Thursday, August 9, 2012

Cleveland Browns vs Detroit Lions: DET -3 (Pinnacle)

Coaches

Pat Shurmer doesn't have extensive experience in the NFL as a head coach, but he went 1-3 SU and ATS in the his preseason debut last year.  For Detroit, we have one of the preseason coaching all-stars in Jim Schwartz.   In 2011 he was a perfect 4-0 SU.  Overall he is 10-2 SU and 9-3 ATS as the Lions boss.  On Wednesday he was quoted,

"Everybody gets something out of playing. No. 1, trying to win the game; you want to go out and perform well individually. You want to perform well as a team. You want to try to win the game. That's always our No. 1 goal. We're not out there working on our curveball and that's all we're going to do throw curveballs. It's not spring training. We're out there to execute and he's the quarterback and that's basically his responsibility: execution of the offense. So, we want to move the ball. We want to score. We want to do our best to win the game."

Markets

The Lions opened at -4.5, but now we are seeing -3 across the board.  Opening lines don't mean as much in the preseason as they do in the regular season though and what's of more interest is what the markets have been doing over recent days.  Right now 73% of bets have come in on Detroit and there is a little bit of extra juice if you want to lay the favorite.  Keep in mind books aren't too concerned about coming off a '3' in preseason so don't be surprised if the line moves on gameday.

Quarterbacks

In theory, this is supposed to be an area of strength for Cleveland when it comes to preseason.   Shurmer has put the debates aside and named Brandon Weeden the starter before we've even had a snap.  That is very telling about what they think of Colt McCoy.  The problem is Weeden doesn't have a lot of quality weapons to work with. 

Normally I would pause if I saw experienced quarterbacks on the depth chart, but I really don't think McCoy or Wallace bring much to the table.  It's likely that the Browns are going to be trailing by the time those guys see significant time and I don't like their chances to lead a comeback.

Meanwhile, Matt Stafford is revved up and ready to go for Detroit.  His top five receiving options are healthy and ready to go - Johnson, Burleson, Young, Pettigrew, and Scheffler.  Schwartz didn't say how much time his starters will get, but they don't need many reps to get points on the board.

Behind him is Shaun Hill.  He's accurate and has a proven ability to move the chains and put up points in this system.  I expect Detroit to secure a lead before he leaves the field.  Kellen Moore is a prospect with a few scouting report knocks against him, but he is regarded as intelligent and accurate.  Really though - is he worse than McCoy?

Walking Wounded

Detroit's top two running backs are on the injured list - Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure.  This is nothing new for the Lions as both spent most of their time on the sidelines in 2011.  This leaves Kevin Smith to tote the rock.  Schwartz isn't afraid to give Smith significant time either, "You can't go into any game saying you're going to be careful with somebody," Schwartz said. "It's football."

I don't expect to see Avril or Vanden Bosch either.  Delmas is also on the mend after knee surgery.  The good news is the Lions have much better quality depth than the Browns.  In fact, the Cleveland starters are lacking quality so I'm not worried about these injuries - especially when you consider who is missing for the Browns.   The biggest piece of the offense, Trent Richardson, is out after having his knee scoped, Taylor, Fujita and Gocong are missing on defense.

Camp Reports

I know we are supposed to ignore everything we think about a team when evaluating preseason games, but it's hard to look at this Cleveland roster and have much reason for hope.  Hardesty has good reviews from camp so it's unsure how much they'll miss a Richardson.  Beyond Greg Little there's not much to like at WR.  Josh Gordon?  Ok let's see it.  Cribbs' role in the offense is diminished and Massaquoi is a bust so far.  Right tackle is a big question mark as well.

Despite the off-field problems for Detroit, there is a lot to like about this Lions team.  After Kevin Smith, they got a bunch of youngsters (Bell,  Logan, Williams, Green) that they like at running back.  The primary concern for the Lions is in their secondary.  Against a better offensive team this would worry me, but I'm not sure the Cleveland QB's can take advantage and they'll likely have to come from behind to win or cover in the second half.

Pick

Coaching advantage - check.  QB advantage - check.  Roster depth advantage - check.  What it all adds up to is a play on the home team.  Although, if Thursday's preseason action is any indication - anything is possible, but I have to call it like I see it.

NFL Pick: DET -3.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs Miami Dolphins: MIA -2.5 (Pinnacle)

Coaches

Neither one of these coaches have any preseason experience as the guy calling the shots, but we have a very clear message coming out of each camp.

In fact, Greg Schiano might have made our jobs very easy with his recent comments to the media,
"I want to make sure we keep it simple enough so we can evaluate our guys," said Schiano.  "I don’t want the reason that a guy didn’t make a block, a tackle, a catch or a run to be that he didn’t know what he was doing. Right now I want to evaluate their physical ability to play against people in a competitive arena.  We're in a game-plan week, but we didn’t game plan at all."
When a coach comes out and says that they didn't game plan at all - that's music to our ears.

Meanwhile, Joe Philbin is ramping up the QB competition with each passing day,
"In no way is this competition over," Philbin said on HBO's “Hard Knocks.” "This is a reflection of what's gone on up to this point in time at training camp. Our minds are not made up at all. I hope you know, if you have a problem with that you should talk to (assistant quarterbacks coach) Zac (Taylor) about it, talk to Sherm (offensive coordinator Mike Sherman) about it, talk to me about it."

Markets

The Dolphins opened -3, but there has been a move towards the Bucs.  The line currently sits at -2.5 and 75% of the bets have come in on Miami.  I expect that trend to continue leading up to game time. A line move back to -3 wouldn't surprise me.

Quarterbacks

In the QB department, we have a significant mismatch going on.  The Tampa Bay rotation is fairly set.  Coaches say they want Dan Orlovsky to push Josh Freeman, but this depth chart is just a matter of semantics at this point.  Is Orlovsky really an upgrade over Josh Johnson?  I have my doubts there.  Brett Ratliff rounds out this crew, but practice squad QB's don't usually come out of nowhere to lead the way in preseason action.

In Miami, David Garrard has the inside track on the starting position, with Matt Moore and Ryan Tannenhill serving as the number three.  As Philbin said, this competition is far from over and performance in preseason games is going to tell the story. This is perhaps the most competitive QB battle in the league and there is more than enough incentive to drive the field and put up points.

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Both of these teams are looking to make some headway in 2012.  There are more areas that need improving then I have time to list, but let's take a quick look at where each coach will put under the microscope.

The Bucs were atrocious against the run last season and this could be priority number one during the preseason.  In fact, improvement in all areas on this side of the ball is welcomed.  Camp battles exist at linebacker and at the nickel spot.  Grabbing Vincent Jackson indicated a need at WR, but depth at the position will also be important.  Arrelious Benn is out of the mix with an injury.

The Dolphins have obvious focus on the passing game, but they also need to shore up the pass protection from 2011.  The red zone offense and third down conversion rate is also sure to be an area of focus.  The wide receiving options aren't great, but there isn't going to be complex defensive schemes to contend with either.  Finally, Miami will want to pay extra attention to their pass defense.  Vontae Davis has already been relegated to the nickel spot at camp in favor of Richard Marshall. 

Pick

I like what Tampa Bay has done in the offseason - especially acquiring Jackson, Doug Martin, Eric Wright, Carl Nicks, Mark Barron, and Dallas Clark, but Greg Schiano is trying to whip this roster into shape with discipline and a focus on fundamentals.  Miami's game plan is much more straight-forward - get production.

NFL Pick: MIA -2.5.