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Beat the NFL Bookies
take a breath The dog days of summer have come and gone.
Thermometers may disagree, but sports bettors should be on notice that the best action of the summer is fast approaching.
By the end of July, bettors are typically tired of the monotony of Major League Baseball’s regular season. Then, like a cool ocean breeze, the NFL blesses weary bettors with a breath of fresh air.
NFL training camps opened for the season on July 27. Over the next two weeks, the teams embarked on a grueling schedule of curfews, diets, and two-a-days for the upcoming season. Next month, all 32 NFL teams will be working toward making the playoffs.
The NFL kicks off the pre-season this week. This time of year is without question the best kept secret in sportsbook wagering.
Most NFL fans know that very little can be learned from pre-season games. The main purpose of scrimmage-style contests is for coaches to evaluate starting lineups. Last year’s starters are only on the field for a few plays, mostly to avoid rust for the extended season. Seeing their only bench time of the season, reserves and rookies get most of the snaps in hopes that their performance will earn them a roster spot.
For the first (and only) time in an NFL season, linemen have no advantage. They’re drawing lines blindly, forcing spreads to be set as if the games were regular-season contests.
The reason they are in this situation is simple. No consideration can be given to them as to how the reserves and rookies play. How can bettors create accurate lines when players who haven’t seen the game are taking snaps?
Example. When the St. Louis Rams play the Kansas City Chiefs on August 23rd, the spread and over/under will be set assuming Casey’s defense (one of the five worst in 2003) for each snap against St. Louis’ high flight. Passing attack, which ranked third in 2003.
The spread of this competition may favor St. Louis (for this example, we’ll say so). The Rams’ three-headed offensive monster (quarterback Mark Bulger; receivers Isaac Bruce and Torey Holt) will not play after halftime. Also, Casey’s one-man offensive machine, running back Priest Holmes, should see more bench than turf. These two events open the game wide open. Your guess about the result is as good as the bookies.
The second half should see a field full of unproven players. Who knows where the game will go from there? Will it be a low-scoring contest or a barnburner? No one can be absolutely sure. This is good news for punters and bad news for speculators.
“The NFL pre-season is one of the most unpredictable times for offshore sportsbooks,” said Anthony Wayne, Marketing Director of EWINNER.com. “Often, the field is filled with players with similar skill sets. Without a big-game playmaker on the field, how do line makers know who the favorite will be?”
Below are several pre-season tournaments that can be very profitable for sports bettors. Strike while the iron is hot. (All statistics spread courtesy of Gold Sheet):
New York Giants at Carolina Panthers, 8/19, 8pm on FOX: New York went a dismal 4-12 last year, and failed to cover the spread in their final eight games. Rookie quarterback Eli Manning, and a new coach, former Jaguars leader Tom Coughlin. Coughlin is a preseason safe bet, with a 16-8-1 exhibition record against the spread.
With the exception of their offensive line, Carolina has retained most of the lineup that won the NFC Championship last season. The Panthers have covered the spread in their past five preseason contests, but four of those were as underdogs. In the 2003 regular season, they went 3-9 when favored.
Bet on: Coughlin and his G-men, especially if Carolina is favored.
Atlanta Falcons at Baltimore Ravens, 8/12, 8pm on ESPN: After an off-season of drastic changes, Atlanta has nothing to do but improve after finishing 2003 with the league’s worst defense. New coach Jim Mora, Jr. will have some youth in his booth, and with Michael Vick healthy, the 2004 Falcons should play like the 2002 playoff team. In Vick’s first two seasons, Atlanta was 7–1 in exhibition seasons; Last season, they went 0-4 (Vick broke his leg in Atlanta’s second preseason game).
Baltimore should be the beast of the AFC North this year, as well as a Super Bowl contender from week one. Quarterback Kyle Bowler will have a learning year, and their top rushing offense (thanks to marathon HB Jamaal Lewis), will be complimented by newly acquired Kevin Johnson. This team should improve on last season’s 10-6 record, as their floor defense is one of the NFL’s most feared. Head coach Brian Billick is 11-4 career in exhibition games against the spread, and 6-2 as an underdog. Last year, the Ravens went just 1-3.
Bet: Atlanta if Vick is healthy. Keep an eye on Baltimore, especially if they’re an underdog.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Philadelphia Eagles, 8/26, 8 p.m. on ESPN: Pittsburgh has a lot to recover from last season; Mainly bruises. Injuries along the offensive line and the lack of carries for “The Bus” (Jerome Bettis) limited their offense only on paper, averaging just 3.3 yards per touch. Head coach Bill Cover has become a perennial pre-season choke artist. Last year, his team went 0-4 in the regular season, and they had trouble covering the spread last season as well (0-4 at home against the spread the previous two seasons).
Philadelphia is once again the favorite in the NFC to go to the Super Bowl. They addressed two of their most pressing needs in the off-season, adding wideout Terrell Owens and defensive end Javon Kearse. Eagles also have a tendency to suffocate. Unfortunately, the pre-season is no different. For his career, coach Andy Reid is 2-7 in exhibitions when favored at home.
Bet: Philly. These games don’t count. It is less likely to blow up.
Tennessee Titans at Dallas Cowboys, 8/30, 8pm on ABC: The Titans shed a lot of salary (and talent) in the off-season, but they’ll still find a way to compete for the playoffs thanks to Ironman QB Steve McNair. Tennessee’s 13 draft picks will see a ton of snaps before the season begins, as the team tries to transition into a solid unit. A virtual lock in exhibitions, the Titans covered all four games last preseason against the spread and are 7-1 in away exhibitions over the last four schedules. As an underdog, they are a sure bet, a perfect 6-0.
Eddie George, a Titan at the end of July, now runs for Dallas. George should carry a big chip on his shoulder after becoming one of Tennessee’s salary cap casualties. The 2004 Cowboys will also feature wideout Keyshawn Johnson and rookie QB/retired minor league baseball player Drew Henson. Henson will be looking at a lot of photos at exhibitions to get rid of the rust on his diamond. Dallas was 10-6 last season, Bill Parcell’s best first-season record as a head coach. However, quality opponents (teams with a winning record) went 4-2 against them last season, 3-1 against the spread.
Island: Titans. Given their record in the preseason and Dallas’ tendency to beat better teams, this win should be considered a sure thing.
For more information on NFL wagering, as well as links to favorite online sportsbooks, see bet-online-sports.
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