With training camps across the NFL kicking off within the last week, that means we are just a couple weeks from preseason football.
Alas, America’s most popular sport is back. Inevitably, there will be many that decide to get some action down on these exhibitions. Maybe you decide to back the Baltimore Ravens, who are 20-0 straight up and 18-2 ATS in their last 20 preseason games (no – that is not a typo). Or, maybe you decide to just sit back and enjoy the laid back nature of August NFL football. Regardless, from a handicapping standpoint, there are some things we can glean from these preseason games to prepare us to better handicap teams once the season kicks off.
Specifically, I believe there are three teams we should be paying close attention to this preseason to make us more educated bettors once opening weekend arrives.
The Seahawks are entering a bit of a new era for the franchise, as they embark on a season without Russell Wilson as their starting quarterback for the first time in ten years.
On paper, what they have in place of Russell Wilson is, uh, not pretty. The depth chart shows Geno Smith and Drew Lock at the top, with a true quarterback competition on hand to sort out who will open the year as the Seahawks signal-caller. As starters, these two have combined for a 21-34 career mark in the NFL.
For me, the Seahawks are already a team I have circled as one to fade coming out of the gate in 2022. The projected win total for them is 5.5, with most books having the Over shaded at minus-130-to-minus-140 depending where you shop. In my opinion, this is a Seattle team that could very well be in contention for the number one pick next year. For a few years now, this has been a largely below-average roster. The Seahawks have always struggled to build a reliable and steady offensive line, and even with the first-round selection of pass-protecting wizard Charles Cross, there are still plenty of question marks up front. Besides wideouts DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, there isn’t much to be excited about from a personnel standpoint.
It’s a defense that ranked fifth-worst last season in yards allowed per game (379.1 YPG), and consistently showed holes at all three levels on a weekly basis. Now, they’ve turned a prior strength (their QB play with Russ) to a clear weakness – one that leaves them with possibly the worst quarterback situation in football. Simply put, teams that have an untrustworthy offensive line, subpar defense, and suspect quarterback situation don’t win many games in this league. In fact, they’re typically quite bad. It’s hard for me to see a scenario where this team is competitive overall this year. After all, what is their formula to win games? How will they beat teams?
So why will I be watching the Seahawks closely this preseason? Well, regardless of whatever biases and pre-conceived opinions I may have, I do want to see how this Seattle roster fares in game action without their former 9-time Pro Bowl quarterback. If this roster is as bad as I think it is, it will be evident in the film they put out there in their three exhibition contests. In addition to Wilson being a highly effective player, he was the emotional leader of this franchise, and someone who always gave the Seahawks a chance. The departure of Wilson may be the single biggest loss any team suffered this offseason.
Even if it will be against largely backups, I do want to see how Smith and Lock lead this offense. Moreover, is there a path for this defense to creep back closer to average and keep Seattle in games this year? Watching how the Seahawks play in the preseason will shed some light into just how gloomy their outlook is heading into the regular season, providing bettors a chance to fade this team hard coming out of the gate.
When the Jaguars hired Doug Pederson this offseason, it was one of the best decisions the franchise has made in quite some time.
Jacksonville is an interesting club heading into the 2022 season, as I believe a Trevor Lawrence-Doug Pederson pairing could be a fruitful one for the organization. While Lawrence had an up-and-down rookie season, he did flash a lot of the traits that make quarterbacks great in this league. After all, it’s hard to blame the 22-year old for Jacksonville’s 3-14 record last season – one that saw a first-year NFL head coach in Urban Meyer get fired after 13 games. The entire situation around Lawrence was a total mess, which the franchise is attempting to rectify with the Pederson hire.
FanDuel Sportsbook has the Jaguars’ win total at 6.5 this year, with the Under shaded at minus-135. The Jaguars’ opponents this season had a .469 win percentage in 2021, giving them a schedule that, on paper, is tied for the fifth-easiest in the NFL this year. In addition to bringing Pederson aboard, general manager Trent Baalke spent money this off-season like a man who just won the lottery, inking seven players to deals that have an average annual value of at least $9 million. While spending big money in free agency is typically not a strategy that the consistently successful franchises take, it’s hard to look at this Jaguars roster and not be intrigued – which is why they’re a team to watch closely this preseason to allow us to better handicap them.
With 9 new projected starters that weren’t with the organization last year, there’s a lot to keep an eye on as we attempt to learn more about this club. Travis Etienne could be a real-difference maker for this offense, as he returns from a season-ending foot injury that he suffered last August. Seeing how he comes along in his return from injury this preseason will be worth a look in and of itself, as it will tell us what to expect from the explosive 2nd-year pro early in the year. Baalke spent big money to supplement the weapons available for the uber-talented Lawrence, signing wide receivers Christian Kirk and Zay Jones, and tight end Evan Engram in free agency. Given all the new faces at the skill positions, watching how Lawrence progresses and syncs up with these players will be key.
