As a general rule I hate everything about the NFL preseason. You never know who is going to play, how long they will play, how hard they will try, or how much of their playbook they will use. Betting on preseason football games can be a very frustrating experience. From time to time, though – perhaps a few times each week – you find a good spot in which the value is too good to resist. Here are seven factors for NFL sports bettors to consider that can help you spot those spots worth betting on:
Think about changes to rosters – Simply put, the more key football players that have left and been replaced – either by free agents or rookies – the more work there is to be done in the preseason. That doesn’t necessarily have the impact that most people think, though. The general assumption is that working in new players in key positions can be a bad thing in the NFL preseason because teams won’t be as sharp as they should be. Often times, though, the introduction of the new players means that the starters will actually play longer so that they can have more time working together in game conditions getting on the same page. As a result the addition of veteran starters to a team can actually mean they will put out better effort longer in their preseason football games, and that’s obviously not a bad thing for sports bettors.
Game location can matter – During the regular NFL season you need to be conscious of home field advantage, but it is reasonably standard form game to game in most cases. In the preseason, though, teams can respond to playing at home in very different ways. Popular teams that have been successful in the regular season and playoffs in the recent past probably aren’t going to feel much pressure to perform for their fans in the preseason. They know that the football fans will be there when the season starts, and they will be enthusiastic. If a team has struggled in the regular season or has struggled to draw fans, though, then they could be much more conscious of the need to impress their fans to get them fired up and keep them coming back, and that could force them to play harder in the preseason than a more stable team might.
Look ahead at the schedule – From time to time a NFL team will play a preseason game against an opponent that they will see again in the regular season. In this case you can be all but certain that you are going to see very few of the wrinkles from the playbook because teams won’t want to give anything away. The same goes for a team that they could easily play in the playoffs. The more simple the playbook a team is using, the more the game comes down to athletic talent and raw ability. That shifts the sports handicapping focus from the coaching staff to the depth and talent of the roster.
Coach motivation is key – NFL teams are going to play with the intensity that their coaching staff instills in them. If the coach is fired up for the preseason games then the players will be, too. If they don’t care, though, then the team isn’t going to, either. Does the coach have anything to prove? Perhaps they are new to their jobs and want to set a tone early. Or maybe they are on the hot seat and want to prove that they have their team ready. How do they typically approach the preseason? Some football coaches really don’t care about the scoreboard and only focus on getting their teams ready and staying healthy. They aren’t going to try hard to win, so they will be vulnerable against a coach that believes that winning in August helps you win in October.
What’s the depth situation? – Depth has to be an important consideration when handicapping the NFL preseason, but the impact isn’t always the same. On one hand the team with better depth could be well position late in games once the starters are on the bench and the second and third stringers are logging time. On the other hand, a team that has depth concerns could put their backups in to play early on in an attempt to get them ready for the preseason. As a sports bettor, you need to look at the depth in the context of the coaching staff and the general situation of the team and their hopes this year to determine whether their depth makes them more or less attractive.
How is the quarterback situation? – One of the major goals of the preseason is to make sure that you have a QB who is ready to perform at a top level when the NFL season starts. For some teams that preparation is as simple as having the starter throw a few passes to knock off the rust and then keeping him healthy. For other teams, though, the starting situation is cloudy, and the new guy needs as much work as he can possibly get to try to be ready for opening day. The more work a starting QB needs, the more the rest of the offensive starters are going to play because there is no real point in working the starting QB with the backup offense. Though the inexperience of the QB could lead to lots of mistakes having the first offense on against the second defense is still going to present some opportunities to score.
What’s the playbook situation? – If the core starters on offense are returning and the coaching staff is intact then everyone is going to know much of what is expected of them and they aren’t going to be worried about practicing the plays to get them working. That means that they are likely to use a very simple playbook during the NFL preseason so that they don’t give anything away. A football team that has new key players, a new coaching staff, or a new offensive scheme are much more likely to be concerned about the readiness of their playbook, so they are going to use a more complex playbook that more closely matches what they will use during the regular season. The more complex the playbook is the more likely mistakes will be.