The NFL season almost here and some positional battles will be decided during preseason. So while the results of these games do not count, do not tell that to the players involved.
Believe it or not, the NFL season is right around the corner with opening night coming on Thursday, September 4th in a rematch of the “Referee Game” between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks, but before that big date arrives, the NFL preseason kicks off in less than one month with the Hall of Fame Game between the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants on Sunday, August 3rd, with the rest of the NFL teams beginning their preseasons the next week.
Granted the results of the preseason are meaningless, unless of course bettors have some financial involvement. However, these games are not only important to those with wagers involved, but more importantly to players involved in the many positional battles going on around the league. In fact, it may be good policy to wager on clubs that have several unsettled starting positions during preseason, as the players involved should perform at top level in their attempts to win starting jobs.
Well, we have poured over the bountiful amount of unresolved starting spots across the league, and some of the top ones are presented here. Thus, a secondary effect of these position battles is that these teams could be worth preseason wagers on the NFL odds until the actual starters are announced.
Cleveland Browns quarterback (Johnny Manziel vs. Brian Hoyer): More than a few “experts” were surprised when Johnny Manziel fell all the way down to the Browns, who had the 22nd selection of this year’s NFL Draft, and those that now expect the Browns to hand him the starting job from Day 1 could be surprised again. Yes, the Browns are a franchise in need of an energy infusion and Johnny Football can certainly provide that, but Manziel must now learn to play within a system and he will not have the freedom to freelance like he did at Texas A&M. And Johnny’s already shaky image took another hit recently when he was pictured rolling a 20-dollar bill in the bathroom of a Las Vegas casino, although no illegal substances were found. Meanwhile Hoyer actually preformed well in his limited duty as the Browns’ starter last year before having his season cut short by an ACL injury. We will get to see how well Hoyer has recovered from that injury during preseason, and if he shows no ill effects, his advantage in experience and maturity could actually give him the edge to start the regular season opener unless Manziel dazzles in preseason.
Green Bay Packets tight end (Andrew Quarless vs. Richard Rodgers): Technically this is a three-way battle with Brandon Bostick, but Bostick may already be in the doghouse after reporting to OTAs at a heavy 270 pounds. Quarless is a five-year veteran that got better as the season went on last year after replacing Jermichael Finley following the latter’s neck surgery, and the Pack rewarded him with a two-year, $3 million contract. However, he sat out OTAs entirely this year. That opened up the door for Rodgers, who played wide receiver for the California Golden Bears last season and was a compensatory draft pick by Green Bay in the third round this year when many draft experts projected him as a sixth rounder. Quarless’s absence meant that Rodgers saw most of the first-team action during OTAs, and the “other” Rodgers, quarterback Aaron, came away very impressed. The younger Rodgers now has a real chance to steal the starting job with a good preseason, especially if Quarless is injured as the reason for his OTA absence was undisclosed.
Minnesota Vikings quarterback (Teddy Bridgewater vs. Matt Cassel): The Vikings are projected to be the last place team in the NFC North this year so they could probably afford to throw Bridgewater to the wolves immediately if they elected to. However, they re-signed the veteran Cassel in the off-season after he performed admirably in place of the benched Christian Ponder, now relegated to third string, last year. Cassel also took most of the first-team reps at minicamp, so the early consensus was that the vet will open the season as the starter. At the same time though, new Minnesota offensive coordinator Norv Turner has publicly stated that Bridgewater is much further along than he expected him to be, so Teddy could actually be thrown to the fire earlier than was originally expected, as there is no longer talk about him just holding the clipboard behind Cassel his entire rookie season. Yes, Cassel will begin preseason as the favorite to hold on to the starting job, but it may not be as much a given that he does so as it appeared about a month ago.
New York Jets quarterback (Geno Smith vs. Michael Vick): Last year, then rookie quarterback Geno Smith was the starting quarterback right from Week 1, and he was understandably inconsistent throughout his initial season. That prompted the J-E-T-S to sign Vick as a free agent and Coach Rex Ryan immediately proclaimed an open competition for the starting job. At least that was the initial plan anyway. However, Vick reportedly struggled during non-contact drills at minicamp and he himself said recently that he expects Smith to begin the season as the starter. However, Vick still possesses his great athleticism and arm strength, and could easily push for the job again with a good preseason. Remember that Smith won the starting job last year practically by default as neither he or the then incumbent Mark Sanchez had good preseasons, so Geno needs to step it up this time as he can ill afford to think the starting job is now a given. Yes Vick could turn into a nice mentor, but if Smith duplicates his 2013 preseason, then this could indeed be an open competition as Ryan said.
Oakland Raiders running back (Darren McFadden vs. Maurice Jones-Drew): There is no denying that McFadden has all the ability in the world, at least when he is on the field, and therein lies the problem as he has never had a totally healthy NFL season. So who do the Raiders bring in to challenge him? Well, another ultra-talented back that has become more injury prone in recent seasons of course! Jones-Drew was just one of a plethora of big names signed by the Raiders during the off-season, but unfortunately almost all of them were veterans who may be past their primes, with Jones-Drew possibly falling into that category. Still, Oakland signed him for $7.5 million over three years, so that fact alone could make him the favorite to win the job entering the preseason. McFadden is still probably the more able back given their respective ages though, and he still has a chance to win the job with a good and more importantly healthy preseason.
St. Louis Rams wide receivers (Chris Givens, Brian Quick, Kenny Britt all in mix): First let us say that Tavon Austin is basically assured of a starting spot as a slot receiver, so these three receivers are battling for the two outside receiver spots for a Rams team that would be a playoff contender in any other division but the NFC West and could still be a very undervalued team this season. Givens had a fine rookie season two years ago, but he regressed a lot last year to put his starting job in jeopardy. Quick is now entering his third season and St. Louis offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said he was the most improved player he saw during OTAs. The real wild card here though is Britt, who has always had million dollar ability but a ten-cent brain! Perhaps a fresh start with Jeff Fisher, who coached Britt at Tennessee, could be enough to get him back on track, and a player with his raw skills certainly has the opportunity to shine brightly among this group.