Bad Teams, Good Preseason Bets – NFL Preseason Betting Overview
Betting on preseason NFL football might feel like a bit of a crapshoot at times. You are wagering on backups to backups, third-string QB’s facing defenses comprised largely of dudes who won’t likely ever earn a consistent NFL paycheck. Teams are playing in front of half-empty stadiums, coaches are trying to look at players without allowing anyone to get a good look at their real playbook and every team takes the field hoping more to avoid any injuries than to actually win games. I’ve even seen games end on converted extra points when a team trailed by two points.
But despite all the glaring “fake football” aspects to the preseason, like any other sport, if you study some data and analyze trends, some powerful betting theorems come to light. There are some interestingly strong trends over the last three preseasons worth noting. There are a few good teams that you will really want to AVOID, and there are some teams that can’t get it done in the regular season but have been really good preseason wagers.
Let’s take a look at some interesting betting angles as we get ready for the start of preseason football Thursday night…
SO-SO TEAMS, GREAT BETS:
#1. Minnesota Vikings
It might be a little unfair to classify Minnesota as a “bad” football team. They’ve made the playoffs and been competitive over the past three years. But their regular season has been a far cry from their dominating preseason record. Since Mike Zimmer arrived in the Twin Cities, the Vikings have posted a 12-1 SU preseason record. It seems reasonable to expect a decent preseason again, though if I were Zimmer, I’d gladly go 0-4 to know Sam Bradford will actually be healthy and under center on Opening Day.
However, a 12-1 preseason record might say more about philosophy than talent. Perhaps as Zimmer eases into more job security, he will take his foot off the accelerator a bit in the preseason, but as far as coaching trends go, there is no more powerful trend in the NFL preseason than backing Coach Zimmer, especially considering the Vikes have made the playoffs only once in the last three years.
#2. Washington Redskins
For a team with only one playoff appearance and a record eight games under .500 over the last three seasons, Washington’s 9-3 SU preseason record is a trend worth observing. Another former Bengals assistant who seems to feel like he still has something to prove in the preseason, Jay Gruden is entering his fourth season, just like Zimmer, and has yet to post a losing mark in the preseason, going 3-1 each campaign.
Washington has Kirk Cousins on the franchise tag once again, so there is no real reason to stretch him out in the preseason now that he has a solid tenure as the starting quarterback, but with a nice backup battle between Colt McCoy and Nate Sudfeld, the Hogs might be formidable in August once again.
Their Week Three game often considered the only “real” preseason game is at Tampa Bay, who has been one of the worst preseason teams over the last four years and likely has even less to prove this season with Jameis Winston entering his third season and needing fewer preseason reps.
#3. Baltimore Ravens
Calm down, John Harbaugh, your job is safe! The Ravens haven’t made the playoffs the past two seasons and are under .500 over the last three years combined, but it isn’t for a lack of August success. John Harbaugh and the Ravens have turned in two perfect preseasons in the last three years and have a combined record of 9-3. In his Baltimore career, Harbaugh is a ridiculous 24-12 SU in the preseason, easily one of the two highest winning percentages among active head coaches (Pete Carroll is 18-10 with Seattle). It is actually exceptionally rare for a coach with his kind of track record and obvious implicit job security to rack up that kind of dominant record.
This season the Ravens open the preseason with another preseason darling, hosting Washington (something has to give!) before visiting the Dolphins, hosting the Bills and visiting the Saints (Sean Payton fits the ‘job security’ preseason trend, having failed to win a single game in each of the last two preseasons).
The Ravens preseason has gotten REALLY interesting with the injury to Joe Flacco, and despite the obvious chaos it throws the Ravens season into, it could actually make them an even more attractive preseason wager. They NEED to figure out who is going to be under center, so the next four weeks have taken on significantly more urgency. Ryan Mallett is first up to get a shot, but it seems really hard to believe the Ravens will be content to entrust a veteran team to the oft-traded (and oft-troubled) Mallett. Behind him are Dustin Vaughn and newly-signed David Olson. If you have to google both of those two, don’t feel bad, you aren’t alone. David Olson’s career college passing numbers are 1-3 for -1 yards. He was a backup at Stanford who never threw a pass and his ‘completion’ came as a grad transfer at Clemson and went for negative yardage. However, he has been kicking ass for the Kansas City Phantoms of the Champions Indoor Football (CIF) league! (It’s an arena football league based in the Midwest) Yup.
