What more can you say about John Harbaugh and the Baltimore Ravens? They have now won 22 straight preseason games (20-2 ATS). It's truly a head-scratching streak, given the notion that teams and fans disregard actual wins that do not impact the regular season standings. But here we are, observing a franchise that has continuously churned out "meaningless" victories since 2015, rewarding bettors who have maintained faith.
Not only is the 20-2 ATS mark even more impressive, but we might have to consider including this run in the discussion of sports domination. Typically, in sports parlance, I and many others often reference the 1927 New York Yankees John Wooden's UCLA Bruins, 1985 Chicago Bears and 1985-86 Boston Celtics in various conversations. We all know the drill. Just insert the analogy to illustrate a point and hopefully illicit some laughter. Perhaps the Ravens are the new gold standard. Just kidding -- sort of.
With week two of the NFL preseason almost over, here are my five biggest takeaways from a betting perspective:
1. Tampa Bay's injury woes continue
Tom Brady may defy Father Time, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offensive line is certainly human. The injuries keep mounting and that does worry me for any sort of futures. I think it's time to fire on under 11.5 wins (under -130) and even under 50.5 points in the season opener against the Dallas Cowboys. With this patchwork offensive line, any sort of passing attack will likely be relegated to short throws. The deep threats are just so complicated, given everything that has transpired. Plus, the 45-year-old quarterback has missed the last two weeks for reasons yet to be divulged. None of it feels right so it's time to capitalize. Additionally, Tampa opens with road games against the Cowboys and Saints then hosts the Packers and Chiefs. A 1-3 or 0-4 start is not that farfetched.
Additionally, with Tampa's point spread for the opener steadily dropping down from three points, I recommend grabbing the Cowboys in a six-point teaser at a book that has Dallas +1.5. Some books currently have the TB -1, protecting the house against those teasers. I do not anticipate this line going back up, so it's wise to grab what value you can in a number that many deem insignificant.
As for the AFC's elite teams, it sure looks like Allen and Mahomes have not developed any rust. Allen made his preseason debut and was flawless on an opening-drive touchdown. Even when he took a seat, the offense continued to look polished and explosive, scoring a TD on its first six drives. The Buffalo Bills look like a worthy Super Bowl favorite (+600), and I could not fault anyone for laying 2.5 points with them on the road at the defending champs. After last year's playoff collapse in Kansas City, they are motivated and focused.
Elsewhere, the demise of the Kansas City Chiefs offense may be a bit premature. Yes, Mahomes lost Tyreek Hill but the quarterback is still a human cheat code. He continues to improvise in the pocket and miraculously and effectively spread the ball to all his options, making plays that only he can make. It's truly remarkable and it is pretty laughable monitoring the in-game betting market. For example, with KC leading 14-0 early in the second quarter on Saturday, the Chiefs were 17-point favorites in the first half over Washington even though the Commanders were about to receive a kickoff. Typically that live line would either be 13.5 or 14.5. Mahomes just skews all the numbers. I'd be very careful fading this team and wagering on under 10.5 wins.
3. Losing luck in Las Vegas
I am bullish on the Las Vegas Raiders offense this season, even grabbing 20-1 odds that they will score the most points. However, after allowing four more sacks on Saturday and now 13 in three games, it's hard to envision Derek Carr having a clean enough pocket to truly shine. Saturday only got worse when UFC president Dana White shared the backstory of Brady's recruitment and how close Carr came to losing his job. New head coach Josh McDaniels now has some work to do, preserving Carr both emotionally and physically. This could be a fun team and I understand the optimism but it still feels like a last-place AFC West finish.
4. Malik Willis continues to shine
Malik Willis turned in another notable performance this weekend, which reinforces what I wrote last week. I highly recommend playing under 3,525.5 passing yards for Ryan Tannehill (3,600.5 at DraftKings). Even if Willis does not replace him as the starter at some point, the dual-threat QB figures to get a series or two each game to give opposing defenses another look and inject some life into Tennessee's offense. I have similar thoughts if you can find a Mitch Trubisky passing yards prop, given Kenny Pickett's strong performance this preseason.
5. Live betting? Proceed with caution
I routinely implore you to exercise extreme discipline and caution with in-game betting -- and that is emphasized during the NFL preseason. We all know to expect the unexpected in the preseason but the Cowboys took things to another level Saturday night. With a 19-point lead late in the third quarter, Mike McCarthy went for it on fourth-and-short on his own 35-yard line. There is no way he would even consider that during the regular season. QB Will Grier was flushed from the pocket and ultimately extended the drive. Then, with a 22-point lead about midway through the fourth quarter, Dallas surprisingly attempted a 61-yard FG. Brett Maher came up short.
We saw other anomalies throughout the weekend. For example, with a 10-point lead with 1:21 remaining in Tampa Bay's red zone, the Tennessee Titans ran a pass play that could have produced a touchdown. During the regular season, this would be considered poor form and running up the score. However, coaches understand that teams are facing roster cuts and need to evaluate all positions. Every play is an opportunity to do just that.
And let's hope preseason apathy is the excuse for Brian Daboll's questionable decisions. The Giants first-time head coach declined a 10-yard holding penalty, allowing Cincinnati to kick and make a 50-yard field goal on 4th-and-16 in a scoreless game. Normally, a competent coach would accept the penalty and force the opponent to gain enough yards on 3rd-and-26 for a field goal attempt.
Consider yourselves warned, live bettors.