NFL Preseason Betting Guide: Full Breakdowns of Steelers vs. Buccaneers & Vikings vs. Saints
USA Today Sports. Pictured: Joshua Dobbs, Mike Zimmer
- Ian Hartitz breaks down the betting odds for Friday's NFL Preseason Week 1 matchups.
- See his picks and daily fantasy analysis for Steelers-Buccaneers and Vikings-Saints.
We’ve got two preseason games on the docket Friday night. It’s still only Week 1, so don’t expect to see many starters play for more than a quarter (if at all). Either way, offenses and defenses will largely rely on simplified schemes.
You can jump to our Preseason Week 1 Injury Report and find more resources to inform your bets and daily fantasy lineups below, but let’s start with a look at key storylines and actionable betting takeaways for all four teams.
>> All odds as of Thursday night. Download The Action Network App to get real-time NFL odds and track your bets.
- Spread: Steelers -2.5
- Over/Under: 37
- Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
There’s plenty of optimism in Tampa Bay despite last season’s disappointing 5-11 campaign thanks to new head coach Bruce Arians, who had led three top-10 scoring offenses (2007 Steelers, 2015 and 2016 Cardinals) over his 14 years as an offensive coordinator or head coach in the NFL.
The renowned quarterback whisperer is apparently working with one he loves, as Arians was quick to gush over Jameis Winston shortly after accepting the job back in January:
“I feel like I’ve got a great feel for him, his excitement for the game. His willingness to work is unbelievable. He’s in the office at 5 o’clock in the morning. … The whole thing is going to be built around him. I think he can win it all. I mean, he has the intelligence, the toughness, and obviously the arm, ability to lead a team.”
The bigger issue is the team’s defense, which could be without defensive tackle Vita Vea (leg) and stud linebacker Lavonte David (knee) on Thursday night. Their run defense was an absolute train wreck in 2018 without linebacker Kwon Alexander (now with the 49ers).
Tampa Bay rushing yards allowed per game in 2018:
<Kwon Alexander tears ACL>
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) March 11, 2019
Ben Roethlisberger and Co. have won three-of-four games without Antonio Brown on the field since AB became a featured receiver in 2011. The team success is good, but Big Ben hasn’t demonstrated much upside without his No. 1 sidekick in this small sample size:
- Week 10, 2012 vs. Kansas City Chiefs: 9-18, 84 yards, 1 TD-0 INT
- 2015 Divisional Round at Denver Broncos: 24-37, 339 yards, 0 TD-0 INT
- Week 16, 2017 at Houston Texans: 20-29, 226 yards, 2 TD-0 INT
- Week 17, 2018 vs. Cincinnati Bengals: 31-45, 287 yards, 1 TD-1 INT
(Note that Roethlisberger was injured shortly after the start of halftime in the Chiefs game and didn’t return.)
Quarterbacks performing worse without their No. 1 receiver on the field shouldn’t be that shocking. With that said, the Roethlisberger-Brown connection wasn’t quite what it used to be in 2018, as AB averaged only 7.7 yards per target — tied with Cole Beasley for the 49th-highest mark among 82 receivers with at least 50 targets. Brown led the league in touchdowns (15) and interceptions (11) thrown his way last season.
The good news for the 2019 Steelers is that their offense could perhaps be a bit less volatile when it comes to playing on the road.
Ben Roethlisberger home/away fantasy points per game over the past five years
2014: 25.2 home vs. 14.8 away
2015: 23.5 vs. 14.5
2016: 25.5 vs. 13.8
2017: 21.3 vs. 15.4
2018: 21.5 vs. 21.7
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) July 10, 2019
I lean toward Steelers at home against what might very well be the league’s worst defense.
LEAN: Steelers -2.5
- Spred: Saints -2.5
- Over/Under: 37.5
- Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET
The Vikings don’t inherently have a terrible offensive line, but they were forced to dig deep last season after a plethora of preseason injuries wrecked their overall depth.
There were four key differences in the Vikings offensive line from 2017 to 2018:
- Starting right guard Joe Berger retired.
- Left guard Nick Easton was lost for the season due to a neck injury suffered in August.
- Center Pat Elflein missed the first two games of the season due to an ankle injury.
- Left tackle Riley Reiff missed three games in the middle of the season with a foot injury.
Minnesota ultimately finished the season ranked No. 23 in adjusted line yards per rush and No. 9 in adjusted sack rate (via Football Outsiders). These figures aren’t far removed from their respective finishes of No. 19 and No. 6 in 2017, though a closer look at Kirk Cousins’ passing statistics shows that he was under pressure more than ever before.
Percentage of Cousins’ Dropbacks Under Pressure:
- 2018: 38.9%
- 2017: 36.6%
- 2016: 32%
- 2015: 35.9%
Improved health up front combined with the addition of Gary Kubiak as assistant head coach should help kick start Dalvin Cook and the Vikings’ run game, while the defense’s unmatched continuity makes the unit as potent as ever.
Head coach Mike Zimmer (14-7 against the spread, +6.7 units) also hasn’t been a man to take the preseason lightly.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints have been one of the NFL’s most efficient and productive offenses for the better part of the past decade behind the efforts of future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees and head coach Sean Payton.
Overall, they haven’t ranked outside of the league’s top-12 scoring offenses or top-eight units in terms of total yardage since Payton took the job prior to the 2006 regular season.
Payton’s play-calling, the friendly confines of the Superdome and the Saints’ elite offensive line should help continue to prolong Brees’ career as much as humanly possible.
With that said, the end has to come at some point, right?
Peyton Manning in 2014 (38)
Weeks 1-12 (11 games): 68% cmp, 8.1 Y/A, 34 TD-9 INT
Weeks 13-playoffs (6 games): 60% cmp, 6.9 Y/A, 6 TD-6 INT
Drew Brees in 2018 (39)
Weeks 1-12 (11 games): 76% cmp, 8.8 Y/A, 29 TD-2 INT
Weeks 13-playoffs (6 games): 69% cmp, 6.7 Y/A, 7 TD-5 INT
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) May 22, 2019
LEAN: Vikings +3
Preseason Week 1 Injury Report
The dashboard below features notes on injured players and their estimated game statuses. Note that the NFL doesn’t require teams to designate their inactive players prior to kickoff, so all of the data is unofficial and based on a combination of reports from beat writers and coaches.
More Preseason Betting and DFS Resources
For preseason player projections and daily fantasy analysis, see our FantasyLabs Models as well as our evergreen and slate-specific DFS content. Also be sure to check out Action Network analyst John Ewing’s 7 Simple, Profitable Tips for Betting NFL Preseason Games.