The UNDER is the traditional sharp bet when you're making your NFL picks during the regular season. But things are a lot different during the preseason – which starts next month.
Okay, surely that's enough of a vacation by now. Time to put down the zinc oxide and the $1 Mai Tai, and time to get back to everyone's favorite combat sport: NFL football. Training camp starts next week, with the Hall of Fame Game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Minnesota Vikings coming up on Aug. 9 (8:00 p.m. ET, NBC) in Canton. Your halftime show: Aerosmith~!
Seriously, if you're not betting on preseason football, you're missing out on some crazy amazing value. This is real football, in the sense that there are two teams with 11 players each on the field, playing (for the most part) under the usual NFL rules. But they're called “exhibition games” for a reason. Winning takes a backseat to preparing for the regular season, so teams act in different and entirely predictable ways. Today, we'll show you how that translates to preseason totals, and why you should consider putting them in your NFL picks.
Back in the Saddle
So here's the central thesis: Preseason football isn't nearly as violent as the usual brand. These are warm-up games for the real thing, so teams have generally agreed not to hurt each other too much by running big blitz packages or other potentially dangerous plays. Softer defense leads to more scoring; at the same time, the totals on the NFL odds board tend to be lower than during the regular season, since fewer talented players are on the field.
If that looks like the perfect recipe for an OVER, you're correct. Between 2008 and 2013, the OVER went 210-172, or 55.0 percent. That's instant profit right there. However, let's pump the brakes before we get too excited. Last year, the UNDER went 41-24 during preseason action. Have the football odds adjusted? Or is it okay now to light up the other team's quarterback during an exhibition game?
This is 41.5
Sadly, it's the former. In 2013, the Week 1 totals ranged from 34.5 to 40 points, with most games checking in around the 35.5 mark. In 2014, that range moved up to between 35.5 and 41.5 points, and 37 was typical. Bigger totals, more games going UNDER. Back to the old drawing board with our old betting strategy.
As we go to press, the NFL odds haven't been released yet for this year's preseason games, but the first thing to do will be to check the totals and see if they've gone up or down. If they've gone up some more, it's definitely worth thinking about riding the UNDER again this year. If they've gone back down, as they might in response to last year's results, perhaps the old strategy will hold up again.
Instead of just betting blindly, though, it makes more sense to look at specific head coaches and how they've performed against the totals in the preseason. The coaches are the ones running the show; they've got their own routines for how they want to conduct business, and their results tend to be consistent over time. For example, Bill Belichick has the OVER at 50-31 during his career – although just 1-3 last year with the New England Patriots. Tom Coughlin wants to score, too: The OVER is 46-32 in Coughlin's preseason career after going 2-3 with the New York Giants in 2014.
Looking at the other side of the coin, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has the UNDER at 20-12, which includes a 3-1 record during the 2014 preseason. Again, we'll see how the football odds look when they come out, but if the totals keep rising and you're looking for a solid NFL pick, there's no better place to start than the Hall of Fame Game.