With only a few weeks until the NFL’s regular season begins, handicappers, oddsmakers and football fanatics are anxiously analyzing the preseason and awaiting kickoff on September 6.
“I’m looking forward to an interesting season,” said Jason McCormick, Director of Race and Sports at Red Rock Casino. “There’s been a lot of player movement during the offseason and a few key rule changes that will be impactful.”
Keep an eye on these elements as you’re making early predictions and lining up your wagers.
It was an active offseason, particularly for quarterbacks.
With a large number of free agents, some unexpected trades and a remarkable first-round draft class, roster shake-ups were felt across the league.
“I can’t remember any other season with so much offseason movement from the quarterback position,” McCormick said. “Almost 30 percent of the league has a new starting QB.”
Teams with a new starting QB this season include Alex Smith (Washington Redskins), Case Keenum (Denver Broncos), Kirk Cousins (Minnesota Vikings), (Tyrod Taylor (Cleveland Browns), AJ McCarron (Buffalo Bills), Sam Bradford (Arizona Cardinals) and Pat Mahomes (Kansas City Chiefs).
Three other quarterbacks—the Miami Dolphins’ Ryan Tannehill, Indianapolis Colts’ Andrew Luck and Houston Texans’ Deshaun Watson—will be back on the field this season following injuries.
McCormick also notes there were five QBs drafted in the first round who could find themselves in starting positions at some point in the season.
In March, the NFL approved an array of new rules and regulations that could have a substantial effect on the season and the sports book. Overall, we’ll likely see higher-scoring games this season with more open offensive play-calling.
“Offenses will gain, and we’ll see more creativity in plays,” McCormick said.
• Use of helmet
This one could be a literal game-changer: The rule states that it will be considered a foul if a player “lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent,” according to the NFL. It applies to all players on all areas of the field. The foul will carry a 15-yard penalty and possible player ejection.
“It’s hard to say how it will affect the game without knowing how it will be called by NFL officials,” McCormick said. “But it’s important for handicappers to consider, because a 15-yard penalty can drastically change scoring. Every running back lowers his helmet as he goes through the line, and defensive players lower their helmet to get good hits. How could it affect the psyche of defensive players? If running backs start to get called, it could work against scoring.”
Because it was created to protect players’ safety, it’s likely that defensive players will bear the brunt of the penalties.
• Catch rule
In an attempt to simplify the standards of a completed catch, this rule outlines three main requirements: The player “must have control of the ball, get two feet or another body part down, and make a football move—such as a third step, reaching or extending for the line-to-gain, or have the ability to perform such an act,” according to the NFL.
“Basically, it doesn’t require the catch to be completed through the ground,” McCormick said. This rule will probably help the offense and contribute to higher-scoring games.
• Kicking the extra point
This rule isn’t especially notable for the average football fan, but it’s very important for oddsmakers and handicappers: The team that scores a winning touchdown at the end of regulation no longer has to kick the extra point.
“In today’s world, with so many point spreads and totals available, if the last point isn’t kicked, it will likely affect numerous wagers,” McCormick said.
How to evaluate the preseason
With so many updated rosters and new rules, being attentive during the preseason can help frame expectations for what’s to come during the regular season. McCormick recommends keeping track of new players, especially new quarterbacks, and seeing how the offense plays with them.
Keep an eye on the backup quarterbacks, too—the preseason is an opportunity to gauge how they’ll do when they’re brought onto the field later.
“Don’t look at the end result of preseason games. Watch how the team plays together, how they react to other teams and how their defense stacks up to other offensive lines in the league,” he said.
In-play vs. in-game betting
In-play betting was introduced this past year to allow bettors to place wagers throughout the game via mobile betting apps. Unlike in-game betting, which is only offered during breaks in the game, in-play betting is fast-paced and versatile.
“There are about 20 different markets open to in-play betting during any given game, whereas in-game betting usually only offers three. Lots of people are still betting before the games, but in-play betting allows those people to improve their odds and hedge their bets as the game actually unfolds,” McCormick said.