Tommy Gilligan – USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Lamar Jackson
- The Baltimore Ravens are 2.5-point betting favorites over the Chicago Bears in Thursday's NFL Hall of Fame Game (8 p.m. ET, NBC).
- We'll get our first look at electric Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson and Matt Nagy's new-look Bears offense.
- We've found a historically profitable betting trend for the game's over/under.
Football is back!
Thursday night’s matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and Chicago Bears will feature more backups than starters, and preseason matchups notoriously feature watered-down schemes on both offense and defense, but whatever. Football is back!
The Lamar Jackson Era is Here!
Jackson was the most polarizing prospect in the 2018 NFL draft for reasons that remain somewhat unclear.
Some believe the Heisman Trophy-winning passer is better suited as a wide receiver, with his throwing ability having been chided as Tebow-esque.
But dual-threat quarterbacks have proven capable of reaching great heights in the NFL.
Nevertheless, some old heads continue to view quarterbacks with unique rushing ability as more of a burden than a blessing.
In reality, Jackson’s electric combination of rushing ability and arm strength presents a nearly unsolvable puzzle for defenses, who are forced to account for every last square inch of the field.
The Ravens traded back into the first round to select Jackson with the final pick of Day 1. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has noted Jackson is “way ahead of the curve,” while head coach John Harbaugh slyly stated, “one way or another, he’s going to be out there, taking snaps.”
Unfortunately, the Ravens won’t debut any of their reported special packages featuring both Jackson and Joe Flacco on the field at the same time because the veteran QB won’t play at all in this game.
That actually might not be so bad — the more snaps Jackson gets, the more chances viewers will have to appreciate the second coming of Michael Vick.
Matt Nagy’s New-Look Bears Offense
Ex-Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy has replaced the elderly John Fox as Bears head coach. Last season’s most pass-averse offense is almost certainly poised to integrate a more modern attack with the additional guidance of ex-Oregon Ducks head coach Mark Helfrich, who is Nagy’s offensive coordinator.
It can’t be overstated just how visually unappealing the Bears offense was last season. Mitch Trubisky, the No. 2 pick of the 2017 NFL draft, once threw seven passes in an entire game — the fewest in a win since 2006!
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Like Flacco, Trubisky isn’t expected to suit up Thursday night, according to starting running back Jordan Howard, who confirmed he also definitely won’t play.
Still, there’s almost a 100% chance the Bears’ simplified version of their scheme executed by backups will be exponentially more entertaining than what the Chicago faithful has been forced to digest for the better part of the last 36 months.
Other Fun Players to Watch
Stubborn coaches and the absence of complete injury reports prohibits us from knowing exactly who among the most recognizable players will be suiting up, but luckily, there’s still a plethora of non-elite players who are worth getting excited about:
- Even after Jackson takes a seat on the bench, the offense will be led by another dual-threat signal caller in Robert Griffin III. The notion that RG3 would compete for Flacco’s job never made much sense, but he’s at least capable of flashing against backups.
- Both Ravens rookie tight ends, Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews, should be considered very questionable due to muscle-tissue injuries. In a perfect world, this would lead to more deep balls to field-stretchers John ‘Smokey’ Brown and freak athlete/bust Breshad Perriman.
- Ravens starting running back Alex Collins will likely rest, and backup Kenneth Dixon will almost certainly be sidelined with a hamstring injury. Enter: Gus “The Bus” Edwards. The rookie fullback is an old school, 6-foot-1 bowling ball with a 4.5-second 40-yard dash to boot.
- Likely Bears starting quarterback Chase Daniel has lived the American dream since entering the league in 2009. Despite compiling a 1-1 record and throwing a total of 78 career pass attempts, Daniel has earned $24.3 million throughout his career. That’s a cool $311,538 per attempt.
- The Bears new receiving core features an alpha coming off a torn ACL in Allen Robinson, a rookie slot man who has drawn Antonio Brown comparisons and has already publicly stated his Madden rating is too low; in Anthony Miller, as well as the always speedy Taylor Gabriel, who is still the legal owner of Malcolm Butler’s ankles.
- If Jackson is the next Vick, Bears running back/wide receiver/kick returner Tarik Cohen is the next Darren Sproles: 5-foot-6 and 180 pounds of pure electricity. Nagy has already compared Cohen to human roadrunner Tyreek Hill, and stated he’s “giddy” about the second-year back.
The Ravens are presently 2.5-point favorites against the Bears after the matchup opened as a pick’em. The over/under sits at 33.
Figuring out which team has the schematic or roster edge is difficult given our lack of information on projected snaps, but The Action Network’s John Ewing has found an applicable profitable preseason betting trend.
Since 2003, over bettors are 1,165-1,085-45 (52%), +25.27 units betting the over in games with totals of 44 or fewer points. This contrarian strategy can be applied successfully to the preseason. Since we began tracking preseason results in 2004, the over is 120-96-5 (56%) in all low-total games (35 or fewer points).
Note that since the Ravens and Bears are each scheduled to play five preseason games, Nagy and Harbaugh could both be extra cautious in their approach.
Best of luck to anyone with action on the game. One last time: Football is back!