Can we just say what we are ALL thinking? Colin Kaepernick will be under center by the second preseason game. And that will make Baltimore pretty darn interesting in the preseason, as well as a pretty good bet. You can hate the guy if you want, but I can’t think of three better backup QB’s in the NFL right now than Colin Kaepernick…
GOOD TEAMS, BAD PRESEASON BETS:
#1. Pittsburgh Steelers
Coach Tomlin is a Super Bowl winning coach for a franchise that has employed three head men over the last four decades. He ain’t going anywhere. He’s started the same QB for a decade and a half, and after a brief flirtation with retirement, Big Ben is once again under center. He ain’t going anywhere either.
So, really, what do the Steelers need preseason for? Their core three skill position players are quite possibly the best trio in the NFL. Don’t expect to see any of them much in August (in addition to the whole awkward “hold out” scenario for Bell). Tomlin is 22-20 lifetime in the preseason, but all that winning came early. The secure vet gets it now; preseason is about getting a look at your two’s and three’s and making sure your ones DON’T GET HURT. That’s it. Especially for a franchise with the stability and continuity of the Steelers. Over the past four seasons, Tomlin’s squads have gone a combined 3-14, the worst mark in the NFL. Obviously, it hasn’t mattered, as the Steelers have won 32 games over the last three seasons, second best in the AFC, and have made the postseason each year.
The Steelers do have some experience at the backup QB position, so perhaps Landry Jones can lead the Steelers to a few impressive first halves, but if Tomlin’s four-year track record is any indication, I wouldn’t lay a lot of money on the Steelers in the preseason. Especially considering they will likely be favored in most games due to their perception and overall reputation and quality.
#2. Dallas Cowboys
They may be America’s Team, but they’ve been American’s worst wager over the past three preseasons. Despite a pair of campaigns with 12 and 13 wins in the regular season, Dallas is just 2-10 SU over the past three August dry runs. Some of that was kid-gloves with Tony Romo and his fragile health, but with Dak Prescott firmly entrenched after a rookie season for the ages, don’t expect many first team offensive reps this season either. Jason Garrett also fits nicely on the progression curve of coaches with tenure and job security. His first three preseasons he went 7-6, since then, a big fat 2-10.
Dallas will have some normal positional battles worth watching, but as far as their backup QB situation, it’s one of the least confidence-inspiring in the NFC. I see no reason their preseason woes will be rectified in 2017.
#3. Arizona Cardinals
Last season was disappointing, but over the last three years, the Cardinals have been one of the better teams in the NFC, posting seasons with 12 and 13 wins respectively. That real-life success hasn’t been muted at all by some pretty dismal preseason campaigns. The Cardinals are just 4-8 SU over the last three seasons, including last year’s 1-3 mark. Their backup QB situation is pretty interesting, as Blaine Gabbert as a #3 heading into camp, with Drew Stanton ahead of him should be one of the more complete QB’d teams for sixty minutes. Perhaps this year the Cards will notch a few more wins.
In his Arizona tenure, Bruce Arians, cut from the Belicheckian paranoid mode, has been very reluctant to put much on display in August and owns a career losing preseason record that has declined every season as his tenure progressed.
BAD TEAM, BAD BETS
And lest we get too enamored with the relatively pervasive trend of poor teams with younger coaches being better preseason bets, there are a few teams that are just bad at all times, including the worst of the worst over the last three years, the Cleveland Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars. We all know the regular seasons have regularly been disasters, but their preseason campaigns have just been previews for the same bad movie. Jacksonville is just 4-8 SU, while Cleveland is a dismal 2-10.
Other dismal performers include the Indianapolis Colts (3-9) and the Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams (3-9).
Good luck with your preseason wagers! Let’s get ready for some football!