Getting ready for September 5th

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The 2019 NFL preseason got underway last Thursday with Denver’s come-from-behind 14-10 win over Atlanta in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio. Thus began the six-month journey that will crown the Super Bowl LIV champion next February in Miami. 

The NFL consists of three distinct seasons – the preseason, the regular season and the postseason (Playoffs). Different approaches are taken in each from the perspective of linesmaking, handicapping and betting. 

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Many bettors have fared exceptionally well betting preseason football, an exercise that is heavily dependent on access to information from trustworthy sources. Often, the sources will be beat writers and the like who cover teams year-round and usually have more access to players and coaches during training camp than once the season gets underway.  

Head coaches and their staffs are also more forthcoming in August than they will be once the wins and losses count. But don’t expect that to be the case in Cleveland where first-year head coach Freddie Kitchens has threatened to fire anyone in the organization who leaks information to the media. 

And therein lies my key on betting preseason football. Quite simply. I don’t. 

It’s not for lack of interest, desire or needing more time to prepare for the regular season. It’s that the games don’t count and thus despite what coaches may say publicly the purpose and goal of preseason football is to be as best prepared as possible for the start of the regular season. 

Sure, coaches will say the ‘right’ things to get their fan bases excited and enthused for the upcoming season. But their job security rests not on what happens in August but what happens after Labor Day. 

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This is not an attempt on my part to discourage anyone from wagering on preseason football but rather to point out some cautions to be considered before plunking down your money. 

It’s tough enough to pick winners when both teams are trying their best to win games which is, of course, what happens once the regular season gets underway. 

In the preseason it’s all about evaluating talent, developing depth, working on timing, formations, personnel combinations and other fundamentals critical to success. 

Smart, experienced coaches understand this purpose whereas rookie or second year coaches may sense a greater urgency to emphasize results. 

Veteran coaches who feel little to no pressure to produce wins during August would included New England’s Bill Belichick, Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin. Baltimore’s John Harbaugh, Kansas City’s Andy Reid, New Orleans’ Sean Payton and Seattle’s Pete Carroll. All have built up enough equity with their ownership and fan base to treat preseason games for what the true purpose of those games are – and to avoid exposing as many key players as possible to the risk of injury.  

You might find spots to play on first- and second-year coached teams against those coaches, especially at home. 

Those who bet on preseason games wisely pay attention to quarterback rotations, paying special attention to teams with competitions for either starting quarterback or the primary backup. Such teams will often give first-team players time with both quarterbacks in the competition, creating an additional edge for such teams which are likely to be facing second- or third-team players once the opponents’ starters are lifted. 

Preseason games are often decided late and by players who will not be on the opening day rosters. Such results are often random. Thus you might consider playing first halves rather than making full game wagers, especially in weeks two and three. Starters often play well into the second quarter of the week two games and often into the early third quarter in week three, the week generally used as the ‘dress rehearsal’ for most teams. 

My caution towards preseason betting is based on two simple principles. First, if winning was truly a top priority, why wouldn’t starters play the fourth quarter instead of the first quarter? Second, how may football bettors who bet preseason also bet preseason NBA or spring training baseball? After all, the same principles apply. 

And as a further demonstration of why preseason results are irrelevant, you can probably name the last 15 to 20 or more Super Bowl winners (and losers for that matter). How many teams can you can name – without resorting to Google – which had the best preseason records in each of the past five seasons? 

Football is back and the urge to bet right out of the gate is strong. But please exercise caution and restraint to preserve, or perhaps grow modestly, your bankroll for September, when the results do count and coaches’ goals are in alignment with yours. 

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About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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