NFL Preseason Betting
This Finn Factor column is orchestrated to access new coaching staff, schemes, teams, and players. However, the NFL preseason doesn’t provide all the components to formulate end-all decisions about who a team is or will be. Nevertheless, I have found tremendous success using the information from the preseason schedule in building a foundation of a team’s strengths and weaknesses and how they will apply to matchups when real football begins in early September. The game notes from Week 1 contests are what I believe to be learned and what we could see on gameday moving forward.
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Finn’s Training Camp Report
Those of us NFL fanatics without preseason football in 2020 were given a full slate of pigskin action that featured all 32 teams this past weekend. All 32 teams competed Thursday through Sunday, with half of the 16 games showcased on the NFL Network. The Monday edition of the Training Camp Report begins with a recap of what we learned from the weekend games.
Washington Football Team 13 at 22 New England Patriots
Football Team – The WFT loss to the Pats on Thursday night wasn’t bad, nor was it painful to watch. However, the final score wasn’t truly indicative of how the Washington starters performed. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick looked sharp in his debut and would have led the team to a score, but kicker Dustin Hopkins missed a field goal. Backup Taylor Heinicke was also solid and led the WFT to its first touchdown just before halftime. Washington’s first-team defense looked dominant on its first drive when defensive end Chase Young strip-sacked New England quarterback Cam Newton. The play was later ruled an incomplete pass.
Patriots – You will read and hear how rookie QB Mac Jones was more impressive than Cam Newton in the Patriots’ preseason opener despite a vanilla game line. Jones was routine in the loss completing 13-of-19 passes for 87 yards in his NFL debut against the Washington Football Team. Jones led New England to a total of six points. Neither quarterback was over-the-top impressive, but that is precisely what coach Bill Belichick would prefer in the exhibition action. He doesn’t want to show or expose any information that would benefit opposing teams when the games count.
Undrafted kicker Quinn Nordin was 3-of-3 in the field goal department, including a 50-yarder. Veteran Nick Folk was solid last season for the Patriots, but Nordin just gave the Patriots powers-that-are a reason to save a buck or two on a rookie showing he is as capable and maybe more than the veteran Folk.
Newton’s performance in the victory over Washington was in line with who he was a season ago. If you believe that the Patriots are looking for their next Tom Brady, then it is safe to say that eventually, Jones is the starter because Newton will never be who Brady was. What Newton brings to the field is not in any way, shape, or form what Tom Brady could or did.
Pittsburgh Steelers 24 at 16 Philadelphia Eagles
Steelers – What we witnessed in the second preseason event for Pittsburgh was the starting offensive line receiving live reps. Those who contributed to the win over the Philadelphia Eagles; Trai Turner, Rashaad Coward, Chuks Okorafor, and Kevin Dotson. The Steelers showed their ability in 12 personnel with Pat Freiermuth and Eric Ebron at tight end and Tony Brooks-James in the backfield. Dwayne Haskins was his usual good and bad self. The good was a third down from the Eagles 22-yard line, which saw Haskins draw the Eagles offsides, scrambled, and hit Anthony Johnson on a free play for a touchdown. Haskins had an overall positive outing, completing 16 of 22 passes for 161 yards, and was the general for the offense on four scoring drives.
Eagles – Tight end Zach Ertz caught and dropped big balls on Thursday night from Jalen Hurts. Dallas Goedert snared a 34-yard pass from Hurts on the opening drive. A capable 12-personnel scheme will only be available for Hurtz if Ertz is still on the Eagles’ roster for Week 1. Nearly a year after publicly expressing his dissatisfaction with his contract, eight months after a tearful “goodbye” news conference, and report after report about his expected departure, as Howie Roseman wrote in July, will be an active player for Philly in Week 1. The tight-end combo of Ertz and Goedert could well make or break the success of Hurts this season.
On Thursday, wideout Quez Watkins was used in a check-down role, turning an extended handoff into a 60-yard completion and touchdown. Injuries to DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery a year ago offered Watkins the opportunity of a lifetime. The Eagles’ sixth-round pick (#200) in the 2020 draft, Watkins, is the new breed of NFL receiver. The value of such a player begins with their elite speed (4.35 40-yard).
