NFL Preseason Betting: 5 Tips to Win Money in August
I have to admit, there was a time when preseason NFL betting was purely for gamblers desperate for football to bet on.
With the unpredictability of rosters, game plans and motivation levels in these exhibition games, it was virtually impossible to find an edge on the preseason betting lines and have any realistic expectation of making money.
Those times have changed. Thanks to the Internet (especially Twitter, where you can follow the newspaper beat writers of each NFL team) and the never-ending television coverage, we now have instant access to all of that kind of information. Coaches make less of a secret about the way they plan to utilize their rosters, giving us a better sense of how the games may unfold.
Not that the patterns of how coaches approach the NFL preseason are a big secret anymore. Typically, teams will play their starters for a couple of series in Week 1, give them approximately a quarter of action in the second week, keep them in for the entire first half of Week 3, and then sit them out for the final week to keep them healthy for the regular season.
That’s just one thing to keep in mind about the NFL preseason if you want to make some money at it. Here are 5 more tips that go a bit deeper into helping you profit on NFL preseason betting.
1. Assess Each Team’s Motivation Levels
Teams and coaches have varying levels of motivation when it comes to the preseason.
Some organizations believe winning is always important for keeping a positive culture and building confidence, regardless of whether the game matters in the standings or not. Other teams like to keep their cards close to the vest, preferring not to give their regular-season opponents much to see in game tape and utilizing vanilla schemes on offense and defense.
To help you identify which coaches fall into which category, WalterFootball.com has a very useful page on its website that details each NFL coach’s career preseason record by year as well as by week. (At the time of writing, the chart did not reflect any coaching changes made in 2017).
For instance, you can see that Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer takes things incredibly seriously in the preseason, boasting a career mark of 12-1 in exhibition games. You can also see that Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid loves to post a victory with his starters playing heavy minutes in Week 3 since that’s the only preseason week in which Reid has a winning record.
By contrast, you’ll notice Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett (9-16) and Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano (7-13) aren’t that concerned with wins and losses in exhibition play, and that New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton doesn’t seem to care about closing the preseason with a victory (1-10 all-time in Week 4).
Another great motivational angle is to bet on teams who got blown out the previous week. Even if coaches aren’t too worried about winning and losing in the preseason, they want to make sure their players are giving 100%. You’ll often be able to tell from press conferences or team beat writers whether a coach is extremely unhappy with his team’s performance the previous week, and it’s wise to look to back them in their next game.
2. Look for Teams with Quarterback Depth
Nothing bogs down an offense faster than ineptitude at the quarterback position.
Receivers aren’t as excited to run hard, precise routes when the pass sails 10 feet over their heads or the QB scrambles out of the pocket at the first sign of pressure. The offensive line gets tired of blocking for a pivot who can’t complete a pass to save his life, and the wind comes out of a team’s sails when it consistently goes 3 and out or turns the ball over.
Other than Week 3, when the starting quarterbacks are sometimes still in the game to start the second half, the preseason is almost exclusively contested by backup QBs. So you need to be handicapping games based on the second and third string quarterbacks, more than the starter.
An even better situation is when there is actual competition for the starting QB job or even the first backup slot. Coaches will call more passing plays and surround their quarterbacks with more talent if they’re trying to determine which quarterback is the better one. And competing for jobs is the ultimate motivator, ensuring you’re going to get the best possible effort from the players you’re betting on.
3. Bet on First Halves (Or Even Quarters)
If you don’t know each team’s depth charts that well, you have 2 choices: 1) Do some research and learn them, or 2) Limit your bets to the portion of the game where the starters are playing the most.
The easiest way to do the latter is by betting on first halves of the games (sportsbooks like 5Dimes will even allow you to bet on the first quarter). This way, the majority of your wager will be determined by the guys who will be playing when the games actually matter, rather than the guy who will be bagging groceries in a couple of weeks.
Just remember, the sportsbooks aren’t fools. They also know how much the starters will be playing, and the odds that they set for a first half will almost always reflect that. Over/Unders for the first half will often be set a bit higher than the full game, since the books know the offenses will click a lot better when the top players are in action.
Still, there will be times when the sportsbooks might not be adjusting their first half lines quite as much as they should be. Look for those spots, and pounce.
4. Lean Under Early in The Preseason
This tip piggy-backs a bit on the last one, especially the part about how offenses are their most prolific when the starters are in the game.
The first couple of weeks of the preseason are typically lower scoring, partly due to the limited action the starters are getting but also partly because coaches are just focusing on the basics. After a long off-season, teams want to first master the simple things like handing the ball off, run-blocking and short pass routes.
It isn’t usually until later in the preseason that coaches open up the playbook a bit and stretch the field. So, while teams are strictly looking to move the chains 10 yards at a time, rather than look for the home run with the deep ball, the seconds will quickly melt off the clock and we should see teams scoring in the high teens or low 20s.
Totals will be set low for those first few weeks of the preseason because of this, but don’t let that scare you off an Under that you like.
5. Get the Best Possible Number (And Don’t Buy Points)
If you’ve bet NFL football before, you’re probably already aware of the importance of getting the best possible number on your point spread and Over/Under bets. So many games are decided close to the point spread in the NFL that even half a point can often be the difference between a win and a push or a push and a loss.
That’s especially true when it comes to certain key numbers in the NFL, particularly 3 and 7. More regular-season games are decided by those margins than any other amount of points, obviously because 3 is the value of a field goal and 7 is the value of a converted touchdown. Laying -3.5 with a favorite instead of -3 is a huge difference, just like getting +6.5 on your underdog bet is not nearly as good as getting +7.
The preseason is a lot different, at least when it comes to key numbers. The big reason that 3 and 7 are such common margins of victory in the regular season is because teams are usually scheming to either lead or trail by those amounts. For example, when a team scores a touchdown to make the score 24-19 in the fourth quarter, they’ll go for 2 points to make it a 3-point game, rather than kick the convert and trail by 4.
You don’t see that in the exhibition season because coaches are simply trying to get through these games without having any players get injured. They don’t want to be up 3 or 7 points late in the fourth quarter where a score by the opponent can tie the game because they don’t want to go to overtime and have to play more football than they have to. Often in the preseason, if a team trails by 7 in the late going and scores a touchdown to pull within 1 point, they’ll go for 2 points and the win, rather than simply kicking the convert to tie the game.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t pay attention to key numbers like 3 and 7, I’m simply saying you shouldn’t worry about them as much. While paying a bit of extra juice (buying points) to move a point spread from -3.5 to -3 can make sense in the regular season, it’s definitely not worth it in the preseason.
Focus instead on making sure you’re getting +1 or +1.5 instead of +0.5 or pick ‘em since many more preseason games are determined by 1 point than in the regular season.