Opening Lines: Preseason Week 1

The Patriots are 3.5-point favorites as they open the 2011 preseason against the Jaguars on Thursday night. (Yes, sportsbooks actually offer odds on preseason games, and yes, people actually bet on them. Don’t judge me.)

I’ve been called a lot of things for wagering real money on preseason football games. Sick. Arrogant. Depraved. Moronic. Allergic to money. And those are some of the nicer things Mom called me. While it seems counterproductive to bet real money on games that don’t mean much to either team, there are plenty of opportunities to profit in preseason football if you can temporarily forget everything you know about betting on regular-season football games. For the general public, that shouldn’t be too difficult. (ZING!)

There are three simple rules when betting on preseason football: 1) QB depth is king, 2) don’t pick against first-year head coaches unless their team truly sucks, and 3) always lean toward the underdog since the games don’t really matter. Both teams have long-tenured coaches, so Rule #2 doesn’t come into play here. Teams only play the starters for the first two or three series, so the result of most games will depend on the quality of the backup and third-stringer (particularly in the first and last preseason games when starters may only play a single series). After Brady straps on the headset, the Pats will give plenty of reps to reliable backup Brian Hoyer and talented rookie Ryan Mallet. The Jags will be without starting QB David Garrard, so they’ll be starting rookie Blaine Gabbert, then handing it off to Luke McCown in the second quarter. If they get down to their third-stringer, they’ll be trotting out Todd Bouman. Yes, the same Todd Bouman who wasn’t even good enough to make a practice squad last year. The same Todd Bouman who was riding a tractor during the 2010 season when the Jags called him to come in as an emergency QB, presumably because Vinny Testaverde was happy in his new career bagging groceries. That Todd Bouman.

If you think Jacksonville’s QB situation is bad, you should see the guys that are supposed to haul in these errant passes. In 15 total seasons in the NFL, the top 4 guys on the Jags’ WR depth chart have combined for fewer catches than Wes Welker’s total from the past two seasons. 49ers castoff Jason Hill is penciled in as a starter. I know the first preseason game is always ugly, but this one might set the forward pass back 50 years.

I like the Patriots to cover the 3.5-point spread comfortably.

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