NFL PRESEASON HANDICAPPING BASICS
PART 10: INFORMATION SOURCES
We’ve talked extensively throughout this series about how the most significant handicapping factor in preseason NFL football is the priorities of the respective head coaches. Head coaches prepare their teams and evaluate talent in different ways and on a different timetable. Furthermore, the preseason games play a different part in the process for every coach. For some, it’s where players ‘show what they’re capable of’. For others, it’s an unavoidable distraction from the ‘real work’ of getting their football team ready to play on Sundays.
So where do you find the information you need? One way to do it is to look at the preseason records of NFL head coaches. You’ll find discernible trends that can reveal how coaches approach the NFL preseason. The problem with this is that what a coach did five years ago matters little today. More significantly, the coach’s priorities could change dramatically depending on where their team is at. This is even more true if a coach has taken over a different team. What might have been right to prepare his previous team could be the wrong process for his current team.
The best source for information is the coach himself. The next best source are educated observers close to the team who can convey what’s going on in training camp from week to week. Here’s how you get that information:
‘FROM THE HORSE’S MOUTH’ OR THE COACH HIMSELF
With the abundance of information sources available to everyone there’s no excuse for not being adequately prepared to handicap a game. You might interpret that information incorrectly but that’s going to happen. What shouldn’t happen is not having the information you need when you can find it from multiple sources and in mind numbing detail.
It wasn’t that long ago that all you’d get from NFL head coaches were ‘sound bites’ or canned answers to standard questions from awe struck reporters. That has changed—coaches now speak expansively about their team and plans in press conferences and other media availability. In the past, you’d get a brief TV clip or a radio sound bite of these events. Now, you can watch or listen to the entire thing from a variety of sources. The NFL has a dedicated TV network and satellite radio station. There are YouTube videos of press conferences. The specific sources for each team’s press conference may vary but they aren’t hard to find.
Some coaches are more forthcoming than others in press conferences but if you listen to them you can get good information. It may take a while to decipher some of the ‘coach speak’ but the longer they talk the more candid they are. Don’t think a coach is going to come out and say ‘we don’t care if we win or lose preseason games’. You’ll often have to come up with the correct interpretation on your own. This is an acquired skill but you definitely don’t have ‘lack of information’ as an excuse.
TEAM ‘BEAT WRITERS’
Team beat writers haven’t always been a good source of information and there’s still some that are basically shills for whatever the head coach wants to convey. Good beat writers are worth their weight in gold and can be extremely valuable sources of information. In the past, sports betting experts would spend a fortune on out of town newspapers to keep up with this information. Now you can follow them on Twitter, read their articles on newspaper websites and hear them as guests on podcasts.
Beat writers can report on previously unknown injuries, give a more accurate assessment of existing injuries, talk about the mood in the locker room and in practice and in many cases do the job of interpreting what the coach says and means for you. Their value is equally as significant during the regular season.
In addition to newspaper beat writers there’s no shortage of unofficial media sources that cover a specific team very closely. They might have a Twitter following or have their own blog or other web presence. Again, they vary widely in quality but a good, objective source of information and critical analysis about a team is extremely valuable.