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NFL Preseason Betting: Insight on All 12 Thursday Games

  • The preseason begins in earnest with 12 games Thursday.
  • Ian Hartitz breaks down the key storylines for all 24 teams.
  • In a battle of 2017's two worst teams, No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield could see extended playing time.

On Thursday night, we get a 12-game slate of preseason football. Most if not all teams will play their starters for little more than a quarter, and offenses and defenses alike will rely on simplified schemes, but it’s football, and you can bet on it.

Life is good.

While the preseason isn’t quite “real” football, the usage and production of players reveals the potential they and their units might have in the regular season. For preseason player projections and daily fantasy analysis, see the FantasyLabs Models, as well as our evergreen and slate-specific DFS content.

Let’s take a look at key storylines for each team playing Thursday.


Betting Odds: Chicago Bears at Cincinnati Bengals (-2)

  • Bears: +110
  • Bengals: +130
  • Over/Under: 35.5
  • Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET

Chicago Bears

Former Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy has replaced John Fox as the Bears’ coach. Last season’s most pass-averse offense is almost certainly poised to integrate a more modern attack with the additional guidance of former Oregon Ducks coach Mark Helfrich, who is Nagy’s OC. It’s unlikely that quarterback Mitch Trubisky, last year’s No. 2 overall pick, will play much more than a quarter with new wide receivers Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Anthony Miller and tight end Trey Burton, but the offense still figures to entertain more than the unit that last season once attempted just seven passes in an entire game.

Cincinnati Bengals

2018 will somehow be Andy Dalton’s eighth season as the starting quarterback. Given his familiarity with the team, it wouldn’t be surprising if key players such as wide receiver A.J. Green, tight end Tyler Eifert and running backs Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard see limited playing time, but the team needs to find out who Dalton’s No. 2 receiver is following the release of Brandon LaFell, who led the team in wideout snaps last season. Week 17 hero and Buffalo legend Tyler Boyd figures to man the slot, but 2018 first-rounder John Ross has a chance to solidify himself as an explosive weapon opposite Green.


Betting odds: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Miami Dolphins (-1.5)

  • Buccaneers: +105
  • Dolphins: -125
  • Over/Under: 34
  • Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs still have perennial Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy at defensive tackle, but otherwise this year’s defensive line won’t resemble the unit that last year ranked dead last in Football Outsiders’ Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) and totaled a league-low 22 sacks. Their offseason additions include:

  • Vinny Curry: Pro Football Focus’ No. 25 edge defender in 2017
  • Jason Pierre-Paul: Top-25 edge rusher in total pressures in 2016 and 2017
  • Vita Vea: 347-pound No. 12 overall pick with freaky athleticism for an interior lineman

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins enter Year 3 of the Adam Gase era with more questions than answers on offense. Wide receiver Jarvis Landry’s departure leaves 161 targets up for grabs between incumbent starters Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker, as well as free-agent slot mavens Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson. There’s even competition in the backfield, as late-season fantasy hero Kenyan Drake has been listed as a co-starter with 35-year-old Frank Gore on the team’s first depth chart. Gase’s reasoning? “Just to be an a—hole.” That’s a 100% real quotation.

Betting Odds: Carolina Panthers at Buffalo Bills (-3)

  • Panthers: +137
  • Bills: -157
  • Over/Under: 34
  • Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET

Carolina Panthers

The Panthers have handed the offense to 66-year-old offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who hasn’t led a top-15 unit in yards or points since 2011. It remains to be seen how Norv and his son Scott (the quarterbacks coach) will attempt to build a system around quarterback Cam Newton’s dual-threat abilities and the receiving skills of running back Christian McCaffrey, wide receivers Devin Funchess and D.J. Moore and tight end Greg Olsen. Newton is the No. 2 overall quarterback in The Action Network QB Rankings.

Buffalo Bills

The Bills have the least popular “over” win total in the league despite coming off their first playoff appearance in 17 years. They’re entangled in a three-way quarterback competition featuring former Bengals backup A.J. McCarron, incumbent backup Nathan Peterman and much-maligned No. 7 overall pick Josh Allen. Coach Sean McDermott indicated that the veterans will see time with the first team Thursday, so Allen and his howitzer of a right arm should get lots of playing time and opportunities to throw incompletions. The Bills opened as a -1 favorite but have since moved to -3 behind the backing of 54% of the public (per our NFL Live Odds page).


