Tips for Betting on Preseason Games
August is always an exciting time for football fans. The start of the regular NFL season is just a few weeks away, so it’s not long until we’ll be seeing the teams in action again. The media hype for the new season is starting to build, with all kinds of debate going on about which teams have improved and which teams have failed to address their weaknesses. We know all about the headline moves during the offseason, and we’re looking forward to seeing how they work out.
Before the season officially starts, each team has to get through their preseason schedule. Finally, after going several months without any games to watch, fans have the opportunity start placing some wagers again. And yet the preseason games that take place at this stage are completely ignored by many fans. These games just don’t generate the same level of interest that competitive games do.
We completely understand why it would be hard to get excited about games when the end result is essentially meaningless. Not to mention: preseason games typically lack the intensity of competitive games too. The teams just aren’t as motivated to win, and that doesn’t make for a very exhilarating game.
We actually enjoy preseason games though. Sure, the preseason is nowhere near as thrilling as the regular season. And, yes, a lot of preseason games lack the kind of heated action we desire. Regardless, we just appreciate that fact that football is BACK. Plus, there are also some potential betting opportunities to take advantage of.
As a general rule, each of the 32 teams in the NFL will play four games during the preseason. That means there’s a total of 64 games to bet on before the regular season gets underway. With the right approach, there’s no reason why you can’t walk away with some money in your pocket.
Now, let’s be clear here. Betting on NFL preseason games is tough: way tougher than betting on competitive games in our opinion. Most of the usual betting strategies we use simply don’t work, and it’s not really worth trying to develop any that do. These games are just too hard to call because of the way they’re played.
With this in mind, we don’t recommend spending a lot of time trying to handicap preseason games. It’s not worth the effort, as there only tends to be a few opportunities that genuinely represent good value. Your goal should be to spot these opportunities without investing too much time that could be better spend on something else.
This article will help you to do that. It’s one of the simpler articles in our football betting guide, as there’s no in-depth strategy to learn. There’s still a lot of useful information to digest though, so please read it carefully.
We start by explaining the main differences between preseason and competitive games. Then we’ve provided some advice for overcoming the challenges these differences present, before finishing with a few simple tips to follow.
How Preseason Games Differ
It’s vital to understand that preseason games are an entirely different proposition to competitive games. They’re essentially part of the teams’ preparation for the upcoming season. As we’ve already mentioned, the end result isn’t necessarily the most important thing. The goal should be to prepare for the upcoming season.
Predicting the outcome of preseason games is extremely difficult for a plethora of reasons. Since there’s not as much at stake, we can’t assume the star players will be trying their hardest on the field. In fact, when it comes to preseason games, it’s hard to assume anything at all. The only thing we can be certain of is that traditional handicapping techniques won’t work.
To show you exactly what we mean, we have outlined the main areas in which preseason games are different.
- Starting lineups
- Playing style
In a competitive game, teams and players typically have one primary motivation. Their goal, obviously, is to win the game. We’ve already discussed how this isn’t always the case in preseason games. That leaves us wondering what exactly IS their motivation then?
Unfortunately, there’s no clear answer to this question. It depends on any number of factors. Sometimes the motivation WILL be to win, while sometimes it will be to accomplish something else entirely. A coach might be using a game to take a close look at any rookies he’s drafted, or any other new players that have been added to the roster. He may want some of his players to focus on the fitness aspect of the game, while he may want his other players to do a little experimenting.
We also recommend thinking about the motivation of individual players too. Players who are guaranteed a starting position don’t have much to prove. They’ll want to focus on getting warmed up for the season without risking injury. Chances are, they’ll probably take it easy and not go out of their way to push themselves. On the other hand, players who are fighting for a starting position will work extremely hard to impress the coach. They will be giving it their all.
Determining a team’s exact lineup can be tricky, but making an informed judgment is possible. We can confidently assume that a coach’s main goal is to win, which means all decisions he makes will be made with that goal in mind. The players he chooses will be based on quality, form, fitness and possibly even for tactical reasons.
In a preseason game, though, it’s almost impossible to predict what starting lineup a coach will go with. He could choose to play his best players, so that they get some game time experience. However, he’s even more likely to let them rest. Expect to see second and third string players on the starting lineup
Substitutions are common in all football games, but there seems to be a LOT more of them in preseason games. Coaches aren’t particularly worried about disrupting the flow or momentum during these games, they’re more concerned about getting to see all the players on their roster. They want to see which players work best together, which means switching players around often is almost inevitable. Coaches also want to make sure that none of their players are getting overworked, as they’ll want them fresh for the start of the regular season.