Tennessee Titans 23 at 3 Atlanta Falcons
Titans – The running back that earns the backup roll to Derrick Henry will see plenty of snaps and work when Henry is on the sideline. Mekhi Sargent and Cameron Batson received the bulk of snaps in the Week 1 victory over the Falcons. Sargent received 16 carries in the game after expected second-in-line to Henry, Darrynton Evans, exited the game with an ankle injury.
Henry gained over 2000 yards on over 400 carries in 2020. History has been crystal clear when projecting the production of backs following a 2000 yard season. The campaign following a 2,000-yard season has found a 2000 yard ballcarrier losing a yard-plus on his yards per carry average the following year.
Falcons – The Falcons surrendered 414 points in the 2020 campaign, an average of 25.9 per game. The unit allowed 399 total points in 2019, which works out to be 24.9 points a game. There isn’t anywhere to go but up/better for this Atlanta defense in 2021, and defensive coordinator Dean Pees offered a preview of his scheme changes for the upcoming season. Pees dialed up pressure on a handful of third downs in the first half of the loss to Tennessee. The first blitz call was directed for the A-gap, and the execution was perfect, resulting in one of two sacks for Atlanta in the first 30 minutes.
Safety Jaylinn Hawkins recorded the second sack by the Falcons. The second-year d-back out of Cal was all over the field, adding tackles and defended passes to his second-quarter sack.
Dallas Cowboys 16 at 19 Arizona Cardinals 19
Cowboys – The Cowboys were the better team on Friday night but dropped passes and missed assignments by the defensive offered the Cardinals a chance to win by a field goal with no time on the game clock in regulation. If there is one certainty with this Cowboys team, the defense will determine who Dallas is. If the 2021 defense has any of the 2020 unit’s DNA, then Dallas will have to score 30-plus points to earn victories on Sunday afternoons.
Cardinals – The Arizona coaching staff won’t show a large portion of the 2021 playbook in the three exhibition games. Quarterback Kyler Murray was inactive and in street clothes on the sideline. Experienced veteran signal-caller Colt McCoy could well be the fit to backup Murray for Kingsbury’s Cardinals. and might well be the ideal backup. McCoy completed 6 of 7 passes for 69 yards and a 107.7 rating covering three Arizona offensive drives. It would be irresponsible of me not to make a note every week of the preseason as to the execution of the Arizona offensive line. It is too early to make profound assessments of the Cards’ O-line, but if they are what they were a year ago and how they performed in NFLX Week 1, then Kingsbury will and the Cardinals scheme will struggle.
Buffalo Bills 16 at 15 Detroit Lions
Bills – The focus of the offense this offseason was being more effective and less predictable when and who would tote the football in the running game. Head coach Sean McDermott made it quite clear to the media and fan base this team would be the best they could be protecting quarterback Josh Allen and running the ball by beginning Friday night’s first four offensive plays from scrimmage with run plays. Josh Allen didn’t dress for the preseason opener, and Mitchell Trubisky got the start under center. The former No. 2 overall pick played just 11 snaps and attempted two passes (1 of 2 for 10 yards).
Lions – Detroit will be a much more deliberate offense with Jared Goff than with Matt Stafford directing the unit. Goff completed 7 of 9 passes for 56 yards. Detroit will be forced to scheme maximum protection with Goff, who is not at his best outside of the pocket. There is very little reason for the Bills to do more than give their starters some live-action that includes tackling and being tackled.
Miami Dolphins 13 at 20 Chicago Bears
Dolphins – Without giving too much weight to Miami’s first preseason matchup and the impressive performance of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, it would be wise to remember just how unimpressive Tua was on gameday in December. The former Alabama All-American was accurate and calm under pressure. But, unfortunately, the second-year signal-caller made one decision that was as disastrous as his impressive plays combined. Tua forced a ball into double coverage in the red zone resulting in an endzone interception. Nevertheless, Tagovailoa will receive a high grade for Saturday night’s performance especially considering the offense operates inside a new playbook.
