While betting on NFL preseason games is scoffed at in public circles, the market provides sharp bettors an edge against bookmakers that isn’t found during the regular season.
Wary of this edge, sportsbooks impose limits on their customers that are drastically lower than for the games that matter.
What gives the gamblers this advantage is uncertainty around which players will play and how much, and the ability to beat books to the information that’s sure to influence the betting line.
“There are many more unknowns in preseason than the regular season,” sharp bettor Adam Chernoff of Right Angle Sports (RAS), a handicapping service whose picks releases have a major impact on betting markets, told Gaming Today in an email. “In the regular season, everybody is more or less working off the same information. In preseason, info is changing all the time. …
“As info changes, the lines move aggressively — far more aggressively than you’ll see in a regular season line. It’s not uncommon to see four- or five-point moves in preseason resulting from a single press conference.”
Also, quantitative models are less useful in preseason than in the regular season.
Dylan Sullivan, who makes NFL odds at Circa Sports in Las Vegas, says pricing derivative markets exemplifies how modeling doesn’t work in the preseason.
“First halves and second halves don’t have the normal relationship to the full game they would in the regular season because different guys could be playing in different halves,” Sullivan told Gaming Today. “So there are instances where a team might be -3.5 in the first half and -3 for the game. That’s not something you’ll see in the regular season.”
Sharps Beating the Books to the Punch
In the race for information, the wiseguys appear to have a head in front, and recent changes to a certain social media platform have been a factor.
“I would say this season, they’re definitely beating us,” Sullivan said of Circa’s sharp customers. “Twitter isn’t what it was last year at this point, and that’s probably our main source of information. So, it’s a little more difficult this year.”
Circa’s bookmaking model of welcoming sharp bettors and moving lines based on those plays helps lessen the blow.
“One guy giving us the info essentially lets us beat the rest of them to it, so it’s not all that bad,” Sullivan explained.
During our visit to the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook last week, Jay Kornegay, VP of Race & Sports Operations, said NFL preseason line moves are also often made “on air”, meaning based on information, not necessarily bets.
Some of these moves are large adjustments rarely seen in the regular season. The NFL Preseason Week 1 odds board saw at least a half a dozen point spreads move 2-plus points, and the Jaguars-Cowboys total ballooned from 32.5 to 38.
“(Some) line movement is really based off of information, not so much play,” Kornegay said. “So when a total opened up at 37 and now is at 33.5, it’s not like we took action at Under 37, Under 36.5, Under 36, Under 35.5. … It could have gone from 37 to 35, 35 to 33.5 So it was actually two moves, and I could look at it and go, ‘wow, we didn’t take any bets on that one.’”
RAS’ Chernoff added that some action is based on information that’s not even public yet.
“It is no longer just a race to get information, but rather anticipating what information is going to come out before it does,” Chernoff said. “Everyone now has all of the resources to get all of the information in time, and certainly news will impact lines, but bettors and bookmakers are more skilled than ever of knowing what is coming, before it does.”
Bigger Edge, Lower Limits
NFL preseason betting handle at Circa and the SuperBook is weighted overwhelmingly toward sharp action. Kornegay estimates that it accounts for 70% of tickets and 90% of money wagered at his shop.
“The vast majority of the handle is just sharp money,” Circa’s Sullivan said.
To account for this imbalance, the limits offered by the books are way lower than for regular-season games.
Circa takes $100,000-200,000 bets on NFL sides on game day during the regular season, for example, but only $5,000 for preseason contests.
And while, yes, plenty of sharps see the preseason as an opportunity, the bang for the buck just isn’t there for others.
“Not much,” Spanky said of his preseason investment while we spoke at Bet Bash. “It’s nice. We bet it of course. But to be honest, limits at sportsbooks are very low on that stuff. If we can’t get down a good amount of money, we’re not gonna waste our time.
“Sure, the edges are bigger, but by the same token, the limits are lower. So it just kind of falls into that proposition category. We’re not really big prop guys. We don’t bet props because we can’t get down enough.”
NFL Preseason Week 2 Line Moves
Chernoff shared with us RAS picks releases for this week’s preseason action, all of which appeared to have influenced the market.
Browns-Eagles Under 37.5 is a perfect example of why these are recommended plays only at the line at the time of the release and not after the number has moved. Thursday night’s total closed 35.5. Final score: Cleveland 18, Philly 18.
While the Eagles did not cover, RAS’ Philly -2.5 pick easily beat the closing line of -3.5.
Here are more RAS releases, with Friday’s consensus NFL lines listed in parentheses (again, these are not suggested picks; it’s too late to play them):
- Cowboys-Seahawks Over 37.5 (40.5)
- Raiders-Rams Over 36.5 (40)
- Colts -2.5 (-4.5)
- Broncos -2.5 (-4)
- Chiefs -6.5 (-7.5)
Said Chernoff, “We release bets to the public through our service in real time on raspicks.com. Within a couple seconds of each release, the lines will move significantly. Each of these plays was made on a combination of our own numbers and anticipation of news.”