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Betting Odds: Pittsburgh Steelers at Philadelphia Eagles (-3)

  • Steelers: +138
  • Eagles: -158
  • Over/Under: 35
  • Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET

Pittsburgh Steelers

Coach Mike Tomlin has already confirmed that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (rest), wide receiver Antonio Brown (quad) and tight end Vance McDonald (foot) won’t suit up, and running back Le’Veon Bell’s holdout has him more focused on GameCube than game day. The backups should get plenty of reps, particularly former Oklahoma State teammates and second- and third-round picks James Washington and Mason Rudolph. The field-stretching wide receiver and deep-ball quarterback hooked up for 13 touchdowns in 2017 and helped the Cowboys average a ridiculous 45 points per game. BlackJack Fletcher is backing the Steelers on the road.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles retained most of their Super Bowl roster, but it’d be surprising to see many of their starters Thursday. Running back Jay Ajayi could work as the offense’s lead back, but his chronic knee issues make a large preseason role unlikely. Starting wide receivers Alshon Jeffery (shoulder, PUP), Mike Wallace (undisclosed) and Nelson Agholor (undisclosed) all missed practice Tuesday and are expected to sit alongside quarterbacks Nick Foles (upper body soreness) and Carson Wentz (knee). We should see plenty of quarterbacks Nate Sudfeld and Joe Callahan, both of whom have career TD:INT ratios of 3:0.


Betting Odds: Cleveland Browns (-1) at New York Giants

  • Browns: -120
  • Giants: +100
  • Over/Under: 35
  • Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET

Cleveland Browns

With quarterback Tyrod Taylor presently functioning as the starter, we could see a lot of playing time for No. 1 pick Baker Mayfield. The 2017 Heisman Trophy winner faces a plethora of concerns regarding his size, maturity and ability to operate outside of a spread offense. Still, history tells us that top-10 picks typically start at least 10 games as rookies, and Mayfield could force coach Hue Jackson to reassess his position on Taylor sooner rather than later with strong preseason showings. While the Browns opened as 3-point underdogs, they’ve moved to short road favorites with 61% of the tickets and 82% of the money.

New York Giants

The Giants are undergoing an offensive innovation, as new coach Pat Shurmur and offensive coordinator Mike Shula will rely heavily this year on No. 2 overall pick Saquon Barkley. Early props have set the generational talent‘s rushing total at 1,100.5 yards, and the over is a reasonable bet in Shurmur’s inside-zone scheme. It’d behoove the Giants not to expose their new running back to much preseason damage, but Barkley’s game-breaking ability has seldom needed more than a few plays to stand out.


Betting Odds: New Orleans Saints at Jacksonville Jaguars (-2.5)

  • Saints: +125
  • Jaguars: -145
  • Over/Under: 34.5
  • Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET

New Orleans Saints

The Saints have always ranked among the league’s top-six and -12 offenses in yards and points during the Sean Payton-Drew Brees era. While wide receiver Michael Thomas and running back Alvin Kamara figure to lead the team this season at their positions, there’s opportunity to be had after the team released veteran slot receiver Brandon Coleman, who last year finished second on the Saints in snaps behind Thomas. The potential beneficiaries include wide receivers Cam Meredith (who displayed pristine route-running while posting a 66-888-4 line in 14 games with quarterbacks Matt Barkley, Brian Hoyer and Jay Cutler in 2016) and high-upside third-round rookie Tre’Quan Smith.

Jacksonville Jaguars

There’s plenty of uncertainty in the Jaguars’ receiving room, as the position’s pecking order is largely unknown outside of No. 1 receiver Marqise Lee.