Bears – Chicago offered most of the defensive unit, including starters, snaps in Week 1. All-Pro and D-POY candidate Khalil Mack was living in the Miami backfield for most of the first quarter. The aggressive Chicago defense forced a Tua interception. But, unfortunately, the unit also surrendered significant gains through the air with high-risk defensive gambles.
The Bears’ initial visual gave the Chicago media and their fan base optimism, especially the play calls by new defensive coordinator Sean Desai. My newspaper contacts in Chicago have all reported essentially the same Intel on the Bears defense. That information is that first-year DC Desai has brought a contagious energy to a defense teetering on elite.
With unwavering surety, I know that quarterback Justin Fields will orchestrate exciting 15-minute moments this season. A number of those exciting plays and drives will be comparable to what the former Buckeye signal-caller did in the final 40 seconds of the first half of his first career NFL preseason game on Saturday. Fields calmly and confidently drove the Bears into field goal range. The drive included the Bears’ first down of the entire half. The calm was evident in the scoring drive. The confidence was undeniable for the rest of his snaps. He looked like he was born to wear a helmet, pads and lead ten other men into battle. As sure as I am, Fields will give the Chicago Bears fanbase rookie moments they will never forget; some of those moments won’t make the highlight reel celebrating Chicago victories. I believe you know where I am going here.
Denver Broncos 33 at 6 Minnesota Vikings
Broncos – Saturday night’s final score might lead you to believe that Denver can compete with the high-flying schemes in the league. But, unfortunately, the final score doesn’t speak to just how good the Denver defense was and how much the unit contributed to the team’s 33 points. The Broncos’ No. 9 overall draft selection Patrick Surtain II intercepted a Jake Browning pass and returned it for a 30-yard touchdown. Surtain, selected ninth overall out of Alabama, was drafted ahead of quarterback Justin Fields and Mac Jones.
Denver’s offense was impressive. Lock passed for 151 yards and two touchdowns in three possessions. Teddy Bridgewater was 7 for 9 for 74 yards in his time behind center. Second-round pick Javonte Williams compiled 29 yards on five carries. Williams was responsible for assisting the offense in recording two first-down runs on each of his first two touches. Williams figures to press veteran Melvin Gordon for snaps in the season opener.
Vikings – The Broncos’ butt-kicking of Minnesota is not the Vikings team we will see in Week 2 of the regular season. Minnesota sat their starters and essential backups. The Vikings rested more than 30 players after two full days of practice against the Broncos at the team’s suburban headquarters this week. The only projected starter who played was defensive end, Stephen Weatherly
New Orleans Saints 14 at 17 Baltimore Ravens
Saints – Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston made an impression in the Saints’ 17-14 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. However, head coach Sean Payton best described the impression of the two battling for the No 1 spot on the depth chart. “I’m not making any comparisons with the quarterbacks right now,” Payton said. The Saints had six turnovers, allowed the Ravens to get to the quarterback for three sacks, and as a team registered ten penalties.
Ravens – The Baltimore defense forced three fumbles and intercepted three passes. The questions surrounding how the unit would pressure opposing quarterbacks this season after losing some of the defensive front in the offseason found LB Patrick Queen looking lean and fast. Queen took part in just 20 snaps but was impressive with four tackles, two for a loss, and a sack in the victory. Wink Martindale’s defense was the prize in the Week 1 exhibition.
Cleveland Browns 23 at 13 Jacksonville Jaguars
Browns – Those that watched overall No. #1 draft pick Trevor Lawrence didn’t see a fraction of what he can create offensively. The obvious is we were watching a rookie execute his first snaps as a professional. What wasn’t transparent was his over-the-top football IQ. Cleveland’s backup defensive linemen prevented Lawrence from being ridiculously good in his NFL debut, his hazing if you will.
Most impressive was the performance of the Cleveland defensive front. Unfortunately, the depth of the Browns defensive front seven is not receiving the attention it deserves.
Lest I mention the rest of the Browns defense and key contributors, the best word to describe rookie linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah is “Wow.” The NFL police need to be informed that Cleveland committed a second-round heist in this year’s draft. An obvious first-round skillset with the raw and elite athletism that should have prevented him from being available on Day 2 is best described as Grand Larceny.