Most football teams have a preferred style of play. Some mix it up depending on the opposition, but even then there’s usually an underlying style that forms the basis for the way they play. That’s why it’s easier to know what to expect from then during competitive games.
In preseason games, teams will often experiment with alternative playing styles. This is almost guaranteed if a new coach has come in, as he’ll probably want to impose his preferred style on the team. Preseason games are the best time for him to do that. Also, expect to see this happen when there have been lots of changes to the roster, as new players may work better under a different style than the players whose places they are taking. Again, the best time to figure that out is during the preseason.
It might also be helpful to point out that teams tend to focus on their weaknesses during the preseason. For example, let’s say a team’s running game could use some improvement. They may spend a few preseason games focusing on that. Or if they’re strong offensively, but not defensively, they may spend a couple of games trying to improve their approach to defense.
It’s never easy to predict the outcome of a football game. As we’ve mentioned many times throughout this betting guide, football is an unpredictable sport. There are many unknowns, and many factors that determine the result of a game. Let’s face it; the “best” team doesn’t always win.
We can deal with the unpredictability in competitive games though. By assessing the quality of teams and their players, and looking at how they match up against their opposition, we have solid information to work with. If we interpret that information correctly, and also consider other relevant factors, we have a good chance of making accurate predictions. Predicting every game correctly isn’t realistic, but we do have a good shot at being right more often than not.
The problem with preseason betting is that the differences we’ve just discussed present a whole new set of challenges. These are difficult to overcome, which is why we don’t recommend dedicating too much time to betting on preseason games. There are a few things you can do to increase your chances of being able to identify the few good value opportunities when they present themselves. We will focus in on those things towards the end of the article.
Overcoming the Challenges of Preseason Betting
The main challenges of betting on preseason games can be summarized as follows.
- Teams are not always motivated by winning
- Teams are set up in unusual and unexpected ways
- Games play out very differently than regular games
The fact that teams aren’t always motivated by winning obviously makes it very difficult to predict results. Assessing team and player quality isn’t as important, and some would say it’s even irrelevant. The overall standard of a team doesn’t really mean much if they’re not focused on winning.
Moving right a long to the next point on the list, we don’t even know if a team is going to start with its best players on the field. Those players might even spend that game on the bench. It’s almost impossible to guess how the team will play or what tactics they’re going to use. For all we know, they could use a variety of setups throughout a game, making regular chances to whose on the field and at what times. Can you see just how difficult it is to predict the likely outcome?
The third point on the list is a result of the first two points. With less focus on winning, and lots of experimentation from teams, the whole dynamic of a game changes. This just adds more uncertainty, and further increases the difficulty of making accurate predictions.
This is our key point. To have any chance of accurately predicting the result of a preseason game, we have to also accurately predict a few other things. We need to predict whether a team will be motivated to win or not, and how they are going to set up. We also need to predict what changes they are likely to make during a game, and what kind of impact those changes will have.
In theory, that sounds pretty simple. In reality, though, it’s incredibly difficult. Unless we have access to inside information, we’re basically in the dark most of the time. All we can do is try to make educated guesses based on the information that’s available to us. And, most of the time, that won’t be enough to form a clear and reasonable judgment about what’s likely to happen. This is precisely why most preseason games aren’t worth betting on.
The games that ARE worth betting on are those where we have good reason to believe our educated guesses are probably right. If we’re lucky, we’ll see a few of those types of games during the preseason schedule. Then it’s up to us to make the most out of these opportunities.
Since we don’t want to spend a great deal of time on preseason betting, we don’t really want to be doing a lot of extra research and analysis. So the trick is to identify betting opportunities based on the research and analysis that we should already be doing. This means we have the chance to make some money without putting forth any extra effort.
There are all kinds of things you should be doing during the off-season in order to prepare for the upcoming season. By using this time wisely, you’ll be in a good position to take on the bookmakers. The information you gathered will help you bet on the preseason games. Specially, you’ll know the following details.
- How a team performed the previous season
- What changes a team has made to its roster
- The quality/potential of each player on a team’s roster
- What coaching changes a team has made
Let’s now take a deeper look at how this information can help.