However, the unit I am most excited to watch for Jacksonville is the defense. This off-season, the much-maligned Baalke went out and acquired some dynamic talents, adding nose tackle Foley Fatukasi, linebacker Foye Oluokun, and cornerback Darious Williams – all three are potential impact players. Then, in the first round of April’s draft, selected edge rusher Travon Walker and linebacker Devin Lloyd. With all the new faces on this defense, it’ll be important to see how the defense looks in the preseason.
The Jaguars do have a tough schedule coming out of the gate, with a season opener against the Commanders on the road followed by a home tilt with the Colts. Then, they head on the road for back-to-back games, with matchups against the Chargers and Eagles. Currently, they’re a 3.5-point dog against Washington, getting 4.5 versus Indy, and getting 10 on the road against the Chargers.
Could there be some value on the Jaguars early on as an underdog? Maybe so. Either way, this is a team to follow this preseason so we can better handicap them early on, given they boast a Super Bowl winning coach, an ascending young quarterback, and many talented, fresh faces on both sides of the ball.
San Francisco 49ers
49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch enter a pivotal year for the franchise.
No, they are not on the hot seat. After all, with a 2019 Super Bowl appearance and 2021 NFC Championship appearance on their resume, it’s clear that they are capable of leading this franchise to the promised land. They’ve teamed up to draft and develop countless young players, generally making sound personnel decisions both for the present and future. 2022 remains a pivotal year because second-year quarterback Trey Lance is set to take the reins as starting quarterback.
The 49ers invested heavily in this kid, trading up to the number three spot in the 2021 draft to select Lance. In the trade they parted with three first-round picks and a third-round pick. Clearly, they were swinging for upside and an outcome that they hoped would pair a top-tier QB with an already solid roster. 2021 was more or less a redshirt year for Lance, as he started only two games and attempted 71 total passes, mostly backing up incumbent starter Jimmy Garoppolo.
In an NFC West that figures to be one of the best divisions in football this year, the 49ers show up as around plus-300 to win the division depending on the shop, with a win total of 9.5 (Over shaded minus -145-to-150). This is an interesting one to me, because I believe the 49ers outcomes in 2022 are wide-ranging. If Lance is the guy Shanahan and Lynch drafted him to be, we could be looking at one of the better teams in the league, making a 12+ win outcome quite possible. However, if he struggles, I could see as few as 6 or 7 wins.
While Shanahan and Lynch have proven they belong, we can’t deny the facts: three of their five seasons leading the 49ers have resulted in a 6-win output or less, and they own a 39-42 overall mark in the regular season leading the Bay area’s team. However, with a strong shade towards the Over at most books, there’s a clear thought that the 49ers will be contenders this year.
While the 49ers currently have Garoppolo on the roster as a solid insurance policy, there’s no telling he’ll still be on the roster to back up Lance come opening day. Every year across the NFL, injuries take its toll during training camp and decision makers have one final chance to make a splash before the games begin. Garoppolo could be a player on the move prior to the regular season, granted the 49ers find a suitable offer. Either way, San Francisco is clearly giving Lance the keys, and therein lies why this is a team to watch this preseason. They’re not just giving him the keys to any old car; they’re giving him the chance to drive a 2022 Rolls Royce into championship glory.
Down the stretch last season, the 49ers played like one of the best teams in football, displaying a winning formula that is hard to top: Efficient, sound offensive football and a defense that can pressure the quarterback and create takeaways. In fact, if it weren’t for a 4th-quarter dropped interception by safety Jaquiski Tartt, San Francisco would have been the NFC West club in the Super Bowl.
Lance will be one of the most scrutinized players this preseason and has to be monitored heavily by everyone in the betting market, too. Getting a feel for what this offense looks like and how it plays will be massive to gauging just how this team will shape up. On paper, the 49ers have a great chance to start 2-0; They open on the road minus-6.5 vs Chicago, then are at home Week 2 versus Seattle. The oddsmakers currently have them laying 8.5 vs the new-look Seahawks. Given the Lance situation, these are two especially interesting early season handicaps to me.
Can we trust this 49ers team as near-touchdown favorites on the road week one? What about as more than a touchdown favorite Week 2? Given the expectations and respect in the betting market (at least initially) for the scarlet and gold this year, bettors would be wise to follow how Lance plays this preseason, giving us a good indication of exactly what we can expect from the 49ers out of the gate.