For years I never followed the NFL preseason football in the month of August. I thought it was a waste of time and absolutely had nothing to do with the regular season. The latter point is still true, just not the first one. Over the last decade I made more money in the preseason then I would have guessed betting football. The beauty of exhibition games (The NFL hates that term) is their simplicity. I have been very fortunate to honestly hit 60.2% (59-39) of these plays since 2003 and now will share with you how it happens.
Please understand, in hitting a percentage like this, you have to be very selective and really choose your spots. I have made a grand total of 98 plays in 10 seasons, which is less than three per week. This can be a challenge for those eager to get started and end up creating a significant hole before the regular season actually starts.
Just like in the regular season, it is important to know your teams. I am not talking about reading hours of information about every given team, rather to know the coaches and the tendencies of the teams. Coaching blunders and superior game plans can alter the outcomes of contests during the regular season. A missed tackle by the opposition or unexpected turnovers can change the final score, no matter what a coach does. In the preseason, a coach can directly impact the scoreboard by substitution patterns and what his goal is for the team beforehand.
Throughout the internet is interesting fact-based cold data, available for you to learn from. For example, two NFL teams have shown they could care less about winning in the preseason, instead, they are more interested in building the team and having it ready for the start of the regular season and often you can find out exactly what the game plan is by going to team websites. The squads that match the criteria are Dallas (21-35 ATS) and Kansas City (15-31 ATS), who are money-burners as favorites over an extended period of time.
Week 1 – Know your Coaches
This is extremely important if you have a desire to have extra money BEFORE the regular season starts. Be assured, all the oddsmakers know the numbers, it is your duty as well if you expect to profit. In the years since Tony Dungy was fired at Tampa Bay, a trio of coaches have placed a priority on getting the preseason off to a good start. Part of the reason is explained in the next paragraph in building a program, however, Jon Gruden, Raheem Morris and Greg Schiano have all determined a good start can set the right tone and the Buccaneers are 8-1-1 ATS in Week 1 the past 10 years.
Another important factor is first-year coaches. This year we have eight new taskmasters and guys like Gus Bradley (Jaguars) Rob Chudzinski (Browns), Doug Marrone (Bills), Mike McCoy (Chargers), Marc Trestman (Bears) and Chip Kelly (Eagles) each will want to establish how they will be running their programs. After going through grueling training camps, each will want to prove to his players that the work has been worth the trouble. Nothing pays off like winning. Historically, these coaches can bring a nice profit in contests where they don’t meet one another. Undoubtedly, these generals will want to bring in their type of players and it will be reminiscent of what legendary baseball manager Casey Stengel once said, “We’ll win soon, just not with these players.”
One last area to consider is coaches in peril. These fellows know their jobs are in jeopardy and have to deliver wins, even if it has to start in August. Among those that could be a good bet this month are Rex Ryan (N.Y. Jets), Jason Garrett (Dallas), Mike Munchak (Tennessee) and Jim Schwartz (Detroit) and to a lesser degree Ron Rivera (Carolina) and Dennis Allen in Oakland. Each have the wolves howling at their door and early wins and a good camp would quell the noise, at least for the time being.
Week 2 – Be ready to pounce
This is one of the two weeks football betting strategists can really take advantage of the lines and make large profits at sports betting outlets. The most important factors this week are prior performance and motivation. These are largely tied together and you can take advantage of them. Last season, Jeff Fisher’s St. Louis squad was not ready for their first preseason contest and was crushed by Indianapolis 38-3 as 1.5-point underdogs. This did not sit well with the veteran first-year in his new home and the coaching staff and the Rams players were put through the paces. Training camp is hard enough and the last thing any player wants this month is coaches hollering and screaming about effort. St. Louis players responded positively and crushed Kansas City 31-17 a week later as a single digit home dog.
Likewise, just the opposite can occur as we found out. Tampa Bay got off to a rousing start in Week 1, mauling Miami 20-7 on the road. With optimism built up, the Buccaneers returned home and were throttled by Tennessee 30-7 as two-point favorites.
Know this, Miami and Minnesota are 6-1 ATS and Kansas City is 0-10 ATS in Week 2.
Week 3 –Dress Rehearsal
This is the most important week of NFL preseason football, at least for coaches to get a real sense of where the team is and if they are on schedule. Starters will play about two-thirds of the game and a semblance of a game plan will be implemented. Many of the same principles still apply about motivation, with a few variations of note.
The coaches and players place additional importance on this week, thus giving a good showing does matter. In the preseason, situational handicapping has relevance, especially for teams losing by 10 or more points the week before. This is noteworthy, with back-ups playing and the games being fairly evenly matched. Once again, coaches will create further accountability through motivational and psychological tactics. In 2012, Green Bay was whipped by Cleveland in week 2, losing 35-10 as a field goal favorites. In reading the Packers online sports pages, Coach Mike McCarthy, made it quite clear another shoddy effort was not going to be acceptable. The Pack brought the fire and bottled up Cincinnati 27-13 as 3-point road favorites.
How this works to your advantage is maybe the coach feels the team is coming along too fast and wants to dial it back. We all know head coaches are control freaks. They want to build you up to tear you down and vice versa. As mentioned in the preseason, these maniacal masters love to put the team thru grueling practices after a weak effort. Others might feel the club is peeking too early and let them slack a bit after an exceptional performance, while closely monitoring they don’t lose their edge. This is part of the other aspect of analyzing situations, teams off blowout wins or losses.
This is where knowing the personality of a head coach is so important. When Mike Holmgren was coaching, he was famous for taking his team on an emotional rollercoaster in August, never letting them feel too good or bad about themselves. It will be interesting to see what New Orleans does this week since with Sean Payton as the head coach; the Saints are 5-0 SU and ATS in week 3. Washington comes in 6-0 ATS and the Chiefs (0-6 ATS) and New England (0-5 ATS) have not won in awhile.
Week 4 – Pick your spots and be ready for the regular season
The last week of the preseason is nothing more than final preparation for most teams trying only to avoid injury and making final cuts. The Houston Texans are 2-8 ATS in their exhibition finales and the line almost always moves against them because of their nonchalant attitude towards this contest.
Be cautious with your plays the last week. If you are having a winning preseason, a game or two that you really are sure of is worth the risk. If you are having an ordinary or below average time in picking winners before the start of the regular season, save your money for what you care about, real NFL football. This is what you have been looking forward to anyways.
Take the time to review the box scores. Do not do this for the traditional reasons as you might believe. Looking at stats and trying to figure out your fantasy team has nothing to do with the preseason games. What this is for is future reference. This can lead to insights about any team’s depth. Every NFL squad is going to have injuries. By reviewing the box scores this time of year, you might find a team that has built up a 17-0 or 20-3 leads with the first-team players in two different games and ends up losing both contests in the second half. This could be a red flag when this club has injuries during the regular season, when the drop off could be precipitous. Most importantly, don’t overanalyze, follow the coaches of the 32 teams and have fun.