Tips for Betting Preseason NFL Games
by Trevor Whenham - 7/31/2013
I have a clear and firm rule when it comes to how to bet on the NFL preseason — I just don’t do it. There are exceptions, though — and some people just don’t want to miss out on betting on any kind of football after the endless offseason. If a bettor is analytical and patient then there is indeed value to be found in the four games before the regular season starts.
Here are six tips for betting on preseason NFL games:
Season expectations are irrelevant
The single biggest mistake bettors make when betting the NFL Preseason is even thinking about what the team could be like during the regular season. Like in most major sports, there is very little relationship between preseason performance and postseason performance. There are countless examples that illustrate this, but none is more compelling than the 2008 Detroit Lions. The same team that went 4-0 in the preseason that year failed to win a single regular season game. You would never bet a regular season game in October based on how you expect the team to perform in December, so why would you base a decision on how you expect teams will perform weeks later when the games actually matter?
Where are the roster battles?
The preseason is about one thing and one thing only — getting ready for the games that actually matter. If a team is secure in a given position — a veteran player who knows the system and is comfortable with his role and his teammates — then it is not likely that he will see more time than he absolutely needs to be ready. That means that that position will be mostly manned by lesser players, and the team will not be at their best as a result. If a team is secure in key positions on both sides of the ball then they aren’t likely to be that competitive — they just don’t need to be. The stars won’t play, and the replacements may not be as motivated because they know they aren’t playing for a chance to start. Understanding what is at stake for both teams, then, can give you a big insight into what can be expected.
What is the track record of the coach?
There are some coaches who are really determined to win in the preseason to set a tone for the upcoming season. Then there are guys like Tony Dungy. Dungy was a great regular season and postseason coach, but he had total contempt for the preseason and couldn’t have cared less about winning. Having a sense of the approach of a coach to the preseason — especially if he is new to a team so the public won’t have the same sense — can be very valuable for bettors.
Who will take the snaps?
The quarterback is the most important position in football handicapping, and this is just as true in the preseason as any other time. You need to focus here not just on what pivots are on the roster but also how much each one is likely to play. You are going to make a lousy betting decision if you bet on a team based on handicapping the starters only to see those starters barely play. Sometimes a team will make their QB plans public before a game, so that’s easy. If they aren’t that kind, though, you can get a sense of what is lucky based on a number of factors — the experience of the starter, his comfort with key skill position players and offensive coaches, his health, the clarity surrounding the backup position, how serious the opponent is likely to be about the game, and so on.
What offseason changes were made?
Change creates uncertainty for NFL teams. The more uncertainty there is, the more teams have to work to get prepared for the season and the more likely that they will be putting forth a strong effort. That doesn’t mean that a team that has made a lot of changes in key positions will be better than one that has stayed basically the same. It just means that you can be somewhat more confident in predicting their levels of effort deep into the game. If one team is still playing first-stringers by the time the other team is emptying the bench then the full-strength team could have an edge — even if they aren’t the more-talented or popular team.
Does the public care?
The public generally doesn’t care about the preseason nearly as much as they care about the regular season. There are some situations, though, in which the public’s imagination can be captured. Perhaps a high-profile rookie or free agent is playing his first game with his new team. Or a star player is facing his former team with his new team for the first time. Maybe a new coach is making his debut in the face of major expectations or the team is debuting a new scheme or system that has the public excited. As is the case at any time, if the public really cares about a preseason game they are likely to bet it recklessly, and that can create value for more level-headed bettors who don’t jump on the first bandwagon they see without evaluating whether it’s the right place to be.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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