After a long, tumultuous, grueling offseason, NFL football is finally here. Well, sort of.
The NFL preseason kicks off tonight with five games, starting with Jacksonville at New England and Baltimore at Philadelphia at 7:30 ET. I’ve provided you with a breakdown of each game, focusing on each coach’s past preseason tendencies and how long they plan to leave the starters in tonight.
JAGUARS @ PATRIOTS, 7:30 P.M. ET
OPEN: Patriots -4 | CURRENT: Patriots -3.5 | OVER/UNDER: 35.5
SUMMARY: This is a matchup between two teams whose coaches generally take preseason football very seriously. Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio is 20-10-2 ATS in the preseason in his eight years as head coach, while Patriots coach Bill Belichick is 33-26-6.
JAGUARS SKINNY: Jacksonville QB David Garrard, RB Maurice Jones-Drew and TE Marcedes Lewis will all sit out tonight’s game, meaning first-round pick Blaine Gabbert will get the start in his first pro action. There is perhaps more anticipation, though, to see the Jags’ revamped defense, which added LBs Paul Posluszny and Clint Session and safety Dawan Landry, all of whom will play.
Del Rio is preaching patience to Jags fans as he tries to whittle his way down from 90 players on the roster. The Jaguars have signed quarterback Todd Bouman for the seventh time, SB Nation writes. Bouman will likely get the bulk of the team’s second half snaps against the Pats.
PATRIOTS SKINNY: New England made some noise in the offseason by signing controversial free agents Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth, among others. It’s doubtful Tom Brady and the rest of the starters will get much more than a quarter in tonight’s action, as Belichick tries to sort through and make sense of an overloaded roster.
Word out of Patriots’ camp is that the first-team offense has looked out of sync. Injuries and conditioning issues have hurt New England, which likely won’t be at full strength tonight, The Republican’s Nick Underhill writes.
BEST BET: Take the Jags. The Patriots are beat up and will struggle with their second-teamers on the field. Also, Del Rio is 10-1-1 ATS in the preseason as a dog.
RAVENS @ EAGLES, 7:30 P.M. ET
OPEN: Eagles -3.5 | CURRENT: Eagles -3 | OVER/UNDER: 35.5
SUMMARY: It’s a tale of two offseasons for these two teams. While the Eagles were the biggest noisemakers in 2011 free agency, the Ravens took the opposite approach, quietly releasing many of their veterans in an attempt to get younger.
RAVENS SKINNY: Baltimore coach John Harbaugh is 8-4 straight up and 7-5 ATS in three seasons of preseason action. Gone are familiar names like Derrick Mason, Todd Heap, Willis McGahee and Le’Ron McClain. Baltimore had to purge its roster of some more expensive, veteran options in favor of youngsters like WR Torrey Smith, TE Dennis Pitta and rookie QB Tyrod Taylor.
Look to see how QB Joe Flacco handles an offense with so many new faces. Pro Bowl center Matt Birk is injured and will not play, the Baltimore Sun reports.
EAGLES SKINNY: Eagles coach Andy Reid is notorious for tanking in preseason games. In fact, he has the worst preseason ATS record of any current coach at 19-27-1. QB Michael Vick told the Philadelphia Inquirer that his goal for the game is to “come out healthy.”
Reid said Vick and the starters will play one quarter, which is more than expected. Eagles WR Desean Jackson hasn’t practiced with the team yet and will not play.
BEST BET: Go with the Ravens. Or stay away. Given Reid’s propensity to lose in the past, it’s far too difficult to bet them in the preseason, even if they’re the “Dream Team.”
SEAHAWKS @ CHARGERS, 8 P.M. ET
OPEN: Chargers -4.5 | CURRENT: Chargers -3 | OVER/UNDER: 35
SUMMARY: It’s hard to believe Seattle coach Pete Carroll will be taking this game very seriously, not after his Twitter obsession with letting one fan call the first play of the game. Carroll is 12-8-1 ATS in his career in the preseason, while his counterpart, the Twitter-less Norv Turner, is just 23-24-5.