It is a considerable stretch to container Owusu-Koramoah with “The Rose City of Petra” or “Machu Picchu” as one of the New Wonders of the World, but he is a must-see if you are a football fan. His size and speed are a weapon by themselves. Opposing coaches will be forced to account for his role in the Browns defense, particularly in blitz packages. Donovan Peoples-Jones was the watercooler talk of the Browns Training Camp the first week. He then produced and played like a veteran in his preseason debut on Saturday, creating a positive buzz in the Lake Erie area.
Jaguars – As talked and written about, certainly expected, the Browns and Jaguars game was all about the No. #1 overall draft pick Trevor Lawrence. The Jacksonville rookie quarterback was strip-sacked on his first snap. What was learned from the Lawrence performance was his surface numbers were pedestrian, but his NFL IQ is off-the-charts.
After the first play of his professional career found him sacked and fumbling the football, the remainder of his snaps showed who and where the rook currently rests in the Finn Factor Savvy Chart. Lawrence was pressured on nearly every play-action drop, but he never flinched, not once. His incomplete passes were all throw-aways save one. Lawrence has to work with this season; the talent around him is good enough to be competitive on Sunday afternoon. Lawrence and the Jags have a better chance than not to exceed expected season wins.
Marvin Jones and Laviska Shenault Jr have the skillset to have big seasons with Lawrence behind center. This season, the Jacksonville offense will depend largely on how Lawrence performs. Still, equally important is the understanding that the offense will be a product of the coaches playing calling and the offensive line. The Jaguars’ offensive line showed cracks against the Browns’ defensive front on Saturday night. And it was a defensive front that was comprised of second-team player personnel.
New York Jets 12 at 7 New York Giants
Jets – Zach Wilson engineered a vanilla game plan that appeared to be an orchestrated script placing the overall No. #2 pick in a position to succeed. Wilson completed 6 of 9 passes for 63 yards, and the battle of New York resulted in a 12-7 Jets win over the Giants. Wilson took part in less than 20 snaps and credit the Jets coaching staff for positioning talent and ability around the young quarterback from jump street.
Experienced playmakers surrounded Wilson in his professional debut. Wideout Corey Davis made a great catch on a so-so pass on the sideline, converting a third down. The next set of downs found receiver Keelan Cole catching a check down in the middle of the field for a second straight third-down conversion.
In defense of the J-E-T-S Jets, Jets, Jets coaching staff, the retooled offense is still under construction, and the team kept the playlist uncomplicated and rookie-friendly.
Giants – When the two New York teams changed ends of the field to begin the fourth quarter, the Giants had less than 100 yards of total offense. Then, in late spring, Clement arrived in the Big Apple and accepted the role of “lightning” to support “thunder,” which Barkley is in the Giants offense. The fifth-year running back carried the Giants’ offense to the red zone before fumbling away the scoring opportunity. Clement didn’t receive the number of touches that the coaching staff planned, but he did make the most of his touches, gaining 32 yards on five carries. Neither coaching staff showed any complexity in scheme on either side of the football. The final score was indicative of the pace and the play of the game, slow and slower.
Cincinnati Bengals 19 at 14 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Bengals – The most exciting and intriguing play in this Week 1 contest was the Cincy defense. And defensive rush in Joseph Ossai. The third-rounder offered evidence of his creativity and skillset. He manipulated and beat the talented and experienced Bucs’ tackle Tristan Wirfs on several Tampa Bay pass plays. Ossai ended the night for Tom Brady with a down-and-distance sack.
Ossai delivered constant pressure on Brady’s backup, Blaine Gabbert. However, Ossai was forced to leave the game with a wrist injury at the start of the second half. In the post-game presser, head coach Zac Taylor said he couldn’t comment on the injury until further tests were completed.
Buccaneers – The reigning Super Bowl champions were as uninterested in doing anything more than giving several starters some home game snaps, followed by a team focus on providing unproven journeymen and rookies defensive snaps.
