We all start to get an itchy trigger finger when the mere mention of football and betting are uttered in the same sentence. However, wagering on the NFL preseason can be daunting for recreational bettors dipping their toes into the water of August football for the first time. Here are some thoughts to consider during exhibition season to build your bankroll before the regular season arrives. Remember, the money spends the same as when the guys on the field start playing for keeps, but with far more moving parts during NFL-X it leaves significant room for oddsmaker error.
Know the Coach
When the stakes in a game aren’t equal I always want to lean towards the guy that makes winning exhibition football games a priority. Certain sideline bosses play to win in August looking to instill confidence in a roster long before the live bullets start to fly. Conversely, there are coaches that flat-out don’t give a damn knowing the single most important part of August football is surviving with an unscathed roster. Thankfully, we have historic data to work off for a handful of head coaches; meanwhile some of those new to calling the shots are yet to show their true colors.
Here’s a quick snapshot of the 3 best and worst Against The Spread coaches (minimum 12 games):
Ride or die
Pete Carrol 34-14 ATS
John Harbaugh 27-14 ATS (0-1 ATS this preseason)
Mike Zimmer 12-5 ATS
Feast on the fade
Jason Garret 10-18 ATS
Hue Jackson 4-8 ATS
Dan Quinn 4-8 ATS
Don’t over value the named QB; don’t under value the QB battle
This preseason rule might be a counterintuitive but should make sense in just a minute. We’re all creatures of habit, and known commodities give us that warm tingly feeling and a false sense of security when familiar college quarterbacks are there to gain valuable experience in the 3rd and 4th quarters. Truth be told? Those guys can’t do it on their own and the weapons around them are a far cry from what they’re used to. I personally look to gravitate more towards veterans that know what it takes to get the most out of their 3rd string counterparts. Obviously, every situation comes with its own wrinkles (namely O-line depth), but a mobile QB becomes a tremendous weapon if he’s willing to escape the pocket against defenses late in games that haven’t schemed for a fast pivot.
Along those same lines, try to identify teams with QB battles heading into the season. Coaches generally like to give everyone in the race a fair crack, meaning difference makers could play longer allowing coaching staffs to make apples to apples comparisons. Obviously, much of this depends on the defense they’ll be facing, but keep in mind the more competitive the race the larger percentage of the playbook they’re willing to use for games that have zero bearing in the standings.
Read, read, and read some more
Reading is always a valuable part of the handicapping process as you’ll hear Payneinsider mention countless times throughout fall on our podcasts. When it comes to preseason football it takes on added importance if you’re able to glean a coaches’ gameplan from various interviews or press conferences. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as simple as a coach saying our starters will play 3 full quarters and living up to his end of the bargain, but there are plenty of instances where we as handicappers will have a pretty good idea of what both teams are seeking to accomplish in any given game. Rather than only paying attention to a quarterback rotation (which can be fool’s gold), also try to understand what the supporting cast is going to look like and how long various defensive groupings plan to get work.
Don’t chase the moves
This is a lesson we preach over and over again regardless of the sport and time of year. Given the fact preseason markets aren’t nearly as liquid as the NFL regular season, numbers will have volatile swings. It’s not uncommon to see little to no resistance around key numbers or prices move through zero at a moment’s notice. There’s no reason to chase a burnt number; wait for the next opportunity to avail itself. Now, we never want to confuse the difference between “chasing” and the 2nd or even in rare circumstances the 3rd number still having value; don’t get those confused. But if you’re unsure of your edge, err on the side of caution.
Be wary of short prices
When I say be wary of short prices, keep in mind games don’t play out like the regular season. Coaches want to avoid tie games at all costs and it’s common to see them practice two point conversions in the preseason at the most inopportune time for sports bettors. We’ll never advocate doing it blindly, but seek out short moneyline prices with favorites in the -1 to -2.5 range and don’t get greedy taking +110 when the option for +1.5, 2, and +2.5 is available. We saw the Hall of Fame game land “ONE” this preseason with a crazy finish — and it won’t be the last time this August. Remember, “ONE” becomes a key number during the preseason, so adjust accordingly. Additionally, the historical data suggests buying to +3 doesn’t have the same expected value during NFL-X, so blindly paying that premium isn’t advised.