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Ready or not, NFL preseason is here

Jeff Fogle
VSiN.com

The Hall of Fame game kicks off a new NFL season, and a Hall of Fame induction celebrates VSiN’s favorite broadcasting legend. That plus MLB and CFL today in VSiN City!

NFL: Hall of Fame game featuring Cowboys and Cards kicks off exhibition slate
Has there ever been less buzz about the start of an NFL preseason? The move to Thursday night from the traditional Sunday has caught many fans by surprise, while angering coaches who don’t think a few days in camp is enough time to prepare for a game. 

Arizona announced two days ago they wouldn’t play any starters. Dallas has a history of coasting through August anyway, and is unlikely to be breathing fire already. The Cowboys are 5-8 ATS the past three preseasons (with a prior HOF appearance adding a thirteenth game). Arizona is 5-6-1 ATS during that period.

Cowboys/Cards may not be a work of art…but you still may want to bet it! Here are the market prices heading into game day…

Line: Dallas -1
Total: 35

To the degree there’s any market drama, the total keeps shuttling between 34.5 and 35. VSiN programming will keep you updated throughout the day on any betting developments. You can be sure there’s going to be A LOT more to report next week when all 32 teams will be in action.

Among the games to look forward to:

  • Wednesday 8/9: Houston at Carolina (live on NFL Network)
  • Thursday 8/10: Denver at Chicago (live on NFL Network) Philadelphia at Green Bay, Washington at Baltimore.
  • Friday 8/11: Pittsburgh at the NY Giants (live on NFL Network)
  • Saturday 8/12: Dallas at the LA Rams (live on NFL Network), Oakland at Arizona
  • Sunday 8/13: Detroit at Indianapolis (live on NFL Network), Seattle at the LA Chargers (live on NFL Network)

As Matt Youmans and Jonathan Von Tobel were discussing this past weekend on “The Green Zone,” the NFL Network shows replays of all games they don’t cover live. You can DVR those to study high-impact backups and QB rotations to use in handicapping subsequent preseason weekends. 

VSiN News: A Hall of Fame Announcement that IS exciting!
Congrats to our own Brent Musburger on his coming induction into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame. The formal ceremony will be December 12 in New York City. You can read all about the 2017 class of inductees by clicking here

Brent will be back from vacation in the VSiN studios on Monday. If you missed Brent’s call into “My Guys in the Desert” Wednesday, click here to watch the replay of his discussion with Ron Flatter and Amal Shah about his late friend Ara Parseghian, the legendary Notre Dame football coach who passed away earlier in the day. Brent’s visit starts in the first segment of the second hour. 

NFL: What key analytics say about Colin Kaepernick
We’re going to do our very best to avoid politics here in VSiN City. But we would like to add some non-political context to the current discussion about Colin Kaepernick’s readiness to be a NFL contributor at this stage of his career. THAT part of the discussion could use some analytics.

Kaepernick is a unique pro QB because he basically has been riding the opposite of a learning curve. He started at his peak, with a very smart head coach (a former quarterback in Jim Harbaugh) hiding his weaknesses while maximizing his strengths. The more he’s been asked to do, the less effective Kaepernick has been. And, when Harbaugh left SF, Kaepernick’s impact fell off a cliff.

The best way to show this ski slope decline is to focus on the following stats:

  • QBR: ESPN’s “Quarterback Rating”
  • Passing Yards Per Attempt
  • DYAR: “Defense-adjusted-yards-above replacement” from Football Outsiders
  • DVOA: “Defense-adjusted-yards-over-average from Football Outsiders

Kaepernick’s first full season as a starter was in 2012. He was fantastic. Watch the decline over time. Note that Harbaugh was his head coach in the first three seasons, but not the last two.

  • 2012: 75.3 QBR, 8.32 YPA, 555 DYAR, 25.8 DVOA
  • 2013: 68.1 QBR, 7.69 YPA, 791 DYAR, 16.6 DVOA
  • 2014: 67.7 QBR, 7.05 YPA,  91 DYAR, -8.4 DVOA
  • 2015: 46.5 QBR, 6.62 YPA, -182 DYAR, -21.5 DVOA
  • 2016: 55.5 QBR, 6.77 YPA, -149 DYAR, -17.7 DVOA

You can run your finger down any of those categories and see the disaster. He was even consistently declining for Harbaugh over time in all but a blip in DYAR. Once Harbaugh left, Kaepernick fell way down to “unacceptable for a starter.” 

It might be a good sign that he bounced off terra firma in 2015 to show improvement in 2016. But it was a small bounce and those are still poor numbers. The best guess right now is that “Kaepernick without Jim Harbaugh” is a desperation stopgap as a backup when a starter is hurt. There is currently NO evidence that he can thrive without Harbaugh. Anyone trying to make the case that Kaepernick is RIGHT NOW a pro caliber starter is placing too much weight on what happened 4-5 years ago for a coach who knew how to hide his weaknesses…against defenses that hadn’t yet adjusted to his skill sets.

