2021 NFL Betting Preview: Five Storylines To Watch in Week 1 of Preseason

The Hall of Fame Game kicked off the NFL preseason slate last week, and now it’s time for all of the teams to get into the action. There are 16 exhibition games over the next four days, beginning with the Patriots against Washington and the Steelers vs. the Eagles on Thursday.

It can often be a crapshoot betting on preseason games, but as the Steelers proved in their Hall of Fame Game victory over the Cowboys, quarterback depth matters. So, too, does playing time, and some coaches have been more forthright than others about their plans for deploying their starters this week.

Here are five nuggets to know heading into Week 1 of the preseason:

Tom Brady will play, Joe Burrow won’t in Buccaneers-Bengals matchup

The defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers are 6-point favorites against the Bengals on Saturday, which is easily the largest spread this week. It’s rare for a team to be a -260 favorite on the moneyline when the result doesn’t matter, but there are a few reasons why the spread sits like this.

For one, the Buccaneers have a much more talented team, as they are the preseason favorite in the NFC while Cincinnati is in rebuild mode. And when it comes to playing time, star quarterback Tom Brady and the rest of the starters will suit up for at least one drive and maybe more in this one, coach Bruce Arians told reporters.

On the other side, quarterback Joe Burrow will not play for the Bengals. He has been practicing in camp but is coming off a torn ACL, and the team doesn’t want to risk injury in a game situation. The backup quarterback group does not inspire much confidence, as it includes the unproven trio of Brandon Allen, Kyle Shurmur and Eric Dungey. 

The Buccaneers’ second-stringer, Blaine Gabbert, will have a decided edge, which is another reason why Tampa Bay is the heavy favorite. 

Justin Fields will receive ‘valuable reps’ for the Bears this preseason

Andy Dalton is the starting quarterback for the Chicago Bears, but first-round pick Justin Fields is waiting in the wings. Fields has drawn praise for his throwing ability in training camp, and coach Matt Nagy told reporters this week that the young signal-caller needs to get ‘valuable reps’ during the preseason.

The Bears will play their starters on Saturday against the Dolphins, and have been listed as 3.5-point favorites. Miami quarterback Tua Taigovailoa will take the field in this contest, but it’s unclear how much action the top Miami players will see.

Even though Fields should get a sizable amount of action, there isn’t much of an advantage at backup quarterback, as Miami’s Jacoby Brissett is a former starter who may not have the same shine, but could be comparable in ability at this stage.

Cardinals’ preseason playbook will be ‘a little bit more open’ than in the past

The Cardinals didn’t run their offense in the preseason when Kliff Kingsbury came aboard as coach in 2019, and the decision backfired, as the team was ill-prepared to begin the year.  

There was no preseason last year due to COVID-19, but Kingsbury told reporters the playbook will be ‘a little bit more open’ in the 2021 preseason, beginning on Friday against the Cowboys.

The Cardinals are 1.5-point favorites, and starting quarterback Kyler Murray is expected to see some playing time. The Cowboys will not have Dak Prescott as he continues to rehab a shoulder injury.

The Dallas offense was virtually non-existent against the Steelers, mustering only three points. The backup quarterback trio of Garrett Gilbert, Cooper Rush and Ben DiNucci does not inspire much confidence, and another shoddy performance could force the team to look at veteran free agent options behind Prescott.

Cardinals backup Colt McCoy is a solid veteran who may be able to move the offense after Murray departs, though the team could be missing several key players due to injury. 

Rams punt the preseason

The Rams could be one of the best teams in the NFL when the regular season begins, but coach Sean McVay does not care one iota about the preseason.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford, defensive tackle Aaron Donald, cornerback Jalen Ramsey, running back Darrell Henderson and left tackle Andrew Whitworth are all expected to sit throughout the exhibition slate. 

The Rams are 3.5-point underdogs on Saturday against the Los Angeles Chargers. It’s unclear how much the Chargers’ starters will play, but they surely won’t be at a disadvantage in this one.

Rams backup quarterback John Wolford is out with an injury so the team will rely on third-string quarterback Bryce Perkins and fourth-stringer Duck Hodges in this one. The scoring total is set at 34, as the offenses are expected to struggle.

Quarterback competition should benefit Broncos

There aren’t many open quarterback competitions heading into the season, but the Broncos have one. Incumbent Drew Lock and veteran addition Teddy Bridgewater are both hoping to get the nod in the season opener, and their preseason performance could be a big factor.

Lock and Bridgewater should get extensive playing time on Saturday against the Vikings so coach Vic Fangio can evaluate their progress. That’s good news for the Broncos’ chances at winning, as they are 2.5-point road favorites against the Minnesota Vikings. It could be a theme throughout the preseason as Lock and Bridgewater battle it out.

Kirk Cousins wants to play in this game after recently spending time on the COVID-19 restricted list, but coach Mike Zimmer hasn’t said if that will happen. Keep an eye on any updates there, because rookie Kellen Mond has already been ruled out of the contest.

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