The 2019 National Football League season opens tonight in Canton with the annual Hall of Fame game. The Atlanta Falcons, who played in the Super Bowl three years ago and the Denver Broncos, who won it four seasons ago, provide the competition for this summer tradition.
While the teams involved are in the midst of preparing for the games that count beginning next month, the gamblers are already out in midseason form. More money is wagered on a preseason NFL contest than a Major League Baseball World Series game. The full impact of that fact can only be realized if we look at it from the other direction … that is, what if I said more money was wagered on a spring training baseball game than the Super Bowl?
There are some that will contend wagering on preseason games is no more than entertainment, and nobody really has any idea of what is going to happen. In fact, if that were true, the books wouldn’t be setting point spreads on the games. The books don’t gamble. If they are willing to put up a line, it is because they do have information that lends credence to one side over the other.
Tonight, the books like a side, and while many bettors like to think they can beat their books, in fact, I prefer to win with the guys in the game that know the most. Tonight, offers a perfect example of this edge. While the average fan thinks the Falcons are better than the Broncos, tonight the books have sided with Denver.
Talent can often be beaten by motivation in the regular season, while the preseason is to an even greater extent subservient to factors other than what team has the better players on their roster. Many of the most talented teams in the league put little emphasis on the results of preseason games from a scoreboard perspective, more focussed on the challenge of getting their squad ready for games that count.
This factor can run smack into a team that is more concerned about winning in the summer. I recall a preseason game in 1981 when the Green Bay Packers were playing the Cowboys in Dallas. The Cowboys were Super Bowl contenders and the Packers were in the seventh season under head coach Bart Starr and had won only five games the prior two seasons. Holding a 21-17 fourth quarter lead, Starr reinserted his starting defensive backfield to stop the Cowboys final drive against Dallas backups.
Green Bay won that game, then went on to another non-winning regular season while the Cowboys advanced to the NFC Championship Game.
So, what do the books see as an advantage tonight that the public is not privy to?
The Broncos are under the direction of first year head coach Vic Fangio, who joins Denver after serving the prior four seasons as defensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears. The Broncos are also looking at a new starting quarterback, which has been a yearly event since the retirement of Peyton Manning four years ago.
This time, former Baltimore Raven Joe Flacco, who guided John Harbaugh’s team to a Super Bowl win to complete the 2012 season, is looking to spark the Denver offense. A new coach and new quarterback do not have a strong track record in the regular season, but, in the summer, when they are looking to get off to a positive start, this combination has a very good record of success. Even with Flacco sitting this one out, the Broncos will start Kevin Hogan, the future of Denver's quarterback spot may ride on the QB following Hogan tonight, rookie Drew Lock.
Both the Broncos and Falcons missed the playoffs last season, but Atlanta still has one of the more talented rosters in the league. While the Broncos are highly suspect from a talent perspective, before their competition has something to play for Denver is perfectly suited to excel.
Qoxhi Picks: Denver Broncos (-2½) over Atlanta Falcons