Scoring Is Down Because NFL Coaches No Longer Care About the Preseason

There was a get-rich-quick scheme available to savvy bettors in the first week of the NFL preseason.

Bet the under. Wait. Profit.

The under hit in 13 of 16 games this past week, as points were few and far between across the NFL landscape. While some may chock up the lopsided totals as a fluke, there was some rhyme and reason to it: Namely, NFL coaches don’t care about the preseason any more.

It’s not like the exhibition slate has ever been all-out warfare, but in the past, teams played their starters longer and at least tried to win if a game was there for the taking.

On Saturday, the Rams trailed the Chargers, 13-6, with two minutes remaining and had three timeouts. Sean McVay could have stopped the clock after a first-down rushing attempt, but instead let it run, content for the game to end to avoid injury.

The total in that game was just 32 points because neither team’s key players were on the field, and the under still hit easily.

In Arizona, Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury did go for the win, as kicker Matt Prater hit a 47-yard field goal as time expired after the execution of a two-minute drill. But the 19-16 score still finished under the total, in part due to a slow start to the game.

There may have been more scoring if Kyler Murray played, but even after saying his star quarterback would take the field, Kingsbury held Murray out. All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins also did not play.

No starting quarterbacks played in the Rams-Chargers and Cardinals-Cowboys games, and it was far from an isolated incident. Eighteen of the league’s 32 starting signal-callers did not see action, including young and still-unproven quarterbacks Sam Darnold and Daniel Jones.

The second week of the preseason is here, and because the exhibition slate has been shortened, this is the final tune-up before the regular season. Andy Reid is going to play his starters for the better part of a half on Friday against the Cardinals, but the Chiefs’ coach could be in the minority.

The risk/reward calculus is being done across the league, and coaches are now erring more on the side of caution when it comes to getting their starters preseason reps.

McVay is the most extreme example, as he is resting his starters for the fourth consecutive preseason. Any perceived rust has not presented itself, as the Rams have started off hot the past three seasons.

In 2018, they won their first eight games. In 2019, the Rams started 3-0 and last year they won three of their first four.

Others seem to be taking notice. Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians gave quarterback Tom Brady six snaps last week but said neither he nor the other Tampa Bay starters will play on Saturday against the Titans.

Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow wants to play this preseason after tearing his ACL late in 2020, but won’t be used on Friday against the Washington Football Team and seems unlikely to play in the preseason finale.

The scoring totals for this week are higher, as oddsmakers believe teams will use their starters more and try to find some success. Bears coach Matt Nagy is one of those, as he has said his starters will get some decent run against the Bills on Saturday.

However, the thinking has clearly shifted, as coaches are no longer prioritizing the live action for their most important players, and winning the game is a serious afterthought.

The Eagles and the Patriots faced off on Thursday night, with the scoring total set at 38.5. New England scored 35, but Philadelphia was shut out, as the under hit again.

The propensity of unders hitting is partly an anomaly, as the oddsmakers certainly understand the ongoing shift with preseason strategy. But the scoring is still way down, and now bettors will ask themselves the important question: will the trend continue?

The Rams are 6.5-point underdogs against the Las Vegas Raiders on Saturday, with the total sitting at 35. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr didn’t play in the preseason opener and it’s unclear how many snaps — if any — he will get in this one.

That’s not the lowest scoring total of the week, as the Green Bay Packers and New York Jets have an over/under sitting at just 32. Packers coach Matt LaFleur has already said star quarterback Aaron Rodgers is not going to be used in the preseason, and backup Jordan Love is nursing an injury that will likely keep him sidelined.

If key players have any lingering injuries, every team is certainly going to hold them out to avoid aggravating the issue. The only scoring total above 40 this week involves the aforementioned Chiefs, as the presence of their starters has put the total at 41, per DraftKings on Aug. 20.

Reid, though, may not play superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes as long as his other key players. While Kansas City has the most explosive offense in the NFL, it isn’t such a well-oiled machine without Mahomes running the show.

Once again, it seems, don’t underestimate the ‘under’ this preseason.

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