Football is back … sort of.
Thursday’s Hall of Fame Game (8 p.m. ET) between the Raiders (-2.5) and Jaguars will officially kick off this year’s preseason calendar and mark the first taste of NFL action since the Rams won the Super Bowl back in February. There won’t be nearly as much intrigue – or talent – on the field for this one, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t value betting on this week’s exhibition.
Like with any preseason game, though, it pays to be prepared. Here’s what you should know before betting Thursday’s preseason opener:
This should always be the first question any bettor asks before wagering on the NFL preseason, where starters rarely play more than a few drives, if that. And in the case of Thursday’s exhibition, we may not see many starters at all.
The Jaguars have already announced that starting quarterback Trevor Lawrence won’t play in this one, while backup quarterback C.J. Beathard is still nursing a groin injury that will keep him out of action, too. That means former sixth-round pick Jake Luton will get the starting nod on Thursday.
Luton was sharp in preseason action in 2021, completing 77.4% of his passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns, but his regular-season numbers (54.5%, 2 TD, 6 INT) cast a little more doubt about what we should expect against the Raiders. His supporting cast is also suspect – Travis Etienne and James Robinson won’t play on Thursday, which will put the onus on Luton and fourth-stringer Kyle Sloter to air it out with a new-look receiving corps.
On the other side, there’s no indication whether Derek Carr – who sat out the entire 2021 preseason – will suit up for the Raiders, but it could make sense to get some reps with new star wideout Davante Adams in the first game under new coach Josh McDaniels. Las Vegas also boasts a deeper roster than Jacksonville – especially at quarterback, where former starters Jarrett Stidham and Nick Mullens slot behind Carr on the depth chart.
What about past results?
If you take a look at previous Hall of Fame Game results, you’ll notice one thing right away: there hasn’t been a lot of offense:
|2021||Steelers 16 Cowboys 3|
|2019||Broncos 14 Falcons 10|
|2018||Ravens 17 Bears 16|
|2017||Cowboys 20 Cardinals 18|
|2015||Vikings 14 Steelers 3|
|2014||Giants 17 Bills 13|
|2013||Cowboys 24 Dolphins 20|
|2012||Saints 17 Cardinals 10|
|2010||Cowboys 16 Bengals 7|
Since 2010, the average Hall of Fame Game has produced a combined 28.3 points, and only one team has even surpassed 20 points in that span. Unsurprisingly, the under has cleaned up in recent years, boasting a 7-2 record in those nine games.
That follows a trend across the preseason as a whole. Last year, 17 of the first 20 preseason games went under, including that 16-3 win by the Steelers in the Hall of Fame Game. Pittsburgh became the first underdog to win this game outright in five years, but favorites are still riding a 12-4 record straight-up and a 9-5-2 mark against the spread in the last 16 Hall of Fame Game matchups.
This game opened at pick ’em before some money on the Raiders nudged the line in their favor, but the real story is the total (30.5), which was as high as 33.5 before moving to a historic low. If it holds, this total would be the lowest in a preseason game in 18 years – which shouldn’t come as any surprise given the low-scoring nature of this exhibition every year.
Where’s the value?
Look, any wager is inherently a gamble, but that’s especially true when betting on meaningless preseason football. Bettors care more about the final result than many of the coaches or players do, and we’re lucky they don’t end these games early like they do at times in MLB spring training.
That said, it’s felt an awful lot like these offenses have shut it down early over the last few seasons, and I’m not expecting a dramatic shift with both sides expected to sideline key offensive players early in this one. Sure, this total is historically low, but extreme totals have fared well in the regular season in recent years, and it’s the clearest value on the board for Thursday’s opener.