We’ve waited nearly six months to bet on NFL football again and now the preseason is upon us. Betting the NFL preseason is an exercise in contradiction.
Over the next three weeks the NFL requires teams to play games that don’t count. Almost universally, the teams will tell you they’re not trying to win the games.
However, we’re still going to bet real money on these games and, quite frankly, some of these coaches play to win. Here are some do’s and don’ts for betting the NFL preseason.
DO: Handicap the Coaches
This is probably the one time where a coach actually influences the point spread.
Three coaches stand out as statistical outliers with their preseason record. First, the poster child for “preseason matters” is John Harbaugh in Baltimore. In his 15 seasons leading the Ravens he has amassed a 43-12 record. If you assume all teams are 50/50 to win in the preseason then a binomial distribution on that record would break your calculator. Harbaugh tries.
Other outliers are the Patriots’ Bill Belichick (50-38), Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin (37-24) and the Jets’ Robert Saleh (5-1).
On the other end of the spectrum are Jacksonville’s Doug Pederson (8-12) and the Chargers’ Brandon Staley (1-5). Handicapping based on coaches alone is probably not a winning formula, but don’t discount the coaches who try to win these games.
DON’T: Rely on Unabated’s Tools
The NFL preseason is not the same game as the NFL regular season. Our tools at Unabated can help you find great edges on alternate lines, partial game derivatives and NFL player props. The Alternate Line Calculator has been proven to decipher the value of half points. Our NFL Teaser Tool crushed markets last year. But all of that is built for the NFL regular season.
The distribution of points in NFL preseason is different. Teams will not be trying to score as many points as they can. They’re working out playing situations and testing personnel.
You’ll find most favorites lined minus-3 or less. You’ll also find margins of victory are more narrow. The value of the 1, 2 and 3 increases in preseason relative to regular season. Also, the value of the 6, 7, and above decreases. With so few games played and so few situations to apply such a tool, we don’t recalibrate our tools for betting the NFL preseason.
DO: Play Wong Teasers
As I just mentioned, it is hard to quantify the value of certain half points in the preseason. However, if you don’t mind trusting that the value is directionally correct, Wong teasers are typically a strong play in preseason.
Last season they went 18-5 individually if you had decent outs. You’ll find a lot of shops increase the price you pay for teasers in the preseason so shop around for the best price and don’t pay too much despite the good record.
Past performance is not indicative of future results. Are Wong teasers good in the preseason? Yes. Are they good enough to lay -150 on a two-teamer? No.
DON’T: Try to Win the Season in the Preseason
We’re a long way from the Las Vegas in February. The NFL season does go by in a flash, but it’s not the Super Bowl yet. Don’t try to win it all in the preseason.
There’s a lot of variance in the results in the preseason. You don’t need make up for lost time by attempting to bet big numbers on preseason games.
First, you’ll find that sportsbooks’ limits are typically lower on preseason games. Second, there’s so many more ways to bet the NFL once the regular season comes around.
A better way to use what you see in the preseason is to check out the regular season wins market by using our popular NFL Season Simulator. There’s a lot of value in the regular season alt wins markets.
DO: Pay Attention to News
NFL preseason line movement is largely based on news and information. Specifically, how long starters are playing. This information tends to filter out from coaches during the practice week.
You’ll be rewarded if you pay close attention and are ready to move on breaking news. Set up your Tweetdeck to include the list of NFL sources that Unabated compiled for you. React swiftly.
DON’T: Handicap Regular Season Based on Preseason Results or Gameplay
If two teams face each other in the preseason that will play again in the regular season, you can bet they aren’t going to want to show their full playbook to each other.
Likewise, coaches don’t want to tip their hand in the preseason of anything they might want to exploit in the regular season. That’s why these games are potentially so boring. They’re not only second- and third-stringers, but they’re being asked to run mundane plays to see who is procedurally the best for the position.
Don’t use preseason to handicap a regular season game. In fact, early on in the season, Madden ratings (yes, the video game) might be more directionally accurate for player performance than the results of preseason.
Maybe we’ll touch on Madden ratings and handicapping in a future article. In the meantime, enjoy some meaningless football while you’re betting on the NFL preseason.