It’s time for some Thursday Night Football. The Denver Broncos open their 2017 exhibition play at Soldier Field, and they’re a fashionable NFL preseason pick versus the Chicago Bears.
There was a time when you could hang your hat on Gary Kubiak. During his 10 years at the helm of the Houston Texans and Denver Broncos, Kubiak had a knack for winning in the preseason. His teams went 24-16 SU and 24-14-2 ATS, driving the OVER to the pay window at 25-13-2. Kubiak was a godsend for hungry August bettors. Maybe some of that mojo will rub off on Vance Joseph. He’s the new head coach of the Denver Broncos following Kubiak’s retirement, and he’ll make his debut this Thursday (8:00 p.m. ET, NFLN) when the Broncos visit the Chicago Bears. The Broncos opened as a pick’em on our NFL odds board, but at press time, they’re up to -1.5 at most books; our consensus reports show 61 percent support for Denver. Will Joseph keep up Kubiak’s good work?
Joseph wasn’t part of Kubiak’s staff with the Broncos, but he did spend three years working under him in Houston – as the defensive backs coach. This is where things start falling apart. Kubiak was a quarterback in college and the NFL and spent over a decade as Denver’s offensive coordinator before taking the top job with the Texans. Joseph started football life as a quarterback, then switched to defensive back in 1995 after going undrafted out of college. That position was his coaching specialty for almost 15 years. It’s reasonable to expect a different preseason approach from Joseph. He’s working with most of the same players that Kubiak had last year, including quarterbacks Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch; however, Joseph says he’s leaning on new OC Mike McCoy and new QB coach Bill Musgrave to get the most out of these pivots. So much for the Kubiak Bump.
That doesn’t mean Denver isn’t the right NFL pick for Thursday’s contest. The contest between Siemian and Lynch for the No. 1 job is close enough that both gentlemen have all the incentive in the world to give it the proverbial 110 percent. Joseph told reporters on Tuesday that Siemian would start in Chicago, followed by Lynch, and that each quarterback would get “probably a little more than” 15-16 plays apiece. Then you have Denver’s third-string QB, “Mr. Irrelevant” Chad Kelly. He was taken with the last pick of the 2017 Draft after a promising college career at Ole Miss was marred by injuries and off-field shenanigans. Kelly is a talented dual-threat quarterback, nephew to Hall of Fame QB Jim Kelly, but he’s still recovering from ACL and wrist surgery, so undrafted rookie Kyle Sloter will mop up on Thursday. Drat.
Don’t throw in the Orange towel just yet. Sloter may be the real deal; he fell off the radar in college after transferring from Southern Miss to Northern Colorado, but Sloter threw 29 TD passes last year, and coaches rave about his ability to make throws and adjust at the line. It’s just a question of consistency. He’ll get at least one quarter to show his stuff Thursday against the back-end of Chicago’s exhibition roster.
We haven’t touched on the Bears much. Head coach John Fox has been close to neutral over his long preseason career: 32-28 SU and 29-30-1 ATS, with the UNDER at 32-27-1. Their QB situation is pretty much set with Mike Glennon, Mark Sanchez and No. 2 overall pick Mitchell Trubisky, in that order. That’s pretty good depth for a preseason game, although Glennon will probably just play a series or two. All three pivots have looked good in camp, and again, Trubisky is going to get a crack at Denver’s third- and fourth-string defenders.
Which brings us to our pick. There’s a total of 35.5 points on the board for Thursday’s game, the lowest total on the Week 1 preseason board. The weather over Soldier Field looks fine, and while none of these six quarterbacks is likely to make the Pro Bowl this year, there’s enough talent and enough motivation for them all to put points on the board. Let’s take the OVER for a small wager and see what happens.
Free NFL Pick: OVER 35.5 (-107)
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