Some see the NFL preseason as bad football but I see it as great opportunities to find point spread value. Unlike the regular season, coaches usually open up about their game plan. If you read articles and tweets from beat writers, you will find out how many snaps the starters will play and how the team will approach the game.
It’s too early in the week to know about how teams will approach these games but I have found three contests in Week 1 of preseason where I think I have a strong angle.
One thing I look for when picking preseason games is quarterback competitions. There are several teams with two of more quarterbacks that still think they will win the job and will be giving their maximum effort when they get an opportunity. I also looked at teams with new coaches. The best way to win over a fan base and impress the local media is to win in your home debut. There a several of those cases right off the bat.
Buccaneers at Eagles (-3)
The Eagles haven’t played a game under Doug Pederson but the pressure is already on the first-time head coach. It started when the team re-signed Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel followed Pederson from Kansas City to Philadelphia. It looked like those two would battle for the starting quarterback job until a third player entered the picture. The Eagles traded a package of draft picks for FCS star Carson Wentz. It looks like Bradford is the favorite to start in Week 1 of the regular season but it can’t help his confidence that his coach wanted a player from North Dakota State so desperately that they traded valuable assets for him.
Philadelphia is a market that wants to win now and the media isn’t shy to share their honest opinions about the team. Because of that I think Pederson will want to make a statement in his first home game in charge, even if it doesn’t count in the standings. Quieting the media and satisfying the fans early should be motivation for the Eagles to want to win the game.
As mentioned before, the quarterback competition for the Eagles is still up for grabs so we should see four quarters of play from three motivated players who think they can win the job. Chase Daniel is familiar preseason situations from his days with the Saints and Chiefs so this pick is partly on him to play well. The motivation for the new coach and quarterback competition leads me to taking the Eagles.
Pick: Eagles (-3) over Buccaneers
Cowboys at Rams (-3.5)
The NFL is back in Los Angeles and the Rams open their preseason schedule at home against the Cowboys. A few factors have me favoring the Rams against the spread in this game even though they are giving more than a field goal. Motivation is the first reason as the Rams will want to put on a show for their new fan base and collect a win.
The Rams are another team with a quarterback competition. Case Keenum is listed as the starter for now but rookie Jared Goff has to believe he can win the job, and St. Louis might leave the first team offense out so the first overall pick gets a fair shot.
This pick is also a play against the Cowboys. Dallas was plagued by injuries last season and it’s already beginning in training camp. Backup quarterback Kellen Moore broke his ankle and running back Ezekiel Elliott has been banged up. The Cowboys main priority is to get out of the preseason without anymore injuries, so I’m guessing Tony Romo and the starters will only see one series if they suit up.
The Moore injury really hampers the Cowboys in this game as rookie Dak Prescott is now the backup. Jameill Showers is Dallas’ other option. I’ll take the Rams here as they have a huge edge when it comes to the quarterback position and the motivation angle.
Pick: Rams (-3.5) over Cowboys
Texans at 49ers (-3)
The biggest takeaway from the 2015 preseason was that Chip Kelly wants to win and isn’t afraid to run up the score. Philadelphia finished the month 3-1 with a point differential of +56. Kelly showed off his hand-picked offensive offensive weapons and the buzz was so great that the Eagles became a Super Bowl favorite because of their exhibition game play.
Things didn’t work out in Philly and now Kelly is back on the west coast with the 49ers. He faces a huge challenge as he tries to resurrect the career of Colin Kaepernick and attempts to get the most out of Blaine Gabbert. It doesn’t look pretty but these two players will be looking to impress their new coach and win the starting job. Kelly will let both play and he’s a coach you want to back in preseason based off his track record.
The Texans have a new quarterback and running back this season but here’s another team that just needs to get out of the preseason without anymore injuries. Most notably, J.J. Watt is in danger of missing the start of the regular season after undergoing back surgery. Houston will want Brock Osweiler and Lamar Miller to get used to the new offense but I’m going to predict Houston will wait until the second or third game of preseason to put them on display. The 49ers are a bad team but I feel comfortable in supporting Chip Kelly in this spot.
Pick: 49ers (-3) over Texans