NFL Preseason: Pats at Bucs caps weekend action

Lane Kiffin is in his second season as Oakland's head coach and trying to turn around a Raiders squad that has gone 19-61 since the start of the '03 season. Jeff Fisher has been at the helm of the Tennessee Titans since their days as the Houston Oilers, and is looking to get his team back into the playoffs for a second straight season behind QB Vince Young and new TE Alge Crumpler to support the ground game.

It’s all right, football fans – we’re already halfway through August, which means the start of the NFL regular season is on the horizon.

In the meantime, these exhibition games have plenty to offer for the discerning handicapper – soft betting odds in particular. If you’re going to put one over on the betting public, this is the best time of year to do so.

Oakland Raiders at Tennessee Titans (-4, 35)
Friday, Aug 15, 8:00 p.m (Eastern) FOX

Lane Kiffin is entering his second year as the head coach of the Raiders; they were 2-2 straight up and against the spread in exhibition play in 2007. Oakland won the 2008 opener 18-6 over the visiting San Francisco 49ers (+1½). It wasn’t much of a game, especially from running back Darren McFadden, who fumbled the ball three times. Kiffin called McFadden the “star of camp” nonetheless. He’s also happy with RB Justin Fargas, and says the incumbent starting tailback won’t play much on Friday.

Jeff Fisher’s been at the helm of the Titans since they were in Houston; his relocated team is 25-20 in preseason play, including 3-1 SU and ATS last year and 1-0 SU and ATS after downing the St. Louis Rams (+3) 34-13 in Week 1. Fisher is particularly happy with the work quarterback Vince Young has done with new offensive co-ordinator Mike Heimderdinger. But the big story was the 340 rushing yards Tennessee dropped on the Rams. Oakland will have its hands full as a 4-point road dog on a total of 35 points.

Houston Texans at New Orleans Saints (-3, 36½)
Saturday, Aug 16, 8:00 p.m. (ET)

The Texans have yet to establish themselves as a bona fide NFL threat. Every year brings changes that need extra work during the preseason; coach Gary Kubiak was 3-1 (3-0-1 ATS) in his rookie year and 2-2 (2-2 ATS) in 2007 before winning the 2008 opener 19-16 over Denver (+3). Houston has youth and depth on offense with RB Steve Slaton and WR David Anderson; even better from a preseason standpoint, the Texans have Sage Rosenfels (84.8 passer rating last year) taking lots of snaps as the No. 2 pivot behind Matt Schaub.

Sean Payton’s Saints are also a work in progress. Entering his third year as head coach, Payton has split 10 games, taking the Week 1 matchup 24-10 at Arizona (-2.5). There is cohesion within the Saints after the initial disruption caused by Hurricane Katrina; however, RB Reggie Bush is “probably” not going to play in this game due to a swollen knee. The Saints are 3-point home favorites with a total of 36½.

New England Patriots at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+1, 34½)
Sunday, Aug 17, 8:00 p.m. (ET) NFL Network

Pats coach Bill Belichick has a history of taking these preseason games very seriously, even though his depth chart is virtually filled out already. Belichick went into the season 31-22 SU and 30-18-4 ATS, but lost the 2008 exhibition opener 16-15 to Baltimore (+3½). QB Tom Brady did not play; each of his backups threw an interception without finding the end zone.

Jon Gruden is also a pretty strong preseason coach, going 27-15 SU and 21-17 ATS with the Buccaneers and beating the Pats 13-10 last year as 2½-point home favorites. This year got off on the right foot with a 17-6 win at Miami (-1½). Even without Jeff Garcia (calf), the Bucs took advantage of their QB depth against a team that had yet to add Chad Pennington to the lineup. Garcia and WR Joey Galloway (groin) will both reportedly sit out against the Patriots. Tampa Bay will be a 1-point puppy on Sunday with a total of 34½ points.