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2009 NFL Preseason Primer
by Marc Lawrence

With this year’s NFL Hall of Fame game now in the history book, let’s take the time to assess some of the key do’s and don’ts when it comes to handicapping pre-season football games.

Good handicappers are always looking to gather as many edges in their favor as possible. Like sitting on the button and catching pocket aces, you can never get enough.

It’s critically important to remember that the teams playing during the exhibition season are not the same teams that will be taking the field next month.

The NFL roster limit during training camp is 80 players. The first mandatory pre-season roster reduction date is Tuesday, September 1st. On that date, rosters must be reduced to 75 players. On Saturday, September 5th, rosters must be reduced to the regular season limit of 53 players. On Sunday, September 6th, clubs may establish an eight-man practice squad.

What it all means is that coaches use the four weeks of pre-season to evaluate players before settling on a regular season roster. This time of the year, only the uniforms resemble NFL teams we recognize.

From a handicapping perspective, sharp pre-season players can add to their bankrolls simply by following a few basic rules. Here are two of my favorites…

Do take an inventory of coaches and their approach to preseason games.

Some coaches like to set a winning tone this time of the season while others prefer to evaluate the talent on hand, while caring less about winning pre-season games.

Philadelphia’s Andy Reid is just 15-25 SU and 18-20-2 ATS in pre-season play with the Eagles. However, against losing teams Reid is 8-1-1 ATS. (You do the math.)

Buffalo’s Dick Jauron is just 12-20 SU, including 3-8 ATS when laying points.

Those with a winning approach include three disciples of Bill Parcells, a coach who was the absolute best at bringing home the bacon during the pre-season where the Big Tuna was 56-20-1 SU and 51-25-1 ATS in his NFL head coach career.

Parcells' protégé’s include: Bill Belichick, Eric Mangini and Tony Sparano.

Belichick is 29-24 SU and 27-21-5 ATS this time of the year. More important, though, is the fact his troops suffered through a puzzling 0-4 SU and ATS exhibition season last year. Considering they missed out on the post-season, one might safely surmise the Patriots will likely be playing with a little more fire in their bellies this campaign.

Mangini is 8-4 SU and 6-5-1 ATS. His teams are 5-1 ATS on the road but only 1-4-1 ATS at home.

Sparano has only one season under his belt. With Parcells now calling the shots in a booth upstairs with the Dolphins in a V.P. role, the Fish were 3-1 SU and ATS last season.

Finally, Jacksonville’s Jack Del Rio is another coach that likes to establish a winning attitude in pre-season games. That’s confirmed by his 17-7 SU and 15-9 ATS mark, including 8-1 ATS when taking points.

Don’t ever lay 7 or more points in any preseason game.

That’s because pre-season favorites of 7 or more points are an atrocious 39-60 ATS since 1983.

Strangely, however, these touchdown favorites have gone 4-0 ATS the last three years. Consider that an anomaly and look for the long-term success of this ‘play-against’ theory to revert back to the norm sooner than later.

Incidentally, favorites of 7 or more points that scored more than 30 points in their previous game are just 3-15 ATS.

There you have it. Now do yourself a favor and don’t forget to start gathering as many edges as you can find. After you do, prepare to go ‘all-in’.

Get all of Marc Lawrence's winning sports picks at Vegas Experts. Remember, at VE, you pay only after you win!

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