Analyzing the NFL preseason from a betting perspective is unlike anything else.
Unless you are seriously into breaking down the back half of NFL rosters during the offseason, you're placing bets that will be decided by players you don't know and may never hear about again. Some bettors see value in preseason lines because the oddsmakers don't know those third- and fourth-stringers either. You'll see big changes in point spreads that you'll never see in the regular season.
It has become even harder in recent years because some coaches are blowing off the preseason. They want to keep players healthy, so they'll barely play any key players, if they play them at all. Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay started that trend. The biggest edge in preseason analysis is figuring out which teams will take it a little more seriously than others, and which teams will use key players for at least some of the game. Luckily for bettors, coaches will generally share if they plan to use starters or not.
Here is a look at how the teams in the two Thursday games are planning to approach it, with lines from BetMGM:
New York Giants (-2.5) at New England Patriots
You might have heard that the Patriots offense looks like a mess during training camp. The transition from Josh McDaniels to Matt Patricia as offensive coordinator, with a change in longtime Patriots schemes, is taking some time.
That's a reason why, between Tuesday and Wednesday, the line moved from Giants -1.5 to -3. It did move back to -2.5 before Thursday morning. Also, the Giants have a new coach in Brian Daboll and he is taking this preseason seriously. He indicated most starters will see the field.
“Everybody’s in new offensive and defensive systems here,” Daboll said, according to the New York Post. “I think that’s important to play football: to have live reps."
Bill Belichick is usually a good preseason bet. He's 49-36 with the Patriots in the preseason including 9-2 over the last three seasons, according to Walter Football. That leads me to believe there could be value on the Patriots, fading the negative headlines, especially if the line gets above a field goal. But at less than a field goal it's probably a game I'd pass.
Tennessee Titans at Baltimore Ravens (-3.5)
The Ravens have won 20 preseason games in a row and they're either 18-2 or 18-1-1 against the spread in that time, depending on which closing number you use. They've been a great bet. But that might change.
The Ravens had an unbelievable string of injuries last season. They might react by easing back in the preseason this year, to keep players healthy. Already Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Lamar Jackson and other starters won't play Thursday.
“Yes, yes, we won’t be playing Lamar," Harbaugh told reporters last Saturday, via Ravens Wire. "I think you can kind of extrapolate who will play and who won’t, and then there will be some decisions with some guys that we haven’t completely made yet. But certain guys … Like, Lamar is not going to play; Mark [Andrews] is not going to play. Those experienced starters … Justin Houston, Marcus Williams [aren’t] going to play. Marlon [Humphrey] is not going to play — just to give you an example of the guys who aren’t going to play.”
It sounds like practically no starters will play for the Ravens on Thursday night. There hasn't been as much news from the Titans' side, though coach Mike Vrabel talked up the young players getting important reps and said "everybody is going to have an opportunity to play in the game." That probably doesn't mean veterans like Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry will play, but Tennessee had some transition in the offseason and could want to get a longer look at some key players. At least enough that it seems taking the Titans and the points looks like the play, even if the Ravens haven't lost in the preseason for what seems like forever.
Here's a first look at the sports betting slate for Thursday:
MLB has eight games
Six of the eight MLB games on Thursday are during the day, if you wish to procrastinate at work.
Perhaps the highlight of the afternoon games is the red-hot Philadelphia Phillies, who beat the Miami Marlins with Sandy Alcantara on the mound Tuesday for their sixth straight win. Philadelphia is a -165 favorite.
The biggest game Thursday night is the "Field of Dreams" game in Iowa between the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago Cubs. The Reds are a slight -115 favorite. I'd have a lean toward the Cubs.
PGA Tour continues in Memphis
The PGA's FedEx St. Jude Championship starts Thursday with some big names, and Yahoo Sports' Pamela Maldonado gives us her two top picks:
What's the best bet?
I'm not a huge fan of betting preseason football, but I do think Baltimore will reign back its starters this preseason after so many injuries last year. It's hard to bet against the Ravens, the king of the preseason, but I think getting more than a field goal with the Titans is the right play.