The hardest part about the NFL preseason is resisting the urge to trust your eyes. As much as we crave NFL football, the three weeks of exhibitions in August hardly resemble anything we will see in September. It's a completely different game when the live action starts, so take what you saw with a grain of salt.
I am old enough to remember when Brandon Weeden's preseason dominance had the city of Cleveland convinced the Browns had finally found their future franchise quarterback. Unfortunately, we know all too well how that story ended. Or Sam Bradford's perfect passer rating in his preseason debut with Chip Kelly's Eagles. Neither Bradford nor Kelly made it to the following season.
My point isn't that the preseason doesn't produce valuable insight. But the injury news, not the box score, has the biggest impact on a team's future outlook. Every franchise comes into the preseason with the same goal: to stay healthy. And there are always at least a handful of teams that suffer injuries that set them back before the season starts. Having the flexibility and foresight to adjust is a necessity for survival in sports betting, so don't get married to your preseason priors. Before we start firing away at Week 1, here are three teams I pivoted off after a rough preseason, along with my favorite way to fade them going forward.
The loss of LT Tyron Smith for at least the first three months of the season will have a massive impact on the Cowboys' offense, and Jerry Jones knows it. Dallas is in full desperation mode, lighting up the phone lines to court retired players and trade partners. As somebody who bet Philadelphia to win the NFC East on draft day at +300, I was already skeptical of the Cowboys. However, most of my reasoning revolved around the inability of the defense to duplicate the number of game-changing turnovers the Cowboys forced last season. Now, the offense has bigger questions. Without Smith, the Cowboys were 30th in first-down passing efficiency and 31st on EPA/rush in the first three quarters. It's fair to wonder if they will be a playoff team in a wide-open NFC. Big D has implosion potential with a tough early schedule, and I am not sure Mike McCarthy can survive a slow start.
Best bet: Dallas to miss the playoffs (+175)
New England Patriots
I have all the respect in the world for Bill Belichick, but it's hard to feel good about the Pats' offensive coaching structure heading into the season. The Matt Patricia/Joe Judge two-headed monster makes everybody nervous about Mac Jones' development. I am not sure I can blindly bank on the Pats solely because of Belichick being on the sidelines. New England's offense wants to be more vertical this season, but Tyquan Thornton's collarbone injury gives Mac Jones one less weapon in the first month of the season. New England team total unders early in the season will be worth a look, but for now, let's bank on them going under their win total.
Best bet: New England under 8.5 wins (-115)
If you have two quarterbacks, you actually have none. Seattle's preseason battle between Geno Smith and Drew Lock takes this famous adage to new heights. It's also fair to say that if your starting quarterback has to prove it in an exhibition game, there is a great chance you will be drafting his replacement the following Spring. Smith's only win in his four games as a starter last year was against Jacksonville, and he didn't surpass 200 yards passing in regulation once. There isn't much value left in the Seahawks futures market, so fade Seattle early and often, starting on the Monday night opener. Getting Russ on revenge under the key number of seven is good enough for me.
Best bet: Week 1 — Denver (-6.5) at Seattle
Stats provided by Sharp Football.