Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Pro Football Notes From Las Vegas Heading Into Final Week of Pre-Season

By Micah Roberts

We head into the final week of pre-season where bettors should play with extreme caution as most of the starters are expected to play only a few series, if at all, in what will be of a final audition for the final 75 players on each roster. 22 of those players will be cut and this is their last chance to make an impression on their coaching staff.

The Las Vegas sports books have been loving the pre-season because of all the uncertainties involved in every game. The low spreads on every game have enticed much of the small money on parlays to include the prominent teams as if this were the regular season and the line offered value as was the case with the Patriots home game against St. Louis last week where the Rams won as a short dog.

Although the big pay-day and with large handle for the sports books comes with the regular season, the consistent win with little risk during pre-season has been a nice relief for the books in August after dredging through a month and a half of only baseball where the daily win-loss is a crap shoot.

If looking for any type of trend for the final week of pre-season, you’ll be hard pressed to find a good one. Last year the favorites went 8-8 in the final week with the only trend standing out being the home underdogs going 2-0. Knowing that the second and third stringers are going to get much of the work, the quarterbacks that have looked the best throughout training camp and pre-season look to be the way to go. Cleveland with Seneca Wallace running the show shouldn’t disappoint, same with Marc Bulger in Baltimore. Conversely, look to pick on teams where the back-up has looked bad like Brady Quinn in Denver who can’t seem to find any confidence or rhythm making Eric Mangini looking like man-genius again for dumping Quinn in Cleveland.

Speaking of Cleveland and Mangini, I’m pleasantly surprised about the play of Jake Delhomme during the pre-season. We were all so down on him the last two seasons in Carolina with his bundles of interceptions that took a good Panthers team out of many games, but Delhomme has been the perfect example of just how important experience is. He doesn’t have the strongest arm or the swiftest feet, but what he lacks there he makes up for in smarts. His ability to read what opposing defenses are throwing at him and audible appropriately along the way should make Cleveland much better than last year; that, along with a much improved offensive line look to have the Browns solid contenders to go OVER the 5 ½ season win total posted in the sports books.

Through three pre-season games, Delhomme has completed 79% of his passes, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a QB rating of 110.5. Maybe more importantly through the games is that he has been sacked only once in 48 pass attempts. He’s got a nice back in Jerome Harrison to hand the ball off to, a nice bailout over the middle in former Patriots tight-end Ben Watson and the team has also featured the explosive Josh Cribbs more prominently in their first string offensive schemes. It also looks like the player the Browns got for Quinn from the Broncos, running-back Peyton Hillis, is going to be a nice third-down and goal line back that Delhomme has confidence in during passing situations.

The Browns have two winnable games right out of the gate to kick the season off as 2 ½-point underdogs at Tampa Bay and then a home game against the Chiefs where they‘ll be favored. They could conceivably be 2-0 by the time they start their tough division battles with Baltimore, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh -- teams they combined to go 1-5 against last year. It may not yet be playoff time for the Browns, but there should be some good times in the Dawg Pound as their beloved team actually competes offensively with their opponents this season.

Washington Hurt-Skins
Donovan McNabb will not be playing this Thursday against the Cardinals in the Redskins final pre-season game and could possibly miss the opener against Dallas. Because of coach Mike Shanahan’s uncertainty over whether McNabb will be ready for the opener, he’s sitting back-up Rex Grossman out for the pre-season finale as well to endure that he’s have one healthy quarterback for Cowboys. John Beck and Richard Bartel will get all the snaps against the Cardinals.

Bradford Passes First Test as Starter
It’s only pre-season, and it was only against the lowly Patriots defense, but Sam Bradford put all his tools on display that made him the first overall draft pick during the Rams 36-35 win at Foxboro. He was sharp and precise giving everyone a look at what may be possible in the near future for the Rams.  

No O-Line in Big D
Maybe we shouldn’t get too excited, but the folks in Cowboy-land have got to feel a little worried about their offensive line woes during pre-season. Tony Romo has only been sacked five times in their four pre-season games, but seems to be pressured every time he goes back to pass resulting in hard knock downs. Someone has to light a fire under this team if they intend to play at home in the Super Bowl like many experts believe, but the Cowboys have the unfortunate disposition of having a quarterback and coach that don’t know how to light that fire.

Michael Jordan’s Underage Son Parties in Las Vegas 
Marcus Jordan’s bragging on Twitter last week about losing $50,000 at the Clubs and Lounges within a Las Vegas casino would have been just that -- simple bragging by a trust-fund kid, but when the fact that Marcus is only 20 years old and he’s tweeting pictures of himself inside these places that are only for those 21 over, then it becomes a problem.

The problem won’t affect the Jordan kid at all and it won‘t affect the relationship Michael Jordan has with the Vegas mega-resort company since he’s a high level VIP. Marcus may get some kind of stern talk from his father or maybe a little lesson on being discreet from his Central Florida basketball coach, but even that is likely to be minimal since it was Michael Jordan and Nike who paid for the school uniforms. The kid will likely be attempting to do the same thing again at some club, somewhere, until he eventually becomes of legal age.

The real problem will stem from the Nevada Gaming Control Board who will be investigating the situation where the casino will probably face fines, which will ultimately lead to more scrutiny among all areas of Las Vegas gaming because this matter has a higher profile case than the regular underage guy caught playing nickel machines.

So when you walk into a sports book as a 30 year old who looks closer to 40 than 20, don’t be surprised to be carded by the teller just as a precaution mandated by the casino. You better believe the NGCB will be proactive on the matter and have a few sting operations to incriminate others. What a perfect weekend for them to find tellers not carding either, the first week of the college and pro football seasons, one of the two busiest weeks of the year.

Realistically, if a 20 year old kid can go fight in America’s wars there should be no reason they can’t choose on their own to drink or gamble, but in Nevada, a rule is a rule, and is something to be abided by, and enforced by everyone who works within those casino walls.

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