Analyzing the performance of teams in the previous season is one of the first things you should do during the close season. It gives you a good starting point for assessing the changes they subsequently make, and how those changes will affect them.
Ideally, you’ll want to identify teams that were especially strong in one area and weak in another. This will give you a good indication of how they’re likely to set up their team during the preseason. As we mentioned earlier, a lot of teams will use preseason games to focus on areas where they’re weak. They’re less likely to worry about areas where they are already strong.
Take a team with a rock solid defense for example. Chances are they won’t give their defensive starters much game time during preseason games, as they already know what they’re capable of. They’re more likely to play backups in those positions, to give them some game time. However, when it comes to offense we might see the better players more often, as they try to get things right for the upcoming season.
Now, there are no guarantees that a team is going to approach things in this way. But, as we’ve established, you can’t be sure about ANYTHING in the preseason. Your goal should be to look for any useful information that will give you special insight. A team’s strengths and weaknesses are definitely reasonable indicators of how they might set up. We suggest taking them into consideration whenever possible.
It’s obviously important to look at the changes teams make to their rosters during the close season. If you want to have a clear idea of how strong each team will be going into the new season, you need to know which players they’ve brought in and which players they’ve lost. After that, it’s possible to form your own opinions about how they’re likely to perform.
Teams that have made a lot of changes are likely to approach preseason games very differently from the teams that have just tweaked their rosters. This is especially relevant when a team has brought in several new players that are likely to be starters. Even though these players might be very good, they are still going to need a fair amount of game time to get a feel for what it’s like to play with their new teams.
If their not well known star players, they might even have to prove that they are worthy of a starting position. You can expect these players to actually perform during preseason games, as they look to make a good impression. Meanwhile, the settled teams will be giving their better players plenty of rest.
This is why we often like to back teams that have made extensive changes to their roster. Initially this might seem illogical, as the natural assumption is that they’re likely to be all over the place and will need some time to form a cohesive playing unit. However, they’re possibly going to come up against teams that are playing their second or third strings. These teams are focused more on letting these players gain some experience than on actually winning. This can result in both a talent gap and a motivation gap, which can in turn give us a good reason to bet.
Quality & potential of players
Assessing roster changes is useless if you don’t also assess the quality and potential of the relevant players. So part of the close season should be spent doing exactly that. It’s unnecessary to know every single detail about every single player, but you should certainly have some idea about how good each player on a team’s roster is. It’s also important to understand their potential for improvement.
Most bettors know all about the quality of teams’ starting players. That helps when betting on competitive games, but it’s of limited use when betting on preseason games. Remember, the starting players aren’t necessarily going to be getting a lot of game time. It’s the back up players that will probably be getting the most time, so by knowing how good they are you’ll put yourself in a better position to be able to predict the outcome of games.
Simply put, the teams that win the most preseason games tend to be those that have the best backups. These aren’t always the teams that are strongest overall. In fact, it’s not at all uncommon for teams with excellent starting players in every position to have very weak backups. Some teams focus all of their resources on their starters, and completely neglect quality in depth.
Now, we’re not saying that you should automatically back teams to win if they have good quality backups. It’s not quite that simple, due to all the other factors that we’ve already mentioned. Strength in depth is a key factor to consider though, and one of the very best indicators of whether a team is likely to win a game or not.
We also recommend taking a look at the talent gap between players in the same position. When a team has two players that are close to equal ability, preseason games will be set up as trials for those players to see which one will get to be the main starter. Since both players will be aware of these trials, they will both be performing at their best. If a team is trialing several players in positions all over the field, then it’s reasonable to expect some good performances from that team in preseason games.
Most bettors focus on the players when making betting decisions. There’s no doubt that players tend to have the biggest impact on how a game will play out. The role of the coaches should never be underestimated though, which is why it’s important to study any coaching changes during the close season. This will give you better insight into how teams are likely to play throughout the upcoming season.
Coaching changes are also very relevant when it comes to betting on preseason games. If the main coaching staff has remained intact on a team, then they probably already have very clear ideas about how they want the team to play in the upcoming season. So there’s likely to be less experimenting going on in preseason games. The focus will be more on fine-tuning things, and giving different players a chance to play.
If there have been coaching changes, however, then the opposite is true. There’s likely to be a lot of experimenting going on. New head coaches, or even new coordinators, are going to want to experiment with various plays and strategies. They’ll want to see what’s going to work best with their new set of players, and what mistakes they can clear up before the season officially starts.
