How to Bet the NFL Preseason
After the Cardinals and Cowboys duked it out in grand fashion last week, the league is set to begin its regular schedule of preseason games on Wednesday. The action kicks off at 6:30 with the Houston Texans traveling to the Carolina Panthers. But who really cares? Preseason games count for nothing. Starters play for a couple possessions; a half at most. What makes this slew of exhibition matchups any different from other sports?
Simple. The fanfare. We’re starved of actual football from February to August. These games are the equivalent of a desert oasis. It gives us a chance to satiate our thirst for on-field action… It also gives bettors plenty to wage on.
The NFL preseason is an opportunity for football handicappers to study teams and players in depth. It’s an opportunity for bettors to get started early — to capitalize on a whole month of games. But when the games don’t matter and there’s no telling how long starters will play, how do we go about handicapping these matchups?
As we continue to examine early betting trends in football, let’s take a look at some angles to consider when betting the preseason.
NFL Preseason Odds
NFL preseason games tend to be low scoring affairs. Lots of field goals. As such, the line tends towards +/- 3 unless more influential information is provided. If, for example, the Panthers announce that Cam Newton will play three quarters of football Wednesday night, the line is likely to shift toward a wider spread.
If sharps haven’t already driven lines up for a game (which they aren’t likely to do in the preseason), such information will have the greatest impact on odds.
The good news is that, in preseason, the winner covers the spread more often than not. So betting the favorite tends to be a wise strategy.
Preseason Coaching Records
Know this: there is no one size fits all mentality for coaching in the preseason. Some coaches, many times the more seasoned ones, treat these games as extensions of training camp — another opportunity to test out young guys and get a better feel for a team’s depth. Other coaches like to have fun with it — they’ll open up the playbook and put their starters out there long enough to excite fans and put points on the board. They want to set the tone for a winning season. Newer coaches tend towards this preseason philosophy.
As such, you’d be right to keep a keen eye on a coach’s preseason track record. Do they play to win? Do they open up their playbook or keep things relatively conservative? Do they give starters ample time to show their stuff or do they keep them out to guard from potential injury?
While coaching records only have so much impact on the regular season, rreseason coaching records become valuable handicapping tools for bettors. Look closely enough and you’ll find consistent betting trends associated with each coach year to year. For newer coaches, err on the side of a liberal preseason philosophy. Simply put, incumbents have less to prove than newcomers.
As we’ve established, different coaches take different approaches to the preseason. Some keep things fairly conservative and close to their chest where others will share a wealth of valuable betting information. Knowing how long starters will be on the field, how long the star quarterback will be under center, whether or not coaches plan to air it out or play the short game — these key details will go a long way towards cultivating sharper betting strategies.
Use this info wisely. It’s your best friend in the preseason. And keep an eye on backups and young QBs, too. How are they faring in training camp? Are they hungry for a starting role? Or a bigger contract with another team? Last year, Dak Prescott came out in preseason and launched 70-yard bombs into enemy territory. He demonstrated a prowess that we’d go on to see all season-long. Will the same come of the Patriots’ Jimmy Garoppolo or the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes? The clues are there. You just have to look for them.
Contract Disputes and Injuries
These two are pretty obvious factors to consider. It is not out of the ordinary for key players to enter the preseason in holdout mode, nor for starters to sustain injuries in camp that keep them sidelined until the regular season. As with these other strategies, staying up to date on game time information is vital to successful preseason betting.
It might even be a make or break detail for NFL futures — as Tony Romo’s injury was for the Cowboys last year.
So yes, maybe the games count for nothing. Maybe they’re about as exciting as rice cakes. But as long as games are being played and sportsbooks are putting out lines, there will be reasons for bettors to get excited about the NFL preseason.