We did it, folks! The NFL is back! Gambling on football is back!! Oh yes, the Hall of Fame Game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Denver Broncos means we did it. We’ve been waiting since February for NFL action (RIP AAF) and we now we’ve got it. No, this game isn’t the regular season but it’s a football game you can gamble on and that’s all that matters to me.
Motivation for preseason games can vary widely between teams and even more so between players, and the first preseason game is where that shows the most. The first preseason game, whether it’s the Hall of Fame Game or otherwise, is the first time to put out film.
When you step on that field, you’re always being judged, whether in the preseason or the regular season. The eye in the sky never lies. First and foremost, you’re trying to impress your own coaching staff. Secondly, you’re trying to impress other people around the league. Your film is being watched by everyone and, if you happen to get released, that film is your resume. That process of impressing your staff and the front offices around the league will begin on Thursday night.
Even though it’s the first time to put your film out, that doesn’t mean everyone is motivated to put on their best performance. We know that the preseason for veterans with returning coaches can vary in intensity. If you’re an established starter, Game 1 is just the first time to hit someone else. It’s 10-12 plays, a “warmup” for lack of a better term. Just don’t trip over your shoelaces. Returning coaches are using these games to work on specific things and want to see the team’s execution. They might gear reps more towards position battles instead of working more reps for the ones.
Approximately 26 teams and players approach the first game of the preseason like mentioned above. However, the remaining teams that have new head coaches are fired up for Game 1 in a new system. I’ve been in that situation a few times in my career so I know the feeling. Even though the game doesn’t count, new coaches want to start the season off positively with a strong performance in the preseason opener. They play their starters a tad longer and might have installed just an extra couple of plays for the game — more than the opposing team.
With the first opportunity to show their new staff what you can do in a game, the players treat this first preseason game with more importance than usual. They want to show off. They need to impress the staff. So the players just naturally compete a tiny bit more in this game with a new coach. Just enough to make a mark in their first action of the season.
With this thinking, I’m taking the Broncos to win and cover in the Hall of Fame game. The game opened as a pick ‘em, but the Broncos have climbed to as high as a three-point favorite.
The Falcons are established under Dan Quinn. They won’t have the sense of urgency, especially with the announcement that Matt Ryan — and presumably the rest of the starters — aren’t playing in this game. The Falcons, while wanting to win this game, aren’t going to give the effort all night to win. However, the Broncos under first year head coach Vic Fangio, are 1,000 percent trying to win this game. Their players will try to put on a good show for their brand new head coach.
While the past might not be the best indication about the future in a preseason game, we do have one trend that leans towards the Broncos. The last four first year head coaches in the Hall of Fame Game have all covered, with three winning outright. Matt Nagy with the Bears last season was the last of the four coaches to cover, as a small underdog against the Ravens.
Lastly, I just think the Broncos second team is better than the Falcons. The Falcons are a top loaded team and ready to contend for a Super Bowl now. That’s not the Broncos. So, add all those factors up, and I’m taking the Broncos to cover.