We are about to head into my least favorite time in North American sports – the NFL preseason. I love the regular season, and there is no better sport than football, but in my eyes the preseason in the NFL is just an extended, seemingly endless exercise in stupidity. You rarely see football teams playing at full strength and full intensity for a whole game, you can never be sure what you are going to see before the game starts, and you can be reasonably certain that stars aren’t going to do more than they have to. I understand why the games need to be played, but I hate that they are broadcast nationally, and that fans have to pay full price to see the glorified practices.
The only good about the NFL preseason is that its arrival means that the regular season is near. Actually, there is one other thing that’s pretty good about it as well – you can bet on the preseason, and anything that you can bet on has at least some merit. As expert NFL pick makers know, betting on the preseason is tricky, though. It’s a very different thing than betting on the regular season. Just think of the year the Colts made it all the way to the Super Bowl, but they limped to a pathetic 1-3 in the preseason. Remember that Lions team that went 0-16 during the 2008 season? They were a perfect 4-0 in that preseason. Picking preseason winners is clearly not as simple as picking out the best teams and betting on them. You need to think about much more than that. Here are four things that successful preseason football bettors keep in mind:
Attitude of head coach – There are some NFL coaches that look to leap out of the starting gates and set a tone for the whole season based on their play in the preseason. They seem to believe that winning in August prepares a team to win in November. Other football teams just don’t care about the preseason. They want to make sure that their teams are ready, their players are prepared, and the coaches are on the same page. The results are, to them, totally irrelevant. The Indianapolis Colts are a notoriously bad preseason team. They were just 5-17 during Tony Dungy’s career, and obviously didn’t change their approach after Dungy left. On the other hand, Mike Tomlin is a guy who makes sure his team is ready right from the first game – the Steelers are 13-4 in the last four preseason’s. Looking at how the coaches have performed in the past, or for new coaches what the systems they learned in do, can give you as good an insight into where the preseason value may be as anything.
Status of coaching staffs – When a new coordinator takes over on a team he always brings some changes. Sometimes those changes are significant, though – particularly when they involve a new scheme or approach. It takes a lot of work for a team to change schemes – from a 4-3 to a 3-4 on defense, for example – and it involves a lot of trial and error and a lot of mistakes. A unit that is making a significant change is likely to be using the preseason games as a live-fire exercise to get ready for the real season. they aren’t likely to care about how the games turn out, just that the team progresses and improves. A NFL team making a significant change, then, is likely to be outmatched on the scoreboard by a team that is largely sticking with what they know.
Timing of bet – When you make your NFL preseason bet is as important as who you bet on. The line is set without a whole lot of thought – at least compared to the regular season – and it doesn’t move significantly early on. When it starts to move and draw action is when the quarterbacks are announced – once you know what QBs will be playing and in what order you have a better insight into how the coaches are approaching the game. This typically happens two or three days before the game. If you know that the odds are going to move when this happens, and you can make a reasonable guess of how they are going to move based on the quarterbacks involved, then you can figure out the best time to make your bet to secure the best price and value.
Team depth – In the regular football season you have to concern yourself with how the starters on one team stack up to the starters on the other because that’s what matters most. In the preseason, though, you are almost certain not to see the starters for the whole game, and you will rarely see them for more than a half. What’s more important than the quality of the starters in the preseason, then, is the depth a team has, and the quality of players they can put on the field in the third and fourth quarters. Those times when the second and third stringers are on the football field are far from exciting, but they are often when games are decided and successful sports bettors find that spreads are covered.