The preseason slate is looming and many bettors stay away until the real games begin. However, the NFL odds makers often deal lines that can be exploited if you know what to look for and how to take advantage.
Read Between the Lines
It has been said that good teams make good coaches and great teams make great coaches. However, in the preseason winning is only a cherry on top of the ice cream sundae and not the be all and end all, as it is in the regular season. Coaches want to see what they have in their backup units because cuts need to be made and roles must be assigned. Some of last year's supporting cast will be elevated to the first-string status while last season's starters may be demoted or even shown the door based on their preseason performance. The focus for the coaches is determining not only who makes the team but sculpting their depth chart for the first week of the regular season.
With that as the backdrop, you will often hear coaches explain their process to the media and detail which players will be given more looks and opportunities. During the regular season coach's tend to be much more buttoned up and give perfunctory comments with little insight into that week's strategy. The information you can glean by listening and reading the coach's comments can give you a clearer picture of who will be playing and who will be sitting.
Rookies and Signed Free Agents
Teams that have drafted well or have had several high picks in the draft should be given more weight than others. Those players will be on the field and compete for starting spots. Other lower round picks will be simply trying to make the team and keep their NFL dreams alive. When you evaluate each team's draft it is important to note that they will get a lion's shares of the reps, particularly in preseason games No.1 and No. 2. More emphasis should be given in your NFL picks with teams that have several high round rookies playing, as well as free agent acquisitions that may also get more time than the other veterans because coaches want their new talent acclimated to the club's offensive and defensive schemes.
As in the regular season, it is important to scan the injury reports. Players that are even a bit dinged up who would ordinarily play in the regular season will often get a pass in an exhibition game. Also, it is important to note that the third game of the regular season, not the fourth and final game, is the game where the starters will get the most playing time. The fourth game is normally reserved for taking one last look at players who are on the “bubble” and whose performances will either get them on the roster or out the door.
Spreads are Thin
There is quite a bit of mystery surrounding the NFL preseason and thus the NFL odds can be vastly different than if the same teams met in the regular season. The oddsmakers at different sportsbooks don't have much more insight than the average bettor, which makes the spreads being dealt a bit of a shot in the dark. To account for the lack of information in terms of how long the starters will play versus the second and third string units, oftentimes the oddsmakers will hang lines that are a field goal or less. And unlike the regular season where numbers such as 3,4,6 and 7 can be the difference between covers and pushes, the same cannot be said for the preseason as the team that wins the game, often covers the game. But unlike the regular season, the favorites win less often which means the spread is not as big a factor.
In short, focus on the outright winner because the spread during the preseason games will often not affect your NFL picks in the preseason nearly as much in the heat of the regular season where the aim is to win at all costs. This, of course, is a general rule and not an ironclad fact so do your homework, pay attention to the coach's press conferences and get familiar with the backups because they will determine whether you win or lose before the games begin for real in September.