Keystone State battle highlights betting card

Pennsylvania's two NFL entries meet Friday when the Pittsburgh Steelers host the Philadelphia Eagles in preseason action. Ben Roethlisberger is not expected to take any snaps for the Iron City squad, while Donovan McNabb should see very limited action for Philly. The Eagles QB, off his best season in three years, should be thrust back into the spotlight now that the Bret Favre drama is done.

Donovan McNabb might be the happiest player in the NFL. All summer long, nobody’s been talking about him – it’s either been Brett Favre and his relationship with the Green Bay Packers, or Tony Romo and his relationship with Jessica Simpson.

Now that Favre has been traded to the New York Jets, some of that spotlight will eventually fall back onto McNabb. His Philadelphia Eagles failed to make the playoffs last year; McNabb took much of the heat, even though he had his best and healthiest season in three years with an 89.9 passer rating over 14 games. We’ll get our first glimpse of the five-time Pro Bowler this Friday night – but don’t blink.

Philadelphia Eagles at Pittsburgh Steelers (-1)
Friday, Aug 8, 7:30 p.m. (ET)

As is the case for most NFL coaches, Andy Reid’s preseason strategy for Week 1 involves pulling the starters off the field before the second quarter. It’s a smart strategy, given his veteran club and the fragility of key players like McNabb and running back Brian Westbrook, who has been suffering from flu-like symptoms this week. In fact, Reid takes it so easily on his team that his Eagles are 13-23 in preseason action, 16-18-2 against the spread.

Mike Tomlin’s Steelers went 4-1 (3-2 ATS) in last year’s exhibition action. The rule of thumb for handicappers is to bet on first-year coaches, who generally want to ingratiate themselves to their fanbase with a few otherwise meaningless preseason wins. Tomlin certainly has nothing to prove after leading the Steelers to a 10-6 (8-8 ATS) record and an AFC North title.

That doesn’t necessarily mean Tomlin is taking his hand off the throttle. He reportedly gave the troops a pep talk Monday morning, after which they came out and had an excellent practice session. But there are two notable health issues that will have some impact on Friday’s game. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (groin) is reportedly not expected to play, and nose tackle Casey Hampton has been barred from practicing with the team because of weight concerns.

Dallas Cowboys at San Diego Chargers (-3)
Saturday, Aug 9, 10:00 p.m. (ET)

Cowboys coach Wade Phillips appears to be in the “winning” camp when it comes to the preseason. His teams are 10-6 straight up and ATS, although Dallas went 2-2 SU and ATS last year. Phillips reportedly had his team run through a “Chargers-intensive” practice on Thursday, even though the two teams don’t meet in the regular season. The Super Bowl is another story. Dallas (9-2) and San Diego (10-1) are among the top favorites to win, so a matchup at SBXLIII in Tampa isn’t out of the question.

Saturday’s game won’t look anything like the Super Bowl. For one, LaDainian Tomlinson isn’t likely to receive any carries – he only has 14 of them in eight years of preseason play. And wide receiver Vincent Jackson will not dress after missing a week of practices with a hamstring pull. Meanwhile, QB Philip Rivers will see his first game action since having his torn ACL repaired in the offseason.

Coach Norv Turner is likely to take it easy on Rivers and the rest of his starters on Saturday. The Chargers went through “minimal preparation” on Thursday; in his last three Week 1 games with the Chargers and the Oakland Raiders before that, Turner is 0-3 SU and 0-2-1 ATS. And yet San Diego is favored at home on the betting odds. Welcome to the preseason.