Tips for Wagering on NFL Preseason Games
by Josh Nagel - 8/8/2009
There are usually two types of bettors that enjoy wagering on NFL preseason games: those who just can’t get enough of pro football, and those who refuse to let any profitable opportunity slip through their grasps.
On some occasions, they are the same individual.
“I am definitely that guy, for better or worse,” said professional NFL bettor Thomas Rossi of Reno. “I can’t possibly watch an NFL preseason game without having a bet on it.
“And if I’m going to bet it, I’m sure as heck not going to do it with the intention of giving my money away to the sports book, just so I can have a few hours of action.”
Some novice bettors are often surprised to learn that sports books accept wagers on preseason NFL games. Of course, this doesn’t stop them from gambling on the games, as the NFL preseason typically falls in a somewhat slow period for the books.
Aside from Major League Baseball and golf, there isn’t a whole lot that stands out on the betting board. Thus, oddsmakers say there is more than enough interest and action to warrant setting lines for these games.
What’s more, the high percentage of public bettors who gravitate toward the favorite and over in every game is reason enough alone for the books to take action on the NFL preseason.
“While it is tougher to create lines for preseason, the demand and information available is still solid enough to warrant business,” said Michael Perry, oddsmaker for Logans.com.
However, oddsmakers and serious gamblers share a common strategy when it comes to gambling on NFL preseason games – proceed with caution.
Thus, as he would while handicapping any considering a bet for any other game, Rossi and other serious sports bettors study diligently and do their homework while looking for an edge.
Often, it’s not hard find.
“To me, it really boils down to just a couple of things,” Rossi said. “One is motivation, and two is which team has the better second-string quarterback.”
Other bettors look for value in totals. Although most of the numbers are set in the low- to mid-30s because of the propensity for games to come to a standstill offensively after the first quarter, the under remains a popular play among serious bettors.
“The offensive side of the ball takes a lot more time to fine-tune than the defensive side of the ball does,” said handicapper Giuseppe Partucci. “Even though this is already taken into consideration by the oddsmakers, there are still a lot of opportunities with betting on ‘unders’ during preseason.”
When it comes to motivation, there is little in the way of any sort of revenge factor and home-field advantage is minimal. It’s primarily a matter of which coaches believe winning preseason games is important and those who use see it as not much more than a chance to get a really good look at their punt team.
Examples on both sides of the ledger aren’t difficult to find. Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid has long been an advocate of playing to win preseason games, believing that the feeling of winning is instrumental to establish early in hopes of carrying it over into the regular season.
He tends to keep his starters in the game longer than most NFL head coaches, a huge advantage for bettors backing the Eagles. Philadelphia went just 2-2 in last year’s pre-season but went on to reach the NFC title game. Likewise, the Pittsburgh Steelers posted a 3-1 pre-season record and eventually won the Super Bowl.
However, the best-laid plans don’t always work out. Former Lions coach Rod Marinelli had a similar approach to the preseason, and the Lions had to be feeling good about themselves after posting a 4-0 pre-season mark last year. They went on to set an NFL record for futility by going 0-16 in the regular season.
“Teams like the Lions will be using a lot more players overall in preseason than a team such as the Steelers, who pretty much have all their pieces in place,” Perry said.
Coaches of the previous two Super Bowl winners, New York’s Tom Coughlin and Tony Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts, take a much more subdued approach. Their teams each went 1-3 in the preseason before hoisting the Lombardi Trophy several months later. If you’ve ever seen Jim Sorgi play for a couple of quarters, you understand exactly why Colts management places a premium on keeping Peyton Manning healthy.
So, it stands to reason that it’s imperative to know what a coach hopes to accomplish in the pre-season, and this can change from game to game. Some play their starters more in the last game or two, while others never stray from their general approach.
A good rule of thumb is to check out the team’s Web site or its regional newspaper to see what the coach is saying regarding his strategy for the upcoming game. You’ll usually find straightforward comments about their game plans.
Often, a good spot to look for is one in which a team has a proven veteran as its back-up quarterback who is likely to play a good portion of the game, or a team with two solid quarterbacks whoa re competing for the starting job.
One prime example of this came last year when the Arizona Cardinals were a surprising 3.5-point road underdog against the Oakland Raiders. Matt Leinart and Kurt Warner were battling for the top job, and it stood to reason both would see significant playing time. The erratic Leinart was awful, but Warner led the team to three touchdowns in Arizona’s 24-0 win.
Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt named Warner the starter after the game, and the veteran quarterback led the Cardinals to their first Super Bowl berth.
“Arizona against Oakland was my play of the year last preseason,” Rossi said.
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