I celebrated my 55th birthday Monday, and my best gift every year at the Tuley’s Takes home office party is that football season is here!
The NFL preseason kicks off Thursday night with the Hall of Fame Game (and the Canadian Football League, if you’re into that). The Steelers are 1.5-point favorites over the Cowboys, with the low Over/Under wavering between 32.5 and 33 points. We pretty much knew Ben Roethlisberger and Dak Prescott wouldn’t play in this most meaningless of meaningless exhibition games, but now that has been confirmed.
I’m not going to ramble too much about NFL preseason betting, as others are touching on the subject this week, but I’ll just throw in my two cents. Betting these games is almost like betting the recent NFL and NBA drafts: You’re wagering as much on information as on any kind of traditional handicapping. While coaches try to do their Bill Belichick imitations during the regular season, they’ll just come out and tell you their game plans and how much they’re playing their starters in the exhibitions. The key is whether you’re quicker than the bookmakers and other bettors in interpreting that news, weighing how much it matters and deciding whether to fire right away or to wait for the market to overreact. Of course, this is also true during the regular season, but the books will adjust their lines much more aggressively in the preseason, so you have to keep on top of everything if you’re betting seriously this time of year.
The only other thing I’ll add about NFL preseason wagering is to pay attention to the QB rotations. I prefer to back teams that will have mobile QBs playing in the fourth quarter who can make plays on their own when the ends of the games digress into sandlot free-for-alls.
Takes on NFL futures
With training camps in full force, we’re getting daily reports on all the teams. The hope is that we don’t get any major injuries at practice or in preseason games, but the biggest news so far has been Colts QB Carson Wentz injuring his foot injury Thursday and undergoing surgery this week. Early reports have him missing from five to 12 weeks. That’s quite a big window, as the former would have him back for the opener while the latter would keep him out until about midseason.
I’m especially interested in this news because, as I do every year, I gave my Super Bowl future bets for the upcoming season right after last season’s Super Bowl and landed on the Colts at 25-1 (the average market price at the time) and the Cardinals at 40-1.
I advised readers to join me on the Colts if they believed Wentz would be heading there to join his former coach, Frank Reich. That wasn’t the only reason, as I also believed the Colts would return a great offensive line and solid running backs, plus a talented receiving corps and a top defense. On paper, they have one of the most complete rosters in the league, and I thought Wentz would keep them right in the thick of the AFC playoff race and battling for a first-round bye. I found 35-1 at Circa on the Colts to win the Super Bowl and felt pretty good about the buy when they indeed landed Wentz.
That enthusiasm is obviously tempered now, as Pro Bowl guard Quenton Nelson has a similar foot injury that will sideline him five to 12 weeks and stud linebacker Darius Leonard has yet to practice after minor ankle surgery.
However, I’m not giving up on the Colts. I still want to trust my initial handicapping and, despite a tough early schedule, the Colts should be able to play with anybody. We’re still waiting to hear if the Colts will sign another QB. The early rumor was they were pursuing Wentz’s former Philly teammate Nick Foles, who is behind Andy Dalton and Justin Fields on the Bears’ depth chart. I have to trust that the Colts will make a move if Wentz is unable to return by the season opener, or they’ll have to hope Jacob Eason can hold down the fort. Still, I’m looking to find the best price at books that have raised the Colts’ futures book price, which was 40-1 at the Westgate SuperBook as of Tuesday afternoon.
Another reason I’m sticking with the Colts is that they pretty much have to hold off only the Titans in the AFC South, as there’s a big gap between those two teams and the rest of the division, the Texans and Jaguars. The Cardinals don’t have that luxury in the loaded NFC West against the Rams, Seahawks and 49ers. Everything has to go right, including QB Tyler Murray continuing to mature and improve, for the Cardinals to come out of that division.
But I’m sticking with the Cardinals — and seeing them as high as 55-1 at Circa — as the defense is coming around and should help take some pressure off Murray and the offense. If they can survive the gauntlet of the NFC West, they should be battle-tested enough to take on the NFC South survivor, no matter who that might be (and we could see a return to the days when the Saints, Buccaneers, Falcons and Panthers all beat each other up). I’ve already written about how I’m not high on the Packers’ postseason chances even with Aaron Rodgers’ returning, and no one’s fearing the NFC East at this time.
Takes on NFL Week 1
We’ll do a full update of our Takes on the season openers in the Sept. 8 issue, but this is a good time to update our initial recommendations when the schedule was released in May.
The four plays I recommended were Buccaneers -6.5 vs. Cowboys, Jaguars -2.5 at Texans, Lions + 7.5 vs. 49ers and Raiders + 4.5 vs. Ravens. I projected that all those lines would move in our favor over the summer or at least by game time, so we could hold the best number or shoot for a possible side (winning one bet and pushing the other) or middle if the lines moved enough.
Those all still look like solid plays, as none of the lines have moved against us.
The Buccaneers are still mostly -6.5 against the Cowboys in the Thursday night opener, and we’ve seen a few 7s pop up in Nevada and elsewhere. And when opening week rolls around, we expect the vast majority of bets to come in on the defending champions, with nearly their whole roster intact, and put it to at least 7 everywhere.
The Jaguars are already up to -3 at several books, so we’re on the right side of that move. This line will be greatly impacted by what happens with Houston QB Deshaun Watson, so we’ll be monitoring that situation.
The 49ers are still -7.5 at the Lions as we took a lead (trying to beat the market) by taking a home dog getting more than a touchdown. A few books have dipped to 7, and that’s where we expect this to end up on opening week.
The Ravens are down to -4 at the Raiders in the Monday night opener, which will be the Raiders’ first home game at Allegiant Stadium with fans in the stands. So our Raiders + 4.5 looks great to me — and some earlier bettors are holding + 5.5 tickets.
Next week: We’ll give our Takes on Over/Unders for all 32 NFL teams.