his program. The Eagles are 3½-point home favorites today over the New England Patriots, who are 1-5 straight up and 0-6 against the spread in their past six preseason games.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick is a poker player, rarely transparent and sometimes deceptive with his game plans.
“You watch the game and Tom Brady is playing into the second quarter when Belichick said he wasn’t going to play at all,” Vaccaro said.
Washington’s Mike Shanahan is known for coaching to win in the preseason. The same goes for Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin, who has covered six of his past seven preseason games, and Detroit’s Jim Schwartz.
No team is a bigger preseason flop than the Kansas City Chiefs, 5-28-1 ATS in their past 34 games. Andy Reid, the Chiefs’ new coach, put little emphasis on preseason wins while in Philadelphia.
Miami coach Joe Philbin is 0-5 in the preseason, but he’s sending out signals that he’s desperate to win. The Dolphins are 1-point favorites today at Jacksonville, which will be without star running back Maurice Jones-Drew.
As for the Hall of Fame Game on Sunday, when the favored Dolphins fell 24-20 to the Dallas Cowboys, Vaccaro said William Hill’s books took more than $100,000 in wagers.
“That is remarkable to me. You don’t usually get that on the first game. It’s like a throwaway game,” Vaccaro said. “But it tells you how much we look forward to the fall. It’s a great introduction to the season. People can’t wait for football.”
The Broncos-49ers game was a super bore decided not by Manning, but by a defensive touchdown. Still, for those who bet the underdog, there was nothing crazy about winning ugly in August.
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.