And, if you’re hoping he’ll develop as a backup…he’s 29 years old already and will be 30 at midseason. There are guys 4-5 years younger who could post those same lousy recent numbers while offering more hope for future growth. He is “as good” right now as a lot of those guys holding clipboards. The interesting angle in Baltimore is that John Harbaugh is the coach, and would obviously have access to a coaching approach that might help Kaepernick move back toward prior form. 

Not a ridiculous gamble if the Ravens organization decides to roll the dice. Bettors shouldn’t be investing in Kaepernick until they see actual on-field results that signal a return to relevance. 

Now, those interested can go back to arguing about politics.

CFL: Week 7 previews
Let’s stick with football before heading over to the diamonds. We’ve been previewing weekend action in the CFL on Thursdays this summer. Time to dive into Week 7.

Thursday: Calgary at Toronto (-5, total of 54.5) 
This is conceivably a preview of the Grey Cup because Calgary is Power Rated as the best team in the CFL, while Toronto is currently the first-place team in the East. But you can deduce from the point spread that the market doesn’t see the Argos as anywhere near the Stampeders in overall quality. Calgary is laying FIVE (up from -4.5 earlier this week) on the ROAD. That would mean about -8 in a neutral site meeting, or -11 at home. Toronto’s getting so little respect in the line of late that our Tuesday estimate of Power Ratings had it second worst in the league. Kind of a tough schedule spot for the Argos, who are on a Monday-Saturday-Thursday stretch…which is three games in a week-and-a-half. Also worth noting that Toronto’s rush defense has allowed 110, 114, and 91 yards in the last three games (all non-covers). Calgary may be able to lock this one in on the ground given their 188 and 141 rushing performances against soft defense the past two weeks. You get the sense that informed bettors are trusting that fatigue angle…with a relatively well-rested superior team positioned to overpower the tired inferior opponent. 

Friday: Winnipeg at Ottawa (-2.5 total of 58)
This was Ottawa -3 when we last checked for you in our Tuesday report. It’s been a dog year in the CFL (particularly when Hamilton isn’t playing, or when relatively even teams play each other). The three isn’t as key a number up north as it is in the NFL…but it’s still worth paying attention to. Dog money hits plus 3…and favorite money at -2.5 isn’t yet pulling the game back to a field goal. Ottawa had a bye last week. Came at a great time because the Redblacks had a brutal early schedule. Winnipeg is coming off a 41-40 miracle win last week, and a 45-42 heartbreaking loss just prior. That’s why this total has surged from 55 up to 58. Feels like Ottawa’s going to score on Winnipeg (Blue Bombers have allowed 8.5, 8.0, 5.9, 7.0 yards-per-play in their last four…which is three lousy games and one good one). If you think the bye helps Ottawa's defense, the favorite makes sense. If you think Ottawa’s defense is lousy, then you bet on the shootout (which many already have).

Saturday: Hamilton at Edmonton (-14, total of 56)
Hamilton just made June Jones an “assistant head coach” (hat tip to Ron Flatter on twitter for that). Nowhere to go but up for a team that scored just ONE point last week in a free-flowing league! Offensive gurus like Jones tend to build teams that score a lot but play awful defense. So, if he is destined to take over the job soon, that’s what the team should trend toward. Right now, they’re playing at a level about two touchdowns below everyone else. Edmonton isn’t everyone else…but a serious championship threat. The line is still trying to “catch down” to Hamilton. Maybe it’s now adjusted enough. 

Saturday: Saskatchewan at British Columbia (-6.5, total of 56)
Big jump from BC -5 earlier in the week. This makes a little more sense based on Power Ratings from prior weeks. Safe to guess that Saskatchewan money would come in if the full seven is broached. The Roughriders aren’t exactly a proven commodity on the road. They opened at Montreal, and only lost 17-16 in an ugly one. Since then it’s been home-home-bye-at Calgary-home. They lost 27-10 at Calgary, getting squashed in yardage 394-220 and 6.8 to 4.8. We know they’re a handful at home. Can they compete at BC? Smartest money has been skeptical of that so far. 

We’ll pick up with the CFL again Monday here in VSiN City with weekend boxscores and an update of futures prices. 

MLB: Important series-enders Thursday in Milwaukee, Chicago, and Houston 
A quirk in the Thursday schedule has three important series ending on the same day that two new important series are beginning. We’ll take the close-out games in this segment, as they appear in Nevada rotation order. 

If this is your first visit to VSiN City, we use league rankings in weighted-runs-created-plus to provide context for offenses, league rankings in fielding independent pitching to do the same for bullpens, and then xFIP numbers for the probable starting pitchers. Studies have shown that xFIP is a better indicator for future performance than ERA. 

