Avoid the Vig
How to Bet the NFL Preseason
By Steve Rieder @AvoidtheVig
Want to bet NFL Preseason Football? You most certainly can, unless, of course, you want to bet more than a dime. Sportsbooks have $1,000 limits on the preseason. Why would bookmakers have such low limits on inconsequential games when they allow five-figure bets in the regular season? The answer may be a mix of being distracted by the MLB, fluidity of information, and straight-up fear. Regardless of the reason, there is one thing for certain: The NFL Preseason is a great opportunity to make money.
The mainstream media will have you believe if you bet the preseason, you have an issue. We see you Trey. When I started betting, I told a friend that I was betting on the WNBA. He asked where I draw the line. The answer was simple: I will bet any time on anything I can make money on. The preseason is ripe for the picking and if you are not willing to bet it because of perception, you are missing out on perhaps the only opportunity to bet on the NFL where you have a consistent advantage on the house.
In order to effectively bet the preseason, throw out everything you think you know about the NFL. The best teams in the league may be horrible bets in the preseason. The opposite may be true for the weakest teams. Follow these keys and you are greatly increasing your odds to make money in the preseason.
Coaches lie constantly. In the regular season, you should never believe what comes out of their mouths. The preseason is a different story. Coaches have no reason to lie when it comes to a meaningless game. They usually will tell you how long the quarterbacks are playing, how much time the second unit will see, or if they plan on sitting the starters entirely. Find the beat reporters on Twitter and get the reports as they are being tweeted. If you can get to that information before the books do, you could be in line for a profitable payday.
The first and most important concept to handicap is simply identifying the coach. If you have blindly bet on John Harbaugh and the Ravens Moneyline the last 20 preseason games, you are now 20-0. They are also a remarkable 18-1-1 against the spread. There are coaches that simply value preseason and prioritizing winning and others that don't. A preseason bettor could do a lot worse than backing the Ravens. With that being said, you should bet on Baltimore at post before the line inevitably moves to increase your expected value.
All of my regular season handicapping starts with my power ratings. They are by far the most valuable piece of information I consider. Those same power ratings are utterly meaningless when it comes to the preseason. Some of the NFL best teams will be winless during these exhibition contests. Some of the worst teams will have the most success because many of them have deeper rosters. Traditionally, it is the back end of the roster that gets the most playing time in the preseason, which makes regular season power ratings irrelevant.
Key numbers are extremely valuable in the regular season. A line moving a half point off 3 is actually more important than moving from 4.5 to 6. Certainly, there is still considerable value in the traditional key numbers of 3 and 7, but the preseason key numbers also include 1 and 2. There is an unwritten rule in the NFL that no preseason game should go to overtime for fear of additional injury risk. Teams that would typically tie the game with an extra point late will go for a 2-point conversion, which increases the likelihood of preseason games ending with a 1 or 2-point disparity. Shopping around for a reduced moneyline may be slightly more +EV than laying the points under these circumstances.
Identify the teams that have motivation to win. For example, teams that have struggled the previous year in the regular season, teams that are winless in the preseason, etc. These are all potential betting opportunities. Find the teams that are motivated and exploit the opportunity.
Analyzing the quarterback situation can be a profitable endeavor as well. Identifying strong quarterback positions groups and teams that have quarterback battles are usually teams to back. Especially in the first week of the preseason, many coaches don’t even play their starting quarterbacks. Advantages good teams have with their signal caller in the regular season may be moot in the preseason. Because of this, backups tend to get more playing time, which allows them to be significantly more influential on the outcome of a game. This notion is only enhanced when there is a quarterback competition at #2.
Identifying the style of backups quarterbacks can also be fruitful. Traditionally, 2nd and 3rd teamers do not have the consistency or the continuity that the starters bring. Many players have only been there a short amount of time and some may still be learning the playbook. Because of all these factors, plays tend to break down in the preseason. Having a quarterback that can turn a negative into a positive with their legs or ingenuity can be advantageous.
Identifying cluster injuries in the regular season is typically an area that is not accounted for in the marketplace. This angle is magnified in the preseason when teams no longer care about winning and risking further injuries to a depleted group. Regardless of position, look to fade teams with cluster injuries in the preseason.
Surely, the weather should be taken into consideration when betting on any outdoor sport. But this is even more true in the preseason. When there is inclement weather, teams overreact in these exhibition contests. After all, it is a meaningless game. This is a tremendous opportunity for unders to cash easily. The game no longer becomes about winning but escaping unscathed and healthy.
Preseason offenses are usually rudimentary and do not game plan for their opponents. Defenses typically play very conservatively as well. However, every once in a while, a defensive coordinator will blitz the opposing quarterback in these exhibition contests. More often than not, the offensive line isn’t quite up for the task. It is a profitable practice to read/listen to what the position coaches game plan will be each week of the preseason and back the teams that blitz.
HALL OF FAME GAME
The Hall of Fame Game has gone under in 7 of the last 9 years. Only 3 teams have scored more than 20 points during that time period and only one team trailing at halftime has come back to win in the last 13 contests. These teams play an extra exhibition game which takes place in the first week of August. The coaches do not game plan. I'm not even sure they know all the names of their players yet. They have one goal, to avoid injuries.
1-0 vs 0-1
Perhaps the longest-running trend for the preseason is the 1-0 team versus the 0-1 team. Blindly betting the winless team in week 2 of the preseason against an undefeated team is a winning bet over 60% of the time since 1994.
TAKE IT ALL INTO CONSIDERATION
When deciding who to bet on in the preseason, do not rely on any one aspect for your handicap. Just because a team is down 0-1, doesn’t mean they will necessarily play to win the game. Take all factors into consideration before wagering.