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Recapping NFL Preseason Week 2

Recapping NFL Preseason Week 2

Recapping NFL Preseason Week 2
By Teddy Covers

Last week, I wrote about how after a significant five year run of Overs in the preseason, Week 1 of the 2014 preseason brought a 13-4 mark to the Under.  So what happened in Week 2? With 15 games in the books as I write this on Monday morning, Overs have gone 9-6, cashing at a 60% clip throughout the course of the weekend.  That Week 1 run of Unders certainly didn’t last very long.

What’s behind the high scoring affairs from Week 2?  Penalties, penalties and more penalties; with flags up more than 50% from last year through the first two weeks of August.  And the biggest increases in penalties have come via the rule changes tied to pass defense.  Defensive holding, illegal contact and pass interference calls galore have become the new norm.

The rule changes have most assuredly affected the totals markets for Week 1 of the regular season.  Historically, Week 1 is the lowest scoring week of the first three months of the season (when weather really starts to affect the games in December, scoring tends to go down in the final month).   Week 1 tends to be lower scoring simply because offenses haven’t found a rhythm yet; not quite in true regular season form.

Yet when we look at the Week 1 NFL betting marketplace – just about every book here in Vegas has posted Week 1 numbers, as has every prominent offshore book – the lowest scoring week of the first three months of the season has inflated totals across the board.  The only game totaled below 40 is Carolina – Tampa Bay, sitting at 39.5 or so at most shops.  Some books also have the Raiders – Jets totaled at 39.5, although the prevailing total is 40. Four games are totaled in the 50’s. 11 of the 16 games are totaled at 45 or higher.

Just for comparison, I went back and looked at Week 1 from 2006.  The opening Thursday Night game between the Steelers and Dolphins was totaled at 34.  Seven other games were totaled in the 30’s.  Only three games were totaled at higher than 45; none higher than 48.5.  Yet, of the 16 games played in Week 1 of 2006, 12 of them stayed Under the total.

It was a similar story in 2007.  Eight of the 16 games were totaled in the 30’s.  Only two of the 16 games were totaled above 45.  Regular season Week 1 Unders cashed at an 11-5 clip that year.  Clearly, we’re living in a very different NFL betting world compared to where we were less than a decade ago.  Anyone looking to bet Week 1 games Over the total this year is paying a hefty market tax to do so.

Longtime New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin might have summed it up best with this quote: “There is no contact allowed at all. You bump into each other shoulder-to-shoulder when you turn and run down the field, it is called a penalty. That is an issue. We are going to have to do a better job of coaching it.”

Penalties in bunches is only one of the intriguing storylines in the NFL this August.  Here’s another one – the sudden and unexpected collapse of the 49ers!  Jim Harbaugh and San Francisco came into August riding an 8-1 SU and ATS run in the preseason that dated back to 2011; consistent August juggernauts.  This year, they’re 0-2, outscored 57-3 in a pair of truly ugly blowout losses.  What gives?

Two words: Blaine Gabbert.  Gabbert, the former first round QB who was nothing short of awful in two years with Jacksonville, has gotten extended looks in each of the first two weeks, and he’s been nothing short of awful with the 49ers as well.  Last year, while going 4-0 SU and ATS in August, the Niners had Colt McCoy, Seneca Wallace and BJ Daniels getting playing time behind Colin Kaepernick.

As long as Colin Kaepernick stays healthy, Gabbert’s weakness will be a non-factor once the regular season starts.  The battle for the third string job between McLeod  Bethel Thompson and Josh Johnson isn’t likely to matter much either.  But the 49ers defensive shortcomings here in August might be a concern moving forward.

Last year in August the Niners defense held all four opponents to 14 or less, just as they did in all three spread covering wins back in the 2012 preseason.  This year, they’ve been pushed around in both games; both starters and backups.  No surprise, then, that the San Fran – Dallas Week 1 regular season matchup has been taking Over $$ hand over fist, with the opener of 48 or 48.5 already bet up into the low 50’s three weeks prior to opening day.

There’s one other league-wide story line that is worthy of discussion – all the games that have been decided by one or two point margins.  NFL bettors are conditioned to think about the pointspread number of + or -3 as being the single most important or key number in football betting.  That certainly holds true for the regular season, when nearly one out of every seven games finishes with a final margin of three points.

But in August, coaches don’t play for overtime.  In fact, they’ll do just about anything to avoid overtime; most notably attempting two point conversions throughout the second half in an effort to keep games off more traditional three and seven point margins.

So far here in August, that has resulted in a bevy of short favorites winning the game in outright fashion but failing to cover the pointspread.  In Week 1, the Bills, Lions and Chiefs all won by one or two points, yet failed to cover spreads in the -2 to -3 range. New Orleans also won by two points, but they were underdogs so the margin didn’t matter ATS.

This past weekend, we saw more of the same; very typical for August NFL. The Raiders, Bears and Vikings all won by a point or two; each squad failing to cover the -2.5 or -3 pointspread.  The Giants also won by two points, although their four unanswered touchdowns in the final ten minutes of the fourth quarter came with the G-men as underdogs.

While a full quarter of the games (eight out of 32) in the first two weeks of the preseason were decided by either one or two points, only two games were decided by exactly three points.  The Jets won by three against the Colts in Week 1; a push or a loss for New York, lined in the -3/-3.5 range.   And the Steelers won by three against the Bills in Week 2; a game that bounced around the -2.5 or -3 mark for most of the week before getting bet down to Pittsburgh -1 or pick ‘em on game day.

This is not unusual in the slightest.  And the lesson here is perfectly clear.  The value of pointspreads like 1, 1.5, and 2 increase DRAMATICALLY in August, while the value of the almighty -3 declines rather precipitously.  When an August pointspread is -3 or less, bettors are often best served laying some juice on the moneyline rather than asking the favorite they’re supporting to win the game by more than a field goal.

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