How I'm playing the NFL Hall of Fame Game

While no one will ever be accused of comparing the NFL Hall of Fame Game to the Super Bowl, the preseason opener always brings some much-anticipated betting enthusiasm.

The Hall of Fame Game represents the official return of NFL football, regardless of how meaningless the results are or how unprofessional the effort may seem.

Let’s be truthful: Most of us bettors are excited about Thursday’s game between the Raiders and Jaguars and most of us will bet it. With that in mind, why not make our best effort to win some money — aided by historical game information that might tip the scales as to which team wins, which team covers and which way the total winds up.

In Point Spread Weekly, out Wednesday for subscribers, the chart that accompanies this report details HOF Game results since 2000, complete with betting lines and totals. Note the three games that were not played: 2020 due to COVID-19, 2016 due to poor field conditions and 2011 because of the lockout. Also, keep in mind that these games are played in Canton, Ohio, on a neutral field, which is one of the reasons the average game line is so small. Starters often play no more than a single offensive series, resulting in lower totals.

This year, oddsmakers have installed Las Vegas as a 1.5-point favorite with a total of 32.5. Those are typical numbers for this game.

Since 2000, the Raiders have played in one HOF Game (Oakland defeated Philadelphia 16-10 in 2006) and the Jaguars none. The Jaguars’ only prior appearance was in 1995 against the Panthers when the league’s two expansion teams matched up in their first NFL game (Carolina defeated Jacksonville 20-14).

HOF Game Betting Trends/Observations

— Last year, the underdog Steelers snapped a string of four straight wins by favorites in HOF Games. Favorites and underdogs are 2-2-1 ATS in the last five. However, going back further, favorites are 12-4 SU and 9-5-2 ATS since 2003.

— The last all-AFC matchup was 2009, when the Titans edged the Bills 21-18, resulting in an ATS push but an easy Over on a total of 32. AFC teams have won the last three HOF Games outright.

— The team that has led the HOF Game at halftime has gone on to win six of the last eight, although the Steelers trailed at halftime last year and won.

— The Under has hit in seven of the last nine HOF Games.

— In the eight HOF Games since 2003 in which the line has moved off the opening number toward the favorite, the favorite is 5-2-1 ATS.

— Bettors have not been sharp lately when moving totals in HOF Games, going 1-6 in the last seven. The total last year moved toward the Over (32.5 to 34) but the game produced just 19 points, including only three in the first half.

My Thoughts on the 2022 Hall of Fame Game

Both Jacksonville and Las Vegas are beginning new eras with new head coaches this season. Doug Pederson takes over in Jacksonville and, interestingly, his first Eagles team went 4-0 SU and ATS in the preseason. In Las Vegas, Josh McDaniels comes over from New England, where winning is the only option. The Patriots’ last three preseasons have produced a 9-2 SU and 8-3 ATS record. McDaniels will be looking to build on the Raiders’ first playoff berth in five years.

Jacksonville won just three games last year so Pederson has a massive rebuilding job in front of him. QB Trevor Lawrence, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 draft, is the centerpiece of the effort. He had an up-and-down rookie season but perhaps can blossom under the tutelage of an accomplished coach. Don’t expect Lawrence to play more than one or two series Thursday. C.J. Beathard, who started 12 games with San Francisco from 2017-20, is the Jaguars’ primary backup. In 2021, he threw just two passes for the Jaguars. After Beathard, look for big-bodied Jake Luton, whose only NFL stats of record came in three starts with the Jaguars in 2020.

Las Vegas, of course, goes with Derek Carr as the starter, although he didn’t play a single snap in the 2021 preseason. Some think he has a shot at the MVP this year after the team added WR Davante Adams in the offseason. Carr has had three strong seasons in a row without a top-shelf wide receiver. Second in line at QB for the Raiders is Nick Mullens, who has 17 career starts, mostly coming with the 49ers. Jarrett Stidham, who followed McDaniels from New England, is next in the rotation.

When handicapping this game each year, I like to look at two main factors: line placement by oddsmakers and quarterback depth. In terms of the latter, I don’t see a real strong edge either way, particularly with the starters not going very deep. In terms of the line placement, oddsmakers are trying to tell us that Las Vegas is the better team, an obvious point in the regular season but not really of note in the exhibition season. In fact, my preseason power ratings have Jacksonville at 20.5 and Las Vegas at 19. With Pederson coaching his first game for a team in which trying to change the culture will be Job No. 1, I feel there could be a slight motivational edge for the Jaguars. I see no real reason why the Raiders should be a 1.5-point favorite, particularly if Carr sits it out.

Let’s give a slight lean to the Jaguars as the underdog. Regarding the total, historical data suggests the Under, but these teams have played to higher totals in recent preseasons, and my simulations call for around 36 points.