So, broadly speaking, teams that have made coaching changes are going to be a little more unpredictable than those who haven’t. Keep this is mind when you’re picking which games to bet on.
There are a couple of other coaching related considerations too. First, let’s say a new head coach has come into a team. Understandably, he’s likely to want to get some positive results as early as possible. Therefore, as a general rule, you can expect newly appointed head coaches to be more concerned with winning than established coaches might be.
The second is one of the few indicators that we genuinely rely on when betting on preseason games. It’s not a perfect indicator, but it’s something that we ALWAYS factor into our decisions one way or another.
For the most part, trends are useless for preseason betting. But there’s one exception, and that’s trends that tell us something about how head coaches approach the preseason. Some coaches consistently win during the preseason, over several years, while others consistently lose. This tells us a lot about their motivation.
Some coaches always want to win, regardless of whether it’s a competitive game or not, while others place absolutely no value on the results of the preseason. This is REALLY useful information when it comes to making betting decisions. A coach’s attitude towards preseason will almost always be reflected in the way his players approach the games, so it really helps us with predicting how they’re likely to play out.
If you’re able to keep everything we’ve mentioned so far in the back of your mind, then identifying possible value in preseason games should come natural to you. Please be careful not to get carried away and bet on every single game you can. Although, it may not be difficult to spot opportunities that MIGHT offer value, there’s still no guarantee that value actually exists there. Proceed with caution; be more selective than ever and only bet when you’re confident about the likely outcome.
Following the advice we’ve offered so far will give you a good chance of making some money on preseason games. We’re not quite done yet though. There are few additional tips we want to offer too. We’ve listed these below, and then briefly expanded on each one. These tips are all very simple, but they’ll further increase your chances of making money if you stick to them.
- Keep your stakes small
- Time your bets carefully
- Avoid the first week of preseason games
- Bet moneylines, not point spreads
- Be wary of dress rehearsals
We shouldn’t need to explain why we recommend keeping your stakes small when betting on preseason games. In case we haven’t made it entirely clear though, please allow us to reiterate a key point. It’s VERY hard to predict the outcome of preseason games. They aren’t like competitive games, being used by teams mostly as a form of preparation. There are several additional variables that affect how they play out, and these variables are hard to analyze effectively. Throwing a large sum of money down on preseason games is just simply not worth it, as the risks are too high.
Timing your bets is especially important when betting on preseason games, as the odds and lines are prone to larger movements than usual. There isn’t as much action, so a few sizable bets can easily move a line significantly. Try to get ahead of the moves if you can, and anticipate them before they happen.
As the games approach, there will be information available that will make it easier to predict their outcome. The coaches often talk quite freely about how they’re going to set up for example. Although you can benefit from this information, so can anyone else. Your goal should be to assess games well in advance, and get your money down early. Once the additional information is in the public domain, any possible value will quickly disappear.
We wouldn’t go as far as to say that avoiding the first week of preseason games is essential, but we certainly do recommend it. Things are extremely unpredictable at this point. In the following three weeks, there will be 48 more games to possibly place a wager on. Wait for these opportunities; otherwise you might as well just play the lottery.
We suggest betting moneylines rather than point spreads because there’s typically more value in doing so. There are exceptions to this of course, but this is a good general rule to stick to. The bookmakers often just make a three point spreads on preseason games, because they suffer from the same difficulties in assessing likely outcomes as we do.
When we refer to dress rehearsals in this context, we’re referring to fixtures that appear in both preseason and the regular season. So two teams will face each other in the non-competitive game, and then again when it actually matters. The preseason schedule often throws up a few of these, and we prefer to avoid them.
Why? Well, they tend to go one of two ways, and it’s impossible to predict which one they will go and when. Sometimes the teams will go all out to gain a psychological advantage by winning. Other times they’ll play very cautiously as they don’t want to give anything away to their opposition about what to expect in the competitive game.
There’s now just one final tip that we’d like to leave you with. This isn’t directly related to betting on preseason games, but it’s something to consider while you’re doing so.
Despite everything we’ve said about how preseason games can be experimental and feature second and third strings, they can still provide some additional insight into teams that can help us for the upcoming season. There’s a good chance you’ll end up watching any preseason games that you bet on, so we recommend paying close attention and trying to gather any useful information that you can. It might not be overly valuable on its own, but every little bit helps when you’re trying to beat the bookmakers.