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Debating the merits of betting on preseason NFL, I'm often asked about the logic of betting games when the starters spend most of their time on the sideline. While many professional players avoid preseason football, a substantial number of sharps at Pinnacle Sports betting still have action, despite this concern and do so for one reason - profit. With fewer professional players betting (compared to the regular season), preseason games give an additional advantage as the markets are not as efficient, allowing sports bettors "in the know" to realize better returns.
Successful NFL bettors understand the differences between regular season and preseason games. A coach's preseason focus isn't purely centered on winning, but embraces a range of objectives, including: 1. avoiding injury to starters; 2. giving starters enough playing time to shake the off the rust, and 3. evaluating players who are close to making the team.
During the preseason non-starters see a lot of playing time even though most have only practiced the offensive and defensive schemes for a few weeks. The offensive side is more difficult to pick up quickly - offensive linemen must coordinate blocking against potential blitzes, and new quarterbacks need to learn to read defenses under pressure.
The effect during this period is that offenses are usually trying catch-up to defenses. Consequently, where a typical NFL game averages about 43 points per game, preseason games only average 37.5 points, with the median being even lower. While it's surprising how much lower-scoring preseason games are, it's even more startling that the markets are not adjusted accordingly. If you played every single "under" in preseason, you would have won 55% of your bets over the last six years.
Another trend that might surprise players is how well underdogs have done in the preseason - like the 'under' trend, betting every dog would also show a small profit in recent years. I don't recommend that bettors blindly play all underdogs and unders, as any trend will eventually turn sour as markets become more efficient. For example, examine this year's preseason totals. The average total for the first week was under 35 while last year it was over 36. You may win or lose betting a trend, but you won't be getting the best of it.
Instead of strictly chasing a trend, try to understand why it's occurring - asking "why" will often present additional opportunities. Once you understand that the scoring distributions are different, betting options that are derived on standard distributions might provide the chance for large profits. With this in mind, a possible angle to consider looking at is teasers...
One of the most important factors to consider when doing preseason analysis is whether the coach actually wants to win the game. Teams coming off a disappointing year are more likely to play for a win in the hope of building confidence and momentum for the season.
Some coaches will be far more experimental during preseason, taking the opportunity to try different combinations of players, or unusual plays that are rarely used in the regular season. Indianapolis's opening onsides kick, and Cincinnati's multiple flea-flickers are perfect examples of this. There's a balance to be struck between the benefits of experimentation and the negative impact losing has on morale. Good teams have less need to build confidence and aren't unsettled by preseason losses. Simply understanding the mentality of both teams' coaches will provide profitable opportunities.
An additional factor to consider is how much playing time starters will get? Many coaches not only announce how much the starters will play, but when they'll play. If a strong team is playing its starters for the whole first half against a weaker team that's only using starters for one drive, there's an obvious play. Another way to benefit from knowing starter playing time is to bet half and quarter lines. If both teams are playing starters for the first half, you have an expectation of a higher scoring first half (which is just the opposite of the regular season, where the second halves have slightly more scoring).
Later in the preseason, you can often find value backing winless teams with at least two preseason losses. While coaches don't necessarily try to win every game (for the reasons already discussed), no team wants to enter the regular season after going winless during exhibition play.