It may be HOT and many folks are still on vacation, but August kicks off the best time of the sports betting calendar: football season! Competition on the field won’t be as intense as in September, of course, as wins aren’t as important as evaluating young talent and trying to keep players healthy.
However, there will be betting lines available on preseason pro action beginning this week and it’s possible to cash winning tickets. Here are some things to keep in mind when watching preseason NFL football.
Coaching Strategy: An understanding of what coaches are trying to accomplish each week in August is essential. With four preseason games to play, NFL coaches will typically go with starters one quarter or less in the first August game, one quarter-plus in the second game, the first half and into the third quarter in the third game and then very little in the fourth game.
Keeping starters healthy while getting them some competition against the opponents’ first stringers are the obvious reasons.
Coaches will often use "vanilla" game plans, working on short passes and running plays. This is why preseason totals are lower than the regular season. For example, in the first preseason game two years ago, the high-powered Saints played the Steelers and the total was 34. It went under in a 20-7 Pittsburgh win. If the game had been during the regular season, the total would have been closer to 44 with two big-name quarterbacks in Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger. In fact, when the Saints opened that season at the Colts, the total was 53. In the third preseason game, with starters projected to play more, the Saints total against the Chiefs jumped up to 37 (it was a push in 30-7 final). Working on basic plays and keeping things simple are often the case for the first two weeks of preseason.
Home Field: While home field is a big edge when games count in the post and regular seasons, home field is less important in preseason, especially in Week 4. The last two years the home team has gone 22-13 SU and 20-11-1 ATS in Week 4, but that was unusual. The previous four years, the visiting team is still 29-17-1 ATS in Week 4 of the preseason.
Newspapers: Keeping tabs daily on what local beat writers are commenting on is important. Many times coaches will hint at potential strategy, such as "We’re going to open up the passing game a bit in the first half this week." Or, "Our starters will play two series just to get their feet wet." These tidbits are key and a successful sports bettor knows how to evaluate coaching comments, injuries and how strategy changes may influence the side and total.
A few years ago in a preseason game, the Atlanta Falcons coach was furious with his team’s play the week before and announced that the starters would play the entire three quarters. The line jumped from Atlanta as a 2-point favorite all the way to 5, and went off at 6 by kickoff. Sharp bettors wasted no time in hammering the Falcons, who won and covered the game easily, all because of the extensive game plan (and anger) revealed by the coach.
Quarterback Play: Quarterback is the single most important position on the football field. Think of the Super Bowl matchups the last decade: How many below average QBs have gotten their team to the big game? The Ravens in 2000 with Trent Dilfer and Chicago’s Rex Grossman.
QB play is essential and a key this time of year as starters don’t play the whole game. When wagering on a favorite in preseason, it’s important to carefully evaluate the No. 2 and 3 QBs as they often play as much as the starter or more. A team with a great starter expected to play just two series, with a rookie or poor backup QBs playing most of the game can be at a disadvantage.
Coaches: Coaching is such an important part of football, as so many players need to be organized and taught various roles each week. Some coaches are more demanding in preseason, while others are more laid back. Notice that Bill Belichick is 34-23 SU, 32-22-1 ATS all time in preseason. New Redskins’ Coach Mike Shanahan has an August record of 43-26 SU, 37-27-2 ATS.