by Jim Feist
The pro football preseason kicked off this past weekend in the Hall of Fame game as the Vikings battled the Steelers. Remember that each season is different, with players changing teams, new coaches and assistants coming aboard, and star college players joining the pros as highly touted rookies. August football offers fans their first peak at all the new additions.
It's a short week for the Steelers, heading to Jacksonville to play the Jaguars. The Steelers didn’t care much about preseason last August, going 1-3 SU/ATS. Their two road games they lost 20-16 and 31-21. The extra work will probably be good for Minnesota as they excelled last preseason under a new coaching staff, going 4-0 SU/ATS. Minnesota still had a losing record during the regular season, finishing third in the NFC North. Last preseason they were trying to establish a quarterback, but this year Matt Cassel is gone and they’ve hitched their wagon to Tedy Bridgewater, so preseason will mean a backup battle Shaun Hill and Mike Kafka, The defending champion Patriots open the preseason against the Packers. It would have been a Super Bowl rematch if the Packers hadn’t muffed an onside kick. And you won’t see much of Aaron Rodgers against Tom Brady, as Bill Belichick rarely uses franchise Tom in Week 1.
The Dolphins are at Chicago as the Bears introduce a new head coach. John Fox was quietly shown the door in Denver and made changes to the Bears on both sides of the line. Offensive coordinator Adam Gase is aboard who ran the offense with Fox at Denver. He gets to work rookie WR Kevin White into the new offense -- and good luck to both working with turnover-prone QB Jay Cutler. New defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has a boatload of work to do overhauling a Chicago defense that was dismal in 2014, ranked 30th against the pass, 17th against the run, and the second most points allowed (27.6 ppg).
Carolina heads to Buffalo this weekend. Carolina is a veteran team off of two-straight playoff appearances, so they have little to prove. The Bills, however, introduce bombastic coach Rex Ryan to the home fans, which is always a treat. Ryan walks in to a great situation (9-7 SU/ATS) though his team is going to look similar to the Jets: Great defense, weak O and no QB. The WR corps is young and fast with Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods and Percy Harvin. But who cares about offense when you have a defense this talented? That’s probably what sexy Rexy is thinking as Buffalo rolled up 54 sacks last year, 57 two years ago, leading the NFL. DT Marcell Dareus (10 sacks) and DE Mario Williams (14.5) are a handful along with LB Jerry Hughes (9.5 sacks). Wonder if Rex will unleash the blitzing hounds in August? He probably can’t help himself.
The Rams have a long Week 1 preseason road trip out to Oakland. St. Louis has little to prove but the Raiders have a new coach in Jack Del Rio, his first gig since getting axed in Jacksonville. The Oakland Raiders have gone through 12 consecutive losing seasons. Del Rio says he wants to bring back the mentality and swagger from the early Raider dynasty. New WR Amari Cooper is aboard and last preseason the Raiders played their best football winning both home games over the Lions (27-26) and Seahawks (41-31). Speaking of Seattle they open the preseason at home this week against the Broncos, the team they crushed in the Super Bowl two years ago. Fans probably forget they opened the preseason last August and the Broncos won at home, 21-16. However, Pete Carroll has his teams ready to play at home, even in August, as last preseason they crushed the Chargers (41-14) and Bears (34-6) at home. The Washington Redskins open the preseason at Cleveland this weekend. Oddly, the Redskins have been great in preseason the last two years but terrible when the games count. Two years ago the Skins were 4-0 SU/ATS last preseason, then went 3-13 SU, 5-11 ATS during the 2013 campaign. Last August they went 3-1 SU/ATS, then went 4-12 during the regular season! Minnesota already has a game under its belt Saturday when they host the Bucs, while Tampa Bay gets its first look at rookie QB Jameis Winston. He ran a pro-style offense at Florida State, a similar system under Tampa Bay OC Dirk Koetter. The coaching staff said this offseason they want to play a faster tempo on offense, so let’s see if they start preseason that way. Nothing can hurt after ranking 27th in yards in 2014. After Winston the QB rotation has Mike Glennon and Seth Lobato – not exactly Waterfield and Van Brocklin off the bench.
The Rams heading to Seattle is the only Week 1 contest with a long travel time. A year ago there was only one when the 49ers flew to Baltimore – and got smoked, 23-3. Two years ago there was only one, when the Cardinals flew to Green Bay, but it didn’t seem to matter as Arizona rolled, 17-0. Three years ago the Packers were at San Diego in Week 1 of the preseason, Tennessee headed to Seattle, while the Vikings headed to the Bay Area to play San Francisco. Tennessee looked jet-lagged in a 27-17 defeat as did the Vikings in a 17-6 loss to the 49ers and the Packers got beat up at San Diego, 21-13.
Also keep an eye on home field. In one recent season home teams went 21-10-1 against the spread the first two weeks of preseason. Two years later the home team went 10-5 SU/ATS the first week of exhibition play. There are edges in preseason football, you just have to know where to look and what to look for, even in August.