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Thursday, August 4, 2011

2011 NFL Predictions: How to Approach the Preseason/September

The worst kept secret of the 2011 NFL season is the impact the lockout has had.  How will this year be different than year's past?  What are the some of the key factors to watch for when making your predictions?  Should you be more cautious in the preseason and September or should you be full steam ahead?  Let's take a look what has changed and what has stayed the same.

New coaches and schemes
There are a whopping 18 teams that are either bringing in a new head coach or offensive/defensive coordinator.  With the condensed offseason and limited amount of time for new signal callers to implement their systems there are going to be a lot of teams that start slow out of the gate.  Most of these coaches will be focusing on basic schemes until the core players get a firm grasp on things.

MIA - offensive coordinator
SD - defensive coordinator
KC - offensive coordinator
OAK - head coach, defensive/offensive coordinator
DEN - head coach, offensive coordinator
CLE - head coach
CIN - offensive coordinator
JAX - defensive coordinator
HOU - defensive coordinator
TEN - head coach
PHI - defensive coordinator
DAL - head coach*, defensive coordinator
STL - offensive coordinator
SF - head coach, offensive/defensive coordinator
ARI - defensive coordinator
MIN - head coach*
CAR - head coach, offensive/defensive coordinators

This isn't an exhaustive list, but it's a quick overview of some of the more important changes for 2011. 

New Quarterbacks
No other position on the field impacts the Vegas numbers more than the QB position.  This doesn't mean that lines will automatically be adjusted if someone new comes in.  It depends on the talent level of the QB, his familiarity with the offense/coaches, who they are replacing, and the players that surround him.  Some teams might not have "new" QBs per se, but will have guys starting full-time for the very first time.

MIA - Orton/Beck?
DEN - Tebow?
CLE - McCoy
CIN - Dalton
TEN - Hasselbeck
WSH - Grossman?
SEA - T Jackson/Whitehurst
ARI - Kolb
MIN - Mcnabb
CAR - Newton?

In contrast, which teams are returning the same coaches, systems, and quarterbacks?  This will dramatically lesson the learning curve as the season kicks off.

NE, NYJ, BUF, PIT, BAL, IND, NYG, GB, CHI, DET, ATL, NO, and TB all fall into this category for 2011.

Throughout the season a team's motivation can either be high or low depending on the position they find themselves in.  To start the season, every team's motivation will be sky high.  In the preseason, teams coming off a losing season will be highly motivated to instill a "winning culture" while established teams want to avoid injuries.

Offense vs Defense
Offenses usually take long than defenses to start a season, but in the post-lockout era this factor is even more amplified.   O-lines will have more trouble adjusting the protections for oncoming blitzes and quarterbacks will need a good handle on the offense to read the pressure.  The complexity of both offense and defense will be scaled back for most teams, but ugly offenses will make the UNDER play very popular in the opening weeks for some games.

2010 Regular Season/Free Agency
Most people picking games to start the new season will base a lot of their opinions on over-hyped and overrated factors.  What people remember from last year heavily influences perceptions and who teams acquired in the offseason is typically overblown.  Be cautious how much you rate new roster changes into your evaluations.

In the preseason, information is widely available to the public regarding coaching plans and player activity.  1st, 2nd, and 3rd stringer playing times are often announced before a preseason game as well as which big names will be resting or starting.  Keeping a close eye on this information will be more important this year because the lockout will change playing times compared to previous years as coaches try to get their players ready. 

Team Depth
Which teams have quality backup quarterbacks and overall 2nd stringers?  This is a big clue as to who will ultimately win and/or cover in the preseason.  The more impact positions that have a competition going the better--especially at quarterback.  Motivation will be high to produce as much as possible to solidify their spots.  Also consider which teams are young and eager to improve and which teams are older and want to take it easy.  

Historical Trends
Coaches that have been in place for longer than a year or two will already have a routine for how they play the preseason.  Some coaches put a higher priority on winning than others.  There are also other trends to look for in terms of average scoring per week, etc.

This isn't a complete list of factors, but it covers a lot of the more prominent things to consider for the 2011 preseason and early weeks of the regular season.

What it All Means
Usually the preseason is a great opportunity to pad the bankroll for the regular season. Sharp (professional betters) action outweighs the public during the exhibition games while public action outweighs sharp action in the regular season.  But this year we should be more selective in the preseason because Vegas has adjusted most of their lines and it's not as easy to take advantage of the numbers as it was in previous years.  Sharps will snag the opening lines and make it very difficult for the rest to get the best numbers.  This doesn't mean there won't be value, but keep this in mind as you sift through the early games.  With the information I've listed above you should be able to have a big leg up on the general public in the preseason.  Also, once the games begin for real books MUST raise their totals numbers and given the impact of the lockout this year, it will be a good opportunity to take advantage in September as well.

Coming soon: some early thoughts on the early Vegas lines (season win totals, week 1, etc).
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54-66-0 (-10.31u)
24-26 (+1.5u)
0-2 (-4u)

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