In his final college game, Deshaun Watson conquered the Alabama defense in a thriller that went to the wire. He’s finally back in action this week, with something vastly different on the line.
Watson is attempting to win the Houston Texans’ starting quarterback job. The rookie from Clemson is dueling with Tom Savage in a competition that will be in the spotlight Wednesday night.
For the most part, the first week of the NFL preseason is a costume party. The players are dressed up and the teams seem familiar, but looks can be deceiving. Star quarterbacks make cameo appearances — if they play at all — and the rest of the game resembles the spin of a roulette wheel.
In other words, Week 1 of the preseason is more for entertainment purposes and less about serious wagering.
“First of all, 98 percent of people who bet preseason games are recreational people,” South Point oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro said.
Still, there’s no need to see a psychiatrist if you’re placing a preseason wager. It’s not crazy to look for a few good spots to bet, yet proceed with caution.
The bookmakers are tapping the brakes, as well. At the South Point, wagering limits are $1,000 for sides and $500 for totals. If everyone was losing, the limits would not be so low.
The games get more realistic in Weeks 2 and 3. One key is to find an angle, and reduce the luck factor, by digging for valuable information. Another key is to get ahead of line moves.
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 important to know how long the starting quarterbacks will play and which teams have the best backups. Baseball betting begins with the starting pitchers, and quarterbacks are the starting point when handicapping preseason games.
The Texans fit the most popular betting angle in the preseason because they feature a heated quarterback competition between Savage and Watson. Houston is a 2½-point underdog at Carolina on Wednesday, when the Panthers might sit their starting quarterback.
Cam Newton, still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, has been throwing on a limited basis and is questionable to start. Carolina coach Ron Rivera has said Newton will only hand off and make short throws if he does play. It’s a situation that seemingly favors the road ‘dog.
Aside from Houston, the most intriguing QB battles in August are taking place in Cleveland and Denver.
The Browns are sizing up Brock Osweiler, Cody Kessler and DeShone Kizer, a second-round pick from Notre Dame. Osweiler has been named the starter, for now. Cleveland hosts New Orleans on Thursday in what opened as a pick’em game. The Browns are now 3-point favorites.
The Broncos, who open the preseason at Chicago on the same night, are debating the merits of Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch. The line opened pick’em before moving to Denver minus-1 at most Las Vegas books.
The Miami Dolphins are paying Jay Cutler $10 million to be their new starter, but Cutler will not play Thursday, so Matt Moore remains the No. 1 for another week.
Last year’s No. 1 overall pick, Jared Goff, was a rookie bust while going 0-7 as a starter. With a depth chart of Goff, Sean Mannion and Dan Orlovsky, the Los Angeles Rams appear to have the worst quarterback situation in the league. But with Sean McVay, the NFL’s youngest head coach at 31, leading the way, expect the Rams to attack the preseason with youthful enthusiasm.
In an intense battle for the New York Giants’ No. 2 job, Josh Johnson and Geno Smith are fighting for a roster spot behind Eli Manning. The Giants probably will retain rookie Davis Webb, so Johnson and Smith will be working hard to put points on the board Friday against Pittsburgh. Early money on the Giants has pushed the line from 2½ to 3 and 3½.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, 1-3 last year in the preseason, rarely cares about winning these scrimmages, and he seems unlikely to play Ben Roethlisberger in Week 1.
No coach wears a better game face in August than Mike Zimmer, who is 12-1 straight up and 11-2 against the spread in three preseasons with Minnesota. Zimmer's record is no secret, so the Vikings are already drawing a little sharp money for Thursday’s game at Buffalo.
Betting the NFL preseason is similar to any other form of gambling — it’s only a problem if you’re losing. Winning is not an impossible mission.
NFL PRESEASON QUARTERBACK ROTATIONS
ARIZONA - Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton, Blaine Gabbert, Trevor Knight
ATLANTA - Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub, Matt Simms, Alek Torgersen
BALTIMORE - Joe Flacco, Ryan Mallett, Dustin Vaughan, Josh Woodrum
BUFFALO - Tyrod Taylor, T.J. Yates, Nathan Peterman
CAROLINA - Cam Newton, Derek Anderson, Joe Webb, Garrett Gilbert
CHICAGO - Mike Glennon, Mark Sanchez, Mitchell Trubisky, Connor Shaw
CINCINNATI - Andy Dalton, AJ McCarron, Jeff Driskel
CLEVELAND - Brock Osweiler, Cody Kessler, DeShone Kizer, Kevin Hogan
DALLAS - Dak Prescott, Kellen Moore, Luke McCown, Cooper Rush
DENVER - Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, Kyle Sloter, Chad Kelly
DETROIT - Matthew Stafford, Jake Rudock, Brad Kaaya
GREEN BAY - Aaron Rodgers, Brett Hundley, Joe Callahan, Taysom Hill
HOUSTON - Tom Savage, Deshaun Watson, Brandon Weeden
INDIANAPOLIS - Scott Tolzien, Stephen Morris, Phillip Walker, x-Andrew Luck
JACKSONVILLE - Blake Bortles, Chad Henne, Brandon Allen
KANSAS CITY - Alex Smith, Tyler Bray, Patrick Mahomes, Joel Stave
L.A. CHARGERS - Philip Rivers, Kellen Clemens, Cardale Jones, Mike Bercovici
L.A. RAMS - Jared Goff, Sean Mannion, Dan Orlovsky
MIAMI - Jay Cutler, Matt Moore, Brandon Doughty, David Fales, x-Ryan Tannehill
MINNESOTA - Sam Bradford, Case Keenum, Taylor Heinicke, x-Teddy Bridgewater
NEW ENGLAND - Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett
NEW ORLEANS - Drew Brees, Chase Daniel, Garrett Grayson, Ryan Nassib
N.Y. GIANTS - Eli Manning, Geno Smith, Josh Johnson, Davis Webb
N.Y. JETS - Josh McCown, Christian Hackenberg, Bryce Petty
OAKLAND - Derek Carr, EJ Manuel, Connor Cook
PHILADELPHIA - Carson Wentz, Nick Foles, Matt McGloin, Dane Evans
PITTSBURGH - Ben Roethlisberger, Landry Jones, Josh Dobbs, Bart Houston
SAN FRANCISCO - Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley, C.J. Beathard, Nick Mullens
SEATTLE - Russell Wilson, Trevone Boykin, Austin Davis
TAMPA BAY - Jameis Winston, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Griffin, Sefo Liufau
TENNESSEE - Marcus Mariota, Matt Cassel, Alex Tanney, Tyler Ferguson
WASHINGTON - Kirk Cousins, Colt McCoy, Nate Sudfeld
x-Injured and doubtful to play in preseason