  • Keelan Cole: Led all Jags receivers in snaps last season and converted 83 targets into a 42-748-3 line despite being an undrafted rookie
  • Donte Moncrief: Has size and proven scoring ability, as well as a guaranteed $9.6 million contract
  • D.J. Chark: Has earned rave reviews in camp as a second-rounder and possesses a draw-dropping 4.34-second 40-yard dash
  • Dede Westbrook: Averaged 19.1 yards per reception as an All-American in his final college season and posted a 20-235-1 preseason line in 2017 as a rookie

Betting Odds: Washington Redskins at New England Patriots (-3)

  • Redskins: +144
  • Patriots: -165
  • Over/Under: 37.5
  • Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET

Washington Redskins

The hype train for second-round rookie Derrius Guice has officially left the station. The Redskins have praised the rookie’s receiving ability, pass protection and even his work in the meeting room this offseason. Guice is the RB21 in The Action Network RB Rankings and could secure the team’s early-down role with a strong preseason. Proof of enhanced receiving ability (combined with a slow return from space back Chris Thompson) could maybe land Guice a three-down workload.

New England Patriots

The Patriots’ defense finished last season 31st in DVOA . Bill Belichick and linebackers coach Brian Flores have since taken over for former defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, while ex-Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler has been replaced by cornerback Jason McCourty (brother of starting free safety Devin). The good news is that linebacker Dont’a Hightower and defensive end Derek Rivers (the team’s top 2017 pick) are healthy and give the front seven some much needed juice. Our experts rank the Patriots D/ST as fantasy’s eighth-best unit in The Action Network D/ST Rankings.


Betting Odds: Los Angeles Rams at Baltimore Ravens (-3)

  • Rams: +144
  • Ravens: -165
  • Over/Under: 36
  • Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET

Los Angeles Rams

Coach Sean McVay managed to capture the NFC West crown and orchestrated the league’s No. 1 offense in his first year with the team. Instead of re-racking last season’s roster, the Rams added wide receiver Brandin Cooks, cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh in a Madden-esque offseason spending spree. This growing multitude of personalities, combined with Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald’s continued holdout, provides the potential for plenty of unexpected off-the-field drama to complement expected on-field dominance from the NFL’s hottest ticket in Vegas.

Baltimore Ravens

Quarterback Lamar Jackson completed just 4-of-10 passes for 33 yards with a touchdown and interception in the Hall of Fame Game. Afterward, Jackson admitted to being surprised at the speed of an NFL game, which helps explain his pedestrian 8-25-0 rushing line.  Despite the subpar debut, Jackson still possesses a fantasy-friendly skill set that accentuates his rushing upside and ability to throw the deep ball. You don’t want to miss Jackson’s breakout performance whenever it happens.


Betting Odds: Tennessee Titans at Green Bay Packers (PK)

  • Titans: -115
  • Packers: -105
  • Over/Under: 34.5
  • Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET

Tennessee Titans

New coach Mike Vrabel has entrusted former Rams offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur with improving last year’s No. 19 offense.  Changes in scheme that could pop up in the preseason include:

  • More tempo: The Rams ranked first in rate of play in pace-neutral situations last season. The Titans ranked 28th.
  • Play action: Rams quarterback Jared Goff ranked second and ninth in play-action percentage and quarterback rating in 2017, while Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota ranked 12th and first.
  • 11 personnel: The Rams used three-wide sets on a league-high 81% of their offensive snaps last year; the Titans tied for 29th at 44%.

Green Bay Packers

The Packers have had a love/hate relationship with the pass in recent seasons. Per the FantasyLabs NFL Trends Tool, Packers quarterbacks and wide receivers have ranked second and first in DraftKings points per game (PPG) since 2014, while their defense has surrendered the third-most PPG to each position. Rookie wide receivers J’Mon MooreEquanimeous St. Brown and Marquez Valdes-Scantling will battle veterans Geronimo Allison and DeAngelo Yancey for the No. 3 job, and first- and second-round cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson will look to sure up the secondary. While just 50% of public bets are on the Packers moneyline, they’re getting a whopping 98% of the money.


Betting Odds: Houston Texans at Kansas City Chiefs (-2.5)

  • Texans: +120
  • Chiefs: -140
  • Over/Under: 34
  • Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET

Houston Texans

Quarterback Deshaun Watson has made a full recovery from his torn ACL and could play Thursday. Running back D’Onta Foreman’s recovery is less clear, as the 2017 third-rounder remains on the PUP list after tearing his Achilles as a rookie. Foreman’s 4.2 yards per carry easily surpassed Lamar Miller’s two-year rate of 3.9 yards per rush, but Miller did average an additional five fantasy points per game with Watson last season. A strong preseason could solidify Miller’s status as fantasy’s cheapest featured back.

Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs are perhaps the league’s most explosive offense, as each of wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins, tight end Travis Kelce and running back Kareem Hunt all are strong athletes with proven game-breaking ability. The wild card is second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who will attempt to surpass Alex Smith’s near-MVP campaign from a season ago. Regardless of whether Mahomes emerges as one of the next great quarterbacks, his next-level arm strength and gunslinger mentality should make the ride entertaining.


Betting Odds: Indianapolis Colts at Seattle Seahawks (-2)

  • Colts: +115
  • Seahawks: -135
  • Over/Under: 35
  • Kickoff: 10 p.m. ET

Indianapolis Colts

Quarterback Andrew Luck is expected to throw a real-sized football in a “real” game Thursday. Unsurprisingly, he has elevated the entire Colts offense since entering the league in 2012, and his mark on wide receiver T.Y. Hilton is especially notable.

  • Colts with Luck (70 games): 25.2 PPG, 369 total yards
  • Colts without Luck (26 games): 17.2 PPG, 287 total yards
  • Hilton with Luck (68 games): 15.1 PPG, 76.9 yds
  • Hilton without Luck (26 games): 11.3 PPG, 61.4 yds

Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks provided one of the draft’s most shocking moments by selecting San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny with their first-round pick. Despite hyping up Penny’s three-down ability after the draft, the Seahawks seemingly plan to use 2017 seventh-rounder Chris Carson as the starter. The winner of their backfield competition will be poised to work as the featured back behind PFF’s 30th-ranked offensive line in a potentially anemic Brian Schottenheimer offense.


Betting Odds: Dallas Cowboys at San Francisco 49ers (-3.5)

  • Cowboys: +165
  • 49ers: -190
  • Over/Under: 35
  • Kickoff: 10 p.m. ET

Dallas Cowboys

The loss of wide receiver Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten leaves quarterback Dak Prescott without the recipients of 22 of his 45 career touchdowns passes. Potential wideout replacements include Allen Hurns, Deonte Thompson and Tavon Austin (seriously), and the Cowboys are expected to rotate their tight ends regardless of who wins the starting job. Rico Gathers might be the most exciting prospect of all the potential replacements: At 6-foot-6 and 275 pounds, the former Baylor basketball player posted a 7-106-2 line on 89 preseason snaps in 2017.

San Francisco 49ers

All quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has done in seven career starts is average the second-most adjusted yards per pass attempt in NFL history (min. 250 attempts). His pairing with coach Kyle Shanahan is a match made in heaven, but the skill-position pecking order remains murky. Running backs Jerick McKinnon and Matt Breida could form the West Coast version of Shanahan’s previous Devonta Freeman-and-Tevin Coleman committee, and at receiver Pierre Garcon and Marquise Goodwin are each vying for Jimmy GQ’s final rose. The preseason also provides a stage for the potential emergence of athletic tight end George Kittle, who averaged 12.1 fantasy PPG in his three fully healthy games with Garoppolo.


My Bets

Giants (+1) vs. Browns

The Browns’ “Hard Knocks” hype has helped push the Giants from -3 favorites to dogs. With all due respect to coach Hue Jackson’s sterling 4-0 preseason in 2017, the Browns don’t deserve to be the only road favorite this week.

Packers (PK) vs. Titans

The Titans are revamping their offensive and defensive schemes, while the Packers have an exciting group of young prospects to bolster (perhaps) quarterbacks DeShone Kizer and Brett Hundley. The overwhelming amount of public money is currently on the Packers spread and moneyline.

Panthers (+3) at Bills

The Panthers opened as 1-point underdogs against a Bills team with three giant quarterbacking question marks. We probably won’t see much of Carolina’s first-stringers, but there’s no reason to believe Buffalo’s rapid-fire rebuild is a field goal better in any setting than a perennial playoff contender.

Credit:

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Baker Mayfield

Follow Ian Hartitz on Twitter
@IHartitz
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