SEAHAWKS SKINNY: Much of the attention will be on new QB Tarvaris Jackson, acquired from the Vikings over the offseason. “Tarvaris has got something to prove,” Carroll told the Seattle Times. But he apparently won’t get much of a chance to prove anything tonight, as he’ll play for only a “handful of plays.”
SB Nation also reports that WR Mike Williams will not play, and that statuses of free-agent signings Sidney Rice and Zach Miller for tonight’s game are up in the air.
CHARGERS SKINNY: For San Diego, this season is all about getting back to full strength again, particularly on offense. RB Ryan Mathews, WR Vincent Jackson, WR Malcom Floyd and TE Antonio Gates all missed significant time due to injuries or holdouts in 2010.
The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that QB Philip Rivers and the starters will receive about a quarter of action, but Gates will sit out. On the defensive side, veterans Takeo Spikes, Bob Sanders and Travis LaBoy will get their first action with San Diego, as well as first-round defensive end Corey Liuget.
BEST BET: Bet the Chargers or, really, just fade Carroll and the Seahawks. Call it a hunch or whatever you want, but I’ll be fading Carroll this preseason until he proves me wrong.
BRONCOS @ COWBOYS, 8:30 P.M. ET
OPEN: Cowboys -3 | CURRENT: Cowboys -3 | OVER/UNDER: 34.5
SUMMARY: Ah, you gotta love a battle between two coaches in their first preseason game with their respective teams. We have no clue how Cowboys coach Jason Garrett will handle the preseason, but Broncos coach John Fox was 16-19-1 in the preseason while at Carolina.
BRONCOS SKINNY: All eyes will continue to be on the quarterback saga taking place in Denver, which has to be the most dramatic QB battle in the entire league. We at least know where the Denver Post stands, as their Denver Broncos page is titled, “Denver Broncos, Tim Tebow News, Scores, Roster, Stats.” Really?
All we know for sure from Fox is that Kyle Orton will start the game and play for one or two series. Tebow is listed second on the depth chart, so he’ll likely take over from there, although Fox wouldn’t admit that to the Post. Other players the Broncos are anxious to see include DEs Elvis Dumervil and Robert Ayers, who make their return to the lineup, and No. 2 overall pick Von Miller in his debut at linebacker.
COWBOYS SKINNY: The Dallas Morning News reports six starters will miss the preseason opener, including CBs Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins, NT Jay Ratliff and LB Keith Brooking. QB Tony Romo and the rest of the offense will get a series or two at most. “We’re going to get a chance to see a lot of young guys play tomorrow,” Garrett told the News.
BEST BET: If you’re adamant about picking a side, take the points with the Broncos. Dallas is pretty banged up and it sounds like Garrett will use this game primarily to evaluate lower-tier talent.
CARDINALS @ RAIDERS, 10 P.M. ET
OPEN: Raiders -3.5 | CURRENT: Raiders -3.5 | OVER/UNDER: 32.5
SUMMARY: Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt has been pretty horrible in his four seasons of preseason action, going 6-10 ATS. And Oakland coach Hue Jackson is one of seven NFL coaches that we have no preseason data on. The Raiders did, however, go 3-1 in the preseason last year.
CARDINALS SKINNY: If you read anything about how things are going so far in Arizona’s camp, you’re probably not expecting much in the debut. Whisenhunt even admitted to the Arizona Republic, “I know at times it probably won’t look pretty.”
All eyes are sure to be on new QB Kevin Kolb, who was acquired at a high price from Philadelphia a couple weeks ago. Kolb and the rest of the offense are expected to play at least through the first quarter, so they’ll get more of a chance to build some chemistry.
RAIDERS SKINNY: Jackson gave no indication to the Oakland Tribune about how much playing time the starters would get, but RB Darren McFadden, WRs Jacoby Ford and Louis Murphy and DBs Chemdi Chekwa and Mike Mitchell all will sit out due to injury.
That leaves little-known running back Louis Rankin as the man who should get the majority of the work in the backfield.
BEST BET: If forced to choose a side, take the points with the Cardinals. The Raiders are banged up, and Arizona will likely have an advantage in that Whisenhunt plans to leave his starters in for longer than normal for a preseason opener.