Winning Is Low Priority for Most NFL Teams in Week 1 of Preseason

Jay Pryce

Sunday, August 5, 2018 5:21 PM UTC

Sunday, Aug. 5, 2018 5:21 PM UTC

Following last week's Bears-Ravens Hall of Fame Game, the 2018 NFL preseason begins in earnest with Week 1 right around the corner. Here's what bettors need to know for this week's exhibition action.

Each week of the NFL preseason is a different animal. The process, spread out over a month, features a mix of rookie showcasing, game planning, regular-season simulations, second-team competition, and more. What do bettors need to know for Week 1? Simple answer: that it is largely an extension of practice emphasizing the display of core skills, abilities, and systems.

What to Expect

“The first preseason game is an opportunity to play," Chiefs head coach Andy Reid remarked prior to the exhibition opener in 2017. “That has never changed. … You want to make sure you do as thorough as an evaluation as you possibly can.” This is standard protocol across the league. It is the only exhibition contest in which everyone from camp will have the opportunity to touch the field. Coaches want to make sure they get a good look at all players in a live-game setting before making cuts. Starters will play two or three series, at most; many franchise players will not even take the field. Second, third, and practice roster invites see the majority of the run-out.

Game planning is minimal. Both sides of the ball typically run their core base from camp, like Cover 1 or 2 on defense, and zone-running or simple short-field passing concepts on offense. There is almost zero scouting of opponents and minimal tactics. The emphasis is on execution and conditioning. Technique, speed, and game fundamentals are what are on display. It’s a showcase for players to earn more reps later in the preseason.

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Best Betting Approach

Player evaluation is central to Week 1 and not win-loss records. Nevertheless, several head coaches tend to excel in the preseason opener when it comes to claiming victory. Returning Raiders head coach Jon Gruden owns a perfect 8-0 SU record in Week 1. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer is 5-0 SU, while the Ravens’ John Harbaugh is 9-1 SU and Seattle’s Pete Carroll is 6-2 SU.

What do these leaders have in common? It’s three-fold: they have reputations for running aggressive, ambitious camps that thrive on competition; they value football fundamentals highly; and they enjoy the benefits of establishing a winning culture early in the process. Achieving the latter requires involving more exotic schemes and regular-season play packages tactically; most take a more vanilla approach. “You always want to win. There’s great value in winning,” Harbaugh told reporters in August 2017 following a 14-13 victory over the Saints. The Ravens finished the preseason undefeated last season. Learn to bet on this bunch in Week 1.

A popular handicapping angle is to back rookie head coaches in Week 1. The rationale comes from a belief many use a victory as a statement to affirm their hire or sway attitudes in camp of results-driven outcomes. Be wary. Out of the current head coaches making their NFL preseason debut since 2011, only 9 of 18 won in the opening week when you take Zimmer out of the equation.

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