Houston Texans 26 at 7 Green Bay Packers
Texans – We learned from this AFC vs NFC matchup that the Houston to-do list before the regular season kicks off is long. As a result, who will start and sit for the Texans in the September season opener remains a riddle. The game focus in both teams’ preseason opener was more about Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Houston’s Deshaun Watson, and neither quarterback played. Davis Mills, a Stanford rookie with less than an entire season of collegiate experience, completed 11 of 22 passes for 112 yards and an interception. Mills led the offense in two scoring drives.
The Texans did offer some game tape and evidence of what will be expected of the starting quarterback. Mills never held the ball long enough for the defensive line to apply pressure in his face. Mills held the ball before passing for an average of just 2.6 seconds per Next Gen Stats. The Stanford grad made as many poor decisions as good ones throwing an interception in the end zone, and missed a couple of open receivers on deep routes.
The Houston media was complimentary of the play from the offensive line, which was premature considering the quick-hitting pass plays that were called by from the booth for Mills and Tyrod Taylor. The expectation for Week 1 of the regular season is that Taylor will start, and Watson will be inactive, most likely for legal reasons. Taylor was behind center for one series and was a perfect 4-of-4 with his pass attempts gaining 50 yards and leading the offense to one of the four successful field goal attempts.
Houston played only two defensive coverages for most of Saturday night’s game. The Texans’ defense was in man-to-man or Tampa 2 coverage making it easy for the Pack quarterback to change the play at the line of scrimmage. That, however, didn’t happen, and the result was convincing yet deceiving Houston victory.
Packers – The Packers were one of a handful of teams that acted as if they didn’t want to do anything more than necessary in the first 60 minutes of 2021 exhibition football. Rodgers and the frontline receivers didn’t dress for the game. Instead, newbie wideout Devin Funchess got most of the work in the passing game, finishing with six receptions for 70 yards.
Backup QB Jordan Love completed 12 of 17 passes for 122 yards and one touchdown. Kurt Benkert followed him in what was a 26-7 loss to Houston. In his post-game presser, Packers bench boss Matt LaFleur told the media that the original game plan was to have Love engineer the offense for three quarters, but he got injured on a strip sack late in the first half and was done for the night. The MRI on Love’s right shoulder came back clean on Monday morning, but the second-year quarterback was held out of practice Monday.
LaFleur spoke to beat writers during Monday’s practice and said that Love is “feeling a lot better, but we’re going to be smart.” LaFleur wouldn’t rule out Love playing Saturday against the New York Jets but allow me to do that for him.
Kansas City Chiefs 19 at 16 San Francisco 49ers
Chiefs – The rich get richer for those that invest themselves in being a part of the Andy Reid offense. Running back, Jerick McKinnon, who has been a study over the last three years with one injury or another, was active and taking handoffs in San Fran on Saturday night. McKinnon earned three carries for 19 yards and was involved with two catches for 21 yards in the passing game.
The question is, where would a healthy McKinnon fit in the Kansas City offense. For those that don’t believe there are not enough balls to go around in Kansas City, think again. A contributing and healthy McKinnon makes Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire much better.
Remember that quarterback Patrick Mahomes also has speed-burners that typically catch single coverage by the less talented defensive backfields. For example, wideout Byron Pringle, who replaced the KC injured on three occasions last year, was a Chad Henne target in the first quarter resulting in a touchdown. Kansas City held only one projected starter back from action on Saturday night, deactivating linebacker Willie Gay.
49ers – San Francisco was on the short end of the final score against Mahomes and company. Still, the Niners aerial game found seven players catching passes from rookie Trey Lance, Josh Rosen, and Jimmy Garoppolo. On the first offensive play, Lance threw an 80-yard touchdown pass to Trent Sherfield that followed Pringle’s five-yard touchdown pass from Henne. The Niners traded three first-round picks to draft Lance third overall in April with the vision of the North Dakota State grad being their QB of the future. The Niners held out 22 players, with most expected to be the starting eleven on defense. Other notables; tight end George Kittle, running back Raheem Mostert, fullback Kyle Juszczyk and offensive linemen Trent Williams and Alex Mack.
