The first full weekend of exhibition football is here. The entire scope of NFL betting changes from preseason to regular season, but that doesn’t mean opportunities don’t exist. In fact, I know of several professional bettors who believe the chance of winning preseason games trumps that of games that count in the standings. Of course, I know others who won’t touch exhibitions.
Because of COVID-19, we had no 2020 preseason. The big change since 2019 is that the preseason consists of only three weeks, not four. Don’t overlook the importance of this and how it might change the way coaches approach these games. With four-game schedules, coaches typically built up their starters’ time in each of the first three games, culminating with the so-called dress rehearsal in Week 3. The final week was always for evaluating the lower-end talent for final cuts, and the main players usually didn’t see the field. With a three-game slate, will the dress rehearsal be pushed up to Game 2? Will the starters play at all in the final game? These are important questions that will be answered in a few short weeks.
Perhaps the single most important concept you’ll want to understand is that some coaches use these games to establish momentum or a winning culture. Others couldn’t care less. For instance, the Ravens under John Harbaugh have easily been the league’s best preseason team, as they own a spectacular 18-3 record since 2015. Mike Zimmer’s Vikings have also been stellar. On the other hand, the Falcons under Dan Quinn had become known for essentially tanking the preseason in favor of keeping players healthy. We’ll see if that changes in their first season under Arthur Smith. Next is whether a starting quarterback will play. If a price looks off to you or falls outside the +3 to -3 line range, it’s a good bet one of the QBs is not suiting up. It’s already been announced that Joe Burrow, Matthew Stafford and Aaron Rodgers will take no preseason snaps. Watch Dak Prescott’s situation with the Cowboys, as he didn’t play in the Hall of Fame Game last week.
Here are some NFL preseason betting concepts to consider for 2021:
Line ranges have proven to be very telling
Oddsmakers have essentially led bettors to water in the preseason, though it is easy to see how these prices can seem tricky. Since 2010, five teams have been favored by more than 7 points. All five lost ATS. At the same time, favorites in the sweet-spot range of -3.5 to -7 have been quite reliable, going 105-81 ATS, or 56.5 percent. But most games tend to land in the -1 to -3 range, and those contests are where the underdogs thrive. Since 2015, underdogs in the +1 to +3 range own a highly profitable record of 127-84 ATS, good for 60.2 percent.
Home-field advantage is very low
In only one of the last nine preseasons have home teams finished with records better than .500 ATS. If you’re simply guessing on these games or wagering them for fun, side with the road teams, as the points oddsmakers give hosts for their supposed home-field advantage tend to tip the ATS ledger to the visitors. In fact, since 2011, road teams own a 294-266 ATS edge, good for 52.5 percent and essentially enough to make a small profit.
37 is a magic number for totals
Since the 2010 preseason, totals less than 37 have gone Over at a rate of 58.5 percent (240-170), while those of 37 or higher have gone Under at a 56.9 percent clip (486-368). As of Tuesday, six of this week’s 16 games showed totals of 37 or more.
Blowout wins have carryover effects
NFL teams coming off preseason wins of 20+ points and favored are on a 14-5-2 ATS surge since 2013. Most bettors tend to favor a yin-and-yang strategy in the preseason, assuming that the scales balance out. But big wins have provided big momentum for the next game as well.