St. Louis at Milwaukee (2:10 p.m. ET, St. Louis -120, total of 8.5)

  • Offense (wRC-plus): St. Louis #8 in NL, Milwaukee #9 in NL
  • Bullpen (xFIP): St. Louis #8 in NL, Milwaukee #7 in NL
  • Thursday: Wacha (3.69 xFIP) vs. Garza (4.72 xFIP)

The rubber game, which is no-harm, no-foul because the Cubs have also split two games in their series. The market has much higher expectations of Wacha than Garza. Plus, the Brewers offense has been pretty dormant in these huge series vs. the Cubs and Cards of late. In order, Milwaukee has scored 2-1-2-3-4. Garza will probably need more than that to beat Wacha. 

Arizona at Chicago Cubs (2:20 p.m. ET, Cubs -130, total pending)

  • Offense (wRC-plus): Arizona #7 in A NL L, Cubs #4 in NL
  • Bullpen (xFIP): Arizona #2 in NL, Cubs #3 in NL
  • Thursday: Greinke (3.22 xFIP) vs. Quintana (3.93 xFIP)

Wow…great pitching matchup, as Quintana continues to try and be a difference-maker for the Cubs. We’ve talked a lot in recent weeks about Arizona’s mediocre offense. The mainstream media doesn’t make enough of an effort to adjust for their hitting friendly home park. In St. Louis and Chicago the past week, Arizona has scored 4-0-7-2-4-3 for an average of 3.33 and a median of 3.5. Of course, if the wind is blowing out Thursday afternoon, both pitchers will face additional challenges. 

Tampa Bay at Houston (8:10 p.m. ET, Astros -155, total of 9.5)

  1. Offense (wRC-plus): Tampa Bay #4 in AL, Houston #1 in AL
  2. Bullpen (xFIP): Tampa Bay #14 in AL, Houston #1 in AL
  3. Thursday: Snell (5.27 xFIP) vs. McHugh (4.72 xFIP)

Tampa Bay has taken two of three against the short-handed and banged up Astros. Kind of an awkward get-away spot before catching a plane home to face Milwaukee. (Who would have guessed Milwaukee/Tampa Bay would be such an important August series?!)

MLB: Crowded AL playoff picture now framing NY Yankees/Cleveland and Seattle/Kansas City
Let’s jump right in to the new matchups, again using Nevada rotation order. 

NY Yankees at Cleveland

  • Offense (wRC-plus): Yankees #2 in NL, Cleveland #3 in NL
  • Bullpen (xFIP): Yankees #2 in NL, Cleveland #3 in NL
  • Thursday: Gray (3.30 xFIP) vs. Salazar (3.40 xFIP)
  • Friday: Garcia (4.19 xFIP) vs. Kluber (2.43 xFIP)
  • Saturday: Montgomery (4.51 xFIP) vs. Clevinger (4.38 xFIP)
  • Sunday: Severino (3.12 xFIP) vs. Carrasco (3.57 xFIP)

As we go to press, some sites are showing Kluber Thursday for the Indians, while others are showing Salazar. You’ve got the numbers above for whoever throws. The most important news here is that new Yankees acquisitions will pitch the first two games. Those xFIP’s for Gray and Garcia are with their prior teams. Big weekend. 

Seattle at Kansas City

  • Offense (wRC-plus): Seattle #6 in NL, Kansas City #15 in NL
  • Bullpen (xFIP): Seattle #10 in NL, Kansas City #6 in NL
  • Thursday: Gallardo (4.94 xFIP) vs. Cahill (3.51 xFIP)
  • Friday: Paxton (3.24 xFIP) vs. Hammel (5.08 xFIP)
  • Saturday: Hernandez (4.03 xFIP) vs. Duffy (4.66 xFIP)
  • Sunday: Ramirez (2.29 xFIP in relief) vs. Kennedy (5.08 xFIP)

The early Thursday line shows Cahill -125 over Gallardo with a total of 9.5. Kansas City’s offense turned back into a pumpkin in Baltimore, of all places. Remember when they scored 16 runs against Detroit pitching twice in a calendar week? The Royals just posted 1-2-0 over three games in the stadium that was playing like a wiffle-ball field not too long ago (mostly because of bad O’s pitching). 

Kansas City’s slump has kept all the Wildcard stragglers within striking distance. Here’s a quick look at that race using games above or below .500.

AL Wildcard (top two qualify)

  1. NY Yankees plus 8
  2. Kansas City plus 4
  3. Tampa Bay plus 3
  4. Seattle plus 1
  5. Baltimore -1
  6. Minnesota -3

That’s it for Thursday. Enjoy the start of the NFL preseason! If you haven’t already subscribed to VSiN City, please do so here. You’re automatically registered for a drawing that awards a free entry to the Westgate SuperContest (a $1,500 value). Subscribers also get the daily South Point betting sheets in a handy PDF file. 

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