Seattle Seahawks 7 at 20 Las Vegas Raiders
Seahawks – Running back Alex Collins appears to be the No. #2 option behind starter Rashad Penny who was inactive. However, second-year tailback DeeJay Dallas put his hybrid talents on display in Vegas on Saturday night, resulting in 69 yards from scrimmage.
Raiders – The riddle that is the Vegas Raiders and who is who and where they will fit on the regular-season depth chart is anyone’s guess. Head coach Jon Gruden and his staff sent Alex Leatherwood, Lester Cotton, John Simpson, Brandon Parker, and Andre James to the huddle in the team’s first offensive series. When 60 minutes of game action had been played, and the scoreboard clock expired, the Raiders offense had played eleven different linemen. The trio of Richie Incognito, Kolton Miller, and Denzelle Good, expected starters on the O-line, didn’t dress.
The running game was the focus of the Raiders coaching staff. Backs Trey Ragas (13-62-TD) and BJ Emmons (9-45-TD) saw most of the carries behind four different combinations of offensive linemen. Seattle’s pedestrian defensive front seven registered four sacks, with two credited to linebacker Cody Barton.
Los Angeles Chargers 13 at 6 Los Angeles Rams
Chargers – Chase Daniel threw for 104 yards on 24 passing attempts in the victory over the Rams. The third team quarterback, Easton Stick, was a perfect 7 for 7, with his passes totaling 63 yards.
Rams – The battle of Los Angeles offered little to no information about what the Rams and Chargers retooled offensive schemes will look like this season. Instead, head coach Sean McVay lived up to his coach-speak when he told the media that no starters would see playing time. Unfortunately, when they do and if they do in any of the three exhibition events, there will be little to nothing to see that will be replicated in the regular season.
The backup to starting quarterback Matthew Stafford is John Wolford. Neither dressed to take part in the preseason opener at SoFi Saturday night. Devlin Hodges and Bryce Perkins will receive most of the snaps in the August schedule and compete to hold the clipboard in Week 1.
Carolina Panthers 18 at 21 Indianapolis Colts
Panthers – The Panthers under second-year coach Matt Rhule are essentially starting over from scratch. Rhule, successful in the college ranks, has had difficulty transitioning his schemes to the professional level. Former XFL poster boy P.J. Walker was the storyline in the Week 1 preseason loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
arolina’s projected regular-season starters didn’t dress or play, and the Panthers did what I expect them to do for most of the 2021 season, play lost with more questions than answers. The undersized Walker was the best player on Saturday for either team, and if decisions were to be made today, the dual-threat skillset of Walker would be Rhule’s backup to Darnold.
Colts – Former Kansas City Chiefs starting tackle Eric Fisher will be Indy’s starting left tackle when he is close to 100 percent. Fisher is recovering from a torn Achilles and isn’t expected to be available for the start of the season. The Colts coaching staff made a statement that they would not be adding a quarterback to the roster. At this point, it would be ridiculous to speculate what in the Sam Colt this franchise is going to do until they are whole. Injury after injury after another injury for the Indianapolis Colts during the first few weeks of training camp have bruised what was already a black and blue outlook on the team’s regular-season opener.
Defensive stalwart Darius Leonard missed the first week and a half of training camp due to an ankle injury. Veteran defensive back Xavier Rhodes was placed on the team’s COVID reserve list before camp and has yet to practice. The aforementioned left tackle Eric Fisher won’t be ready for Week 1.
Heading into the second preseason game and the third week of Training Camp, the Colts have lost the most important offensive player save the quarterback, their center Ryan Kelly. The All-Pro injured his elbow and is most likely to miss the season opener before returning for Week 2.
Quarterback Carson Wentz has been diagnosed with a return date as early as Week 1 but as far down the schedule as Week 9. In addition, during Monday’s practice, Guard Quenton Nelson suffered a foot injury and is expected to miss 5-12 weeks after undergoing surgery to repair similar damage to Wentz’s. Jacob Eason is likely to make his NFL debut in Week 1 and do so behind a damaged offensive line and with a handful of questions regarding the defensive player personnel.
WagerTalk’s Live Odds Screen
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NFL Opening Line Report
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