Handicapping Coaches Key for NFL Preseason
by Robert Ferringo - 07/24/2008
Here is the bad news about this year's article about NFL preseason betting: the lead is not nearly as good.
Here is the good news: it may be more specific and more informative than last year's NFL preseason betting article.
Last year I wrote an article that laid out some basic tips for NFL preseason betting and I feel that the ideas and suggestions that I laid out there still resonate this year. I would give it a read before you consider dipping your toe in the wild waters of NFL preseason wagering.
Betting in the NFL exhibition season it a tricky beast, and one that most pro football bettors (WISELY) avoid. However, I don't shy away from contact and this will be the second year that I release my NFL Preseason Picks and Predictions. The Victory Train leaves the station in August, and we don't stop until February.
But before we get to all that, I thought we should take a look at the guys who set the tempo for how the NFL preseason is played - the coaches. During the regular season most NFL coaches become somewhat of an afterthought to squares and amateur handicappers. It's easier to either look at key players or individual matchups or take the wide, general perspective and consider the teams as a whole. Unless your name is Belichick or Dungy, most bettors don't pay much mind. That is, unless a coach decides to leave an axe lying around in the locker room for his punter to slice his leg open with. (I'm looking at you, Del Rio.)
However, when betting the NFL preseason I believe that the coaches and their head-to-head matchup, stylistically as much as systemically, should absolutely be the first thing that a gambler takes into account. With that in mind, here are some things to watch for in the coaches as you prepare yourself for some hearty NFL preseason betting:
1) Know Your Coaches
Who runs a tight camp and demands execution and perfection through practices and practice games? Who is more laid back and more worried about working on wrinkles and sets than the outcome of the games? Who are the coaches that simply want to protect their veterans? Who is on the hot seat and wants to keep things positive in the preseason?
All of these situations directly relate to how a coach handles a preseason game. A coach's attitude, approach, and demeanor toward exhibition contests sets the tone for the entire team's approach to these games. The easiest way to get a grasp and prep yourself for handicapping these situations is to familiarize yourself with each veteran coach's track record in NFL preseason games and bet them accordingly.
For instance, Tony Dungy couldn't care less about the preseason. Hence, he has a 9-16 record in NFLX despite guiding a perennial playoff squad. Mike Shanahan, on the other hand, has a stellar 39-17 mark in preseason football games, making him one of the best bets on the board. Further, John Fox is on the hot seat this year. He has a career mark of 16-8 in exhibition games and you know he's going to want to make a statement early.
2) Listen To Your Coaches
During the regular season coaches are as trustworthy and reliable as Republican senators. But during the preseason they practically hand you the playbook before the game and say, "Yeah, this is what we're going to do." NFL coaches are very forthright as to their game plans leading into NFLX contests and a bettor can use that as a tremendous advantage.
How long will the starting quarterback and star players play? How many series will the first team offense or defense stay on the field? Which injured players are you going to rest? All of these are key questions that you can find the answers to with very little digging online. The accessibility of information from the head sources will never be greater and that is a key part of NFL exhibition betting.
3) Understand The Systems
You not only have to be mindful of the head coaches during the preseason and even during the regular season. Top coordinators and assistant coaches play a vital role in game planning during the preseason. If a team has a new offensive coordinator and is learning a new system that is going to be reflected on the field in the preseason. These are the games in which players and coaches work out the kinks, make mistakes, and try to get on the same page. It's not usually pretty. But pay close attention to veteran teams that have new offensive and defensive coordinators, or clubs that are learning a new blocking scheme on offense or working between a 4-3 and a 3-4 base on defense.
For example, Mike Martz left Detroit for San Francisco during the offseason, taking his 8,000,000-page playbook and pass-wacky attack with him to The Bay. Martz's movement will have a drastic impact on two teams this preseason. First, you can probably expect Alex Smith and the San Fran first teamers to struggle early on in the year as they try to grasp Martz's attack. Later, they may put up more points simply because they throw the ball more than other teams, or maybe if it starts to click the "O" will start ringing up big numbers in the exhibition season.
Second, look for Detroit to play it a bit closer to the vest and to be a bit more conservative with their offensive scheme. They are going with the anti-Martz attack and shifting to more of a power running game.
4) Competition May Mean Competitive
Quarterback competition or competition at key positions can be a bettor's best friend in the preseason. And how coaches address these instances - again, which they are pretty forthcoming about - will have a drastic impact on how long starters or key players stay on the field during the preseason.
Take the Chicago Bears. They are waging an all-out quarterback competition between Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton. During the regular season the thought of either one of them is enough to make a Bears backer wet themselves. But in the preseason their ineptitude and the uncertainty at that position works to our advantage. It means that two quarterbacks with serious NFL experience will likely get more reps during the preseason games to help the coaches evaluate who is the best man for the job. So while an opponent may be trotting out a third- or fourth-stringer on defense to start the second half I could see Lovie Smith leaving in one of his QBs to get a couple series in the third quarter.
This holds true not just for quarterbacks. The Miami Dolphins and Atlanta Falcons are completely rebuilding their squads. There is a lot of competition going on at a lot of key positions and I believe these two clubs will be a bit more aggressive and have more of an edge in their preseason games then, say, a team with an established hierarchy like Indianapolis.
That said, there is a definite talent deficit on those clubs and you still need to know who is doing the competing (two rookies or two veterans?). Just because a team has some open spots that players are going after it doesn't mean both players don't suck.
5) Watch Out For The Rookies
I'm still talking about the coaches here. This season we have four first-time head coaches leading their charges out onto the exhibition field for the first time. Like any NFL rookie there is bound to be some excitement and bound to be some mistakes. It's difficult to judge how these head men will approach NFL preseason games but one thing is for certain: they are usually pretty eager beavers in trying to get that first 'W', even if it is just a fake one.
Jim Zorn (Washington), Tony Sparano (Miami), John Harbaugh (Baltimore) and Mike Smith (Atlanta) are the green leaders. Zorn and Harbaugh inherit veteran squads while Sparano and Smith have some refurbishing to do. Be wary, as none of these boys has ever been The Man on the sidelines for an actual NFL game - real or fake. You may want to take a wait-and-see approach or you may want to let it ride and try to get ahead of the curve in terms of how you think they'll respond (stepping up vs. peeing down the leg).
Either way it's a gamble. And god I'm glad football is back!