Betting the NFL Preseason - Part 1
The first article Avoid the Vig ever published was on betting the 2019 NFL Preseason. In fact, the very premise of the site was based on the data that we collected and the work that we did to prepare for the NFL summer slate. We had all this actionable information and, after betting it ourselves, we felt that it could be used by others to beat the sportsbooks. What fun is winning if you aren't celebrating with others?
Feel free to check out those articles here:
After diving into the numbers, we found that there are certain coaches and organizations that value winning exhibition games more than others. If you can identify these outliers, you potentially can find teams to play or fade. Ultimately, the information that we collected from our research and subsequent articles led to an 11-3 (79%) +21.4 unit start on our documented plays.
Fast forward to 2020.
We have no idea when NFL preseason football will be played and, of equal importance, who each team will be playing. With that being said, it is never too early to prepare.
Below are the standing from the last four NFL Preseasons (2016-2019). We chose to look at that sample for multiple reasons. First, we wanted to grab the largest sample size that was relevant. If you go back too many years, there is too much change in player personnel, coaches, and even ideologies (check out the Philadelphia Eagles). Four preseasons is 16 games, which just happens to be the same number of games during the regular season. With that said, only 10 coaches have been on the same team since 2016. To no one's surprise these 10 teams, with the exception of the Atlanta Falcons, have really been the model for the NFL during this time frame.
Each team has yellow highlights to identify when their current coach was hired. If there is no year highlighted, it is because they have just hired a new coach.
Under each team is their win percentage since 2016. For example, the New York Jets are 6-10 with a 38% win percentage.
The column furthest right identifies the current coach's record while he has been with the team. Some coach's records are listed at 0-0 with a win percentage of N/A. These coaches have been hired this offseason, which means there is no data to present.
After analyzing the entire league, we tried to find teams that truly prioritized and valued winning these exhibition contest and which did not. We chose teams with a win percentage over 65% and lower than a 35%. We then looked at their current coach's record versus the organizational record. Finally, we calculated the teams' 2019 ATS preseason record.
It is important to note, only 1 of the 3 teams that had under 35% preseason win percentage had a coach for all four years of our data sampling. Conversely, all 3 teams with an organizational record over 65% have had their coach the entire time frame. In short, it is safer to trust the teams that value the preseason over the teams that don't, due to the larger sample size with the current head coach.
TEAMS TO PLAY:
Baltimore Ravens: It is clear, John Harbaugh may be the only person on Earth that values competition as much as Michael Jordan. He wants to win everything, all the time. Under his leadership, the Ravens are 16-0 straight up and 15-1 ATS since 2016 in exhibition contests. We will be looking to lay the points at nearly every turn.
Minnesota Vikings: Mike Zimmer has the highest winning percentage ATS among all coaches, including Bill Belichick, in his coaching career. His preseason metrics are no less impressive. The Vikings have won 75% of their contests, posting a 3-1 record the last two years.
Miami Dolphins: Miami makes the list not because of their organizational record, but because of what Brian Flores did over the last year. After posting a 3-1 preseason record and overachieving in the regular season, Flores has the Dolphins trending in the right direction. He also comes from the Belichick coaching tree that features a 63% win percentage the last four years.
Las Vegas Raiders: Much like the Dolphins, the Las Vegas Raiders see a bump in their value thanks to their coach, Jon Gruden. Since Gruden has taken over, the Raiders are 6-2 in the preseason after a 1-7 record the previous two seasons. Gruden loves to win and with the move to Vegas this offseason, you better believe he is going to want to start Las Vegas off right. It should be noted, that because of their location, the lines, especially in Vegas, will most likely be inflated for the Raiders.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: We actually broke our own rules with the Bucs. We have included Bruce Ariens tenure with the Cardinals into our calculation of his 75% win percentage, a significant uptick from Tampa's 50% record the last four years. Two things make us nervous backing the Bucs. First, the additions of Tom Brady and a slim-downed version of Rob Gronkowski has made this team very public. Second, what kind of playing time and how much knowledge of the offense will Brady understand to be able to make a positive impact this early in the process. The answer to the latter may make the Bucs a team to play or fade.
Seattle Seahawks: Pete Carroll has the Seahawks winning at a 69% clip in the preseason. After going 2-1-1 ATS last season, how will the probability of no fans in the stadium impact the Seahawks who, most likely, get the biggest bump from their 12th man?
Dallas Cowboys: Dallas was one of our teams to fade last year, but Mike McCarthy has a 66% win percentage since 2016. Although the organization is important, the head coach's ideology and success is much more significant.
TEAMS TO FADE:
Detroit Lions: My odds on favorite for first coach to be fired, Matt Patricia, has been horrendous with the Detroit Lions. His 13% preseason win percentage is by far the words. He did go 2-2 ATS last season and with Matthew Stafford back at full strength, will things change?
Atlanta Falcons: If Matt Patricia isn't the first coach to go, it has got to be Dan Quinn. After a disappointing year, the Falcons made a splash and signed...Todd Gurley? You would think a team in division would have seen Gurley's decline. The Falcons will certainly not use their older offensive weapons more than they have to in the preseason. Quinn's 24% win percentage doesn't look to be improving any time soon.
Arizona Cardinals: Kliff Kingsbury has perhaps the best house among all NFL coaches, but his 1-3 record last year leaves a lot to be desired. It is tough to figure out what the Cardinals are. They overachieved in a lot of different areas, but only produced a 5-10-1 record. It is possible that Kliff and company will produce better preseason results with a year under their belt.
Los Angeles Rams: Boy Genius has a 33% lifetime preseason record, but the Rams did go 2-1-1 ATS last year. In the right spot, we will continue to look to fade the Rams.
Los Angeles Chargers: The Chargers historically have devalued the preseason. After going 1-3 last year, Anthony Lynn fell short of expectations. With Phillip Rivers now gone, will Lynn value more reps for the starters to build continuity or will he prioritize health?
Betting the NFL Preseason - Part 2&3
We will continue our series on Betting the NFL Preseason by diving into each teams' against the spread record, their record each week of the preseason, and finally by examining the betting lines of the NFL preseason. Stay tuned for more actionable information.