NFL Preseason Starts Thursday Night as Atlanta Faces Denver in the Hall of Fame Game

The National Football League kicks off preseason action Thursday night as the Denver Broncos face the Atlanta Falcons in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio.

Joe Flacco (center) looks to revive his career as the Denver Broncos starting quarterback this season. (Image: David Zalubowski/Washington Post)

Both William Hill and the Westgate SuperBook list the Broncos as 2.5-point favorites against the spread. They’re also -145 favorites on both book’s moneyline, with the Falcons getting +125 odds. William Hill set the over/under at 35, while the SuperBook lists it at 34.5.

If you’re curious how a spread can be set on a game that by the time it reaches the fourth quarter will likely be played with players unlikely to make the teams’ regular season rosters, you’re not alone. However, there are gambling experts out there that insist the NFL preseason can be the time to make money.

According to Joe Osborne, a sports analyst for Odds Shark, the key to making a bet isn’t to look at who will be on the playing field. Rather, look to the sideline and see who wears the headset.

Knowing how specific NFL head coaches approach the preseason slate is crucial for bettors at this time of year,” Osborne noted in an article. “Some coaches go with the confidence-building approach of attempting to instill a winning attitude prior to the regular season beginning, while others use the exhibition games simply to evaluate talent and test different schemes.”

Thursday serves as the NFL head coaching debut for Denver coach Vic Fangio. However, Falcons coach Dan Quinn sports just a 4-12 record against the spread in preseason games, according to Osborne’s research.

The kickoff is set for 8 pm ET, and the game will be broadcast on NBC.

Most Bettors Wait Until September

While football reigns supreme as the No. 1 sport for US bettors, sportsbooks do not take many bets on preseason games. This weekend features just Thursday’s game as the rest of the 32-team league will get underway next week.

According to statistics from the Nevada Gaming Control Board, 188 sportsbooks in Nevada took slightly less than $39 million in bets on football last August. That figure also includes bets on college football games, which has its regular season start at the end of the month. It also includes futures wagering on both college and pro football.

By comparison, from September 2018 to December 2018, the months for NFL regular season games, Nevada’s sportsbooks handled $1.44 billion, an average of $359.8 million per month.

Flacco Ready to Play, Jones to Sit

For those who don’t bet on preseason games, the contests still give bettors an opportunity to see how new players and coaches settle into their new environments and use that to determine how they may bet in the futures market or for the early regular-season games.

For the Broncos, they’re not just adjusting to a new coach.

Denver traded for quarterback Joe Flacco in the offseason. The former Super Bowl-winning signal caller lost his job in Baltimore last season to rookie Lamar Jackson. While he enters Thursday as Denver’s starting quarterback, the 34-year-old knows there are some who doubt if he can still compete at a high level.

“Listen, I think I’ve got a lot left in the tank,” he told reporters in training camp a couple weeks ago. “And I feel like I can do a lot more than I’ve shown in my 11-year career. I’m excited about that.”

Atlanta star receiver Julio Jones told reporters earlier this week that he would sit out the Falcons preseason games. There’s no contract issue involving Jones. Rather, the 30-year-old has been hampered by a foot injury that has sidelined him so far in practice.

Jones is confident he’ll be ready for the regular season, even without taking any snaps in preseason games. So much so, that he told reporters he’d try to get 3,000 receiving yards this season. That would break the single-season NFL record by more than 1,000 yards.

“I’m going crazy,” Jones told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I’ve been doing everything that I need to do. I’m taking care of my body. Physically and mentally, I’ll be ready to go.”

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